04 May 2008

Harry Potter and the semiotician's analysis



From last week's news:

Harry Potter to feature on English A-level syllabus ... AQA has defended its decision to add J. K. Rowling's books to its course, claiming: "Harry Potter is a genuine example of literature of our time. It deserves its place in this unit."
(NUT newswire)
From the existing A-level English syllabus:
Read Data Set 1 below. (a) Comment linguistically on five features of language use which you find of interest. (b) How far do children acquire their language skills by imitating adults? In your answer you should: refer to particular linguistic features and contexts; refer to appropriate linguistic research and theory; present a clear line of argument. (Toby is two years old)
Father: are you going to France
Toby: wa
Father: are you going to France (.) for your holiday
Toby: yeh
Father: where are you going
Toby: Fwance
Father: how (2) you’re going on a hovercraft (.) aren't you
Toby: yeh
Father: say hovercraft
Toby: howcwaft
Father: who are you going to see in France
[continues]
(AQA)
The expert opinion:
The examination system is above all a way of policing the profession, making sure that those who qualify to join it understand how its language or symbols are conventionally employed. *
(Professor Catherine Belsey, University of Wales)
What matters in a mediocracy is not whether a person is able to carry on a productive activity, but whether they can conform to the appearance of doing so. Furthermore, it is crucial that cultural disciplines affirm rather than question the prevailing ideology. The criterion of what constitutes an accepted member of a cultural field is therefore redefined.

Appropriate entry to a mediocratic elite requires a filter that repels those who might previously have been admitted, while appearing still to be technically rigorous. Those who are interested in a subject for the wrong reasons, e.g. a desire to find things out, are threatening to the stability of mediocracy and must therefore be excluded.

The solution is (i) to reduce the genuine intellectual content of study material, while (ii) devising abstruse techniques which can be used as indicators of expertise, but which are so tedious as to alienate anyone with an interest in reality.

* Poststructuralism: A very short introduction, p.3.