The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 26, Issue 1/4, 2010

Jeff Bernard Memorial Issue

Georg Schmid
Pages 93-110

Crisis, Crash, Catastrophe
The Storytelling of Disaster and Its Signs

“Hallo, hier ist Jeff ” / “Hello, this is Jeff ” — the typical words, distinctively articulated, the hint of a question mark, when Jeff called you, usually with a splendid idea for a “nice little symposium”, some conference, an invitation to give a lecture, to participate in a colloquium, to contribute an article. During the decades I have known him, never once has there been less than complete commitment to semiotics, an ongoing fascination that never slackened, paired with an outlook, principally in regard to politics, going far beyond the confines of a scholarly field. It was an inclusive vision of the world that was typical of him, albeit a Weltanschauung guided by unequivocal conceptions and based on ample reflection. Even so, Jeff had no misgivings about assumptions divergent from his own although these were deeply held: rather, that plurality seemed to energize him even more, and the resulting expression of his views would, as a rule, get highly animated and intense. His engagement had to be strong: semiotics has hardly ever been a popular discipline (discounting a brief voguish celebrity in France, chiefly caused by a deficient and reductive reception of Barthes). Indeed semiotics was (and still is) widely considered to be a pretentious undesirability, maybe particularly in Jeff’s native Austria (where he organized all the same a very substantial number of subsidized colloquies). It was, I think, not least the tenacity resulting from an inauspicious situation which made Jeff such a fighter. No doubt, he had to be ─ his outstanding services to semiotics in general, that’s to say in large measure on the international scene, by no means a setting mastered easily, give ample proof. And prodigal too was the incredible amount of publications to his credit, pouring forth in rapid succession, throughout the years. The loss we had to suffer this year will be felt for a long time; at least there are the memories of unparalleled engagement and the testimony of a stupendous oeuvre. And for some among us there are even quite private remembrances to cherish: in my case, for instance, an extended visit of Jeff’s ─ not so long ago at our place in south-western France ─ together with his companion and collaborator Gloria Withalm.