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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Synchrony versus Diachrony

Kudos to my master Ferdinand de Saussure, the grandaddy of structuralism, for coming up with this extremely pertinent analytical tool which is indispensable in understanding... the social body, which I shall get to in the middle of this post.
Synchrony (like Jung's "synchronicity" ?) refers to events or phenomena which occur simultaneously. A little bit like taking one of those pie charts referring to the state of the economy, right now (or for the year 2009) and sticking it under the microscope. It is a concept which is defined IN RELATION and OPPOSITION, to the concept diachrony.
Diachrony means examining a delimited "object" over an extended period of time.
For example, I think that for practical purposes, you could REPRESENT these phenomena with a graph using the two AXES, ordinant and abcissa. (Correct me if my vocabulary is wrong...)
Since de Saussure was a linguist, he discriminated ;-) between the hic et nunc occurrences of a particular word (an example), and its historical evolution through time.
So... we will posit a difference of.. POINT OF VIEW (for YOU, Thai, sweetie...) between looking at an "object" in the here and now, and looking at it over a period of time.
We will posit that... when you look at the "object" in the here and now you DON'T see IT over a period of time.
What am I driving at ?
Well... for example let's take a close look at... what I call the SOCIAL BODY.
I am going to posit that the social body is made up of... people of varying ages from different generations. That's pretty evident, huh ?
That our children are born into a world that we will never know from THEIR point of view, for the simple reason that... WE were born into a DIFFERENT world, and our parents before us, etc etc. (Like Parmenides' river, if my memory is correct. Please correct if I am wrong...)
This state of affairs means that the social body itself AT ANY GIVEN TIME (synchrony) is NEVER HOMOGENOUS in its ideas, its experiences, and... its ideologies, dominant or otherwise.
On the other hand.... the great unifying force in the social body is our language itself.
While we are born, and die in a relatively short space of time, IT takes much longer to reflect the changes in our ideas, our attitudes about ourselves and our world. IT is the cement that links the generations together when the physical world CAN rapidly change.
And... our language has this INCREDIBLE power to MAKE us BELIEVE and feel that what IT refers to is IMMUTABLE, ENCAPSULATED. Fixed in time for all eternity.
Just to illustrate the way it works...
Take a look at the biblical creation story in Genesis.
"And God said "Let there be light" and... there was light."
Now... if you are reading the Biblical texts ONLY to shrug your shoulders and say "it's a bunch of bunk, it's not TRUE", you will MISS THE POINT about the FUNDAMENTAL ASSUMPTIONS about the power of language in our world.
To CREATE our world. To create meaning.
So... God "says" LIGHT, and bingo, there IS light.
Flash forward to.... IRAK.
And.... George Bush says... "democracy" and... BINGO, there IS democracy !!!
Pretty cool, huh ?
So... let's look at this question of the WORD "democracy".
Do we live in "democracies" or not ?
Well... if all one has to do is to "say" democracy, and bingo, there it is, well... why not ?
When the founding fathers threw the British out and drafted their Constitution, wasn't that the equivalent of "saying" democracy ? If not, WHY not ?
Back to what I said about the social body, the cementing force of language, etc.
It seems to ME that...
The WORD (lol) "democracy", and saying that we live in a democracy obscure the fact that the ideological implications of democracy are STILL CONTINUING to unfold before our eyes, while aspects of the monarchy PERSIST, and are attested to, in our language itself AND EVEN IN OUR INSTITUTIONS. And.... "democracy" continues to unfold before our eyes AT THE SAME TIME as... what IS replacing it gradually is taking ITS place in our world. (But that WE don't see, of course...)
One example : in death penalty legislation, the U.S. STILL accords the governor of a state the RIGHT to "grace" a condemned person. The.. Ancien Regime term for clemency ( a new "democratic" ? word...) is GRACE. And the structure of grace goes right back to divine right monarchy.
So... TECHNICALLY we DON'T live under a democracy. That democracy is CONTINUING to take its place in our society.
And... WHEN we "decide" on a NEW form of government, IT will take its place against the backdrop of... the Ancien Regime, AND our democratic heritage. As I said above... IT already IS taking its place...
That's... diachrony for you.


Thai said...

This is a really beautiful post. From my point of view, one of your best.

Hear hear, sweetie.

Debra said...

Thanks, Thai. I appreciate your praise.
Are YOU glued in front of MEN'S figure skating ??... ;-)

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits