Volume 36, Issue 1/2, 2020
Sebeok Fellows Issue: Vincent Colapietro and Nathan Houser
Gestures of Acknowledgment
Failures, Refusals, and Affirmations
Gestures are arguably the most pervasive, primordial, and generative of signs. This partly explains why the failure or refusal to gesture in certain ways, in certain circumstances, carries more weight than would seem otherwise comprehensible. Stanley Cavell attends to not only the importance of acknowledgment but also how our failures to acknowledge others amount to nothing less than an “annihilation of the other”. What account of gestures would begin to do justice to the power of such failures to wound humans so deeply? Of course, it is possible to argue that those who are wounded by such slights are hypersensitive. But, given the weight of our experience, this goes only a very short distance toward illuminating the phenomena under consideration. Drawing upon Peirce’s theory of signs, this paper offers a sketch of gestures of acknowledgment, paying close attention to why our failures or refusals to acknowledge others are so powerful.