Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis

By Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard; Malcolm Coulthard | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

‘Guilt over games boys play’

Coherence as a focus for examining the constitution of heterosexual subjectivity on a problem page

Val Gough and Mary Talbot

In this chapter coherence is presented as a focus for attending to the constitution of subjectivity. We critically examine the distinction between ‘surface’ and ‘underlying’ coherence, arguing that it misleadingly implies that textually cued coherence is a purely textual phenomenon. We propose that the points at which a reader needs to construct coherence can be used as a focus for critical language analysis. Our sample analysis investigates Marje Proops’ problem page in the Sunday Mirror newspaper. We attend principally to a single problem page reply: its ‘liberal’ message is that homosexual experiences are legitimate, in the context of a development towards confirmed heterosexuality. Our analysis concentrates on the construction of the letter writer and problem page reader as unambiguously heterosexual and on the range of (sometimes contradictory) ideological assumptions required for that construction.

The notion of coherence is used to cover a wide range of topics in linguistics in general and we have no intention of attempting to review them all exhaustively. 1 Instead we limit ourselves to a general discussion of the field with reference to some contributions with potential for examining the constitution of subjectivity in the act of constructing coherence. The search for points of focus for attention to identity-construction in discourse is intended to contribute to developments in Critical Language Study. This is a body of collaborative, synthesising work with the explicitly emancipatory objective of consciousness-raising (e.g. Clark et al., 1987; Fairclough, 1989, 1992; Ivanič, 1988; Talbot, 1990).

In our discussion we attend principally to a particular letter and its reply which appeared on Marje Proops’ problem page in the Sunday Mirror newspaper (see Figure 12.1), entitled ‘Guilt Over Games Boys Play’. The letter is from a confused man (henceforth referred to as C) who writes that he is anxious about some homoerotic experiences he shared years ago with his best friend when they were schoolboys. C is now married, and his friend has a girlfriend, but he still feels both guilty and curious about gay sex. In Marje’s reply, C is reassured that he is ‘normal’, precisely because he has turned out to be, according to Marje, unambiguously

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