Self-focusing ambiguities

Begins 6:49pm

Aesthetic texts are ambiguous and self-focusing. (Eco p 262)  Ambiguity is defined semiotically “as a mode of violating the rules of the code.” (p 262).  Although this disruption of the codes may produce anything from nonsensical texts to stylistic ones, ambiguity is an important device because it “focuses attention” and “urges” an interpretive effort. (p 263)

The sentence /colorless green ideas sleep furiously/ produces an instant shock as it because it breaks the rules, but that  “forces the hearer to reconsider the entire organization of the content”. (p 263)

Russian Formalists such as Šklovskij (1917) and Elrich (1954) characterized aesthetic texts as ‘”device of making it strange.” (Eco p 264)  The way the expression is organized can change the content.  We experience bewilderment and our judgement of a text’s meaning is challenged.  This violation of the norm both on the expression and content plane, and their correlational relationship, produces a self-focusing shape – a form that we have to pay particular and focused attention to. (p 264)

[OS Eco seems to violate a lot of the normal rules in his text.  Is his text complex because of the content, or does the complexity arise out of his expressive devices?  I read The Name of the Rose, another text of his.  When honestly confessing my difficulty reading and interpreting it, Carin Krahtz, a literary friend, said Eco wrote it so there would be no real meaning or resolution to the plot. These were not her exact words, but the gist is there.  Eco himself chose the title seemingly because a rose is so imbued with meaning that there is no meaning left.  I think Eco’s circular-never-concluding texts and theories are an insight into his philosophy.  I think it might be different to mine.]

[SS Maybe it is no coincidence that the next point in Eco’s theoretical agenda is 3.7.3 The manipulation of the continuum.  (p 264) Remember I have felt from the start that he is messing with our heads.  I know that doesn’t sound very professional or smart.  But it is what it is.  Just like art is art.]

Apart from the self-focusing ambiguity of aesthetic texts and the labour involved in their production and interpretation, there is more happening at the lower levels of the expression plane. (p 264)  Eco considers it important to provide a semiotic explanation to the qualities of an aesthetic sign vehicle.

/I like Ike/ was a famous political slogan during Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 US Presidential campaign.  The slogan revealed in a study by Jacobson (cited in Eco p 265) that apart from the everyday linguistic understanding that Ike is liked, there is also another quality to the sentence that “falls very easily upon the tongue”. (p 265) The phonic quality grabs our attention.

Similarly some architectural experiences absorb us taking us ‘time to comprehend’ it, as in the ‘shifting angles’ imposed on us by a direct viewing of a Renaissance place with ‘an ashlar-work facade’. (p 265)  Both these examples above show how aesthetics “becomes the philosophy of the unspeakable” and how it concerns itself with both hypersystems and hypostructures. (p 265)

All features of aesthetic texts, Eco argues, are semiotically relevant.  Whereas the physical aspects of a signal becomes “the matter of the sign-vehicle”, the matter of the sign vehicle in an aesthetic text “becomes an aspect of the expression-form”. (p 266)  For example, the significance of a red flag at a rally can be manipulated and grasped at an expression level without any relevance given, or needed, to the quality of its material or color.  Inserted into a text, however, the chromatic quality of the flag becomes an important aspect of signification.

In many instances the materials of aesthetic works of art are “charged with cultural signification”. (p 267)  There is a threshold to the signification, however, that may be exceeded by emotional and perceptive effects.  But the ‘material’ of art has empirical limits. (p 267)  Beyond this threshold and limits, “art seems to stimulate reactions but not to communicate contents”. (p 267)  Which may explain the common notion that there is more to art than language and further confirms the philosophical notion of the unspeakability of art.

But, Eco reminds us, semiotics can give voice to the unspeakable in aesthetic texts.  Increasingly studies by Birkhoff, Bense, Moles and others show how these phenomena can be analyzed on a micro structural level through advances in information theory and techniques: scanning and plotting devices, oscillographs, detailed sound recordings.  A range of semiotic disciplines now able to analyze what Stankiewicz (1964) calls ‘lower levels of communication’. (cited in Eco p 268)

[SS I wonder are my lower levels of communication within range?]

Ends 7:59 [wait] 8pm [on the dot!]


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