The Paradox of Semiotics

Begins: Writing 12:35 pm (Reading and Analysis begins: 10am)

Eco aims to demonstrate in his Theory of Semiotics that there are different types of signs with different internal structures and their relation to their content are different to verbal signs.  His theory of sign production can define all types of signs.  “The conclusion to be drawn from this exploration will be that without doubt verbal language is the most powerful semiotic device that man has invented; but that nevertheless other devices exist, covering portions of a general semantic space that verbal language does not.” (p 174)

Beings use not just words but gestures, objects, and other semiotic devices to communicate.  If we only used words, it would be impossible to mention things.  Exploration and distinguishing non-verbal signs will assist with a theory of reference that goes beyond verbal language, which has for a long time been considered “the privileged vehicle for thought alone”. (p174)

Classifications of types of signs were put forward as the philosophy of language developed that were based on linguistics, speculative grammar, semiotics etc  Channels were one of the methods of distinction used/and still in use.   Eco refers to Sebeok’s classification of channels into matter and energy.   Although not entirely relevant to his theory, Eco points to the usefulness of Sebeok’s classification in its ability to isolate important semiotic problems.   How for instance, can music composed by Beethoven and poetry produced by Dante be considered under the same heading?  The answer lies in the parameters in which the headings are contained.  For example:

  1. Timbre and Pitch = Sound parameters that permit reference to music and poetry.
  2. Space and Colour = Visual parameters that permit reference to both complex paintings as well as road signals.
  3. Thermal and Pressure = Tactile parameters
  4. Positional or Kinesic =  Gestural parameters for signs channeled through solid matter.

The problem with this method of classification is that it is a binary one, which has evolved, or solely based on, the linguistic model.  This has limited our understanding of distinctions of other types of signs, such as those governed by our olfactory, which are based on chemical features.

Eco reminds us on p 176 that “semiotics has a long way to go to solve these problems.”  Although these problems cannot be mapped entirely, their outlines, he claims, can at least be traced.  Binarism is an ’embarassing dogma’ that ignores the subdivision within the colour system.  “A consonant is either voiced or not, but a shade of red is not opposed to its absence”.

[SS Isn’t this touching on the philosophical question about does a falling tree make a noise/sound even if there is no one to hear it?]

[OS I think what you are beginning to feel the approaching paradox of semiotics.]

The point being that “nearly all non-verbal signs usually rely on more than one parameter”. (p177)  There are a range of parameters that have to be recognised.  Through this recognition many visual phenomena can be viewed as coded signs.  The alternative [OS: here is the paradox] is that “…semiotics would be obliged to distinguish between signs which are signs (because their parameters correspond to those of verbal signs, or can be metaphorically viewed as analogous to them) and signs which are not signs at all”.

[SS Ok, so how do we, how does he, work his way out of the paradox?  It feels like Eco keeps getting stuck and moves in endless circles that come back to some problem that he can’t quite resolve.  I feel like my stomach is churning in ever bigger circles with life problems that I can’t quite resolve!]

Ends 1:16pm

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.