Volume 34, Issue 2, 2006
Between Semiotics and Anthropology
De la sémiotique de la représentation théâtrale à l’anthropologie culturelle
Pourquoi le théâtre (résiste)? — From the semiotics of theatrical representation to cultural anthropology or why theater (resists)?
From the semiotics of theatrical representation to cultural anthropology or why theater (resists)? In this paper I propose an epistemological approach to the field of theatre semiotics from the beginning of the 20th century to our days. Firstly, I point out two different periods that have influenced theatre semiotics. The first one centres on reflections and studies by the Prague School of Structuralism. More precisely, I address Jan Mukařovsky’s essays about art and society as well as Jindrich Honzl’s contributions to the study of sign and system in theatre. The second period presented here is that of theatre semiotics in the early 70s and late 80s in France.
My goal here is to expose the main reasons that led theatre semiotics to a deadlock in the early 90s. Theatre semiotic research has been rich and fruitful in the beginning of last century. However, in our days it is generally deemed unadvisable to describe theatre representation in terms of sign and system.
Although theatre semiotics used to be presented in French university classes, it is no longer possible to do so.
Even though general semiotics has progressed by denying the importance of structure and by refusing to search for the minimal sign and its code, theatre semiotics has remained faithful to old communicational semiotics research.
Throughout my contribution, I would like to examine the kind of semiotic field best fit to approaching an artistic domain such as theatre. In other words, I would like to show that Western theatre, granted it can be seen as a semiotic object, is first and foremost an artistic and cultural one.
In order to do so, I propose a theoretical and methodological framework based on a specific semiotic model: the “indicial semiology” proposed by Anne-Marie Houdebine. Inspired by Juri Lotman’s essays about culture and art, I will try to set “indicial semiology” in the general field of a cultural anthropology.