Thursday, May 31, 2007

Semiotics 1

To say that a signifier is arbitrary implies that its context is arbitrary. Yet if the context is arbitrary it is difficult to see how it could have a consistent meaning to an individual, particularly if the individual has an awareness of the context, as presumably is intended by “Saussure’s dismantling of signs” (Wikipedia, “Semiotics”). If there is no consistent meaning of the sign, it is difficult to see how it might be considered a sign at all, since to define any given sign presupposes such a context.

The idea that signs are arbitrary amounts to the assumption that meaning is arbitrary. The way I see it, this is a naïve reflection of the unfounded conviction that the relationships between signs is not hierarchical within a given system of interpretation. To assume that the relationships are not hierarchical really only means that the system adopted in interpreting signs is flimsy and lacks rigor.

Considering the role signs play in the human landscape, it is reproachable to assume that the relationships between signs are arbitrary, if they figure so strongly in determining meaning for individuals. It is like saying that signs are arbitrary because people don’t care about them, or don’t think. Yet if signs are visually consistent for large populations, it is because they have value whether or not people think much of them. To me this indicates that they have been well considered by those to whom they have meaning.

Charles S. Pierce—system encumbered by technical language. It seems inadequate to approach meaning from an academic viewpoint, if it is ultimately the “reader” and “viewer” who experiences signs. Thus to define a signifier as a sign is in my view to move through notions of the signifier as reader. To categorize signs may not be adequate in categorizing the experience of signs.

For information on Pierce, see:

Approaching the notion of formal significance is necessarily to approach the notion of formal experience. In this sense it is less important to “cogitate” the datum of signs, than to culture an awareness of the aesthetic of signs, especially as a system evokative of qualities running a spectrum from the merely provokative to the metaphysical and genuine (the evokative and metaphysical being two extremes which complement one another insofar as either is realized).

It is more meaningful to build a “black book” of meanings than to decipher meanings that have already been made. Sometimes analysis of signs is a step away from using them; by becoming conscious of associations it may be possible to develop a stronger system of associations, but more often than not a system is a simplification. Understanding signs is necessarily to use them. To know is to be, for every why there is a better how, the artist is one who paints.

It is my view that as with music, the greatest theory follows the greatest realization of form. Ideally, the theorist created the form. Thus exploring the theory is inhabiting every corner; to know language is to be a poet, to know graphics is to be an artist, to know systems is to be a philosopher. To not fear the exploration is to uncover nothing new.

The writer looks at the page, and blanches, and becomes the page. The artist’s inspiration takes the trundling, headlong form of life impinging on the unknown. The philosopher finds a system like an abandoned house he retrofits to his own taste. Every exploration is uncertain, yet the result is a new landscape, pushing towards new imprecations and hesitations. What is a special installation to one may become someone else’s new retrofitted house.

Yet I am not a subjectivist. The meaning for any given things comes about through reference to the universal. If there is a failure in specific situations or formulations, it is for lack of embodiment of a greater truth; i.e. the absolute and correlatory, that without which there is no being or relationship.

Concerning x-partate sign relations:

Considering the idea of the sign, the object the sign represents, and the interpreter of the sign it seems to me that a metaphorical and iterative approach would more adequately phrase the interpretive method. To recognize a sign involves a kind of “identifying”, a relation between self and other through the association of identity with identity. While the symbol, and by extension the object it may represent has a fixed identity conceived as an unchanging category, the interpreter has a mutable identity defined in the context of fixed symbols. Thus to identify with one symbol at a given time is metaphorically to take on that identity, to change form. Through the significance of that identity, one defines what one can become, a path of signification. This necessarily leads towards a transformation into another sign, which lends its own properties as alternate crossroads towards still further meanings. Thus while the symbol represents certain potentials and relationships, the interpreter of the symbol has a dynamic role in determining, or disambiguating, the path that is of greatest significance (or most pragmatic or utilitarian etc., if the pragmatic or utilitarian is seen as the highest significance).

What I see in this sense of a tri-partite relation is the many levels which spiral away from the initial concept of the signified and interpreter. For every new transformation from one symbol to the next, the identity of the interpreter has a “meta value” that is incremented to a new concept of self. Likewise, the most significant signifier is incremented to a new “meta value” which may reflect prior tranformations. Finally, whether the interpreter’s sense of meaning is changeable or fixed depends on whether the meta value has reached a stage where it has changed, and if so if it has reached a stage where it returns. Thus there is a kind of “Unity” value which increments based upon the breadth of the interpreter’s associative world. To have an infinite Unity value would be like being omniscient.

A new term:

“relative equilibrium”: the way a definition within one system is analogous to another definition within another equivalent system. The pragmatic value of a system may be conceived as proportional to the extent of its relative equilibrium. Essentially, the value of the system is to provide signs which are universally applicable within the known limits of the broader notion of system. A metaphysical system is one in which signs are extended beyond the known concept of system (signs conceived broadly may include categorical maxims, which possess an identity equivalent to symbolism within their context).

The preceding is copyright (c) 2007 Eucaleh Terrapin

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