Some might think borrowing the title of this issue of Applied Semiotics/
Sémiotique appliquée from Roland Barthes reveals a rather chimerical
aspiration, or a nostalgic regard over the shoulder. Nor do we hope to invite comparison
between ourselves, your humble editors, and that twentieth-century
great, whose influence on posterity may yet surpass that we feel today. Indeed the very act
of turning once again toward this subject probably signifies a hope that we can, in so doing,
apprehend in it a posture rather than a mere content. Semiotics according to Barthes, at a time
when war was coldly consuming humanity, was very much a re-examination and a critique of common
sense, of arguments appealing to the obvious, of right thinking, and of the sublest and deepest
forms of what today we call "political correctness" of myth in all its most debased and
mundane forms. A coup de force in his time. And as his position remained peripheral, even
marginal, with respect to contemporary sciences, this always allowed him to constantly renew,
with brio and sometimes even vehemently, his cause celebre of questioning what meaning was, as it revealed itself in
the ordinary lives of men and women. The rationale behind our latest issue's title now justified,
the posture we have thereby evoked suggests, further, that the privileged position semiotics
enjoys, the position that enables it to fathom the mythical dimensions of a society, perhaps even with
the ambition of achieving for communication what Bourdieu did for social analysis, must not
continue to be passed over. In fact it should be explored, today more than ever.
So, if Galileo looked to the planets, may we not do the
same, after his example, in reverence, rather than imitation? May we not now seek, with ever increasing technology and magnification power, celestial bodies he would have been unable to detect in his time, due to their further distance from us or their being masked behind nebulae? Certainly no one will ask today's researchers to retract their findings on pain of death.
Welcome therefore, faithful reader, to the thirteenth instalment of our
We are happy to observe that our fine contributors seem of late to have ascertained
that there is a series of goals associated with our project, or several; and, accordingly,
that they are doing more and more of the kind of semiotics we have long hoped to support;
which is to say, research that is not only applied, but which dares to address, rather
than avoid, the anthropological aspects of communication.
This is where we tend to differ from the point of view adopted by many of
our contemporaries, who readily (perhaps even hastily) embrace abstract
logical models, even the most complete, such as those of Peirce. What we mean by this is that
much of semiotics research over the past few decades has in effect merely translated a
form of “logic” into semiotical jargon, without necessarily studying communication.
To us, approaches such as these contain a large proportion of mere denotational logic,
translated into terms that reveal a communicational focus or intent, but without
piercing into the communicative depths of its subject matter. In fact, it often seems
to bypass communication altogether, instead examining things, especially things that
are obviously the aftermath of some event. To such researchers, identifying the
significance of signs is something like determining what happened immediately before
the “sign” was left behind.
Indeed, one can confidently assert that some semioticians would consider animal
droppings by the side of the road to be a “sign.” It is, nonetheless, still also crap.
We much prefer defining the gross and scope of semiotics along lines
similar to Umberto Eco’s concept of the semiotic threshold: this may seem old-fashioned, and even Eco seems no longer to champion that particular point of view, but isn’t Georges Kalinowski quite right when he says that semiotics was at its most sophisticated, in certain ways, during the Middle Ages?
AS/SA nº 13,
The range of semiotics is very well expressed in Eco’s (early) thought, which describes precisely what we consider
its main concern: sentient, deliberate communication. Footprints on pathways might best be considered of interest to the detective, the police inspector, the litigator, and the suspect, not necessarily semioticians; and surely the droppings of passing animals are of precious interest only to the zoologist and the hunter this goes without saying, doesn't it? Sense, and signs, seem seldom to go hand in hand.
We are therefore pleased that our latest issue is largely focused on our favourite area
within semiotics: the collective imagination, viz. Culture, which constitutes the
true realm of communication. For unlike the Animal Kingdom’s lesser species, whose faculty
of perception might be described as apprehending only factual states of affairs, and in
a very limited manner at that (apprehension there having no end other than itself), do we not truly “connect the dots” in a highly creative,
subjective and imaginative way, giving social significance, giving mythical significance,
to every thing we touch? Isn’t it true that we are almost unable to speak of things
without including an expressed judgment, opinion or value connotation? We believe not
only that it is, but that this constitutes the very interest of semiotics.
We would go so far as to define the contents of the collective imagination
within a culture as its mythical truth, a category that opposes neither factual nor
logical truth, but which complements them (along with “phenomenological truth” –
cf. Peter Marteinson's online doctoral thesis,
une semiotique du comique, pp 289-295).
And so we bring you an excellent selection of research articles devoted
to the exploration of the mythical referents in purposeful human communication, and
their relationship to the more mundane denotational aspects of our subject matter.
So enjoy, esteemed reader, once again, and feel free to write to us with
your comments, which we always enjoy reading.
Peter Marteinson and Pascal Michelucci
February, March 2003