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1. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Jamin Pelkey Sebeok Fellows Issue: Vincent Colapietro and Nathan Houser
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vincent colapietro: tenth ssa sebeok fellow
2. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Vincent Colapietro The Music of Meaning
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This paper begins as a methodological musement inspired by a suggestion made by C. S. Peirce to William James (1905: CP 8.263). It takes his intellectual life as a complex affair displaying a creative tension between what, on the surface, appear to be exclusive impulses. On the one hand, there is the drive to attain the highest level of conceptual clarity humanly possible. This is of course evident in his pragmatism. On the other, there is his seeming dalliance with concepts so vague as to be possibly not concepts at all (arguably only “tones or tints upon conceptions” [Peirce 1901: CP 1.353]). His lifelong devotion to articulating a categoreal scheme is the most telling example of this intellectual propensity. In this paper, following Peirce’s example with respect to his interest in his categories, then, the author gives himself over to the intimations of intelligibility conveyed by the expression “the music of meaning”. From this musing, he then claims more solid ground by offering an explication of Peirce’s theory of interpretants as the place where that theorist’s account of meaning is to be found. Ultimately, he tries to draw together what has emerged, first, in his methodological musement and, then, in subsequent discussions—his three main topics: music, that mysterious form of time; time, that mysterious form of Being; and meaning.
3. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Vincent Colapietro Theoretical Riffs on the Blues
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After disambiguating the word, the author explores the blues primarily not as a genre of music but as a sensibility or orientation toward the world. In doing so, he is taking seriously suggestions made by a host of writers, most notably, Ralph Waldo Ellison, Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, and Cornel West. As such, the focus is on the blues as an extended family of somatic practices bearing upon expression (or articulation). At the center of these practices, there is in the blues (to modify Foucault’s words) always the patient yet exuberant work of giving articulate form to our impatience for human freedom. But here the distinction between practices of emancipation, by which a people throws off their political domination, and practices of freedom, by which they tirelessly work to make their freed self truly their own, is crucial. In this, the author is guided by an insight provided by Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (1987: 95). As “an art of ambiguity”, the blues turns out to be also an art of ambivalence: the task of claiming ownership of one’s freed self is one demanding, not only learning to live with irreducible ambiguity but also working toward “an achievement of ambivalence”.
4. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Vincent Colapietro Gestures of Acknowledgment: Failures, Refusals, and Affirmations
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Gestures are arguably the most pervasive, primordial, and generative of signs. This partly explains why the failure or refusal to gesture in certain ways, in certain circumstances, carries more weight than would seem otherwise comprehensible. Stanley Cavell attends to not only the importance of acknowledgment but also how our failures to acknowledge others amount to nothing less than an “annihilation of the other”. What account of gestures would begin to do justice to the power of such failures to wound humans so deeply? Of course, it is possible to argue that those who are wounded by such slights are hypersensitive. But, given the weight of our experience, this goes only a very short distance toward illuminating the phenomena under consideration. Drawing upon Peirce’s theory of signs, this paper offers a sketch of gestures of acknowledgment, paying close attention to why our failures or refusals to acknowledge others are so powerful.
nathan houser: eleventh ssa sebeok fellow
5. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Nathan Houser Thinking at the Edges
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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.
6. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Nathan Houser Peirce on Practical Reasoning
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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.
7. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Nathan Houser Semiotics and Philosophy
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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.
articles
8. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Steven Skaggs The Semiotics of Visual Identity: Logos
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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.
9. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Massimo Leone Semiotics of Religion: A Map
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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.
10. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Richard L. Lanigan Crossing Out Normative Boundaries in Psychosis: The Communicology of a Social Semiotic Passage in Dickens’ Bleak House
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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.
11. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Sally Ann Ness Diagnosing with Light: The Semiotics of Acupoint Biophoton Emissions Testing
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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.
12. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Morten Tønnessen What Can be Known about Future Umwelten?
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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.
reviews
13. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Jamin Pelkey A Watershed for Qualia: Marc Champagne’s Unified Theory of Consciousness: Review of Consciousness and the Philosophy of Signs: How Peircean Semiotics Combines Phenomenal Qualia and Practical Effects, by Marc Champagne
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14. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Marc Champagne Consciousness and the Philosophy of Signs: A New Précis
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15. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Hongwei Jia Signs, Language, and Listening: A Review: Review of Signs, Language and Listening: Semioethic Perspectives, by Susan Petrilli
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16. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
Kermit Snelson The Phanerochemical Wedding of Logic and Philosophia Perennis: On Morrissey’s The Way of Logic: Review of The Way of Logic, by Christopher S. Morrissey
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17. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 3/4
About the Authors
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18. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Jamin Pelkey, Sophia Melanson, Richard Rosenbaum Introduction: Cognitive Semiotics
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thematic issue articles
19. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Göran Sonesson The Psammetichus Syndrome and Beyond: Five Experimental Approaches to Meaning-Making
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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.
20. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 35 > Issue: 1/2
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone The Silence of Movement: A Beginning Empirical-Phenomenological Exposition of the Powers of a Corporeal Semiotics
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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.