The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 37, Issue 3/4, 2021

Addressing Precarity: The New Prague School of Semiotics Visual Semiotics

Susan Petrilli, Augusto Ponzio
Pages 193-227

Precarity and Insecuritas, between Fear of the Other and Apprehension for the Other
From Semiotics to Semioethics

The sense of precarity is specifically human. It accompanies the consciousness that “what is” is in becoming and can stop being. All lifeforms live through signs, but we humans are also endowed with a capacity for metasemiosis. As semiotic animals, we have self-consciousness, feel responsibility, and feel apprehension: we are consciously aware of our subjection to precarity. G. Semerari called it insecuritas, in relation to both self and others. Fear “of the other” entails a threefold genitive: object, subject, and ethical (“for” the other) genitives. When concern for the other becomes overwhelming, the self may pass from non-indifference to indifference, an escape through identity: given competing identities, the other is not my concern. Yet the other remains inextricably involved, especially in globalization. Apprehension for the other cannot be eliminated. Semiotics explains this in terms of sign-network interconnectivity while “semioethics” develops the relations between signs and values. It insists that life can only flourish in relation to the other (including nonhuman life) and calls for responsibility.