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The Semiotic Activity

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Hayley Conroy

on 21 July 2014

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Transcript of The Semiotic Activity

by Julia Kristeva |
presented by Hayley Sanderson Conroy

The Semiotic Activity
Julia Kristeva
Here’s the Stoic representation of the sign: between the
sound (name)
and the
, there’s an intermediary thing - signification - called the

Published in 1997

Kristeva gives an historical account of semiotics from its nascent state to its current form in the context of Western philosophy and science.

She then considers how semiotics is used today and how it can be ‘recast’ from its roots in the sciences in order to facilitate the study of ‘human’ sciences (art, politics, mythology, sociology, etc).

She promotes semiotics as the unifier of all human activity and study across disciplines: “a unification of the sciences on the basis of the concept of the sign”. She also sees semiotics as potentially instrumental for restructuring scientific thought and research around the basis of meaning-making in a way that frees them from getting bogged down in their own processes.

Fun Fact!
I. The Toddler Years: Plato and the Stoics
Kristeva’s Historical Account of Western Semiotics
Platonic Idealism
- “Eidos”, or eternal form: Ideas are real but different from the earthly forms. The first ideal / non-ideal distinction.

- Zeno of Citium (334-262 BC) introduces the idea of the sign (semeion). The sign replaces the Platonic “ideal”.
1) All knowledge/ information/ truth/ what’s out there is interconnected, even if we can’t see how.

2) All knowledge/ information/ truth/ what’s out there is connected and could be theoretically unified through exhaustive analysis.

3) Connecting all that’s out there through exhaustive analysis is a worthwhile endeavor.

4) The sciences (math, logic, biology, cosmology, physics, etc) can be formalized or assessed objectively, but all other human activity (art, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, mythology, etc) is only available for subjective analysis.

5) You could use an analytic system to analyze the validity of the system itself ( i.e. You can use science to analyze science or you can use formal logic to analyze formal logic)

6) There is no truth outside of logic.

7) We can analyze things without using logic.
Anticipation Guide
Key Terms
This is important for two reasons:

it’s the first imposition of real/ language opposition we see later (Lacan’s real/ symbolic).

instead of a philosophical base like Plato’s, it’s the base for scientific study. In other words, one can’t study and analyze Platonic ideals. By substituting ideals with signs (a human construct, not a supernatural one), it opens the gates for analysis and scientific thought!

Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist and novelist
Spent bulk of her time in France
Currently a Professor at the University Paris Diderot
Although a structuralist, her works also have an
important place in post-structuralist thought.
the study of meaning-making through signs and symbols. In particular, the study of the production and use of signs and the relationship between signifier and signified.

theoretical paradigm positing that elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel.

acknowledges an instability in the human sciences due to the complexity of humans themselves and the impossibility of fully escaping structures in order to study them.

Writers whose work is often characterized as post-structuralist include Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Judith Butler, Lacan, and sometimes Julia Kristeva herself.
Kristeva sees the Stoic ‘Matrix of the Sign’ as the foundation of all human culture.
The Matrix of the sign later formed the basis for 20th century symbolic logic, which looks like this (syllogism):

P → Q P Q

Inductive and deductive reasoning and symbolic logic are all derived from the Stoic conception of the sign.

II. The Wonder Years: Leibniz
Ars Characteristica -
Combining mathematics, logic, and linguistics toward a "theory and art of the formation of signs in which all considerations corresponding to the idea must be drawn from the sign alone" (64).

Ars Combinatoria
- "general computation providing a formal method for deriving consequences of signs" (64).
III. Awkward Adolescence: The Formal Logicians
20th century formal symbolic logic as developed by Russell, Frege, Whitehead, etc.

the building of philosophy of science and the scientific project, along with the development of symbolic logic, "have not exhausted the whole range of possibilities contained originally in the semiotic enterprise" (64).

Semiotics in the 20th Century is applied to the sciences, but what about the "human sciences": art, literature, religion, mythology, social relations, etc.? The "whole of human activity" (65) should be encompassed by the semiotic activity.

"Recasting" linguistics and other bodies of knowledge
"Semiology is...assigned the task of formalizing, hence of rendering explicitly, not only the foundations of linguistics, but also the foundations of....semiology. Epistemology of linguistics and epistemology of epistemology of linguistics, metasemiology is elaborated as the ultimate metalanguage that exhausts all possible formalizations (66)."
"...semiology thus becomes the supreme means of the unification of the formalization of different languages" (66).
"Linguistics today finds itself so fragmented and so restricted in all its parts (by the very demands of scientific procedure) to a narrow reductive abstraction that the complexity of the linguistic act -- of the signifying act -- disappears" (68). This is just one example of how the sciences have become overprescribed and limited by their own processes.
Reaching outside the boundaries of signification:
two case studies that might help us understand the nature of how signification begins in language and other semiotic activities
economics is a semiotic system (language), because money becomes the sign for work.

Money = symbol, sign, language
Work = the real, pre-signification

The money represents but also occults the nature of the work

"What takes place in this zone of work which supports this semiotic process but is not reducible to it?" (68)

Further study needed - Marx does not explore this but only "poses the concept of pre-sign work" (68)
Freud's discovery of the unconscious as another scene that troubles the boundaries of pre and post signification.

Unconscious is structured like a language - not a "calculation or judgement, but ...a work - a signifying work in which the subject is included"

A site of production of signification - studying it will give insight into how signification occurs.
Kristeva's Thesis (finally!)
"Semiotic is not merely a science among sciences but an organon or instrument of all the sciences" (human sciences included) (67).
(1) "Semiotics as a point of control and unification of forms of discourse"

(2) Semiotics as "typology of signifying systems"

(3) Semiotics can "begin to investigate its very...[own] kernel element; the sign and the scientific discourse it permits"
How would this look in practice?
"...making training in semiotics a regular part of the equipment of the scientist. In this way a scientist would become critically conscious if his linguistic apparatus and develop careful habits in its use" (67).
"...specific investigations of the languages of the special sciences" (67).
Conclusion - Significant Quotes
"a unification of the sciences on the basis of the concept of the sign"

"the significance of the semiotic lies in the fact that it is a step in the unification of science, since it supplies the foundations for...[the] science of signs, such as linguistics, logic, mathematics, rhetoric and...aesthetics" (67)

"the task of semiology will be to (1) reveal the particularities of signifying systems and (2) determine that which makes them irreducibly different from one another" (67)
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