Textual Persona and Identity: PRR White’s Friday seminar slides

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Here is the PDF of the slides Peter used at the Friday seminar on October 24th, 2014, at the University of Sydney for his talk on the matter of how tenor can accommodate the concept of ‘textual persona’.

The abstract for Peter’s talk apears below:

Identity and textual persona as type-of-person effects in mass-communicative, premeditated discourse

For the purpose of this paper I take the following to be largely uncontroversial. The ways in which we speak or write, and thereby make meaning, may reveal us to be, or construct us as being, particular types of people. These “type-of-person” categorisations or effects may be matters of social conditioning associated with “class”, “gender”, “sexual orientation”, “ethnicity”, “age” and so on. They may also be matters of social role such as those of “teacher”, “student”, “doctor”, “patient” and so on. Typically in the literature, such “type-of-person” effects are dealt with by reference to a notion of discursively performed “identity”, with the understanding that communicating individuals may adopt or perform different “identities” in different settings and for different social purposes. Equally, these type-of-person effects may be viewed as matters of the various and typically transient personal and interpersonal positionings that speakers/writers may deploy – for example positionings with respect to social standing, social distancing, attitudinal investment, axiological alignment and openness to alternative viewpoints. Typically in the literature, such type-of-person effects have been dealt with via notions of textual persona,with the co-settings of these various positionings resulting in the speaker/writer coming across as being a certain type of person.

The relationshipbetween “identity” and “persona”, as so formulated, is an interesting one. While it will not be my central concern in this paper, I will be proposing that personae (as communicative effects resulting from typically transient configurations of personal and interpersonal positionings) can be understood as acting to index or possibly even to realise the social grouping or “macro” type-of-person categories (e.g. those of “class”, “gender” and so on). In this my use of these terms is different from that of Martin (2010, 2013), where textually performed “personae” are defined as subtypes of the macro social-grouping identity categories. That is to say, while under my formulation, the relationship between persona and identity is one of realisation, under Martin’s formulation it is one of “instantiation”. (I’m not yet clear as to whether this is definitional matter – the use of the same term to reference different phenomena/categories – or whether the different use of these terms amounts to different claims about the nature of textually-based type-of-person effects.)

The paper will primary be directed at discussing how persona, as a type-of-person effect, can be modelled by building on previous accounts of the parameters by which the Tenor of a text may vary. I refer here, for example, to the work of Poynton (1989) and Martin (Martin 1992) and others in proposing that the Tenor of texts varies according to settings for “status”, “contact/social distance” and “affect”, and to more recent work by Don (2012) who has proposed that it is useful to identify two further parameters of variation within “contact/social distance” – namely those of “affiliation” and “axiological alignment”. In the context of written, mass-communicative texts of the type with which I am primarily concerned here, “axiological alignment” is a matter of the degree to which the writer constructs for her/himself an “ideal” or “intended” reader who shares the writer’s beliefs and values (i.e. a “likeminded” addressee), or alternatively a reader construed as likely to be at odds with the writer. I will be proposing thatinsightful account of textual persona can follow when this model of Tenor is extended by including a reference to (1) the nature of the value positions put at risk by the text and about which writer and reader therefore potentiallyalign – for example whether it is attitudinal or epistemic; whether or not it is ideologically charged, (2) the writer’s attitudinal disposition – i.e. whether alignment is construed as a matter of Affect, Judgement or Appreciation or some mixture of these, and (3) authorial communality – the terms under which the writer puts writer-reader rapport at risk.

The application of this model of persona will be explored in the context of both journalistic opinion pieces and the many and various reader comments which are now attached to online news reports, commentary articles, personal blogs, YouTube postings, political announcements and so on.


Don, A. C., (2012), “Legitimating tenor relationships: Affiliation and alignment in written interaction.” Linguistics and the human sciences no. 5 (3):303-327.
Martin, J., M. Zappavigna, P. Dwyer and C. Cléirigh, (2013), “Users in uses of language: embodied identity in Youth Justice Conferencing.” Text & Talk no. 33 (4-5):467-496.
Martin, J. R., (1992), English text: System and structure: John Benjamins Publishing.
Martin, J. R., (2010), “Semantic variation: Modelling realisation, instantiation and individuation in socialsemiosis.” In New discourse on language: Functional perspectives on multimodality, identity, and affiliation, edited by Monika Bednarek and James R Martin, 1-34. London: Continuum.
Poynton, C., (1989), Language and Gender: Making the Difference: Oxford University Press.

Genre Parody used as satire

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A good example of what Genette might call caricature, the parodic imitation of a style with satirical intent. The satire here is not directed at the style or the genre so much as using that genre and its stylistic features to satirise a social phenomenon.

[download the full pdf version from the original publication site here]

“The word parody is currently the site of a rather onerous confusion, because it s called upon to designate at times playful distortion, at times the burlesque transposition of a text, and on other occasions the satirical imitation of a style. The main reason for this confusion is obviously the functional convergence of the three formulas, each of whch produces a comic effect, generally at the expense of the text or style being “parodied.” [24]

“I propose therefore to (re)baptise as parody the distortion of a text by means of a minimal transformation of the Chapelain décoiffé type; travesty will designate the stylistic transformation whose function is to debase, à la Virgile travesti; caricature (but no longer, as previously, parody) will designate the satirical pastiche […]; and pastiche plain and simple would refer to the imitation of a style without any satircal intent, a type illustrated by at least some pages of Proust’s “L’Affaire Lemoine”. [25]

“I am therefore claiming not to censure the abuse of the word parody (since, in effect, this is what we are dealing with) but only to point it out and – because it is impossible to clear up this lexical area effectively – at least provide its users with a conceptual tool enabling them to check and focus with greater swiftness and accuracy what it is they are (probably) thinking about when they (haphazardly) utter the word parody. [26]

“Parody does not actually subject the hypotext to a degrading stylistic treatment but only takes it as a model or template for the construction of a new text which, once produced, is not longer concerned with the model. [27]

Gerard Genette. 1997 [1982] Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree. Translated by Channa Newman & Claude Doubinsky. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press

Notes on a uniform

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The anthropological bent has dogged me, one might say, for a goodly period of my life. Occasioned, no doubt, by most of my early and formative years being spent on the sub-continent where many ethnic identities and language groups made themselves apparent to each other by the laying on of identity signifiers, many of which took the form of clothing – as well as an array of related adornment of a less practical motivation. My later adolescence on the Antipodean continent-cum-island can also be considered formative, at least in this regard, in that the teenaged Sydney-sider, even in the far-off decades of the 60’s and 70’s, was regularly required to focus their attention on the outward signifiers of dress that identified the wearer as in alignment (or not) with the local power structure. This self-scrutiny and the accompanying scrutiny of others on the part of teenaged female high-school students at the time, was enhanced and given direction in 1970 by the first appearance in the media-scape of the highly colourful and yet not very bright DOLLY magazine. I well recall my first perusal of that initial edition, to the extent that I remember to where and with whom I was travelling, and by what means. My reaction at the time may have included scoffing, I may even have suggested throwing the publication from a window of the top deck of the double decker bus in which we were being transported away from rather than in the direction of our secondary school on a weekday.

At the end of the following year, for the school farewell ball, I brought, in lieu of a beau, my adoptive older brother, a person I had adopted to fill the space that a genetically-related brother might have occupied should I have had one – which indeed I should have had. The point of this short anecdote is that my adoptive brother, as my escort, had refused to follow the ruling set down by the school rule-makers, to wit, that escorts (interlopers, you must admire, into the all-female domain of our high school cohort) needed to be sporting a tie, worn in the appropriate fashion around the neck and collar. Instead, our rebellion was realised in a resistance of the local power structure through non-compliance with the dress-code, whereby he attended the event in a polo-necked jumper. We were rewarded for our efforts with a series of counter-resistant entry-level embarrassments in the form of discussions between my teachers and my escort. Since it was no longer the sixties at that juncture, I still wonder whether the polo was a good move to make.

In terms of formativeness too, I have not even mentioned the Mater’s influence on my later psychological make-up. Suffice to say that we (my sister and I) were subject to constant admonitions regarding the attire of exemplary others. And by ‘exemplary’, I do not necessarily wish the reader to imagine I refer to its regular positive connotation, but that attention was regularly drawn to those exemplars of style and taste which might advise us, in the words of those very clever mass media mavens Trinny and Susannah, what not to wear. With apologies for being less than precise here, we can summarise some of these instances of clothing error through the use of broader labels encompassing the main idea entailed. Certainly, for example, girls with fat legs should not wear mini-skirts. I personally could not agree more, and not primarily because I would hope to restrict anyone’s freedom to wear what they wanted – this would no doubt redound on myself in some way (I was born in India after all you see) – but because I am afflicted by a very nasty turn at the sight of visual arrangements which are not aesthetically-pleasing, which by the by has always been a great burden to both myself and to any companions, on occasions of traversing any locale where, for example, a McDonald’s has set up shop. Other combinations that one should avoid included that of dirty hair and a white collar, a stiletto and a bare leg, green and blue in the same outfit, a scarf tied about the rollers on the head, garish jewellery, and so on – these all administered by the Mater with a small disapproving grimace.

These notes that I offer here have been occasioned by a recent excursion stateside, where I attended a conference in NYC (a pretext, one might observe) in which context I was alerted once again to a phenomenon I am aware I have been subconsciously registering for some time, but have not systematically described as yet. My attention in this instance was arrested, or motivated perhaps, by the outward appearance of one of the presenters, whose self-satisfied but dull readings of the writings of some favoured performance artists while standing before blurry blown-up images of the same artists – all of course having lead intense and thwarted lives until their activities as performance artists meant that their subjugated and hitherto unappreciated inner selves had been released – caused me to interrogate in an extended fashion the basis for my sudden wave of displeasure at her delivery. On that score, I could uncover no satisfaction, but in the process I became aware of her vestimentary attributes, collocations of clothing items I have in the past remarked repeated in a variety of ways such that they can be considered variations on a theme, instantiations in fact of a genre, a conventional combination, an iconic reference to a potential state of identity rather than, say, indexical of an object.

/……to be continued

I return to Sydney and notice stylistic affectations

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Having just returned from a longish sojourn in what is fondly called round here ‘the outback’ on a small research foray paid for by an institution which shall remain nameless lest I besmirch their up-till-now fairly fine reputation, I began to remark to myself that the environs in which I now languish on a short sabbatical courtesy of my old friend eldon – to wit, the villages of Enmore, Newtown, and Erskineville – far from being inhabited by outlandish independently-minded personae as I had been warned (or perhaps ‘regaled’ might be the better term), were actually populated by an array of varieties of human tribes of different age brackets, who identify their allegiances by being attired in a number of easily identifiable uniforms.

Of course, I admit at the outset that my use of the term ‘uniform’ speaks not of exact uniformity, certainly not of the ilk enforced at the hands of the teachers at the schools of my youth, places where rulers were applied to the knee to ascertain the exact distance of hem from that knee whilst kneeling on the floor, and at which troupes of girls about to leave on excursions out of school grounds were lined up for an inspection by headmistress and denied the small pleasure of group travel should their livery be in any way different from that laid down by the official documents she held dear. No, my use of the term uniform here speaks more to the loose requirements of latter-day secondary colleges who demand that their inmates pay homage at least to the school colours and officially-sanctioned items of vestment, but who are free to mix and match along fundamental lines which allow members of the student body to be recognised as affiliated with their specific secondary communities only by virtue of a compositional coherence with respect to a certain arrangement of garments, which in turn provides an associative value – an index if you will – pointing to the school with which these colours and arrangements can be traced.

I acknowledge that I am primed to notice tribal affiliations, especially those manifested in the visual indicators of clothing and accessories, and have already spent quantities of focussed observatory time in Japan taking notes on the means by which the Japanese – many of whom strive to be recognised easily as belonging to a particular social grouping – indicate their affiliation with such groupings so that they may not create confusion in anyone’s mind, and may thus be conveniently addressed in an appropriate manner whilst going about their everyday duties. I refer, for example, to the well-documented tribe of ‘housewife’, a noble profession in Japan, whose domestic duties encompass a scope and quality handed down by generations of devoted employees of their husbands and their husbands’ mothers. These noble women can be seen going about their shopping day, on busses and on bicycles wearing the typical bibbed pinafore over their normal clothing, an item which denotes the housewifely calling. Normal clothing for the Japanese housewife is also fairly strictly demarcated, and consists of a pale-coloured shirt teamed with either a dowdy skirt or pair of loose trousers. That they do not remove their protective garment before leaving the house underlines their need for recognition as employed in this capacity, since both other housewives and shopkeepers alike must be alerted to their status as dutiful holders of the household reins, and keeper of the household purse.

During my recent stay up-country in outback Australia, in a town a little further from civilisation than I normally care to sojourn, I was accommodated in a local pub. I will not go into the reasons here regarding why I did not avail myself of the more salubrious offering at the motel on the outskirts of town, but I might mention both the distance factor and the pecuniary factor as primary decision-makers in the matter. My official research there did not entail the observation of the local white community, but this being my natural inclination anyway, after a while and upon attending one or two shopping days in the town as well as one race meeting, it became apparent that the graziers or ‘cow cockies’ thereabouts were also prone to identify themselves with an arrangement of particular clothing types and even brand-names – I hesitate to declare, as I am ignorant of the taxonomy of names of those fashion houses who supply the apparel for the man on the land. The primary items of this apparel were, as usual for males, a pair of trousers and a shirt. In my notes I observed that the shirt needed to have two breast pockets, or failing that, needed to be patterned in very small cross-hatching on the vertical and horizontal. The trousers were by preference moleskins, and of an off-white colour. The outfit needed to be teamed with, on the feet, riding boots, at the lower waist a plaited leather belt in brown, and on the head a flat-brimmed hat. There was also the variation of the tie, with the woven khaki variety finding popularity amongst the middle-aged set. Younger members of the group effected American style broad-brimmed hats, and occasionally higher heels on the boots, with the here-and-there affectation of the American-style shoe-lace affair threaded about the collar and fastened at the neck with a device in the shape of a stock animal, but generally the uniform was adhered to – not so much that that members might recognise each other more easily, but that the un-landed gentry might recognise their betters.

And so it is that I have come to observe the latest affiliatory signifiers of the people on the streets near to where I am presently taking my ease. I have been reliably informed that one style, or should I say constellation of artefacts worn at the same time that represent an overall style, can be labelled as ‘indie’. But there the tribal or associative relationships indexed by these sets of worn-artefacts ends for me – I am not apprised of what ‘indie’ (presumably shortened from the word ‘independent’ but I do not observe any shred of independence in the wearers of this style) signifies in terms of dress code or approach to ‘life’, and hence the identity to which indie-aficionados hope to aspire. The reader will have noted that I have up till now mentioned one or two very brief descriptions pertaining to arrangements of clothing forms – or items that constitute an affiliatory practice – which have been either related to institution, e.g. school, or profession e.g. grazier or housewife. However, the local practices I speak of in respect of younger people as well as older non-employed persons cannot be traced to their identification with a place or mode of employ.

So, for example, although we note on the streets of Enmore and Newtown a repeated pattern exemplified by the very fine pin stripe shirt, well-fitting trousers, teamed with low-profile tie and belt, as well as a trim haircut – which style indexes the real estate agent – we also note a variety of other styles which are not traceable to specific work practices. Thus, I am not talking here about those people who are obviously dressed for the job, in particular the manual labouring jobs which necessitate shorts and slightly dirty T-shirts or shirts actually emblazoned with the company insignia. I refer more specifically to those who have chosen to wear what they do as a index of their personal style, as if style itself were the identity of the persons so attired.

Hence my aim is to accumulate notes on the observed apparel on the streets and cafes of the locale, and to build up a sense of repeated patterns, of generalised shapes (or ‘lines’ as I believe they used to be called), fabric patterns, footwear, hairstyles (as they also signify in this area of description) and accessories – especially carry-bags, scarves and hats. This should provide a means of making generalisations which may lead at the same time to the ability of calculating – or at least throwing into high relief – boundary lines between styles and their offshoots, such that further enquiries could be more profitably made regarding the reasoning behind persons’ effecting of these styles through arrangement of clothing form.

Work in the field has obviously already been done in the public arena and the private sphere, and here I am thinking of the published findings and recommendations made by two researchers known as Trinny and Susanah who have made available a very useful book (due to its many photographic illustrations) called “Who do you want to be today?” in which they imply the strong link between what is worn and one’s identity. Some of the identities they have provided are helpfully labelled in a type of intertextual shorthand, examples being the following: “rock chick”, “gamine”, “ice-queen”, “avant-garde eccentric”, and so on. In passing I note that there are confusions here of logical levels of analysis – since ‘gamine’ refers to appearance rather than persona, and the others in the cited list refer to persona and attitude – but I hope therefore to avoid such confusions in my own note-taking and analysis. In addition, while I find the use of such labels an act of efficiency by way of a convenient temporary box in which to group sets of phenomena, I am rarely tied to the labels I use for identification of related elements – rather, it is the grouping of elements together – against the differences, contrasts or boundary conditions between groups of elements – that are most important to these endeavours.

In this spirit, I first make observation of one personal identity type seen inhabiting the streets of Enmore and Newtown, which I am wont to call gothic-punk. It seems from many years of exposure to the punk orientation in its several guises and latter day interpretations, that the styles which adherents adopt in order to be identified as punk have now more than bifurcated, and have instead been adulterated by a number of other styles, so that there are cross-pollinations of style seen on the streets. One of the adulterations is the gothic orientation, and my reasoning for using the term ‘goth’ as a qualifier of the base term ‘punk’ is related to chronology in style appearance and the history of adoption and adaptation wherein ‘punk’ has a longer street history pertaining to clothing selections – not, I hasten to add, a longer history per se.

A description of the gothic-punk style necessitates in turn, a list of possible paradigmatic alternatives – that or else mere generalisations related to classification of the regularly donned items of apparel. I am thwarted in this endeavour by a learned ignorance on the names of the styles of shoes, types of clothing, and other accoutrements related to garments, so that description should not be tainted by what I think I ‘know’ about fashion or the clothing industry in general, but will remain a purer, more fundamental description losing out in specificity what it gains in authenticity. I am also keen to distinguish my first steps in description as a paltry endeavour in one sense, but also not a description of the language of fashion a la Roland Barthes. Instead, notes on clothing combinations of the day form an actual report on the observable patterns in appearance effected by the street-walking public – at least as I observe them in a small locale in Sydney, and occasioned in this instance by my sudden awareness upon returning to Sydney that the styles repeated as patterned social behaviour hereabouts constituted a set of patterns on their own – although of course, not isolated from the general melee of clothing trends that are the bread & butter of the world wide web these days. At the same time, the mix and obviousness of the styling in these parts prompting me to anthropological endeavours in the same vein as the previous local case studies I have been involved in over the years.
Thus, I adjure all who have bothered to read thus far to anticipate verbal descriptions starting from the head and working down of a number of locally apparent clothing combinations in future communications.

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