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Semiotics of Texts Dale Sullivan

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1 Semiotics of Texts Dale Sullivan

2 In separating language (langue) from speaking (parole) we are at the same time separating: (1) what is social from what is individual; and (2) what is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental. It [langue] 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. Ferdinand de Saussure Course in General Linguistics Tr. by W. Baskin. New York: McGraw-Hill Page 14.

3 “[Language] is a set of signs fixed by agreement between the members of that society; these signs evoke ideas, but in that respect it's rather like rituals, for instance. Nearly all institutions, it might be said, are based on signs, but these signs do not directly evoke things.... A language must thus be classed among semiological institutions.... Writing is likewise a vast system of signs. Any psychology of sign systems will be part of social psychology - that is to say, will be exclusively social; it will involve the same psychology as is applicable in the case of languages.” Saussure

4 WordLanguageLiterature Signified, a concept Langue, a set of grammatical rules Codes, eg., genre, structure, roles Signifier, a wordParole, a person’s utterance Text, a specific poem, novel, or other text A specific performance vs. the rules or grammar

5 Saussure emphasized that meaning arises from the differences between signifiers; these differences are of two kinds: syntagmatic (concerning positioning) and paradigmatic (concerning substitution). Saussure called the latter associative relations. Semiotics for Beginners Daniel Chandler

6 These two dimensions are often presented as 'axes', where the horizontal axis is the syntagmatic and the vertical axis is the paradigmatic. The plane of the syntagm is that of the combination of 'this-and-this-and-this' (as in the sentence, 'the man cried') whilst the plane of the paradigm is that of the selection of 'this-or-this-or-this' (e.g. the replacement of the last word in the same sentence with 'died' or 'sang'). Whilst syntagmatic relations are possibilities of combination, paradigmatic relations are functional contrasts - they involve differentiation. Chandler

7 According to Ferdinand de Saussure, “the binary opposition is the ‘means by which the units of language have value or meaning; each unit is defined against what it is not.’ Essentially, the concept of the binary opposition is engendered by the Western propensity to organize everything into a hierarchical structure; terms and concepts are related to positives or negatives, with no apparent latitude for deviation: i.e. Man/Woman, Black/White, Life/Death, Inside/Outside, Presence/Absence, and so on. Thus, the binary opposition is fundamentally a structurally derived notion which acknowledges the human inclination to think antagonistically. Significantly, the primary elements of binary oppositions are delineated by what they proscribe: for example, Black excludes White, Man excludes Woman, and as long as these divisions are sustained, then the entire hierarchical structure can operate agreeably.” Fogarty, Sorcha. "Binary Oppositions." The Literary Encyclopedia. 15 February [http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=122, accessed 24 January 2009.]

8 Claude Lévi-Strauss on Myths Myth is an allegory intended to account for the origin of human institutions, yet, according to Lévi-Strauss, behind the allegorical myth lies profound abstract thought. [B]eyond the strangeness, the myth's different versions intertwine to form a single system based on a common structure, for beyond the surface level, myth contains, at the deep level, a conflict between polarized values, and the myth story is supposed to reconcile the conflict. Lévi-Strauss holds that the structure consisting of a pair of dialectic notions is universal and timeless. It lies in our consciousness, through which it is projected onto an array of texts–myths that describe and explain the world; it is a universal structure which Lévi-Strauss calls a "binary structure.” Dr. Ouzi Elyada, University of Haifa, “The Raw and the Cooked: Claude Lévi- Strauss and the Hidden Structures of Myth”

9 Story and Discourse “... the theory of narrative requires a distinction between what I shall call ‘story’--a sequence of actions or events, conceived as independent of their manifestation in discourse--and what I shall call ‘discourse,’ the discursive presentation or narration of events,” (169-70). “In Russian Formalism this is the distinction between fabula and sjuzhet: the story as a series of events and the story as reported in the narrative” (170). Culler, Jonathan. The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981.

10 Vladimir Propp, fairytale character roles 1.Villain 2.Donor, provider 3.Helper 4.Princess 5.Dispatcher 6.Hero 7.False Hero 000/narrative.html

11 Ivan M Tordorov’s Structure of the Fantastic A state of equilibrium and plenitude exists This is challenged by the arrival of an opposing force This creates a situation of disruption and disequilibrium A unifying and equalizing force arises A quest takes place The opposing and equalizing force meet Disequilibrium continues as battle is joined A new equilibrium and state of plenitude is achieved following the victory of the equalizing force.

12 “... the narrative of the fantastic is not the only one to emphasize the work’s time of perception: the detective story is even more emphatic in this regard. Since there is a truth to be discovered, we shall be confronted with a strict chain or series, no one link of which can be shifted; for this very reason... we do not reread detective novels.” The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre By Tzvetan Todorov, Richard Howard, Robert Scholes Translated by Richard Howard, Robert Scholes Contributor Richard Howard, Robert Scholes Edition: 5 Published by Cornell University Press, 1975 Page 90

13 Whereas Propp had extrapolated his thirty-one function sequence from the linear order of events recounted in his 100 fairy tale corpus, Levi-Strauss sought to discover what he felt was the underlying paradigm (of oppositions). Levi-Strauss did recognize the "order" of events as presented in narrative as told, but he elected to ignore that "order.” In The Naked Man, the final volume of the four-volume Mythologiques, in a chapter entitled "Binary Operators," [Levi-Strauss] has this to say of "mythemes," his neologism intended to refer to basic units of myth: "Of course, all mythemes of whatever kind, must, generally speaking, lend themselves to binary operations, since such operations are an inherent feature of the means invented by nature to make possible the functioning of language and thought.” Binary opposition in myth: The Propp/Levi-Strauss debate in retrospect Western Folklore, Winter 1997 by Alan Dundes

14 Robert Scholes on literariness: based on duplicities Duplicity of sender--role playing, acting Duplicity of receiver--eavesdropping, voyeurism Duplicty of message--opacity, ambiguity Duplicity of context--allusion, fiction Duplicity of contact--translation, fiction Duplicty of code--inovlved in all of the above (31) Scholes, Robert. Semiotics and Interpretation. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982.

15 The terminology [for isolating literariness] I wish to offer is based on three related binary oppositions... : absent versus present, semiotic versus phenomenal, and abstract versus concrete. Scholes 25 Unliterary contexts consist of both speaker and hearer being co-present, of the reference being phenomenal (to observable reality around them), and of the language being abstract (without accumulated detail). Literary contexts consist of the writer being absent, the reference being semiotic (to something that must be imagined by the reader--fictional--rather than observed), and the language being concrete (it fills in the fictional world with detail).

16 The more an essay alludes or fictionalizes, the more the author adopts a role or suggests one for the reader, the more the language becomes sonorous or figured, the more literary the essay (or the letter, the prayer, the speech, etc.) becomes. Scholes 34

17 As semiotic interpreters we are not free to make meaning, but we are free to find it by following the various semantic, and pragmatic paths that lead away from the words of the text. Scholes 30


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