Those are fears about lost jobs than there are actual jobs lost, the author

says. And the fears are due to a "new class phenomenon," in that they're being experienced by

white, early-40s professionals who, historically, have been insulated from the natural employment

instability that has "always been" the lot of "blue collar workers, the unskilled, and the young." Here

Samuelson implies that for this group, this class of workers, job loss was its own fault---it was a

result of some intangible, unvoiced choice the group members made---whereas the class of workers

now being affected has "always felt safe" in its employment status since its jobs were the result of

hard work, long education, and thorough dedication. Because these natural phenomena have now

been ruptured, because a "fissure" has appeared which "must be filled," in the words of Gramsci,

Samuelson tells his audience that "[i]t's important to separate facts from fears."


2. Transmute and mystify the problem until the audience can no longer see it clearly. For men, job

security has decreased by nearly twenty percent in an equal number of years, the author notes---but

in a ten-year span, average job tenure has gone from seven years to eight for women. The

implication here is that, when a man loses his job, it won't be a traumatic experience since his spouse

can maintain the household finances while he seeks another. This implication relies on a huge

assumption of both heterosexuality and a traditional-marriage arrangement (each of which is current

status quo for American hegemony), and further assumes that the woman's salary will be sufficient

to carry the weight of a household income suddenly halved. Since the author overlooks the fact that

average "job tenure" for women, however positively portrayed, is only eight years for women as

opposed to twelve years for men, we ought to suspect that equal gender discrepancies in salary

likewise still exist in many professional fields.


Samuelson admits that all is not rosy for women, since "[t]hey get fired, too," but he explains that as

more and more of them enter the job market, the average length of their employment with a

company increases---and this "offsets more frequent layoffs." It's a highly problematic issue he

raises here, and so it gets only three short lines of his attention. Presumably, when the woman's

shorter job tenure ends, her husband will be employed once again, and the two of them can simply

trade household-finance duties while she goes about her turn at being laid off. The problem is solved,

although once again the solution comes through implication and assumption.


3. Shift the audience's concerns toward the larger ideology of hegemony. Samuelson does this, first,

by naturalizing the problem yet again. Layoffs, the author notes, have become "routine and

respectable" practices for business in the years since they began, and can no longer be viewed as

violations of an unspoken agreement by business to care for its workforce. Moreover, by citing

statistics from years past, the author makes the argument that since the number of laid-off workers

has remained at a fairly-constant half-million people annually, the number of individuals actually

affected by job loss is "only a tiny part" of the current 125 million-person labor force.


To further deproblematize the issue, Samuelson notes that 75 percent of the annual half-million

unemployed find new jobs, while nearly fifteen percent of the newly-unemployed are older than 55

and as a result are now---by implication---actually benefitted by being freed to retire early. The

remaining percentage remain unemployed after two years, which is admittedly a problem for the

white-professional audience being addressed, so Samuelson quickly transmutes the fact by noting

that "unemploy-ment rates [are] even higher among blacks (18 percent) and Hispanics (19

percent)." These groups are clearly other, and their lot is of course natural in American hegemony

---and the author plays on each of these features to convert his audience's fears to reassurances, its

unrest to renewed patience. His message comes through clearly: Relax; it could be a lot worse. At

least you're not them.

Once again, Samuelson finds himself in trouble by citing the rehiring statistics, since they reveal that

a new job often entails an income reduction of up to 25 percent and that reductions are especially

prevalent for workers older than 45. Here the author glosses quickly and without much development

through the numbers: worse for older workers, not as bad for younger ones. The assumption is, of

course, that older workers have already built up their savings accounts (as all good Americans do)

during their years of solid employment, so the loss of a job isn't as unfair as it would

seem---especially since younger workers just beginning their journey down the paths of the

American Dream are, very fairly, still rewarded with high incomes when they have to undergo the

job-loss/job replacement ritual.


4. Limit the options for individual agency while appealing to the individual's desire to possess such

agency. Samuelson does this while continuing to subject his audience to the larger ideology of the

hegemony he represents. In closing his argument, he pulls out all the necessary appeals to the

American Way with which we are all very familiar by now. Yes, individuals who lose their jobs

experience a "sense of betrayal" and a great deal of "pain of change"---but once again the author

reminds us that "[job] loss is not as bad as the headlines about it." The American economy, happily

personified by Samuelson, "still generates a steady stream of new jobs. . .to replace those that are

lost," and in the end, those who are disenfranchised by the new corporate mindset of disposability for

its workforce must change their attitudes and behaviors since business should not reasonably be

expected to change its own. "We believe that all good jobs should be lifetime jobs," Samuelson

writes, "and [that] if they aren't, [then] everyone's a temp. Neither stereotype is true." Thus the

author effectively cuts off any possible act of agency for his audience, save one: Deal with it. This is

how business operates.


5. Appeal to the audience by presenting a utopian yearning for improvement.

In his conclusion, Samuelson would have us believe that he's criticizing American business---for all

of three short column lines. "Companies that can't control their costs won't survive," he writes, "but

neither will those that are so callous that they demoralize their workers and can't draw good new

workers." There's a conflict here, he notes, that "is ongoing and reflects an even deeper dilemma."

Yet what this dilemma may be, he never explains. Instead, the column ends with one sweeping

statement that brings all of hegemony's big guns---limitation of agency, naturalization of the problem,

transmutation of the issue, and subjection to a larger ideology---to bear on its audience. The

American economy, Samuelson writes, "produces higher efficiences, new technologies, and rising

living standards," so it can't possibly be expected to also "provide absolute security." Why not? The

answer is simple: Because "[i]t never has, and quite probably, it never will."




In addition to this piece by Samuelson, I also brought to class some pages from Victor Villanueva's

book Bootstraps in order to try and clarify the link between Gramsci's theory of hegemony and more

ancient theories of rhetoric. As I've tried to do in the analysis of Samuelson's column above, so

Villanueva shows how hegemony preseves itself through rhetoric, through language practice and

audience interaction. His explication is highly Gramscian, drawing on the terms "historic bloc" and

"counter-hegemony," and Villanueva shows how, through careful "persuasive articulatory practice,"

counterhegemony wages a "war of position" with hegemony (and vice versa) until a new historic

bloc is formed, one which uses "new terms, or new definitions for existing terms, [that are]

agreeable to all." In Villanueva's view, such wars of position are not threatening, not revolutionary in

a life-endangering or militaristic sense, but rather are very positive and reflective of Paulo Freire's

"hope that in changing the word we [may] change the world."


I also brought to class a page from Harlan Ellison's introduction to his omnibus collection of short

stories, Dreams with Sharp Teeth. In his introduction, Ellison writes not of hegemony, but of

resistance to it: The publishing centers in New York and Boston have had a lock on what is deemed

"literature" since they were formed, and their way to maintain hegemony is to relegate works they

find too "commercial" or "popular" to the basement of some specialized genre: westerns, science

fiction, detective novels, and many other such labels. And yet, Ellison writes, even with its work thus

ostracized from the Important Literature canon, there is a core group of writers working today who

nonetheless form the "blood and muscle of American Literature." Their work may sell regionally, or

nationally, but sell it does, and its purpose is, in Ellison's view, what the purpose of all literature

should be: to make its readers wake up and think hard about issues they prefer to ignore. The

literature of the East Coast hegemony gets critical acclaim and attention in the hegemonic press, but

it will never be able to suppress the work of less elite authors who persist in not playing hegemony's

games. These writers don't seek to replace current hegemony; thus they are not counterhegemonic.

But they do seek to place the products of their labor alongside the canon dictated by the publishing

hegemony, and to have it validated by a buying (and reading/thinking) public.



From VTR to Cyberspace: Jefferson, Gramsci & the Electronic Commons

by Mark Surman


7. What is Hegemony Anyways?


A "hegemony" is really nothing like a heffalump In fact, it isn't any kind of animal at all. Rather, it is

a state of being where everything is in harmony, at least for those with a lot of money and power.

More specifically, hegemony is taking one way of seeing things, and convincing people that this way

of seeing things is natural, that it is "just the way things are". This "way of seeing things" in question

is almost always in the interests of people who are rich and powerful. In other words, ideas that

support the rich and powerful usually define the way a society sees the world.


In late 20th century North America, most of us see the world through the eyes of consumerism. The

mass happiness of mass consumption pretty much dominates our shared conceptions of the way

things are. [SIDEBAR -- Cultural hegemony refers to those socially constructed ways of seeing and

making sense of the world around us that predominate in a given time and place. In the latter 20th

century US the supremacy of commodity relations has exercised a disproportionate influence over

the way we see our lives. (Goldman, pg. 2)] This idea of hegemony _ a way of seeing power in

which "the war for mens' minds" is paramount _ will help us understand how the corporate world

has been able to disable environmentalism. But before we see how this happened, we should take a

closer look at the inner workings of hegemony. One way to get at these inner workings is to explore

a single element of the consumerist way of seeing the world. The private automobile _ with all of

the cultural and structural elements that support it _ is as good an example as any.


Most North Americans believe that the private automobile is the only way to get around, and that it

is definitely the best and coolest way to get around. In this way, it could be said that the belief

system which supports the automobile is hegemonic, it is all encompassing. Given all of the other

ways of moving about that are available _ walking, biking, bussing, boating, training _ this

overwhelming support for cars as the only way is amazing. It is so amazing that it is hard to believe

that it happened on its own, that people just naturally love the car. In reality, the move towards a

near universal acceptance of the car as the North American way to get around required a great deal

of work on the part of big corporations and the people who help them sell ideas. A number of

structural, legal, and cultural shifts had to take place before North Americans would joyously shout

in unison _ "the car is the only way to get around, and we love it!". The most significant elements

involved in driving this almost univocal shout are: suburban road and shopping systems; the creation

of a government funded car-only infrastructure; the destruction of the American public transit

industry; the creation of Hollywood myths around the car; the connection of our unfulfilled desires to

automobile ownership; and the linking of the car to fundamental cultural values like freedom.


Let's start with suburban road and shopping systems. Since the 1940's, North Americans have

constructed their new cities in such a way that people almost literally have no choice but to get

around by car. We have built suburbs where stores and houses that are too far from each other to

allow walking. We have built shopping places surrounded by seas of pavement, making it impossible

to stroll along and window shop like we did in our old downtowns. We have built streets so big and

wide that we fear for our children's lives if they aren't safely tucked inside our cars. The easiest

way to convince people of something is to make sure they don't have any choices. This is exactly

what the suburbs have done as a part of their contribution to the hegemony of car culture, and the

dominance of consumerism in general. If it is very difficult to get around without a car, people will

quickly come to the conclusion that the car is the only way to get around.


The governments of North America gave the suburbs a good deal of help in convincing people to

buy into this only way scenario. Although there are many other examples, the two biggest

contributions that governments made to the development of a car centred culture were road

subsidies and centralized planning. Federal, regional and municipal governments in North America

massively subsidized _ and continue to massively subsidize _ the road system. If they didn't do this,

most people just couldn't have afforded to drive their cars. And that wouldn't have been very good

for business, would it? [SIDEBAR -- To find out more about the subsidizing of car infrastructure,

you should look at the articles by Sue Zielinski , Gord Laird, Michael Replogle and Charles

Komanoff in the book Beyond the Car, by Steel Rail Press] Once people could afford cars, planners

were brought in to design spaces that people could only get around by car (the suburbs). This

planning aspect of things represents a whole sub-belief system contained within a profession. By

directly controlling the ways in which certain aspects of society are organized, these professional

belief systems provide essential support for the development of broader public conceptions of the

way things are.


Of course the car corporations themselves had a big hand in the development of the car centred

belief system. They made and advertised the cars that would fill the roads. They also made sure that

there was no competition from more economically viable and economically accessible forms of

transportation. "In 1936 General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tire formed a

company called National City Lines, whose purpose was to buy up alternative transport systems all

across the US., and then close them down. By 1956, over one hundred electric surface rail systems

in 45 cities, serving millions of people had bought up and dismantled entirely." With no buses or trains

available, it was much easier to convince potential suburban transit users that the car was the only

way. National City Lines was a step in this direction.


All of these structural motivations couldn't have convinced people to believe so deeply in the car

unless people really wanted the car and the suburbs. North America's cultural industries quickly

stepped in to help the want develop. From the 1940s to the 1960s, TV shows and movie screens

were filled with glorious visions of suburban life. The suburban bliss of the Beaver Cleaver family

and the futuristic excitement of the Jetsons made the old downtowns _ where you walked to the

market and socialized on the front porch _ look drab and boring. These programs let people know

that progress, that ever illusive commodity lusted after by every God-fearing American, was to be

found in the car filled suburbs. And, if pulp TV and movie fiction wasn't enough, news producers

helped push "White Flight" to the suburbs by constructing downtowns as hostile places filled with

criminals and minorities. This muddling mixture of Hollywood fantasy and "real world" news melded

together to make the suburbs into "the place to be".


Media makers not only helped people with the psychological leap to the suburbs, they also helped to

create some powerful, down home myths about what the car could do for your life. The American

film industry re-created the car as a provider of social and sexual power. Hollywood-made home

town America drag races from the 1950s_ where the winner always gets the girl _ are only the tip

of the iceberg. Car advertising brought similar messages to television. Women draped on the front of

slowly rotating automobiles drew the ever stronger connection between cars and the ability to get

women. These images of the car as a great thing, as a way to get power and sex, filtered quickly

into real and everyday life. The rites of passage that have developed around the car are evidence of

this. Most North American teenagers just can't wait to get their driver's license, the official proof of



This cultural link between the car and sexuality demonstrates how the car centred belief system was

built from the rubble of our most valued life experiences and the mortar of our perceived personal

inadequecies. Sexuality is one of the most vital and exciting parts of our lives. Unfortunately, the

dominant messages of our society and the day to day enforced morality of the 1950s made a good

job of quashing the sharing and beauty of sex. If you didn't have a horrible sex life already, the

myth-makers did as much as they could to convince you that you did. As sexuality has been broken

down into something that we don't have, or can't have, it has been easily sold back to us in the form

of cars and other consumer objects. In other words, advertising and other forms of popular culture

have linked sexual fulfillment to the car as a way to help us buy the car and love the car. It is

important to note that the accelerating car culture of the 1950s focused on the car only as the

solution to male sexual needs. In this way, the sexualization of the car not only commercialized

desire but also it contributed to the post-war rebuilding of male dominance in North American



Finally, the car was also brought into the hegemonic consumerist belief system by the skillful

application of words. Certain words hold immense power in a society, the power to sway people and

justify actions. In North American society, one of these words is "freedom". Freedom has many

meanings, and many connotations. The most overarching of these meanings play into the hands of

consumerism and the powers-that-be. In our culture, "freedom" can be used to conjure up ideas

about the right to espouse any political beliefs you like, the ability control your own body, or the right

to protection from oppressive economic and political forces. But more often than not, "freedom" is

used to invoke ideas about economic liberty in the marketplace _ the right to make a buck or the

right to buy the product you like, the "free" market and the "free" press. These more dominant uses

of the word freedom act as fundamental supports to consumerism. In the case of the car, freedom

has been strongly linked to freedom from parents, from the state, and the freedom to chose your

favourite model of car. By making such strong links between the car and freedom, culture-makers

have helped to secure the car's position as a "must have" product, and as a central element to our

obsession with mass consumption.


All of these things _ the suburbs, government road subsidies, the destruction of public transit in the

US, the creation of Hollywood car myths, the appropriation of our desires, and the links between the

car and central values like freedom _ have contributed to the creation of an almost all encompassing

car loving belief system in North America. This belief system has been so successful, and is so

pervasively connected to concepts of personal power and fun, that few North Americans would say

that they don't like cars. In fact, they can't get enough of them. This belief system is so pervasive

that the vision of the car as the only way to get around seems natural, "just the way things are".

Massive support for the car _ and in similar ways for consumerist beliefs in general _ amounts to a

tacit public consent to the political and economic system that makes mass consumption work. This

natural-seemingness of a belief system and this broad consent for a economic and political system

are the elements that make up hegemony. They indicate a situation where the desires of the

"general public" and the money making schemes of big corporations are "in harmony".


Of course there will always be people who either don't participate in the dominant way of doing

things, or who downright oppose it. In the case of the consumerist car culture, there are definitely

people who choose to use the predominantly shut out modes of transportation such as walking,

biking, busing and training. There are also people who come right out and say that cars should be

gotten rid of altogether and that we should all turn to other options. Although these people may be

acting and talking in ways that go counter to the dominant way of seeing things _ counter to the

hegemony _ the big car corporations don't bother with them much. Corporations are much more

interested in keeping consumerist myths rolling along than they are in talking to people who think that

the consumerist lifestyle is bunk.


Big corporations only start to worry about people who oppose them when there is actually a threat

to their ability to make a profit. People can rant and scream and do their own thing all they want as

long as they don't interfere with profits. But once you start tampering with profits _ by convincing

enough people that consumerism is a bad thing or by directly standing in the way of money making

operations _ you have crossed an important threshold. This is the threshold that stands between the

powers-that-be being nice to you, and being thrown in jail. It is at this point that the environmentalists

re-enter the story. As we saw earlier, the spread of eco-ideas during the 1980s was seen as a threat

by those at the top of the consumerist power ladder. Large numbers of people started to question

widely held beliefs that stood at the foundation of consumerism. Many North Americans started to

understand that using paper doesn't have to mean clearcutting our forests and that getting around

doesn't have to mean driving a car. This was a questioning of the dominant way of seeing the world.


When the dominant ways of seeing the world start to be questioned, the rich and powerful start to

wonder how they can keep the harmony of hegemony. A situation like this is often called a "crisis of

hegemony". Such a crisis usually results in two actions on the part of the powers-that-be. The first is

to undermine your opponents by making sure that the "general public" gets real happy again, real

fast. The second is to use force against the "agitators" who won't get back in line, while convincing

everybody else in society that the "agitators" were just a bunch of criminals anyway. In the

environmental "war for mens' minds", the rich and powerful generally choose to use the undermining

tactic first.



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For a complete version of this paper -- including pictures, sidebar commentary and a full

bibliography -- contact Mark Surman (msurman@web.apc.org)


This paper is COPYRIGHT MARK SURMAN (1994). Permission is granted to duplicate, print or

repost this paper as long as it is done on a non-commercial (ie. keep it free)and as long as the whole

paper is kept intact.




HEGEMONY. In its most common sense, hegemony (hejEMoNEE) refers to the dominance of

one group, nation, or culture over another. In the twentieth century, it has acquired the connotation

of political dominance, especially in regard to the activities of superpowers like the United States and

the former Soviet Union.


Though many theorists and critics often casually (and confusingly) use hegemony in this general

way, for Marxist and poststructuralist criticism it actually has a complex and specialized meaning.

As a theoretical concept, hegemony became important through the writings of the Italian Marxist

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), who uses the term in at least two distinct ways. At first, Gramsci

used hegemony to describe a revolutionary strategy that depended upon a structure of alliances

within the working-class that could serve as a unitary base for the overthrow of bourgeois

capitalism. Later, in his Prison Notebooks, hegemony refers to relationships between classes,

specifically the control that the bourgeoisie exerts over the working-classes. For Gramsci,

hegemonic control is not maintained merely by force or the threat of force, but by consent as well.

That is, a successful hegemony not only expresses the interest of a dominant class (see

IDEOLOGY), but also is able to get a subordinate class to see these interests as "natural' or a

matter of "common sense." For Gramsci, this attitude of consent to the social order permeates all

aspects of social existence, institutions, relationships, ideas, morals, etc. Gramsci further argues that

the basis of hegemony is not purely economic, but also exists within the cultural life of any society.

Therefore, a strategy of working-class revolution that depends solely on economistic models of

analysis is inadequate and doomed to failure.


The concept of hegemony as a unifying web of relations that function as natural or evident shares

much with poststructuralist discussions of, IDEOLOGY, DISCOURSE, and POWER, which are

also often seen as irreducible to a determinate origin and as constitutive of lived experience. While

such formulations have proven a problem for discussions of resistance, especially in the works of

Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault, Gramsci actually formulates hegemony in terms of resistance.

He proposes that in order to overthrow bourgeois hegemony--in order to perceive it as primarily

(though not exclusively) self-interested--it is necessary to form a "new" hegemony, which will have

an even greater basis of consent and which will address the needs and interests of a larger number

of groups. This fully extended society realizes itself in a democracy that will allow various groups to

unite at various times and according to their perceived shared social and political needs and goals.

Such a new hegemony can only be fashioned in opposition to the dominant one, which is perceived

as hegemony and not common sense when its unified, coherent worldview is no longer able to

explain satisfactorily events and experiences that contradict that unity. See also








The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism, edited by, Childers, Joseph

and Gary Hentzi











Louis Cummins


Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, édité par David Michael Levin

(Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 1993, 408







W.J.T. Mitchell remarquait dans son commentaire [1] portant sur le livre de

Martin Jay intitulé Downcast Eyes[2], que les publications récentes sur les

fonctions de la vision et de la visualité dans l'histoire de l'art, la philosophie, et la

critique de la culture (Cultural Stuties) se sont multipliées de manière

exponentielle durant les dernières années, à tel point qu'il a cru pouvoir identifier

l'émergence d'un nouveau paradigme dans l'histoire des idées. Au <<virage

linguistique>> (linguistic turn) de Richard Rorty, caractéristique des pratiques

scientifiques et des interactions ethico-politiques de ce siècle, Mitchell oppose un

<<virage pictural>> (pictorial turn) constitutif du discours dans les critiques

récentes de la culture.


Si Mitchell a raison d'observer une resurgence des préoccupations quant à la

question de la visualité dans les pratiques discursives américaines, il conclut

peut-être un peu trop rapidement en ce qui concerne la nature du déplacement

des paradigmes en question. Les procédures allégoriques des pratiques artistiques

identifiées à la postmodernité (C. Owen et B. Buchloh), aussi bien que les

lectures du modernisme comme pratiques sémiologiques (Y.A. Bois, R. Krauss,

L. Steinberg, C. Poggi), devraient nous inciter à plus de circonspection. En

accordant plus d'attention à l'un des /pp. 4-5/ ouvrages mentionnés par Mitchell,

par exemple Visual Theory[3], on constate que les historiens américains

contemporains de l'art se partagent (trop schématiquement peut-être) en deux

groupes opposés: les perceptualistes qui, comme Richard Wollheim, supposent

une position similaire (donc universalisable) de tous les sujets regardant par

rapport aux oeuvres d'art et, d'autre part, les tenants d'une position sémiologique

pour qui la production et la réception des images sont intégrées l'une à l'autre, de

même qu'aux conditions sociales et culturelles historiquement déterminées, en

tant que pratiques intertextuelles. Selon ce deuxième groupe, il ne serait guère

possible de comprendre correctement les productions artistiques en fonction de

leurs conditions sociales, culturelles et historiques, si l'on est pas en mesure de

saisir et de montrer comment elles opèrent comme systèmes de communication,

non seulement sur le plan sémantique, mais aussi sur celui de leur structure et

surtout de leur énonciation, c'est-à-dire de leur pragmatique. Telle est, à tout le

moins, la position défendue par des historiens d'art comme Norman Bryson,

Yve-Alain Bois, Rosalind Krauss.


À mon avis, la recrudescence des travaux sur la vision et la visualité est

principalement due à deux facteurs déterminants. Le premier est d'ordre

méthodologique, puisque l'importation de modèles qui se sont développés à partir

de la linguistique et des analyses littéraires dans le champ de l'art et de la

production culturelle d'images ne va pas sans poser des difficultés majeures (ce

qui ne veut pas dire qu'elles soient insurmontables). Tant et si bien que les

recherches effectuées aux États-Unis dans le sens d'une sémiologie de la

production artistique ont connu récemment un retournement qui laisse présager

des orientations méthodologiques prêtes à soutenir que les contenus des oeuvres

déterminent leur signification. Le second facteur relève d'une analyse de la

culture contemporaine, médiatisée par la télévision, la vidéo, le cinéma,

l'informa-/pp. 5-6/ tique, la télématique et la surveillance électronique[4], qui

nous inciterait à penser l'importance grandissante de la culture visuelle dans le

monde contemporain, et dont les modalités n'auraient plus rien à voir avec le

perspectivisme ou, contrairement à ce que pense Mitchell, avec un quelconque



L'édition préparée par David Levin de textes inédits portant sur l'hégémonie

moderne de la vision est donc publiée dans le contexte d'un débat, ayant cours

plus particulièrement aux États-Unis et en Angleterre, qui oppose les tenants

d'une approche sémiologique, structuraliste ou post-structuraliste, à ceux, plus

nombreux, qui défendent soit des modèles iconographiques, en prétextant

l'apolitisme des thèses formalistes, soit des approches phénoménologiques qui

prétendent que les expériences visuelles ne sont pas réductibles aux propositions

discursives. Malgré leurs différentes visées, les opposants au <<virage

linguistique>> soutiendraient d'un commun accord que les sémiologues ne sont,

en fait, que des formalistes déguisés.


L'importante contribution de Levin, et des auteurs qu'il a réunis, ne se situe pas

toutefois sur le terrain de l'histoire et de la critique de l'art, ni de la critique de la

culture, mais plutôt sur celui de la philosophie, favorisant ainsi des considérations

plus générales, plus spéculatives, qui s'enlisent peut-être moins dans des

discussions techniques et factuelles. En effet, seuls font exception le texte de

Mieke Bal qui porte sur le regard et les dispositifs de représentation du nu féminin

dans la Danaé de Rembrandt et L'Olympia de Manet, celui de Susan

Buck-Morss qui a trait au projet de Walter Benjamin concernant les Arcades

parisiennes, et le texte de Robert D. Romanyshyn portant sur la télévision.


Les quinze articles réunis dans l'ouvrage préparé par Levin ont ceci en commun:

au lieu de démontrer <<l'oculocentrisme>> de la modernité, comme nous serions

portés à le croire de par le /pp. 6-7/ titre, ils visent plutôt à déplacer les enjeux

d'une telle présupposition. S'il est question de l'hégémonie de la vision comme

constitutive des <<Temps Modernes>> -- comme nous l'avait enseigné

Heidegger, entre autres, dans <<L'époque des 'conceptions du monde'

(Weltbild)>>, le second article de Holzwege --, ce n'est pas tant pour défendre

cette thèse que pour examiner la diversité des régimes scopiques qui se trouvent

impliqués dans l'histoire de la philosophie occidentale depuis les Pré-socratiques

jusqu'à nos jours. En fait, seuls les articles de Levin lui-même [5] et de Martin

Jay[6] assument d'emblée que le <<Monde comme représentation>>, initié par le

cartésianisme et rétrospectivement identifié par Heidegger, fonde la culture

occidentale de la connaissance, de la morale et de l'esthétique. Dans les autres

textes, on nous laisse entendre que l'association de la vision et de la vérité est

aussi vieille que la philosophie occidentale elle-même, voire que le monde

chrétien (à travers la métaphore de la lumière, comme le montre Hans

Blumenberg); ou encore que dans le cartésianisme même ainsi que ses dérivés

modernes jusqu'à Hegel, le régime scopique perspectiviste ne fut pas seul à être

privilégié et que d'autres modèles, auquels on devrait accorder plus d'attention,

furent aussi l'objet d'un questionnement philosophique.


Quant au cartésianisme, qui a en quelque sorte servi de cible aux attaques

philosophiques contre l'hégémonie de la vision depuis Nietzsche jusqu'à Derrida,

l'argumentation de Dalia Judovitz démontre que dans les thèses de Descartes, ce

n'est pas tant la vision qui serait paradigmatique que les conditions et les limites

promulguées par la raison réfléchissante. Car la vision elle-même n'est qu'une

construction de la pensée rationnelle et son référent n'est que la projection

optique d'un système géométrique. Chez Descartes, la visualité en tant que

structurée par la raison et la technique, /pp. 7-8/ c'est-à-dire l'optique

instrumentale, serait transposée sur le plan de la pensée pour fournir un modèle

de la connaissance, mais ne constituerait pas en soi un lieu privilégié, bien au

contraire. Stephen Houlgate, quant à lui, soutient que dans la tradition moderne

de la connaissance, où le rationalisme et l'empirisme ne seraient que des variantes

d'une même épistémè, ce n'est pas la vision qui ferait problème, mais plutôt une

conception étriquée de la pensée; et, en définitive, que l'intuition visuelle offrirait

une conception plus généreuse de la fonction de la vision dans sa formation,

comme dans le cas du système philosophique de Hegel:


If we accept that vision is properly to be identified with the blending together of

visual sensation and spatial awareness in visual intuition, then we can see that, at

least as Hegel presents it, vision does not effect the kind of narrow reduction of

things to mere disposable objects, and does not have an "inveterate tendancy to

grasp, secure, master and dominate" as David Levin, for example, suggests.

Visual intuition certainly relates to objects: it places objects before itself and thus

incorporates within itself the moment of consciousness or Vorstellen. But it does

not just think of these objects as things which are reflected back into themselves

and which stand over against us, presenting their visible properties to view and

being available for use. Visual intuition does not push objects away from it, or

appropriate them, in order to gain greater certainty of itself; it attends to objects --

opens and gives itself to them -- and discloses the concrete, unified presence of

the objects themselves by letting them stand out in space, that is, by making

space for them -- a space which is known to be real and present all around us and

to be the space which we ourselves share.[7]


Malgré les différences entre Houlgate et Levin portant sur les caractéristiques de

l'oculocentrisme de la Modernité, en particulier en ce qui concerne la philosophie

de Hegel, le rejet d'une /pp. 8-9/ conception instrumentale de la vision les réunit,

comme elle réunit d'ailleurs tous les auteurs rassemblés dans l'ouvrage. Dans la

perspective heideggerienne de Levin, il ne s'agissait pas seulement de faire la

critique de l'oculocentrisme moderne, mais surtout de faire opérer

subversivement d'autres régimes de vision:


Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida have all seen, traced, and attempted to

understand the advent of a distinctively modern form of ocularcentrism. Each

one, of course, in his own perspective. But, for all their differences, each one has

gone beyond critique, using the textuality, the work of critique to articulate and

practice what might be called "countervisions": not only critical and strategically

subversive observations, but also historically new ways of seeing, ways that

model visions very different in character from the one that has become

hegemonic. ( 7)


Dans son article, Levin discute les thèses de Heidegger en proposant que

l'opposition essentielle ne s'articule pas principalement entre l'écoute et la vue (ce

qui, bien sûr, est l'une des positions de Heidegger, puisque c'est dans la parole

poétique d'un Holderlin, d'un Rilke ou d'un Trakl que se manifeste le dévoilement

de la vérité de l'Etre dans la Modernité), mais entre une vision instrumentale,

quotidienne et réifiante, qui pose le monde comme Gestell, c'est-à-dire comme

une organisation ordonnée et totalisante du monde régie par une volonté de

pouvoir et de domination, d'une part, et une vision aléthétique qui propose

d'autre part une ouverture à la vérité de l'Etre. En d'autres mots, ce qui fait

problème pour Levin, ce n'est pas tant la vision elle-même que le caractère qu'elle

a pris, et prend toujours, dans la Modernité.


Si tel est le cas -- s'il s'agit effectivement de développer des formes de vision qui

échapperaient à l'hégémonie de la perception perspectiviste et réductionniste où la

structure fondamentale de la connaissance s'articule sur le mode d'une

appropriation du monde comme forme réféchissante du Moi, ou du Sujet comme

Gegenstand, et des rapports sociaux sous le mode de la soumission et de la

surveillance --, on constate avec surprise que les réfé-/pp. 9-10/ rences aux deux

principaux théoriciens francais, Lyotard et Lacan, qui ont consacré une partie

importante de leurs travaux à l'analyse des régimes scopiques en initiant un

déplacement determinant de cette question, sont presque complètement absentes

de l'ouvrage. Ils ne sont cités que par Martin Jay, et ce, en regard de leurs

différences par rapport à Merleau-Ponty. On peut se demander ce que signifie

une telle omission.


Il faut d'abord noter que le parti pris, aussi bien de l'éditeur que de la plupart des

auteurs rassemblés, est essentiellement philosophique. Ce qui les intéressent avant

tout, ce sont les fonctions de la vision (et de l'audition) dans la constitution de la

connaissance et de la morale, du savoir et du pouvoir. À mon avis, ce point de

vue philosophique, qui prend tout naturellement position contre une vision

instrumentale, cache en fait un autre programme assez conforme à la position

éthique traditionnelle de la philosophie. En effet, de cette conception de la vision

(fût-elle réceptive au dévoilement de l'Etre de l'étant, ou fût-elle défocalisée), ce

qui <<honteusement>> s'absente une fois de plus, c'est le corps, le désir et les

pulsions. Car une vision incarnée est également instrumentale et objectale. Elle

n'a pas, bien sûr, l'élévation d'une vision qui prétend constituer un savoir et qui

désire embrasser la totatité du monde, ou de la vision aléthétique qui se veut

réceptive à la révélation de l'Etre. Elle est partiale, intéressée et, tout compte fait,

ignoble! En d'autres mots, la révision anti-instrumentaliste des régimes scopiques

de la Modernité, proposée par Levin et les auteurs qu'il a réunis, est elle-même

marquée par la répression d'un autre type de vision objectale dont il n'est pas

même fait mention. Pourtant, elle devrait constituer une assise anthropologique

indispensable pour une critique efficace du privilège accordé à la conception

paradigmatique de la vision dans le champ de la connaissance.


Si la légitimité des régimes scopiques dominants de la Modernité nous apparaît de

plus en plus devoir être remise en question, précisément à cause de leur

occultation des rapports de domination qui se camouflaient derrière l'objectivité et

la transparence du Savoir, il n'est pas du tout certain que la restauration de leurs

modalités intuitives, ouvertes et désintéressées /pp. 10-11/ puissent échapper à

d'autres systèmes de légitimation qui seraient tout aussi totalisants, et d'autant

plus inquiétants s'ils paraissaient indiscutables. Il importe, bien sûr, de revoir ces

régimes; mais peut-être pas à la manière dont il nous est proposé dans cette

collection d'essais, laquelle a, malgré tout, l'avantage de susciter une relecture

différenciatrice de l'histoire de la philosophie occidentale de la vision. Ce n'est

peut-être pas, non plus, en adoptant ipso facto le point de vue du <<virage

linguistique>> constitutif du modernisme, qu'on saura se garder complètement de

l'hégémonie de la vision. Car ce point de vue se laisse souvent, lui aussi,

subsumer dans une utopie de la transparence que les interactions

communicationnelles devraient pouvoir atteindre à travers un processus progressif

de clarification. Mais en adoptant, dans le cas de la vision comme dans celui de la

textualité, une déconstruction des principes de sublimation qui y sont à l'oeuvre,

on pourra peut-être échapper aux présupposés hégémoniques de l'explication



Il serait souhaitable qu'une critique de la vision et des différents régimes

scopiques de la Modernité puisse d'abord montrer comment ceux-ci ont consisté

à réprimer le corps et le désir, pour ensuite analyser comment l'ignoble et le

plaisir intéressé ont travaillé insidieusement la position éthique du discours

philosophique. Il faudrait aussi voir comment certaines oeuvres philosophiques,

scientifiques et artistiques avaient réussi à subvertir les normes de ces régimes, en

faisant valoir non pas les modalités non-instrumentales, défocalisées, intuitives ou

ouvertes, mais les composantes étranges et inquiétantes qui ont laissé poindre

l'abîme de ces systèmes. On peut les repérer, en histoire de l'art, dans les travaux

de Georges Didi-Huberman, d'Hubert Damisch, de Jurgis Baltrusaitis, de

Rosalind Krauss et de quelques autres.


Louis Cummins


City University of New York


/p. 11/


[1]<<The Eyes Have It>>, Artforum 32;5 (January 1994): 9-10.


[2]Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century

French Thought (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: The University of California

Press, 1993).


[3]Visual Theory, edited by Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly & Keith Moxey

(New York: Harper Collins, 1991).


[4]Voir à ce sujet le court texte de Deleuze, <<Postscript on the Societies of

Control>>, October 59 (Hiver 1992).

[5]<<Decline and Fall; Ocularcentrism in Heidegger's Reading of the History of

Metaphysics>>, 186-217.

[6]<<Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and the Search for a New Ontology of Sight>>,



[7]Houlgate, <<Vision, Reflection, and Openness; The 'Hegemony of Vision' from a Hegelian Point of View>>, 114.


SEHR, volume 4, issue 1: Bridging the Gap

Updated 8 April 1995



what's love got to do with it?


Adriano Palma



Herbert Simon appears very neutral with respect to the many possible "schools" of literary criticism.

And maybe he achieves that goal (but not by uttering sentences consisting only of common sense,

though; hence he did not fail). He is not neutral, however, in philosophy. In what follows, I would

like to suggest at least some of the ways in which what Herbert Simon states is not uncontroversial

at all.


1. Externalist Construals of Meaning


In much of contemporary philosophy of language a sort of quasi- consensus has developed to the

effect that "meanings ain't in the head." Externalist ideas have been around since seminal articles

written by Hilary Putnam, for example. They can be summarized roughly as follows: what

determines the meaning of a symbol cannot be only what goes on from within the thinking-meaning

entity because if that were the case we would run afoul of the intuitions encased in the so-called

twin-earth tests of intuitions. For reasons of space I don't want to wax long on this, but Herbert

Simon is squarely on the other side. The meaning not only of a single term (Putnam's example was

"water") but of entire texts is the meaning of that text to someone or something, and that thinking

entity can recover meanings via recognitional capacities internal to it. Herbert Simon's "physical

symbol system hypothesis" runs directly counter to this somewhat orthodox standpoint: all that is

needed to have meanings is the ability to "input symbols into memory, combine and reorganize them

into symbol structures, store such structures over time, erase them, output them through motor

processes, compare pairs of symbols for equality or inequality, and branch." These are capacities

that are not only present in humans, but, as Herbert Simon unambiguously states, they are already

present now in computers. And, I take it, computers are not externalist meaning-engines at all.


2. Is This an Empirical Question or Not?


The physical symbol system is an empirical hypothesis for Herbert Simon. But again this is not

universally accepted. To cite the clearest example of the opposition, John Searle (1990) presents the

following "formal" argument to prove the hypothesis a priori incoherent. Premise 1: Computer

programs are formal (syntactic); premise 2: Human minds have mental contents (semantics);

premise 3: Syntax by itself is neither constitutive of nor sufficient for semantics. Conclusion:

Programs are neither constitutive nor sufficient for semantics. Now only either Searle or Simon is

right (either it is an empirical hypothesis that computers think and access meanings or it is false, but

it is false a priori because of a very basic form of conceptual misunderstanding). Personally, I tend

towards the view that what we face here is the need to uncover of the implicit premisses of both

(Searle's and Herbert Simon's views). In particular much of the premises Searle is using depend

upon a specific stand (a first-person stand is the one and only affording us the knowledge that our

brain is not only a syntactic engine) but it would be very interesting to uncover more of the implicit

structure of Herbert Simon's reasoning in that respect.


3. Antiholism and Literary Meanings


One important strand of Herbert Simon's views-and again, at least in the experience of this writer,

far from uncontroversial-is that meaning pertains to single words (or even to units smaller than

words). There is a vast area of literary criticism which is standing dogmatically behind the holistic

dogma along the lines "no meaning without larger and larger contexts." At the limit of the process, of

course, the context is the universe as a whole and we can not isolate anything as the meaning of a

text. I found very refreshing in Simon's treatment the development of the idea that recovering more

meanings out of a literary text is not at all contradictory vis-à-vis the plain fact that "dog" can be a

meaningful term all by itself. The idea is that we need not underplay or undermine the evocative

power of a novel or of a poem by denying that the use of terms in it can be as commonplace as



4. What's Love Got to Do with It?


I found most intriguing but eventually less than fully satisfying Simon's comments on the

representational character of some "artistic expressions." "Representational" is something which

denotes outside itself and "nonrepresentational" is something which does not have a "built-in"

semantics. Music (and not operas or songs) is nonrepresentational by this standard. The

mechanisms which make us "understand" music are very obscure indeed, but I can't help but ask

whether we should not go one step further and see meanings also in syntactic structures (broadly

interpreted) themselves. Music seems to me to evoke meanings purely via its syntax, and we should

try to develop a comprehension of what the contemplation of syntax brings about in terms of

meanings attached to meaningless texts.


5. Who Owns a Text Is a Trivial Question


Simon tends to see the realm of literary criticism in catholic ways: there is no point is trying to show

that authors' intentions are irrelevant, since they are relevant to she who writes. The readers can,

and most often will, find more meaning and different meanings from the intended ones. What is

relevant is that the richness of meaningful structures is common wealth: it is open to all from the

airport reading of a pulp novel to the rarefied atmosphere of Cummings. And one cannot but agree

that much of the debates between different schools of criticisms appears to be an effect of the need

of academia to produce new fashions and new ways to publish to enhance one's status within

academia itself. But it remains that if meanings are, albeit tenuously, dependent on intensions or

intentions of those who write and of those who read, then there are meanings in text, that they are

not composed by free signifiers, as some would have us believe. It seems to the present writer that

the increased cooperation between a cognitive approach and literary criticism cannot but be helpful

in seeing more clearly that literature (and maybe art in general) does not have any privileged status.

It is indeed part and parcel of the evocation of meanings we encounter everywhere. One important

way of looking at this consists in the construction of cognitive theory of rhetoric. Much of what is

evoked by literary texts depends on the skillful ways writers have used to evoke without saying, and

ambiguity is just one of them. In this sense perhaps the "two" cultures can start talking to each other,

escaping from the traps of the imperialist views that not long ago saw language as a "fascist" order

of discourse.