===       ===     =============        ====
             ===       ===           ==            ==   ==
            == ==     ===           ==           ==      =
           ==   ==== ===           ==           ==      ==
          ==     ==  ==           ==            =      ==
         ==         ==           ==             ==   == 
        ==         ==           ==               ====
       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E
                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1994 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 0, Number 7      March, 1994      ISSN:  1067-3040   |
  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu
AUTHOR:  Littlefield, Richard C.
TITLE:  Code and Context: A Commentary on Roeder's Article
KEYWORDS:  code, communication, context, semiotics, sign, supplement
REFERENCE:  mto.93.0.5.roeder.art
Richard C. Littlefield
School of Music
Baylor University
PO Box 97408
Waco, TX 76798
[1]  Did a deconstruction, not destruction (!), of the sign never 
take place?  Is the resurrection of a certain (French) semiology 
inevitable?  Is the tension between a Saussurean-Hjelmslevian-linguistic 
conception of semiosis and that of a Peircean-phenomenological conception 
anywhere more evident than in Roeder's text?  Do *sign-functions* 
(ex)communicate?  Is the appeal to self-awareness blind on purpose or 
by accident?  Do *code* and *context* arise at one and the same time, 
and if so, how and why?  A first reading or "skimming" of Roeder's text 
might prompt these and related questions, which we shall try to answer.  
I encourage the reader, now predisposed to ask these questions, to 
(re)read Roeder's article, "Toward a Semiotic Evaluation of Music 
Analyses."  This reading will both refresh your memory of his text and 
permit me to avoid a too-lengthy summary of his article.  My comments 
will however entail a *slow* summary cum analysis, one that brings 
Nattiez, Eco, and Roeder into dialogue with each other,  in order to 
call attention constantly to the rabbit-like -- darting by and ever-
populating -- nature of signs, codes, and contexts throughout Roeder's 
article.  I focus mainly on theoretical matters, though his article 
certainly deserves equal attention to its practical applications.  My  
interpolations mean to highlight certain cuttings and delimitations that 
appear in concert, but not always on the same stage, with an unsettled  
conception of *code* and accompanied, *sotto voce*, by *context*.  
[2]  A brief sketch of the Roeder would include at least the following:  
He pursues "an agenda, suggested by Nattiez: to 'interrogate the different 
methodologies practiced in music analysis' " (Nattiez, 238; Roeder, note 
1).  This is a meta-theoretical enterprise for which semiotics, and 
specifically Eco's theory of codes, offers a "well-developed [notice: not 
necessarily an unwavering] foundation for discussing some important 
problems of specifically musical [one must draw a line, and not the last] 
philosophy and aesthetics" (Roeder, par. 1).  Another line quickly 
appears: Roeder is not concerned with" how meaning varies from one 
analysis to another," nor with Nattiez's (1990) latest reworking of 
the poietic-neutral-esthesic model (note 1).  Roeder's text struggles 
to remain on what Nattiez would call the neutral level, which purportedly 
has nothing to do with value-free analysis but is that level at which 
technical analysis proper can be carried out and which deals with 
specifically-musical stuff (motives, rhythms, etc.), a place that has 
been axiologically neutered, excised of values.  Roeder has more "modest 
goals" (note 1): the refinement [the winnowing away of the dross or the 
non-pertinent] of the meanings of theoretical concepts, recognition of 
how some types of musical discourse are "indeed analytical" (he will 
demonstrate this with a decoding/encoding of Schumann's literary-critical 
rendering of Schubert's Opus 33), recognition of "similarities and 
contrasts among different modes of analysis," and, last but for us in 
no way least, defining [circumscribing, putting into place] "more 
precisely the limits [more lines drawn] of any particular [the limits 
make it particular, its very own] analytical approach" (par. 4).  
Responsible, diligent analysts, theorists, and theoreticians should ask, 
" 'What do the signs we use to analyze music mean?'; . . . for it seems 
essential that as professional interpreters of music we should constantly 
evaluate the accuracy and efficacy of the discourse we use' (par. 2).  A 
current mood of self-consciousness in music analysis, to which I and 
others have tried to add, welcomes such constant evaluations (see 
Littlefield 1991, Littlefield and Neumeyer 1992, and Krims forthcoming).  
To help us better understand "why evaluating music analysis is important, 
and how semiotics can help (par. 3)," Roeder explains those bits of Eco's 
theory of semiotics (1976) that will be of use in this project. I 
reproduce these bits, and their necessary equivocations, for their own 
sake and because we shall reconsider (rewrite) them near the close of 
my comments.
[3]  Eco's codes, which will provide "the basis for analyzing the 
structure of meaning" in certain types of music-analytical representation 
(Roeder, abstract), form part of a more general theory of *semiotics*.  
Roeder defines semiotics as the activity that "describes the structure 
of meaning" (par. 1).  This delimitation of semiotics is not the classical 
definition (from Aristotle to Aquinas to Locke to Saussure and even to 
Eco, with many others in between), which has semiotics as the study of 
signs.  In what seems to be a counter-productive move, Roeder's definition 
of semiotics leans toward the structure of meaning; and meaning, a little 
later, will be viewed implicitly as meaning that arises in communication -- 
that is, meaning exchanged between "real" and/or theoretical conscious-
nesses (one could say "interpretants" if this concept of Peirce, available 
on Nattiez's esthesic level, were allowed to enter the scene).  Nor does 
semiotics necessarily entail the study of communication, which is 
Roeder's/Eco's synonym for "signification" (see par. 3), nor the study of 
the structure of meaning.  Meaning, as studied by semantics, necessarily 
involves the action of signs; but the action of signs need not involve 
communication. This latter takes us into a semiotics of communication 
first and most explicitly rendered by Roman Jakobson and others of the 
Prague Circle, certainly not Saussure, who would have viewed this as 
"mentalism," and only in some ways by Charles Sanders Peirce's category 
of the interpretant (interpreting sign in the receiver's mind) -- a 
crucial aspect of Eco's theory but a shadowy one in Roeder's.  Despite 
disagreements in what constitutes semiosis, the action of signs, semiotics 
has a common preoccupation: the *sign* -- something that stands for 
something else, in the classical formulation by Thomas Aquinas -- is the 
proper object of any activity calling itself semiotics.  Roeder quotes 
Eco on the sign:  "A *sign* (or, more properly, a *sign-function*) arises 
every time an 'element of an expression plane [is] conventionally 
correlated to one (or several) elements of a content plane' " (par. 3).  
*Signification* (action of signs in communication -- Roeder's necessary 
circumscription of semiosis, by means of whatever unargued code) comes 
about from the "correlation of two distinct [again, no leakage, clearly 
defined limits] formal systems."  These are the *syntactic* and the 
*semantic* systems:  the former is the *expression* or *signifier* plane 
or space; the latter is the *content* or *signified*.  The syntactic 
system is an "interplay of empty positions and mutual oppositions"; the 
semantic system is "a set of possible communicative contents" (par. 3, 
quoting Eco).  These contents are usually a "culturally-determined set 
[culture plays the context-maker here] of notions about the continuum of 
experience" (ibid.).  And what correlates the two systems such that 
signification will "arise" (a word apt for a resurrection of 60s semiology 
and which saturates Roeder via Eco)? -- the *codes*, with which this 
paragraph began, and which now get two paragraphs of their own. 
[4]  What are the codes?  "A *code* is a collection of sign-functions 
linking a syntactic system with a semantic system" (par. 3).  But, then, 
is not the code a sign?  For a little earlier in the same paragraph we 
read: "A *sign* (or, more properly, a *sign-function*) arises [comes to 
our attention, raises itself up] every time 'an element of an expression 
plane [is] conventionally correlated to one (or several) elements of a 
content plane' " (Roeder quoting Eco, par. 3).  Where this sign arises, 
of course, is the province of the esthesic level and the "reader," which 
Eco will acknowledge in a later study and which Roeder's text takes for 
granted.  For our purposes, we merely note the (undelimitable) conflation 
of the terms sign, sign-function, and code: the code (a sign or, "more 
properly," a sign-function) is a collection of sign-functions linking a 
syntactic system (comprised of "markers" and "elements" which are taken 
to be self-evident in Roeder's text) with a semantic system (unequivocally 
musical "events" and "psychophysical properties" [par. 4]).  Once these 
elements are linked, and signification "arises," a sign-function exists, 
though not the same sign-function that brought the sign-function into 
existence.  (The linkage of the two systems *conventionally*, by rule 
or pact, also slips a little in the course of the text.  In paragraph 16, 
on correlations between prose and music,  linkage is established by 
*likenesses* -- the banished Peirce would say,  by iconic relations -- 
between signifier and signified.  But I limit myself to the codes for 
now.)  Though in his note 1 Roeder gives a pertinent distillation of 
Nattiez's objection to Eco's notion of codes, let us read Nattiez's own 
words, with which he points out the double bind in Eco:  ". . . meaning 
cannot simultaneously be both the relation between signifier and 
signified . . . *and* a fixed,  stable position within a system" (Nattiez, 
23).  In other words, if you define meaning -- the aroused sign-function 
stimulated by a codifying sign-function whose own arousal is caused by 
something in the shadows, perhaps another, more promiscuous code, since 
an interpreting subject has been disallowed -- as a relation, how can 
you invoke a space of *fixed*, univocal markers and events that 
communicate among themselves by means of a code which is itself a 
relation or function?  You cannot.  If every relation is unique, among 
markers-in-themselves, events, elements, components, and so on, then the 
codes must be "multiplied endlessly" in order to describe the signifier-
signified couplings (Nattiez, 23).  A practical example, from Roeder's 
description of pitch-integer semiosis (par. 5):  "The code correlates the 
two systems so that each integer [unit of the syntactic system] 
conventionally denotes a distinct pitch [unit of the semantic system]."  
Not "the" code, but "this particular code in this particular instance," 
on Nattiez's view.  It seems to me Nattiez is correct in concluding that 
Eco could have found his way out of this impasse if he had acknowledged 
the esthesic (reception, perception, apperception, dwelling of the 
interpretant) and poietic (compositional, circumstances of creation, 
production) levels.  For in so doing, one could point with some 
justification to these, more permeable (an earlier semiology would say 
attuned to diachrony), positions of the tripartition, allowing them to 
resolve any inconsistencies that arise on the neutral level (Nattiez, in 
his latest work, renames the neutral level the *trace*, in recognition of 
its tenuous ontological status).  Acknowledgement of the poietic and 
esthesic levels need  not result in their objectification and systematiz-
ing into something like a neutral level, for the "*circumstances of 
communication* are as infinite in number as those of the interpretant 
[the interpreting sign that arises in the mind when the latter receives 
signals; the moment of decoding]" (Nattiez, 25). 
[5]  Nevertheless, the code, however illogical or plurivocal, is 
essential to Roeder's/Eco's project, for it alone "establishes [marks 
off territory for] the correlation of an expression plane . . . with a 
content plane" and thus determines (lays down the law, a Napoleonic code) 
that  "a given array of syntactic signals refers back . . . to a given 
'pertinent' segmentation of the semantic system" (Eco in Roeder, par. 3).  
The code "apportions" (par. 8), divides up the lots; it "correlates" 
concepts, weds opposing oppositions, puts them into contact with each 
other.  It draws up the prenuptial agreement  by setting limits, it 
*confines as it defines*.  Far too briefly put, the code makes possible 
the *context*, the little-sung hero of Roeder's text, whom we shall hear 
from shortly.  In Eco/Roeder the code, that informative if slippery 
match-maker, reports back to us, with data that will help us keep our 
discourse honest, our representational language more transparent, our 
models more distinct, efficacious, and accurate, and thus more attractive.  
[6]  We have, as early as the second paragraph of the present commentary, 
seen (always necessary) lines of demarcation appear in Roeder's text -- 
semiotics is this not that; talk of specifically musical in contradistinc-
tion to not specifically musical discourse; the deepest cut, the placing 
of the theory itself on the neutral level; "refinements" of meanings; and 
so on.  Are these delineations theorized in the text, and what have they 
to do with the codes, who apparently will associate (anyone) with anyone?  
Tucked away at the end of the theoretical exposition (of semiotics, of 
bits of Eco's theory, of the ways a revenant semiology, like Scrooge's 
spectre, can help fine tune discourse about music) we find:  "The 
particular contexts or circumstances [which Nattiez points out are 
infinite in number] in which the sign-function arises *also* [my emphasis] 
affect its meaning" (par. 3).  Also?  Not crucially?  As if context were 
so manifestly "there"!  But let us proceed.  Eco states, and my interpola-
tions are carefully weighed:  "a sign-function is established by the code 
[another, linking kind of sign-function] between [and the code makes 
possible this 'between' by establishing, separating yet conjoining] a 
given set [the code giveth and the code taketh away] of syntactic markers, 
*both taken as a whole*" (Eco in Roeder, par. 3; my emphasis).  The 
content plane must be cut off clearly from the syntactic plan; the two 
planes must wed and become one (taken as a whole); and the code performs 
the ceremony (correlates the two systems; par. 5).  
[7]  If I have any one "point" to make in this commentary, it is that 
"context" is not just one condition among many that affect the meaning 
of the sign, however construed (as position, as marker, as code, as sign-
function).  Context does not merely "also," in the adding-to sense, 
affect the meaning of the sign; it "also" makes possible the sign.  
Context defines by confining.  We can hear the voice of context, soft 
yet authoritative, throughout Roeder's text: "restricting [confining, 
contextualizing] and schematizing images curtails [limits, sets boundaries 
on] their ambiguity and thereby enhances [highlights the borders of] their 
denotative clarity as sign-vehicles [signifiers]," because "sign-functions 
arise [again, of their own volition] to the extent that the sign-vehicles 
are arranged [marked-off, take their place] in clear patterns [clear to 
whom?  and in what context?]" (par. 10).  Example 2a "shows some musical 
dimensions [contexts, spaces] in which oppositions can be defined [no 
defining without confining]."  Into this latter creeps a certain 
circularity: how can you *not* find pairings, matches arranged by the 
codes, between the syntactic and semantic "dimensions" or contexts, after 
you have decided in advance that there *will be* a context of oppositions,  
that there will be two systems, each calling out to the other, like 
Fetis's *appellant* tones, each confined and defined, at one and the 
same time, by a code.  The two systems, so often seen together in public 
as it were, are bound to be linked in the public imagination, if the code 
has its way (and it always does, if the message of Gestalt psychology and 
aesthetics via Gombrich and others has validity).  Further on, and skipping 
many interim examples, we read that using verbal images to signify music 
works best when the images are "constrained by the overall scene 
[context]" (par.18).  Here Schumann is describing some Schubert waltzes 
in terms of characters and setting at a masked ball (a highly constrained 
social context), and where Roeder is describing the waltzes as a highly 
constrained (codified) musical genre.  Otherwise connotations would run 
rampant; the possible correspondences (or correlations) between signifier 
and signified would exceed our ability to keep track of them; the codes 
would get out of hand.  There follows an excursus, welcome but shocking 
in the context of a presentation fixed so rigidly on the neutral level, 
into the poietic level: intriguing speculations on possible motivations 
for Schumann's choice of images in his literary rendering of the Schubert 
(pars. 17-20).  A final exhortation asks us to "continue to identify 
[by means of codes, one presumes] the limitations [we should delimit the 
borders of the borders] of analytical paradigms that are [and they all 
are] accepted by tradition, convention, or default" (par. 22).  I would 
second this motion, adding that what is left out or suppressed, ex-
communicated,  during this communication between the signifier and 
signified, that which makes possible that strange and violent linkage, 
should receive equal attention (see Littlefield 1993).
[8]  Let me hasten to point out that the question-issue-problem of 
context returns to life here in tandem with and inseparable from the 
signifier-signified team that one had thought forever dislocated by 
deconstruction, "New" historicism, feminist critiques and many other 
'isms. I had forgotten the urgency with which Derrida and others 
encouraged vigilance against the resurgence of "logocentrism," appeals 
to *presence*, in all its guises; here, a certain structuralism, the 
signifier/signified pairing, the sign as a "whole," stable markers and 
components in clearly-defined systems,  and so forth.  In their assault 
on the concept of the sign, Derrida's texts have time and again pointed 
out the "supplemental logic" of seemingly incidental terms, such as 
"context" in the context of the Roeder, being called in both to add-to 
and to constitute, be contingent and necessary, at one and the same time 
(see, for example, Derrida 1967 and 1987).  In the Roeder: no code, no 
context; no context, no code; no code, no sign; no sign, no semiotics; 
no semiotics, fuzzy interpretation.  What fascinates me is the surface 
simplicity, the apparent cogency, the matter-of-factness with which 
Roeder's text offers us a "tool" for getting straight our representa-
tions of musical structure.  A music theorist somewhere said that the 
business of theory was not to be true, only useful (or words to that 
effect).  And "dependability" has certainly replaced "verifiability" or 
truth value in some areas of psychological testing.  Perhaps this 
blindness, purposeful or accidental, is the price one pays for insight, 
as Paul de Man has told us.  I would like to see many more practical 
examples, analytic applications, clearly laid out as in Roeder's essay, 
of the codes used to make clear the terms of our music-analytic representa-
tions.  "Interpretation," says Geoffrey Hartman, "is like football: you 
spot a hole and you go through."  One should take the ball and run with 
Derrida, Jacques. 1967.  That Dangerous Supplement.  In his *Of 
Grammatology*.  Trans. Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 
University Press.
--------. 1987.  Parergon.  In his  *The Truth in Painting*.  Trans. 
Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Eco, Umberto. 1976.  *A Theory of Semiotics*.  Bloomington: Indiana 
University Press. 
Krims, Adam. Forthcoming.  A Sketch for Post-Structuralist Music Theory. 
*Current Musicology*.  
Littlefield, Richard. 1991.  A Way out of Schoenberg's Opus 15, No. 5.  
Paper presented at the national meeting of the Society for Music Theory 
in Cincinnati.  1 November.
--------. 1993.  Framing the Work of Music.  In *On the Borderlines of 
Semiosis*, ed. Eero Tarasti. Helsinki: International Semiotics Institute.
Littlefield, Richard and David Neumeyer. 1992. Rewriting Schenker: 
Narrative -- History -- Ideology.  *Music Theory Spectrum* 14.1.
Nattiez, Jean-Jacques. 1990.  *Music and Discourse*.  Trans. Carolyn 
Abbate.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Roeder, John. 1993.  Toward a Semiotic Evaluation of Music Analyses.  
*Music Theory Online* 0.5.

Copyright Statement
[1] Music Theory Online (MTO) as a whole is Copyright (c) 1994,
all rights reserved, by the Society for Music Theory, which is
the owner of the journal.  Copyrights for individual items 
published in (MTO) are held by their authors.  Items appearing in 
MTO may be saved and stored in electronic or paper form, and may be 
shared among individuals for purposes of scholarly research or 
discussion, but may *not* be republished in any form, electronic or 
print, without prior, written permission from the author(s), and 
advance notification of the editors of MTO.
[2] Any redistributed form of items published in MTO must
include the following information in a form appropriate to
the medium in which the items are to appear:
	This item appeared in Music Theory Online
	It was authored by [FULL NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS],
	with whose written permission it is reprinted 
[3] Libraries may archive issues of MTO in electronic or paper 
form for public access so long as each issue is stored in its 
entirety, and no access fee is charged.  Exceptions to these 
requirements must be approved in writing by the editors of MTO, 
who will act in accordance with the decisions of the Society for 
Music Theory.