Semiotics, Post-Structuralism, & Postmodernism

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Semiotics, Post-Structuralism, & Postmodernism. A Primer for the Reading of White Noise. At It’s core: semiotics is the study of signs and how they work. Semiotics is concerned with how we make meaning and find patterns of organization. VS. Organic. Atomistic. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

Text of Semiotics, Post-Structuralism, & Postmodernism

Semiotics, Structuralism, and PostStructuralism

A Primer for the Reading of White NoiseSemiotics, Post-Structuralism, & Postmodernism

At Its core: semiotics is the study of signs and how they work.Semiotics is concerned with how we make meaning and find patterns of organization.

AtomisticOrganicReality is composed of discrete, irreducible units more real than the whole.Reality is a totality where the parts are real only in how they relate to the whole.VSPLATO (427-347 BC)Words name concepts and ideasWords designate essencesWords denote what all things in that category have in common (in this example: treeness

We call them trees . . . Because thats what they are!!!! Are you crazy or something?

PLATONIC HEAVEN: the place of eternal, unchanging truths where the real exists and where we perceive only pale copies here on earth.

THIS IS NOT A DESKFor Plato, there is some natural connection between words and concepts. Just as the word writing is like the idea of writing, so is the word dog somehow like the idea of a dog-Donald PalmerUniversal MeaningsAbsolute MeaningsUnchanging MeaningsTRUTH exists (where does it come from? That would be a silly question from this type of mindset)

Ferdinand De Saussure (1857-1913)

Language is made up of signsSignified + Signifier =SignSignifier= a sound or imageSignified = an idea or a conceptSemiotics: Now For Something Completely Different!

This could be a desk.

The sign is completely arbitrary. There is no logical reason this has to be a tree.

Tr-ee is a phonetic sound that has been agreed upon in social, historical, and cultural contexts to signify this thing.

Ramifications:Meaning can change over time (patriotism, marriage, life)Meaning is not contained in a word or a thing itself but in the relationship to an entire system (more soon!)

A Desk

This doesnt have to be red.

These pieces essentially mean nothing.

They only mean once theyre in the context of a chess board.

And even then, they only mean something (i.e., a bishop moves diagonally) if people sitting at the board have a consensus that this is what they mean.

The KEYMeaning is always absentMeaning is always dependent on an underlying system based on negative relationships of difference

This is not a bishop because IT IS a bishop. Its a bishop because its NOT a knight. Its NOT a Queen. Its NOT a pawn.

It means diagonal movement because other pieces dont do that in the context of a chess game.

ModernismFormPurposeDesignHierarchyArt Object/Finished WorkDistancePresenceInterpretation/ReadingNarrativeParanoia/AlienationTranscendenceModernism (late 19th century to mid 20th century) was a cultural movement, or set of tendencies, which rejected the earlier Enlightenment Project which focused on pure reason and scientific method as the source of all knowledge.

The modernist believed in creative destruction. They feared the institutions and morals of history were stagnant and not in line with an increasingly global and technological world. In response, they pursued utopic goals based on radical new forms (experimental fiction), tones (irony, satire), and a foundational belief that high art and reflection/analysis were the only ways to understand (and live in) an increasingly fractured world.

Roland Barthes 1915-1980There are no facts.No have-tosNo TRUTH.

(how could there be? Where does it come from? Even if we pretend it exists, we can only access it through language whose meanings are never present)

All that exists are signs and social/personal systems of encoding and decoding signs.

ConnotationPuppySatanNietzsche On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral SenseEnlightenment Project has failedThe focus on intellect and reason ignores the fact that the intellect and reason operate through language; therefore, even these things are merely constructions that cannot reach an absolute truth

Any truth will have a limited value. It can not be true in an of itself or true apart from man.

Our declarations and concepts are based in tautology. We call a person honest. And when asked why he is honest we reply, He does honest things. We have no access to anything that is pure or true honesty- we operate on individual instances and overlook anything that doesnt fit with out lived experience.What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthromorphomisms- in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power, coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

Man has an unconquerable tendency to let himself be deceived and he is if enchanted with happiness when the rhapsodist tells him epic legends are true or the actor plays the king more regally than any real monarch does. As long as it can deceive without harm, the intellect, that master of deception, is free and released.

Thats too easy. Too tidy. Although Saussure was somewhat correct; his ideas suggest a system of language and meaning that Is too closed and stable.It Gets WorseDerrida

Welcome to Post-Structuralism! Leave any Hopes for Absolute Truth, Structures, or Clear Communication at the DoorSaussure saw a direct and neat connection between the sign and the signifier.

A desk may lead to different interpretations and connotations but you can always count on the system of language connecting the signifier apple with the signified of the spherical, tart fruit.

In post-structuralism, such order is no longer guaranteed or present.

Meaning is the slippery play of endless signifiers signifying something else. So meaning can never truly be ascertained just assumed or self-deluded


a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. 2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.

3. sexual passion or desire.

4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.

Situationally Dependent Connotations:


fond attachment, devotion, or love: the affection of a parent for an only child.

2. Often, affections. a. emotion; feeling; sentiment: over and above our reason and affections.

b. the emotional realm of love: a place in his affections.

3. Pathology . a disease, or the condition of being diseased; abnormal state of body or mind: a gouty affection.

Situationally Dependent Connotations:


an act of attaching or the state of being attached.

2. a feeling that binds one to a person, thing, cause, ideal, or the like; devotion; regard: a fond attachment to his cousin; a profound attachment to the cause of peace.

3. something that attaches; a fastening or tie: the attachments of a harness; the attachments of a pair of skis.

4. an additional or supplementary device: attachments for an electric drill.

Situationally Dependent Connotations:


Tender, Sex, Pathology, Desire, Work, Commitment, Fear, Romance, Emotion, Fondness, Claustrophobia, Unconscious, Sacrifice, Heart, Life, Blood, Mortality, etc. etc. etc.

Mcdonalds cant control this play of meanings. Once language or signs are public the speaker/writer loses control.Nothing is ever fully present in signs. It is an illusion for me to believe that I can ever be fully present to you in what I say or write, because to use signs at all entails that my meaning is always somehow dispersed, divided, and never quite at one with itself. Not only my meaning, indeed, but me: since language is something that I am made out of, rather then merely a convenient tool that I use, the whole idea that I am a stable, unified entity must also be a fiction. Not only can I never be fully present to you, but I can never be fully present to myself either. I still need to use signs when I look into my own mind or search my soul, and this means that I never experience any full communion with myself.

It is not that I can have a pure, unblemished meaning, intention or experience which then gets distorted and refracted by the flawed medium of language because language is the very air I breath. I can never have a pure, unblemished meaning or experience at all.

-Terry EageltonFormPurposeDesignHierarchyArt Object/Finished WorkDistancePresenceInterpretation/ReadingNarrativeParanoia/AlienationTranscendence


Modernism versus Post-modernsim

The End of Hermeneutics and the Waning of AffectVan Gough (Modern) Warhol (Post-Modern)

The Commodified Image Itself, NOT a Representation of a Real

Pomo Response:

Calm down scared, alienated dude. You dont really possess a self that is cohesive enough to get so bent out of shape. The intensity of your emotion is not owned by you; rather, it is free floating and impersonal.

In other words, chill out. YOU are not that important.Munchs The Scream. A Classic Image of Modern ArtHistoricism Effaces HistoryHistory: A sense of a lifeless re-telling of things that happened in the past- told with the notion that the past can be looked back at objectively as it actually happened and might possess universal truths that are applicable to us now.

Historicism: The notion that to tell history is always to recreate history from o