Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Semiotics: Irreducible to an Ideology

[Logical positivism, Russell's "Theory of Descriptions," Behaviorism]: these "methods" did not merely implement a point of view, but paraded the point of view itself in the guise of a method, thereby objectifying the sign processes on which they relied in such a way as to make it appear, or at least enable one to pretend, that no other point of view on the objects considered could have legitimacy.

I distinguish then, first of all, a point of view from a method, and I want to say that semiotics, like logical positivism or behaviorism, is a point of view rather than a method. But, at the same time, unlike positivism or behaviorism, semiotics in its doctrinal foundation is not an ideological standpoint that can be disguised as a method of inquiry while in reality closing inquiry down. [...]

To be ideological and to be historically conditioned, therefore, are not necessarily the same. The latter is true of every attempt at inquiry, including semiotics. The former is true of semiotics only to the extent that and whenever the perspective proper to the sign is traded for something else in the subjectivity of the inquirer. But then this trade will inevitably reveal itself objectively in the public deployment of consequent sign-systems (for example, in the speech or writing of the inquirer), where it will become visible to others in the community of inquirers and subject to criticism with appropriate revision or rejection.

Thus, even the "method of verification", like the "method of dialectics", had need of some signs in order to deny other signs. Its illegitimacy lay not in the signs it used but in the signs it refused, to wit, the signs that would have carried the discourse beyond the arbitrarily stipulated boundaries and were covertly relied upon in order to assert the illegitimate boundaries in the first place.

What, then, are we to say the semiotic point of view is? And how is it that this point of view, unlike others, cannot properly be reduced to or converted into an ideology? To answer the questions in order: The semiotic point of view is the perspective that results from the sustained attempt to live reflectively with and follow out the consequences of one simple realization: the whole of our experience, from its most primitive origins in sensation to its most refined achievements of understanding, is a network or web of sign relations. This point of view cannot be reduced to an ideology without losing what is proper to it for the reason that its boundaries are those of the understanding itself in its activity of interpreting dependently upon the cognate interpretations of perception and sensation.


Source: John Deely, Basics of Semiotics (Tartu, Estonia: Tartu University Press, 2009), 15-16.

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