The American Journal of Semiotics
ONLINE FIRST ARTICLES
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March 16, 2022
Agency as Semiotic Fabrication
A Comparative Study of Latour’s ANT
first published on March 16, 2022
This text shows that Latour’s methodological displacement of the theory of sign into the realm of the general semiological narrative itself truncates his own theory of sign from its essential part, which is a tradition derived from the work of C. S. Peirce. This reduction of the general theory of sign is not just a matter of the given theoretical and methodological jargon or arbitrarily chosen expressions; it also has binding ontological suppositions and consequences. A debate on the semiotic-ontological aspects of actor-network theory (ANT) can be conducted beyond Latour’s general division into “the semiotics of discourse” and the “semiotics of things/material semiotics”, where the “semiotics of things” should be counter-positional, or at least complementary to, the discourse-centric concept of agency. This perspective (simply put: discourse vs. things) can be viewed in the context of the discussion of the realist and nominalist nature of a sign as a specific relation, which begs the question: By sign do we mean a phenomenon that is constructed solely by the power of the human mind, or do we mean an ontologically unique relation not reducible to human language?
March 15, 2022
Susan Petrilli, Augusto Ponzio
Precarity and Insecuritas, between Fear of the Other and Apprehension for the Other
From Semiotics to Semioethics
first published on March 15, 2022
The sense of precarity is specifically human. It accompanies the consciousness that “what is” is in becoming and can stop being. All lifeforms live through signs, but we humans are also endowed with a capacity for metasemiosis. As semiotic animals, we have self-consciousness, feel responsibility, and feel apprehension: we are consciously aware of our subjection to precarity. G. Semerari called it insecuritas, in relation to both self and others. Fear “of the other” entails a threefold genitive: object, subject, and ethical (“for” the other) genitives. When concern for the other becomes overwhelming, the self may pass from non-indifference to indifference, an escape through identity: given competing identities, the other is not my concern. Yet the other remains inextricably involved, especially in globalization. Apprehension for the other cannot be eliminated. Semiotics explains this in terms of sign-network interconnectivity while “semioethics” develops the relations between signs and values. It insists that life can only flourish in relation to the other (including nonhuman life) and calls for responsibility.
Ivo Osolsobě on General Semiotics in the Czech Tradition
first published on March 15, 2022
This paper attempts to reconstruct Ivo Osolsobě’s criticism of the notion that the Prague Linguistic Circle stood for or did, in fact, introduce general semiotics to Czechoslovakia. In the first part, it presents the wider context of the origins of Osolsobě’s critique. In the second part, it discusses the definition and analysis of the main reasons for this criticism (which included a close connection with language and a lack of reflection on basic semiotic concepts in the works of the Prague School) and sketches an alternative for general semiotics in the form of cybernetics and theater semiotics. The final section deals with the position of the most important representatives of general semiotics (Charles Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, and Louis Hjelmslev) for the Czech tradition.
March 10, 2022
On Peirce’s Earliest Conception of Metaphysics
first published on March 10, 2022
In this paper, I explore Peirce’s initial conception of metaphysics as developed in his “Treatise on Metaphysics” (1861–2: W 1.57–84). Peirce claimed therein that the idea of metaphysics was three-fold, with its three perspectives consisting of its definition, object, and method. Since Peirce defined metaphysics as the “philosophy of primal truths” (1861: W 1.59), I initially focus on elaborating upon what these “primal truths” are and illustrate that they are analytical propositions resulting from the logical analysis of the general constitution of a mental state (an image) to its elements. Next, I give account of how Peirce’s thoughts regarding the justification of metaphysical propositions resulted in his concluding that in metaphysical knowledge, like in any other, there is an element of faith. Finally, I conclude with remarks regarding Peirce’s notion of reflexivity as it is employed in his metametaphysics.
March 8, 2022
The Aryan Race of Animals
The Role Played by Colour in the Visual Semiotics of Nazi Propaganda
first published on March 8, 2022
This article analyses the role of colour in the representation of animals in Nazi propaganda. It demonstrates that colour, as applied to animals, was a communicational strategy of paramount relevance in setting boundaries and creating differences between the Nazis and their enemies. Drawing on propaganda studies, colour studies, and representational zoosemiotics, it semiotically investigates visual items published from 1923 to 1945. The results show that Nazi propaganda created an Aryan race of animals via colours. In fact, white animals always supported the regime’s ideologies; dark animals, conversely, very often symbolised the enemy (the Soviet Union, the Jews, and others). Semiotically, Nazi propaganda represented these animals as symbols, even though the links between signifier and signified were not shared within a community but only within the racist ideology of the Nazis..
March 5, 2022
Peirce, Dewey, and the Aesthetics of Semioethics
Felt Qualities, Embodied Intensities, and the Precarity of Relational Fulfillment
first published on March 5, 2022
This essay interrogates the aesthetic ground of Ponzio and Petrilli’s 2003 concept “semioethics” as activated by what they call a “logic of otherness”. I take my lead from Charles S. Peirce’s assertion that “Ethics, or the science of right and wrong, must appeal to Esthetics for aid in determining the summum bonum" (1903: CP 1.191). Given that Peirce’s esthetics, depicted as the first of his normative sciences, “ought to repose on phenomenology” (ibid.: CP 1.191), I offer a communicological analysis (i.e., a phenomenological interpretation of the operative aesthetic sign actions of a semioethic). To accomplish this, I turn to fellow American philosopher and pragmatist John Dewey, whose experiential aesthetics offers insights into Peirce’s claims. Dewey’s understanding of the importance of semiotic “form” and existential or embodied “rhythm”, when applied to dialogic relations, reveals phenomenological “felt qualities” and their reflexive semiotic relation to what I call “embodied intensities”. We discover that, when mediated by emotional or energetic interpretants, felt qualities and embodied intensities provide both the necessary and sufficient conditions for a logic of otherness that makes an ethical stance even possible. I contend that our human relationality remains precarious in our global, digitalized environment as long as we disregard or fail to perceive, appreciate, and cultivate this aesthetic phenomenological ground of otherness.
August 19, 2021
Semioethics and the Average Life: Philosophical Harvesting from Arid Soils
first published on August 19, 2021
Concerning the public cultivation of the philosophical vocation, it can be said that some people become sowers, others become reapers, and still others, followers. However, from the followers’ perspective, sometimes the reapers may appear as sowers because they harvest ideas that they did not plant. In the context of globalization, those whose lives have been traditionally deemed “average”—and therefore insignificant—may become critical sources of inquiry for philosophy when it is seen as a way of life. I draw inspiration from semioethics, a branch of semiotics that does not focus on technical discourse, but instead advances the reflection upon signs as one of the most basic philosophical activities. With this perspective in place, even the so-called “average” person can engage in spiritual exercises, either by personally tailoring their way or by following reapers or sowers.
August 6, 2021
Jaspers On Communicology: The Scission Point Boundary Condition of Existence and Existenz
first published on August 6, 2021
A semiotic phenomenology of the scission point boundary condition between Karl Jaspers’s concepts of existence and Existenz reveal them as fundamental distinctions that can manifest in healthy or pathological forms of communication, including the “inner action” of the competing “voices” “heard” by the patient undergoing treatment. My analysis illustrates that the mind, for Jaspers, represents how communicability as truth involves us in a natural rhetorical (tropic) relationship with a society. In this analysis, I frame the problematic boundary between existence and Existenz in the language of Husserl. To provide context, I introduce Jaspers’s semiotics and explicate his theory of communication. Lastly, I connect what we have learned from the scission boundary condition between existence and Existenz to the competing voices of the patient. We discover that for Jaspers, our “selves” are cyphers, striving for communicability in a world of others.
July 28, 2021
Nicholas L. Guardiano
Transcendentalist Encounters with a Universe of Signs
first published on July 28, 2021
This essay aims to identify a semiotic consciousness found in New England Transcendentalism, consisting of the worldview that signs are pervasively present throughout nature and society. It finds that this worldview exists as a historical strand of thought stretching through the 19th century and, ultimately, further beyond, thereby making up an early movement in American semiotics. In this context, I furthermore see Transcendentalist thought informing the backdrop of Charles Peirce’s groundbreaking theory of signs later in the century, especially his metaphysical claims about a “universe . . . perfused with signs” All ellipses appearing in this paper’s quotations are not in the original but are from the present author.
(1906: EP 2.394). In order to bring into full view the presence of a semiotic consciousness in Transcendentalism, I first address the intellectual history and genealogical roots that helped shape the minds of the Transcendentalists. Relevant influences include those both local to New England and imported from abroad, in particular the theologies of Jonathan Edwards and of Emanuel Swedenborg. Next, I directly examine the ideas of the figurehead of the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson, together with his Concord peers, Amos Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. Taking them as my case studies, I track the different ways a like-minded interest in signs takes shape within their individual projects. Focusing on their descriptions of nature, we find it in their experiences of the natural environment, their understanding of phenomena as representational and poetic, and their belief in the dialogical sharing of ideas across minds and species. Along the way, I further work out some of the aspects of a general theory of signs identifiable within the Transcendentalist perspective, as well as distinguish it from other theoretical alternatives. Ultimately, I contend that the Transcendentalists held a similar idea of nature existing as a sign representing deep and varied meanings.
July 27, 2021
Geoffrey Ross Owens
Semiotics and the Suburbs: A Phenomenological Analysis of Urban Frontier Settlements
first published on July 27, 2021
The term “Suburb” conjures up a range of images—from the African shanty towns to the affluent exurbs of major cities across Europe and North America. In nearly all cases, the emergence of suburbs is predicated upon the growth and diversity of cities, thus suggesting there is an evolutionary corollary to the evolution of complex societies. This article has two aims: first, to explore Peirce’s phenomenological tripartite evolutionary scheme as a way in which to rein in the disparate portrayals of suburban growth that have been documented throughout the world, and second, to empirically demonstrate its utility for understanding large-scale societal transformation that has given rise to suburban agglomerations and resulted in many convergent evolutionary changes over the past century.
February 2, 2021
Designed Environments, Mimesis and Likeness: Exploring Human-Material Ecologies
first published on February 2, 2021
This paper attempts to understand the trajectories of “designed artifacts”, built or produced in the post war periods and its implications for the human body, material, ecology, and mimesis. Has Architecture gradually distanced itself from the body as an authoritative figure in its practice? Is it being seen more and more as an autonomous art, away from the complex web of social and political concerns? There seems to be a rationale to focus on the thinking and considerations that inform the production of architecture because it depends on the realm of conceptual philosophy; and both inhabit each other. The paper tries to address the association of humans with their artifactual environments. My interest stems from a long association of teaching in a college of architecture and design, and attempts to raise questions with regard to meaning and materiality. This paper also, in some sense, unlocks an environmental perspective on the relationship of the human body with the design that gives them shelter, affords actions, affords movement, and affords life in itself. Different patterns of the built environment afford different behaviors and aesthetic experiences. The perceptions of the environment thus limit or extend the behavioral and aesthetic choices of an individual depending on how the environment is configured, likened, imitated, or creatively reinterpreted. This article traverses, domesticity, tactile inhabitation, landscape, mythical realms of Indian architecture to the Postmodern architecture of “weak form”.
January 28, 2021
From a Bubbling Swirl of Signs: Fiction, Film, and De-sign
first published on January 28, 2021
De-sign is an activity that is a result of semiotic and design processes combined to give a desired outcome. It is an outcome brought about by the conscious mind. But a De-sign outcome can be either tangible or intangible. Intangible results can lead to either an objective or a purely objective product. In other words, it can be a physical result or an imaginative state of mind. This paper explores the latter process of De-sign and how it relates to fictional subject matters and film. A commentary on language, beginning with the alphabet and moving onto the advent of written language, is included. The paper progresses from the world of written language, to an exploration of the mutable, purely objective world of fiction, to the more objective, rigid world of film, where elements left to the imagination, when reading, become fixed with little left for the purely objective activities of the mind. It will be shown that De-sign is an approach common to all purely objective thinking, whether it has an intangible or a tangible final product.
Dora Ivonne Alvarez Tamayo
Design in the Time of COVID-19: A Semiotic Angle
first published on January 28, 2021
During 2020, humanity is facing an unprecedented event, the COVID-19 pandemic. Societies around the world have been shaken, and human capacities challenged. The effects are of superlative proportions in all human activity, highlighting the systemic condition of life. In order to demonstrate that people can perform Design Thinking for producing innovations, thanks to semiosis, analysis of cases from a pragmatist perspective are developed in this paper; the results show that Design Thinking is not an exclusive way to think of designers. The results also offer the possibility to infer that design-thinking mode activates when change and contextual constraints call for the population to produce alternatives and when the process accelerates facing a crisis. This paper presents a reflection on the concept of “Design Semiothinking” based on the integration of concepts from a design perspective and a pragmatic semiotic approach.
January 27, 2021
Signs of National Identity in the Graphic Design of Cypriot Print Advertisements
first published on January 27, 2021
The current study seeks to identify signs of national identity through the design of commercial print advertisements in the Republic of Cyprus. Based on semiotic analysis of socio-cultural perspectives, the paper explores the relationship between images and texts, not only in terms of nonverbal and verbal messages, but also through typography and layout. In doing so, it also focuses on a case study of print advertisements designed for Laiko Kafekopteio (People’s Coffee). The research falls under the constructivist conception of national identity and explores the reading of advertisements as part of commercial nationalism in everyday life. While the findings of the study depict different cultural values and characteristics of the Cypriot national identity, they also portray how the socio-political development of the island is reflected in the design of the advertisements.
January 21, 2021
Farouk Y. Seif
De-Sign as a Destiny of Negation
The Paradox of Sustaining Boundaries While Traversing Borders
first published on January 21, 2021
Boundaries and borders are undefined and ambiguous paradoxical phenomena, but there is a prevalent repudiation of their ephemerality and transitoriness. Crossing unaccustomed boundaries and traversing untried borders can be achieved by understanding the boundless scope of design and semiotics. Since the idea of design and the doctrine of signs are not restricted by either the humanities or sciences, De-sign (fusion of design and signs) is a boundaryless and transdisciplinary perspective that cannot tolerate cultural enclaves, social dogmas, and an insistence on absolute reality. Engaging in the de-sign process is a journey of negation through which human beings can traverse unfamiliar borders while maintaining their familiar boundaries. In negation, we experience paradoxical thinking and cognitive dissonance, which are associated with all antinomies intrinsic to De-sign. These antinomies can be endured by recognizing the audacity of design and the resilient role of signs. Negation goes beyond the perception of rigid borders and the acceptance of absolute boundaries, which frequently incite ethnocentrism and trigger xenophobia. The destiny of negation depends on a sense of wonder, awareness of epistemological fallibilism, and uncommon sense in order to persevere through contradictions between distinctiveness and sameness. Axiologically, where establishing boundaries can maintain identities, traversing borders can never diminish distinctiveness. Paradoxically, by delving into unfamiliar boundaries and crossing over untried borders, we discover ways to transform our own boundaries and reframe our conception of borders. Boundaries are more than barriers; the distances between them are bridges of invisible relations for thrivability and breakthrough insights.
Tiago da Costa e Silva
On the Edge of the Unknown
A Relational Account of Intentionality, Formativity, and Transgressiveness of the Process of Design
first published on January 21, 2021
The present paper intends to discuss the process of design and its peculiar location at the threshold between the unknown (the insecure place with unknown order) and already established, well-accepted knowledge. The process of design is known for its catalyzing possibilities, often suggesting connections between conceptions, ideas, and solutions to problems by linking an initial formulation with the innovative and upcoming development of a project within a given design context. Thus, the process of design has the power to provide a space for playing, where experiments of thought, the testing of conceptions, the assembling of elements of these conceptions, and the serendipitous conflation of different parts of ideas can take place. Charles S. Peirce’s theory of inquiry—with especial emphasis on the systemic character of semiotics in relation to phaneroscopy, esthetics, logic of abduction and pragmatism—informs the chosen theoretical framework of this paper. Because it also emphasizes the process of discovery, Peirce’s theory of inquiry will be here mobilized to analyze, within the theory of the design process, the transition between critical predicament and an undecided—still to be formed—future. This task consists of stating in futuro the unthinkable in order to render any design project feasible.
August 28, 2020
Semiotics and Philosophy
first published on August 28, 2020
Semiotics has not been warmly welcomed as an area of research concentration within philosophy, especially not within philosophy in the English empirical tradition. But when we consider that much of the focus of semiotic research is signification, reference, and representation, it seems evident that semiotic questions are as old as reflective thought itself. A look at how these questions have been treated throughout the history of philosophy suggests that Umberto Eco was right in claiming that most major philosophers have grappled with sign theory, if only implicitly. The theory of signs was an active area of research during the Middle Ages and John Locke opened the Modern Age with the recommendation that semiotics should be cultivated. But the philosophers of Modernity embraced a Cartesian separation between mind and body unsupportive of a robust science of signs. When semiotics emerged as a discrete field of research in the writings of Charles S. Peirce and in the semiology of Ferdinand de Saussure, it remained on the fringes of philosophy. Around mid-20th century there was a resurgence of interest in semiotics and a promising attempt was made to merge American pragmatism and semiotics with the logical empiricism of the Vienna Circle. But that effort failed and semiotics was excluded from mainstream philosophy. There is now reason to suppose that philosophy, no longer under the domination of analytic philosophy, may be moving into a new period when a weakening commitment to epistemological nominalism will make room for a return to semiotic realism. Perhaps the time is right to follow Locke’s lead and to reconcile formal semiotics with philosophy—possibly heralding a new paradigm.
Peirce on Practical Reasoning
first published on August 28, 2020
It is generally agreed that what distinguishes practical reasoning from more thoughtful reasoning is that practical reasoning properly results in action rather than in conceptual conclusions. There is much disagreement, however, about how appropriate actions follow from practical reasoning and it is commonly supposed that the connection between reasoning and action can neither be truly inferential nor strictly causal. Peirce appears to challenge this common assumption. Although he would agree that conscious and deliberate argumentation results in conceptual conclusions (mental states) rather than directly in practical action, his extended semiotic account of mental activity allows for unconscious (instinctive or habitual) cognitive processing which, though inferential, genuinely concludes in action rather than in conceptual states (logical interpretants). Peirce acknowledges that for practical reasoning to properly conclude in action it is necessary for final (semiotic) causation to operate in conjunction with efficient causation, although how this can be explained remains problematic. Still, his account is rich and promising and has much to contribute to contemporary research on practical reasoning.
Thinking at the Edges
first published on August 28, 2020
The field of semiotic studies requires borders to function as a discipline but as a living science it is essential that those borders be unheeded. When Charles Peirce opened the modern field of semiotic studies he understood that he was an intellectual pioneer preparing the way for future semioticians. Peirce’s decision to equate semiotics with logic would likely seem bizarre to most professional logicians today yet his decision followed naturally from his view that all mental operations are sign actions and that semiosis is inferential. Peirce’s life-long study of sign types eventually led to a detailed, though provisional, classification of sixty-six distinct varieties of semiosis, many of which generate emotions or reactions rather than thoughts. Only twenty-one classes of signs yield interpretants that carry truth values or purport to be truth-preserving; the sign actions associated with these signs constitute the sphere of intellectual semiosis. The remaining forty-five non-intellectual sign classes drive perception and dominate the often unconscious mental operations that support and enrich day-to-day life. But this is also the realm of semiosis where memes flourish, where emoji function, and where propaganda first strikes a chord. This is the semiotic sphere where communal feeling can be engendered, but it is also the sphere of mob psychology. We are in troubled times during which signs are being used strategically to create dissension and social unrest and to generate disrespect for the very institutions that maintain the intelligence and practices that are fundamental for the survival of our way of life. It is time for semioticians to join forces against the weaponization of signs and I believe an investigation of the more primitive non-intellectual sign classes that Peirce identified will help lay the groundwork for the coming battle.
February 13, 2020
Sally Ann Ness
Diagnosing with Light
The Semiotics of Acupoint Biophoton Emissions Testing
first published on February 13, 2020
Acupoint Biophoton Emissions Testing (ABET), an alternative diagnostic technique used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, illustrates a case of non-linguistic Delome-level semiosis that is understood to form an interface between endosemiotic and linguistic semiotic levels of human (bio-)communication. Performed manually, the technique employs an array of Hypoiconic and Indexical Symbols that, when used in combination, enable practitioners to “listen in” and learn with biocommunicational processes, re-embodying them in a manner that renders them available to conscious recognition and linguistic representation. The Delome formations of the ABET technique afford the gradual accumulation and transformation of practitioner understanding through sign co-performances that achieve triadic relationality mediationally—prefiguring fully representational forms of learning. They demonstrate embodied capacities for pattern recognition, coordination, exploration, articulation, explication and self-governance that may have evolved in advance of representational sign formations, setting the evolutionary stage for them.
Richard L. Lanigan
Crossing Out Normative Boundaries in Psychosis
The Communicology of a Social Semiotic Passage in Dickens’ Bleak House
first published on February 13, 2020
The coding function of semiotic-systems in literature is explored as an example of Umberto Eco’s real and fictional protocols in the play of discourse formation (lector in fabula). The intricate phenomenological levels of intersemiotic translation (apposition, opposition, chiasm, zeugma) are illustrated by analyzing a rhetorical passage (semiotic object) from Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House. The passage on the logic of series (“lists”) allows us to explore fact/fiction, real/imaginary, normal/abnormal, sane/insane, neurotic/psychotic choices as discourse voice protocols (active, middle, passive) for the axiological interpretation (ethic, moral, aesthetic, politic, and rhetoric) of meaning formation (tropes) and signification function (figures). Models of discourse are drawn from Benveniste, Foucault, Greimas, Lévi-Strauss, and Wilden.
January 30, 2020
What Can be Known about Future Umwelten?
first published on January 30, 2020
This article addresses Umwelt futurology, the study of future Umwelten: i.e., subjective, semiotic lifeworlds. Umwelt futurology as I describe it is an interdisciplinary enterprise founded on Umwelt theory but also drawing on work done in other academic studies of future developments. It complements Hiltunen’s semiotic work in futures studies on weak signals. Asking what can be known about future Umwelten, I ascertain that our most solid knowledge about any Umwelt situated on Earth is derived from an understanding of what constitutes the minimal Umwelt in general and more specifically in Earthly terms. Our understanding of constitutive features of various lifeforms, and of typical developments at different life stages in the ontogeny of organisms, provides us with further reliable knowledge about lasting traits of organisms endowed with an Umwelt. To describe the complex interplay between the physical environment and the Umwelt and Innenwelt of organisms, I introduce a three-dimensional interactive semiotic model of environmental change. Taken together, knowledge about basic features of Umwelten and about the biosemiotic interplay in nature involving Umwelt creatures provides us with the foundational building bricks that we need to construct an empirically informed Umwelt futurology. I argue that both predictions and scenarios concerning future lifeworlds can be developed from within this theoretical framework. While Umwelt predictions are meant to be of a merely factual nature, and can give us more informed ideas about the future, Umwelt scenarios may feature both factual and normative elements. These can help us make more informed choices whenever we discuss actions, lifestyles or policies that have an impact on future lifeworlds.
January 3, 2020
Semiotics of Religion
first published on January 3, 2020
The essay proposes a concise map of some of the current research trends in the semiotics of religion. Within the theoretical framework of Peirce’s philosophy of semiosis as interpreted and developed by Umberto Eco, the essay situates the semiotic study of religion at the crossroad of nature and culture and singles out as its main task studying both the abstract level of religious ideologies of signification and the empirical level of religious systems of expression and communication.
The Semiotics of Visual Identity
first published on January 3, 2020
Visual identity systems allow a visual object to stand for, and provide suggestive expression of, a host. The primary graphic element in a visual identity system is the logo. In three sections, this article explores inportant semiotic mechanisms by which logos perform the work of identifying. The first section points to the difference between basic visual differentiation (boundary coherence) and affective/cognitive reference (semantic coherence). It makes a distinction between two kinds of reference that occur simultaneously in logos: (1) an immediate referencing of the host entity (the entity for which identification is sought), and (2), indirect, reference that is often metaphoric in character. The second section offers a four-part classification scheme for logos based upon a Peircean icon/index/symbol division with the addition of an axis of syntactical detail. A “hidden” class of logo is predicted by this Peircean framework; examples are identified and this class is named “gesturegraphs”. It is argued that this four-part classification scheme is both semiotically necessary and sufficient. Any further classes of logos can be considered subclasses within the four semiotic factors proposed. These classes are not judged to be discrete, but rather to afford blended and combinatorial situations. The rhetorical tropes of metonym and metaphor are discussed in terms of their value to the pictographic mode of logo design. Finally, in the third section of the article, genre is defined as the coherence of stylistic features in relation to the sector of the host’s activity. Two case studies are given as examples of how genre influences the semantical context of logos.
August 23, 2019
Cognitive Semiotics and Musical Anthroposemiosis
first published on August 23, 2019
This paper draws attention to two important and fruitful anecdotes from history useful for the development of a cognitive semiotic approach to music. The first is from Peirce’s writings, describing a complete structural change of understanding, perception and listening to music. Peirce describes the invention of a specific cognitive pidgin and the emergence of new social, embodied and cerebral habits. This emergence is shown in the example of Peirce’s friend who allegedly lost his sense of hearing but still enjoys music—no thanks to his ears. The second case study considers the “inferring ear” of Jimi Hendrix and his cooperation with Miles Davis, who taught Hendrix how to codify what he heard. Hence these anecdotes open pathways into the problem of the nature of musical perception, useful for exploring the codification and learning of music in particular. The nature of these abilities may be seen as intersubjective mimetics that are mediated through suprasubjective, triadic, embodied relations (signs). The article analyzes these topics from a point of view of a Peircean framework (with detours into the work of T. Deacon, V. Colapietro and G. Deleuze), aming to show the interconnections between such perspectives and some examples of contemporary neuroscientific research in this field.
Toward a Renewed Theory of the Narreme
first published on August 23, 2019
From Propp’s functions to Levi-Strauss’s mythemes, from Greimas’s actants to Barthes’s narrative units, and beyond, numerous scholars of linguistics, comparative mythology, and narratology have proposed frameworks for identifying and systematizing the fundamental particles of narrative and describing how they interact. The term “narreme” was suggested by Eugèn Dorfman and has caught on, as the proposed basic unit of narrative structure, analogous to the “phoneme” in phonology; however, although the term has been deployed by many contemporary scholars (primarily within the context of ludology (or “game studies”), this has not yet led to definitions or descriptions of the narreme and its associated architecture that have been broadly accepted, nor has it produced any robust descriptive or generative model that has come into wide use. None of the proposed formulations provide a sufficient degree of precision or granularity, and none operate at a suitable level of abstraction to make generative research on the subject possible. Building on the insights of the aforementioned classic scholars in the fields of structuralist semiotics and cognitive studies, as well as contemporaries such as David Herman, Bruno Latour, Umberto Eco, and others, I propose a preliminary model of the narreme, its available values, permissible combinations, and codified conventional patterns within the construction of the narrative objects that the human mind instinctively recognizes as a “story”. My intent is to contribute to an atomic theory of narrativity that can be further developed and deployed as an apparatus for the analysis and creation of works of narrative art, in addition to possible uses in education and narrative-based therapies.
August 8, 2019
The Verbal-Kinesic Enactment of Contrast in North American English
first published on August 8, 2019
In this paper, I explore the linguistic and kinesic expression of contrast—the pitting of one position, object, or idea, against another. The archetype utterance for the embodied expression of contrast in English is the bipartite construction On the one hand . . . . On the other hand . . . . in which hand gestures are often performed sequentially along the sagittal axis (first on one side and then on the other side of the body) to depict the two options. However, English speakers have a variety of other linguistic means available to them for expressing contrast. Using data from naturally occurring discourse, I describe a range of linguistic resources that mark contrast and examine the semiotic relationships at play in the dynamic, multimodal signs (i.e. speech / gesture constructions) that accompany them. I demonstrate that, far from being ad hoc, when analyzed across the propositional, cognitive, and discursive domains, the way in which contrast is marked in the body can be viewed on a continuum of highly imageable to more schematically iconic kinesic movements. By placing the primary focus on the multimodal sign, this paper makes clear how speakers of North American English build semiotic environments around the construal of contrast.
July 18, 2019
Duygu Uygun Tunç
Transformative Communication as Semiotic Scaffolding of Cognitive Development
first published on July 18, 2019
The paper examines the role of earliest communicative interactions in the development of social-cognitive functions through a communication-theoretical interpretation of Hoffmeyer’s notion “semiotic scaffolding”. Drawing on Bateson’s notion of metacommunication and Vygotskian perspectives on cognitive-semiotic development, it argues that the primary semiotic achievement of human evolution and development is the differentiation of meaning into inter-referential layers that are communicatively established, which in turn provides an ecological foundation for multilevel and multimodal semiosis. Ontogenetically regarded, differentiation of levels of communication is argued to be an intersubjectively achieved process of semiotic scaffolding. Semiotic scaffolds are conceived as hierarchically organized, temporary or enduring semiotic controls on action, which can be formed in phylogeny or ontogeny. The timescale in which semiotic scaffolds change narrows down from phylogenic history to lived time to the extent that development is mediated by culture. The increasing plasticity of semiotic scaffolds brings about a novel, transformative mode of communication that is partly efficacious on phylogenetic scaffolding and responsible for the emergence of higher order scaffolds within ontogenetic time. Transformative communication is the process whereby higher-order semiotic scaffolds of (inter)action are intersubjectively formed by effectuating a top-down social modification on the psycho-somatic level of scaffolding. Its phylogenetically prior and more pervasive correlative, coordinative communication, is the mode in which stably scaffolded semiotic activities of individuals are coordinated. This argument is concretized through examining some landmark cognitive-semiotic activities such as imitation, cooperative role-taking and symbolic play, interpreted as communicative interactions with particular focus on their role in layering sign-processes. Through these interactions the child develops skills for differential attention to sign-object-interpretant and coordination of alternative interpretants.
July 17, 2019
Lillian A. Black, Katherine Tu, Cliff O’Reilly, Yetian Wang, Paulo Pacheco, Randy Allen Harris
An Ontological Approach to Meaning Making through PATH and Gestalt Foregrounding in Climax
first published on July 17, 2019
Climax is a compound rhetorical figure, consisting of the trope, Crementum, and the scheme, Gradatio (itself a series of Anadiploses), a combination that results in compelling semiotic effects. The component figures impact the conveyed meaning independently and collectively, which we chart by way of the PATH image schema and the Gestalt Figure-Ground relation. These layers of meaning function in a similar fashion to the dual figure visual phenomenon examined by Koffka and Rubin. Key elements of our project include knowledge representation of Climax and component figures, a suite of ontologies that map the cognitive features supporting these complex structures and a base model of surface entities augmented with the related cognitive functions. Our ontologies are developed in the Web Ontology Language (OWL), validated for consistency and published online.
July 16, 2019
Donna E. West
Index as Scaffold to the Subjunctivity of Children’s Performatives
first published on July 16, 2019
This article provides a new characterization of gestural performatives, providing a semiotic analysis of their dialogic meaning—that performatives function as action signs, specifically indexes. Consonant with Peirce’s Ten-Fold Division of Signs, it proposes that the meanings which underlie performative actions supersede the interpretants of the Dicisign and therefore become the subjects of propositions. The dialogic nature of action signs is only beginning to be explored systematically; as such, this fresh inquiry argues that this process develops in ontogeny between two semiotic actors, particularly in view of imperative and subjunctive meanings or effects housed within the Energetic Interpretants of signs whose representamen depict movement.
June 6, 2019
The Silence of Movement
A Beginning Empirical-Phenomenological Exposition of the Powers of a Corporeal Semiotics
first published on June 6, 2019
The kinetic silence of movement has formidable powers. Observations of a film critic, poet, professor of political history, and medical doctor attest to the fact that that silence is replete with meanings. Those meanings in turn testify to a movement-anchored corporeal semiotics that resounds not merely functionally but experientially in animate forms of life. It does so consistently and directly in kinesthesia, the ever-present sense modality by which we experience the qualitative dynamics of movement and synergies of meaningful movement. Phylogenetic and ontogenetic perspectives attest to these dynamics and synergies. So also does Aristotle’s description of movement as a sensu communis. Because a movement-anchored corporeal semiotics discovers and describes what is existentially meaningful in the lives of animate organisms, such a semiotics is the foundation of a cognitive semiotics. It is so in a number of everyday ways, most notably in terms of thinking in movement and of cognition itself.
May 23, 2019
The Psammetichus Syndrome and Beyond
Five Experimental Approaches to Meaning-Making
first published on May 23, 2019
Thanks to Bruno Galantucci, “experimental semiotics” is usually nowadays taken to mean the study of “novel forms of communication which people develop when they cannot use pre-established communication systems”. In spite of Galantucci’s claim to have picked the label because it was free, it has actually been used in different ways at least twice before: by Colin Ware, who takes it to be involved with “the elucidation of symbols that gain their meaning by being structured to take advantage of the human sensory apparatus”, as opposed to conventional meaning-making, and by Kashima and Haslam, who apply it to complex social situations. The label could also conveniently be used to describe the kind of experiment that we have realized at Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, which are classical psychological experiments which have been enriched with a focus on the particular semiotic resources involved, while also applying phenomenological analysis to both the experimental situation and its outcome. These are all reductive uses of the terms “experimental” and “semiotics”. In fact, although Galantucci himself refers to Psammetichus’s famous experiment as being roughly analogous to his understanding of experimental semiotics, there are important differences, the Psammetichus experiment, in spite of its intentions, being more unbiased, if it could really be accomplished. Pursuing the principle that I have called the dialects of phenomenology and experiment, and what Jordan Zlatev has termed the conceptual-empirical loop, I will suggest, in the present paper, that these different experimental approaches can be related to different varieties of semiosis, thus helping us to spell out the full task of the discipline termed cognitive semiotics. This, in turn, will help us determine the full scope of cognitive semiotics, while also highlighting the importance of the semiotic part, that is, the attention to meaning, revealed by phenomenology.
March 15, 2019
Packing in Meaning
Applying Jakobson’s Model of Communication to Packaging Design
first published on March 15, 2019
From the level of the sign to culture, the practice of semiotic analysis concerns the construction and description of models. Within commercial semiotics, a few of these models (notably Greimas’s semiotic square and Raymond Williams’s concept of residual, dominant, and emergent), have proven particularly useful due to their ability to summarise cultural phenomena in a form readily digested and applied by marketing professionals to their brands. Packaging design is a frequent subject of commercial semiotic enquiry and draws on a wide array of semiotic phenomena ranging from visuals, to textures, and the lived experience of interacting with the package. How can we approach a comprehensive understanding of the potential of packaging design to communicate meaning? In what ways can we say that a package can ‘mean’, and how as semioticians can we help analyze and create novel packaging solutions that further brand meaning? Roman Jakobson’s general model of linguistic communication proposes a diverse array of cross cultural communicative functions for language, but is not currently a key model in the commercial semiotician’s toolkit. This paper proposes that this linguistic model has the potential to be translated into the multisensory realm of general semiotics and applied to packaging design. It will particularly consider how Jakobson’s six communicative functions (emotive, referential, poetic, conative, metalingual, and phatic) are relevant to the numerous non-linguistic sign systems (colour, texture, shape, typography, imagery, material etc.) employed in packaging. In so doing, this paper proposes a system for understanding the meaning potential of packaging design as not only an aesthetic vehicle but also a strategic tool for the cross-cultural development and communication of brand identity.
March 14, 2019
Systems and Semiotics
first published on March 14, 2019
This essay seeks to sketch the fundamental interactive forces at play in a brand in the formation of an identity system that signifies a particular hosting entity. Two kinds of iconicity are at play in the initial informed exposure to a visual identity system: metaphorical iconicity employs an analogous symbol as substitute for the host’s identification, while systemic iconicity builds the habituated exposure of the elements of the identity system. This article focuses on the dynamics in play in building systemic iconicity. Systemic iconicity can be analyzed using system and set theory by considering the system as a fuzzy set in which each of the graphic elements (logo, typography and so on) are treated as members. I postulate nine interdependent interactions that occur in systemic iconicity and provide shorthand formulae for describing them. These nine postulates indicate that visual identity systems must continually negotiate two opposing forces: pressures that pull them to converge toward a single, simple, unchanging visual element; or pressures that push them to diverge toward multiple changing visual elements. The article concludes by raising three issues which have the potential to expand the development of a neo-Peircean semiotics.
March 12, 2019
The Semiotic Layers of Instagram
Visual Tropes and Brand Meaning
first published on March 12, 2019
In an era of mobility and ubiquity, Instagram is a relevant communicative landscape for brands and products, allowing for the creation of a specific mood for campaigns and ads in general, merging photos, videos, themes, captions, hashtags and stories with a multilayered web of meanings. This paper outlines how the visual syntax of Instagram and its meaning-making processes goes beyond uniformity by affording the possibility to invest in creative formats, while contemplating visual tropes such as metaforms, visual metonymies and ironic images coming from the participatory culture. It will also present an understanding of the democratic dimensions of amateur photography and a discussion of two academic concepts related to Instagram: Instagrammatics and Instagrammism. Being that applied semiotics involves the study and analysis of visual and verbal languages that express cultural contents, the aim of this essay is to contribute to the understanding of polysemic manifestations, associating its signifiers with the rhetorical and aesthetic potential of visual tropes, ultimately demonstrating overlapping codes that could be relevant for brand management.
February 23, 2019
Possibilities of Materiality
Application of a Peircean Model of the Sign for Building New Brands
first published on February 23, 2019
In contemporary marketing practice, semiotics is often considered to be a useful set of tools employed only in certain moments of the brand-building process. One of the reasons for this is that models rooted in dyadic understanding of a sign serve to narrow the role of applied semioticians to that of the expert, supporting a linear transfer of meaning from culture to products and services. This article proposes a framework that regards a semiotician, rather, as a key figure—a figure that I refer to as “the brand facilitator”—in the process of creating a new brand. The approach I present is based on the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce and his idea of the sign as a cooperation between three subjects—the object, the representamen and the interpretant—with the object, namely the Dynamical Object, being the starting point for a non-linear, rhizomatic process of brand-becoming or the creation of a new brand. The article offers a detailed explanation of steps needed to complete each of the three main stages of the inquiry, including a material research phase, a cultural research phase and a phase of expressive anchoring. The theoretical framework is supported by a case study, thoroughly describing a process of creating a brand of vegetable pastes introduced in 2017 on the Polish market.
February 14, 2019
Life’s a Circus
A Case Study of the Branding of Camper Shoes
first published on February 14, 2019
Branding relies on coherence, which is in turn based on conceptual agreement. The various elements that make up a brand must work together, as must the brand respond satisfactorily to the expectations of its addressees. This article examines the case of Camper shoes, considering it a positive example of how a brand, when structured by metaphorical mappings within an adequate source domain, meets the expectations of its addressees and ensures the desired coherence in brand communication. Camper’s communication strategy is influenced by two conceptual metaphors—LIFE IS PLAY and THE WORLD IS A STAGE—mapped within one of the dominant metaphors in this market segment: CLOTHING IS SPORTS. Though many clothing brands are guided by the super-ordinate metaphor of sports, the sub-domains vary: tennis in the case of Lacoste, sailing for Gant, aerobics for Uniqlo, chess for G Star Raw and horse riding for Barbour. Camper is related to circus acrobats and performing clowns. Hence, the conceptual domain of CIRCUS is systematically mapped onto that of CAMPER, and the metaphorical entailment of the source domain CIRCUS constructs the target domain CAMPER. This study analyses the lexical, visual and spatial metaphorical entailments employed by Camper in order to demonstrate how these create a consistent chain that tightly binds its entire discourse and makes the brand discourse coherent.
February 7, 2019
Hypothetic Inference as “Peculiar Musical Emotion”
Interpreting Hüsker Dü
first published on February 7, 2019
An invitation to consider my own continuing engagement with alternative rock music has caused me to ponder the role of personal history in the development of individual musical preferences. I will rely on Peirce’s concept of hypothetic inference (aka abduction) as an optic for re-seeing some standard distinctions in the discussion of the aesthetic responses of musical listeners. A certain passage from Peirce that interrogates the nature of “peculiar musical emotion” makes it possible to question assumptions regarding the mechanisms that enable music to express and, especially, to arouse emotions in an essay by music theorists Jennefer Robinson and Robert S. Hatten. I will suggest that Robinson and Hatten’s description of episodic memory as a source of musical emotions that is not aesthetically warranted requires reconsideration. By adapting Norman N. Holland’s psychoanalytic analysis of individuals’ responses to literary texts to the aesthetic responses of musical listeners, we can see that between episodic memories and aesthetic responses there is an intervening term, “identity theme”, that cannot be disregarded. Holland’s approach discloses a seamless connection between episodic memories and certain kinds of emotional responses to music that Robinson and Hatten do consider to be aesthetically warranted, those that are comprehended under the persona theory of musical emotions. In the final section of my essay, I will focus on my own obsession with the alternative rock band Hüsker Dü in order to show the unavoidability of episodic memory for the understanding of music’s emotional impact.
February 1, 2019
Legendary Brands and Economic Value
A Semiotic Approach
first published on February 1, 2019
In this paper I compare and synthesize three separate discourses on marketing communication and propose a model for symbolic added value, a quality that characterizes the most memorable brands. In Keller (Strategic Brand Management, 2013) is exhaustively outlined the pragmatic steps for building, managing and measuring strong brands, but his approach overlooks the basic distinction between ordinary product brands and Legendary Brands. Vincent’s (Legendary Brands, 2002) book is dedicated to precisely this distinction, and the author takes an interdisciplinary (but mainly anthropological) approach to proposing a model for a “Brand mythology system”. Although the model can be used for pragmatic purposes, its main power is to explain the success of existing Legendary Brands. But while Vincent’s model treats many topics of semiotic interest, semiotic theory and methodology are presented only in a distorted fashion. Therefore, I propose that Jean-Marie Floch’s (Semiotics, Marketing and Communication, 2001) research on the types of valorization advertising confers upon brands can be used to fill critical gaps in the other two approaches and complete my own theory. By analyzing case studies of several successful Bulgarian brands in an autoethnographic mode, I will demonstrate that strategic brand management can be enriched through reference to semiotic and anthropologic models, provided they are translated into its vocabulary and discourse and that the resulting practical guidance can be applied to mid-sized, small, and very small companies, and not just to giant companies on the scale of Apple and Harley Davidson.
September 5, 2018
Farouk Y. Seif
Imaginary Dialogue with John Deely
Playing with Boundaries Across Space and Time
first published on September 5, 2018
We live in a world of fact and a world of fancy, in the Peircean sense, telling real and imagined stories. In this Imaginary Dialogue with John Deely I compose narratives that integrate actual quotations from his seminal work and imaginative interpretation of our numerous conversations that took place over the years. Visiting John in May 2016 at the Latrobe Hospital and grieving his passing on January 7, 2017 were two cathartic and emancipating experiences that developed into this dialogical narrative as a commemorative manifestation of the exceptional life and the remarkable oeuvre of John Deely. It is inconceivable to separate Deely’s personal traits from his scholarly contributions as a great philosopher, semiotician, and a compassionate human being who not only graciously persevered through the semiotic paradox of life and death, but also gregariously played with many boundaries across space and time.
July 13, 2018
Martin Švantner, Michal Karľa
John Deely’s Influence on Prague Semiotics
first published on July 13, 2018
In this paper, we give account of how the present shift in thought of the Prague School of Semiotics towards the history of semiotics (including, perhaps most notably, the exegesis of Peirce’s work) has been initiated and shaped by the ideas of John Deely. We discuss how works of John Deely were “discovered” in Prague, and how they found their way into our scholarly work and curriculum. We concentrate on the two Deely’s ideas which influenced us the most: his method of the “archaeology of concepts” applicable to the study of the history of semiotics, and his historical account of what constitutes a sign in its proper being, which not only makes semiotics and its historiography possible, but also advances a new conception of philosophy considered as semiotics.
June 21, 2018
Elaboration of the Intellectual Sign
first published on June 21, 2018
Human beings cannot bear very much discontinuity: we innately desire resolution of our experiences, no matter how disparate they are from one another, into a common whole, into a life which “makes sense.” We desire to be persons with identities resolved into coherent wholes. But the socio-cultural world of everyday activity often presents a fragmentary and irresoluble array of experience which seemingly prevents this resolution. At the root of this fragmentation is not, however, the experiences themselves, but rather a lack of understanding concerning human cognition and consciousness. Without clarifying the possibilities of human intellection in the constitution of consciousness, we will remain at a disadvantage in the pursuit of coherent personal identities. It is to this lattermost point—how the intellectual sign is formed and how, in its formation, it in turn produces the horizons of our personal identities—that this article, conceived and reared in the tradition of thought exemplified by John Deely, is directed.
The Key Triad
first published on June 21, 2018
John Deely’s contributions to the philosophy of signs have transformed semiotics. Key to this development has been Deely’s concern not just with human-produced texts but, instead, with human understanding amidst the context of semiosis in general, including realms beyond that of the human. Underpinning this concern, in turn, is his triad of sign, object and thing: A definite re-orientation of the theory of the sign. In this article it will be suggested that the triad, exemplifying suprasubjectivity and the primacy of relation, not only establishes the ground for rethinking common understandings of subjectivity, intersubjectivity and objectivity, it also provides a basis for re-conceptualizing other areas of social thought: In particular, how humans exist within their environment, both in terms of “affordances”—which generally facilitate human action—and “ideology”—which generally constrain it to the exigencies of determined circumstances. Deely’s realism, in its fundament of the sign/object/thing triad, demonstrates how mind-independent being is omnipresent, even when occluded in the objective order; it uncovers the “truth” of ideology and the Gegengefuge or ‘counter-structure’ of affordances.
June 7, 2018
Pragmaticism, Science, and Theology or How to Answer the Riddle of the Sphinx?
first published on June 7, 2018
This text is written in the honor of my scholarly friend John Deely, discussing the claims regarding the relation of modern science and religion put forth in Ashley and Deely, How Science Enriches Theology. I view it as the confrontation of a Peircean and a Thomist philosophical view of modern science and its relation to religion. I argue that the book demonstrates the problems inherent in the dialogue between a Thomist theist and a Peircean panentheist process view. Furthermore, that they are central to the contemporary philosophy of science discussion of the relation between the types of knowledge produced in the sciences and in theology. The important choice seems to be whether the link between science and religion should be based on a panentheist process concept of the divine as arising from a pure zero or on a theology with a personal god as the absolute and eternal source. I argue that Peirce’s triadic semiotic process philosophy is a unique form of panentheism in the way it draws on a combination of Schelling, Unitarianism, plus Emerson, and the transcendentalist’s spiritual ecumenical reading of Buddhist emptiness ontology and non-dualist Advaita Vedanta. This and Peirce’s synechism produce a non-confessional theological process philosophy. The surprising conclusion is that, because of its extended process philosophical grounding in emptiness, this panentheism does not assume any supernatural quality about the divine force of reasoning that drives Cosmogony. Rather Peirce’s pragmaticist formulation stands out as a true non-reductionist alternative to logical positivism’s reductionist unity science, especially in its form of mechanicism based on a concept of transcendental absolute law. The panentheism process view is also an alternative to the many forms of radical constructivism and postmodernism on the other hand. This is one of the reasons why Deely insightfully named Peirce the first true postmodernist.
May 15, 2018
Reflections on the Scholastic Heritage Conveyed by John Deely to Contemporary Semiotics
first published on May 15, 2018
From the point of view of semiotics, the essential contribution of John Deely consists in having made us all aware of the richness of the Scholastic heritage, and to have explained it to us latter-day semioticians. Even for those, who, like the present author, think that semiotics was alive and well between the dawn of the Latin Age, and the rediscovery of Scholastic realism by Peirce, the notions coined by the Scholastic philosophers are intriguing. To make sense of scholastic notions such as ens reale and ens rationis is not a straightforward matter, but it is worthwhile trying to do so, in particular by adapting these notions to ideas more familiar in the present age. Starting out from the notions of Scholastic Realism, we try in the following to make sense of the different meanings of meaning, only one of which is the sign. It will be suggested that there are counterparts to ens rationis, not only in the thinking of some contemporary philosophers, but also, in a more convoluted way, in the discussion within cognitive science about different extensions to the mind. The recurrent theme of the paper will be Deely’s musing, according to which signs, unlike any other kind of being, form relations which may connect things which are mind-dependent (ens rationis) and mind-independent (ens reale). The import of this proposition is quite different if is applied to what we will call the Augustinian notion of the sign, or to the Fonseca notion, which is better termed intentionality. In both cases, however, mind-dependence will be shown to have a fundamental part to play. Following upon the redefinition of Medieval philosophy suggested by Deely, we will broach a redefinition of something even wider: meaning even beyond signs.
April 19, 2018
Donna E. West
Deely’s Extension of Peirce’s Thirdness
first published on April 19, 2018
According to Deely, Peirce’s renovation of Saussure’s semiology to create his division of signs was far-reaching; it incorporates their use within non-living systems. Deely’s rationale is founded upon consideration of Peirce’s concept of individual/the continuum, and reality/existence. Deely’s argument proceeds as follows: it is not uniqueness or unique conscious reflection which qualifies sign use, but the habits to which animate and inanimate systems become subject. In posing his argument, Deely draws upon Krampen’s claim that signs permeate the plant world, in the Thirdness of plant reactions to experiences. This clearly illustrates the significant impact of Secondness in semiosis. Deely’s further (but brief) treatment of how potential eventualities qualify as real reveals Deely’s final interpretation of Peirce’s sign legacy. It brings to light Peirce’s insistence that possibility (that which is yet to transpire) may influence semiosis more substantially than mere actuality. In fact, potential habit-change represents Peirce’s most mature semiotic—what obviates the existence and use of signs in living and nonliving systems alike is not the degree of awareness/consciousness of what inhabits signs, but changes in reactivity (a form of pregenerative thirdness).
February 17, 2018
Thomas D. Craig
Shelter on the Mountain of God
Ernst Cassirer and the Religious Institution of Empire
first published on February 17, 2018
Ernst Cassirer proposes that a significant shift in thinking occurs in the early decades of the twentieth century. In sum, the makers of modern political myth had exploited the allure of “mythical world feeling” (1957 : 150) for their own pragmatic purposes. While there is no direct connection between the two, the American Protestant Fundamentalist missionary organization, L’Abri Fellowship International, began in Switzerland shortly after Cassirer’s Myth of the State (1946) was published in the early post-WWII era. Cassirer’s analysis in that publication, as well as his earlier writings on the symbolic forms of expression, provide an insightful theoretical means for understanding how a new strategic institution of religious empire could appropriate an immediate sense of reality within a collectivist claim to truth. Borrowing from both the theoretical corpus of Cassirer on (1) the symbolic forms of bodily expression (Ausdrucksfunktion), (2) the discursive function of strategic organizational action (Darstellungsfunktion), and (3) the ongoing communicological writings of Richard Lanigan, I provide a semiotic and phenomenological analysis of the disclosure of the forms of expression of L’Abri within the available historical and cultural contents, norms, and inscriptions which helped to build a worldwide religious institution that has endured for over sixty years.
January 26, 2018
Cassirer’s Symbolic Forms in Application
New Symbolization of New Thought in the Language of Online Communication
first published on January 26, 2018
Communication online via the Internet includes different genres, such as email, blogs, chat groups, virtual worlds, and the World Wide Web. Across different genres, Internet communication is primarily undertaken in the form of written language in visual modalities with oral features. The technical properties of Internet communication production and transmission influence how people perceive and use language orthography to construct meanings from language as a new way of thinking and practicing self-expression. My analysis uses Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms and Louis Hjelmslev’s glossomatics as a theoretical base to analyze and discuss how Internet communication serves to offer a new symbolic form of a new thought process as a type of Walter Ong’s second-order orality in human communication.
January 10, 2018
Epistemological and Symbolic Aspects of Sociological Thinking
first published on January 10, 2018
Considering different aspects of society such as identity, entity, and totality seems to be an integral object of social science research which offers specific configurations of and for symbols and signs. They are tools for decoding and deciphering the social quadratic structure of Self—Other, combined with, Similarity—Difference. If these semiotic comparisons are based on communicated Language, particularly when examined from the point of view of a symbolic pervasion and permeation of power, then we can see that normal thought patterns (hexis) loose their natural coherence in practice (habitus). As Jaques Lacan points out by referring to the unconscious, first of all Language (langue) has to assure itself of its object (sign/parole) in order to be able to develop its analytic pattern (symbol/discours). In this communicative context taking the term field as an example, Bourdieu shows how socially accepted terms are applied in an uncontrolled way (illusio) without being examined thoroughly (as contingent and precarious indexical referents), thus gaining system access (rhetoric as practical logic) to the production of social knowledge (ideology) in a given culture.
December 28, 2017
Eric M. Kramer
Cassirer as Revolutionary: Semiotics as Embodied Worldview
Appreciating the Other in Ourselves
first published on December 28, 2017
This article examines the meaning of interactive comportment as identified by Richard Lanigan and the role fundamental analysis of this facticity (communicology) can play in improving social life. The role of communicology as exposed by this non-naïve sense of responsibility is examined. The contribution of Ernst Cassirer’s work on symbology generally, and the primitive more specifically, is explored as a case that supports Lanigan’s assertion that fundamental examination of comportment can expand our understanding of ourselves and others, facilitate tolerance, foster creativity, and enrich our lives. Rigorous examination and appreciation of comportment, including the relationship between identity and difference, has implications for, and reverberates throughout, the lifeworld. A non-naïve understanding that social studies take place within a social environment and have consequences for that environment prompts us to self-consciously interrogate the implications of such work for life. Cassirer’s work demonstrates the potential for communicology to facilitate change.
December 19, 2017
Paulo Freire and Ernst Cassirer
Mythic and Superstitious Consciousness in Contemporary Academic Culture
first published on December 19, 2017
The extent to which superstitious consciousness is prevalent in students, professors and administrators in university culture is no less alarming than the extent to which Cassirer (1946) proposed mythic consciousness is prevalent (and even necessary) within a totalitarian state. These are the connections I wish to explore: superstitious and mythic consciousness, and, pedagogic and political overlaps in the context of higher education and, in particular, in the processes of teaching, learning, scholarship, and curriculum development. Through examples drawn from my earlier and more recent years in higher education contexts, I examine, interrogate, and puzzle over the tensions, paradoxes, risks, and choices which characterize working from a Freirian orientation. In this analysis, I also engage the resonances between Paulo Freire and Ernst Cassirer. I refer to the works in Ira Shor’s 1987 collection devoted to applications of Paulo Freire’s theorizing and praxis and comment on their ongoing relevance. Last, I employ post-colonial and semiotic phenomenological modes of analyses and explication in my attempt to work through issues of power, pedagogy, and praxis in the increasingly urgent and intolerant politics of contemporary academic culture at the universities.
Jacqueline M. Martinez
Cassirer’s “Violent Inner Tensions of Culture”
A Cultural Phenomenology of Ethics, Freedom and the Mythology of Peace
first published on December 19, 2017
Ernst Cassirer’s assertion that the most “violent inner tensions” are at work in the unfolding of culture, is the central problematic taken up in the present work. A “mythology of peace” is identified as central in maintaining a collective blindness to these violent inner tensions at the level of culture. Any notion of cultural ethics must emerge from an examination of culture as it is alive and concrete. Such an examination requires a cultural phenomenology. Cultural ethics must be considered in its relationship to conditions of human freedom. Cassirer’s concern with symbolic forms provides an entrée into the problematic of the relationship between culture, ethics and freedom. From within this problematic, Cassirer develops the terms, conditions, and practices of a cultural science that investigates the function of symbolic forms as they at work within the everyday world of people communicating. The work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty offers important extensions of Cassirer’s cultural science, particularly with regard to the relationship between individual perception or experience and the cultural milieu in which those perceptions and experiences are situated. A specific case of an ex-police officer turned mass-murderer within the U.S. American context is analyzed as a moment of rupture—an eruption of these violent inner tensions. This phenomenology of culture provides an insight into how mythologies of the “totalitarian race” and of “the hero” exacerbate these violent inner tensions of culture to the point of concrete expression. It also reveals the danger of overly rigid mythologies that can emerge from “symbolic forms,” and which deeply impede the “task of freedom” in a human world.
December 15, 2017
Richard L. Lanigan
Ernst Cassirer’s Theory and Application of Communicology: From Husserl via Bühler to Jakobson
first published on December 15, 2017
The Human Science of Communicology culminates from several disciplinary developments, largely viewed as singular constitutions and foundational to differential attitudes about the nature and function of philosophy and science in apposition (triadic relation) to human embodiment. In more familiar terms, the idea of Culture stands in contrast to the idea of Science, because there is a measured distinction between what human beings express and what they perceive. In Modernity, we know this apposition (Human–Culture–Science) as the emergence of (1) the distinct cultural disciplines (expression of human embodiment) over against the (2) the distinct scientific disciplines (perception of physical nature). Ernst Cassirer explores this problematic in The Logic of the Cultural Sciences (1942) where he distinguishes Culture as the perception-of-expression and Science as the perception-of-objects. Cassirer’s thematic explication is to be found in The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1923–1996) where his semiotic phenomenology of human communication is articulated in detail such that Science is bracketed by Culture. In Cassirer’s terms of symbolic forms, we can distinguish the semiotic distinction among (1) the Perception of Expression (Culture) where (a) Myth (Langage) and (b) Knowledge (Parole) contrast with (2) the Perception of Objects (Science) in the form of (c) Speech (Langue) and (d) Art (Discours). Symbols are constitutive of social semiotics (sensuous expression) and the intersubjective phenomenology of human embodiment (intuitive expression) in the tradition of Immanuel Kant and Edmund Husserl.
December 13, 2017
Beyond the “Tragedy of Culture”
In-between Epistemology and Communication
first published on December 13, 2017
Spelling out the more or less implicit phenomenology found in Peirce’s categories and in the “Basisphänomene” suggested by the late Cassirer, this paper attempts to extend Cassirer’s own suggestion for the grounding of the human, or, as we prefer to say, semiotic, sciences, by means of an elucidation of the components of the basic situation of communication, revised on the basis of the Prague school approach to semiotics. In the first part of the paper, we consider Cassirer’s proposal for a theory of science, in the light of both the first scholarly discussion of the theme, involving Rickert, Windelbrand and Dilthey, and the second round, initiated by Gadamer and Habermas, while drawing final conclusions from the surreptitious results of the advent of Structuralism, in which Cassirer was a somewhat unheeding player. In the second part of the paper, the semiotic sciences are tentatively grounded in the sciences of normalcy, the epitome of which is Husserl’s science of the Lifeworld, presenting the different “Basisphänomene” as being the foundation for three fundamental epistemological operations, derived from the act of communication, which are all necessary to the deployment of the semiotic sciences.
May 3, 2017
first published on May 3, 2017
The article proposes a typology of meaninglessness based on the semiotics of Charles S. Peirce: meaningless as indecipherable; as incomprehensible; and as uncanny. Each type is exemplified with reference to anecdotic semiotic experience gained while riding Japanese buses. Meaninglessness, however, is not insignificance. Insignificance is a much more disquieting anthropological condition, which the article describes with reference to two symmetrical processes: on the one hand, the euphoric passage from significance to insignificance, a passage meant as the “birth of new meaning”; on the other hand, the dysphoric passage from significance to insignificance, a passage which coincides with the alienation of human existence. Through several examples take from present-day societies, the article advocates for an active role of semiotics in warning human communities against the “emergence of insignificance” and its potential of violence and exploitation.
March 3, 2017
Ricardo Nogueira De Castro Monteiro
Numanities and Their Role in the Twenty-First Century
Three Questions Towards a New Era
first published on March 3, 2017
Despite the unquestionable importance of technological progress in twenty-first-century society, the decision by many political leaders worldwide to treat natural sciences as an almost exclusive priority betrays a terrible misconception of the complexity of the contemporary world. As the Renaissance cannot be reduced to Copernicus’s or Galileo’s brilliant contributions, or Enlightenment to the works of such giants as Newton and Cavendish, contemporary society will hardly be remembered as just a series of amazing software and gadget updates. There are three categories of questions today that only humanities are prone to answer. The first one, exploring the relations between subject and object mediated by the meaning of “property”, ultimately concerns the discussion between legality and legitimacy. Not long ago, teenagers were still being sued by the giants of the Entertainment Industry for downloading songs, and the practice of mash-ups or remixing even now arouses huge polemics. The second one, focused on the self-representations of the subject, concerns the changing meanings (and representations) of identity and cultural borders in a globalizing world. Finally, the inter-subjective interactions are the centre of the political tensions between democracy and demagogy, two opposed categories that have often been presented as hardly distinguishable from each other.
February 24, 2017
Help! Is There a Semiotician on the Plane?
first published on February 24, 2017
“Please, we urgently need a semiotician!” is certainly not the most common request heard in a situation of emergency, yet a time may come when we realize that there are cases that a physician (or another scientist) cannot effectively deal with.Two passengers fight over the same space on a plane, to the point that the pilot is obliged to land and have the two contenders get off at the closest airport. Each of the humanities has a specific way to frame and seek to find a less disrupting solution to the problem. The present article argues that the specific contribution semiotics can and must give to present-day societies is that of providing discursive evidence that problems that fall in the domain of language cannot be solved by technology, no matter how smart it might be, but rather can be solved only via communication as such: talking, compromising, finding agreements.
February 22, 2017
Dario Martinelli, Lina Navickaitė-Martinelli
Musical Performance As an Intermedial Affair (A Case of a Pianist)
first published on February 22, 2017
The professional profile of a performer does not only consist of mere music playing, but calls into question a number of variables of private and public, musical and extra-musical articulation. Performers have their own personality and inclinations; they are exposed to different forms of education and influences; they develop certain technical and stylistic abilities; they find certain repertoires more suitable than others; they confront themselves with composers and their requests/indications; they have to take into account social demands to given repertoires; they also, intentionally or not, develop a public persona; finally, and particularly nowadays, they create a number of media interfaces that allow the public to access all the previously-listed features.
The present article focuses on new media communication, particularly “official websites”, as one of such media interfaces (and one of the most important ones, in present-day society): the various semiotic strategies of visual, linguistic and audiovisual representation of this medium will be applied to the case of the Lithuanian pianist Andrius Žlabys.
Our Responsibility to Future Generations in the Context of Ecological Crisis
Perspectives and Future Challenges
first published on February 22, 2017
The present article aims to present how the different philosophical perspectives have tackled the problem of the foundations of our responsibility to future generations in the context of ecological crisis. The main theories addressed here will be Hans Jonas metaphysical foundation, utilitarianism, communitarianism, the rights theory and contractarian perspectives derived from John Rawls’s theory. By assessing these perspectives, I assert that, against jonasianianism and related perspectives, our responsibilities to future generations must be thought of in terms of “political, not metaphysical”. The foundation of these responsibilities must be based, not on God, nor compassion, nor benevolence, nor identity sentiments, but on a conception of ourselves as rational and reasonable persons. From my point of view, we must find our responsibilities to future generations in our respect for their necessities and interests as well as in the maintenance of their available opportunities. This point of view allows us to point out some of our future challenges in the intergenerational justice scope.
February 16, 2017
Humanities in the Digital World / Or Digital in the Humanities?
first published on February 16, 2017
“Humanities in the digital age”, more than a topic, is today a genre in itself: an academic anxiety, a compromise, an opportunity for a new epoch, or the demise of a traditional ability to introspect. Browsing the literature on debates, research, experiments and future is overwhelming, and every other day we witness the closing down of a traditional humanities subject, or we see funding being diverted to the technological experiments in humanities. It becomes imperative to engage with this revolution, also called ‘digital humanities’. What to do in the wake of this new epoch? Do we resist, not ‘serving’ the system, or do we participate in creating a new digital humanities experience? The answer is difficult, particularly in the context of future generations who, as ‘digital natives’, cannot look back. There is merit to the anxieties with regard to the neo-capitalist enterprises that threaten to obliterate the fundamental tenets of the humanities. At a crossroads today are the academic departments, but at ease with new technologies are the younger generations. This article is one step towards discovering views, stating pros and cons, and looking into the kaleidoscopic spread of the humanities in the digital world. Or the digital in the humanities world … only future will tell.
Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene
Questionable Foundations and Quality in the Humanities
first published on February 16, 2017
Information, knowledge and understanding, history/tradition and novelty, fashion and science, show business and intellectual product are the contexts to review in order to answer the question why humanities have been losing credibility and have come under the hammer. The present article, informed by philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Mary Midgley, authors like Charles K. Ogden and Ivor A. Richards, semioticians like Algirdas Greimas and Roland Barthes and classical English literature, argue that the problem originates between the continuity of thought and indoctrination, between the stance of Rectors of universities and henchmen in the politics of market economy, and it is best exemplified by the caricature of humanities in some universities resulting from the implementation of the courses of technical skills. Knowing that humanities have been prized for intellectual attainment (Lincoln Barnett, Paul Goodman), their precarious state seems to depend on unbalanced philosophical, ethical, educational and economic principles. With economy being the factor which is hard to dispute, political and ethical principles tend to invite a revision because of a traceable tendency to promote the production of the manageable rather than the enlightened.
January 19, 2017
Richard Currie Smith
Replacing Descartes’s “Thinking Thing” With Deely’s “Semiotic Animal”
Resolving Our Species Sustainability Dilemma and Establishing the Semiotic Age
first published on January 19, 2017
French mathematician and natural philosopher René Descartes in the early seventeenth century developed his “thinking thing” definition of human being. This ontological construct that places the rational intellect of mankind as separate and superior to the natural world became the centerpiece of the Enlightenment and established the Modern Age. Descartes’s definition underlay the scientific and industrial revolution, colonialism, and the cultural imperialism of the West to become globalized along with modernity. With the marvelous technological advances of the worldwide spread of modernity also came devastating climate change and massive biodiversity loss that threatens our species sustainability. The American philosopher John Deely in the early twenty-first century developed his “semiotic animal” definition of human being that places our species within the natural world while being endowed with a unique responsibility toward its preservation and restoration. Deely’s definition is viewed as in consonance with our sustainable Paleolithic animistic ontological orientation centered on accurately interpreting relational being while going beyond it through clarifying the semiotic processes involved in accurate discernment of sustainable activities. It is asserted that replacing Descartes’s thinking thing definition with Deely’s semiotic animal and globalizing it through contemporary communication technology such as the Internet will launch a Semiotic Age and resolve our sustainability crisis.
December 29, 2016
Edward J. Baenziger, CSB
From Maritain’s Thoughts on the Micro-sign to the Science of Semiotics
first published on December 29, 2016
Jacques Maritain’s discussion of the micro-sign leads us to question how signs get interpreted, from the least to the most complex forms of communication, while John Deely’s treatment of both cenoscopic and ideoscopic interpretation lies in the distinction between attraction, repulsion, and indifference. I add the key concept of inter-reaction, symbiosis, that allows for cooperation within and among all organisms. Using quantum physics and cathexis to delve the mystery of cellular sign values and beyond, we, the semiotic animal, better comprehend our own nature and that of the living world through semiotics.
W. John Coletta, Seema Ladsaria, Dylan Couch
The Unleashing of John Deely’s “Semiotic Animal”
first published on December 29, 2016
Our purpose in this essay is twofold: to explore John Deely’s “semiotic” or “contextualized animal” as also a “contextualizing animal”, one that not only responds in context but one that changes first the context so as later to change itself—as all living things do; and to explore how this context-shifting “semiotic animal” has caused to emerge the very “signs upon which”, as Deely writes, “the whole of life depends”. Environmental ethics are inseparable from personal ethics, then, because (1) we are in fact ourselves environments for others, (2) we carry models of our environments within us (our genetic / ontogenetic selves), and (3) even our free will (the basis of ethical choice) is an “environmental” phenomenon, as Martin Heisenberg argues in Nature (14 May 2009: 164–165) and as Deely writes in Semiotic Animal: “signs do not fall strictly among the things objectified by perceptions of sense but act prior to that perception to enable it to reconstruct the physical environment along objective lines that are meaningful to the species” (Semiotic Animal: A Postmodern Definition of Human Being Transcending Patriarchy and Feminism : 119)
November 24, 2016
Silver Rattasepp, Kalevi Kull
The Semiotic Species
Deelying with Animals in Philosophy
first published on November 24, 2016
Animals are treated in philosophy dominantly as opposed to humans, without revealing their independent semiotic richness. This is a direct consequence of the common way of defining the uniqueness of humans. We analyze the concept of ‘semiotic animal’, proposed by John Deely as a definition of human specificity, according to which humans are semiotic (capable of understanding signs as signs), unlike other species, who are semiosic (capable of sign use). We compare and contrast this distinction to the more standard ways of drawing the distinction between humans and animals.
Christopher S. Morrissey
Analogy and the Semiotic Animal
Reading Marshall McLuhan with John Deely
first published on November 24, 2016
Thanks to a helpful tetradic diagram found in the expanded fifth edition of John Deely’s Basics of Semiotics, in which the context and circumstances of a sign’s utterance (in addition to the sign-vehicle itself and the immediate object of the sign) is distinguished from all that is explicit in the sign itself apart from the context and circumstances of its utterance, it is possible to bring Deely’s insights to bear upon the semiotically suggestive work of Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan’s implicitly semiotic understanding of analogy is structurally present in his efforts to visually articulate the “laws of media” with his own “tetrad” diagrams. Deely’s discussion of the irreducible triadicity of signs therefore illuminates McLuhan’s attempt to understand how analogical thought actually works on the most fundamental structural level in the cognition of the semiotic animal. There is a unique cognitive syntax to analogy, which is operative in the animal that Deely has most appropriately identified as “the semiotic animal”. This article discusses McLuhan’s understanding of analogy in terms of its figure/ground structure, by using the example of the thermometer from Deely’s Basics of Semiotics. In relating this example to McLuhan’s tetrad, it is shown how McLuhan’s implicitly semiotic analysis can also increase our semiotic understanding of other technological tools, such as Skype videoconferencing.