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Jean-Francois Lyotard “The Inhuman”

Lyotard, Jean-Francois 1993. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Introduction: About the Human

In 1913, Apollinaire wrote ingenuously: “More than anything, artists are men who want to become inhuman.” (2)

To go fast is to forget fast, to retain only the information that is useful afterwards, as in ‘rapid reading’. But writing and reading which advance backwards in the direction of the unknown thing ‘within’ are slow. One loses one’s time seeking time lost. (3)

That it always remains for the adult to free himself or herself from the obscure savageness of childhood by bringing about its promise – that is precisely the condition of humankind. (4)

‘Development’ is the ideology of the present time, it realizes the essential of metaphysics, which was a thinking pertaining to forces much more than to the subject. (6)

1. Can Thought Go on without a Body?

Dehumanized still implies human – a dead human, but conceivable: because dead in human terms, still capable of being sublated in thought. (10)

Human death is included in the life of human mind. (11)

You decide to accept the challenge of the extremely likely annihilation of a solar order and an order of your own thought. And then the only left you is quite clear – it’s been underway for some time – the job of simulating conditions of life and thought to make thinking remain materially possible after the change in the condition of matter that’s the disaster. (11-12)

So the problem of the technological sciences can be stated as: how to provide this software with a hardware that is independent of the conditions of life on earth. That is: how to make thought without a body possible. A thought that continues to exist after the death of the human body. This is the price to be paid if the explosion is to be conceivable, if the death of the sun is to be a death like other deaths we know about. (13-14)

[…] what makes thought and the body inseparable isn’t just that the latter is the indispensable hardware for the former, a material prerequisite of its existence. It’s that each of them is analogous to the other in its relationship with its respective (sensible, symbolic) environment: the relationship being analogical in both cases. (16)

Thinking, like writing or painting, is almost no more than letting a givable come towards you. (18)

In what we call thinking the mind isn’t ‘directed’ but suspended. You don’t give it rules. You teach it to receive. You don’t clear the ground to build unobstructed: you make a little clearing where the penumbra of an almost-given will be able to enter and modify its contour. (19)

The unthought hurts because we’re comfortable in what’s already thought. And thinking, which is accepting this discomfort, is also, to put it bluntly, an attempt to have done with it. That’s the hope sustaining all writing (painting, etc.): that at the end, things will be better. As there is no end, this hope is illusory. So: the unthought would have to make your machines uncomfortable, the uninscribed that remains to be inscribed would have to make their memory suffer. Do you see what I mean? Otherwise why would they ever start thinking? (20)

2. Rewriting modernity

A secret would not be a ‘real’ secret if no-one knew it was a secret. For the crime to be perfect, it would have to be known to be perfect, and by that very fact it stops being perfect. To make the point differently, but within the same order of memory, à la John Cage, there is no silence that is not heard as such, and therefore makes some noise. (28)

By endeavouring to find an objectively first cause, like Oedipus, one forgets that the very will to identify the origin of the evil is made necessary by desire. For it is of the essence of desire to desire also to free itself of itself, because desire is intolerable. So one believes one can put an end to desire, and one fulfils its end (this is the ambiguity of the word end, aim and cessation: the same ambiguity as with desire). One tries to remember, and this is probably a good way of forgetting again. (29)

3. Matter and time

The soul has at its disposal the only language. The body is a confused speaker: it says ‘soft’, ‘warm’, ‘blue’, ‘heavy’, instead of talking straight lines, curves, collisions and relations. Matter thus denied, foreclosed, remains present in this violently modern thinking: it is the enigmatic confusion of the past, the confusion of the badly built city, of childhood, ignorant and blind, of the cross-eyed look of the little girl loved by René Descartes as a child. Of everything that comes to us from behind, ‘before’. Confusion, prejudice, is matter in thought, the disorder of the past which takes place before having been wanted and conceived, which does not know what it is saying, which must be endlessly translated and corrected, currently and actively, into distinct intuitions. Childhood, the unconscious, time, because ‘then’ is ‘now’, the old, are the matter that the understanding claims to resolve in the act and actuality of the instantaneous intuitus. All energy belongs to the thinking that says what it says, wants what it wants. Matter is the failure of thought, its inert mass, stupidity. (38)

Pragmatism, as its name suggests, is one of the many versions of humanism. The human subject it presupposes is, to be sure, material, involved in a milieu, and turned towards action. The fact remains that this action is given a finality by an interest, which is represented as a sort of optimum adjustment of subject to environment. But if one looks at the history of the sciences and techniques (and of the arts, of which I have said nothing, even though the question of matter, of material especially, is decisive for them), one notices that this was not, and is not – especially today – in fact their finality. (44)

An immaterialist materialism, if it is true that matter is energy and mind is contained vibration. One of the implications of this current of thinking is that it ought to deal another blow to what I shall call human narcissism. Freud already listed three famous ones: man is not the centre of the cosmos (Copernicus), is not the first living creature (Darwin), is not the master of meaning (Freud himself). Through contemporary techno-science, s/he learns that s/he does not have the monopoly of mind, that is of complexification, but that complexification is not inscribed as a destiny in matter, but as possible, and that it takes place, at random, but intelligibly, well before him/herself. S/he learns in particular that his/her own science is in its turn a complexification of matter, in which, so to speak, energy in itself comes to be reflected, without humans necessarily getting any benefit from this. And that thus s/he must not consider him/herself as an origin or as a result, but as a transformer ensuring, through techno-science, arts, economic development, cultures and the new memorization they involve, a supplement of complexity in the universe. (45)

4. Logos and Techne, or Telegraphy

Current technology, that specific mode of tele-graphy, writing at a distance, removes the close contexts of which rooted cultures are woven. It is thus, through its specific manner of inscription, indeed productive of a sort of memorization freed from the supposedly immediate conditions of time and space. The question to follow here would be as follows: what is a body (body proper, social body) in tele-graphic culture? It calls up a spontaneous production of the pas in habit, a tradition or transmission of ways of thinking, willing and feeling, a sort of breaching, then, which complicates, counters, neutralizes and extenuates earlier community breachings, and in any case translates them so as to move them on too, make them transmissible. If the earlier remain there at all, resist a bit, they become subcultures. The question of hegemonic teleculture on a world scale is already posed. (50)

It is perfectly possible to say that the living cell, and the organism with its organs, are already tekhnai, that ‘life’, as they say, is already technique: the fact remains that its ‘language’ (genetic code, say) not only limits the performance of this technique but also (in fact it’s the same thing) does not allow it to be objectified, known and complexified in a controlled way. The history of life on earth cannot be assimilated to the history of technique in the common sense, because it has not proceeded by remembering but by breaching. (52)

5. Time Today

The event makes the self incapable of taking possession and control of what it is. It testifies that the self is essentially passible to a recurrent alterity. (59)

Why do we have to save money and time to the point where this imperative seems like the law of our lives? Because saving (at the level of the system as a whole) allws the system to increase the quantity of money given over to anticipating the future. This is particularly the case with the capital invested in research and development. The enjoyment of humanity must, it is clear, be sacrificed to the interests of the monad in expansion. (67)

Capital is not an economic and social phenomenon. It is the shadow cast by the principle of reason on human relations. Prescriptions such as: communicate, save time and money, control and forestall the event, increase exchanges, are all likely to extend and reinforce the ‘great monad’. That ‘cognitive’ discourse has conquered hegemony over other genres, that in ordinary language, the pragmatic and interrelational aspect comes to the fore, whilst ‘the poetic’ appears to deserve less and less attention – all these features of the contemporary language-condition cannot be understood as effects of a simple modality of exchange, i.e. the one called ‘capitalism’ by economic and historical science. They are the signs that a new use of language is taking place, the stake of which is that of knowing objects as precisely as possible and of realizing among ordinary speakers a consensus as broad as that supposed to reign in the scientific community. (70)

Being prepared to receive what thought is not prepared to think is what deserves the name of thinking. (73)

7. The Sublime and the Avant-Garde

The inexpressible does not reside in an over there, in another world, or another time, but in this: in that (something) happens. (93)

Art does not imitate nature, it creates a world apart […] (97)

The avant-gardist attempt inscribes the occurrence of a sensory now as what cannot be presented and which remains to be presented in the decline of great representational painting. Like micrology, the avant-garde is not concerned with what happens to the ‘subject’, but with: ‘Does it happen?’, with privation. This is the sense in which it still belongs to the aesthetics of the sublime. (103)

The availability of information is becoming the only criterion of social importance. Now information is by definition a short-lived element. As soon as it is transmitted and shared, it ceases to be information, it becomes an environmental given, and ‘all is said’, we ‘know’. It is put into the machine memory. The length of time it occupies is, so to speak, instantaneous. Between two pieces of information, ‘nothing happens’, by definition. A confusion thereby becomes possible, between what is of interest to information and the director, and what is the question of the avant-gardes, between what happens – the new – and the Is it happening?, the now. (105-106)

‘Strong’ information, if one can call it that, exists in inverse proportion to the meaning that can be attributed to it in the code available to its receiver. It is like ‘noise’. It is easy for the public and for artists, advised by intermediaries – the diffusers of cultural merchandise – to draw from this observation the principle that a work of art is avant-garde in direct proportion to the extent that it is stripped of meaning. Is it not then like an event? (106)

8. Something like: ‘Communication … without Communication’

In the conflict surrounding the word communication, it is understood that the work, or at any rate anything which is received as art, induces a feeling – before inducing an understanding – which, constitutively and therefore immediately, is universally communicable, by definition. Such a feeling is thereby distinguishable from a merely subjective preference. This communicability, as a demand and not as a fact, precisely because it is assumed to be originary, ontological, eludes communicational activity, which is not a receptiveness but something which is managed, which is done. This, in my view, is what governs our problematic of ‘new technologies and art’, or, put differently, ‘art and postmodernity’. This communicability, as it is developed in the Kantian analysis of the beautiful, is well and truly ‘anterior’ to communication in the sense of ‘theories of communication’, which include communicative pragmatics […] This assumed communicability, which takes place immediately in the feeling of the beautiful is always presupposed in any conceptual communication. (109)

In the reception of works of art, what is involved is the status of a sentimental, aesthetic community, one certainly ‘anterior’ to all communication and all pragmatics. The cutting out of intersubjective relations has not yet happened and there would be an assenting, a unanimity possible and capable of being demanded, within an order which cannot ‘yet’ be that of argumentation between rational and speaking subjects. (110)

Any industrial production pays homage to this profound and fundamental problematic of re-presentation, and aesthetic feeling presupposes something which necessarily is implied, and forgotten, in representation: presentation, the fact that something is there now. (111)

[…] what is hit, first of all, and complains, in our modernity, or our postmodernity, is perhaps space and time. What is attacked would be space and time as forms of the donation of what happens. The real ‘crisis of foundations’ was doubtless not that of the foundations of reason but of any scientific enterprise bearing on so-called real objects, in other words given in sensory space and time. (112)

We find sublime those spectacles which exceed any real representation of a form, in other words where what is signified is the superiority of our power of freedom vis-à-vis the one manifested in the spectacle itself. In singling out the sublime, Kant places the accent on something directly related to the problem of the failing of space and time. The free-floating forms which aroused the feeling of the beautiful come to be lacking. In a certain way the question of the sublime is closely linked to what Heidegger calls the retreat of Being, retreat of donation. For Heidegger, the welcome accorded something sensory, in other words some meaning embodied in the here-and-now before any concept, no longer has place and moment. This retreat signifies our current fate. (113)

What we live by and judge by is exactly this will to action. If a computer invites us to play or lets us play, the interest valorized is that the one receiving should manifest his or her capacity for initiative, activity, etc. We are thus still derivatives from the Cartesian model of ‘making oneself master and possessor …’ It implies the retreat of the passibility by which alone we are fit to receive and, as a result, to modify and do, and perhaps even enjoy. This passibility as jouissance and obligatory belonging to an immediate community is repressed nowadays in the general problematic of communication, and is even taken as shameful. But to take action in the direction of this activity which is so sought-after is only to react, to repeat, at best to conform feverishly to a game that is already given or installed [gestellt?]. Passibility, in contrast, has to do with an immediate community of feeling demanded across the singular aesthetic feeling, and what is lost is more than simple capacity, it is propriety. Interactional ideology is certainly opposed to a passivity but it remains confined in a completely secondary opposition. (117)

Not to be contemplative is a sort of implicit commandment, contemplation is perceived as a devalorized passivity. (118)

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Frank Macke “Intrapersonal Communicology”

December 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Macke, Frank 2008. Intrapersonal Communicology: Reflection, Reflexivity, and Relational Consciousness in Embodied Subjectivity. Atlantic Journal of Communication 16: 122-148.

Communicology, having emerged from phenomenology, semiotics, and the classical rhetorical tradition, as well as systems theory, adopts a post-Cartesian approach to both language and consciousness (Lanigan, 1988, 1992). The notion of intersubjectivity, as explicated in both Husserlian and existential phenomenology, serves as a critical instrument in the correction of the Cartesian error regarding consciousness, body, and mind (Dillon, 1997, pp. 113–128). For communicology, neither “messages” nor “mind” are things. As such, a communicological approach to the event of intrapersonal communication will begin from the premise that the experience of a message is intersubjective and that it does not constitute independent data processed through the mechanism of mind. (124)

Interpersonal communication is marked by a relationship of two persons, group communication is marked by the presence of three or more persons, and cultural communication is marked by the presence of two or more groups. The concept of intrapersonal communication, however, is verified through a standard metaphysical judgment. For instance, none of us can remember what we were thinking the first time we uttered the word no, but we nevertheless can speak about this communicative moment as one in which we were able to imagine (or cognize, if you will) an alternative to the reality given to us in the social parameters of our young experience. (126)

It is not that the event of communication is always—or even mostly—pleasant; it is that the self-acknowledgment of one’s having communicated is simultaneously an affirmation of one’s fundamental attachment to a meaningful other and, hence, a meaningful world. To be in communication is etymologically consonant with being in communion, with feeling in common. (126)

The gap between thought and emotion is, in the case of intrapersonal communicology, capable of being understood as the distance felt between the inner, secreted subjectivity of the person impulsively seeking a secure attachment to the world and the social identity, the named persona of the visible Self. (127)

Again, it consists of at least two parts: a socially referenced, “named” object (the “me”) and the subjective, intentional, conative component (the “I”). The two parts exist in tension with one another. The “I” seeks its recognition in interaction—which is also to say that is seeks a difference in “me.” When we are infants, the “I” is phenomenally and pragmatically inseparable from the “me,” especially inasmuch as the capacity for recognizing the self as object cannot emerge until the completion of what Lacan has aptly termed the “mirror phase.” As we get older, the “I” takes on a critical role with respect to the signature of Self. With regard to the signature itself, neither the “I” nor the “me” can be cited as its fundamental author, but the “I” recognizes that the signature can be altered. (128)

For communicology, it is not axiomatic that “you cannot not communicate.” Information transfer does not automatically give birth to communicative experience. The experience of communication is not a mechanical or logically reductive matter of sign production and sign processing. Even though semiotic theory has participated heavily in the intellectual history of the human science of communicology, a strictly semiotic approach to the event of communicative experience will drain the event of all psychological significance. (132)

The phenomenology of embodied meaning is neither reducible to neurochemistry or biology nor a necessary function of any logic of symbolic forms. The phenomenology of the communicative moment reveals a sudden coincidence and novel combination of feeling and thought. Perhaps the word mistake expresses more than is necessary; in any case, the moment begins in an absence of certitude. It begins as speculation—or, better, as conjecture: literally, as something “thrown together.” (133)

Contact, in Jakobson’s thinking, is not something we “do” or “perform.” Contact is the human vulnerability of our being-at-all. Although the typical instances of phatic communion (such as “uh-huh,” “I see,” “go on”) illustrate the addressee’s participation in sustaining the life of the interaction, they also illustrate that an encounter could cease or mutate at any juncture. In moments of intrapersonal communication, the “I’s” relation to the “me,” having been sedimented in the context of perceptual habit, is ruptured. A way of seeing has been momentarily discontinued. A new way of sensing has begun. (136)

[…] “the human” is the fundamental experiential context in which communication and thinking can occur at all. Simply, “the human being” over and above its other mammalian traits is an attached creature. To the extent it gains its biological survival through means other than caring contact by adult members of its species, it ceases to be human to that very degree. Not just infants, but children up through their teens are tremendously dependent beings (Blos, 1962). The narrative context of selfhood through this period is, thus, always experienced in terms of an ego (and a “me”) recognized through an epistemology of discipline. (To wit: the “delinquent” is always a case of arrested development inasmuch as he or she is, by literal definition, “something left behind, left undone.”) When the “I” wanders into its own otherness, it defies its epistemology of stability via the logic of dependency. That into which it wanders is anxiety. (139)

Our being is an entirely relational being; it is experienced as a matter of flesh, and in saying that, what I am accentuating is that we are our connectedness: our contact and attachment. The wandering of the “I” is not animated by idle curiosities. The wandering of the “I” is motivated by appetite. Perception is an appropriative and consumptive act—one might say ouroboric—but an activity that entails “sensing-in” the world. Sensing-in, breathing, and expressing-out: The wandering “I” is a hungry “I.” (142)

Juri Lotman “Kultuur kui subjekt ja iseenese objekt”

August 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Lotman, Juri 1999. Kultuur kui subjekt ja iseenese objekt. – Lotman, J. Semiosfäärist. Tallinn: Vagabund, 37-52.

[…] sedamööda, kuidas uurimisprotsess use üha enam uurimisobjektiks sai, muutus käsitus uurija asendist keerukamaks ja aktualiseerus traditsioon, mis saab alguse Kantist. Analüüsiobjektiks on nüüd analüüsi mehhanism, teadmine teadmisest. Küsimuselt, kuidas vaim tekstis kehastub, nihkub huvi küsimusele, kuidas auditoorium teksti vastu võtab. […] Kultuuri ajalugu kangastub evolutsioonina kultuuri tõlgendamises – ühelt poolt tema kaasaegse auditooriumi, teisalt järgmiste põlvkondade, k.a teadusliku tõlgendustraditsiooni poolt. Esimesel juhul toimub interpretatsioon kõnealuse kultuuri sünkroonias ja on otsekui osa sellest, teisel juhul on ta kandunud diakrooniasse ja tal tuleb tegemist teha kõigi ühest keelest teise tõlkimise raskustega. (39-40)

Uuteks tekstideks nimetame tekste, mis tekivad pöördumatute protsesside (Ilya Prigogine’i mõistes) tagajärjel, s.o tekste, mis on teatul määral ennustamatud. (41)

Tähendust tekitava struktuuri töö teine iseärasus on ta võime siseneda omaenese sisendisse ja iseend transformeerida. Omaenda vaatepunktist paistab ta kui tekst teiste seas ja on seega endale normaalseks semiootiliseks „toiduks”. Siit tuleneb monaadi loomupärane võime enesekirjelduseks (eneserefleksiooniks) ja iseenese tõlkimiseks metatasandile. (42)

Mittetasakaaluliste olukordade iseärasuseks on see, et dünaamilisele trajektoorile ilmuvad Prigogine’i sõnutsi bifurkatsioonipunktid, s.o punktid, kust edasi võib liikumine võrdse tõenäosusega kulgeda kahes (või enamas) suunas, ning pole võimalik ennustada, millises ta tegelikult läheb. Neis tingimustes kasvab järsult juhuslikkuse, kõrvaltegurite osa, mis võivad protsessi edasist kulgu mõjutada. (48)

Kui valiku bifurkatsioonipunktis määrab juhus, siis on ilmne, et mida keerukam oma sisemise korralduse poolest on arenguseisundis viibiv objekt (ja järelikult, mida rohkem ta tekstina sisaldab „juhuslikku”), seda ennustamatum on tema käitumine. (48)

„Subjekti-objekti” kategooriad saavad siin tekkida vaid hetkel, mil enesekirjelduse tasandini tõusnud üksikmonaad modelleerib end kui isoleeritud ja ainsat intellekti. (50)

Niisiis iga kokkupuude ruumiga, mis asub väljaspool kõnealuse semiosfääri piire, nõuab selle ruumi eelnevat semiotiseerimist. (50)

Kuid ka tõeline välismaailm on semiootilises vahetuses aktiivne osaline. Semiosfääri piir on kõrgenenud semiootilise aktiivsuse ala, kus töötavad paljud „metafoorse tõlke” mehhanismid, „pumbates” kummaski suunas vastavalt transformeeritud tekste. Tegelikult käib siin seesama töö mis monaadi erisuguse korraldusega osade piiril ja igasugusel muul semiosfäärisisesel piiril. (51)

Juri Lotman “Semiotics of Personality and Society”

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Lotman, Juri 2008. Semiotics of Personality and Society. – Lepik, P. Universals in the Context of Juri Lotman’s Semiotics. Tartu: Tartu University Press, 225-244

Semiotics deals with issues of signification and communication. But what is it, when we talk about man, that justifies us thinking about communication at all? To what extent is the concept of me connected to signification and communication? (225)

A single being cannot be made to coincide with an „atom“ in a given system. The understanding that a single being in human society corresponds with a being that possess clear boundaries is far from universal. (226)

Approximately, there are two categories of communication: a) within an organism; b) between organisms; within [organisms] takes place signless [communication]; between [organisms] takes place sign [communication]. (Communcating with oneself via signs cannot be considered communication within an organism). (226)

Moving within one culture we consider much to be „innate“, „natural“, etc. Much of what we consider natural proves to be a characteristic of speaking with oneself. The problem of personality is a problem of language as the connection system between me and you. (227)

Existing is a vital element of self. But it is apparent that the concept of „existing“ is itself signified and does not correspond to the concept of biological existence. (227)

The situation forces upon [its own] language. But the thing is that any social behaviour whatsoever is speaking in many languages. (231)

It seems natural that man strives to be successful. But the concept of „success“ depends on the language. (233)

An action is that vital behavioural act that is used to violate a certain prohibition. […] The action is the violation of some kind of social prohibition. (234-235)

A person himself has no meaning, what is meaningful is his place in the system. (236 – of syntagmatic relations)

Social function must be differentiated from social texts! If we say that science has replaced religion, this generally means the replacement of texts, because the religious function has been preserved in society. (238)

Religious attituteds are disastrous for both art and science! (241)

[…] literary scholar: which language is used by the author?; sociologist: into which language is it translated by the reader? (242)

The listener always demands the habitual; he is always annoyed by the speaker’s „philosophizing“. This is why every new system usually starts with a scandal, it is received as something indecent, until it becomes habitual, and therefore, banal. This is why art always disturbs us. If it does not disturb us then it is not working. If Beethoven is „pleasant“, „non-disturbing“, then we are not actually accepting him any more. Therefore, the state of the listener is a state of dissatisfaction with the speaker. (243)

Ferdinand de Saussure “Course in General Linguistics”

January 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Saussure, Ferdinand de 2011. Course in General Linguistics. New York: Columbia University Press. saussure-signIntroduction

But what is language [langue]? It is not to be confused with human speech [langage], of which it is only a definite part, though certainly an essential one. It is both a social product of the faculty of speech and a collection of necessary conventions that have been adopted by a social body to permit individuals to exercise that faculty. Taken as a whole, speech is many-sided and heterogeneous; straddling several areas simultaneously – physical, physiological, and psychological – it belongs both to the individual and to society; we cannot put it into any category of human facts, for we cannot discover its unity. Language, on the contrary, is a self-contained whole and a principle of classification. (9)

[…] language is a convention, and the the nature of the sign that is agreed upon does not matter. […] we can say that what is natural to mankind is not oral speech but the faculty of constructing a language, i.e. a system of distinct signs corresponding to distinct ideas. (10)

Execution is always individual, and the individual is always its master: I shall call the executive side speaking [parole]. […] If we could embrace the sum of word-images stored in the minds of all individuals, we could identify the social bond that constitutes language. (13)

Characteristics of language:

1)      Language is a well-defined object in the heterogeneous mass of speech facts. It can be localized in the limited segment of the speaking-circuit where an auditory image becomes associated with a concept. It is the social side of speech, outside the individual who can never create nor modify it by himself; it exists only by virtue of a sort of contract signed by the members of a community. […] (14)

2)      Language, unlike speaking, is something that we can study separately. […] We can dispense with the other elements of speech; indeed, the science of language is possible only if the other elements are excluded. (15)

3)      Whereas speech is heterogeneous, language, as defined, is homogeneous. It is a system of signs in which the only essential thing is the union of meanings and sound-images, and in which both parts of the sign are psychological. (15)

4)      Language is concrete, no less than speaking; and this is a help in our study of it. Linguistic signs, though basically psychological, are not abstractions; associations which bear the stamp of collective approval – and which added together constitute language – are realities that have their seat in the brain. (15)

Finally, speaking is what causes language to evolve: impressions gathered from listening to others modify our linguistic habits. Language and speaking are then interdependent; the former is both the instrument and the product of the latter. But their interdependence does not prevent their being two absolutely distinct things. (19)

One must always distinguish between what is internal and what is external. In each instance one can determine the nature of the phenomenon by applying this rule: everything that changes the system in any way is internal. (23)

But the tyranny of writing goes even further. By imposing itself upon the masses, spelling influences and modifies language. This happens onyl in highly literate languages where written texts play an important role. Then visual images lead to wrong pronunciations; such mistakes are really pathological. (31)

 

Part One: General Principles

The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image. The latter is not the material sound, a purely physical thing, but the psychological imprint of the sound, the impression that it makes on our senses. (66)

The linguistic sign is then a two-sided psychological entity […] The two elements [concept and sound-image] are intimately united, and each recalls the other. […] I call the combination of a concept and a sound-image a sign […] (66-67)

I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified [signifié] and signifier [signifiant]; the last two terms have the advantage of indicating the opposition that separates them from each other and from the whole of which they are parts. (67)

The bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary. Since I mean by sign the whole that results from the associating of the signifier with the signified, I can simply say: the linguistic sign is arbitrary. (67)

In fact, every means of expression used in society is based, in principle, on collective behavior or – what amounts to the same thing – on convention. […] Signs that are wholly arbitrary realize better thant the others the ideal of the semiological process; that is why language, the most complex and universal of all systems of expression, is also the most characteristic; in this sense linguistics can become the master-pattern for all branches of semiology although language is only one particular semiological system. (68)

The word arbitrary also calls for comment. The term should not imply that the choice of the signifier is left entirely to the speaker (we shall see below that the individual does not have the power to change a sign in any way once it has become established in the linguistic community); I mean that it is unmotivated, i.e. arbitrary in that it actually has no natural connection with the signified. (68-69)

The signifier, being auditory, is unfolded solely in time from which it gets the following characteristics: (a) it represents a span, and (b) the span is measurable in a single dimension; it is a line. […] In contrast to visual isgnifiers (nautical signals, etc) which can offer simultaneous groupings in several dimensions, auditory signifiers have at their command only the dimension of time. (70)

The singifier, though to all appearances freely chosen with respect to the idea that it represents, is fixed, not free, with respect to the linguistic community that uses it. […] No individual, even if he willed it, could modify in any way at all the choice that has been made; and what is more, the community itself cannot control so much as a single word; it is bound to the existing language. (71)

No society, in fact, knows or has even known language other than as a product inherited from preceding generations, and one to be accepted as such. That is why the question of speech is not important as it is generally assumed to be. The question is not even worth asking; the only real object of linguistics is the normal, regular life of an existing idiom. A particular language-state is always the product of historical forces, and these forces explain why the sign is unchangeable, i.e. why it resists any arbitrary subsitution. (71-72)

Again, it might be added that reflection does not enter into the active use of an idiom – speakers are largely unconscious of the laws of language; and if they are unaware of them, how could they modify them? (72)

[…] language is a system of arbitrary signs and lacks the necessary basis, the solid ground for discussion. (73)

A language consitutes a system. In this one respect […] language is not completely arbitrary but is ruled to some extent by logic […] (73)

[…] in language […] everyone participates at all times, and that is why it is constantly being influenced by all. This capital fact suffices to show the impossibility of revolution. (74)

Time, which ensures the continuity of language, wields another influence apparently contradictory to the first: the more or less rapid change of linguistic signs. […] the sign is exposed to alteration because it perpetuates itself. […] That is why the principle of change is based on the principle of continuity. (74)

Regardless of what the forces of change are, whether in isolation or in combination, they always result in a shift in the relationship between the singified and the signifier. (75)

Unlike language, other human institutions – customs, laws, etc – are all based in varying degrees on the natural relations of things; all have of necessity adapted the means employed to the ends pursued. (75)

The causes od contuinity are a priori within the scope of the observer, but the causes of change in time are not. (77)

Language is speech less than speaking. It is the wholes set of linguistic habits which allow an individual to understand and to be understood. But this definition still leaves the language outside its social context; it makes language something artificial since it includes only the individual part of reality; for the realization of language, a community of speakers [masse parlante] is necessary. (77)

Doubtless it is not on a purely logical basis that group psychology operates; one must consider everything that deflects reason in actual contacts between individuals. (78)

If we considered language in time, without the community of speakers – imagine an isolated individual living for several centuries – we probably would notice no change; time would not influence language. Conversely, if we considered the community of speakers without considering time, we would not see the effect of the social forces that influence language. (78)

Everything that relates to the static side of our science is synchronic; everything that has to do with evolution is diachronic. Similarly, synchrony and diachrony designate respectively a language-state and an evolutionary phase. (81)

The first thing that strikes us when we study the facts of language is that their succession in time does not exist insofar as the speaker is concerned. He is confronted with a state. That is why the linguist who wishes to understand a state must discard all knowledge of everything that produced it and ignore diachrony. He can enter the mind of speakers only by completely suppressing the past. (81)

Since changes never affect the system as a whole but rather one or another of its elements, they can be studied only outside the system. Each alteration doubtless has its countereffect on the system, but the initial fact affected only one point; there is no inner bond between the initial fact and the effect that it may subsequently produce on the whole system. (87)

One consequence of the radical antinomy between the evolutionary and the static fact is that all notions associated with one or the other are to the same extent mutually irreducible. Any notion will point up to this truth. The synchronic and diachronic „phenomenon“, for example, have nothing in common. One is a relation between simultaneous elements, the other the substitution of one element for another in time, an event. (91)

The synchronic law is general but not imperative. Doubtless it is imposed on individuals by the weight of collective usage, but here I do not have in mind an obligation on the part of speakers. I mean that in language no force guarantees the maintenance of a regularity when established at some point. (92)

Diachrony, on the contrary, suppoeses a dynamic force through which an effect is produced, a thing executed. But this imperativeness is not sufficient to warrant applying the concept of law to evolutionary facts; we can speak of law only when a set of facts obeys the same rule, and in spite of certain appearances to the contrary, diachronic events are always accidental and particular. (93)

It takes on the appearance of a „law“ only because it is realized within a system. The rigid arrangement of the system creates the illusion that the diachronic fact obeys the same rules as the synchronic fact. (93)

Diachronic facts are the nparticular; a shift in a system is brought about by events which not only are outside the system, but are isolated and form no system among themseleves. To summarize: synchronic facts, no matter what they are, evidence a certain regularity but are in no way imperative; diachronic facts, on the contrary, force themselves upon language but are in no way general. (95)

[…] everything diachronic in language is diachronic only by virtue of speaking. It is in speaking that the germ of all change is found. […] An evolutionary fact is always preceded by a fact, or rather by a multitude of similar facts, in the sphere of speaking. (98)

Synchronic linguistics will be concerned with the logical and psychological relations that bind together coexisting terms and form a system in the collective mind of speakers. Diachronic linguistics, on the contrary, will study relations that bind together successive terms not perceived by the collective mind but substituted for each other without forming a system. (99-100)

 

Part Two: Synchronic Linguistics

We see that in semiological systems like language, where elements hold each other in equilibrium in accordance with fixed rules, the notion of identity blends with that of value and vice versa. (110)

There are no pre-existing ideas, and nothing is distinct before the appearance of language. (112)

The characteristic role of language with respect to thought is not to create a material phonic means for expressing ideas but to serve as a link between thought and sound, under conditions that of necessity bring about the reciprocal delimitations of units. (112)

Linguistics then works in the borderland where the elements of sound and thought combine; their combinations produces a form, not a substance. (113)

[…] even outside language all values are apparently governed by the same paradoxical principle. They are always composed:

1)      of a dissimilar thing that can be exchanged for the thing of which the value is to be determined; and

2)      of similar things that can be compared with the thing of which the value is to be determined. (115)

The conceptual side of value is made up solely of relations and differences with respect to the other terms of language, and the same can be said of its material side. The important thing in the word is not the sound alone but the phonic differences that make it possible to distinguish this word from all the others, for differences carry signification. (118)

The means by which the sign is produced is completely unimportant, for it does not affect the system […] Whether I make the letters in white or black, raised or engraved, with pen or chisel – all this is of no importance with respect to their signification. (120)

But the statement that everything in language is negative is true only if the signified and the signifier are considered separately; when we consider the sign in its totality, we have something positive in its own class. (120)

When we compare signs – positive terms – with each other, we can no longer speak of difference […] Between them there is only opposition. The entire mechanism of language, with which we shall be concerned later, is based on oppositions of this kind and on the phonic and conceptual differences that they imply. (121)

Applied to units, the principle of differentiation can be stated in this way: the characteristics of the unit blend with the unit itself. In language, as in any semiological system, whatever distinguishes one sign from the others constitutes it. Difference makes character just as it makes value and the unit. (121)

We see that the co-ordinations formed outside discourse differ strikingly from those formed inside discourse. Those formed outside discourse are not supported by linearity. Their seat is in the brain; they are part of the inner storehouse that makes up the language of each speaker. They are associative relations. The syntagmatic relations is in praesentia. It is based on two or more terms that occur in an effective series. Against this, the associative relation unites terms in absentia in a potential mnemonic series. (123)

But we must realize that in the syntagm there is no clear-cut boundary between the language fact, which is a sign of collective usage, and the fact that belongs to speaking and depends on individual freedom. (125)

What is most striking in the organization of language are syntagmatic solidarities; almost all units of language depend on what surrounds them in the spoken chain or on their successive parts. (127)

Everything that relates to language as a system must, I am convinced, be approached from this viewpoint, which has scarcely received the attention of linguists: the limiting of arbitrariness. This is the best possible basis for approaching the study of language as a system. In fact, the whole system of language is based on the irrational principle of the arbitrariness of the sign, which would lead to the worst sort of complication if applied without restriction. But the mind contrives to introduce a principle of order and regularity into certain parts of the mass of signs, and this is the role of relative motivation. If the mechanis of language were entirely rational, it could be studied independently. Since the mechanism of language is but a partial correction of a system that is by nature chaotic, however, we adopt the viewpoint imposed by the very nature of language and study it as it limits arbitrariness. (133)

Word order is unquestionably an abstract entity, but it owes its existence solely to the concrete units that contain it and that flow in a single dimension. To think that there is an incorporeal syntax outside material units distributed in space would be a mistake. (139)

Susan Petrilli “Semioethics, Subjectivity, and Communication”

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Petrilli, Susan 2004. Semioethics, Subjectivity, and Communication: For the Humanism of Otherness. Semiotica 148(1/4): 69-92.

As global semiotics, general semiotics today must carry out a detotalizing function. In other words general semiotics must present itself as a critique of all (claims to the status of) totalities, including world and global communication – a task which should have top priority among critics. If the critical and detotalizing dimension is lacking, general semiotics will prove to be no more than a mere juxtaposition to the special semiotics, a syncretic result of the latter, a transversal language of the encyclopaedia of the unified sciences […]

We could make the claim that in today’s dominant communication-production system difference understood in terms of otherness or alterity is substituted ever more by difference understood in terms of alternatives.

[…]according to the global approach communication is no longer considered in the oversimplifying terms described above but rather is equated with life itself. Communication and life coincide, as Sebeok’s biosemiotics in particular has made clear […]

As Emmanuel Lévinas above all has shown, otherness obliges the totality to reorganize itself always anew in a process related to what he calls ‘infinity’, and which may  also be related to the concept of ‘infinite semiosis’ (to use an expression from Charles S. Peirce). This relation to infinity is not limited to a cognitive dimension: beyond the established order, beyond the symbolic order, beyond convention and habit, it implies a relation of involvement and responsibility with what is most refractory to the totality, that is, the otherness of others, of the other person, not in the sense of another self, another alter ego, an I belonging to the same community, but rather in the sense of the other in its extraneousness, strangeness, diversity, difference  toward which indifference is impossible, in spite of all the efforts made by the identity of the I and guaranties offered by the latter.

there is no element whatever of man’s consciousness which has not something corresponding to it in the word … . It is that the word or sign which man uses is the man himself. For, as the fact that every thought is a sign, taken in conjunction with the fact that life is a train of thought, proves that man is a sign; so, that every thought is an external sign, proves that man is an external sign. That is to say, the man and the external sign are identical, in the same sense in which the words homo and man are identical. Thus my language is the sum  total of myself; for the man is the thought. (CP 5.314)

The utterances of the self convey significance beyond words. And yet, the ineffability and uniqueness of the self do not imply the sacrifice of communicability, for what the self  is in itself (in its firtsness) can always be communicated to a degree, even if only to  communicate the impossibility of communicating.

[…] identity  is  not  unitary and compact, but rather it presents an excess, something more with respect to closed and fixed identity. Self does not coincide with the I but is one of its representations, one of its openings, a means, an instrument, or modality, but never an end in itself.

Semioethics may be considered as working toward a new form of humanism, which is inseparable from the question of otherness. This also emerges from its commitment at the level of pragmatics and focus on the relation between signs, values and behavior as well as from the intention of transcending separatism among the sciences insisting on the interrelation between the human sciences, the historico-social sciences and the natural, logico-mathematical sciences.

Human rights as they have so far been claimed tend to be centered on identity, leaving aside the rights of the other. Said differently, the expression ‘human rights’ is oriented in the direction of the humanism of identity and tends to refer to one’s own rights, the rights of identity, of self, forgetting the rights of the other. On the contrary, in the perspective of our concern for life over the planet, human and nonhuman, for  the health of semiosis generally, for the development of communication not only in strictly cultural terms but also in broader biosemiosical terms, this tendency  must quickly be counteracted by the humanism of otherness, where the rights of the other are the first to be recognized. Our allusion here is not just to the rights of the other beyond self, but also to the self’s very own other, to the other of self.

This also leads us to interpret the sign behavior of humanity in the light of the hypothesis that if the human involves signs, signs in turn are human. At the same time, however, we must clarify that such a humanistic commitment does not mean to reassert humanity’s (monological) identity yet again, nor to propose yet another form of anthropocentrism. On the contrary, what is implied is radical decentralization, nothing less than a Copernican revolution.

Semioethics  does  not  have  a  program  with intended aims and practices to propose, nor a decalogue or formula to apply more or less sincerely, or more or less hypocritically. From this point of view, semioethics contrasts with stereotypes as much as with norms and ideology.

Semioethics is not fixed upon a given value or preestablished end, an ultimate end or summum bonum, but rather is concerned with semiosis in its dialogical and detotalized globality: indeed semioethics pushes beyond the totality, outside the closure of totality, with a gaze that transcends the totality, a given being, a defined  entity, in the direction of unending semiosis – a movement toward the infinite, desire of the other. A special task for semioethics is to unmask the illusoriness of the claim to the status of indifferent differences and to evidence the biosemiosic condition of dialogic involvement among signs, intercorporeity.

Juan Carlos Goméz “Mutual awareness in primate communication”

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Goméz, Juan Carlos 2006 [1994]. Mutual awareness in primate communication: A Gricean approach. – Parker, Sue Taylor; Mitchell, Robert W.; Boccia, Maria L. (eds). Self-awareness in animals and humans. Cambridge: Cambridge Univesity Press: 61-80.

When communication is studied in animals, cognitive components tend to be ignored, whereas students of human communication seem to overemphasize them. (61)

The kind of mental process that seems unavoidable in any Gricean account of communication is metarepresentation, or the ability to represent the representation of a thing instead of the thing itself. […] Organisms capable of attributing mental states are said to possess a theory of mind. Metarepresentation is inherently recursive; that is, a representation can refer to another representation that, in turn, refers to another, and so forth. (66)

This Gricean account of communication involves mutual awareness between the speaker and the listener […] Thus, a Gricean account of communication apparently implies a sophisticated combination of self-awareness – the ability to consider one’s own mental states – and other-awareness, or theory of mind (ToM) – the ability to take into account the mental processes of other people. (68)

Indeed, intentional communication seems sometimes to be identified with these metarepresentational capacities. However, we have seen that a metarepresentational view of intentional communication seems to require highly complex cognitive structures. (69)

[…] the Gricean interpretation of intentional communication is right, but […] it does not necessarily require sophisticated metarepresentational abilities, and can be applied to nonhuman primates and prelinguistic human infants. (69)

[…] according to this interpretation, human infants and gorillas would be able to understand other people’s minds using first-order representations of behaviours that directly reflect mental states such as attention. (72)

[…] if the eyes of the child meet the eyes of the adult, it must be because the adult is attending to his eyes, not to his gesture! You can know that someone is attending to you without making eye contact. If someone is looking at your hand or any other part of your body, he or she is attending to youm and in an excellent position to perceive any manual or corporeal gesture you carry out. In eye contact, however, the other person is not just attending to any part of your body: for eye contact to occur it is necessary that you attend to the eyes of the other person – checking his or her attention – and that the other person attends to your eyes too, probably checking your attention. This means that he or she is attending to your attention. (72)

Eye contact implies mutual attention, and this I will call attention contact. Attention contact consists of attending to the attention of a person who, in turn, is attending to your attention. (72)

Attention contact in them is not the result of complex metarepresentational abilities. It is primary, in the sense that it is first established; then, if one has the necessary cognitive tools, one can construct a metarepresentation of it and its implications. (73)

The concept of attention contact also allows us to understand how organisms presumably devoid of metarepresentational abilities, such as human infants and anthropoids, can nevertheless engage in intentional communication. They do not need to understand their partners’ ideas and intentions by means of second- or higher-order representations. (75)

The other’s attention points to your own attention and, as a result, you are led to your own attention as a focus of attention. If we consider the signs of awareness, the structure of attention contact seems to lead to a first version of self-awareness (both as a physical and as an „aware“ or „attending“ entity).  (76)

The hypothesis I am putting forward is that mutual awareness […] first appears as a peceptual and attentional phenomenon with a peculiar, Gricean structure. By its own nature this phenomenon has a number of mental implications that may be computed only after an organism possesses particular cognitive abilities. […] When we analyze the implications of attention contact, it seems that many important later developments are embedded in its structure: self-consciousness, theory of mind, and complex intentional communication, for example. (77)