Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Semiotics Exists: Does Yours?

A common mistake when reading Peirce or talking to a pragmatist, which we pragmatists should do a better job of alleviating (read: me), is to remind our interlocutor what "semiotic" means in a Peircean context.

I have committed an oversight. Reading back through some of my old exchanges with Levi Bryant, I realized belatedly that he understands "semiotics" to mean talk about signifiers and the signified, e.g., formal or phenomenological semiotics. But that is not what it means in Peirce or pragmatism that followed his lead. "Semiotic" does mean that, but it also means the existences that instantiate whatever is taken for a sign.  So when Levi wrote, many months ago while insisting that he was familiar with pragmatism ...

Yes Jason, I’m a nominalist and believe that mathematical and logical generality is only a syntactic phenomena. I don’t see that as a “problem”, but as a real feature of the world. I would also disagree with the thesis that signification can exist without these [neurological] systems.
 ... I now realize that he was probably thinking something along the Saussurean signifer/signified distinction, whereas Peirce has a triadic rather than binary system that implies the existential instantiation of a sign. Yes, Peirce also dealt with purely formal systems, but his genius is how he shows the continuity of formal and existential semiotics, or what some now call "biosemiotics." I could just write "biosemiotics" from now one, but Peirce also mean formal, phenomenological, biological, etc., and would only specify based on the context, and I share this trait.

Given yesterday's post on time, which might have seemed strange, I can now connect temporality and semiotics. I delve into semiotics not because I'm interested in formal signification of the usual sort, but because I'm interested in connecting the functional natural instantiation of a sign system (read: culture) with its phenomenological semitioc (read: how we understand the word and ourselves based on a culture), and how the functional structure of the interface opens and forecloses possibilities of understanding (read in a vaguely Heideggerian way: how our embodied habits limit our possibilities of understanding and discerning the necessary from contingent limits). So, I'm doing a lot of semiotics all the time that is probably not even recognizable as such but anyone but a pragmatist, because I don't use the formal languages that most other than Peirceans would recognize. I have branched out to using Mark Johnson's language in my published articles, but he needs to write faster!  (Mark, if you're reading this, finish that ethics book!)

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