Submitted by Jim Aune on April 26, 2010 - 7:00pm
Adria's defense today made me think about some of the unfilled potential of McGee's notion of the Ideograph. What McGee helped set in motion was two things: 1) the ability to look at large blocks of discourse in context (as opposed to the single speech or orator), and 2) the ability to trace shifts in meaning of key ideological terms over time. Condit and Lucaites extended the idea by linking narratives and characterizations to ideographs. What I don't think we've done yet is explored fully the "synchronic" (although the grafting on Saussurean linguistics onto traditional rhetorical preoccupations is always going to be a problem) potentials of the term. For example, I would want to introduce the notion of "semantic space" (as a modification of Skinner/Pocock on "political languages"): so, "freedom of speech" qua ideograph (as opposed to concept) emerges as a dialectical term in relationship to monarchical power (as a right of the Commons). It later, especially in the rest of Europe, emerges in opposition to ecclesiastical control of communication (and as part of the discursive repertoire of the emerging bourgeoisie). Similarly, the semantic distance between "freedom" and "equality" is less in social democratic countries (Scandinavia) than it is in, say, Texas. Neocon appropriations of the term as a weapon against Islam again redefine its dialectical nature. One should (and this is even quantifiable, I think) be able at any given point in time to map in two-dimensional issue space (with Cartesian coordinates), the particular rhetorical "valence" (for want of a better term) of any given ideograph. My own puzzle is how invocations of "free speech" became a largely conservative maneuver, post-"MacDworkin" or post 9/11--while ostensibly "radical" academics became the most skeptical, aligning "free speech" away in semantic space from "equality." --Is this making any sense?