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The Thymic Analysis

By Louis Hébert

Professor, Université du Québec à Rimouski

louis_hebert@uqar.ca

1. ABSTRACT

Greimas

Algirdas Julien Greimas

Thymic analysis, an elaboration by this author on Greimas and Courtés' axiological analysis, is concerned with evaluations made within the category euphoria/dysphoria, or in less technical terms, positive/negative or pleasure/displeasure. The main elements involved in this sort of analysis are: (1) the evaluating subject, (2) the object being evaluated, (3) the thymic value attributed to the object (euphoria, dysphoria, etc.), (4) the intensity of the value (low, medium, high, etc.), (5) the time of the evaluation, (6) the transformations that may affect thymic elements (a transformation of the subject or object may or may not lead to a change in the value and/or its intensity), and so forth. For example, in the fable "the Grasshopper and the Ant", the grasshopper (subject) evaluates pleasure (object) positively (value) and work (object) negatively (value).

This text can be found in extended version in this book:
Louis Hébert, Dispositifs pour l'analyse des textes et des images, Limoges, Presses de l'Université de Limoges, 2007.

Click here to obtain the English translation of this book.

This text may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, provided the complete reference is given:
Louis Hébert (2006), « Thymic Analysis », in Louis Hébert (dir.), Signo [online], Rimouski (Quebec), http://www.signosemio.com/greimas/thymic-analysis.asp.

2.THEORY

2.1 THYMIC EVALUATION DEFINED

Thymic analysis, an elaboration by this author on Greimas and Courtés' axiological analysis, is concerned with evaluations made within the category euphoria/dysphoria, or in less technical terms, positive/negative or pleasure/displeasure.

The main elements involved in thymic analysis are: (1) the evaluating subject, (2) the object being evaluated, (3) the thymic value attributed to the object (euphoria, dysphoria, etc.), (4) the intensity of the value (low, medium, high, etc.), (5) the time of the evaluation, and (6) the transformations that may affect thymic elements. For example, in the fable "the Grasshopper and the Ant", the ant (subject) evaluates work (object) positively (value) and leisure (object) negatively (value) from the beginning of the story to the end (time).

NOTE: THYMIC ANALYSIS, AXIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS AND THYMIC DIALOGICS

For Greimas and Courtés (1982, 21), axiology is the establishment of a homologous relationship between the category euphoria/dysphoria (the opposition, that is), known as the thymic category, and any other opposition (for instance, euphoria is to dysphoria as life is to death). ("Thymic" is a term borrowed from psychology that has to do with temperament in general.) Here in this context, we will talk in terms of thymic analysis in order to avoid possible confusion with axiology as a branch of philosophy, and we will not restrict the inventory of axiological relationships to homologous ones. (The theory needs to account for cases where life and death, for example, are both associated solely with dysphoria, or both with euphoria.) We will add other features as well to Greimasian axiological analysis.

2.2 THE THYMIC VALUES

The thymic values are highly general evaluative characteristics attributed by an observing subject to an object being observed.

When we map out the opposition euphoria/dysphoria, known as the thymic category, onto a semiotic square (see the chapter on the semiotic square), we obtain several thymic values, the main ones being: euphoria (positive), dysphoria (negative), phoria (positive and negative - ambivalence) and aphoria (neither positive nor negative - indifference) (Courtés, 1991, 160).

Phoria and aphoria, which are compound values that combine two simple values, require some explanation. By manipulating the conception of time and the object being evaluated, a simple value can turn into a compound value.

For example, if you like spinach one day, hate it the next day, and like it again the following day, we might consider this as:

(1) a transition from euphoria to dysphoria back to euphoria

if the reference time is a day, or

(2) phoria,
(3) phoria, but with euphoria being dominant,
(4) euphoria, by ignoring the minority judgment,
(5) attenuated euphoria, if the dysphoria is figured into the intensity of the euphoria, and so on

if the reference time is the overall three-day period.

Now we will change how the object is defined: If you like apple pie, and at the same time you hate cream pie, we can consider this as (1) two objects, each with a value assigned to it, or (2) a single object, pie in general (a type), accommodated by the complex term (phoria).

2.3 THYMIC INTENSITY

Unlike other evaluations such as veridictory ones (true/false), thymic evaluations are often quantified. Then they no longer fall under a logic of category (for example, something is either euphoric or not), but a logic of gradation (for example, something is a little bit euphoric). Intensity is represented by words or expressions (or even numbers: 40%, etc.): These may be descriptive (low, normal, high, for instance) or prescriptive (not enough, enough, too much, for instance); comparative or relative (less than, as much as, more than); or superlative (least, most).

Here is an example of intensity applied to a thymic value. In the following quotation, we see that a very high intensity is attributed to indifference or aphoria ("total indifference") in the context of "defense": "And I had no such defense as Parapine's total indifference." (Céline, 1983, 371)

2.4 DECIDABLE/UNDECIDABLE VALUES AND INTENSITIES

Thymic values and their intensities may be decidable (if they can be determined: for a certain subject, a certain object is euphoric, for instance), undecidable (if they cannot be determined, as in a subject who tries to evaluate an object thymically, but cannot manage to specify a value) or undecided (namely, an object that has not (yet) been evaluated; for instance, a book that a literary critic has not yet read).

2.5 THYMIC EVALUATIONS AND TIME

2.5.1 SEQUENCES OF EVALUATIONS AND CHANGES IN EVALUATIONS

Sequences of thymic evaluations and changes in value or value intensity can occur for a single subject (or a transformed subject) or a single object (or a transformed object) in correlation with changes in temporal position. We will give an example involving transformations of the object and subject: As a character ages (a transformed subject), he becomes indifferent (a change in value) to what pleased him when he was young; a status-seeking character may no longer want to marry a woman who has fallen into disgrace (a transformed object), whereas another character who is pure of heart will only want to marry her more (a change of intensity).

2.5.2 TIME IN THE STORY AND TACTICAL TIME

Thymic analysis, like our other devices, can handle two main kinds of time, and it is useful to distinguish between them: (1) the fictional time of the story, which is the chronology of the states and events of the story; (2) what we call tactical time (from the Greek "taktikhê", "the art of ordering or arranging"), which is created by the sequencing of the "real" units of the semiotic act (words, syntagms, sentences, groups of sentences, etc.). These two kinds of time may or may not coincide. Consider an example in which they do not: "I like light beer and rosé wine." Time in the story consists of only one temporal position in which two evaluations occur, light beer (euphoria) and rosé wine (euphoria), but tactical time puts them in succession.

2.6 THYMIC EVALUATION AND VERIDICTORY EVALUATION

2.6.1 ASSUMPTIVE EVALUATIONS AND REFERENCE EVALUATIONS

Whether stated explicitly or not, thymic evaluations are always marked for veridiction, that is, a status within the category true/false (see the chapters on dialogics and the veridictory square). For example, the thymic evaluation "wolves like blood" is true.

We need to distinguish the veridictory status attributed to the thymic evaluation from the veridictory status that may be attributed to the object being evaluated. In the evaluation "art appraisers love genuine Picassos", the object is marked for veridiction ("genuine"). A change in the veridictory status is often accompanied by a change in thymic value (and/or a change in its intensity): and in fact, art appraisers do not like counterfeit Picassos.

Now let us go back to the veridictory status that applies to the thymic evaluation. A reference evaluation is one that the text deems as accurate, that is, its veridictory status agrees with what is. An assumptive evaluation is one that is subject to contradiction by the reference evaluation. For example, Paul thinks that Marie is great (assumptive evaluation), whereas André thinks she is obnoxious (assumptive evaluation); the narrator settles the question: she really is nice (reference evaluation). Paul is right (his assumptive evaluation corresponds to the reference evaluation) and André is wrong.

2.6.2 EVALUATIVE CONFLICT AND CONSENSUS

Whether or not the protagonists or their observers are aware of them, conflict and consensus over thymic and/or veridictory evaluations tend to follow three phases: appearance, maintenance and resolution. The possibility of an evaluative conflict arises only when there is a logic of mutual exclusion rather than a logic of complementarity between different evaluations. Exclusive logic derives from absolutism: It chooses one and only one evaluation as the right one. Complementary logic derives from relativism: It gives equal credence to several evaluations, or even all of them (absolute relativism).

The little story that we just gave as an example is based on exclusive logic, in that the two contradictory opinions cannot be true at the same time. In other cases, contradictory thymic evaluations may be true simultaneously, and Marie could be really great with Paul and really obnoxious with André, for instance. In another example of contradictory evaluations coexisting, one character thinks that apple pie is euphoric, while another thinks it is dysphoric, without any reference evaluation to settle the issue. This situation illustrates the popular saying that we all have our likes and dislikes - we would say our thymic evaluations.

For each subject involved, an evaluative conflict only moves toward consensus if there is a total or partial conversion, which may be unilateral or reciprocal (or ironically, total and reciprocal on occasion) or if there is a movement toward complementary logic. A "conversion" may or may not be preceded by doubt, during which the evaluation and the counter-evaluation confront each other, or by verification, whose purpose is to select one evaluation according to specific tests and criteria.

2.6.3 THE SUBJECT OF VERIDICTORY EVALUATION AND THE SUBJECT OF THYMIC EVALUATION

In some cases the subject of the veridictory evaluation and the subject of the thymic evaluation are not the same. For example: If, Paul (the subject of the veridictory evaluation) says that Marie (the subject of the thymic evaluation) loves chocolate, then Marie loves chocolate is a proposition that Paul considers to be true, whether he is right or wrong.

2.7 SET RELATIONS AND MEREOLOGICAL RELATIONS

Set relations, that is, relations established within a class (defined by a type, or model) and the elements that they include (the tokens or manifestations of the type) are likely to have an impact on thymic description. The same goes for mereological relations, that is, relations that exist between a whole and its parts.

In "Americans prefer blondes", the evaluating subject is a class (which defines a type: Americans in general or the typical American); the same applies to the object being evaluated (blondes). In The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry, to take another example, the rose is evaluated positively by the Little Prince as a whole, even though he evaluates some of its physical parts (the spines) and its psychological parts (its character) negatively.

3. APPLICATION: "THE DOG AND THE PERFUME" BY CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

* * *

"The Dog and the Perfume"
Baudelaire, Le spleen de Paris

"- My good dog, my handsome dog, my dear poochie-woochie, come sit by me. Come here and breathe this excellent perfume purchased of the best parfumeur in town."

And the dog, wagging its tail, a sign, I believe, among those poor creatures corresponding with the laugh or the smile, he steps up and lays his damp nose curiously beside the open bottle of perfume; then, shrinking suddenly with fright, he bays at me. This is a reproach.

"- Ah! miserable dog, if I had offered you a sack of dung you would have sniffed it with delight, and probably eaten it. Thus, you, unworthy companion of my sorry life, in this you resemble the public, to whom one must never offer delicate perfumes-these will just exasperate them. For them, only the most meticulously selected rubbish." (Adapted from Kent Dixon's translation, 6/98)

* * *

In this text by Baudelaire, the narrator, I, seeks to have his taste confirmed by that member of the animal kingdom who, like himself, has the ability to exercise great olfactory skill. Indeed, the best scent goes with the best perfume in town, meaning the perfume that is likely to give the most pleasure. The wagging tail - associated with the human smile - indicates that the dog evaluates the compliments, his master's call and/or the prospect before him positively. So the dog is "happy". The cognitive gratification and the compliments made to the dog are aimed at inciting him to evaluate the perfume positively. When the dog perceives that he has been completely misled by his master, his anticipated pleasure is transformed into displeasure and he communicates his anger to the master, which is a form of punishment. Disappointed, the master admonishes the dog in return, and brings up a hypothetical scenario in which the dog would evaluate dung positively - which is only too likely. The "rubbish" also takes on a metaphorical sense by suggesting aldulterated art (art with a small a), which the general public favours (cf. the society that "revels in excrement" in Mon cœur mis à nu (Baudelaire, 1975, 698)). The narrator is associated by homologation (Art is to art as the narrator is to the public) with those who appreciate fine perfumes and true poetry. Since Baudelaire's narrators often correspond to an implied author (as distinguished from the historical Baudelaire), we will narrow down art in this context to literature or even poetry. In a sort of synesthesia, I represents the counterpart of the great poet Baudelaire in the matter of odours, or the best parfumeur.

The following table shows the primary thymic evaluations in Baudelaire's text, whether directly expressed or inferable (deducible). An evaluated object that is capitalized (except for I) represents the element most highly valued by the narrator within a given class of elements, whereas the word standard designates a type associated with a class. For example, we distinguish between perfume (good or appalling), Perfume (excellent) and standard perfume (perfumes in general).

The reference thymic evaluations are the assumptive evaluations made by I. The reference thymic evaluations allow us to ascertain the adequacy of evaluations by other subjects. (For example, in this case, the dog is wrong to dislike the perfume and I assumes, and no one contradicts him, that the dog likes excrement.) To avoid cluttering up the table, we chose to use the opposition euphoria/dysphoria (+/-) rather than showing differences in intensity and aphoria. For additional analysis, read the study on the same text in the chapter on narrative programs.

Thymic analysis of "The Dog and the Perfume"

No

SUBJECT

OBJECT

THYMIC VALUE

THYMIC VALUE time 2 (if different)

JUSTIFICATION, COMMENT

1

dog

Perfume

+

-

The object held out to the dog has a positive value for him initially, since he approaches with his tail wagging and lays his curious nose on the bottle.

2

dog

standard perfume

+

-

Disappointment for I . The new belief is founded on a paragon ( excellent ) perfume, and can be extended to include all perfumes.

3

dog

dung

+

 

I ''s hypothesis is unconfirmed, but plausible and uncontested. I seems to advance two hypotheses about the intensity of the evaluation, the second one being less certain: the dog likes the dung so much, he "would probably have eaten" it. Since he likes dung, the dog is inferior even to the public.

4

dog

I

+

-

The dog barks at his master.

5

I

standard perfume

+

 

As the opposite of dung, the perfume is valued. However, mediocre perfumes are devalued relative to excellent perfumes (Perfumes).

6

I

dung

-

 

 

7

I

Poetry

+

 

 

8

I

poetry

-

 

Rubbish in the figurative meaning.

9

I

poet

-

 

 

10

I

Poet

+

 

 

11

I

dog

+

-

First compliments, then reproaches. The initial evaluation may be qualified, since I describes dogs as "poor creatures", unless this is the narrator's retrospective evaluation describing his disappointment from the final temporal perspective.

12

I

standard dog

-

 

"poor creatures"

13

I

standard parfumeur

+

 

Same reasoning as for standard perfume.

14

I

public

-

 

 

15

I

parfumeur

-

 

Relative to Parfumeur.

16

I

Parfumeur

+

 

 

17

I

his life

-

 

"my sorry life"

18

public

dung

-

 

Rubbish in the literal sense.

19

public

poetry

+

 

Rubbish in the figurative sense. Meticulously selected indicates a ranking by modal intensity.

20

public

Poetry

-

 

The counterpart of excellent perfumes.

21

public

Poet ( I )

-

 

The topos (common place) of the misunderstood poet, by assimilation of narrator with author. Worse yet, the narrator is even betrayed by his companion.

22

public

poet

+

 

 

23

public

Parfumeur

-

 

Implicitly, an excellent parfumeur could not be valued at his true worth. The mediocre parfumeur is more highly valued.

24

public

parfumeur

+

 

 

4. LIST OF WORKS CITED

BAUDELAIRE, C., "The Dog and the Perfume", trans. Kent Dixon, Wittenberg University Department of English.
CÉLINE, L.-F., Journey to the End of the Night, trans. R. Manheim, New York: New Directions, 1983 [1934].
COURTÉS, J., Analyse sémiotique du discours. De l'énoncé à l'énonciation, Paris: Hachette, 1991.
FONTANILLE, J., Sémiotique et littérature, Paris: Presse Universitaire de France., 1999.
GREIMAS, A. J. and J. COURTÉS, Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.
HÉBERT, L., Introduction à la sémantique des textes, Paris: Honoré Champion, 2001.
HÉBERT, L., "L’analyse des modalités véridictoires et thymiques : vrai/faux, euphorie/dysphorie", Semiotica, Bloomington: International Association for Semiotic Studies, 2003, vol. 144, 1/4, p. 261-302.

5. EXERCISES

A. Analyze the thymic configurations in the following text:

"It took several violent kicks in the ass to get that masochist out of the camp. They gave him some pleasure, but not enough..." [The "masochist" is the native who came back from his village, determined to have the colonial commander carry out his sentence of 50 lashes] (Céline, Journey to the End of the Night, 1983 [1934], p. 133)

B. Identify the configurations of values that occur in the following text. Use the time column only if there is a change in the value attributed by one subject to an object. Indicate possible transformations of objects and subjects by using an apostrophe (for example, Barbie').
  1. Contrary to popular opinion and to the average American male's taste, Ken prefers brunettes over blondes - except in Barbie's case - and blue eyes bug him.
  2. On the other hand, he doesn't care about racial origins: white women, black women - he likes them all, or in other words, they leave him cold.
  3. He is crazy about long, aquiline noses (one per woman, naturally).
  4. Well, Barbie's nose was short and slightly turned up.
  5. He liked everything about her, except that thing...
  6. That's why he pushed her into having an operation.
  7. Now Ken's brother, Gino, who lives in Quebec, had the same thing going on, only in reverse.
  8. He adored short, turned up noses with the same passion, and felt the same sort of acute revulsion, but for aquiline noses.
  9. Then one day when he went to his brother's in Beverly Hills or San Francisco or wherever, Gino heard a preacher on the radio and was transformed.
  10. From then on, he loved and hated the same noses as his brother (the noses Ken loved and hated, not Ken's nose).
  11. This did not alter Ken's feelings toward his younger brother.
  12. He treated him with the same old mixture of love and hatred, both simultaneous and alternating; he had the recipe down.
  13. One of these days Gino will get back at him by stealing Barbie away and having French-speaking, francophile children with her.
  14. According to Gino, Ken is homosexual anyway, and therefore not really attracted to Barbie.
  15. But that's another story...

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