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ON DEPTH: ONTOLOGICAL IDEOLOGIES AND SEMIOTIC MODELS
The proprioception of space is a major matrix of cognitive and conceptual metaphors. Semiotics is not an exception: The paper will therefore seek to retrace the intellectual trajectory of Algirdas J. With this hypothesis in the background, the paper will seek to explain why the Greimasian method became so acclaimed, why it was subsequently so denigrated, and why and in what guise it should be rediscovered in present-day international semiotics.
A topology is intrinsic to the idea of sign. Variously defined first by philosophers, seamntica by estructual, the sign must be conceived as relation between two or more dimensions that are not equally accessible to the senses. Such relation can be thought of abstractedly, but as soon as it is described, for instance by the meta-language of semiotics, inevitably takes on a spatial appearance.
That is evident above all hreimas meta-semiotic diagrams.
Algirdas Julien Greimas
Saussure and his interpreters insist that the sign must be conceived as the unity of signifier and signified, which would be like the two faces of a sheet. However, the meta-semiotic diagram that visualizes this relation transcribes it topologically. Moreover, this topology is immediately hierarchical: However, the mind never descend from the interpretant toward the object, but keeps climbing from interpretant to interpretant, as Peirce makes it clear through the concept of unlimited semiosis.
These topological, hierarchical characterizations all ultimately stem from the predominant ontological ideology of semiotics.
Semántica estructural. Investigación metodológica, Greimas
Semiotics does not deal with semantics, but is nevertheless shaped by a certain way of imagining the being, what is. From the pre-Socratic philosophy of the sign until contemporary semiotics, the ontological ideology of the discipline has revolved around the same axiom: There is something beyond what appears, and this something is sstructural as the goal of a narrative quest in which what appears plays an ambiguous role.
It is a hindrance, because it somehow veils what is, but it is a helper too, since what is can be accessed only through the veil of appearance. As it will be pointed out later, though, according to semiotics, what appears is not automatically a helper, but it can turn into such if approached through suitable methodology. In any case, those who partake in the semiotic endeavor must implicitly or explicitly subscribe to this ontological ideology; otherwise they would not be semioticians.
Other ontological ideologies are, indeed, possible, but all nullify the semiotic perspective. In some alternative ontological ideologies, for instance, what appears is the being and the being is what appears. There is no way, and no necessity, to go beyond appearance, because the signifier is the signified, the expression is the content, and reality manifests itself through itself, as a language made by referents.
Such ontological ideology is unconceivable from the point of view of semiotics, yet is embraced by some trends of the current scientific estructutal. Such logic is unacceptable semanica semioticians exactly for it manifests an ontological ideology that is strikingly at odds with that of semiotics, to the point of denying the rationale of the discipline. Indeed, if what appears is what is, and what is what appears, why should the very idea of the sign be entertained?
Another alternative ontological ideology that estructurxl threatens the very foundations of semiotics is apparently more trivial, but perhaps more pernicious than the one that underpins neurosciences. It is the ontological ideology that often manifests itself in the attitude of the mass toward semiotics, and increasingly thus also in the candid reactions of undergraduate students towards the discipline: Why should a movie tell more that its visual brilliancy?
Partisans of this ontological ideology are like the protagonists of Flatlandthe dystopian novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott, in which people who live in a two-dimensional world encounter people who live in a three-dimensional world.
The novella was meant as critique of Victorian positivism, but is still valid: Ontological ideologies that compete with the one that underlies semiotics can be arranged in a esttuctural inspired by the squared of veridiction. On the one hand, certain ontological ideologies predicate the perfect coincidence of what is and what appears.
It is the typical attitude of scientific reductionism and of all the anti-hermeneutic stands that proliferate in contemporary mass culture: Those who search for meaning semwntica the surface of reality are gteimas delusional and estductural. On the other hand, other ontological ideologies also conflate the dimension of appearance and that of being but, instead of proclaiming the unity of both into a common dimension, like esrtuctural positivism, they esyructural to abrogate them into a sort of mystical vacuum, like in nihilism.
It is the ontological ideology of new age spirituality, for instance, but it can be ascribed also gremias deconstructionist hermeneutics: Two further alternative ontological ideologies distinguish, on the contrary, between being and appearance, between a dimension of reality that is readily accessible and one that is hidden beneath. The first embraces an ontological vision in greeimas what is is more than what appears.
In the squared of veridiction, that is the position of secret, which is also fundamentally the position of semiotics.
Semiotics, as it was successfully thematized by Umberto Eco both in scholarly works and novels, is the realm of abduction, of adventurous and conjectural investigation. Sherlock Holmes is its estuctural. Semiotics believes that meaning is not at the surface of reality, but hidden in its depths. However, semiotics also contends that there is a method, a rational way to proceed from surface to depth.
In other words, for semiotics the appearance of reality is not all, but can be trusted.
Also according etructural the fourth and last ontological ideology in the taxonomy, the appearance of things hides a more truthful layer of reality; yet, in this fourth ideology, appearance cannot be trusted. What appears is not what is. In the semiotic esgructural of veridiction, such is the position of lie. It is also the ontological ideology of the so-called conspiracy theories. Supporters of these theories claim, as semioticians do, that meaning is to be found beyond the surface of appearance.
Yet, they also claim, differently from semioticians, that appearance is not a reliable channel to meaning.
On the opposite, for conspiracy theories there is no rational method to abduce what is hidden from what hides it, since what hides it is conceived not as a helper but as an opponent in the quest for meaning and truth. The disquieting consequence of this ontological ideology is that conspiracy theories are usually unfalsifiable, meaning that they are not conjectural theories as Popper defines them. Semiotic theories are falsifiable because they trust the appearance of the signifier and work with it through a rational methodology.
Other semiotic theories can operate differently, and falsify the first ones, exactly insofar as they both trust and work with the same signifying materials. That is the core of inter-subjectivity in semiotics. Yet, that is not the case with conspiracy theories. The surface of things is just discarded, and a hidden meaning fabricated with no relation with appearance.
The following diagram summarizes the four ontological ideologies described thus far:. This taxonomy is not meant as a point of arrival but as one of departure.
Several questions can be asked about it. Some of them concern the structure of the taxonomy, for instance, the way in which different types of hermeneutic discourse can be placed in the frame. Indeed, whereas the taxonomy associates semiotics with the ontological ideology and the epistemology of SECRET, it must not be read as a rigid grid, but as a dynamic scheme, where each quarter is separated from the others by thresholds more than by neat frontiers.
Thus, as semiotics relinquishes its scientific attachment to the inter-subjective observation of the signifier and delves into speculations about the hidden layers of texts and culture, it resembles more and more a conspiracy theory.
Such is the case of certain analyses offered, especially in the s, by militant semiotics, or by semiotic guerrilla, where passionately denouncing an enemy ideology was even more important than coldly dissecting its language. The same goes for semiotic theories that exceedingly emphasize the role of abduction in the passage from surface to depth, from appearance to meaning. Such is the case of Peircean semiotics, mainly in the interpretative version of it proposed by Eco, when focuses on romantic intuition more than on analytical method.
William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose still is a semiotician, although heavily resorting to abduction; yet, Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code is not a semiotician any more but a conspiracy theorist.
The fact that nowadays the latter is more read and appreciated than the former is telling of the place of semiotics in the popular imaginaire.
In the same way, as semiotics, in its structural version, abandons the principle of immanence and endorses deterministic heuristics, be they neurophysiological or economic, it dangerously moves toward the area of reductionism.
That has been the fault of certain trends of generative semiotics, when they adhered to the principle of immanence so strictly that they became oblivious of the surface, and of the indispensable feedback that it provides for the falsification of interpretative hypotheses.
Third, and last dynamic: The following diagram offers a visual summary of the tensions that agitate the taxonomy of ontological ideologies:. Dynamic tensions among ontological ideologies affecting the semiotic epistemology. The publication, inof Algirdas J. In Greimas, signification is not reduced to its materiality, like in positivism; it does not disintegrate because of the slipperiness of both signifier and signified, like in deconstructionism; and it does not feature a mysterious, impenetrable relation between appearance and being, like in conspiracy theories.
In order to retrace the seismography of ideas, details in the history of their publishing are extremely telling; Rizzoli was, and still is, one of the most prestigious Italian publishers.
However, it is equally telling of the persistence of semiotic ideas that they currently find space mostly by small publishers around Europe.
The same year, inJens Ihwe published a German translation: The translation appeared by Vieweg Verlag in Braunschweig, an old and prestigious publisher specialized in the publication of the writings of great scientists like Albert Einstein and Max Planck.
The fact that nowadays no semiotician could advance the same pretense without being received with skepticism, irony, semanticaa even irritation reveals another feature of the semiotic trajectory in the history of ideas. As it is evident, the history and geography of these publications reconstitutes a map of how semanhica School of Paris was about to spread in the following years, with strong concentrations in Italy, Brazil, Spain, but also Denmark and Finland.
It was published by Borgen, in Copenaghen, under the title Strukturel Semantik. Scrolling this list of translations, though, one is prompted to ask: What about the language that, already in the mids, was becoming the vehicular language of the world, first in grreimas culture, then also in the scientific discourse?
The English translation appeared in Lincoln by University of Nebraska Press, a fine publisher that nevertheless does not compete with the esyructural of US academic publishing. The main translator, and author of the introduction, Ronald Schleifer, was, and still is, Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. How to explain such delay and somewhat peripheral publication?
Indeed, this first title is followed by a secondary title, that in French reads: The Italian translation of it had already downplayed its assertiveness: In Decemberthe journal Modern Languages Notes published a lucid review of this English translation.
Algirdas Julien Greimas by Guadalupe Gimenez on Prezi
Already inJonathan D. The geography of the US translation of French scholarship therefore distorted its chronology: Paradoxically, the US audience became familiar with deconstructionism before knowing structuralism, and knew structuralism only as a post-deconstructionist, post-structuralist wave. History and geography of publishing are symptoms of intellectual evolutions, but do not fully explain it.
There is no clear-cut answer to these questions.
In relation to the taxonomy of ontological ideologies proposed above, every switch or slide of paradigm fulfills different historical and anthropological needs. The sum of these changes brings about an alternation of ideologies where each reacts and succeeds to the previous one and simultaneously prepares and is cast aside by the next one without any clear indication of either agency or teleology.
What can be argued is that s and s readers and followers of Greimas enthusiastically adhered to an ontological ideology according to which communities can rationally debate about the perception of what appears in relation to the meaning of what does not. Later on, this trust in rationality, inter-subjective transparence, and universalism inexorably dwindled.