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The American Journal of Semiotics

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published on November 24, 2016

Christopher S. Morrissey
DOI: 10.5840/ajs2016112315

Analogy and the Semiotic Animal
Reading Marshall McLuhan with John Deely

Thanks to a helpful tetradic diagram found in the expanded fifth edition of John Deely’s Basics of Semiotics, in which the context and circumstances of a sign’s utterance (in addition to the sign-vehicle itself and the immediate object of the sign) is distinguished from all that is explicit in the sign itself apart from the context and circumstances of its utterance, it is possible to bring Deely’s insights to bear upon the semiotically suggestive work of Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan’s implicitly semiotic understanding of analogy is structurally present in his efforts to visually articulate the “laws of media” with his own “tetrad” diagrams. Deely’s discussion of the irreducible triadicity of signs therefore illuminates McLuhan’s attempt to understand how analogical thought actually works on the most fundamental structural level in the cognition of the semiotic animal. There is a unique cognitive syntax to analogy, which is operative in the animal that Deely has most appropriately identified as “the semiotic animal”. This article discusses McLuhan’s understanding of analogy in terms of its figure/ground structure, by using the example of the thermometer from Deely’s Basics of Semiotics. In relating this example to McLuhan’s tetrad, it is shown how McLuhan’s implicitly semiotic analysis can also increase our semiotic understanding of other technological tools, such as Skype videoconferencing.

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