Good Example Of Sign: The Written Word “Flood” Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Cinema, Film, Semiotics, Raise The Red Lantern, System, Raise, Lantern, Audience

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/03/18


Structuralism denotes a wide range of discourses concerned with the study of signification. Signification, on the other hand, results from a meaningful event, or rather, the practice of a meaningful action. These, therefore, from the roots of the phrase “signifying practices.” On this note, a meaningful event may encompass acts like getting married, reading a text, a battle, or even engaging in a discourse over a cup of coffee.
A majority, if not all, of meaningful events involve either a document, or a documentable exchange. In other terms, this would be termed as “text.” These texts, in turn, may come in the form of an advert, a news broadcast, an electronic manual, an edition of a book, a feature film, or even wedding vows. From a structuralism perspective, all meaningful texts and events, along with their signifying practices are subject to analyses for the structures they underscore. Such an analysis, in turn, would reveal the patterns that typify the system making these texts and practices possible. Somewhat, these tend to remain unconscious, yet necessary aspects of individual autonomy. Structuralism, therefore, avows to offer insights into what makes up an individual, as well as their mannerisms. To elucidate this, this essay will put these approaches in context, by using it to analyze a literary work. The work of interest, in this case is Raise the Red Lantern.
Semiotics, on the other hand, comprises the study of anything and everything that can be used for communication, be it signs, words, flowers, images, medical symptoms, and music, to mention but a few. As but a quintessential tool in the study of culture, semiotics present but a radical break from traditional criticism, whereby the first order of business involved the interpretation of an aesthetic text or object, particularly in terms of its intrinsic meaning. As opposed to what the meaning is, semiotics concerns itself mainly with how the conception of the implication came about (Seiter, 1992). The two terms are closely associated, to the extent where they tend to overlap. On disambiguation, however, semiotics is the study itself, while structuralism denotes the method of analysis most commonly used in semiotics. Structuralism, therefore, emphasizes that every element within a cultural structure develops its meaning from its correlation to every other element within the system (Elam, 2002). This implies that there are no independent meanings, but rather, a plethora of meanings stemming from their singularity from other elements in the system.
In this sense, the sign is the minutest unit of meaning in semiotics. According to Saussure’s initial conceptualization, the sign is made up of two discrete fragments: a signifier, that is the object, image, or sound itself, and the signified. Essentially, the signifier is the part of sign that takes a material form. The signified, o the other hand, is the concept the signified embodies. According to Saussure, the relationship amid the signifier and the signified was exclusively conventional, as well as downright arbitrary. For instance, the letters in “flood” represent the concept of “flood,” as exemplified in the linguistic illustration below,

Signifier: the letters “f-lo-o-d”
Signified concept” the category “flood”
In a nutshell, therefore, structuralism perceives film not like any other “text,” but rather, as but a signifying system, or rather, a set of relationships or patterns, within the work. The byline here is that the meaning of a body of work, therefore, stems not from such inherent meanings of its individual elements, but rather, from their interrelation with a “formal system.” On the other hand, one way by which to explain the abstract impression of structuralism is by commencing from a major issue of film theory, on which structuralism had but an significant effect: The extent to which one can understand the cinematic signification, based on its systematics (Seiter, 1992). This sophisticated yet fertile outline for investigating linguistic signifying systems then prompted theorists to approach this question from a different perspective. In fact, the most important aspect of structuralism are the definitions of linguistic structure. This owes to the fact it from the proposals progressed by Saussure that formed the basis on which film theory is based. It is worth noting, however, that during normal viewing, we tend to experience a number of codes, albeit simultaneously: sound, visual, as well as the cods controlling how one sound or image connects to another.
The mansion is but symbolic of the hierarchical nature of politics within a home, and which is bounded by factors like customs, family rules, as well as traditions. In the patriarchal structure of the home, the master had all the power, who was a male. As compared to his mistresses, he had more power. For instance, only he could decide in whose quarters he would spend the night, or when he wanted to do so. So great was the power resting on the master that he could wilfully manipulate events within the mansion, according to his personal interests. The Confucian matrix Zhang employs in the story poignantly highlights the oppressiveness and ineffectiveness of the Chinese Confucian system. This system typically fosters a patriarchal society by emphasizing on rigid gender and class lines, ancestral worship, customs, as well as heavy priority levied on having a male heir to carry on the family name. Zhang’s successful exploitation of historic objectivity, in addition to a highly personal approach to narrative filmmaking, successfully breaks the traditional didacticism and literary approaches archetypal of Chinese cinema.
When applied to film, semiotics and structuralism as theories were concerned with analyzing film as a language. Metz (1974) produced an extremely meticulous analysis of the manner in which film works, particularly in terms of its units of meanings, as well as how the ways in which these units were sprung together. However, this sort of analysis is somewhat technical, and dull to say the least, and does not produce especially useful results individually. Still, these approaches are vital in that, they constitute the basis of pretty much every theoretical approach to film.
Zhang’s approach enables us to isolate particular themes, as well as track their treatment throughout the text. This approach gives the audience a chronological account of the development of some of these themes, as well as the changing contextual emphases. Structuralism, along with post-structuralism, have both, in but relegated auteur studies. Structuralism, on this note, has been a major contributor to this, owing to its celebrated “death of the author” thesis, as explicated in Raise the Red Lantern. Essentially, the story is but an adaptation of Wives and Concubines, a novel by renowned novelist Su Tong. Essentially, Raise the Red Lantern completes the trilogy of films of the same style by Zhang Yimou, which commenced with Red Sorghum, followed closely by Judou. In the 1980s, Zhang rose to international acclaim with his films winning prestigious awards all over the world. Raise the Red Lantern is but a melodrama with a difference. As opposed to the classical subordinates, virtually everything to broad emotional impact, Zhang’s work contrastingly reduces emotional responsiveness through a plethora of cinematic devices, forging a sense of coldness throughout the film.
In Raise the Red lantern, Zhang expends a plethora of cinematic codes, experimenting with these techniques. He uses space, color, and even form to enhance both character psychology and the atmosphere. Primordially, the film uses techniques like framing and camera angle to maximize the effect and intensity of the audience’s emotional reaction and subsequent attachment to the characters. For instance, the opening scene of Songlian’s full-screen close-up shot when she tells of her fate, invites the audience to identify with her emotional numbness. Granted that this is the only close-up shot in the film, it serves to highlight the innards of Songlian’s speech, fashioning but a potent effect as pertains to her feelings, as well as her helplessness as a woman. At the time, Songlian is being coerced into being a rich man’s concubine. This becomes even more apparent in the scene following her first night with Chen. Here she looks at herself in the mirrors, looking seemingly mislaid and repulsed. Codes, in this sense, are but the conventional constructions of how the audience interprets the meanings and innuendos stemming from the various cinematic techniques, coupled with the content. This accords to the sentiments by Bordwell on the psychology of characters in art-cinema, where he affirms that although a character is ostensibly oblivious of his or her mental state, the audience ought to be prepared to notice how aspects like setting and behavior give them away (1989, p.208). On this note, the filming of Songlian’s static glance at her reflection, in but a dream-like setting fashioned with faint lighting, is accomplished from her perspective. The intent of doing this is to ensure that Zhang invites the audience to sympathize and identify with her situation (Lee, 2012). Granted that this is the one and only time Songlian look back at herself, this is superficially indicative of the fact that she ceases to be true to herself, as she has been sucked in by the power struggle among the women, resultant of which she loses herself.
As in his earlier films, Zhang extends his artistic presentation to the use of color. For instance, the use of blue in the backdrop of the impression of the multi-colored mansion, as well as on the morning when Meishan is executed serve to add a somewhat chilling bleakness to the scenes. What’s more, the red lanterns typify not only the sexual desire and passion of the women, but also their jealousy. They constitute but a symbol of Chen’s status, considering he has the power to light them. Metaphorically, therefore, Chen has the authority to govern households in accordance with the rules. As such, following the exposure of Songlian’s fake pregnancy, the lanterns are sealed black, symptomatic of the degrading of her family’s status. On juxtaposition to the red lanterns, the contrast of the black ones enhances the sense of psychological deterioration besides atmospheric bleakness.
Zhang’s use of these cinematic codes draws us to some of the semiotic concepts explored earlier in the course. For instance, the meaning of a word stems entirely from its disparity from other words in the sign system of language. In line with the sentiments proliferated by Pierce, even though an audience may endeavor to define a sign, more often than not, they are always forced to sue another sign to translate it. This new sign used to describe another sign Pierce gave the name the interpretant. Pierce perceived the communication process as but an unending chain of sign production, an incidence he dubbed “unlimited semiosis.” An illustration of this in Raise the Red Lantern is where the audience uses the interpretive signs of Songlian’s plight to draw their own conclusion. A sign, in this sense, serves as but an arbitration of the referent. What’s more, Raise the Red Lantern depicts the affect inferential of structuralism, the conviction that individual units of any system acquire meaning solely based on their associations with others.
The structural compositions in Raise the Red Lantern, along with their symbolic offshoots, reinforce the sense of distance in space and time, as well as the psychology of the female characters. These female characters engage what contemporary feminists would contemplate illogical rivalry and power play.

Reference List

Bordwell, D. 1989, Historical poetics of cinema, The cinematic text: Methods and approaches, 369-98.
Elam, K. 2002, The semiotics of theatre and drama, Psychology Press.
Fry, P. 2011, Semiotics and Structuralism.
Lee, J. 2012, Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern: Contextual Analysis of Film Through a Confucian/Feminist Matrix, Asian Cinema, 8(1), 120-127.
Metz, C. 1974, Film language: A semiotics of the cinema, University of Chicago Press.
Seiter, E. 1992, Semiotics, structuralism, and television, Channels of discourse, reassembled, 31-66.

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