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I have to believe in the world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can't remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world's still there. - Leonard Shelby

Course Description

"Literary and Communication Theory" is intended as a much needed balance to prevailing American transmission views of communication theory. Modern communication studies has been dominated by Northern American scholarship since the early part of the Twentieth Century. However, the outward flow of American scholarship has not been matched by a flow of European thought back into North America. During the institutional growth of American communication studies in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Americans experienced little loss from this one-way flow of intellectual trade but in more recent years European scholarship has reasserted itself through the resurgence of such traditions as structuralism and semiotics and new bodies of thought, such as the discourse analysis of Michel Foucault, which reflects a distinctively European milieu.

When communication research developed in Europe, the tide of American intellectual exporting was at its crest and there was little communication research literature that was not stamped "made in America." In the early 1950s American communication research made deep inroads into Europe and words like "mass," "effects," and "functions," words which signaled American preoccupations, organized the relevant research on both sides of the Atlantic. In more recent years European communication research has turned for inspiration to classical figures in European social thought, to Marxism and phenomenology, to structuralism and to native traditions of literary criticism which derived from and have influenced these larger intellectual movements. Unfortunately, news of these developments in European communication research has filtered only indirectly to the United States. What is called cultural science on the continent and cultural studies in Britain has been generally misunderstood, ignored, or misinterpreted in the United States.

"Literary and Communication Theory" considers the contribution and impact of literary theory within contemporary communication studies. The course will examine perspectives such as semiotics, phenomenology, structuralism, and post-structuralism and consider what literary theory contributes to our understanding of human communication processes.

Class Texts

Eco, Umberto (2005). The mysterious flame of Queen Loana (Geoffrey Brock, Trans.). New York, NY: Harcourt.

Radford, Gary P. (2003). On Eco. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Radford, Gary P. (2005). On the philosophy of communication. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Recommended Readings

Borges, Jorge Luis (1962). The library of Babel (James E. Irby, Trans.). In Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths: Selected stories and other writings (pp. 51-58). Norfolk, CT: New Directions.

Deetz, S. A. (1978). Conceptualizing human understanding: Gadamer's hermeneutics and American communication studies. Communication Quarterly, 26(2), 12-23.

Deetz, S. A. (1982). Hermeneutics and research in interpersonal communication. In J. J. Pilotta (Ed.), Interpersonal communication: Essays in phenomenology and hermeneutics. Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology.

Eco, U. (1984). Narrative structures in Fleming. In U. Eco, The role of the reader: Explorations in the semiotics of texts. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Foucault, Michel (1972). The archaeology of knowledge (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.) (pp. 210-211). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Harre, R. (1983). An analysis of social activity. In J. Miller (Ed.), States of mind. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Kolak, Daniel (1998). Wittgenstein's Tractatus (Daniel Kolak, Trans.) (pp. 48-49). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Ricoeur, P. (1971). The model of the text: Meaningful action considered as text. Social Research, 38(3), 529-562.

Guidelines for Mysterious Flames

Question: Yambo also experiences a "crescendo of mysterious flames." And in fact, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana was a story that Yambo stumbled upon in the chapel. How does this "most insipid tale" typify Yambo's plight?

Eco: As for the mysterious flame, I must say that when thinking of this novel, before starting writing it, I decided that its title should be The Mysterious Flame of the Queen Loana. Why? Because I remembered the title of that old comic book, only the title, not the story, but that title evidently fascinated me when I was a kid. Once I stated that that had to be the title of my book, it came as a natural consequence that Yambo, when feeling the strange sensation of recognizing something of his past, thinks of that sensation as a sort of flame (Interview with Umberto Eco)
But the next morning, as I was waking up and making coffee, I found myself singing Sola me ne vo la citta.

The melody came of its own accord. And my eyes teared up.

“Why that song?” Paola asked.

“Who knows? Maybe because it’s about searching for someone. No idea who.”

“You’ve crossed the barrier into the forties,” she reflected, curious.

“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s that I felt something inside. Like a tremor. No, not like a tremor. As if . . . You know Flatland, you read it too. Well, those triangles and squares live in two dimensions, they don’t know what thickness is. Now imagine that one of us, who lives in three dimensions, were to touch them from above. They would feel something they’d never felt before, and they wouldn’t be able to say what it was. As if someone were to come here from the fourth dimension and touch us from the inside – say on the pylorus – gently. What does it feel like when someone tickles your pylorus? I would say . . . a mysterious flame” (Eco, Umberto (2005). The mysterious flame of Queen Loana (Geoffrey Brock, Trans.), pp. 66-67. New York, NY: Harcourt).

Like Yambo, in the quotation from The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana above, sometimes a particular quote from the class readings will ignite some spark in your memory, a “mysterious flame” if you will. Like Yambo, this flame, this feeling, may be hard to describe. Why did that quote stand out for me, and not some other? What is it in my own experience that is creating this feeling? Why does this quote have relevance to me?

In your “Mysterious Flame” pieces this semester, I want you to hang on to that feeling as it arises and attempt to articulate it. I want you to describe and explain why this quote ignited this mysterious flame in terms of your experience of another text that this quote is touching or, in Yambo’s terms, “tickling.” This “textual experience” might be a book you have read, a movie you have seen, a current event in the news, a song you have heard, and so on.

The method of the Mysterious Flame lies in the idea of connections. EVERY Mysterious Flame begins with a quote from the class readings. You will then describe how this quote connects with a quote from another text from your own personal experience. Always bear in mind that a Mysterious Flame is NOT primarily an informational report on the contents of the readings. The subject of the Mysterious Flame is always YOU and how this connection flows from your own life.

The structure of the paper will be as follows:

  • The title of your Mysterious Flame will be the two quotes you have chosen: the first quote from the class readings and the second quote from a text from your personal experience
  • At the top of page one and centered, present the two quotes you have chosen
  • Address the question: Why did you choose the quote from the class readings? What is it about YOU that brought this quote to your attention and made it stand out for you?
  • Address the question: What is the source of the second quote? Describe the role this text has/had in your life. How did it come into your life? Why has it remained with you, such that it can be re-animated by the quote in the class reading?
  • How is the quote from your personal text related to the quote you have chosen from the class readings? What is it about YOU that has brought them together?

This is Me

This is Me Presentation

During the course of the semester, I want you to acquire or borrow a digital camera and take a series of photographs that address the statement: “This is Me.”

The photographs you take will be of book covers (novels, textbooks, children’s books), magazines, posters (film or music), CD, LP, or DVD artwork. You can also collect these images from search engines such as Google.

From the photographs you collect, select twelve.

Put them together to create a photographic slide show.

During the course of the semester, I want you, on your own initiative, to take the time to learn how to scan or upload these photographs into digital format and insert them into a PowerPoint presentation.

The PowerPoint presentation will consist entirely of the 12 photographs, in the order of your choosing. There will be no text “explaining” what the photographs mean.

Set the PowerPoint Presentation to move the slides automatically after 15 seconds. This will mean your entire presentation will last exactly 3 minutes. When you have created your 12 images, click on the “Animations” tab. At the far right hand side of the upper task bar, you will see “Advance Slide.” Unselect “On Mouse Click” and select “Automatically After” and set the time for 15 seconds. Then, in the section to the left of the “Advance Slide” section, select “Apply to All.”

You will also choose a piece of music which also expresses “This is Me.” Your PowerPoint Presentation of 3 minutes is approximately the length of a typical song. However, you may also choose a 3-minute extract of a longer song or piece of music. The music will accompany the presentation of the photographs. The CD or cassette will be played on a portable boom box provided by the instructor or directly into the classroom speakers from an I-Pod.

This is Me Paper

You will write a formal term paper, 5-pages minimum, describing how your photographs and musical choice address the question, “This is Me.” What is the narrative that connects all of these “scraps of information?” The paper will be written in the style of Eco’s (2005), The mysterious flame of Queen Loana.

The Hermeneutic Experience Paper

Throughout On Eco, Radford makes reference to the novels of Umberto Eco and discusses how his theory of semiotics is deployed throughout his fiction. Eco’s most recent novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, is also used as a course text to explore Eco’s treatment of the relationship between signs, memory, and our personal encyclopedias. For this final Mysterious Flame, I want you to relate Eco’s work with the tradition of communication studies known as Hermeneutics.

The etymology of the term “hermeneutics” has a relationship to Hermes, the messenger god of the Greeks. In order to deliver the messages of the gods, Hermes had to be conversant in their language as well as the language of the mortals for whom the messages were intended. There were two parts to Hermes’s task: (a) He had to understand and translate for himself what the gods wanted to convey to the world, and (b) He had to translate and articulate this message to the mortals. There is clearly a model of communication here that looks familiar to us in the transmission regime. Hermes is carrying a message from the gods (the senders) to the mortals (the receivers). But the hermeneutic problem is not concerned with what happens in the minds of the gods or the minds of the mortals. Instead it seeks to address the role of Hermes and his ability to understand a discourse from one domain (the gods) and articulate that understanding within a very different domain (that of the mortals). Hermes represents the labor and the effort required to read and understand texts produced in one place and time and to articulate their meanings in a different place and time.

According to David Linge (1976), hermeneutics is concerned with all those situations in which we encounter meanings that are not immediately understandable. The understanding of these meanings requires interpretive effort. You should find this situation very familiar. You may be experiencing the feeling of “interpretive effort” right now in trying to understand what I am saying about hermeneutics, especially if this is a new domain of knowledge for you. Consider also the following situations:

You are looking at an abstract painting in the Museum of Modern Art.

You are reading a poem or a work of literature.

You are reading Edmund Husserl’s (1900/1970) Logical Investigations for the first time.

You are listening to a lecture on hermeneutics being given by your communication professor.

In each of these situations you are being presented with something that is new, alien, and potentially difficult to understand. What these texts mean is not at all obvious or self-evident. Understanding these texts requires effort on your part. As Linge (1976) points out: “in all these cases, the hermeneutical has to do with bridging the gap between the familiar world in which we stand and the strange meaning that resists assimilation into the horizons of our world” (p. xii). Your understanding of these texts requires that you take a text produced in one time and place and contextualize it with respect to a personal encyclopedia, or “social treasury,” to use Eco’s term, produced in a different time and place.

I think of myself writing a paper on Edmund Husserl’s Logical Investigations and I can completely identify with Hermes’s situation. First I must read Husserl’s text and, through significant interpretive effort on my part, attempt to understand the meaning of that text. I do not understand the text of the Logical Investigations by trying to know what Husserl knew. I am not trying to understand him. Rather, I think of me, in 2010, in my situation, at this point in my life and my academic maturity. How does this modern situation produce my understanding of a text written by a German and published over 100 years ago in 1900? How does my past enter into this present? How does it enable me to make the alien into something familiar? And then I think of you, my reader. How are you to understand these words I have written about Husserl’s text? What do you bring to this understanding? Again, you are not trying to understand me. And you are certainly not trying to understand Husserl. You are making sense of a text that you hold in your hand now. You are trying to make a text that is unfamiliar into something familiar. The resources you bring to bear to make that happen are something far beyond my ability to predict or control. In addition, they are certainly beyond the late Professor Husserl’s ability to control.

But that is not important. A hermeneutic discourse of communication encompasses both the alien text we strive to understand and the familiar world that we already understand. What we need to describe is the fusion of the text with the contemporary context in which it is being read.

What You Will Do

In your final Mysterious Flame, I want you to encounter a text that is potentially strange and alien to you and to describe your experience of trying to make sense of this work. The paper is about you; it is not about the author you are trying to understand. It is about the effort and the labor you must put in to make the alien into the familiar.

First: Choose one of Eco’s four remaining novels and read it in its entirety. Eco’s novels are: (a) The Name of the Rose (1983), (b) Foucault’s Pendulum (1989); (c) The Island of the Day Before (1995); and (d) Baudolino (2002).

Second: Think about the experience of reading this text. What was it like to read this book? What did you have to do in order to understand it? Were the meanings clear, or were they opaque. Describe, as best you can, the effort you made in order to come to grips with a text that is alien to your common-sense understanding of communication. This will form the basis of your “hermeneutic experience.”

I want you to describe the labor and the effort you are making to understand an alien text, and I want you to describe the resources and strategies you bring to bear to try and make sense of what you are reading.

Remember, this paper is about YOU; it is not about Eco. You are being asked to write about your EXPERIENCES when attempting to come to grips with an alien text. You are not being asked to summarize Eco or attempt to understand what is in Eco’s head.

You should use quotes from the text to exemplify your experience.

The higher grades will be awarded to those papers that relate your experience of reading Eco’s text with texts, concepts, and themes discussed in class.


1: Welcome! Introduction to the Course

2: Beginning at the End: Michel Foucault and the Study of Communication
Radford, On the Philosophy of Communication, Chapter One
Wintonick and Achbar, Chomsky and Foucault on Human Nature (on WebCampus)
Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Chapters One and Two
3: Foucault, Eco, and a Role for Language
Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Chapters One and Two
4: Memento (Director, Christopher Nolan)
On Eco, Chapter One, “Beware of the Fallout.”
Extracts from the following (on WebCampus)
Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
Kuhn, The Essential Tension
Eco, The Name of the Rose
Foucault, The Order of Things
Due: Your choice of Eco novel, and why I chose it
5: Living in the World of Leonard Shelby: Travelling with Background books
Radford, Beware of the Fallout: Umberto Eco and the Making of the Model Reader
Due: Mysterious Flame One
6: The Text is There and Has its Own Effects
7: From Russia With Love (Terence Young, Director)
8: Living in the World of James Bond: Narrative Structures in Fleming
Eco, "Narrative Structures in Fleming"
Due: Mystererious Flame Two
9: Open and Closed Texts
On Eco, Chapter Three
10: This is Me Presentations
11: A Hermeneutic Theory of Communication
On the Philosophy of Communication, Chapter 8
Due: This is Me Paper
12: A Hermeneutic Theory of Communication
Radford, Hermeneutics: An Alternative Tradition for Communication Studies
13: Ending at the Beginning: Foucault's Approach to Discourse and Communication
Radford, Tunnel vision and blind spots.
Due: Mysterious Flame Three
14: Foucault's Approach to Discourse and Communication
15: Course Summary and Review for Final Examination
Due: Hermeneutic Experience Paper
16: Final Examination

This site last updated December 26, 2010.