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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 28, 2000

Marcel Danesi
Pages 99-114

A note on Vico and Lotman
Semiotics as a "science of the imagination"

The Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico foreshadowed many of the ideas currently being entertained by the modem cognitive and human sciences. By emphasizing the role of the imagination in the production of meaning, Vico showed how truly ingenious the fIrst forms of representation were. His view that these forms were "poetic" is only now being given serious attention, as more and more linguists and psychologists come to realize the role of metaphor in the generation of abstract systems of representation. The Estonian semiotician Yuri Lotman espoused a basically similar view, highlighting the role of the poetic imagination in the generation of the textuality that holds cultures together in meaningful ways. A comparison of these two exceptional thinkers has never been entertained. This note aims to do exactly that. Specifically, it takes a first glimpse at the parallels of thought and method that inhere in the main works of these two ground-breaking thinkers. Such a comparison will establish a theoretical framework to make semiotics a true "science of the imagination". It will show that semiosis and representation are not tied to any innate neural mechanisms, but rather to a creative tendency in the human species to literally "invent itself'.

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