Semiotics and Literary Studies | Merrell, Floyd | Commens
Semiotic self and sign are full of vitality, for sure. They are alive, poised and ready for the next moment of semiosis when they can begin interrelatedly interacting in earnest. But for now, they are just becoming. The beginning of their moment of self-identity, of focal awareness, however ephemeral it may be, has begun, with sign The semiotic self feels himself a part of the world and at the same time apart from the world. He is an interacting participant and at the same time a spectator. Consequently, he is now beginning to discover the making of his own self; that is, he begins his process of self-construction, at least for now, because in the next moment he will be another self, given his incessant transience.
Here is where the semiotic self engages in serious dualistic practice, following what are perceived and conceived as linear, digital, cause-and-effect, and even deterministic sequences. Here is where what a sign indicates is what it has to indicate because there are few alternatives, and what the self interprets is cut-and-dried because that is the way she believes the world is. Yet, here, the self has a chance to take a quick break and contemplate her situation. Is she really so detached, so aloof, so autonomous, as she desires in this world of clarity and distinction?
Is there perhaps no more to life within this world? But she cannot tarry. She must move on toward the unknown in search of a few answers. This threat could be the focus of envy, jealousy, resentment, or one of a vast number of negative sentiments that are byproducts of the egomaniacal self.
But if our presumably self-made self keeps her cool, she will make it through the to next stage of semiosis with a sufficient level of humility and sincerity. She will make it because here, in sign , the pivotal sign wherein the representamen reaches the pinnacle of its success, the greatest possibility exists for a sign to become what it is not.
With the Third of the representamen and the Second of the semiotic object, the self is becoming quite sophisticated. If she is modest enough, without undue vanity, and if she can quite handily follow the conventional practices of her community, she should be able to construct enough indices as pronouns in relation to absent people, places and things, indicators or pointers of all sorts, gestures that relate to something in the immediate context to communicate with the greatest of ease.
She can become a shining example and a role model for others, with herself as the sign that indicates what should be done or said. That is, she can become an example if she can keep her growing ego at bay. But the next steps along the path mitigate against such limitations of an ego that now wishes to flex its muscles at every opportunity. An indicator such as a pronoun implies that which it indicates. It is of subsidiary interest.
This sign evokes commonplace expressions, stock-in-trade or entrenched means of talking and hence of carrying out actions.
But, of course, there is not simply the extreme form of either one behavioral pattern or the other. Rather, a continuous spectrum of qualities, both good and bad, exists. Where what now appears to be our self-made self will rise or fall depends on his developed beliefs and habits. This is sign , a word or term. Now things have quite specific names and attributes. We are entering into the realm of relatively explicit, focally directed communication; now we are in distinctively human semiotics, with inflated egos, feelings of superiority, and all.
Our self now feels that urge toward self-promotion. Consequently, if her best of intentions come to the fore, she is hard pressed to maintain her composure, to avoid the smug feeling that she is somehow a cut above everything and everyone else in her surroundings. If our self resists that lazy tendency to fall into these abominable practices, she will enjoy the fruits of her labors and the best of friends and associates, though she might fall short in the notoriety category, which largely goes to those of aggressive and cutthroat nature.
Yet we would like to hope for the best, and we would hope that the best is yet to become. If all has gone well, creative insight and wisdom flow freely along the main channel of semiosis.
It will be as if the sign were a sign of and as if our semiotic self were one with it. Her feeling for the sign will be as sedimented as her driving a car, utterance a commonplace sentence, putting on a pair of shoes in the morning, stooping down to pick up the newspaper, taking a sip of coffee, walking down the hall at work, turning on he car key to go home, handling a knife and fork at the dinner table. She will have become one with the sign, it will have become one with her.
Her bodybrain will do what it does naturally at the subsidiary level, while her brainmind takes care of its own affairs at the focal level. So much for our renewed tale of ten signs. Signs, you see, are us and we are them; they make us what we are and we make of them what we can. There are hardly any absolutely necessary distinctions between one sign and another signs in the coming and going of our everyday activities.
We construct the distinctions; they are our distinctions, hence they could always have been becoming something other than what they are becoming.
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I would expect that we now agree that no sign is an island unto itself, for all signs, ourselves included, are interrelated, interdependent, and part of the self-organizing nature of semiosis. Borges, J. Irby, Eds. New York: New Directions. The Aleph, and Other Stories, N. New York: E. Fitzgerald, J. The Hague: Mouton.
Merrell, F. Semiosis in the Postmodern Age. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press. Ottowa: Legas. Ogden, C. The Meaning of Meaning. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World. Savan, D. An Introduction to C. Toronto: Victoria College. Sebeok, T. Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. But what allows the sign to work as a whole unit of social meaning is a code , the rule for combining a sensory impression with a mental content, and the basic signifiers in a language into a system of meanings. The relation between signifier and signified is not natural, but arbitrary, part of the internal rules of a language. Having an arbitrary relation to things signified, the signs of a culture can be analyzed for how societies construct, produce, and circulate meanings and values.
Sign systems are often described as organized into sets of differences differential values and hierarchies that structure meanings and social values. The form that these differences take is governed by ideology. For example, the large set of socially constructed meanings for things considered "masculine" and "feminine," a pervasive set of binary oppositions. The majority of our complex social use of signs reveals a network of relationships , rather than simple binaries. Signification is therefore a process, a product, and a social event, not something closed, static, or completed one and for all.
All members of a society are interpreters or decoders. Ability to decode and understand signification is based on competence with the sign system and with a larger cultural encyclopedia of codes and correspondences. Semiotics, however, moves beyond language to study all the meaning systems in a society--fashion, advertising, popular culture genres like TV and movies, music, political discourse, all forms of writing and speech. Semiotics contributes to communication studies by providing a method for uncovering and analyzing how a whole system of signification like a movie genre, fashion images, or TV works in a culture.
Semiotics, then, looks at culture broadly as a language considered as a sign system, or the ways signs and language map onto culture as a whole. Sign: something that stands for something else in a system of signification language, images, etc.
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Code: the relational system that allows a sign to have meaning, the social organization of meanings into differences, hierarchies, and networks of relations. Early Perrier advertisement. Sexual allure and brand appeal. But how do we "know" this? Is sexiness and the meaning of the brand a property of the image?
The meanings aren't inherent in the image but learned in the culture where these signs circulate and accumulate. Part of the social meaning of the image is the history of accrued associations and contexts which, of course, circulate apart from this specific image but are understood by members of the culture in which this image functions.
None of this information is a property of the image itself, but must be learned. The cultural codes here are learned and circulate throughout advertising and popular culture. What the image means is only explicable in terms of a shared code base, not as a function of the properties of the image. The Fashion System: meaning only in network system of differentiations, hierarchies, distinctions.
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Benetton branding: The new "Holy Family": information and code base from Western cultural history and contemporary ethnic and sexual identities. A new, globalized, sexually ambiguous, "holy family"? Whatever we want to say about what the images "mean" comes from a cultural code base, and not from anything inherent in the images themselves.
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