Gender analyse of a textbook The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the semiotics of texts

Rijkuniversiteit Groningen Gender Studies I: teken- taal- tekst By Liis Suuressaar 13th of December, 2011

Contents: Introduction The language use The structures of Umberto Eco’s frameworks and examples of 5 different authors and books Non literate examples in the work Conclusions References 11 8 10 3 4 2 .

„The Role of the Reader” includes 9 esseys divided into two sections. I will try to recognize sexistic constructions and gender inequality. 3 . Umberto Eco provides theoretical frameworks for understanding the semiotic strategies of open and closed texts and focuses deeply to processes which occur with reading different texts. Profoundly I will focuse my attention to the examples Umberto Eco brings out to clarify and deepen his theories and analyse whether and how they are represented in gender equality terms. I will analyse this book in the perspective of gendered language and expressions used throughout his theories.Chapter 1 Introduction In this essey I will analyse Umberto Eco’s book „The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the semiotics of texts. Also I will include the bibliography provided by him and discuss briefly the representation of male and female researches throughout his work. Umberto Eco points out two different types of texts as one of them involving the reader in its production and the other seeking to evoke a limited and predetermined response.” The book is published in 1981 and is used as a study material among students of literature and semiotics. This collection focuses attention on the role of the reader in textual interpretation.

” In this case. a sexist reading. but he refers to a very neutral term as a „human individual” by giving to it a gender of „he”. Secondly. 4 . we shall imagine a primordial predicament: life in the Garden of Eden. Example of this tactic: „One may also consider the plot as a first tentative synthesis made by the reader once all the operations of actualization of the discursive structures are accomplished. Eco addresses his readers by talking to them using form „we”. Eco tries to keep the language use neutral and tries different strategies supporting it. One of sexistic examples could be this: „The more elementary results in establishing sort of metatextual proposition such as „there is (was) a human individual who utters (uttered) the text I am presently reading and who asks for an act of suspension of disbelief since he is (was) speaking about a possible course of events.” (page 91) By this. in fact. For example: „The author has thus to forsee a model of the possible reader (hereafter Model Reader) supposedly able to deal interpretatively with the expressions in the same way as the author deals generatively with them. The third way for him to promote gender.”(page 117) These could have been replaced by one of his strategies. Firstly.The language use From the prospect of gender-biased and gender-neutral language use Umberto Eco provides examples for both readings. but the fact that they were clearly marked out by gender makes this. which themselves have been introduced in man in order to make him recognize what he would have planned. where the inhabitants speak in Edenic language. Eco turns to his readers by using gender-neutral form of „we”. Next to it another crucially marked sentence: „They are to respond man’s desires. Eco does not only use a gender-biased language. Eco writes: „To set this experiment in motion. Nevertheless.neutrality is to use the impersonal „one” for addressing to the reader. In general.” These examples can be found throughout his book. Also this can be his strategy to draw the attention of the readers and involve them more profoundly in discussing.” (page 7) Therefore. his strategy is to use terms instead of pronouns. there can be find approximately 30 cases where Eco abandons his strategies and uses pronouns which are indicated with gender. in the following passages Eco replaces with the term „Model Reader” many pronouns which could indicate the gender of the actual „Model Reader” he talks about.

as talking about artistic works by artistic examples. The structures of Umberto Eco’s frameworks and examples of different authors and books Umberto Eco’s nine esseys talk about the role of the reader in textual interpretation and bring out the distinction between two different types of texts. he collects a set of literature examples and concludes on their basis something connected with his previous statements. The rest of the text was covered with one of his strategies. Also vice versa. Miller and his project Grammarama from his book „Psychology and Communication”. Umberto Eco uses various examples to bring out his theories. The main questions in this work focus on artistic. His work. Eco uses this work to talk about the Global Semantic System.starting from AncientGreek literature ending with modern literature and comic books. Eco writes that Finnegans Wake „confronts us with a methodological exigency of the sort found in a sutdy of general semantics proposing to illuminate the ways in which language can create metaphors”. is full of different authors and fictional or (also) non-fictional books. He provides theoritcal frameworks and uses them in different literature examples. Nevertheless. For instance. specially literature texts. This example shows how Eco uses literature works to build up his own theoretical frameworks. Eco starts discussing tracing metaphoric sayings into metonymic and concludes this section by stating that „it is possible to construct an automaton capable of generating and understanding metaphors”. Eco’s examples cover very many different eras and periods. Altogether Eco mentions 123 different authors or literature works.like G. as using pronouns marked by genders occured in approximately 20% of cases. the two most sexistic cases speak for themselves and remain gender-biased. 5 . The examples are represented as a part of the theories and seem to earn the purpose to clarify his thoughts. From this point further.Statistics speak in favour for gender-neutral reading. (page 54) Eco never returns to discuss Finnegans Wake more profoundly. He also mentions researches. Finnegans Wake the novel of Irish writer James Joyce published in 1939.

Eco uses these works to write about his own abstract theories.-T. Eco excludes books by female authors as not suitable to describe his theoretical frames. The situation is even more gender-biased as Eco brings examples of very different literature eras. Wilson. Whitehead.”(page 54) In this case. Modern authors are cataloged and mentioned by Eco as W. Flash. A. but they could also use such powers to take over goverments. Similary to previous examples Eco uses these names of modern literature to discuss one of his theories.-J. Similary in this case comic-books don’t become the centre of focus.authors. as previously stated. Eventhough his theories are gender-neutral the examples are represented almost entirely by using male examples which makes influencial works by female authors less equal by male authors. defeat the army or alter the equilibrium of planetary politics. By using only one female author of 123 books used. Proust and A.N. This allows to conclude that by modern literature Eco means authors who were active round end of the 19th century until 1970s1980s.Another way to use literature examples is to conclude or include something by them. eventhough he continuesly writes about abstract theories which do not include any gender-biased allignments. From his 123 books or authors that he mentioned only one female author can be picked out. (page 124) Eventhough. including modern literature. moral. None of the influencial female authors from similar period were mentioned. Tindall. in the present case about his statement that the „tendency toward openness operates only at the level of indefinate suggestion and stimulation of emotional response. M. faithful to human and natural laws”.from Batman to Robin. the Manhunter from Mars. Valery. Eco writes about fictional characters with superpowers and the way all of this kind of characters are „profoundly kind. Umberto Eco favors male authors. statistically he favors male.Agathe Christie.Y. the way Eco uses only male authors makes his examples instead gender-biased. but lead to final theory of authors’ preferences which are their „adaption to a concept of „order” which pervades the cultural model in which the authors live and where they construct on a small scale „analogous models witch mirror the larger one”. Eco uses the example of Superman comics to begin the discussion and concludes it by stating that these kinds of traits can be added to a whole series of superheros. 6 . E.-P. Green Laternand Aquaman to more recent Fantastic Four and Spider Man. The examples do not show equal importness between genders and instead provide a sexistic reading.

The statistics show that female authors were used therefore 12% comparing with male authors in 88%. Diffrently from the above mentioned situation using literature books. Pierre Boulez. Henri Pousseur. Giuseppe Verdi and Igor Stravinsky (page 48). Though by Eco musicians are not completely open to interpret the composer’s instructions. Eco writes: „here are the best known examples of the process”. but the examples point out the preference of male authors.Different works include also examples of classical music in the chapter about „the poetics of the open work”. It is followed by bringing examples of seven male composersKarlheinz Stockhausen. The relation between female and male authors is more equal in scientific researches used by Eco. finding well-known examples of classical music is complicated and I consider Eco’s choice to point out only these seven male composers as a display of women’s poor situation in the field of music. Umberto Eco points out that also instrumental music is envolved with his theory about the openess of the texts. in this case. as the first composed and documented music piece by a woman would be a Piano Trio by Clara Schumann in the 19th century and the following century offered very few examples besides of that (for exaple Louise Ferrac and Marianne Martinez) 1. in this case it was not even possible for Umberto Eco to write about female composers as due to historical circumstances women in classical music are not broadly represented. Umberto Eco never brings out the sex of the researcher whos work is 1 Information is from Diana Ambache’s article about „Women composers” http://oboeclassics.com/~oboe3583/ambache/women. Johann Sebastian Bach. but nevertheless we have to take into account that all of the researchers and scientists who were quotated are the absolute peak of their fields and in order to state something scientifically the sex of the author whos publication plays role in this book should be irrelevant.htm 7 . Nevertheless. In The Role of the Reader Umberto Eco uses works by 87 researches. talking about female composers in this case can be diffcult. but by every music piece musicians „impose their judgement of the piece by deciding how long to hold a note or in what order to group the sounds” (page 47). By first glance this shows also a great contrast. Female authors are represented by 10 scientists. The theory is written in a gender-neutral form. The history of classical music is commonly male-dominated. Luciano Berio. Therefore.

8 . only viewed as a possible poor situation for female researchers to reach to the top of science world.neutral notions connected somehow with Eco’s research questions. in scientific theories the sex of the author should not play role among theories. This leaves this book in current view more gender neutral. the theories from other researchers are also gender. The low procentage of female researchers can be. in my opinion. Furthermore.differently from fiction.somehow used connected with his theories.

the woman be associated by a swan. Both of the examples represent women only by actualizing certain aspects. Another example is about rhetorical figures. Umberto Eco writes about how sentences can be understood by reader’s own sence of morality. Therefore. just as a object to describe the situation. Critically. The women in some of the examples are portrayed only using specific traits. he says. Eco talks about this problem by bringing an example of long white neck which can be „a property both of a beautiful woman and of a swan”. Nevertheless. So does John”.examples are merely to build up or conclude/include something to the theories. He brings an example with a following sentence: „Charles makes love with his wife twice a week. but she naively accepted a proposal) (page 12). Discrimination becomes evident as a female position in this story is represented identitiless and as a possible „cheater” when it comes to 9 . the self-invented examples point out certain aspects of gender discrimination. The procedure works the same as before. (page 78) Another example depicts the relationships between men and women. as book. Umberto Eco provides many self-invented illustrative examples. The first example appears when Eco is discussing about elementary textual specimens and their accordance to complexity of idealizing specific textual phenomenas. He brings an example to discribe our dependance on understanding situations according to the presenter and time in the texts. and secondly that Charles is married and being cheated by John with his wife.Non-literate examples in the work Besides of examples from literature and concrete authors. This refers to sexistic approach to women by associating long white neck only with beautiful women. the example is about naive girl Clarissa who accepts the courtship of a libertine. but also treating them as merely appealing sex-objects. (page 24) The „wife” is never brought out with a name and an identity. research or music examples show gender inequality only in the bases of the sexes of the authors and prefering male to females. Subsequently he points out to possible readings. The feminine traits are portrayed as naive and dependent on men’s desires (it wasn’t Clarissa who herself chose a man.firstly that Charles and John are married and have similar sexual behavior with their wives.

” (page 100) This shows using the model in a sexist matter.relationships between sexes. both of the genders are treated equally by their ability to understand and misunderstand linguistic rules. but fails in carrying on the „concrete type of poetry”. As Clarissa was described as „naive” and the relationship between Charles.Adam and Eve are treated equally in the respect of receiving information. Eco wants to create a model of two different types of readers. yet there is one thing they find hard to form clear idea of: the generative rule behind the sequences. Eco contrasts Eve to Adam by stating that she opens the whole problem of self-contradiction. The intentions of this example seem to be good in the beginning. Adam is characterized as a critical reader who develops a baroque reading and uses metalanguage. John and the nameless wife as „malicious”. I view this in a gender discriminating position as the two females described are put into positions unequal and lower than the male positions. but she cannot. The guestion of gender equality comes up again when Eco discusses about semantic units and significant sequences to create an aesthetic language.”(page 93) In this prospect. but they in fact are marked by opposite sexes.neutral reading by using any other two readers. is described as a sensitive reader. Umberto Eco creates a model based on two speakers who use language according to their own capacity to produce sequences by understanding small semantic units. He chooses and example of Adam and Eve and their ability to control Edenic language (language which is created in the Garden of Eden using only information available in this system). Moreover. Eco writes: „Eve would like to comment. but they are distuingished by eachother in terms of their sexes. She has no critical metalanguage at her disposal. (page 100) This makes the discrepancy between the two readers even bigger. The two readers understand and interpret units differently and also form 10 . Nevertheless. the gender inequality comes into question as Eco develops his theories and divides Adam and Eve into two different catagories of message creaters. Furthermore. Eco writes: „Adam and Eve are fully competent at handling their Edenic language. authors tooks a position in describing women as those who step out ethical and moral norms. Adam and Eve are mentioned always together when Eco models their basic vocabulary which was received by the God. The example would provide more gender. the role of the second reader marked by „Eve”. In both of these examples women are depicted to example nonconventional sexual behavior and eager to step into a relationship outside social norms. This example can be also connected with first one about Clarissa.

their sequences differently. but Umberto Eco’s crucial outcome to mark the reader types with sexes makes the model inappropriate and gender biased. 11 . The values these readers have can naturally occur to any sexes as this model was made to characterize our cognitive linguistic systems. but the way Eco marks these reader types by using their sexes makes this example sexistic.

Opposite sexes were treated uneven as male authors were largely more prefered. Also by the example of Adam and Eve Eco brought in the gendered division in a theory which could be describe same effectively by using any other non-gendered example. I would like to conclude that eventhough Umberto Eco’s theories are indeed abstract and can be adopted by both sexes without complications. 12 . same serious errors appeared by ambigious sentences of using terms „human individual” and „man” which he clarified by adding gender-biased pronouns of male forms. This shows the irrelevance of female authors for Eco and makes his theories in this light male-literature-centered. but also disappointingly many examples of genderbiased treatment. As gender questions were not treated equally in all of the cases. In this light that specific example appeared most intended and even malicious. Still. Finally. However. They contained treating women oriented by their sex and stereotypical characteristcs. The least gender-biased was the language use. female researchers were still represented and shows author’s intentions to include also scientists from opposite sex and therefore his impartiality in this question. his theories seemed to be oriented more to the male-readers than female ones.Conclusions I found by analysing „The Role of the Reader” many examples of gender-neutral treatment in scientific writing.neutral manner and avoid pronouns. Umberto Eco tries more to write in a gender. The most gender-biased were the self-provided examples brought by Umberto Eco. his writing style and explaneting remains often gender-biased and sexistic. This shows his lack of interest to always use the gender-neutral language and to avoid prefering pronouns which could appear sexistic. Gender inequality occured when I analysed Eco’s preferences among used authors and books.

com/~oboe3583/ambache/women.htm 13 . Diana.List of literature and internet pages 1) Eco. Umberto. Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd: Great Britain. The Role of the Reader. Home page. Explorations in the semiotics of texts. 1981. http://oboeclassics. 2) Ambache. Women in classical music.

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