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Comments to Semios-L

Katya Mandoki :
Wed, 19 Jun 1996 20:01:32 -0600

Last one for today: I have exceeded my cuota already.
On Wed, 19 Jun 1996, Steven Skaggs wrote:
> Part 2
> > This question of 'reality' is sticking to our discussion like peanut butter
> to the roof of one's mouth. Reality is a condition that is mediated by
> signs. We do not know any way of being other than sign exchange. We might
> barely imagine existence divorced from mediated relational action (Peirce's
> Secondness), but haven't a clue what a reality based solely upon qualities
> would mean (Peirce's Firstness). All we have in our experience is Thirdness
> in which what we consider to be awareness is a constructed situation
> mediated through signs.

This is where I see Kant jumping right in. Firstness is the thing-in-itself,
the noumenal which, from a kantian epistemological point of view, is
unknowable. Secondness is where space-time intuition, or Kant's
transcendental apriori mediates and conditions perception. Thirdness
belongs to understanding. (Someone must have worked through this line,
can anyone give references?)

> Yes, you're right. Both Saussure (and Barthes for one stressed this) and
> Peirce view semiosis to be an onrushing current. (Incidentally, the chain
> you represent above, although it has three parts, would not be equivalent
> to Peirce's triadic structure of an individual sign. he would have the
> interpretant being the sign vehicle for an additional
> object-sv-interpretant cluster and so on...)
 Yes, I know. But as I said, we can see the interpretant as implied in
the sr.

 > And here we come to a major agreement area: semiosis is chainlike.

I am afraid we don't: semiosis is web-like. A net, a rhyzome. The problem
with chains is that they're lineal. I have elsewhere argued also against
Saussure's "syntagmatic chains". They are nets as well. We see them as
chains only in regards to analysis. We cut up a piece of a net and it
seems as a chain. As you mention bellow:

> One of the implications in both Saussure and Peirce is that there are these
> little lumplike nodes that can be discriminated as separate parts. Whether
> they be signifier, signified, sign vehicle, referent, or interpretant,
> there is the implicit assumption that these things are discrete. I wonder
> if that is the only way of looking at the matter.

You are right. They are certainly not. But I guess that "discretion"
or  separation is always necessary for analytical purposes. Analysis is
metasemiotic, and functions by distinctions, descrite entities, oppositions.

> For one thing, it seems to me that they may, if we continue the lump or
> particle metaphor, be infinitely reducible. That is, a sign vehicle is
> comprised of parts, those parts comprised of parts etc...(see Eco 1976
> Theory of Semiotics : discussion of the 'matter of the sign vehicle'). Same
> with interpretant. An interpretant is the 'coming to a provisional decision
> based upon evidence put forward as the result of previous provisional
> decisions'...Object? same thing... an object (or referent) holds its
> position not only within a sign structure but also because of previously
> constructed interpretants, etc....

Rather than infinitely reducible, seen through various scales.
When I joined this list a few years ago, I remember we were discussing
exactly this idea of minimal units of semiosis (remember "visemes"?) And
if my memory does not betray me, I remember there was consensus on: either
it is an irrelevant question, or there is no minimal unit.

What you propose later is much better: a dynamic, processual model.
> If this is so, we have a couple of different ways to view signs. One is to
> think of the process as a flow structure of some kind in which perhaps the
> various 'parts' do considerable more blending than has been the case in
> traditional semiotic analysis. Just what such a model might look like I'm
> not sure. What tools of analysis it might provide are just as
> questionable...yet it seems a worthy thing to ponder.

Absolutely. Probably an organic, perhaps even fractal model rather than a
mechanic. modular one. I've been looking at this possibility lately myself.

> The other approach - and the one that I have played around with a bit - is
> looking at the recursive nature of the parts (while allowing the
> particulate nature to remain). This approach seems promising to me because
> recursive yet discrete particulate systems can describe flow-type dynamics
> while still remaining accessible to language. Think of pouring sand down a
> hill: we need a way of touching upon the flowing nature of the sand as well
> as the individual grains.
You see? This is what I mean. You're talking of turbulence and chaos.
Remember the fractal shore of the computer generated coastline of
Mandelbrot's "How Long is the Coast of Britain?"

> When we discuss the parts, we will be discussing loer-level wholes. The
> whole thing begins to look like a nest or Russian toy dolls. We must frame
> our analyses precisely: specifying what level we're regarding at every
> stage.
The matriushkas are fractals. And I agree; here again these "levels" you
mention are scales.

> That, I suspect, will be as much a trick as taming the current
> terminological brambles.

As a late homage to Kuhn who died today, it is quite clear we must work
within paradigms science is offering, quantum or chaos, even if only at a
metaphorical level.


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