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Thomas Sebeok “Global Semiotics”

Sebeok, Thomas A. 2001. Global Semiotics. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.


What Do We Know about Signifying Behavior in the Domestic Cat (Felis Catus)? (74-96)

[…] the triadic relationship is preserved in one’s absence: the cat’s eyes will, depending on the situation, change their expression even if you do not peceive or otherwise register the behavioral sequence. (76)

[…] the non-cat outside observer does not know the cat’s code; and even another cat shares it only to the limited extent warranted by its own semantic boundaries. (78)

„The behavior of every organism – ’behavior’ being defined as the sign trafficking among different Umwelten – has as its basic function the production of nonverbal signs for communication, and first of all for communication of that organism within itself“ (Sebeok 1992: 103). (79)

It appears from this approach that behavior is, in semiotic jargon, an indexical sign, pointing toward its interpretant, viz., another sign, which in its turn is empowered to encode effects of the environment onto its receptors into still further signs, or, in short, to attribute meaning. (80)

The salien point to bear in mind here is that both kinds of sounds, regardless of their sourcee and whether wanted (signals) or unwanted (noise), „signify“ whenever they impinge on the appropriate auditory circuit of any animal, self or other, thereupon arrogating the office of an interpretant (in Peircean phraseology), or, more accurately, a cataract of such novel signs. (85)

[…] from its ontogenetic outset, any animal must minimally classify within its inherited cognitive map classes of things to approach […], another class of things to withdraw from […], and an indefinitely vaster category of all remaining objects (0) which appear not to matter either biologically or socially – a brew of plus, minus, and zero signs adequate for survival. (89)


„Tell Me, Where Is Fancy Bred?“: The Biosemiotic Self (120-127)

[…] bodily sensations and the like, most saliently those connected with illness, are not amenable to verbal expression because they lack external referents; insistent intrusions though they may be into the routines of one’s day or night, they can at best be denominated, for they resist unfolding into narratives, which are, by definition, always verbal. (123)

Where, then, is the „semiotic self“ located? Clearly, in the organism’s milieu extérieur, on the level of an idiosyncratic phenomenal world, tantamount to Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt – a technical appellation I prefer to render as the „model“ of a species-specific segment of individual reality – made up of exosemiotic processes of sign transmission. […] This semiotic self, which of course enfolds and thus „contains“ in its milieu intérieur some body’s immunocompetetence, occupies, as it were, a sphere of space/time bounding the organism’s integumentm although the proagrams for fabrication of subjective constructs of this sort are surely stored within the subjacent realms of its endosemiotic organs […] This semiotic self, furthermore, is composed of a repertoire of signs of a necessarily sequestered character; as Jakob von Uexküll – claiming that even a signle cell has its Ich-Ton („ego-quality“) – remarked, „bleibt unser Ich notwendig subjektiv“ (our ego remains necessarily subjective). (124)

The semiotic self, as was already noticed by Thure von Uexküll, is the recondite interpreter of our world in the semiosic chain of transmission, and therefore continually engaged in meta-interpretation, viz., interpreting interpretations. Any self can and must interpret the observed behavior of another organism solely as a response to its interpretations of its universe, „behavior“ meaning the propensity that enables it to link up its Umwelt with those of other living systems within its niche. An act of interpretation is an act of assignment, that is, the elevation of an interpreted phenomenon to „signhood“; indeed, this is what the word encoding betokens. (126)

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