The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 26, Issue 1/4, 2010

Jeff Bernard Memorial Issue

Paul Cobley
Pages 3-15

Motivation and Interest

In place of an abstract. Jeff Bernard was not afraid of complexity. The last essay of his that I read and published was ‘10 theses on perception in terms of work. A Rossi-Landian/Wittgensteinian point of view’, a title which promised thinking of some considerable sophistication — and delivered with dividends. It was accompanied by a figure in a pdf file that my co-editor and me struggled to understand until well after a few readings and close re-readings of the essay. Away from strictly intellectual ruminations, Jeff devoted considerable time to pondering human relations. Fuelled by cigarettes and alcohol, with me opting solely for the latter, he would regale friends late into the night with stories of communication and miscommunication, understandings and misunderstandings, feuds and reconciliations, cultural differences and affinities, conflicts and alliances, among the large number of members of our semiotic web. As far as I remember, these stories were always furnished with Jeff’s wry smirk, a communication acting to distance him from the sometimes unregistered pettiness of the protagonists’ doings and a self-extrication from the malice that their demands and arguments might have invited. Jeff always did his best; he often poured oil on troubled waters. I do not believe he ever let anyone down. He evinced a particular ability in observing and recognizing the interests and motivation of others — simple issues, but requiring an analytic and sympatico mind. He kept his head while others lost theirs. He sometimes put their heads back on for them. Hence this short essay in the complex field of Jeff’s beloved sociosemiotics, dealing with the two apparently ‘uncomplex’ issues of my title, issues that are always close at hand. This essay is an attempt to ensure that he, likewise, is never far away.