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<eyebeam><blast> museums/symbolic culture

This is an oblique response to the post on museums, although I hope no
one will mind if I pick up on a particular term being batted around more

The term is "cultural symbolic," which derives from a variety of
cultural studies appropriations of freudo-lacanian vocabulary.  The way
it is generally understood, there is a culture and it produces symbols. 
Culture, in this understanding, is treated like an object--it is simply
presumed to exist, and to have the same kind of existence as a tree or a
rock.  And these symbols, signs, figures, etc., are the weapons of an
agonistic struggle for identity, power, etc.   And all of this simply is
there, because it is mapped on a historical time line that guarantees
the existence of each particular cultural statement.  In short, it takes
statements and phenomenalizes them historically by locating them on a
timeline--one whose integrity has long been in question.

Now, the one thing that doesn't go questioned, it seems to me, is the
very idea of culture as a symbolic system, an economy of signs.  This
would be the culture OF the symbolic, a culture dependent upon the
symbolic.  The Symbolic Culture.  Don't get me wrong, there is no easy
exit door from the symbolic per se.  But there are ways to reconceive
our relation to symbolism, to symbolization, to reference, that may
offer a different culture, a culture that doesn't understand itself as
"culture" or that doesn't understand "culture" as the exchange of
signs--or the positing of representations in an aestheticized political
project.  Such a culture would no longer be an agon of identities, of
meanings, all of which believe they are self-sufficient, or
self-identical.  This is probably fairly difficult to swallow for those
who work under the sign of cultural studies, since most cultural studies
analysis, is always a symbolic analysis that never places into question
the symbolic structure it presupposes.  And in the American academy,
this is the major sticking point between the two camps of those who want
to dissolve all studies under the general rubric of "culture" (a rather
totalizing gesture, no?) and those who would want to read the
philosophical tradition out of which this gesture stems (i.e., the
dialectical tradition).

This structure guarantees its ability to be critical ("this symbol is
good, this one is bad," or, "we need a structure where all symbols are
given equal space, a kind of market of representations").  Cultural
studies, it seems to me, often takes as being unproblematic what all the
social sciences (anthropology, sociology, history...) understood to be
genuine problems already in the early sixties (especially in Europe),
their own ability to produce structures of interpretation that dominate
the very object they seek to know.   

One could ask a question regarding the internet and its relation to the
paradigm of culture as an exchange or a marketplace of symbols.  I
suppose an analysis of the relation would have to look at how the net
treats language, or whether it opens language onto its "outside" or
whether it simply reinforces the domination of the grammatical over the
rhetorical (this would be one alternate formulation of the problematic
of the symbolic).

saul anton

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