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The Phatic Turn

I'd like to discuss, in a very roundabout way, Gerald Aiken's statement that "An interest in phatic communion has enjoyed something of a renaissance recently", in "Polysemic, Polyvalent and Phatic: A Rough Evolution of Community With Reference to Low Carbon Transitions" (2016). I've yet to make a jeesusjalutasallveelaeval post about it because there's simply too much goodness there (I would like to take my time in internalizing Aiken's very well made points - same with Charles Zuckerman).

This revolution I think he may have noticed from the sheer amount of literature currently employing the term "phatic". We can't be the only ones who have noticed it. With reference to Jakobson's view of these related disciplines, phaticity seems to encompass communication sciences, which include (in concentric order) anthropology, semiotics, linguistics, and poetics. Phatic Communion had its origins in anthropology so that's insured - anthropologists use it frequently and will most likely continue to do so for quite some time.

In semiotics and linguistics, Jakobson's phatic function is dominant. There are several distinct interpretations (e.g. as communication function pure and simple, as discourse markers, as a form of interjections, in politeness behaviour, etc.) which I hope to make out (and consolidate as best as I can) in the future. So that's solid. "Phatic" is a common term in linguistics and semiotics already, and it is most often read as a term belonging to these fields.

With poetics, on the other hand, I hope that my own upcoming paper will help to revitalize it, particularly in the extended interpretation I provide. If I do get it published in some journal related to poetics, it's possible that the poetic gap will be filled in the coming years. Here I'm referring to the fact that despite Jakobson putting the phatic function forth in "Linguistics and Poetics" and discussing related issues in poetic analyses, it has become more common in prose studies. So there's an unnatural gap - the phatic function is not used where it ideally should be (in poetics).

I've become so fond of that sentence (in the beginning) by Aiken because it's a sign (for me) that we're not the only ones making the connection, taking notice of the increasing popularity of the term, and its continuing development and refinement currently in progress. In the beginning of this journey I remarked that phatic studies needs to become self-aware and establish it as a unique research interest, perhaps something like an interpretive framework, an alternative set of theories and conceptions for discussing modern issues of communication.

In a few decades I hope to look back at this period and point to the likes of Aiken as a particularly significant phase in the development of phatic studies, the one where synthesis of all previously put out information starts to take place. I have this dream of compiling a research project guide with PDF files of basic readings, relevant publications, commentary, pointers, glossary, contacts for people active in the field, etc. During this decade I'd like to get far enough to start sharing the data I've collected from the 20th century along with our overview/metareview.

So let's make some effort, perhaps in the latter half of this year, to finish the first instance of our survey-in-progress. Would you be willing to give Harmon's story wheel another whirl? I'd prefer to begin the process again and go the route in the first-person of the hero, proceeding step by step, beginning with the first: do we know what our home-base is? Where do we situate, say, Phatica, a tentative stand-in for a hero (and the general concept of phaticity), as the starting point? It would have to be somewhere she can return to.

Effectively, the revolution, this "phatic turn" in (human) communication sciences (and beyond?) is the adventure. Maybe we would need to begin with Bronislaw Malinowski (and/or Herbert Spencer?) and phatic/social communion to introduce the main character and the setting (something like... intellectual thought about the social nature of speech?)... But here I'm already hitting a wall because I learned from a Youtube reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality (1755) that "sympathy" and "sentiments" in the interrelated sense used by Spencer and Malinowski has a looong history possibly reaching Aristotle. That's definitely something to get into sooner rather than later, but maybe not the right stuff for the survey.


  1. Sounds great! I'll likely give it a try visually, using the Cmap tool I posted about.

    By the way, regarding our quite short train story, here's a short review of a book by Melville ("The Confidence Man"):

    "The notes and introduction in this Penguin edition are very useful. It helps a lot to know that some of the characters are versions of real people, including famous authors such as Emerson, Poe and Thoreau. Melville raises a lot of issues in theology and philosophy, as well as in relation to the direction he saw America taking at the time. I liked the idea of the riverboat as a microcosm of America and that the action all takes place on one day (April Fool's Day). Once midnight passes at the very end of the book, though, the day of deceptions is over and the emphasis changes."

    This sounds a bit similar to Bakhtin's idea of a "carnival". It's also interesting that Melville's group of characters at least somewhat intersects the group we're interested in (Poe is in both).

    In addition to "building up" e.g. by using a map, another approach would be to "strip down", taking the entire text of the blog and other relevant communications, putting it into some suitable place for editing, and trying to cut and rearrange until we have something that makes sense (with an annex for stuff that doesn't really belong).

  2. Another Amazon reviewer comment:

    "It's a reflection on many themes, but the central one is Melville's assumption that if, as the American dream has it, anyone can become anything he desires, who then can we still trust to be what he professes to be? Melville consequently tries to delude his readers too. There is not a single narrator for instance but many, and even that is not straightforward: you have to deduce from tiny details in the text which narrator is speaking in each of the 45 chapters."

  3. Pruning the whole text of this blog and our relevant personal communications would take a lot of time. We could condense it by making the blog itself an online destination for future phaticists. Effectively, we would need to start improving our posts and laying pavement between different spots.

    First, I'd like to try e-mailing the anthropologist mentioned in the beginning of this post, linking him to some posts here that could interest him. *Soon the train stops and picks up new and more talkative characters. Travelers already on board lively up their conversation and offer seats to newcomers.*


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