Impermeability of Art

Begins: 3:03pm

In the last line of the last section on page 270 of Eco’s A Theory of Semiotics, he states that a work of art is “radically impermeable to all semiotic approach”. (p 270) But then opens the next section, 3.7.6 titled Aesthetic Idiolect that “it is not as radically impermeable as might seem to be the case”. (p 271)

[SS Upside down.  Inside out.  Back on Eco’s roundabout.]

Eco establishes a semiotic test, which concludes that if a ‘contextual element’ of a work of art is changed, then it loses its balance.  If there is ‘contextual solidarity’, which he believes there is, then there must be a ‘systematic rule’. (p 271)

Art, Eco claims, has the same structure as ‘langue’ it just cunningly masks its semiosis.  Art is a way of interconnecting many messages to produce a text, which has similar rules to other sign-functions.  But because of its ‘deviational matrix’, Eco elevates the status of aesthetic art to the status of “super sign-function”. (p 271)

Art although organised ambiguously, is not a random structure but rather follows a ‘precise design’. (p 271)  It’s the ambiguous arrangement that pulls the art into a self-focusing shape that uncovers a different structural form causing a rearrangement of the codes.  In this way art opens “new coding possibilities”. (p 272)  These aesthetic code is not open to all society just a small ‘semiotic enclave’.  This restricted understanding is called an idolect. (p 272)

When one individual can apply the idiolect to many of his/her individual works then it becomes recognised as the artist’s personal style. If that ‘style’ then becomes accepted in a wider community it becomes a ‘movement-idiolect‘ or a ‘period-idiolect‘.  If it produces new norms accepted by an entire society then the “idiolect may act as a meta-semiotic judgement changing common codes”. (p 272)

Eco points to the way James Joyce’s idiolect so pervasive that certain pun-techniques in everyday use are now referred to as ‘joycing’, or manners of speaking referred to as ‘Finneganian’. (p 272)

[OS Eco uses only the last name to refer to Joyce, unlike our full reference.  I think that is another subtle example of how widespread James Joyce’s reach is.]

But Eco points out detecting aesthetic idiolects is not easy.

[SS When is it ever easy?]

[OS I detect a certain leaning toward the belief that this/it/life is hard?]

[SS I am supposed to be the one-sided, uncensored one. I don’t think. I feel.  And yes, today I don’t feel that things across all aspects of life are easy.  In fact, I feel cross and angry.]

[OS That’s ok.  Let’s take a break and think about this later.]

[SS A break won’t change the feelings.]

[OS True.  But a walk might help cope with them.]

Ends 3:33pm

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