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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 30, Issue 1/2, 2014

Peirce and the Cenoscopic Science of Signs

Gilad Elbom
Pages 53-81

Glossematic Narratives; Or, Superfluous Information of Little Consequence
A Semiotic Approach to Literary Uselessness

Often addressed in paradoxical terms—innovative but incomprehensible, logical but impractical, impressive but obscure—glossematics, “a science of theoretical possibilities and not of manifest realities” (Trabant 1987: 96), proves particularly useful when applied to literary texts. This study offers a brief outline of glossematic principles, followed by specific cases that examine works of literature—metafiction, murder mysteries, doppelganger narratives, novels within novels, and biblical literature—as self-referential systems of “interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others” (Saussure 1916: 114). Special attention is paid to the recombinant nature of paradigmatic and syntagmatic dimensions, transcendent and immanent approaches to the text, and the tension between form and substance. Rejecting the notion of mimetic art, a glossematic approach based on the treatment of literary narratives as autonomous networks of intersecting functions has the capacity to register the complexity of the text with a high level of precision.

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