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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 36, Issue 1/2, 2020
Sebeok Fellows Issue: Vincent Colapietro and Nathan Houser

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Displaying: 1-7 of 7 documents

1. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Jamin Pelkey Sebeok Fellows Issue: Vincent Colapietro and Nathan Houser
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vincent colapietro: tenth ssa sebeok fellow
2. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Vincent Colapietro The Music of Meaning
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This paper begins as a methodological musement inspired by a suggestion made by C. S. Peirce to William James (1905: CP 8.263). It takes his intellectual life as a complex affair displaying a creative tension between what, on the surface, appear to be exclusive impulses. On the one hand, there is the drive to attain the highest level of conceptual clarity humanly possible. This is of course evident in his pragmatism. On the other, there is his seeming dalliance with concepts so vague as to be possibly not concepts at all (arguably only “tones or tints upon conceptions” [Peirce 1901: CP 1.353]). His lifelong devotion to articulating a categoreal scheme is the most telling example of this intellectual propensity. In this paper, following Peirce’s example with respect to his interest in his categories, then, the author gives himself over to the intimations of intelligibility conveyed by the expression “the music of meaning”. From this musing, he then claims more solid ground by offering an explication of Peirce’s theory of interpretants as the place where that theorist’s account of meaning is to be found. Ultimately, he tries to draw together what has emerged, first, in his methodological musement and, then, in subsequent discussions—his three main topics: music, that mysterious form of time; time, that mysterious form of Being; and meaning.
3. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Vincent Colapietro Theoretical Riffs on the Blues
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After disambiguating the word, the author explores the blues primarily not as a genre of music but as a sensibility or orientation toward the world. In doing so, he is taking seriously suggestions made by a host of writers, most notably, Ralph Waldo Ellison, Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, and Cornel West. As such, the focus is on the blues as an extended family of somatic practices bearing upon expression (or articulation). At the center of these practices, there is in the blues (to modify Foucault’s words) always the patient yet exuberant work of giving articulate form to our impatience for human freedom. But here the distinction between practices of emancipation, by which a people throws off their political domination, and practices of freedom, by which they tirelessly work to make their freed self truly their own, is crucial. In this, the author is guided by an insight provided by Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (1987: 95). As “an art of ambiguity”, the blues turns out to be also an art of ambivalence: the task of claiming ownership of one’s freed self is one demanding, not only learning to live with irreducible ambiguity but also working toward “an achievement of ambivalence”.
4. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Vincent Colapietro Gestures of Acknowledgment: Failures, Refusals, and Affirmations
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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.
nathan houser: eleventh ssa sebeok fellow
5. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Nathan Houser Thinking at the Edges
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The field of semiotic studies requires borders to function as a discipline but as a living science it is essential that those borders be unheeded. When Charles Peirce opened the modern field of semiotic studies he understood that he was an intellectual pioneer preparing the way for future semioticians. Peirce’s decision to equate semiotics with logic would likely seem bizarre to most professional logicians today yet his decision followed naturally from his view that all mental operations are sign actions and that semiosis is inferential. Peirce’s life-long study of sign types eventually led to a detailed, though provisional, classification of sixty-six distinct varieties of semiosis, many of which generate emotions or reactions rather than thoughts. Only twenty-one classes of signs yield interpretants that carry truth values or purport to be truth-preserving; the sign actions associated with these signs constitute the sphere of intellectual semiosis. The remaining forty-five non-intellectual sign classes drive perception and dominate the often unconscious mental operations that support and enrich day-to-day life. But this is also the realm of semiosis where memes flourish, where emoji function, and where propaganda first strikes a chord. This is the semiotic sphere where communal feeling can be engendered, but it is also the sphere of mob psychology. We are in troubled times during which signs are being used strategically to create dissension and social unrest and to generate disrespect for the very institutions that maintain the intelligence and practices that are fundamental for the survival of our way of life. It is time for semioticians to join forces against the weaponization of signs and I believe an investigation of the more primitive non-intellectual sign classes that Peirce identified will help lay the groundwork for the coming battle.
6. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Nathan Houser Peirce on Practical Reasoning
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It is generally agreed that what distinguishes practical reasoning from more thoughtful reasoning is that practical reasoning properly results in action rather than in conceptual conclusions. There is much disagreement, however, about how appropriate actions follow from practical reasoning and it is commonly supposed that the connection between reasoning and action can neither be truly inferential nor strictly causal. Peirce appears to challenge this common assumption. Although he would agree that conscious and deliberate argumentation results in conceptual conclusions (mental states) rather than directly in practical action, his extended semiotic account of mental activity allows for unconscious (instinctive or habitual) cognitive processing which, though inferential, genuinely concludes in action rather than in conceptual states (logical interpretants). Peirce acknowledges that for practical reasoning to properly conclude in action it is necessary for final (semiotic) causation to operate in conjunction with efficient causation, although how this can be explained remains problematic. Still, his account is rich and promising and has much to contribute to contemporary research on practical reasoning.
7. The American Journal of Semiotics: Volume > 36 > Issue: 1/2
Nathan Houser Semiotics and Philosophy
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Semiotics has not been warmly welcomed as an area of research concentration within philosophy, especially not within philosophy in the English empirical tradition. But when we consider that much of the focus of semiotic research is signification, reference, and representation, it seems evident that semiotic questions are as old as reflective thought itself. A look at how these questions have been treated throughout the history of philosophy suggests that Umberto Eco was right in claiming that most major philosophers have grappled with sign theory, if only implicitly. The theory of signs was an active area of research during the Middle Ages and John Locke opened the Modern Age with the recommendation that semiotics should be cultivated. But the philosophers of Modernity embraced a Cartesian separation between mind and body unsupportive of a robust science of signs. When semiotics emerged as a discrete field of research in the writings of Charles S. Peirce and in the semiology of Ferdinand de Saussure, it remained on the fringes of philosophy. Around mid-20th century there was a resurgence of interest in semiotics and a promising attempt was made to merge American pragmatism and semiotics with the logical empiricism of the Vienna Circle. But that effort failed and semiotics was excluded from mainstream philosophy. There is now reason to suppose that philosophy, no longer under the domination of analytic philosophy, may be moving into a new period when a weakening commitment to epistemological nominalism will make room for a return to semiotic realism. Perhaps the time is right to follow Locke’s lead and to reconcile formal semiotics with philosophy—possibly heralding a new paradigm.