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This review appeared in Volume 6 (1) of The Semiotic Review of Books.
The Human Science of Communicology: A Phenomenology of Discourse in Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. By Richard L. Lanigan. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1992. 273 pp. ISBN 0- 8207-0242-0.
Communication Theory Today. David Crowley and David Mitchell (eds.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.1994.312 pp. ISBN 0-8047-2348-6.
Materialities of Communication. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer (eds.) Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994. 447 pp. ISBN 0- 8047-2263-3.
Communicology is, Richard Lanigan writes in The Human Science of Communicology, "a name whose time is 'just now' in the academic world." (1) it is apparently unburdened by the cumbersome names given to other "communications." Lanigan does not think of communicology as a new paradigm; nor does he consider it a discipline. It is previously un-owned, with vague origins in American cybernetics of the 1950s. Put simply, it is an English version of communicologie and Kommunikationgemeinschaft. Its theoretical and research methods are informed by semiotic phenomenology, Lanigan's sense of which is developed through readings of seminal precursors such as Erving Goffman, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and most importantly, Michel Foucault, as well as through selected cultural ephemera.
Lanigan's first chapter, "On The Foundations of Communicology As A Human Science," is organized by the question: "Can an American do semiotic phenomenology?"The obvious answer is yes, only if the work of C.S. Peirce, John Dewey, William James, George Herbert Mead, and others, is recovered to provide a recognizable and coherent foundation. In the second chapter, "Erving Goffman And The Attempt At A Phenomenolgy of Mass Media," Lanigan uses Goffman's "largely atheoretical" ethnomethodology as a springboard for the development of a theoretical model for communicology. There are three steps in laying bare the sign logic of a phenomenon. That is, the three steps of phenomenological method (Description, Reduction, Interpretation) have a semiotic focus grafted onto them, yielding: i) Sign Description: specifying the discursive signs of human communication; ii) Signifier Reduction: abstracting those signifiers which express the essence of the description; iii) Signified interpretation: interpreting the meaning of the reduction of the description.
Lanigan's Communicology contains its own encyclopedic dictionary (Appendix B) of terms (nestled among a substantial set of appendices dealing with: A. Lucien Levy-Bruhl; C. Margaret Mead; D. Definitions relevant to Lanigan's Cultural Values and Communication Model discussed in Chapter 2; E. Edward Hall) bringing together semiotics, phenomenology and communication theory in the service of the author's research methodology. This makes the book a user's guide of sorts, but it also makes it dense and definition- riddled, adding little substantive material for semioticians and phenomenologists alike. While it is Foucault, Lanigan thinks, who "gives us a new domain of research that we may call communicology: a rhetoric of the person situated within a discourse on the human sciences," (81) Lanigan's reading of this proto-communicologist is at times little more than a severe recoding involving the insertion of bracketed terms from the semiotic-phenomenological triad into quotations from Foucault (87) For the main effort here is to reveal the phenomenological facets of archaeology on the way to a semiotic phenomenology of the human sciences. Lanigan's four chapters on Foucault ("Somebody is Nowhere", "The Algebra of History"; "Foutcault's Chinese Encyclopedia"; "The Voiceless Name And The Nameless Voice") involve the intensive modelling of phenomenological themes in The Archaeology of Knowledge, This is Not A Pipe, and The Order of Things.
The oddest thing about communicology is that, on the one hand, it doesn't seem to have existed - except in virtue of renaming existing methods ? and, on the other hand, it seems that its future has already passed. This is the result, one may imagine, of being " just now" but not just yet. In the communicational honky tonk, strange scenes are unfolding. Lanigan reflects:
In the film Tender Mercies (1983), the actor Robert Duvall plays the part of a down and out alcoholic country-western singer named Max Sledge. As Sledge comes out of the feed store in (a) small Texas town, a woman on the sidewalk, a stranger, asks him: 'Mister, did you use' to be Max Sledge?" He answers: 'Yes, I was him'. we, you, and 1, here and now in the narrative of this chapter, stand on the same sidewalk as Max Sledge. Someday a stranger will ask us, 'Mister, did you use' to be a communicologist?' Because our lifeworld will come to displace our professional paradigms, we will be able to answer: 'Yes, I was one'. (12)
In the future, communicologists will have been, like Max Sledge, what they were, even though they only have an outline of what that was. Lanigan tells us that communicology really is, after all, a professional paradigm disconnected from the lifeworld. Down and out communicologists everywhere may look back with anger on their professional paradigm, and quietly reinhabit the lifeworlds denied them by their careers spent studying "human" communication by means of phenomenological method. Whether they will be able to take much of an interest in matters setting human praxis in motion seems unlikely. This is not the only Max that readers of Communicology will encounter. The third chapter, "Silent Science," contains several applications of Lanigan's semiotic phenomenology including an analysis of Max Headroom, understood through a Baudrillard- inspired reading of the precession of simulacra (Max was a sign born of a computer simulation, and thus he lacks an object which he resembles; so, a person must be found who resembles him) and the corollary mediatic implosions of the television show. No mention is made of Mad Max.
Umberto Eco (1986:149) once wrote that "all the professors of theory of communications, trained by the texts of twenty years ago (this includes me), should be pensioned off." Down and out communicologists, washed-up country and western singers, washed-up television icons from the 1980s, and professors of communication theory trained in the 1960s, should be drawing their pensions. Eco, of course, doesn't really include himself in this group because he demonstrates his awareness, in the text from which the quote is lifted, of today's conditions - unlike his less up to date colleagues: Power is elusive, multi-centered; ideology is diffuse, media have been 'squared', etc. David Crowley and David Mitchell, editors of Communication Theory Today quote Eco's pronouncement but resist its overt implications.(14) They are attuned to the "new transdisciplinary border conditions" of communication studies, and have brought together essays whose commonalities are fourfold: a concern with meaning-construction approaches; local conditions of production and reception; post-mass media culture; self-consciously recuperative theorizing. One of the ways in which Crowley and Mitchell handle Eco's challenge is by suggesting that the current buzzword describing our progressively deregulated electronic world, post-mass media, does not signify a decisive break with existing conditions and frameworks of understanding and analysis. The editors identify a common thread of bringing "older frameworks" to bear upon current projects. This reflux encourages them, and some of their contributors, to dip into their savings and keep on working. Presumably, those communications theorists fingered by Eco can still show their theoretical mettle and analytic moxie, according to Crowley and Mitchell, by making their analyses relevant to communication theory today. After all, the 'post' in post-mass media indicates the reluctance to abandon massification and all it implies (media, markets, production/consumption). Crowley and Mitchell have understood well Eco's strategy of demonstrating his currency while simultaneously, and only rhetorically, pensioning himself off.
It is in this spirit of renewal that Joshua Meyrowitz reclaims the broad civilisational brushstrokes of theorists such as Innis and McLuhan for a "second-generation medium theory" in his article "Medium Theory." The self- conscious aspect of such recuperations is addressed in terms of a reading of Anthony Giddens' s met a-sociology and a reflexive approach to communicating about communication by Klaus Krippendorff in "A Recursive Theory of Communication." William Leiss renews Shannon and Weavers's engineering theory of communication - referred to in an essay by Majid Tehranian on "Communication and Development" as a transmission-belt model - in his examination of problems of risk communication, defined as "any purposeful exchange of information about health or environmental issues." (132) Leiss's attempt at updating this model is, according to the arguments of several other contributors (specifically Ang and Poster, whose contributions are discussed below), out of step with current postmodern conditions. In fact, Tehranian provides a handy tool for contrasting cybernetic and linguistic models of communication and development: the former includes the transmission-belt model of communication and the rationalist development model, with the shared assumptions of managing "change within information-bound cybernetic structures", the latter includes a semiotic model of communication and an emancipatory development model, with the shared assumption of managing "change through human agency, communicative action and structuration." (288-89) The essays of Dennis McQuail, "Mass Communication And The Public Interest" and William Melody,"Electronic Networks, Social Relations And The Changing Structure of Knowledge," respectively examine the principles of normative media theory and the role of "policy discretion" in controlling the technological juggernaut of CITS (communication and information technologies).
Ien Ang disrupts the orgy of transparency and resurgence at the outset of his contribution "In the Realm of Uncertainty: The Global Village and Capitalist Postmodernity": "Speaking about the present condition of the world, or 'today', has become a thoroughly messy and capricious matter." (193) in today's global village, communication breakdown - fundamental uncertainty and heterogeneity- is normal. Ang's radical poststructuralist gesture discovers the communication gap engendered by capitalist postmodernity: social disintegration and the non- stop social differentiation; chaotic reception practices irreducible both to audience measurement technologies and even to oversimplistic celebrations of alternative reading practices as everyday acts of resistance. At this juncture it is useful to recall the remarks of Crowley's colleague Derrick de Kerckhove, Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. Having played the role of guinea pig in Steve Kline's Media Analysis Lab at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, De Kerckhove writes (1991 :42)that he is amazed at the subtlety of the readings of his physiological responses to televisional material generated in Kline's lab, but that Kline "had yet to find a way of correlating the data with anything more than emotion," which is to say that the data "could not be interpreted." This is one instance of the uncertainty of communication and the difficulty of consolidating so-called 'results' with existing models of interpretation.
It is useful to read Ang's contribution together with Mark Poster's essay "The Mode of Information And Postmodernity." Poster uses concepts (such as Foucault's sense of panopticon) from poststructuralist texts to account for the social impact of databases, for instance, which function as a kind of "super- panopticon" while surveying and composing profiles of us as we do our banking, grocery shopping, and the like. While Poster holds that "post-structuralist theory opens the field of electronically mediated communication in a way that locates its internal complexity and its relation to culture," (189) such theory is contingent upon the socio-historical context of today's communications technologies. Poststructuralism may not, then, be apposite to the modes of information in the socio-historical field of "tomorrow." In the absence of a collected bibliography, it is difficult to appreciate precisely where Communication Theory Today has been and may be leading us.
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer's substantial volume of essays Materialities of Communication takes up the issue of communication breakdown in a section devoted to "Communication Systems and Their Discontents." The objects treated in this section are diverse: the fall of the Roman Empire, whose end "is not a historical date but rather a prerequisite for something's becoming history." (304) and whose causes "cannot themselves be historical." (Bernhard Siegert); technology transfer and the meaning of "unconditional surrender" (of Germany to America) in World War II (Friedrich Kittler); the stockmarket crash of October 19,1987, understood as the crash of simulations of the market "in their ability to describe the actual situation because their orientation at average values did not include the possibilities that a certain set of parameters - considered minimal - could turn maximal..." (Wulf Halbach, 340); the paradoxes of identity produced by discourses on AIDS in Germany (Alois Hahn); the postmodern predicament of world in which images, freed from the logos, cannot be organized, slowed down, and brought under control (Wlad Godzich); the mind as an irritant, stimulus, and medium of communication between two independent, but structurally complementary auotpoetic systems (mind and communication) (Niklas Luhmann); and finally, a mapping of the nonhermeneutic materialities of communication with reference to a "less anthropocentric (less spiritual), less antitechnological, and less transcendental forms of human self-reference" (Gumbrecht, 392); that is, the body, the exteriority of the signifier, and short- lived contingencies.
It is at the moment when one recognizes that communication is strange to itself that the need to break existing "interpretational habits" (Pfeiffer) and "overcome the temptation to fall back into theories and discourses that are inhabited by such totalitarian spectres as causality, philosophy of history, and the transcendental subject" (Gumbrecht, 402) becomes acute. Indeed, the materialities of communication are, as Pfeiffer notes, somewhat immaterial since the goal of the volume is not to uncover "the reality of the material or the materiality of the real." (12) By the same token, this does not warrant the celebration of the immateriality of electronics. For materiality is a metaphor for the realization in various media of the potentialities and pressures of institutional constraints, techniques, technologies, styles, materials, etc. put in another way, and despite the arbitrariness of money's body, Marx (1973: 145) recognized in the Grundrisse that the materiality of money is "by no means a matter of indifference." Certain demands, Marx adds, will be made on the material despite the symbol's arbitrariness. In fact, he adds that a given society will later try to "disentangle" itself from the materiality of a so- called imperishable commodity.
What better place to focus the problems of materiality and communication than with the example, studied by Jan Assmann in "Ancient Egypt And The Materiality of The Sign," of hieroglyphics whose materiality were not completely "semantically neutralized" - but rendered "latently cosignificant." (24-5) we then shift from the sensual presence of the monumental mural, perhaps not imperishable but enduring iconic system, to the simulated sensual presence of the monument of the book in Jan-Dirk Muller's "The Body of The Book." In "Comments On A Ball: Nietzsche's Play on The Typewriter," Martin Stingelin brings to light the effects of the typewriter on Nietzsche's thought - incidentally, for those concerned with Nietzsche's precious things, he preferred the Danish Molling Hansen to the American Remington. He argues that "the typewriter actually does mark a decisive break in Nietzsche's works," since his wordplay, freed from borrowed metaphysical aporias and the model of illustration, embraces the mechanical reproduction of the letter and "becomes constitutive for his texts." (82) The transition from cinematic to electronic materialities is interrogated by Vivian Sobchack in "The Scene of The Screen" in terms of the progressive diminution of lived-body experience: the cinematic lived-body giving way to the electronic no-body. (99) This insubstantiality of electronic presence is readdressed through the perceived privilege of televisual presence in Monika Eisner, Thomas Muller, and Peter M. Spangenberg's essay on "The Early History of German Television," which rounds out the book's section on "Media of Communication And Historical Thresholds."
Another way of putting the example of money's body I used above is evident in the contributions on music by Albrecht Rietmüller, "The Matter of Music is Sound And Body-Motion," and Andreas Ballstaedt, "Dissonance in Music," in the section concerning "Sounds, Colors, And Their Nonsemantic Functions." Rietmuller reads the ancient text De musica by Aristides Quintilianus in order to puzzle through his claim that music has a materiality (not including musical notation) of tone and sound, even though music is today commonly considered to be immaterial. Similarly, dissonance is explored not only as infra-musical conflict but as a kind of "cognitive dissonance" affected by extra-musical materiality introduced through quotation. Essays follow on visual art (Stepan Bann on "Cy Twombly's Straying Signs" and Klaus Dirscherl on "Tapies, or The Materiality of Painting") and the section entitled "Embodiment And The Limits of Signification" includes pieces on performance by Paul Zumthor, "Body And Performance," and Karlheinz Barck, "Materiality, Materialism. Performance."
Materialities of Communication may be positioned in the burgeoning literature on body theory that has marked the transition from a mode of theorizing passing through phenomenology into postmodern modes of critique. There are many different kinds of bodies at issue in this book, many of which are not biological. Of the latter, however, special attention should be given to Francisco J. Varela and Marck R. Anspach's "The Body Thinks: The Immune System in The Process Of Somatic Individuation." This exploration of the "communicative body," that is, of the bio-text upon which institutions inscribe themselves but upon which these institutions depend for their power to do so (O'Neill 1989), shows that "the immune network now stands alongside neural networks as a source of mechanisms and explanations for basic cognitive phenomena such as recognition, learning, memory, and adaptability." (284) in short, "we think with our entire body." Coupled with Jean-François Lyotard's contribution "Can Thought Go on Without A Body?" the question of the materiality of thought is raised with appeal to the impossibility of a thought that does not use bodily analogies: "the body, our phenomenological, mortal, perceiving body, is the only available analogn for thinking a certain complexity of thought." (Lyotard, 300) This body, Lyotard stresses, is gendered, and the difference of genered bodies "makes thought go on endlessly." Neither the individual authors not the editors care to consider that body talk may have already become an interpretational habit.
A final note is in order on the assumption of the opposite. The motif of materiality was inspired by an exhibition entitled Les immatériaux at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1985. The return to materiality seemed, Pfeiffer explains, like "a return to the obsolete." The guiding notion became the investigation of the material sites or supports of impure immaterialities and non-substantialistic materialities.
Eco. Umberto (1986) "The Multiplication of the Media," in Travels in Hyperreality. Trans. William Weaver. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace. Jovanovich.
De Kerckhove, Derrick (1991) Brainframes: Technology, Mind and Business. Utrecht: BSO/Origin.
Marx, Karl (1973) Grundrisse. Trans. Martin Nicolaus. New York: Vintage.
O'Neill. John (1989) The Communicative Body. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Gary Genosko is an independent researcher living in Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of Baudrillard and Signs (Routledge, 1994) and the editor of the The Guattari Reader (forthcoming, Basil Blackwell). He has published articles on semiotics in The American Journ al ot Semiotics and RSSI. His article "Augustine Gives us The Finger" will appear in Semiotica 104 - 1/2 (1995).