Author Archives: Estefania Tocado Orviz

About Estefania Tocado Orviz

Ph.D Candidate at the Spanish and Portuguese Department Georgetown University

Meaning and Collective Memory in El Sur by Víctor Erice

Estefania Tocado

This famous scene of the protagonist, Estrella, riding her bicycle up and down the road to herhome of Victor Erice´s film “The South” (El Sur) instances what Peirce refers to as icons.  According to Peirce, icons “serve to convey ideas of the things they represent simply by imitating them” and are quite representative in photographs since they look to be exactly like the objects they represent (3).  It is well known that film derives from photography.  Therefore, I would like to discuss this filmic sequence focusing on the importance of icons in order to provide meaning.  According to Pierce, we receive meaning through signs in ongoing sequences, named infinite semiosis, and therefore concepts or images are an interface for combining something individually perceptible with something intersubjectively cognitive.  So human thought is dialogic, therefore there is a prior interpretation of signs and the meaning that can be expressed or represented further with signs (Irvine 9-10).

In this process of interpretation and networking, culture plays an important role.  Yu M. Lotman affirms that we understand culture as a “nonhereditary memory of the community,” a memory expressing itself in a system of constraints and prescriptions.  Erice´s film was released in 1983 during the early years of the young Spanish democracy (213).  The film is full of references to Francoism and how a family whose political ideas opposed to Franco´s was isolated from the rest of the world.  The following sequence encapsulates a network of meaning that operates in a dialogic system where multiple interpretations at the political and personal level take place.  Young Estrella leaves the family home with her bicycle and her puppet to run down the long road that links the family home to the village as an allegory of their ideological isolation from the regime and the world.  On an individual level Erice uses the bicycle, the dog, the lighting, and even the white marks on the trees as icons to represent the passing of time but also as promoting the development of the deeper symbolic resources of meaning and its potential combinations as constituent dialogic networks of meaning motivated by a specific cultural community in time and in place (Irvine 30).

As Lotman points out, “culture is memory or a record of how a community has experienced it or how it has connected to the past historical experience” (214).  Erice portrays the figure of Estrella not only of that of a young girl who has matured, but also as a cultural and mental representation of the isolation of those against the regime at that time.  The conceptual metaphor of Estrella bicycling the physical path and the conceptual liminal boundary that separates her and her family from “the real world” relies on a dialogic “situation in time and place” that could also be networked and extrapolated to other nodes of meaning.  Some of them clearly perceptible at the individual and collective level to the members of the Spanish community that experienced Francoism, but also it is heavily reliant on “that cultural encyclopedia” that easily could conform meaning in a different cultural community that had experienced similar political circumstances. (Irvine 30)

Works Cited

Irvine, Martin, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A model for Generative Combinatoriality.” The Routledge Companion To Remix Studies. Ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. New York: Routledge, 2014. 1-60.

Lotman, Yu M. and B. A. Upensky. “On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture.” New Literary History 9. 2 (Winter 1978): 211-232.

Peirce, C. S. “What is a Sign.” Peirce Edition Project. Indiana University. Media Theory and Cognitive Technologies. Georgetown U, Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.


The Text and the Digital Media

Estefanía Tocado

Last semester I was asked a very simple question that is not that simple to answer:  Why read in the 21st century?  After thinking about it and researching about the topic, I decided to approach the question in a very positive way.  So my thesis was that literary reading was going to be implemented by new technologies, such as tablets and digital media.  However, my professor disagreed, postulating the following affirmation:  “Your approach is interesting.  However, in the age of the reader, according to Foucault the number of readers is decreasing every year without distinctions of age, gender, and ethnicity, despite of the emergence of digital media.”  His answer left me quite unsettled as well as rethinking the fracture between what has been understood as belonging to high culture, for example books, in opposition to visual media thought to be part of low culture.  Régis Debray in his essay:  “What is Mediology?” proposes the necessity to cut down the walls that separate forms that are considered to be higher (religion, art, politics) from the domains of what is considered lower (materials, signal carriers, transmission channels) to integrate technology as part of our culture and not anti-culture (32).

Also, Marshall McLuhan affirms that “the medium is the message” because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.  The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association (4).  He also asserts that, before electric speed, for many the message was the content, however, (…) the effect of the medium is made strong because it is given another medium as “content” (5,9).  He uses the example of a movie based on a novel or a play or an opera, but the effect of the movie form is not related to its program content.  The “content” of writing or print is speech, but the reader is almost entirely unaware either of the print or of speech (9).  Therefore, if the reader is not aware of the differences between print or digitalization as well as differences in speech, I still keep trying to understand why the interest in reading is decreasing every year.  James W Carey affirms that the appearance of the telegraph modified and challenged the ideology of its time, so maybe that is exactly what needs to be done regarding literature and its accessibility in the digital world (4).  Pierre Bourdieu asserts that there are three forms of cultural capital:  the embodied state in the form of long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body, the objectified state in the form of cultural goods (e.g. books, dictionaries), and the institutionalized state which confers original properties on cultural capital which it is presumed to guarantee.  If books are the representation of the objectified state and literature is as an extension of this perception, maybe the only way to repair the fracture between the printed book and its digital counterparts is by erasing the symbolic value of the printed book and the cultural value added to the act of reading directly from a printed book instead of doing it digitally.  If the medium is the message and the social and cultural symbolic implications of a book allow the integration of digital media as a path to implement the number of readers, then a first step towards the blurring of the division of high and low culture would be dismantled in favor of promoting literature in any of its representations.


Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Forms of Capital. “Ökonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales Kapital.” in Soziale Ungleichheiten (Soziale Welt, Sonderheft 2), Ed. Reinhard Kreckel. Goettingen: Otto Schartz & Co., 1983. 183-98. Trans. Richard Nice.

Carey, James W. “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph.” Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. London-New York: Routledge, 1989. 155-177.

Debray, Régis. “What is Mediology?” Le Monde Diplomatique (1999): 32. Trans. Martin Irvine.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I, 2nd Edition, 1964.

The use of conceptual metaphor in film and poetry

Estefanía Tocado

The human symbolic faculty can be implemented in combinatorial and generative features as represented by language.  Language is implemented in other ways by sign systems and can be combined with other sign systems as well as materialized in writing and images on film (Irvine).  Film director and poet Paolo Passolini in his essay “The Cinema of Poetry” affirms that semiotics are based on a linguistic sign system that excludes other sign systems such as gestural signs which add new meaning to words and complete oral communication.  Within this hypothetical sign system of what is not represented by the linguistic sign, the language of cinema is located.  This is the result of a number of images-sign that derive from our memory, dreams, and gestures.  Therefore, he establishes that there is an analogy between the image-sign and the sequence of images produced by a dream and in a film asserting that cinematographic language is fundamentally poetic.  All of these irrational characteristics of cinema have been repressed under the level of consciousness so, for Passolini, the language of film is closely related to poetry since both are products of our subjectivity.  He also defends that the ties between the poetic language and the narrative technique of the free indirect style, by which the director is the poet, is allowed to build a character and express his view of the world through his protagonist (170-175).

In a similar way, poetry relies heavily on metaphor to create and expand meaning.  Therefore, poetry could be seen as a visual text that uses metaphors to project images in the mind of reader as seen with ekphrasis.  George Lakoff affirms that the metaphor is not a matter of language, but of thought and reason, and that language is secondary (192).  As metaphor relies on ontological mapping across conceptual domains, and not only the linguistic, the semantic connections promoted by a metaphor go beyond the linguistic network.  For Lakoff, it is important to keep separate the conceptual mapping from the individual linguistic expression of the metaphor since he is primarily focused on the conceptual sematic network.  He also asserts that the invariable principle hypothesizes that image-schema structure is always preserved by the metaphor (200).  When looking at some of the cases he analyses, such as how time is conceptualized in terms of space, it made me think of how that is achieved in the cinematographic language.  I believe that it is pursued in various ways, but the most common is the representation of time in motion as a passing train, as a character riding a bike or motorcycle, or someone running for example.  Other filmic techniques use ellipsis and flash back and flash forward to deal with the passing of time as metaphors of memory and the recovery of the past or the future to the present time.  In both cases, poetry and film use metaphor as a mechanism to expand and connect meaning to build endless ramifications of semantic domains.


Works Cited

Lakoff, George. “Conceptual Metaphor.” Excerpt from Geeraerts, Dirk, ed. Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Cognition, Symbol, Meaning, and Mediation” Media Theory and Cognitive Technologies. Georgetown U,  Feb. 2014. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

Passolini, Paolo. “The Cinema of Language.” Jan. 2014  The Poetry of Cinema. Harvard U, Feb. 2014. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

The Written Word and the Visual Image

 Estefanía Tocado

According to Noam Chomsky, the linguistic “performance” that articulates linguistic competence involves many factors, not only linguistic, but also other extralinguistic related to the beliefs concerning the speaker and the situation when the speech has been uttered (102).  Other extralinguistic factors, such as social and cultural background (studied in the field of sociolinguistics), can play an important role in the semantic and pragmatic aspects of the communicative act.  It is also relevant to point out that language is also used as an organized symbolic form of a cultural genre, and because of its properties as a semiotic code its combinatoriality is multiple and complex, especially when dealing with more than one genre (Irvine 11).  In the 20th century since the appearance of the photographic image and the creation of film, film studies theorist and scholars have long debated the intrinsic relationship between the written word and the visual image.  Due to the fact that Western society is deeply indebted to the concept of logocentrism, for many years the literary field has always been regarded as superior (high culture) and the visual world as dependent on it.  However, things have shifted dramatically in the last few decades.  The visual image and its endless combinations, as portrayed in production of a film, stand as the representation that the image is an independent sign that participates from a system (semiotic code) that has multiple layers of construction and meaning generating its own linguistic competence through the visual media.  André Bazin in his essay “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” argued for visual images as being signs, and he tried to categorize the different kind of images according to the means by which they are produced and the relation between the image and the object it wants to represent (Morgan 107).

The relationship between literature and film has been long established.  However, it is interesting to remark how often these two are mutually influenced sharing an intermedial channel especially in the case of the narrative and the film.  An excellent example of this intermediality is very often seen in novels and filmic adaptations.  In the case of Jane Eyre, a well known novel that has been adapted to the visual media several times, it is noteworthy to indicate that every reading has its own understanding of how to tell the story in the visual code.  In accordance to Debora Cartmell who studies theory of filmic adaption, the transposition from one genre to the other is a matter of relocating it in a major context:  “All screen versions of a novel are transpositions in the sense that they take a text from one genre and deliver it to new audiences by means of the aesthetic conventions of an entirely different generic process (here novel into film). But many adaptations of novels and other generic forms contain further layers of transposition, relocating their source not just generically, but in cultural, geographical, and temporal terms” (ctd en Sanders 20-21).  As stated by Chomsky, the extralinguistic factors are extremely important in order to adequately portray the semantics and the pragmatics of the act of communication established between the visual image (the film) and the audience.  Linda Hutcheon in her book Theory of Adaptation affirms that an adaptation is a derivation that is not derivative – a work that is second without being secondary.  It is its own palimpsestic thing” (9).  I would like to regard this intrinsic relationship between the literary word and the visual image as a palimpsestic process from both ends, and not only from the filmic, since the view of a specific novel can be heavily influenced by its filmic adaptation in the mind of the audience creating new layers of meaning to its original reading and understanding of the written story.


Works Cited

Chomsky, Noam. Language and Mind. Cambridge UP, 2006.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Irvine, Martin. “Linguistics: Key Concepts.” Media Theory and Cognitive Technologies. Georgetown U, Jan. 2014. Web. 28 January 2014.

Morgan, Daniel. “Rethinking Bazin: Ontology and Realist Aesthetics.” The Film Theory

Reader. Ed. Marc Furstenau. London-New York: Routldge, 2010.

Sanders, Julie. Adaptation and Appropiation. London-New York: Routldge, 2006.

The Symbolic View of Communication under the Discourse of Orientalism

Estefanía Tocado

According to James Carey, there are three views of communication:  transmission, ritual, and symbolic culture.  He asserts that communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed (ctd in Irvine 2).  Focusing on the symbolic properties of communication, a group of individuals can create a vision of reality.  In other words, they can construct a discourse to picture their reality.  On one hand, as Ronald E. Day asserts in his study about Warren Weaver and Norbert Wiener’s notions of language and communication, their model of communication is highly dependent on a conduit metaphor (and he makes a comparison to Plato´s myth of the cavern), but at the same time they were seeing language as a transmission and communication medium rather than as an agency for social, cultural, and political change (806).  Day also affirms that the model of communication in a social realm is itself based on a series of metaphorical substitutions that problematize its social, cultural, and even scientific claims (811).  On the other hand, Stuart Hall affirms that the communication circuit is also a circuit that reproduces a pattern of domination (507).  Drawing from all these studies on language, the mythical origins of the conduit metaphor, and the relations of power provided by the act of communicating, I would like to use the theory of Orientalism by Edward Said, a key figure in Post-colonial theory, as an example of Carey´s views of communication as symbolic culture and ritualistic, and I would like to relate this example to the concept of power relations between the West and the East.

Said states in the prologue of his well-known book that Orientalism is:  “A way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient´s special place in European Western experience” (1991).  Said continues explaining how the Western world has created a cultural and social discourse that supports a specific idea that Europe has about the Orient:  “The Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture.  Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles” (1992).  In this creation of the Other, that of a community that is different and inferior, the Western world and its institutions, especially in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, constructed a view of the Orient that suited their imperialistic and colonial needs.  The reality of the Orient and the communication with it will be seen under the parameters of the “symbolic view” as well as based on the mythical conduit metaphor in which language will be an agency for social, cultural, and political domination (Day 811).  This view was reinforced by the academic language, artistic manifestations, and the cultural conception of the Other as dependent on Europe.  This discourse was supported by a communication process in which language was another component that reinforced this vision of the Orient.  It also promoted the creation of a view of the Orient that portrayed and confirmed (Irvine 2) the reality and paternalistic vision that had been assigned to them.  The East is seen as underdeveloped and in need of the superiority of Western culture.  Under these parameters, the Western world created a means of communication that falls into a ritual view of communication.  The Orient will always be portrayed under the scope of inferiority and drama.  This imaginary creation of the West encouraged reading, writing, and visualizing the East as “an arena of dramatic focus and action” was originated and produced at the same time (Irvine 2).  Therefore, this understanding of their communicative relations required a specific paternalistic social role, that of the West that protects the East (2).  In consequence, in this moment in history the relations of power established with the East determined by historical, social, and cultural visions of the communication process must be challenged, transformed, and vindicated as incorrect.  Now when the Western world looks carefully at the rapid economic growth of the East, the communication patterns should reflect the current global state.

Works Cited

Day, Ronald E. “The Conduit Metaphor” and The Nature and Politics of Information Studies.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51 9 (2000): 805-811.

Hall, Stuart. Encoding, Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: U of Brimingham, 1973. 507-17.

Irvine, Martin. “Summary of James Carey: Communication as Culture.” Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Jan. 2014. Web. 21 January 2014.