Introductory Editorial: Semiotics and Political Discourse





Welcome to the twenty-fifth installment of the first online literary journal in the world, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée. We are particularly pleased to bring you an issue devoted to political discourse, as we have long felt that within this domain one can find answers to a number of the key difficulties our discipline faces. One could briefly summarize a few of these in the following terms: Does it really matter how a sign came to denote its referent? Is it not more important how the sign is used, which social or pragmatic states of affairs bring about its use, how is it received, and what intensional (ideological) associations does a listener make with the sign in such contexts?

Indeed, Peircean semiotics is useful if one wishes to know whether a sign represents its referent(s) because a) it looks like it; b) it points at it; or c) it used to look like it or point at it. This sub-discipline is replete with confrontations between binaries (thesis and antithesis) and, of course, clever thirds, the syntheses. Hegel would be delighted if he was still around. Yet it goes into so much arcane logical and meta-logical axiomatization that one wonders if it is good for anything beyond theorizing about the ontogenesis of signs in principle.

What of their use in life experience? We hope that the progress we are seeing in recent years towards methodologies capable of peircing the anthropomorphic veil and exploring the mythological significance of signs is indeed real. In Redefining Literary Semiotics, Johansen (2010: 23) suggests we need not search for the Holy Grail of a unified semiotics theory, that several methodologies may be used side by side like so many tools in a carpenter's box: "Indeed, it may be asked whether complex phenomena, such as [...] literary texts, can be adequately by means of only one single approach, or whether eclecticism, in one guise or another, is called for?" We remain unconvinced of the applicability of Peircean methodologies outside of the study of Peirce's corpus. Incidentally, while it looks rather complex, Johansen's Semiotic Pyramid (op. cit., p. 22) appears to be sufficiently complete to serve as a watermark for descriptive semiotic methods as they apply to actual literary, or even political, texts: for surely the dimensions of sincerity, truth and falsehood must be present in any model if it is to be adequate for the area this issue addresses.

And we are delighted to begin with an excellent Lacanian examination by Professor Bernard LAMIZET of the Institut d'Études Politiques de Lyon. From the outset, one can see the fit between the methodology and the subject matter; he begins in this way: "Enunciation articulates three instances, the real, the symbolic and the imaginary." His article then goes on to explore the relationships between those who wield power and those who are subject to it, in terms of their identities. His corpus is a speech by France's president Sarkozy.

The second article, by Peeter Selg, proposes a model of democracy itself based on Jakobson's well known functions of communication, on the one hand, and on the other, and the "Essex school's" theory of hegemony, on the other. This article is followed by a fascinating piece by Turkish professor Zeynep Cihan KOCA HELVACI: an objective examination of something that leaves none of us cold: Tsahal's bloody raid on the so-called Gaza Flotilla which set out from Turkey just a few months ago. The findings are interesting, to say the least.

The fourth investigation we feature this issue is a fine piece by Ana SILVA, of Buenos Aires, who examines the visual aspects of political posters in Argentina over the last few years. Finally, we have a fine article by Andreas VENTSEL of Tartu, who like the first article approaches political semiotics in terms of identity; here, the author examines the construction of the concept of the Soviet People in minority Estonia during the cold war. We hope you enjoy and continue to read our review, AS/SA.

PM, Sept. 2010
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AS/SA No 25, Introductory Editorial


© 2010, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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2010.09.03