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Man as a Sign

Approaches to Semiotics
89

Editorial Committee
Thomas A. Sebeok
Roland Posner
Alain Rey

Mouton de Gruyter
Berlin • New York
Man as a Sign
Essays on the Philosophy of Language

by
Augusto Ponzio

Translated from the Italian and edited by Susan Petrilli

Mouton de Gruyter
Berlin · New York 1990
Mouton de Gruyter (formerly Mouton, The Hague)
is a Division of Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin.

® Printed on acid-free paper.


(ageing resistant — pH: 7, neutral)

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Ponzio, Augusto.
Man as a sign : essays on the philosophy of language /
by Augusto Ponzio ; translated from the Italian and edited
by Susan Petrilli.
p. cm. — (Approaches to semiotics ; 89)
Translated revisions of parts of Per parlare dei segni and
Filosofia del linguaggio.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 0-89925-602-3 (alk. paper) :
1. Semiotics. 2. Languages—Philosophy. I. Petrilli,
Susan. II. Title. III. Series.
P99.P55 1990
40Γ.41 — dc20 90-32711
CIP

Deutsche Bibliothek Cataloging in Publication Data

Ponzio, Augusto:
Man as a sign : essays on the philosophy of language / by
Augusto Ponzio. Transi, from the Ital. and ed. by Susan
Petrilli. - Berlin ; New York : Mouton de Gruyter, 1990
(Approaches to semiotics ; 89)
ISBN 3-11-012167-0
NE: GT

© Copyright 1990 by Walter de Gruyter & Co., D-1000 Berlin 30.


All rights reserved, including those of translation into foreign languages. No part of
this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic
or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Typesetting: Asian Research Service, Hong Kong. — Printing: Ratzlow, Berlin. —
Binding: Lüderitz & Bauer, Berlin. — Printed in Germany.
Preface

Memory is a peculiar thing. Freud used to compare it to a magic


writing-pad where that which is written on the surface can be easily
rubbed out to make room for new annotations. All we need do is tear
off the top sheet and the notebook is virgin again so that nothing
legible remains, not even on the page underneath. In the case of
memory, however, even though we continually perform erasures
and substitutions at the level of conscious life, something always
remains indelibly written or recorded, as it were, in our bodies. Memory
is not dependant upon our will nor upon the efforts of our conscious-
ness. Remembrance is often provoked by involuntary and casual
stimuli, it is the simple re-evocation and resuming of a previous
experience, and always arises within the context of a new experience.
That which is remembered always presents new and additional elements.
It is thanks to these new experiences which stimulate our body to
remembering (even if this is not our desire or purpose), that previous
experiences are not irreparably erased from consciousness (even if
this sometimes happens).
Writing has a memorative function, verba volant scripta marient. One
of the primary functions of books is to save experience, knowledge
and tradition, they are a sort of memory. However, just as memory
needs new experiences to continue flourishing, books would remain
mute, impotent and unusable (at the level of content) if new conditions
did not intervene to confer a new sense upon them.
Consequently, for the full reactivation of the experiences potentially
present in a book, we need an instrument of stimulation and preser-
vation just as powerful as that book at the level of preservation. Such
an instrument is another book.
This is why we write books, this is why a person who has already
written a book must write another one. It is a means through which
at least the author will remember what he has written, he will keep
it at hand, use it, and recognize himself in it.
The book I am now presenting has also been written to remember
other books — those by other authors as well as by myself — and
its greatest pretension is that it should succeed in making these other
books relive and speak again.
vi Preface

Moreover, it is the result of the fusion, re-elaboration and renewed


affective contact with two of my own, previous books, published
in Italian, Per parlare dei segni, 1985, and Filosofìa del linguaggio,
1986. This work of re-elaboration also includes the effort of imagining
and reconsidering these books in another language, English, and thus
for another and different cultural background.
All the texts making up the book we are here constructing, those
used as the material re-elaborated (the books mentioned above), as
well as those used as the object of analysis, can be said to deal in
some way with semiotics or with the sign. Originally, instead of Man
As a Sign, 1 was tempted to use a playful title, Summulae semeioticales
in memory of (and here too we see how memory returns) Summule
logicales by Peter of Spain (12057-1277), to which a section of this
book is devoted. Peter of Spain's Summule logicales is the book
Dante Alighieri was referring to when in the twelth Canto of his Paradise
(II. 134-135), he says, " [ . . . ] e Pietro Ispano, lo quai già luce in dodici
libelli").*
But Summulae semeioticales would have also been suitable for an-
other reason, which, even if purely subjective, all the same seems quite
feasible given the objective situation in which semiotics and the general
science of signs find themselves today. This objective situation consists
in the fact that similarly to the time when it was possible to write the
synthesis which found expression in Summule logicales, there is today
— by contrast with the situation characterizing the early 1970's when
theoretical stances were different, contradictory and in contrast with
each other (concerning Italy, see my La semiotica in Italia, 1976) — a
relative homogeneity and agreement in points of view : I am convinced
that, all things considered, there is no substantial difference or at least
no contrast, despite the different areas of study and approaches,
among such authors as, for example, Umberto Eco, Ferruccio Rossi-
Landi, Cesare Segre, Carlo Sini in Italy, Julia Kristeva and Gérard
Deledalle in France, and Thomas Sebeok, Max Fisch, Michael Holquist
and Katerina Clarke in the United States. The latter being only a
few of the most important researchers on the two authors who best
characterize, even if under different aspects, the approach to the
study of the life of signs in our own times: Charles Sanders Peirce
and Mikhail Bakhtin.

* The Summule logicales, in fact, like Dante's Divina Commedia, is composed


of 12 books (Trans.).
Preface vii

As we began speaking about memory, I would here like to remember


two people whom I wish to thank: one of these for his advice and
suggestions concerning my scientific production — Ferruccio Rossi-
Landi who died prematurely in May, 1985; the other is a person whom
I remember having already thanked in my 1974 book for having
published a small piece of the present book in his journal, and whom
I must now thank for much more since he has made it possible for this
book to appear in its current form — Thomas A. Sebeok.

Augusto Ponzio
Contents

Preface ν

Introduction 1
Susan Petrilli

1. Signs to Talk About Signs 15


1.1 Meaning as an Interpretative Route 17
1.2 The Referent as Implicit Interprétant 33
1.3 Signality and the Interprétant of Identification in
Verbal Signs 37
1.4 Signality and the Interprétant of Identification in
Nonverbal Signs 44
1.5 Signality and Percepts 47
1.6 Conventionality, Indexicality and Iconicity between
Interpreteds and Interprétants 49
1.7 Signs and Answering Comprehension 54
1.8 Enuntiatum, Text and Discourse Genre 58

Bibliography 62

2. Adventures of the Sign 75


2.1 Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain 77
2.1.1 Vox Significativa ad Placitum 77
2.1.2 Significatio, Res Significata and Acceptio 80
2.1.3 Typology of the Suppositio 86
2.1.4 Appellatio 89
2.2 Signifies and Semiotics. Victoria Welby and
Giovanni Vailati 94
2.2.1 Towards the Hypothesis of Ethosemiotics 94
2.2.2 Criticism of Definition as a Panacea 97
2.2.3 Welby, Vailati and Peirce 99
χ Contents

2.3 On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 107


2.4 Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 121
2.4.1 A Text of Great Topical Interest 121
2.4.2 A Priori in Language 129
2.4.3 Metalinguistics in Common Speech 132
2.4.4 Common Speech and the Plurality of Universes
of Discourse 136
2.4.5 Contributions of the Methodics of Common Speech 139
2.4.6 Initial Meanings and Additional Meanings 142
2.4.7 Criticism of the Postal Package Model 146
2.4.8 The River Under the Boat 148
2.5 Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 150
2.5.1 Human Individual, Language and Knowledge 150
2.5.2 Theory of Language and Theory of Knowledge 158
2.5.3 The Concept of Contradiction in Formal Logic
and Dialectic 163
2.5.4 Criticism of Chomskyian Biologism 165
2.5.5 Language, Ideology and Stereotypes 170
2.6 Notes on Semiotics and Marxism 174
2.6.1 What it Means to Keep Account of Marxian
Criticism in Semiotics 174
2.6.2 Ten Theses 179
2.7 For a Critique of Equal Exchange Semiotics 185
2.7.1 Criticism of Code Semiotics and Marxian Criticism
of Political Economy 185
2.7.2 Beyond Equal Exchange: Peirce, Bakhtin,
Rossi-Landi 188
2.7.3 Ten Theses on Semiotics and Marxism 191
2.7.4 Signs and Contradictions 194
2.8 Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 197
2.8.1 Symbol and Alterity 197
2.8.2 Indexicality and Iconicity as Degeneracy of the
Symbol 200
2.8.3 Logic and Dia-Logic 203
2.8.4 Orience and Alterity 206
2.8.5 From Equivalence to Displacement: Icons and
Alterity 211
Contents xi

2.9 Dialogue and Alterity in Bakhtin 215


2.9.1 One's Own Word and the Word of Others 215
2.9.2 "Manipulation" of the Word of Others:
Reported Discourse 218
2.9.3 Verbal and Nonverbal Signs: Carnivalization 225
2.9.4 Polylogism and Active Comprehension 229
2.10 Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 233
2.10.1 Introductory Remarks 233
2.10.2 From Semiotics of Decodification to Semiotics of
Interpretation 234
2.10.3 Outwardness and Extralocality 236
2.10.4 Relative Otherness and Absolute Otherness 238
2.10.5 Otherness in Literary and Extra-literary Language 244
2.10.6 Concluding Remarks 249
2.11 Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 251
2.11.1 Homology 251
2.11.2 Dialogism of Signs 260
2.11.3 Difference 268
2.11.4 Moving in Two Directions 272
2.12 Looking Back While Moving On 274
2.12.1 Philosophy of Language and Semiotics 274
2.12.2 Beyond Code Semiotics 275
2.12.3 Extensions on the Boundaries of Semiotics 277
2.12.4 Binarism and Triadism 279
2.12.5 Philosophy of Language and Marxism 281
2.12.6 Signs and Exchange Value 282
2.12.7 From Peirce and Bakhtin 284
2.12.8 A Semiotic Babel 286

Bibliography 288

3. Appendix I: The Problem of Signifying in Welby, Peirce,


Vailati, Bakhtin, by Susan Petrilli 313

3.0 Introduction 315


xii Contents

3.1 Signifies, Meaning and Signs 317


3.1.1 Welby in the Context of Studies on Signs 317
3.1.2 Welby and Peirce: Signifies and Semiotics 322
3.1.3 Interpretation/Translation 328
3.1.4 Production of Meaning and Value in the
Signifying Process 330
3.1.5 Significs/Semantics/Semiotics 335
3.2 The Critique of Language in Vailati and Welby 339
3.2.1 Intellectual Solidarity 339
3.2.2 Linguistic Ambiguity and Definition 341
3.2.3 Figurative Speech, Analogy and Communication 343
3.2.4 Concluding Remarks 346
3.3 Signs and Meaning in Welby and Bakhtin 348
3.3.1 Intellectual Biography 348
3.3.2 Language and Culture 352
3.3.3 Signs/Identity/Otherness 355
3.3.4 Ideology/Language/Consciousness 358
3.3.5 Sign Theory in Welby, Bakhtin, Peirce 361

4. Appendix II: On the Materiality of Signs, by Susan Petrilli 365

4.1 Signs and Nonsigns 367


4.2 Verbal and Nonverbal Signs 369
4.3 Bodies and Signs 373
4.4 Ideological Signs 381
4.5 Further Aspects of Sign Materiality 386

4.6 Concluding Remarks 391

Bibliography to the Appendices 393

Subject Index 403


Index of Names 407
Introduction
Susan Petrilli

The present development of the linguistic sciences in their multiple


diversification shows how it is possible to arrive at the study of
signs from different fields and points of view. Augusto Ponzio starts
from the territory of Philosophy of Language — an area he has been
working in for years at the theoretical level, and which he has been
teaching uninterruptedly since 1970.
As an officially recognized discipline in its own right, philosophy
of language originated in Italy at approximately the same time,
though it is common knowledge that as a theoretical practice its roots
go back much further. The question as to what philosophy of language
actually is, is a question that already places us inside philosophy of
language. Consequently, any answer we might choose to give implies
a commitment on a theoretical level and obliges us to make a choice.
Answers may be, and are, in fact, different in character: philosophy
of language as the analysis of common language or ordinary lan-
guage (English analytical philosophy), as a logico-epistemological
approach to scientific languages (neo-positivism), as the study of
innate linguistic structures with the explicit vindication of the validity
of mentalism (Chomsky), as the methodics of "common speech"
and of "common semiosis" (Rossi-Landi), or finally as the study of
"speech acts" (Austin and Searle); and they all denote a series of
different approaches that represent just as many different possible
answers to the question as to what philosophy of language might be.
Yet another reply finds expression in this book we are in the course
of presenting by Augusto Ponzio, as well as throughout the whole
of his research as he has so far conducted it. As an anticipation to
the reader of the kind of philosophy of language he will be faced with
in the pages that follow, we may recall the way in which philosophy
of language was intended, already as far back as 1929, by the Russian
thinker, Mikhail Bakhtin, in a book (published in English translation
only just relatively recently [1973]*) that may be considered as
* The bibliographical references relevant to this introduction have been included
in the bibliography to the Appendices.
2 Introduction

proposing a pioneer approach to this field, and that is directly con-


cerned, as the title itself indicates, with philosophy of language. This
correspondence between Ponzio's current research and Bakhtin's
thought is in part casual (Ponzio, who may be considered as today's
leading exponent, both in Italy as well as at an international level, of
Bakhtinian thought — he has the distinction of having provided us with
the very first monograph on Bakhtin in 1980 — met up with the latter
no earlier than 1976), and in part deliberate. The encounter between
Ponzio and Bakhtin may be taken as representative of the immediate
relation that comes to be established between philosophy of language
and semiotics, and which is characterized by two dominant aspects:
one of identification between the two disciplines, the other of dif-
ferentiation. The first refers to the fact that similarly to semiotics
and unlike other interpretations, philosophy of language, rather than
limit itself to verbal language alone, extends its interests to include
both verbal and nonverbal signs. The second refers to the fact that
philosophy of language crosses over the field of semiotics just as
philosophy, in general, crosses over the field of science. If, in fact,
semiotics is to be counted as one among the numerous disciplines
forming the sciences, philosophy of language researches into the
conditions and foundations of semiotics, revealing its limits, potentiali-
ties, function and significance for man. Taking up the terminology
used by the German phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl, we might
say that semiotics aims at being an "exact science"; philosophy
of language a "rigorous science". Together with Bakhtin, we could
speak of philosophy of language in relation to a particular science
of verbal language, linguistics, whereas in relation to the general science
of signs, semiotics, we could speak of "trans- or meta-linguistics"
and of "trans- or meta-semiotics".
There is, in truth, yet another side to the differentiation between
semiotics and philosophy of language as it is intended and practiced
in this book — this time, however, we are speaking of something that
is not essential in nature, but only momentary and contingent.
Today — especially thanks to such scholars as Thomas A. Sebeok
who in their work have kept in mind the indications given by the
founders of modern semiotics, Charles S. Peirce and Charles Morris
— semiotics extends beyond the boundaries of human culture and
society and is also concerned with animal signs (including those
of the human animal) and with strictly biological signs, such as
those pertaining to genetics. This constitutes a contribution of funda-
Introduction 3

mental importance to the overcoming of Saussure's sémiologie.


However, as a mere question of choice concerning the area of investi-
gation with its contingent limits, the signs taken into consideration in
the book under discussion are the signs of man, or better still, as the
title itself indicates, the signs that man is.
As practiced by Ponzio, philosophy of language emerges both as
a meta-linguistic (with respect to the official science that studies
verbal language) as well as a meta-semiotic (with respect to the official
science, semiotics, and its various branches) approach to the study of
nonverbal languages in addition to verbal language. For what reason,
therefore, do we continue speaking of "philosophy of language",
given that we are not only dealing with (verbal) language but also
with languages in general (with signs)? Why not speak of philosophy
of signs or, at least, of philosophy of languages?
Ponzio's answer is that in spite of what we have said so far, the
expression "philosophy of language" is exactly what we want. And
this is so for two reasons:
1) Philosophical investigation into the sciences of verbal and non-
verbal languages is oriented in terms of a continuing and open dialogic
relation devoid of prevarications, authority or monologism, in favour
of consideration of the reciprocal otherness of the parts in dialogue.
Now, whatever the signs taken up as the object of study, verbal and
nonverbal, whatever the specialized languages of the sciences involved,
this dialogue will always turn out to be, in the last analysis, an
encounter with the universes of discourse of verbal language. Philo-
sophical investigation always takes place inside verbal reality, both
because its instruments and materials are verbal and also because the
signs with which it concerns itself are mediated by verbal signs insofar as
they are pronounced verbally in this or that field of discourse, including
the sciences. In other words, whatever the type of sign we are dealing
with, it is precisely because philosophical investigation is meta-scientific
that the interprétant is necessarily a verbal interprétant, whether it
belongs to the language of a particular science, including semiotics,
or to the specific field of philosophy. Therefore: philosophy of (verbal)
language because verbal language is the material, the instrument, the
object of this field of inquiry.
2) Philosophy as a profession, as an institution presupposes a
philosophy immanent in language, which finds expression in the
tendency of language towards dialogic plurilingualism, towards the
dialogic correlation between languages and ideologies: philosophy
4 Introduction

of language is to be understood in the sense of the philosophizing


on the part of language and not of the philosophizing about language.
Ponzio has theorized upon this particular signification of "philosophy
o f ' (that is, on the part of) language, in his essay "Il plurilinguismo
dialogico della filosofia" (The dialogic plurilingualism of philosophy)
(in Ponzio, 1985c). He is inspired by Bakhtin's conception of "multi-
voicedness and heteroglossia", and by Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's "me-
thodics of common speech" (see the sections on these two authors
in this volume). In Ponzio's opinion, reflection on language by the
linguistic disciplines and by institutional philosophy of language (that
is, as intended in the common sense of study on the part of philosophy,
on language), may indeed be conducted monologically in line with
the centripetal and unifying forces of linguistic life, though even
in this case, reflection on language will betray — in the double sense
of deformation, distortion and of involuntarily allowing a glimpse at -
the original philosophizing immanent in language, its constitutive
dialogic heteroglossia. In fact, without this original philosophizing
of language, the very objectification of language and consequently
the different philosophical and linguistic disciplines, would not be
possible. Therefore, from the viewpoint of philosophy, dialogic heter-
oglossia acquires a methodological function: in relation to the study
of language as well as to the very definition and outlining of philosophy
of language. Such an approach requires that philosophy, in the to-
tality of its interests, and not only when directly concerned with
language, abide by the dialogic heteroglossia inherent in language which
should thus be considered as a sort of a priori, as the transcendental
condition of very philosophical reflection as of all forms of critical
consciousness.
As may have been to some extent perceived from what has been
said so far, at the foundation of the philosophy of language as con-
ceived by Ponzio, there is a conception of the subject as constitutionally
inserted in a relation of alterity: a subject that is open to dialogue,
not by choice but rather perforce, passively. This conception is taken
from the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas. In fact, far earlier than the
encounter with Bakhtin's dialogism and, indeed, during the very period
of his formation, Ponzio benefitted from his encounter with Lévinas
whose reflection was largely centered upon the relation of alterity.
The former's original and precocious interest in communication and
inter-personal relations pushed him towards the study of a book of
fundamental importance by Lévinas, Totalité et Infini. Ponzio is also
Introduction 5

the first scholar ever to have written a monograph on Lévinas,


published in 1967, and followed by a second enlarged edition in 1983,
when, in Italy, with the translation of his works, Lévinas was at last
receiving the recognition he deserved.
Ponzio came upon Lévinas and his phenomenology through the
phenomenology of Husserl, in whom there was renewed interest in
Italy at the beginning of the 1960s, in a form that was quite original
with respect to, for example, the revival of Husserl especially in France
(Sartre, Merleau-Ponty), and in explicit contraposition with Heidegger's
philosophy as taken up and developed by Enzo Paci and Giuseppe
Semerari. A disciple of the latter, Ponzio found in Lévinas not only
a critical discussion of Heidegger, but also indications for the possibility
of overcoming Husserl's phenomenology precisely where it revealed
its weak point: that is, in the claim of founding the relation with the
other upon the consciousness of the "transcendental self". Sucha con-
ception continued attributing priority and authority to consciousness
with respect to the being of the other. This position even contrasted
with what Husserl himself had stated, particularly in his manuscripts
which long remained unpublished (precisely until the 1960s when
they also appeared in Italian) regarding the original and constitutive
relation with the other which he had described as a relation inscribed
in the body (Leib), in original preconscious and precategorial inter-
corporeity. In any case, Ponzio maintains the lesson learnt from
Husserl of the distinction (to which I have already referred at the
beginning of this introduction) between "exact science" and "rigorous
science".
Another important stage in the process of definition of philosophy
of language as it is practiced by Ponzio is determined by the encounter
with Marxian criticism of political economy. In an initial phase, that
is, the phenomenological phase, Ponzio, once again, came up against
the problem of the critical founding of scientific knowledge through
analysis of the process of production of such knowledge. In Marx,
this also becomes a study of the process of reproduction of the social
system of which this knowledge is a part.
In a second phase, the relation with Marxian criticism is filtered
through the important book of 1968 by Ferruccio Rossi-Landi. This
book revealed to Ponzio how the relation between the science of
language — particularly linguistics, which in that period became a model
not only for the other sciences of language but for all human sciences —
and political economy, was far closer than had been suspected. In-
6 Introduction

deed, it was not a question of having linguistics and economics


meet, as formulated by the very title of Rossi-Landi's book with
its proposal of considering "language as work and trade", as though
it were the first time. In reality, this encounter had already occurred
in the past and precisely in the constitution, thanks to Saussure, of
linguistics as science. In fact, in constructing the new categories of
synchronic linguistics, Saussure had taken economic science as his
model; and precisely the marginalistic approach to economy as then
articulated by Walras and Pareto (see Ponzio 1986d). Such an orienta-
tion merely considered relations in the market place while losing
sight of the social relations of production. These relations were
conceived of as relations among things (commodities) or in the best
of hypotheses (on overcoming the tendency towards reification),
as relations among abstract individuals, that is to say, individuals
considered separately from the historico-social system of which they
are members and, therefore, within the framework of a naively
naturalistic vision. The fundamental theory of Saussure's linguistic
value is wholly founded upon the theory of exchange value as for-
mulated by this particular economic conception. In Ponzio's view,
following Rossi-Landi, it was important to verify whether this con-
ception of value should not be modified in the light of Marxian
criticism of exchange value.
In a third phase, the relation between philosophy of language and
Marxism is characterized by an expansion of the semiotic field so
as to include the problem of value (in the ethical-social sense), of the
human person, of ideology and of alienation. Under this aspect, decisive
is Ponzio's interest in the thought of the Polish philosopher, Adam
Schaff, to whom goes the credit of having unified the questions
of the human person, language, and knowledge (in 1974 Ponzio
published a monograph on Adam Schaff which, as the title announces,
deals with the topics just mentioned). This phase results in the
identification of the Marxian criticism of commodities with semiotics,
where the latter has shifted in the direction of philosophy of language:
in fact, the criticism of commodities, which on a linguistic level
corresponds to the criticism of stereotypes, that is, of meanings
assumed dogmatically and passively, demonstrates the effective
existence of inter-human relations where there appeared to be no more
than relations among things (commodities) and reified relations among
signs (stereotypes).
Introduction 7

As has so far emerged, Ponzio has intended philosophy of language,


from the very beginning, as the overcoming of "code semiotics" and
of "equal exchange" in the direction of the recovery of all that is
Other or Human, and that has remained outside those approaches to
the study of signs that have limited themselves to the phases of the
decodification and reproduction of a pre-established symbolic universe.
It is obvious, therefore, that he was to welcome the passage from
code semiotics (conditioned by Saussurean linguistics and information
theory) to the semiotics of interpretation (largely influenced by a
return to Peirce). In Italy this transition is registered in its official
form from the end of the 1970s onwards. But such authors as Giovanni
Vailati (1863-1909) and Ferruccio Rossi-Landi (the former under
Peirce's direct influence, the latter under the influence of Peirce, but
especially of Morris [concerning this aspect in Rossi-Landi, see
Eco 1988]) had already fallen in line with the positions held by
the semiotics of interpretation. At this point, Ponzio's theoretical
itinerary inevitably aims at the systematic consideration of the new
categories of semiotics and at terminological unification. This is made
possible by the general abandonment of the Saussurean categories
which prevailed in the phase of so-called communication semiotics
and which were characterized by the reduction of the sign to a mere
entity used intentionally and deliberately for the communication of
something specific (for criticism concerning this particular phase
in semiotics, see Ponzio 1976; Sebeok 1979). In this new phase of
semiotics in the 1980s, Ponzio sets himself the ambitious task of
establishing signs for talking about signs, thus continuing and further
developing an analogous project proposed by Morris in his Foundations
of the Theory of Signs (1938). This work was begun by Ponzio in
1983, and has resulted in what is now the first part of the current
volume, "Signs to Talk About Signs".
In this work of theoretical and terminological systematization,
a fundamental role is carried out by the proposal of understanding
the meaning of a sign, verbal or nonverbal, as an interpretative route.
Beginning from this concept, Ponzio deals with fundamental questions
concerning the philosophical-semiotic debate on the sign: these include
the question of multi-voicedness and ambiguity; the relation between
meaning and referent; the inter-semiotic relation among signs as against
the conception of sign systems as separate and autonomous codes;
finally the problem of the relation between signifier (or sign vehicle,
or signans) and signified (designatum, significatum, signification,
8 Introduction

signatum), with special attention to the surplus of the signifier with


respect to meaning as it is determined in the process of interpretation.
The description of meaning in terms of indeterminacy, aperture
and proneness to transformation — once it has been understood in
terms of a possible interpretative route inside an intricate sign network,
which, in its turn, though already largely delineated is, at the same
time, susceptible to continual amplification and to the variability of
alternative itineraries — places the sign within the context of dialogic
relations. This is an original aspect to Ponzio's interpretation which,
all the same, is in line with both the Peircean as well as the Bakhtinian
conception of sign. This dialogic relation regards (1) the relation
between the sign and its interprétant which in argumentation is;
(2) the relation between the premisses and the conclusion - this
relation is characterized by a greater or lesser degree of dialogism as
it ranges from induction and deduction through to abduction (Peirce) ;
(3) the relation among the multiple interprétants which find their
place upon the open trajectory of an interpretative route and which
are verbal as well as nonverbal; and (4) the relation among interprétants
of different interpretative routes.
As it is proposed in the section "Signs to Talk About Signs", this
framework finally puts us into the position of being able to overcome
the pseudo-problem as to whether the referent is pertinent or not
within the field of semiotics. Before going any further, we need to
point out that even if a solution to this problem had been offered
at an initial stage by such authors as Stephen Ullman, Roman Jakobson
and Umberto Eco (consisting in the exclusion of the referent, and,
therefore, in the elimination of one of the apexes of the famous triangle
of Ogden and Richards with its consequent reduction to the binarism
[Saussurean in character] of the signifiant and signifié), the fact that
this problem should have ever been posed was the result of a mis-
understanding. A misunderstanding that the Morris of the Foundations
had already cleared up through his differentiation of the referent
into the designatum, which of necessity is always present in semiosis,
and the denotatum, which may also be absent. Whether or not the
designatum and denotatum are both present is relative to the particular
universe in which semiosis is taking place: "centaur" has a denotatum
in mythology, but certainly not in a scientific context. In reality,
however, this distinction goes back much further than Morris and
may be traced to Peter of Spain's Tractatus or Summule logicales
(ca. 1230) — an author whose importance Peirce was well aware of and
Introduction 9

whom Ponzio has also taken into consideration, highlighting the


analogies with Peircean semiotics, and offering the first Italian transla-
tion of the Tractatus. On considering meaning as an interpretative
route, the referent emerges as a momentarily implied meaning; "Venus",
for example, is the referent, that is, the implied meaning of both
"evening star" and "morning star" which therefore find their place
on the interpretative route constituting the meaning of Venus; this
approach renders Frege's distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung
much clearer.
The second part of the present volume bearing the title "Adventures
of the Sign", is an excursion into the history of studies on signs,
beginning precisely with the above mentioned Peter of Spain up to
more recent positions, such as those of Charles Peirce, Victoria Welby,
Giovanni Vailati, Mikhail Bakhtin, Emmanuel Lévinas, Adam Schaff
and Ferruccio Rossi-Landi. We have already briefly mentioned the
role played by these authors in the development of Ponzio 's theoretical
research. Hence, rather than being purely historiographical in character
this excursion is theoretical, with a strong philosophical-linguistic
leaning in the sense specified above. These studies by Ponzio all belong
to the 1980s and most of them have been collected in his 1985 volume,
Filosofia del linguaggio.
But the second part of the present volume is not only the place
of explicit and direct dialogue with the authors constituting the implicit
points of reference in the first part. "Signs to Talk About Signs"
and "Adventures of the Sign" are not only connected by a relation
of consequentiality and of explication as though we were dealing
with a single discourse and, therefore, with the same monologic project,
but rather, these two parts are connected by a dialogic relation founded
upon the alterity and difference of each.
This alterity is constituted by the fact that the second part — in
the very style of philosophy of language as conceived by Ponzio —
contains a shift with respect to the first part. This shift consists in
the possibility of escape from the semiotics of interpretation, especially
when it is reduced to cognitive semiotics and thus limited to problems
of an epistemological order.
At this point, we must observe that Ponzio is also the author of a
book, published in 1986, which, in line with his preceding books
(that is, Spostamenti [Displacements], Lo spreco dei significanti.
L'eros, la morte, la scrittura [The excess of signifiers. Eros, death,
writing], Tra linguaggio e letteratura [(Between language and liter-
10 Introduction

ature]), considers those aspects of the sign which are external to


the field of interpretation semiotics and, therefore, to the first part
of this volume as well. The 1986 book is significantly entitled, Inter-
pretazione e scrittura. Scienza dei segni ed eccedenza letteraria (Inter-
pretation and writing. Science of signs and literary surplus). Here,
in fact, under the term "writing", Ponzio describes a signans which
is not produced with a specific signatum in mind, a signans that escapes
from the logic of sense, that transgresses with respect to the order
of discourse, that cannot be totally absorbed by the social roles on
the basis of which we normally speak and signify. Together with
Roland Barthes, we may speak of a "third meaning", or of signi fiance,
or of the "sense of writing", where "writing" is not to be understood
in the literal sense, but rather as an "intransitive" activity, in
other words, an activity that is not turned to the realization of a
precise project and, therefore, that cannot be qualified on the basis
of a result, the accomplished work. Thus, in relation to literary writing,
which is an example of this infunctional activity, we may speak of the
"writer" without any further connotations, in contrast to the precise
determinations of he who writes according to a role and object (a
journalist, a semiotician, a philosopher, a university professor, etc.).
This particular meaning of writing is also taken into consideration
by Jacques Derrida who relates it to the notion of renvois from one
signifiant to another, to the notion of différance. Together with Julia
Kristeva, we could speak of the "practice of the text", with Bataille,
of dépense, that is, of the production of sense in terms of waste,
of an investment without returns, of giving without a counterpart.
We could even go as far as saying that this "excedent sense" with
respect to the interprétant is also foreseen in Peirce's semiotics, where
the latter theorizes upon the category of firstness or orience, the
category, that is, which refers to something that has value in itself,
that subsists for its own sake, that is self-signifying. A category that
characterizes, above all, the class of signs described by Peirce as Icons,
by contrast with the Index, which is tied to a Second, that is, the
Object, and with the Symbol, which by convention is dependent on
a Third, that is, the Interprétant. Lastly, for Lévinas, this sense "for
its own sake", kath'auto, is the Other, that which escapes from the
Totality of the Self and is open to the infinite: an exemplification of
this self-signification, which does not call for interpretation in order
to subsist, and which is refractory to whatever category may be
proposed by the subject as a means of grasping and classifying it, is the
Introduction 11

Face of another person, including myself as other, whose significance


expresses an irreducible alterity.
A moment of central importance, highly representative of this
dialogue between "interpretation" and "writing" is constituted by
Ponzio's programmatic paper "Semiotics between Peirce and Bakhtin",
which originally appeared in English in Recherches Sèmiotiques/
Semiotic Inquiry, vol. 4, 1984, 3/4, and which has now been included
in this volume. The section entitled "Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin,
Blanchot, Lévinas", is yet another important point of reference in
the itinerary of Ponzio's research.
Continuing in this direction, Ponzio arrives at what he has described
as "ethosemiotics". The precursors of this particular theoretical
tendency which turns its attention to the relation between social
signs and the whole of human behaviour and not just to cognitive
behaviour are precisely those authors whom Ponzio brings to attention,
and, in particular, Victoria Welby with her theory of signifies (see
2.2 this volume; and also Appendix 1), Bakhtin, and Peirce in certain
of his writings (for example, those included in Chance, Love and
Logic). We should not forget, however, that a no less important
precursor in this direction is also Morris. To this thinker Ponzio has
recently dedicated a series of lectures — an initiative to which 1
contributed by conducting seminars on a number of texts by Morris
centred upon the question of the interrelation between signs and
values.
If, with Peirce, we are able to say that man is a sign, a consequence
of this is that with respect to the sign nihil humani alienum. This means
that semiotics must be extended to all aspects of the life of man and
concern itself with all values, and not only with truth value and its
conditions. As specified at the beginning, we are still speaking of the
semiotics of human social life. From this point of view, the sign nature
of man has as its counterpart the human nature of the sign. Thus, if
we are prepared to risk moving in this direction — just as Ponzio's
philosophy of language suggests — semiotics may contribute to
the delineation of a new humanism. The novelty of this humanism
lies in the fact that the absoluteness and reification of signs and values
are substituted for the critical investigation of the processes by
which they are produced, beginning with historically determined
human operations. In other words, with respect to social signs, it is
a question of recovering their sense for man instead of simply assuming
them as given naturally and as belonging to some sort of mechanism
12 Introduction

beyond man's control and by which he is dominated. But this is


possible for semiotics on one condition: that it gives up its (claim to
a) descriptive and neutral attitude. Understood in this way, the
approach to signs recovers the instance of Husserl's phenomenology
turned to finding the sense and meaning for man both of things as
well as of the sciences that study them. It is in this new sense that
semiotics may thus become a human science. And to the extent that
it is critical of ideology and stereotypes, this approach to signs may
avail itself also of the work carried out in this sense by such authors
as Rossi-Landi and Schaff. At this point, we are able to observe the
coherence and unity of the itinerary of Ponzio's research, from the
very beginning of his work up to the present moment, in spite of the
vastness of the territory he visits, and the wide ranging interests of the
authors he looks towards as the indicators for his excursions.
If we wished to express in a single formula and in the light of what
we have said what Ponzio's philosophy of language proposes for the
science of signs, we might say the following: that if it has been in-
teresting so far to discover that man is a sign, it will now be interesting
to prove that signs are human. Such proof obviously does not only
require a cognitive-descriptive commitment on the part of semiotics
and the philosophy of language, but also a practical-critical commit-
ment to social life.

In its present form, this book only exists in the current English
edition for which it has been specially organized; an exact Italian
equivalent does not exist.
This particular edition includes parts which are being presented
here for the first time in English, and others which have already been
published, in a slightly different version, in various books and scientific
reviews. All parts have been re-organized and internally connected
so as to constitute an organic whole.
An appendix, consisting of two parts written by myself, has also
been included; it takes up and develops some of the topics dealt with
Introduction 13

throughout the volume. The articles previously published in English


and here presented in a modified form are the following:
"Signs to Talk About Signs", in Talking About Signs, Bari: Adriatica,
1985, pp. 77-145.

"On the Signs of Rossi-Landi's Work", Semiotica, 62, 3/4, 1986,


pp. 207-221.

"On the Methodics of Common Speech", Differentia, 1,1986, pp. 137-


165.

"Humanism, Philosophy of Language and Theory of Knowledge in


Adam Schaff", Doxa, 6, 1985, pp. 167-200.

"Notes on Semiotics and Marxism", Kodikas/Code, 7, 1/2, 1984,


pp. 131-139; and Recherches Sémiotiques/Semiotic Inquiry, vol. 4,
3/4, 1984, pp. 293-302.

"The Symbol, Alterity and Abduction", Semiotica, 56, 3/4, 1985,


pp. 261-277.

"Dialogue and Alterity in Mikhail Bakhtin", Revue roumaine de


linguistique/Cahiers de linguistique théorique et appliquée, 2, 1984,
pp. 159-173.

"The Relation of Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas", Recherches


Sémiotiques/Semiotic Inquiry, vol. 7, 1, 1987, pp. 1-20.

"Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin", Recherches Sémiotiques/


Semiotic Inquiry, vol. 4, 3/4, 1984, pp. 273-301; and Kodikas/Code,
8, 1/2, pp. 11-27.
1. Signs to Talk About Signs
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 17

1.1 Meaning as an Interpretative Route

Verbal signs (oral or written) and nonverbal signs are connected to


each other like the nodes, the intersections in a large, thick network.
And like the nodes in a network these signs disappear if we eliminate
the pieces uniting them. On departing from a single point, we may
choose from different routes so that various routes are connected to
each other at the same point.
Similarly to a road network, these routes have already been outlined
and are regularly followed, and in some cases they are set: it is also
possible, however, to install new connections, to proceed along courses
which have never before been mapped out.
Phonic and graphic verbal signs are a stable part of this network,
but any material object and any mental image whatsoever may also
become a part of it.
There is no such thing as a material object that cannot become a sign.
Differently to verbal signs, material objects can move in and out of
the sign network. Once the material object acting as a sign disappears,
so does a linking point among the signs of the network; but a new link
may be set up with the introduction of a new material object which
in its turn becomes a sign.
All our thoughts, words, texts, and all behaviour whether intentional
(such as the realization of any project at all), or unintentional (such
as dreaming), take place within the network of signs; they are caught
up in this network and form itineries within it linking intersection points
which are more or less close to or more or less distant from each other.
Not even natural behaviour such as breathing and digesting escape
the possibility of becoming a sign (breathlessness as a sign that someone
has been running, or as a pathological symptom in medical symptom-
atology).
SEMIOSIS is the process in which something acts as a sign.
For there to be a sign, something must have meaning.
This means that this something may be interpreted as this or that,
i.e., it may be understood as something else.
An object out of place becomes a sign if interpreted as indicating,
for example, the intrusion of a stranger. The wet raincoat of a person
18 Signs to Talk About Signs

entering the house becomes a sign if we interpret it as meaning "it's


raining outside".
Traces, clues, symptoms are all things which have become signs
insofar as they are interpreted as other things.
This is true of verbal signs, also. A vocal sound is a sign if it is inter-
preted as the such and such phonia. The word 'ephipiger' is meaningful
if interpreted as something else, i.e., if we can provide another word
or phrase, a definition, in Italian or any other language, able to tell
its meaning. A text acquires meaning through the reading text (oral
or written) which furnishes the preceding text with an interpretation.
Therefore, each time something is a sign this is so because we are
able to provide it with meaning through something else which is its
interpretation. This "something else" is necessarily another sign.
— A noise in the room next door. Interpretation: "someone's there",
whispered or thought, or expressed with a gesture, or with a "sssh",
etc.
— A gesture of the hand. Interpretation. "Hi!" or "See you later!",
or "Come here!", etc.
— The smell of smoke. Interpretation: "Pipe tobacco", etc.
— The written text "Verbal signs (oral or written) and nonverbal signs
are connected to each other like the nodes, the intersections in a large,
thick network". Interpretation: the same text expressed either orally
or mentally, or its paraphrasing, its translation into another language,
its graphic representation, or the image it recalls to one's mind, etc.
Depending on the circumstances, the meaning of a word may be
formulated either by the same word expressed orally — if dealing with
the written word or, vice versa, graphically — if dealing with the oral
word; or by another word or sentence that defines that word, or by
a photograph or drawing if it is possible to depict its meaning visually,
or by its translation into another language.
In all these cases, meaning is expressed by another sign. But, we
might remark, the meaning of a word can also be expressed by a thing,
as when I say 'shears' and show the object to explain what it means.
Indeed, because of the function they carry out, objects used in this
way — the shears, or the book I show to explain what the word 'book'
means, or the exercise-book to explain what the word 'exercise-book'
means — are signs as well.
In fact, by showing the shears or the book or the exercise-book,
I use a thing as a sign of what is to be interpreted as "shears", or as
"book", or as "exercise-book". The meaning of the word 'exercise-
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 19

book' will have been understood if any exercise-book whatsoever,


and not only the one I show, is interpreted as an "exercise-book".
What proved to be difficult to understand for the young savage of
Aveyron, despite Itard's efforts, was that the names of the objects
which were taught to him, 'stick', 'bellows', 'brush', 'glass', 'knife',
were not to be applied solely to the objects which had been shown
to him, but also to other objects: in other words, he could not under-
stand that the stick shown to him stood for any stick at all. The stick
was not a thing to which a sign was being applied, but was itself a sign.
Once the sign function of the thing displayed to express the meaning
of a word is understood, the other difficulty consists in distinguishing
between the objects of which the displayed object is a sign, and those
of which it is not.
This difficulty arises because the sign function of an object is not
merely determined by a relation between things, by the relations of
identity or of the differences that come to be established between
such things on the basis of property or use; sign function depends
on the relation between things and the words that interpret them,
and on the relations between the very words themselves.
Itard did his utmost to teach the "young savage" to identify objects
by pointing out their uses and properties. But under the name 'book',
the pupil would indistinctly point to a bundle of sheets, an exercise-
book, a newspaper, a register, a pamphlet; every long thin piece of
wood was called "stick"; sometimes he would call a broom 'brush'
and a brush 'broom'.
The capacity of perceiving identity, analogies and differences among
things is dependent upon the existence — in concomitance with the
necessities of specific life environments — of words that interpret
things as being identical or different.
The Eskimos have different words to designate snow which for us
instead is always "the same thing", just as we have different words
to distinguish between what could appear to be the same thing were
they not interpreted by different signs: for example, a diary, a
pamphlet, an agenda, an address book, an exercise-book, a novel, a
magazine, a newspaper, a vocabulary.
Thus the very things used to interpret words are also signs: they
are interpreted by words in their turn, and need a link with words so
as to be interpreted as being either identical or different to each other.
The meaning of a sign is always told by another sign.
Or, we could say that a sign has its meaning in another sign.
20 Signs to Talk About Signs

The latter is such, in its turn, if there is another sign to interpret


it and so forth.
We call the object that receives meaning INTERPRETED and that
which confers meaning INTERPRETANT.
The interpreted and the interprétant may be a word, an utterance,
an entire verbal text (oral or written), or a natural phenomenon, or
an artifact, such as a piece of clothing, a dish, a painting, a photograph,
a musical performance, or a mental image, an attitude, or a person,
or a whole cultural system, etc.
Signs which act as interpretante of each other form an INTER-
PRETATIVE ROUTE.
Each sign in a specific route may act as either an interpreted or
interprétant in other interpretative routes: it is an "intersection",
therefore, in the network of signs.
The exercise-book I write on may be employed as either the inter-
prétant sign of the phonia 'exercise-book' (for anyone who may not
be familiar with the meaning of such a phonia), or as the interpreted
of the phonia "exercise-book" (e.g. when I say to someone that the
object he believes to be a book, an agenda, or an address book, is
instead an exercise-book).
This being the case, the exercise-book in question together with
any other exercise-book used with the same function enter the inter-
pretative route of which they are all a part: all the phonae 'exercise-
book' uttered by any person at all; all the graphae 'exercise-book' in
italics or in any other print; all the phonae and graphae that may have
"exercise-book" as an interprétant in any language, jargon or secret
code; any mental image of 'exercise-book' or of the object exercise-
book; any drawing, design or photograph which has "quaderno" as
an interprétant; any sentence at all, however it may be produced, acting
as a definition of 'exercise-book'.
But the exercise-book itself may also be the interprétant as well
as the interpreted sign of the Arabic numeral 1, of the phonia 'one',
of the graphic sign 'one' and of all the phonae and graphae which
in any language, jargon or secret code have "one" as interprétant.
Thus this exercise-book enters another interpretative route, another
series of renvois and connections.
Or, as the interpreted and interprétant of 'block of sheets', the
same exercise-book could become a part of another interpretative
movement and this time it could be connected to 'address book',
'book', etc.
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 21

Or yet again, it could be the interpreted and the interprétant of


'what is mine', or of what, in relation to myself, is 'this' in contrast
to anything else which I may designate as 'that'.
Found in another person's home, this exercise-book could be a
sign of the fact that I know that person, that I see him/her, thus
becoming part of yet another interpretative route, and so forth.
Each of these interpretative routes constitutes one of the several
meanings thanks to which something carries out the function of sign.
We may define MEANING then as one of the interpretative routes that
links an interpreted to an open series of interprétants.
Given that a number of interpretative routes branch out from a
single interpreted, every sign is always more or less multi-voiced.
An interpreted-interpretant that places itself on a single route, that
is not a crossing point of several interpretations, may instead be called
a SIGNAL. The red of a traffic light is a signal, for instance, because it
gives rise to a single interpretative route which has the phonia and
the writing "stop" or the policeman with his arms outstretched as
interprétant. This does not alter the fact that, in certain special cases,
the signal may also be object of various interpretations and present
itself as a sign. Double meaning is achieved in one of Chaplin's films
by making a red flag — a danger signal — which has fallen down from
a cart, take on a different meaning once it comes to find itself in the
hands of Chariot who happens to be walking in front of a procession
of strikers. In certain situations the signal also may take part, to a
greater or lesser extent, in sign multi-voicedness to the point of being
considered a sign, even if in other situations it is no more than a signal.
We may consider the signal as an interpreted-interpretant at a low sign
level. Vice versa, as we will see, under certain aspects every sign is
also a signal: it contains a certain margin of signality.
Multi-voicedness applies equally to words and things. Showing
things in the place of words, as the sage of Balnibarbi suggests in
Gulliver's Travels believing that we should carry with us everything
we intend to communicate about, does not eliminate ambiguity:
having become signs, insofar as they act as the interprétants of words,
objects are in their turn ambiguous. This gives rise to the inconveniences
of obstensive gestures used to explain the meaning of a word: a single
object may be indicated as the interprétant of different interpreteds.
As we saw in a previous example, we may point to an exercise-book
as the interprétant of 'exercise-book' as well as of 'one', 'this', 'thing',
'mine', 'white', etc.
22 Signs to Talk About Signs

Meaning must be distinguished from CONCEPT even if the inter-


pretative route making up meaning coincides in part with the class
forming concept.
For example, the interpreted-interpretants of the phonia 'tree'
in the botanical sense enter the class forming the concept tree (taken
in the same sense) only partially. In fact, if there are interprétants
in this interpretative route that are actual trees (we may indicate an
olive tree as interprétant of the sign 'tree' — with all the misunder-
standings, as we have seen, that this involves as our interlocutor could
well believe that 'tree' has the olive tree as its sole interprétant), there
are also interpreted-interpretants that are not, beginning with the
very phonia 'tree' which through its meaning expresses the concept
tree but in fact it is not a tree, and for this reason it does not belong
to the logical class or set tree.
A knock at the door is generally interpreted as "someone is behind
the door and wants to enter", but the two things — the interpreted and
the interprétant — and other interprétants of the same interpretative
route such as "this must be Mario who always comes at this time"
or "who always knocks like that", or the act of opening the door —,
do not by any means enter a single class nor do they form a single
concept.
Nor do Mr. X and the tobacco residues interpreted by the Sherlock
Holmes of the moment as "Mr. X was at the scene of the crime", enter
a single class.
Smoke means fire, i.e., fire is an interprétant just as the word 'fire'
is an interprétant, this, however, does not mean that smoke and fire
belong to the same concept.
Therefore, if meaning and concept are closely connected and if
every meaning expresses a concept and, vice versa, every concept,
to exist, requires a meaning, i.e., an interpretative route, the two
things must in any case be kept distinct. A concept is a class of objects.
These objects may or may not be divisible into subclasses, while the
class they belong to may eventually become part of a larger class.
Meaning is an interpretative route and is formed by connections
between signs, by renvois from interprétant to interprétant. The
meaning "tree" and the concept tree are two different things even if
one implies the other.
We could write *tree* in order to refer to the concept and "tree"
to refer to the meaning, to the interpretative route — along which
we find things that are trees, but also phonae, written signs, drawings,
all in the role of interprétants or interpreteds.
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 23

Generally, however, an interpretative route cannot be expressed


with one sign only, e.g., by putting the word tree in quotation marks,
just as we cannot indicate a roadway by simply marking one locality.
We say, "the Brindisi-Bari route"; "the Rome-Naples direction". In
the same way, given that the interpretative routes branching out from
a single sign are numerous, we must indicate the direction we intend
to proceed along. In fact, being aware of its numerous meanings, we
often ask in what sense a particular word or expression is intended.
'Tree', in what sense? In the botanical sense, the sailor's sense, or in
the Chomskyian sense?
An interpretative route is more or less defined when we give at
least two of its interprétants. But, to paraphrase an axiom of Euclidean
geometry, we cannot say that one and only one interpretative route
passes between two interprétants. Similarly to two localities, the
itineries connecting these two interprétants may be numerous.
The semantic multi-voicedness of an interpreted obviously reflects
on the concept or on the concepts to which this interpreted is
connected.
As already suggested concerning the distinction between meaning
and concept, we may indicate the function of interprétant carried
out by a term or expression in the written context (i.e., the fact that
that term, or that expression stands for a meaning, an interpretative
route) through the use of double quotation marks (". . ."); and we may
indicate the function of interpreted, instead, by placing the term
or expression carrying out that function in single quotation marks
('. . .'). For example, 'tie', "strip of material tied around the neck of
a shirt in the form of a knot as ornamentation"; 'cravatta', "tie".
Every interpreted or every sign is such in relation to an interpretative
route or meaning, but this does not mean that the interpreted in
question exhausts itself in that interpretation and in that meaning. We
have already spoken of the multi-voicedness of that which is a sign
and of the fact that a sign is always located at an interpretative route
junction. We may now add that this is what constitutes the SEMIOTIC
MATERIALITY of a sign — whether it be verbal, as in the case of an
utterance, an oral or written text, or whether it be nonverbal, such
as a sequence of gestures, a painting, a piece of clothing, a utensil.
In other words, semiotic materiality is the possibility that signs have
of entering more than one interpretative route.
Though such because it has its meaning in another sign, a particular
sign retains an uninterpreted residue with respect to this other sign,
24 Signs to Talk About Signs

i.e. its interprétant, which in its turn gives rise to other interpretative
routes. Such other interpretative possibilities will eventually have to
be confronted with previous interpretations, especially if a relation
of coexistence is not possible and a choice between two or more
contrasting interpretations imposes itself.
In virtue of semiotic materiality, the interpreted has its own con-
sistency, its own resistance which the interprétant will have to take
into account and adjust to. What is interpreted and becomes a sign
because of this — whether it be an utterance or a whole line of conduct
(verbal or nonverbal), or a written text, or a dream - does not lie at
the mercy of a single interprétant. This is so precisely because the
interpreted is open to several interpretations and is therefore the
crossing point of numerous interpretative routes.
We have called this type of materiality semiotic because of its wholly
sign nature: it is not an a priori property as regards interpretative routes.
Semiotic materiality is determined and exists in interpretative routes
alone, it is obtained in the network of signs: the uninterpreted residue
of an interpretative route exists inside another interpretative route.
When a sign is produced intentionally, as in the case of a written
text or of a gesture signifying something, it already bears an inter-
pretation, which is that conferred to it by its author. Once it has been
produced, however, the sign gains autonomy with respect to the author
and, with respect to the author also, it presents its own semiotic
materiality and objectivity which, as we have said, consists in its
presenting itself to other interpretative routes different to the one for
which it was originally produced.
This is what distinguishes a sign from a signal (see above) which,
on the contrary, imposes a one-way progression. In the signal, the
interpreted and the interprétant are coupled monogamically. We may
certainly change the meaning of a signal but then a new monogamie
route is installed. An anecdote has it that on being asked by a passport
controller why he did not have one wife only, Roman Jakobson
answered that he certainly was polygamous, but only in diachrony,
while in synchrony he was monogamous. In the same way, the signal
is polygamous only diachronically and not synchronically.
As regards semiotic material we may say that the signal has less
semiotic consistency than the sign, or that it is a sign with scarce
semiotic consistency.
We call the uninterpreted semiotic residue of the sign, SIGNIFIER.
The latter has its own irreducible alterity with respect to the inter-
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 25

pretative route "X", for it also occurs in the interpretative route "Y";
but it has an irreducible alterity with respect to the latter route as
well, because it also has its place in the interpretative route "Z", and
so forth. In other words, the signifier is the sign in its autonomy
and alterity as regards a specific meaning because it can also have
another meaning in relation to which, however, it continues to present
autonomy and alterity as it can have still another meaning, and so
forth. Understood in this way, the signifier is not in a relation of
equal exchange with the signified; it presents, rather, an actual excess —
a giving without a counterpart — with respect to a specific meaning.
We may call the more or less wide margin of escape, of distancing
of the signifier in relation to an interpretative route, SHIFT. There
are signs that have very little shift for on being produced they are
already channelled into specific interpretative routes, e.g., the signs
proper to a profession or kinship role and which have a precise aim
such as teaching, persuading, informing, etc. This shift margin is created
by what escapes the author of the signs and is not part of his intentions,
it is the surplus with respect to the meaning that the sign serves. There
are signs, instead, which have greater shift because they belong to
expressive practices which are actually characterized by the autonomy
and alterity of the signifier. We are referring particularly to literary
texts, but also to every other signifying practice that will not allow
itself to be reconducted to a specific meaning, that does not fix a
sense for itself in a precise end.
A sign may have such a wide shift margin as to make the
interpretative movement look as though it is drifting without a
specific direction.
We may say that signs with minimal shift have SIGNIFICATION, and
that signs in which shift and therefore the autonomy of the signifier
are particularly consistent have SIGNIFICANCE.
Once the sign is considered as a relation between interpreted and
interprétant, the conception of sign as being composed of a physical
part (the sign vehicle, the signifiant) and of a mental part (the signifié)
no longer holds. The sign is an interpretative act consisting in uniting
something that acts as interpreted (which is not necessarily a physical
object) to something that acts as an interprétant (which is not
necessarily something mental). The interpreted may have a physical
existence, such as a written text or a phonia, or an advertisement
poster, as much as it may be a mental image, as when we attempt
to interpret what has appeared to us while dreaming, or as when we
26 Signs to Talk About Signs

transpose into phonae words and expressions that first appeared to


us mentally, or as when we attempt to whistle or sing a tune that
continually comes to mind. And the interprétant, too, may just as
easily be something physical, as when in speaking we translate the
mental image of an object or event, or the mental image of a word
or utterance into a phonic sequence, as much as it may be mental,
as when in listening to spoken language we translate phonae into
mental images of the words or objects and situations that such phonae
refer to as their interprétants.
What acts as an interpreted or interprétant does not necessarily,
therefore, have to be an object or physical event, but, on the contrary,
there may be signs in which the interpreted as much as the interprétant
are mental images: e.g., the mental image of an object interpreted
by the mental image of a particuar word. However, if physical
materiality can be absent from a sign considered in isolation, it must
of necessity be present in the interpretative route to which the sign
belongs. This is to say that physical objects and events must necessarily
be present at some point in the chain of renvois from interprétant
to interprétant in which alone can something act as a sign: the mental
image of an object of the preceding example has as its interprétant
not only the mental image of a particular word, but also the physical
object of which it is an image; and it also has as interprétant the phonia
which is the interpretant-interpreted of the mental image of that word.
Interpreteds and interprétants without physical materiality can
exist, but they are necessarily part of an interpretative route in which
one or another of the interpreteds-interprétants is a physical object.
For this reason, a sign is always part of a chain of deferrals in which
physical materiality is present.
In contrast to semiotic materiality, we may call the physical
materiality of signs EXTRASIGN MATERIALITY. If not considered in
isolation from the interpretative route to which it belongs, the sign
always proves to be connected to extrasign materiality.
In addition to physical materiality, another type of extrasign
materiality is given by the fact that physical objects acting as signs,
save phonae and graphae, may have extrasign uses and functions.
Verbal signs have no other function beyond that of being a sign. While
on the other hand, any object or physical event acting as a nonverbal
sign may also have nonsign functions.
My closing the window has an extrasign objective, even if it may
be interpreted as a sign and mean, for example, that I'm cold, or
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 27

that the noises from the road bother me, etc. (unless, owing to an
agreement between myself and another person, closing the window
is in fact a sign - more exactly a signal - meaning, for example, "the
road's clear"). The same is true of clothing, which may give rise to
several different interpretative routes, but which all the same has
nonsign functions - that of covering, of protecting from the cold, etc.
A pair of shoes on display in a shop window is a sign: not only do
they indicate that the shop in question is a shoe shop, but also that
a certain type of shoe is on sale in that shop. Of this type of shoe
they are the sign. If we say "I would like that pair of shoes" to the
shop assistant, we are not at all surprised, nor do we protest if rather
than getting the shoes in the shop window (even though they are
the colour and size we asked for) the shop assistant gets another pair,
in relation to which those on display are the interprétant sign. Once
the shoes in the shop window sold as the last pair available are worn,
they cease to carry out a sign function (at least their previous sign
function even if they can have others) and take on a nonsign function.
In order to distinguish it from physical materiality, we may call
this kind of extrasign materiality of nonverbal signs EXTRASIGN
INSTRUMENTAL MATERIALITY.
In relation to signs, therefore, we have distinguished between three
types of materiality: semiotic materiality, extrasign physical materiality,
extrasign instrumental materiality.
In all interpretative routes we find signs made of words, images
and material objects. We have said that no sign can exist outside of
the connection with other signs. We may now add that no sign —
whether a verbal sign, mental image, or material object acting as a
nonverbal sign — can exist without being connected to verbal signs
as much as to mental images and material objects with a sign function.
Whether this connection is made explicit or remains implicit, unsaid,
it constitutes the inexorable condition by which something acts as
sign. In other words, verbal signs, mental images, and material objects
are all necessarily part of an interpretative route (implicit or explicit
as it may be) whereby something has meaning and is thus a sign.
Interpretative routes consisting exclusively of verbal signs, or of mental
images or of material signs, cannot exist. Thus not only do all signs
involve other signs, but, furthermore, these signs mustbe heterogeneous.
No type of sign is self-sufficient. And the renvoi from interprétant to
interprétant cannot limit itself to a single type of sign; and if instead
the opposite seems to be true, this is only because the interprétants
28 Signs to Talk A bou t Signs

which are heterogeneous with respect to a certain kind of interprétant,


remain unexpressed. If we move along an interpretative route rendering
explicit the interprétants of interprétants that cause us to consider
something as a sign, we will discover how words as much as images
and physical objects acting as nonverbal signs, contribute as signs
to the interpretative process. A sequence of oneiric images receives
meaning, from the dreamer's point of view also, from the inter-
pretability of those images through words and physical objects. A
sequence of words can certainly have another sequence of words
as interprétant, and the latter yet another sequence, and so forth;
but the meaning of these words does not depend solely on the defer-
ral from one word sequence to the next: both physical objects which
are not words and mental images, including the images of words
which enable us to recognize these words, necessarily come into play
as interprétants.
When we say that physical objects acting as interprétants — though
they may be simply implied — must always be present in all inter-
pretative routes, we are also referring to the interpretative routes
of signs that relate to something which does not have a physical
existence, such as the word "hippogryph", or a whole narrative text
of imaginary people, events and places. The physical interprétant —
in addition to the phonic material of the graphia 'hippogryph' and
vice versa, to the graphic material of the phonia 'hippogryph' - is
formed by pictures or sculptures that may be used as interprétants
of 'hippogryph', and also by the physical objects acting as the inter-
prétants, even if implied, of the words used as the interprétants of
'hippogryph', e.g., "horse" or "wings", etc.
The meaning of a sign is not, therefore, something we can restrict
to a certain type of sign, e.g., verbal signs, and even less so to a certain
system of signs, e.g., a particular natural language or conventional
code such as the road code. The interpretative route making up
meaning does not have boundaries of a typological or systemic order.
And in this sense it is not exact to speak of the meaning of verbal
signs, or of the meaning of nonverbal signs, as though only one type
of sign can participate in the constitution of meaning; in reality, every
time something has meaning, there is no type of sign that needs to be
excluded from the interpretative route in which this something takes
its place. We may say then that meaning is a semiotic reality because
every time it occurs it involves all types of signs: strictly speaking,
we do not have either verbal meanings, or nonverbal meanings. Nor
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 29

are there meanings exclusive to a language or to a jargon considered


as self-sufficient systems or codes.
Even if the interpretative movement takes place along routes that
have already been traced out and are regularly followed and thus
repetitious, it is characterized by its stretching forward - in the
move from interpreted to interprétant - towards something else,
something different. The interprétant, as such, does not repeat the
interpreted but adds something new to it: there cannot be a mere
relation of equality, of the absence of differences, of total equivalence,
of substitution of the identical with the identical between the inter-
preted and interprétant — not even at the lowest levels of interpretation.
Even when the interprétant limits itself to identification, to recognition
of the interpreted (such and such an object is recognized as an exercise-
book; such and such a phonia or graphia is identified as the phonia
or the graphia "exercise-book") as well as when we are at the lowest
levels of interpretation (e.g. reading a written text as a phonic
performance or declamation by the reciter), the interprétant diversifies
itself from the interpreted, it does not repeat it, but shifts it in one
direction or another, it risks an opinion, it offers more than what
the interpreted gives (I presume that such and such an object is cubic
in form even if I can only see one of its faces), it has, as it were, its
own "tendentiousness". Hence even the interpretation of something
according to a habitual interpretative route is based on the hypothesis
(allowing for more or less risk depending on the case) that we are
dealing with the interpreted of that specific interpretative route.
The relation between the interpreted and the interprétant is not a
relation of identity, of equality, of correspondence. On the contrary,
it is a RELATION OF ALTERITY* (cf. 2.8): the interprétant is always
something else, something different as compared to the interpreted; and
the more interpretation goes beyond the mere identification of the
interpreted and becomes answering comprehension, the more it
requires that a stand be taken, that a choice be made, the more it
takes risks as it ventures beyond the interpreted.
Reciprocal alterity between interpreted and interprétant confers the
character of a DIALOGIC RELATION upon interpretation. The inter-

* The Italian term alterità (Fr. altérité) has been rendered consistently with the
term "alterity" in the first part of this volume, and alternately with "otherness"
in the second part (Trans.).
30 Signs to Talk About Signs

prêtant answers a question posed by the interpreted, it takes a stand.


The interpreted and interprétant are the question and answer of a dia-
logue internal to the sign since the relation interpreted/interpretant is
constitutive of signs. All interpretative processes in which something
carries out the role of sign can be analysed in terms of the "parts",
of the rejoinders in a dialogue of which the speakers are the datum
to be interpreted and the interprétant. From interpretation at the
level of perception to the critical interpretation of a written text,
all signs appear as constitutionally dialogic given that they are obtained
in a relation of alterity with the interprétant without which the
conferral of sense would be impossible.
The logic of interpretation is dia-logic (cf. 2.8.3 and 2.11). And
given that every moment of our psychic life deals with signs, i.e., with
dialogic rejoinders between interpreteds/interpretants, dialogue, the
relation of alterity, is inherent in subjectivity. Alterity is present in
the very process of constitution of subjective identity, it is the internal
condition, the very way of being of subjectivity. Thus the relation with
the self of another person is by no means different to the relation
continually experienced by self with internal alterity; with the multiple
others in dialogue within a single person through which the self exists
as self. Experience of the other self of another person external to
myself does not constitute a more complex problem than that relative
to the fact that certain interprétants, which make self-awareness
possible and which are in a relation of alterity with the signs they
interpret, are recognized as "mine", those through which " I " become
aware of myself (cf. 2.8.4, 2.11.2).
As an interpretative movement, as a sign, thought is constitutionally
dialogic. There are different degrees of dialogism which are relative
to the degree of differentiation, distancing, and novelty established
between the parts in dialogue in the interpretative process. And this
is so wholly independently of whether the selves reasoning among
themselves as interpreteds/interpretants are external to each other
or belong to the same person. There may be a situation of purely
formal dialogism obtained through the presence of two or more
interlocutors between whom, however, there is no effective relation
of alterity, or there may be a situation of substantial dialogism which
may even be achieved among the selves of one and the same person.
The dialogism of interpretation develops according to different
types of inference. We may distinguish between three, separable only
for the purpose of analysis. If we make all the parts of an interpretative
Meaning as an Interpretative Route 31

route explicit, we will observe the presence of all three types of


inference. Proceeding from the minor to the major degree of alterity and
dialogism between interpreted and interprétant, they are: DEDUCTION,
INDUCTION, ABDUCTION.
In deduction, the relation of alterity between interpreted and inter-
prétant, i.e., between the premisses and the conclusion is of a minimal
degree. Here, in fact, the premisses determine the conclusion and,
vice versa, the conclusion imposes itself upon the premisses once the
premisses have been accepted. The parts in dialogue in an interpretation
of the deductive type are in a relation of reciprocal dependence and
constriction. Between the interpreted and interprétant (premiss and
conclusion) of deductive interpretation, there is a relation of determi-
nation between the antecedent and consequent characterized by the
same constrictive force with which the past imposes itself upon the
present. Interpretation ensues passively, it finds its premisses ready,
like a fait accompli.
In the case of induction, the conclusion is not imposed by the
premisses and is susceptible of revision. Here, we do not have the
predetermination of one dialogue part in virtue of the other, as occurs
in deduction where the premisses could not exist if the fact asserted
in the conclusion did not exist. In induction, given that the consequent
is not determined by the antecedent, memory and the past do not
weigh on interpretation as much as predication, expectation and
orientation towards the future. The premiss predisposes the inter-
prétant, it gives the cue to, and "backs" the conclusion. There is
an adjustment to the future in the sense that the formulation of the
premisses in a certain way and the very assertion of the facts are in
function of the conclusion. Given the opening towards the future,
the importance of deferral to the interprétant and the absence of a
relation of mechanical dependence of the conclusion upon the
premisses, induction gives us the possibility of increasing our beliefs.
However, such increase is only quantitative given that the sphere of
validity of induction remains that of fact, i.e., that group of facts
on the basis of which alone can induction push itself to infer the
future. The inductive process, similarly to the deductive, is a unilinear
process with a precise order of succession moving from the point of
departure to the point of arrival without discontinuities, returns,
retroactions, by contrast, as we will see, to abduction where the
movement is from the consequent to the antecedent.
In abduction, inference of case occurs through the interpretation
32 Signs to Talk About Signs

of a fact or result on the basis of a rule. The rule is not given prior
to and outside of the process of interpretation. The conclusion is
the interprétant of the assertion and describes a certain fact or result:
and it is from the assertion that the general law or principle (the major
premiss) ensues. The interpreted forming the minor premiss and the
interprétant, the conclusion, are in a dialogic relation which is not
predetermined by the choice of a law. The possibility of retroaction
of the interprétant on the premiss, to the point that interpretation
determines the major premiss (a determination in which the conclusion
is decided), is precisely what makes us indicate this type of reasoning
as retroduction or abduction. There are various types of abduction,
from those with a low degree of novelty and excess of the interprétant
in relation to the interpreted, to creative and audacious abductions
where the interprétant dares and risks as it evaluates the fact in the
light of a law which is not automatically recalled by that fact or which,
in certain cases, is not even foreseen by the semantic universe of the
encyclopaedia available, but is rather constituted ex novo, invented.
The Referent as Implicit Interprétant 33

1.2 The Referent as Implicit Interprétant

If in a book on astronomy we find "the planet Venus" written along-


side a certain illustration, we consider such a caption as an explicit
interprétant (or as an interpreted, depending on what the object of
interpretation is) of the photograph or design it accompanies. The
same function of explicit interpretant-interpreted is accomplished
by " t h e planet Venus" in " t h e luminous point we see shining in the
sky is the planet Venus".
We may call the employment of signs to establish a direct relation
between an interpreted and an interprétant, EXPLICATIVE. Explica-
tion may be of the following types:
— definitional in such utterances as "A planet is a cold and opaque
heavenly body which receives light and heat from the closest star";
"A straight line is the shortest line between two points".
— didactic, as in the case of the above-mentioned caption "The planet
Venus" accompanying the illustration; or the expression "Iranian
war prisoners in Iraq" accompanying a photograph published
together with a newspaper report on Iraq.
— argumentative or demonstrative or inferential if the interpreted
and interprétant are connected t o each other through reasoning
or demonstration.
— resolutional as in "So and so is the assassin of the such and such
thriller"; or "This is the pen I'd lost and was looking f o r " ; or "This
is the ten letter word required by the 5th horizontal" (crossword
puzzles are largely based on the direct link between interpreted
and interprétant).
— previsionai: "A red sky at sunset means that the weather will be
fine tomorrow".
— perceptive: "The vehicle that we can just catch sight of in the
distance through the fog is a trailertruck"; "The aroma you can
smell is pipe tobacco".
However, the interpretative route of a sign is not always made
explicit through the direct correspondence between a sign and one or
more of the interprétants determining its meaning. For example, in

1 ) "As compared to Mercury, Venus is closer to the Earth and more


distant from the Sun",
34 Signs to Talk About Signs

the meaning of 'Venus' is n o t made explicit, i.e., no link is established


with any of its possible interprétants as occurs instead in

2) "Venus is a planet",

or as in

3) "Venus is the planet that in comparison t o Mercury is closer t o


the Earth and more distant f r o m the S u n " ,

or

4) "Venus is the luminous point we first see shining in the evening


sky".

Any sign at all, however explicative it may be, leaves certain parts
of its interpretative route unsaid. For example in (2) the interpretative
route of " p l a n e t " which makes it the interprétant of 'Venus', is
implicit. If utterance (3) is explicative due t o the different way in
which it is formulated with respect t o (1), similarly to (1) it contains
parts that are not explicative, the meanings of which are taken for
granted: 'Mercury', 'closer to the Earth', 'more distant f r o m the Sun'
(think of the completely different meaning of 'closer' in " I ' m closer
t o you now than I used to be", or in "Vailati is closer to Peirce than
t o Morris".
That which belongs t o an implicit explicative route thus enabling
us to understand utterances of the type, "The President of the Cabinet
has gone on holiday t o Cortina"; "Reagan announced the beginning
of a war with the USSR as a j o k e " ; " T h e are nine planets in the solar
system"; "Mario did n o t go to school this m o r n i n g " ; " T h e author
of the Sepolcri also wrote m a n y love letters", is called R E F E R E N T .
Therefore, the referent of a sign is another sign t o which the former
refers implicitly. Once it has been made explicit, that which was a
referent changes function and becomes an interprétant with an expli-
cative f u n c t i o n ; while that which had a referent, i.e., a sign with
implicit meaning, becomes an interpreted. Referent, interprétant and
interpreted are, therefore, the different functions carried out by
t h e sign.
It turns out, also, that b o t h meaning and referent go to f o r m the
interpretative route traced out by the interprétants of the sign, with
the difference, however, t h a t meaning is the explicit part and the
referent is the implicit part. Or, t h e implicit part of an interpretative
r o u t e (referent) is what t h e explicit part (meaning) refers to. Due
The Referent as Implicit Interprétant 35

to this diversity in roles, meaning and referent are to be kept distinct


in the study of signs.
Those signs which are connected directly to the interpretative route
and which thus make their appearance in it as meaning are, as we have
said, explicative. Non explicative are, instead, those signs which are
connected indirectly to the interpretative route and which therefore
appear in it as referent. The latter may have different functions, these
are: descriptive, illustrative, expositive, informative, judicial, imperative,
prescriptive, "declarative-performative" ("I declare you Doctor in
Law"; "I declare you husband and wife").
If I say: "The evening star and the morning star are both Venus",
the utterance is explicative and "Venus" acts as interprétant. While,
on the other hand, in "The luminous point that shines in the sky
at sunrise is the morning star", "morning star" is the interprétant
while "Venus" or "One of the planets of the solar system" (for
whoever may put "Venus", or "One of the planets of the solar system"
on the same interpretative route as "morning star") is the referent.
"Venus" is soon transformed from referent into interprétant (or
interpreted, depending on how the utterance is accentuated) if in the
utterance of the last example we add "i.e., Venus". "One of the
planets of the solar system" will remain in the position of utterance
referent. If the latter is also made explicit as interprétant, the utterance
could have, e.g., "the second planet from the Sun" as referent, and
so forth.
If a sign can be such this is not only because of its explicit,
immediate, and direct meanings, but also because of its implicit,
mediated, and indirect meanings which constitute the referent.
Identification of the referent depends upon concomitant factors
which connect the referent indirectly to the meaning and which may
act as interprétants of such a relation. If, for example, the news item
"The President of the United States has declared himself in favour
of disarmament" has Ronald Reagan as referent, this is determined
by the fact that the newspaper bears a certain date, and that the reader
possesses information which is presupposed in the formulation of
the news item. We call the group of factors concurring in the determi-
nation of the referent, CONTEXT.
The context is always made of signs — verbal as much as nonverbal —,
interprétant signs of the connection meaning-referent. Whether verbal
or nonverbal, "linguistic" or "situational", the context is always
characterized by its sign quality.
36 Signs to Talk About Signs

The impossibility of making all the interpretants-interpreteds of


a sign explicit given that they are infinite in number, means that every
sign has a referent (implicit interpretant-interpreted) just as it has
meaning (explicit interpretant-interpreted). Meanings (and thereby
signs) without a referent do not exist. No explicitation, however
much it may broaden the field of meaning, manages to completely
absorb the referent.
Therefore referents are not external to sign reality. It is not possible
to refer to something without this something becoming part of an
interpretative route, i.e., without it being an implicit interprétant
or interpreted. Referents are not external to the network of signs.
A sign can refer to something considering it as existent, or
considering it as non existent. In other words, the referent of a sign
may or may not exist in the sense of "exist" referred to by the sign.
Thus, for example, "There's a book on the table" has as referent
something that does not exist if on the table there is no book.
"Toyland" in the book Pinocchio has as referent something that
really exists in the sense referred to by this expression in the story,
even if such a country does not really exist in the same sense that
this table and this book exist; on the other hand, "The Field of
Miracles", in the same text Pinocchio, has as referent something that
does not exist in the sense referred to by this expression in the story.
"Hippogryph" has as referent something that exists in mythology,
but that does not exist in zoology.
That which acts as referent is a DENOTATUM if it exists in the
sense of "exist" as referred to by the sign; it is a DESIGNATUM if
it does not exist in the sense of "exist" as referred to by the sign.
Thus "Ulysses" has a denotatum in the Odyssey while from a historio-
graphical point of view, it only has a designatum. The sign always has
a referent, in certain cases it is a designatum, in others a denotatum.
As the referent of a sign, even a nonsign object or event ceases to be
such and becomes the implicit interpretant-interpreted of a sign,
i.e., it itself becomes a sign: only on this condition can it be identified
as the referent of a sign.
What we refer to then are not "bare facts" or "things in flesh and
blood", but facts and things which are interpreted and which in their
turn become interprétants. We can only refer (to recall Plato's famous
"myth of the cave") to the sign shadow of things (for further discussion
of the role of the referent in semiosis, see 2.1.4 and 2.12.3).
Signality in Verbal Signs 37

1.3 Signality and the Interprétant of


Identification in Verbal Signs

As we have seen, in a typology of signs, signals may be considered


as sui generis signs, characterized as they are by the arrangement
of interprétants upon a single interpretative route.
We could say that signals are signs with the least semiotic consistency
or signs with the lowest level of sign quality. From this point of view,
signals form a distinct sector with respect to other signs, even if, like
all other signs, they are made of deferrals from interprétant to inter-
prétant. They belong to the sphere of signs also in the sense that
they are always part of the network of signs, they work full time.
Thus as nonverbal signs, signals are those signs in which the nonsign
residue is reduced the most, in certain cases to nothing.
All signals are chiefly conventional in the sense that the interpreted-
interpretant relation is to a large extent (but not only) determined
arbitrarily, on the basis of a law (see further on).
Signals presuppose a CODE, i.e., a system of rules, with respect
to which the relation between interpreted and interprétant is
predetermined.
Furthermore, all signals have an intentionally communicative func-
tion, they presuppose, i.e., a sender's will and intention of com-
municating something to someone or: signals are used by a sender
to communicate a message to a receiver.
The following are signals as we understand them:
— signals in the narrow sense, i.e., those which are indicated as such
in everyday language: e.g., road signs, all types of light and acoustic
signals, flag signals, etc.);
— symbols, these also as intended in everyday language: zodiacal,
heraldic, alchemistic, chemical, algebraic, logico-mathematical
symbols, etc.; furthermore, coat of arms, emblems, flags, badges,
medals, insignia, decorations, trade-marks, initials, number-plates,
seals; conventional signs such as typographical signs used in the
correction of proofs;
— measurement systems. The horological and the calendar systems;
— (roman and arabic) numerals in all their uses (mathematics, statistics,
accountancy, etc.); telephone, civic, postal, tram numbers, etc.;
38 Signs to Talk About Signs

— alphabets substituting those of natural languages: the Morse code,


flag alphabets, the alphabet of the deaf and dumb, etc.;
— musical notes;
— commodities as exchange value, and money;
— verbal and nonverbal expressions of mutual understanding, courtesy,
command, recognition;
— punctuation marks and all other symbols indicating the reading
itinery of the written text;
— the language of computers: Fortran, Pascal, Basic.
But signals do not merely form a separate section among signs.
We also find that they are a constitutive factor in the make up of signs.
In this sense, more than "signals", which suggest something separate
from signs, we could speak of SIGNALITY, considering the latter
as the lowest level of sign existence.
Let us look at what signality consists of with reference to verbal
signs.
As much as it is characterized by multi-voicedness the verbal sign
also contains a margin of signality. In other words, verbal signs are,
under certain aspects, signals as well, which is to say that signs, too,
from a certain point of view, present a univocal relation between
interpreted and interprétant.
These aspects (which we will consider in what follows) according
to which verbal signs are signals as well, do not characterize signs
as such. For this reason, a description of verbal signs limited to such
aspects would neglect accounting for their specificity as signs. In
other words, verbal signs are made of signality also; but just as, despite
their being made of physical material, they do not find in the latter
their specificity as signs, nor are they characterized by signality.
Thus which are the aspects that make verbal signs signals also?
Let us consider any phonia whatsoever. The lowest level of inter-
pretation, as from which the phonia is characterized as a verbal sign,
is that of identification, of recognition.
The phonia is interpreted as the such and such phonia. This second
phonia which acts as interprétant of the former in the sense that it
identifies it (i.e., it determines its configuration and enables it to
be recognized), has an extremely low level of differentiation, of alterity
in relation to the former. Indeed, considering the distance between
a phonia and its interprétant when the latter is a definition or comment
or logical conclusive derivation, the relation between interpreted
and interprétant, in the case of recognition, of identification of the
phonia, may be considered as a relation of identity.
Signality in Verbal Signs 39

In fact, in this case the interprétant repeats the phonia. The phonia
'we will catch the three o'clock train' has, when merely a question
of its identification, the phonia "we will catch the three o'clock train",
as interprétant.
It would seem, therefore, that the interpreted and interprétant
are the same phonia.
In reality, the interprétant with an identification function is
different from its interpreted even though it repeats it; and if the
interprétant in question seems to be the same, to the point of enabling
us to identify the interpreted, this is due to a process of abstraction
concerning what is not relevant with respect to the identification
function here carried out by the interprétant: whether the phonia
is produced by the voice of a man, woman or child, whether it is
pronounced loudly or is whispered, whether it is articulated slowly
or pronounced quickly, is not relevant. There are interprétants that
draw illations and conjectures from these very particulars, e.g., the
timbre, tone, velocity or pitch of the voice, referred to as a means
of identifying the speaker or of working out his attitude towards
the listener.
But, in the case of identification of the phonia, all this is not relevant
and is abstracted from by the interprétant.
The interprétant identifying a phonia is thus the phonia minus
what is not relevant for its identification. In this sense, the former
does not coincide with the phonia unless we abstract from all the
excess particulars with respect to those necessary for its recognition.
Between 'We'll catch the three o'clock train', uttered softly by a
woman, and a loud repetition of it by a man 'you said "We'll catch
the three o'clock train", didn't you?', there is identity only by
abstracting from a whole series of differences in relation to which
"We'll catch the three o'clock train" and "We'll dine in the train
at three o'clock", pronounced softly by the same woman, have more
things in common.
Abstraction occurs in relation to both physical and semiotic material.
As regards physical material, we disregard what does not have a
distinctive function for the recognition of the phonia and which,
therefore, is not relevant: from this point of view, e.g., that the initial
element t of 'train' uttered by a certain person should resemble the
initial element t of 'train' as pronounced by another is not as important
(or not only) as the fact that this element should be distinguished
from the other elements of the phonematic system (the code) to
40 Signs to Talk A bou t Signs

which the speaker and interpreter refer — in this case that of the
English language - , for which 'train' differs from 'drain' because
of the initial letter, just as 'pig' is different from 'big'; 'pig' is different
from 'big' just as 'fine' is different from 'vine'; and so forth. With
respect to physical material, abstraction concerns the elimination
of all those acoustic aspects that impede consideration of the inter-
preted phonia as being the same as the interprétant with the function
of identification.
With respect to semiotic material, abstraction concerns the elimina-
tion of all other possible interpretative routes irrelevant to the identifi-
cation of the phonia.
The same thing happens when, instead of a phonia, we are dealing
with the identification of a piece of writing, whether it be a single
element, e.g., a letter, or a whole word or text drawn up in a secret
code or in an unknown language.
A question of meaning is certainly at play in both cases given that
interpretative operations are accomplished. Nor is the problem of
meaning excluded in the identification of a phonia or graphia: 'train'
pronounced with a French "r" means "train"; in a secret code, the
graphic sign 'X' means "a", i.e., it has "a" as interprétant. A kind
of cross recurring in a certain person's writing means " f " (it has " f "
as interprétant) and not " t " ; the sign 'LI' means "51" and not "li".
Thus, the problem of meaning, i.e., of the relation between inter-
preted and interprétant is also present at the level of phonological or
graphological interpretation, i.e., of formal interpretation as a phase
distinguishable from that concentrating on content. In other words,
the question of meaning is also present at the level of the identification
of the units composing words, phrases and texts.
This relation emerges with the characteristics proper to the signal.
The identification, the recognition of the verbal sign at the phonological
or graphological level is a kind of interpretation not unlike that
concerning signals.
Indeed, the interpreted-interpretant relation is not necessarily im-
mediate, certain, nor to be taken for granted at the level of phonological
or graphological identification but, on the contrary, may be merely
given as a hypothesis or conjecture; and there may be different reasons
for this, ranging from disturbed listening or reading (noise, as intended
by information theory) to cognitive deficiencies on the part of the
interpreter with respect to the code (a secret code, a language that
the interpreter is not familiar with, etc.). But such things only con-
Signality in Verbal Signs 41

cern faulty reception. On the sender's part, instead, the interpreted-


interpretant relation is univocal and predetermined by the code, i.e.,
it is imposed as in the signal (the reading of a road sign may also be
disturbed and give rise, therefore, to conjectures, e.g., owing to fog).
A relation of the signal type between interprétant and interpreted
in the verbal sign is not present at the phonemic and graphemic
levels alone.
It is also present in the identification of an expression at the level
of semantic content and of syntactic construction.
Not only is the phonia 'pine' deciphered by an interprétant fixed
by use and tradition as "pine" and not "dine" or "fine" or "line"
or "mine" (phonological recognition), but also as "pine" and not
"walnut" or "mahogany" or "sandalwood" (recognition of semantic
content).
Similarly, the sentence Ί returned for Mario' is different from Ί
returned, Mario' or from Ί returned with Mario', as it is different
from 'Mario returned for me' or 'They returned for Mario', etc.,
not only if interpreted at the phonological level, but also at the
syntactic level.
We may have interprétants of a verbal sign that are such from a
phonological point of view, but not from the semantic content point
of view: "bank", in the sense of an establishment for the custody of
money, as compared to 'bank' in the sense of the sloping margin
of ground along the riverside.
Vice versa, we may have interprétants of a verbal sign which are
such from the semantic content point of view but not from the
phonological point of view, e.g., "turkey" as compared to 'capon'
or "tree of the conifer species", with respect to 'pine'.
There are verbal sign interprétants at the level of syntactic
conformation which instead are not such from the phonological and
content point of view: e.g., "Antonio is reading a book" as compared
to 'Maria is eating an ice-cream'.
There are verbal sign interprétants from a phonological and syntactic
surface (structure) point of view which, instead, are not such from
the semantic content point of view: e.g., 'The shooting of the hunters
is a scandal' (i.e., "The fact that the hunters go shooting is a scandal"),
as compared to 'The shooting of the hunters is a scandal' (i.e., "The
fact that the hunters are shot is a scandal").
There are verbal sign interprétants from a content point of view
which, instead, are not such from a syntactic and phonological point
42 Signs to Talk About Signs

of view: e.g., "Anthony loves Mary" as compared to 'Mary is loved


by Anthony'.
We may use the term INTERPRETANT OF IDENTIFICATION for
those interprétants which
a) permit the recognition of the verbal sign in its phonemic or graphic
contour;
b) identify the verbal sign in its semantic content; and lastly,
c) identify the morphological and syntactic conformation of the
verbal sign.

The relation of the interprétant of identification to the interpreted


is univocal and predetermined by a code, i.e., it is analogous to that
proper to the signal. This proves to be the case, as we have said, if
we consider the interprétant from the sender's point of view.
It may seem strange to speak of the interprétant from the point
of view of the sender. Indeed, the interprétant of identification (as
all interprétant signs) is not activated by the receiver alone, i.e., when
deciphering the sign, but actually comes into play with the very
performance of the sender. Whoever speaks or writes organizes the
phonic or graphic material with reference to the interprétant of
identification at the phonemic and graphemic, as well as the syntactic
and semantic levels. In addition to all the other objectives that he
may have in the communication process, the sender concentrates
intentionally upon making the phonic or graphic material meaningful
not only as a sign but as a signal also, i.e., at the level of mere signality.
In other words, the sender is intent upon rendering the phonic or
graphic material recognizable on the basis of the repetition of what
confers such material its distinctive character and relevance at the
phonological, syntactic and semantic levels. Thus the sign is already
conceived as repetition in its signal component by the sender. The
sign is produced as the repetition of its interprétant of identification.
The speaker takes the interprétant of identification from the word
of others. As he gradually develops his linguistic competence, he
revises and specifies it both in the light of interpretation of the alien
word at the signal level, as well as in the light of the success of his
communicative efforts at the same level. The interprétant of identifica-
tion is the result of abstraction processes necessary to successful com-
munication. It is thanks to such processes that the speakers (senders
and receivers) are able to recognize what, beyond any differences
in physical and actual sign materiality of verbal messages, remains the
Signality in Verbal Signs 43

same thus affording the speakers in question immediate understanding


and a certain reciprocal familiarity.
44 Signs to Talk About Signs

1.4 Signality and the Interprétant of


Identification in Nonverbal Signs

As we have seen, verbal signs present a certain margin of signality.


Nonverbal signs which are not signals (that do not belong to the sphere
of signals as described in the preceding paragraph) also present a
certain degree of signality insofar as they, too, are singled out by
an interprétant of identification, even if with certain differences as
compared to verbal signs and signals.
Let us begin by considering this aspect in the following types
of signs:
— symptoms (medical, psychological, pertaining to natural phenomena) ;
— clues (pertaining to natural phenomena, attitudes and inclinations);
— traces (physical, such as a footstep in the sand, or mental, such as
memories, a state of mind impressed by an event, etc).
In the case of the SYMPTOM, the relation of the interprétant to the
interpreted is of contiguity and causality, blotchy skin (interpreted),
liver disease (interprétant); smoke (interpreted), fire (interprétant).
In the case of the CLUE, the relation of the interprétant to the
interpreted is of causality (but not given in present time), on the
basis of a presumed relation of contiguity : a cloudy sky as a sign
that it will rain; a bloodstain on a person's glove as a clue that this
person is the wanted assassin.
In the case of the TRACE, the relation of the interprétant to the
interpreted is of contiguity (not given in present time) on the basis
of a presumed relation of causality: a footstep is interpreted as a
trace of the passing of a man or animal; a phobia as the trace of a
certain event.
Indeed, given that there is no communicative intentionality (other-
wise they would be signals: smoke used to signal one's presence or
to transmit messages; footsteps left expressly by a person to signal
the route taken) and that they are not the result of a coding process,
symptoms, clues and traces are not produced as the repetition of
a pre-established interprétant of identification. However, they are
interpretable because of their typicality, i.e., because they are already
known, they have already been seen for they repeat certain distinctive
Signality in Nonverbal Signs 45

features. A preliminary moment of identification, of recognition


is also necessary in the case of symptoms, clues and traces: a footstep
appears as the repetition of certain distinctive features that characterize
it as the imprint left by an animal or a man's shoe or a woman's shoe
or by a bare foot; if left by an animal it may be characteristic, e.g.,
of a horse (whether shod or not), a deer, etc.: Similarly, a certain
somatic fact appears as a symptom insofar as it repeats characteristics
which identify it as that particular symptom and which link it to a
certain pathological state; and in the same way, clouds mean rain
if they are identified as that certain type of cloud which bears rain.
Thus traces, symptoms and clues, also, have an interprétant of
identification which is determined on the basis of one's own experience
or on that of others, and is established on the basis of a certain
tradition, of a certain social practice.
Similarly to signals, the relation between the interpreted and inter-
prétant is fixed on the basis of a law, which makes it possible to prepare
handbooks which propose the identification of certain types of
symptoms or clues or traces on the basis of specific distinctive features.
A handbook of medical symptomatology or a handbook on hunting
are two such examples: we use them as though we were consulting
a signal code or a language dictionary, so that with reference to such
handbooks it is possible to decode specific traces or symptoms or
clues which can thus be recognized even by people who have no
previous direct experience of them.
There are cases in which symptoms or clues or traces are also
produced intentionally, in which they are predetermined by the inter-
prétant of identification in the course of their very production. In
such cases they work as real signals, even if masked as symptoms,
clues or traces. A person who pretends to be moved, an actor who
recites rage or fear, a person who feigns illness, a person who leaves
footprints on the ground so as to be followed (e.g. to set a trap),
or to divert the pursuer, intentionally produces symptoms, clues and
traces according to the distinctive features foreseen by the interprétant
of identification which, therefore, contrary to what the interpreter
believes, does not come into play exclusively when such features are
being decoded.
In signals disguised as symptoms, clues or traces, the success of
pretence depends on the very fact that these signs remain distinct
from signals, i.e., that they appear to be uncoded and devoid of an
interprétant of identification produced intentionally by a sender:
46 Signs to Talk About Signs

they must not appear to be characterized by the interprétant of


identification "at the source", but only when they are actually being
read and decoded. Thus those very cases where symptoms, clues and
traces are in reality signals, rather than generally invalidating the
distinction between such signs and signals, actually serve to highlight
this distinction, as well as the distinction between these and verbal
signs in their signal dimension.
Besides acting as signals when such aspects as those mentioned
in the preceding paragraph come into play, verbal signs may also
function as symptoms, traces and clues: a certain piece of discourse,
whether written or oral, may be read, without the speaker or writer
intending this, as indicating a specific social status, or place of origin,
it may betray impatience or uneasiness, foresee a certain develop-
ment in the relation between interlocutors, indicate that the person
speaking is in a hurry to conclude the conversation, etc. We call
symptoms, clues and traces made of verbal signs, PARA VERBAL.
Verbal signs, therefore, have double signality: related to the fact
that as far as they are intentional, they are also signals, and related
to the fact that as far as they are unintentional, they may also be
symptoms, clues and traces. Such double signality of verbal signs
becomes triple when unintentionality is recited, calculated or feigned,
when i.e., what in the verbal sign seems to be a symptom, clue or
trace is in reality a disguised signal.
Signality and Percepts 47

1.5 Signality and Percepts

If an interprétant of identification intervenes in the symptom, trace


or clue also, this does not concern the connection e.g., smoke/fire
or cloud/rain (here, as we have seen, there is a relation of contiguity
and causality but not of identification), but rather the recognition
of the interpreted, e.g., as smoke, instead of as fog, or as a rain cloud,
etc. Therefore, we may say that a trace, or a symptom, or a clue is
a signal only in as far as it is a percept, and not because it is a trace,
or symptom or clue.
We call objects of perception PERCEPTS. Insofar as they are implicit
or explicit interpreteds or interprétants i.e., when they enter an inter-
pretative route, they are signs. In as far as they are objects of
perception (external, such as the perception of the colour of the
clothes of the person in front of me, or internal such as the perception
of an image in my mind or of one of my moods), all signs are percepts.
As percepts, all signs share in the character of signality. In fact,
all percepts present a margin of signality due to the repetition of
distinctive features that enable them to be decoded and recognized.
In addition to being signs, percepts are also signals if considered
in relation to the identification interprétant. If something seems to
be red, this is due to an immediate inferential process whereby this
something is interpretable with the word "red". The same thing
happens when the silhouette in a shop-window proves to be a man
and not a dummy.
The function of percept, however, is not carried out by an object
only when the latter acts as an interpreted. Objects employed as the
interprétants of signs, i.e., used as obstensive signs, e.g., the object
exercise-book displayed to explain what 'exercise-book' means (see
above), are percepts, too.
While in the symptom, trace and clue the interpreted and inter-
prétant are connected by a relation of causality and contiguity, in
the percept (and also in the symptom, trace and clue as percepts)
the interpreted is connected to the interprétant by a relation of
identification.
Verbal signs also are percepts, and it is as percepts that they
share in the character of signality both when perceived purely as
48 Signs to Talk About Signs

verbal signs, as well as when, as paraverbal signs, they carry out the
function of traces, symptoms or clues.
We may say then, that:
— all signs (signals included) are percepts also;
— all percepts have the character of signality;
— all signs (and not only signals) present the character of signality
(signals have double signality: as signals and as percepts).
Conventionality, Indexicality and Iconicity 49

1.6 Conventionality, Indexicality and


Iconicity between Interpreteds and
Interprétants

If we consider an interpretative route, i.e., if we follow the series of


deferrals from one interprétant to the next forming the meaning of
a sign, we will discover interprétants of different kinds.
The phonia 'book', e.g., has as its interprétant the object to which
the reader is turning his attention at this very moment, other multiple
objects which are books, the graphia "book", the words "libro" and
"livre", etc. The phonia 'book' and the graphia 'book' or the written
or pronounced words 'libro' or 'livre' are related solely by convention.
In the same way, the relation between the word 'book' and the object
book is conventional. We may say then that the interpreted and inter-
prétant are connected by a relation of CONVENTIONALITY.
On the other hand, between this object that we call book and
another object which is also a book, there is a relation of similarity.
Likewise, there is a relation of similarity between the phonia 'book'
pronounced by myself, and the same phonia pronounced by another
person, just as there is a relation of similarity between all the graphae
of 'book', in italics, in block letters, etc.
We have already said that such similarity is in any case the result
of a process of abstraction because it uniquely concerns certain specific
distinctive features. We call this kind of similarity, "similarity of
the ICONIC type". Similarity of the iconic type is established among
signs and these are situated along the same interpretative route.
Similarity between two people, like that between twins who can
actually be so similar as to appear identical, or the specular likeness
to one's own image reflected in the mirror, is not, as such, of the iconic
type. Rather, there is an iconic relation between, e.g., a written word
in the same print as this book and the same word in very large letters;
a diagram and what it represents; a ten dollar bank-note and a small-
scale reproduction of it used as a chip. Any relevant distinctive feature
of an iconic relation is determined by social practices and functions.
This does not mean that similarity is sanctioned by convention. If
anything, we might say that the iconic relation is fixed by a convention
50 Signs to Talk About Signs

that uses similarity as a criterion. Therefore, that which must be similar


in the iconic relation, that which is relevant in the similarity, varies
according to different conventions. The criteria of similarity which
enable us to point to the reproduction of a stamp in a catalogue as
a sign of the stamp that a philatelist wishes to buy, are different to
those that allow us to say that the such and such stamp collector
is actually in possesion of a certain exemplar. Nobody would want
two identical fifty dollar bank-notes in exchange for a hundred dollar
bank-note!
The relation among signs of an interpretative route may also be a
relation of contiguity and/or of causality. Such is the relation between,
e.g., hearing someone knock at the door and the interprétant "someone
is behind the door and wants to enter". A pointing forefinger has
a certain object as interprétant on the basis of a relation of contiguity.
The same thing is true of demonstrative and personal pronouns whose
changing interpreted is determined each time by the relation of
contiguity connecting them. As we may see from these examples, the
relation of contiguity or of causality established between interpreted
and interprétant is always more or less identified by convention.
Identified but not determined. We could say that convention here
resorts to contiguity and causality, just as it resorts to similarity in
the case of the iconic relation. The relation between interpreted and
interprétant fixed by a convention using contiguity and/or causality
as its criterion is called INDEXICAL.
An indexical relation may be traced even where only a conventional
relation seems to exist between interpreted and interprétant. As we
have seen, the relation between the phonia 'book' and the object
book or between the phonia 'book' and the graphia 'book' is of
the conventional type. However, it also has the characteristics of
indexicality because of the relation of contiguity established between
phonia and object and between phonia and graphia. Indeed, contiguity
is here sanctioned by convention; however, this convention is learned
and becomes an obligation and may thus continue to exist thanks
to the fact that the name and the object or the phonia and the graphia
of the same word are given in a relation of contiguity.
But the phonia 'book' which has the object book as interprétant
has distinctive features, i.e., if a phonia produced by a certain person
has relations of interpreted/interpretant with the object book, this
is so because it resembles the phonia 'book' in certain distinctive
features, i.e., as we have seen, it has this phonia as its identification
Conventionality, Indexicality and Iconicity 51

interprétant. Thus this example shows how convention is always


connected to iconicity also, and not only to indexicality.
Generally there is a relation of mutual participation between iconicity
and indexicality. Though a sign chiefly on the basis of iconic similarity,
the portrait of a person, independently of the co-presence of the
person depicted, is also the effect produced by the latter on the artist
(according to a relation of contiguity and of causality), and thus
it also has an indexical relation with the interprétant (besides a con-
ventional relation insofar as it obeys conventional rules both when
it is produced and when it is interpreted).
A knock at the door is the indexical sign of "someone is behind
the door and wants to enter"; however, it can be recognized as such
because it answers to certain characteristics that make it similar to
preceding experiences where the same link between interpreted and
interprétant was verified. Thus this sign has a margin of iconicity
also (in addition to being a symbol insofar as it is predisposed by a
convention).
Therefore, we may say that signs — as regards the relation between
interpreteds and interprétants — are conventional, iconic and indexical.
Conventionality, iconicity and indexicality are always more or less
present in signs, even if certain signs are mainly conventional, others
mainly iconic and others still, mainly indexical. We may also say
that all signs (including so-called natural signs: smoke sign of fire, cloud
sign of rain) are conventional and that, in certain cases, conventionality
resorts chiefly to indexicality as well as to iconicity, and in certain
other cases it resorts mainly to iconicity as well as to indexicality.
Or, as Peirce stated, as much as they are conventional, all signs are
always more or less degenerate in the iconic or in the indexical sense.
All that has been said about the iconic, indexical and conventional
character of the interpreted/interpretant relation holds true both
when the interprétant is explicit as well as when it is implicit; in other
words, what we are saying also refers to the relation between
interpreted and referent.
A single interpreted may have relations of different kinds with its
interprétant. Let us examine the phonic expression 'This pen is red'.
Its meaning is determined (among other things) by:
— the interprétant of phonemic identification linked to the interpreted
chiefly by a relation of similarity, i.e., an iconic relation (even if a
relation of the conventional type already implicit in the iconic likeness,
52 Signs to Talk About Signs

and a relation of the indexical type determined by the relation of


causality and of contiguity connecting the interpreted to the inter-
prétant also intervene);
— the interprétant of identification of syntactic form to which the
interpreted continues to be linked above all by a relation of the
iconic type ;
— the interprétant of identification of semantic content to which
the interpreted is connected mainly by a conventional relation;
— the interprétant formed by the object with the function of referent
to which the phonic expression is connected mainly by an indexical
relation;
— the interprétants of the perception of what is 'red' formed by all
the objects that provoke sensory impressions similar to those provoked
by the object in question and that are considered to be red in colour.
Thus the relation between interpreted and interprétant is in this case
predominantly iconic.
As regards the signal, such as the road sign indicating the proximity
of an intersection, we are able to identify:
— an identification interprétant causing that signal to be perceived
in a relation of iconic similarity with other intersection road signs,
distinguishing it from those that indicate, e.g. No Entry, or from
publicity signs;
— the interprétant of identification of semantic content, connected
to the interpreted in the first place by a conventional relation, but
also by an indexical relation because of the necessary relation of
contiguity and of causality that comes to be established between
the interprétant and the interpreted as the condition of maintenance
of the convention;
— an interpretant-referent formed by what the signal refers to, i.e.,
the actual intersection to which the signal is connected by a relation
of indexicality in virtue of a relation of spatial vicinity (pre-established,
however, by convention, e.g., a distance of a hundred and fifty metres).
Generally speaking, we may state that in percepts iconicity domin-
ates in the relation between interpreted and interprétant (though
iconicity is always connected also to conventionality and indexicality),
and for this reason it dominates in all signs considered in their
perceptive component.
In signals, conventionality dominates between interpreted and
interprétant. Such conventionality also causes indexical relations
Conventionality, Indexicality and Iconicity 53

of contiguity and of causality to be established between interpreted


and interprétant. In other words, the signal is subjected to a conven-
tion, sanctioned by a code, and such a convention renders contiguity
between a specific interpreted and a specific interprétant necessary,
in the same way that indexicality is expressed, e.g., between a knock
at the door and the fact that someone is behind the door and wants
to enter. Conventionality and indexicality are also dominant in all
signs considered in their signal component.
In symptoms, traces and clues indexicality dominates between
interpreted and interprétant. Thus it is present in all signs insofar
as they are all capable of carrying out the function of symptoms,
traces and clues.
As percepts, verbal signs present an iconic dominance; as signals,
a conventional and consequently indexical dominance; as symptoms,
traces and clues, yet again an indexical dominance (for further
discussion of symbol, icon and index, see 2.8.1 and 2.8.2).
54 Signs to Talk A bou t Signs

1.7 Signs and Answering Comprehension

None of the features of signs as signals exhaust their character as signs.


Nonverbal signs such as percepts, traces, clues, symptoms, and verbal
signs, are signals as well, but they are not only signals.
On the other hand, we have said that even signs with the lowest
degree of sign quality and which may thus be considered as signals
in the narrow sense (see section 1.3), continue to be part of the sign
network. As such they are subjected to interpretations which connect
the compulsory route between interpreted and interprétant proper
to the signal, to routes which are open and not pre-established,
characteristic of the higher levels of sign resonance.
The interprétant of a signal is not only that which allows the signal
to be identified: each time we formulate the interpretation "that is
a sign indicating an intersection" in relation to a signal indicating an
intersection, we are dealing with a verbal interprétant which, as such,
does not belong to the sector of signals and actually has sign meaning,
i.e., it is, in its turn, interpretable as an explanation, a warning, a
reproach, a notification of a breach of law, etc.
Similarly, as regards the expression 'This pen is red' used as an
example in the preceding paragraph, beyond the interprétants taken
into consideration - which remain at the level of identification
and therefore of signality —, we must add those interprétants which
cause the expression to take on an actual sign character and which
establish the interpretative route in which such an expression is to
be located. We are dealing with what is added to interpretation as
mere identification of the utterance or gesture. All interpretations
open interpretative routes that concern the sense, or, they open inter-
pretative routes that advance towards sign life, beyond signality.
Rather than introduce the word "sense" alongside the word "meaning"
to indicate the calling into play of interprétants that do not limit
themselves t o the identification of the interpreted, we may distinguish
between two zones of meaning , that of signals and that of signs.
We have called the interprétant relative to the signal and to signality
the identification interprétant. We now propose to call the interprétant
specific to the sign, that which interprets the sense or actual sign
meaning, INTERPRETANT O F ANSWERING COMPREHENSION.
Signs and A nswering Comprehension 55

Such an interprétant does not limit itself t o identifying the interpreted,


but installs with it a relation of involvement, of participation: it
responds t o the interpreted and takes a stance towards it.
The interprétant of answering comprehension of the utterance 'It's
too hot in this room' is any expression that ensues from such an
utterance, from that consisting in playing dumb and ignoring the
interpreted, to the proposal of leaving the room, the action of opening
the window, the negation of what the utterance affirms, repetition
of the utterance to express agreement, or to transmit what has been
said to someone else, or to install a relation of the phatic type should
the utterance be interpreted as an invitation to begin a conversation.
The action of opening the window and the invitation to "take
off your coat" are interprétants of 'It's very hot in this room'. And
even the very repetition "It's very hot in this r o o m " is an interprétant
of answering comprehension, given that it may install a relation of
agreement with the interpreted, or a relation of the phatic type, or that
it may be intended to make fun of the interpreted, or to report it, etc.
It is immediately evident from this simple example that the inter-
prétants of answering comprehension of a single interpreted are
multiple and cannot be predetermined by a code as, instead, happens
in the case of identification interprétants. An unspecified number
of interpretative routes branch out from a single interpreted and
it is here that the multi-voicedness and ambiguity of the sign fully
manifest themselves.
The interprétant of answering comprehension ventures a response
in relation t o the interpreted and if no doubt it is helped in some
way by the context which delimits the interpretative possibilities, it
is always the interprétant that decides fully assuming the responsibility-
answerability of its own choice. On the other hand, as we have already
said, the context itself is made of signs and, as such, it too is the result
of interpretation.
The relation between the interprétant of answering comprehension
and the interpreted obeys the logical rules of deduction, induction
and of abduction (see the final part of section 1.1). But such rules
simply provide us with an empty form. Everything depends upon
how this form is filled on drawing from the values, habits and customs
that characterize the sign-cultural field in which the interpreted-
interpretant relation is situated.
We can always reconstruct the logical steps that give rise to a given
interprétant of answering comprehension but such a reconstruction
56 Signs to Talk About Signs

does not occur in the abstract; as interpretation it occurs within the


network of signs. In fact, the explanation of the steps which give
rise to a certain interprétant of answering comprehension cannot
be given in terms of the general structures of the human mind: the
explanation is of a historical-cultural order and concerns the reconstruc-
tion of the relation between the actual interprétant and the usual
interpretative routes of a specific cultural system. We must not forget
that the reconstruction of the logical steps which lead to a certain
interprétant is the work of another interprétant, it, too, connected
to interpretative habits (verbal, ideological, behavioural), analogous
or different to those which affect the interprétant, object of inter-
pretation. Thus such a reconstruction emerges as a process which
inevitably occurs inside the sign network.
On obeying the logical rules of deduction, induction and abduction,
the interprétant of answering comprehension is connected to the
interpreted by the kind of relation foreseen by deduction, induction
and abduction, respectively. In deduction, the relation between the
interpreted (the premisses) and the interprétant (the conclusion) is
of the indexical type for it is characterized by causality, by compulsive
force. In induction, the relation between interpreted and interprétant
is chiefly of the conventional type owing to the absence of a relation
of mechanical dependence of the conclusion upon the premisses.
In abduction, the relation is mainly of the iconic type insofar as the
interpretation determines the major premiss on the basis of a relation
of iconic likeness with the interpreted (see sections 2.8 and 2.11).
The interprétant of answering comprehension is the conclusion
of a line of reasoning in an inferential process that has, as we said in
section 1.1, a dialogic structure. The steps leading to the conclusion
very often escape us to the point that they do not seem to exist at
all, so that the interprétant of answering comprehension seems to
be given in the form of an immediate reaction. This is not only
true when dealing with the behaviour of others, but also in the case
of our very own behaviour: we are not always able to reconstruct
the internal dialogic process that has conducted us to a certain verbal
or nonverbal action as the conclusion.
Thus the question/answer type relation between the interpreted
and interprétant is given, in the main part, in the form of a dialogue,
of dramatization: we witness the conclusive (verbal and nonverbal)
actions and we do not discern the dialogic-inferential process that
provoked them.
Signs and Answering Comprehension 57

However, each time we question ourselves about the significance


of a certain stance, of a certain answer, we are in search of the dialogic-
inferential route that, on starting from a given interpreted, has its
point of arrival (which then becomes the departure point of subsequent
interpretation) in a given interprétant of answering comprehension
(cf. also section 2.8.3 and 2.8.4).
58 Signs to Talk A bou t Signs

1.8 Enuntiatum, Text and Discourse Genre

All utterances, that is, all verbal realizations may be divided into
two parts, relative, respectively, to the interprétant of answering
comprehension and to the interprétant of identification. What we
need to establish, therefore, is which part is ascribable to the higher
levels of sign resonance and which to signality.
Utterance meaning connected to the interprétant of answering
comprehension may be called ENUNTIATUM. In other words, the
enuntiatum of an utterance refers to the highest sign levels of utterance
meaning.
Utterance meaning connected to the interprétant of identification
may be called SENTENCE or sentence complex. In other words, the
sentence or sentence complex refers to the lowest abstract levels
of utterance meaning.
The sentence is the level of the deconstructable, of the linguistic
elements, while the enuntiatum is the level of linguistic unity, of
sign wholeness. The interprétant of answering comprehension relates
to the utterance as a unitary and undeconstructable totality, capturing
its general meaning; the interprétant of identification, instead, relates
to the constitutive elements of the utterance, as a sentence or sentence
complex, at the phonological, syntactic and semantic levels.
Furthermore, in relation to the interprétant of identification the
utterance is given as the repetition of certain distinctive features that
permit the recognition of phonemes, monemes and syntactic structures;
on the other hand, in relation to the interprétant of answering com-
prehension the utterance is taken in its singularity, for that which
it means here and now: not only does the interprétant of answering
comprehension not limit itself to repeating the utterance as does
the interprétant of identification but it treats the utterance in question
as something unique and unrepeatable. A repeated sentence is always
the same sentence; a repeated enunciatum is never the same enunciatum,
it cannot be repeated, or, in other words, on repeating an utterance
what is repeated is the sentence and not the enuntiatum. Each time
the utterance is repeated, the enuntiatum has a special interprétant
of answering comprehension; on the contrary, the sentence always has
the same interprétant of identification. At the level of identification,
Enuntiatum, Text and Discourse Genre 59

i.e., as a sentence, the utterance calls for knowledge (linguistic com-


petence) in the form of mathesis universalis·, to be understood at
the level of answerability, i.e., as an enuntiatum, the utterance calls
for knowledge (communicative competence) in the form of mathesis
singularis, new knowledge for each new enuntiatum.
As an enuntiatum, not only does the utterance have an interprétant
of answering comprehension but is itself an answering interprétant
of another verbal or nonverbal interprétant. As such, it expresses a
point of view, a value judgement, an orientation: this causes every
utterance to always have its own particular accentuation, evaluative
intonation. As a sentence, the utterance is not of the answering kind
and, therefore, it has no evaluative intonation.
The utterance always belongs to someone and is for someone.
It is characterized by answerability and requires a reaction. This
reaction may go beyond the limits of the verbal. The utterance is
elicited by one's behaviour and elicits behaviours that are not of the
verbal type alone: it subsists within the context of extraverbal com-
municative acts readable as signs that interpret it or as signs that it
has interpreted. As we have already seen, the interprétant of an
utterance (e.g., it's hot) may also be another utterance ("open the
window if you like" or "turn off the heating"), or it may be a
nonverbal action (the act of opening the window by the interlocutor,
or of shutting off the heating). All this may be summarized by saying
that the utterance subsists in a play of verbal and nonverbal inter-
prétants whereby it is elicited as interprétant and elicits interprétants.
When we do not consider the utterance in isolation from the context
of utterances, we supercede the abstraction of the isolated utterance,
but we are still moving at an abstract level because the interconnection
between the utterance and the nonverbal signs that it interprets and
which act as its interprétants ("I'm not cold!" as the utterance-
interpretant of the fact that x's action of closing the window has
the utterance "I think you're cold" as interprétant), are left out of
consideration.
We may view the TEXT as an interconnection of interprétants in
which the utterance subsists and distinguish between a verbal text,
made exclusively of utterances, and a verbal and nonverbal text where
nonverbal signs and interprétants also intervene.
The concept of text recalls the image of a network used from the
very beginning to explain what we mean by interpretative route.
A text is a portion of the network.
60 Signs to Talk About Signs

The CONTEXT (see also section 1.2) is that which surrounds a


specific portion of the network, enabling us to catch sight of other
portions of the interpretative route and to grasp the new interprétants
which become part of it.
But a text does not necessarily find its interprétants and interpreteds
exclusively in the immediate vicinities: it may receive meaning from
a distant part of the sign network with which, therefore, there is
no relation of the indexical type, or at least, not in any immediately
visible manner. In such cases we will speak of INTERTEXTUALITY.
That which is momentarily outside the sign network, we call
EXTRATEXTUAL. As soon as we refer to the latter in terms of the
interprétant or interpreted of a text, we can no longer speak of the
"extratextual" : extratextuality becomes contextualityor intertextuality.
Outside the text, the utterance is no longer such. It becomes an
isolated sentence or sentence complex which neither belongs to anyone,
nor is addressed to anyone. As such, sentences are void of communica-
tive intentionality and say nothing about their own specificity in relation
to that of which they become an interprétant, or to that of which they
require an interprétant. Textuality is thus one of the paramétrés of
the utterance and is what diversifies the enuntiatum from the sentence.
As an interconnection of utterances the text is also an interconnec-
tion of points of view: every utterance is always positioned, it moves
from one position to another and thus pronounces through its very
form, apart from through its content, the position we speak from and to
which we address ourselves. In this sense, the text is always oriented:
there are one-way routes, utterance orientations that cannot be in-
verted. Hence the text does not organize itself at a single level; it
is stratified, it presents differences in level, discrepancies. The utterance
is, in the first place, an expression of its own position and of that
of the utterances or of the nonverbal behaviour that it intends as
interprétants.
In addition to textuality, another criterion for the realization and
the specification of the utterance is DISCOURSE GENRE.
Discourse genres underlie all utterances, conditioning them at the
level of both content and form. There are discourse genres of
"ordinary" language, genres of artistic-literary language, literary genres
of scientific language, "high" genres and "low" genres. That which
belongs to a discourse genre is not the abstract linguistic entity, e.g.,
the sentence, but the live word, the utterance.
Enuntiatum, Text and Discourse Genre 61

The discourse genre is a specific meaning system relative to a


particular kind of meaning practice, worldview model, ideological
model. As meaning systems corresponding to types of meaning
practices, discourse genres are the expression of particular modalities
of social-linguistic consciousness objectively fixed in the expressive
and receptive potential of language. In other words, we may consider
the genre as a system of methods for collective orientation in the
real world, a way of envisaging reality, which develops together with
social communication.
It is precisely because they are created with utterances that discourse
genres come into play at the level of token and not of type. However,
we need to specify that even though they do not exist outside concrete
linguistic life, discourse genres are abstract entities that condition
linguistic acts and are produced in concrete communicative processes.
They are contemporarily the product, the sedimentation and the
modelling forms of the processes that they condition and are
conditioned by. The discourse genre is the type of which a certain
discourse is the token. Discourse genres are abstractions which have
a specific value in relation to the utterance in question. They are
real abstractions, that is, they are not produced at the level of a
thinker's quiet meditation, but rather are concretely operative in
language (for further discussion of the aspects of sign life, text and
intertexuality discussed in this section, see in particular 2.10).
62 Signs to Talk About Signs

Bibliography

Note
The subsections in the bibliography correspond to the basic notions presented in
Part 1.

0. The Sign Network: Semiosis

Bakhtin, Mikhail; Volosinov Valentin Nicoelaevic


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Morris, Charles
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Rosenstiehl, Pierre
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1. Interpreted/Interpretant: Meaning as an Interpretative Route

Bonfantini, Massimo A.
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2. Meaning/Concept

Carter, Richard ; Jacob, Pierre


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3. Meaning/Referent

De Mauro, Tullio
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Eco, Umberto
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4. Multivoicedness and Sign Ambiguity

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5. Semiotic Materiality — Physical Materiality —


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8. Conventionality, Indexicality, Iconicity

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9. Sign Dia-logic and Interprétant of Answering Comprehension

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10. Enuntiatum, Text and Discourse Genre

Austin, John L.
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74 Adventures of the Sign

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2. Adventures of the Sign
Meaning and R eferen t in Peter of Spain 77

2.1 Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain

In his Tractatus or Summule bgicales, Peter of Spain (12057-1277)


proposes the following model of the verbal sign:
- VOX SIGNIFICATIVA AD PLACITUM;
- SIGNIFICATO (= REPRESENTATIO);
- RES SIGNIFICATA (or REPRESENTATA) in the modes of the
adiectivatio or of the substantivatio ;
- ACCEPTIO PRO (SUPPOSITIO in a broad sense) subdivided into
copulatio and suppositio in a narrow sense;
- ALIQUO (existent — in which case we have appellatio in addition
to suppositio — as well as non-existent).

2.1.1 Vox Significativa ad Placitum

In the Tractatus verbal language is considered uniquely from the


phonic point of view. This is in line with the Western tradition which,
beginning with Plato and Aristotle, considers the φωνή as the basic
manifestation of language while attributing a secondary value to
the graphic sign, given that, as Aristotle put it (Peri hermeneias),
"written words are signs of spoken words". Thus Peter of Spain defines
the verbal sign with almost the same expressions used by his master
William of Shyreswood before him; "vox significativa ad placitum"
and as such distinct from "vox non-significativa que auditui nichil
representat, ut 'buba' ", and from "vox significativa naturaliter, ut
gemitus infirmorum et latratus canum". "Vox significativa ad placitum"
is that which "ad voluntatem instituentis aliquid representat", or,
as William of Shyreswood expressed himself, that which "ex humana
institutione significatione recipit". Consequently, signiflcatio is defined
by Peter of Spain as: "rei per vocem secundum placitum representatio".

1. This paper reconsiders and develops certain questions proposed in my paper "La
semantica di Pietro Ispano", in F. Corvino et alii, Linguistica medievale, Bari:
Adriatica, 1983.
78 Adventures of the Sign

In the Tractatus, "vox significativa" is divided into nomen verbum


and oratio. This recalls the Aristotelian distinction (Peri hermeneias)
— already present in Plato (Theaetetus and Sophistes) — between
δνομα, ρήμα, Xóyos.
According to Aristotle, δνομα is "a sound with a meaning established
solely by convention, with temporal reference, while no part of it
has meaning, if considered separately from the whole"; an ρήμα is
"a sound that not only conveys a particular meaning, but also has
temporal reference, and of which no part considered in isolation has
meaning"; an Xoyos is "a signifying discourse, in which this or that
part may have meaning, as something, that is, which is pronounced,
but which does not express a judgement, neither positive nor negative".
The onoma and rhema refer to the nominative and present indicative
respectively, while for the other cases, moods and tenses, Aristotle
proposes that we should not use the expressions onomata or rhemata;
rather, they are a case (πτωσιχ) of the onoma or rhema.
Similarly, we find the following definitions of nomen, verbum
and oratio in the Tractatus:
Normen est vox significativa ad placitum sine tempore, cuius nulla pars
significai separata finita recta.
Verbum est vox significativa ad placitum cum tempore, cuius nulla pars
significai finita recta.
Oratio est vox significativa ad placitum cuius partes significant separate
{Tractatus, ed. 1972:2-3).

Furthermore, similarly to Aristotle in his Pert hermeneias, Peter


of Spain only considers the oratio {logos) indicativa as a propositione,
thus excluding from the latter the orationes in the imperative, optative
and subordinative forms, etc. The oratio indicativa, or declarative,
is a propositio because it expresses a true or false judgement, that
is to say, because it is the affirmation or negation of something about
something else.
In addition to the signifying parts, that is, the nomina and the
verba, the oratio or utterance is also made of elements which, if
considered separately, are devoid of meaning and which in the
Tractatus are called syncategorematic terms {sincathegorémata).
Consequently, the terms of discourse are described as categorematic
and syncategorematic. This distinction as well had already been
formulated by Aristotle {Rhetoric and Poetics) who in addition to
the onomata and rhemata also speaks of discourse elements which
Meaning and Referen t in Peter of Spain 79

are in themselves devoid of meaning and which have a connective


function called σύνδεσμοι.
As is well known, this distinction between syncategorems and
categorems is maintained at length in the subsequent history of
philosophical/linguistic thought. (A critique of this traditional distinc-
tion is proposed by Rossi-Landi 1961, 1980 2 : 47-48 , 64, 253-254).
However, in Peter of Spain categorematic and syncategorematic terms
are not considered as two classes into which language may be sub-
divided. They are considered as such, however, in certain subsequent
interpretations of this distinction according to which language is
subdivided into a constant part, the object of logical investigation
(syncategorems) and in a flowing part, the object of empirical and
historical investigation (categorems). The distinction between syn-
categorematic and categorematic terms clearly emerges in the Tractatus
as a distinction which is not set but relative to concrete linguistic use,
so that a term which in one utterance has the function of connective
particle, in another may become instead categorematic. Thus in Petrus
est solus the word solus is categorematic, while in Petrus solus scribit
it is syncategorematic.
No doubt the distinction between terms that mean something
in themselves (categorems) and terms that do not have their own
meaning, but rather act on the meaning of other terms (syncategorems)
is questionable. Consequently, the exclusion of syncategorematic terms
from the problem of meaning, justified on the basis of the belief that
they are devoid of meaning, is also questionable. All the same, Peter
of Spain's thesis that the problem of meaning must not be posed
for syncategorematic terms given that they do not signify if taken
separately has positive effects if considered in the light of certain
recent discussions within the field of semantics. In fact, it has freed
us from the misunderstandings encountered by contemporary semantics
which, in order to justify its own intensional orientation (see Rossi-
Landi 1961, 1980 2 :46 and 150, also for his criticism of the distinction
between intension and extension), that is, its tendency to view itself
as non-referential semantics, resorted to the argument of the "non re-
ferential meaning of syncategorematic terms" (see Eco 1975:98; Ponzio
1976:71-98; 1978:24-29; 1981, It. 176-177), considering them as such,
furthermore, in the absolute sense instead of relatively to the function
carried out in the utterance (see sections 1.2, 2.4.5 and 2.12.3).
80 Adventures of the Sign

2.1.2 Significatio, Res Significata and Acceptio

The Tractatus turns its attention to signifying units which, as we


have seen, may either be simple (the single categorematic terms —
nomina and verba —) or complex (or composite) such as the utterance
{oratio, with its division into the declarative — or propositio — optative,
imperative, etc.).
In reference to such signifying units, meaning (significatio) is
defined as the "representation of a thing" (representatio rei) by means
of a conventional vocal sound (Tractatus, ed. cit.: 79). Thus the
verbal sign ( n o m e n , verbum, oratio) is formed by a signifying verbal
sound and a representation or meaning. The res represented by the
sign is not, therefore, external to the sign, it is not something to which
the sign refers, but rather it is a constitutive part of it, something
thanks to which a sign is a sign, that is, a signifying vocal sound. A
sign stands for something to which it refers through the expression
of a representation, which constitutes its meaning.
Therefore, not only is Peter of Spain perfectly aware of the
difference between meaning and referent, but also of the mediated
character of the relation between sign and referent: this necessary
mediation is constituted by the representation, that is, by meaning.
The verbal sign stands for something according to a given representa-
tion, "under some respect", as Peirce would say, or through a given
reference, as Ogden and Richards would say.
For there to be a verbal sign, not only is the acceptio pro aliquo
(Tractatus: 80) necessary, but also the meaning or representation
according to which the acceptio occurs.
The assumption of a sign for something according t o a given meaning
or representation is divided by Peter of Spain, with reference to
the nomina and verba, into two forms: suppositio (supposition) and
copulatio (copulation). These two distinct forms of the acceptio,
that is, of the relation of the verbal sign to its referent, also depend
in their turn upon the significatio, that is, upon the fact that the
thing signified (not to be confused with the referent) is signified as
a noun or as an adjective or verb. In fact, Peter of Spain distinguishes
between two modi rerum que significantur: the adiectivatio and the
substantivatio. In the Tractatus, to the substantivatio and the adiec-
tivatio there correspond respectively, on the side of the signifying
Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain 81

terms, the nomina substantiva, on the one hand, and the nomina
adiectiva and the verba, on the other.
Therefore, we have:
— two forms of acceptio, that is, of the assumption of a verbal sign
for something: suppositio and copulatio·,
— two modi rerum que significantur corresponding to the above-
mentioned forms: adiectivatio and substantivatio·,
— two types of nomina: nomina substantiva and nomina adiectiva;
the nomina substantiva correspond to the substantivatio, while the
nomina adiectiva together with the verba correspond to the adiectivatio.
Peter of Spain specifies that
proprie non est significatio substantiva vel adiectiva, sed aliquid significatur
substantive et aliquid adiective, quia adiectivatio vel substantivatio sunt modi
rerum que significantur, et non signifìcationis (TractatusSO).

This also makes it clear that the significatio or representatio must


be kept distinct from the res signified or represented. The translation
of significatio with meaning hinders this distinction or at least makes
it difficult to maintain or comprehend. Significatio indicates an
operation, an activity, whose product is the res significata or re-
presen ta ta.
Thus the significatio is not a res, as we may be led to believe on
using the term meaning in its place, unless, on the contrary, we
interpret meaning precisely in terms of significatio, of process, just
as the Tractatus seems to propose. Concerning this point, the Tractatus
sets out the problem of meaning in the terms which such authors
as Ryle and Morris were to use in their criticism of reifying and
hypostatizing conceptions to clarify the notion of meaning: meanings
are not things ; to say that there are meanings is not the same as stating
that there are trees and rocks; meanings are inseparable from the
process of signifying (see Morris 1938 and Ryle 1957; see also section
2.5.2 of this volume).
We said that the acceptio, that is, the assumption of a verbal sign
for something according to a certain representation, may take place
either in the form of the suppositio or of the copulatio and that such
a distinction is connected to that between nouns, on the one hand,
and adjectives and verbs, on the other. In fact, Peter of Spain explains
the difference between the substantivatio and the adiectivatio in
the following terms: nouns stand for (supponunt) the object to which
they refer autonomously as compared to adjectives and verbs, which
82 Adventures of the Sign

instead only bring about their connection to the referent by uniting


(copulant) their meaning to a noun. However, even in the use of verbs
and adjectives we still have, in a broad sense, a suppositio, because to
use the former is to accept them for something (acceptio pro aliquo).
In the Tractatus, both the acceptio pro aliquo, of nouns as much
as of adjectives and verbs, as well as the suppositio, which in a narrow
sense is specific to nouns, are kept distinct from the signifìcatio. The
significatio is that which makes a vox significant. The suppositio,
in general, is the referring of the vox significativa to a given referent.
Or, as Peter of Spain specifies, to signify is a function of the voice;
to stand for, that is, to refer to an object, is a function of a term
composed of voice and meaning.

Differunt autem suppositio et signifìcatio, quia signifìcatio est per impositionem


vocem ad rem significandam, suppositio vero est acceptio ipsius termini iam
significantis rem pro aliquo. Ut cum dicitur 'homo currif, iste terminus 'homo'
supponit pro Socrate vel Platone, et sic de aliis. Quare signifìcatio prior est
suppositione. Nesque sunt eiusdem, quia significare est vocis, supponere vero
est termini iam quasi compositi ex voce et signifìcatione. Ergo suppositio non
est signifìcatio (ibid).

Thus we already find in this passage that very important distinction


for semantics to which we refer directly or indirectly each time we
make use of such terminological pairs as: connotation/denotation
(Stuart Mill); interprétant ¡object (Peirce); Sinn/Bedeutung (Frege);
reference/referent (Ogden and Richards); meaning/denotation (Russell);
intension/extension; interprétant/designatum (Morris).
No doubt the distinction between intension and extension is ques-
tionable, especially when used to establish a relation of antecedence,
even if only logical, of the first term with respect to the second. If
extension depends upon intension, intension in its turn is deter-
mined by the referents to which the signifying verbal unit may be
extended. There is a relation of reciprocal dependence between
intension and extension, such that this distinction is unacceptable
when it aims at establishing relations of property and of antecedence.
As Rossi-Landi observes:
the assimilation of meaning to use seems sufficiently radical and innovative
for it to cut across the preceding distinction between extension and intension,
thus rendering the latter of little relevance outside the field of that particular
technique called symbolic or mathematical logic. We use a term or utterance
in a certain way because and in so far as we have put certain materials into it
in order to referto certain things or situations (Rossi-Landi 1961, 1980 2 :47).
Meaning and Referen t in Peter of Spain 83

However, it is precisely in view of the fact that intension and


extension do not exist separately from the use of terms and utterances,
and the fact that they implicate each other if considered in relation
to the operations of signifying and referring that, at the level of meta-
linguistic reflection, we must keep such different operations as signi-
fying and referring distinct, even if in fact they are inseparable in the
concrete process of semiosis. In this sense, the distinction between
significatio and suppositio proposed by Peter of Spain in his Tractatus
is useful. Consequently, it is just as important to distinguish, as in
the Tractatus, between res significata and the aliquid for which the
term is presupposed.
We have then the following concepts: the verbal sign formed by
the vox and significatio (signification) which stands for something
(acceptio pro aliquo), that is, the object to which it refers, according
to a given res representata, that is, according to the res it signifies
and which exist as the adiectivatio and substantivatio.
Rather than limit himself to considering the sign as being made
of a signifier and signified (as distinct from the referent), as proposed
by Saussure's model of sign, Peter of Spain locates the sign within
the complex process of semiosis of which he identifies the funda-
mental aspects. 1 believe we are not pushing things too far by proposing
that we may place Peter of Spain's model of sign alongside the
Peircean model. Such correspondence should be viewed as indicative
of the general orientation of the sign model proposed in the Tractatus,
rather than as a static coincidence: in other words, a tendential and
not factual correspondence. Working in this direction, the following
relations emerge:

vox significativa = representamen ;


significatio or representatio = interprétant;
res significata or representata = immediate object',
acceptio pro = to stand for ·,
aliquid (to which the operation of acceptio refers) = dynamical object.

In order to reach the Peircean model, at least in its essential traits,


beginning with Peter of Spain's model, we must push ourselves beyond
the latter and explain the significatio in terms of renvoi from one sign
to another sign which acts as the interprétant of its acceptio pro (the
interprétant is divided into the immediate interprétant and the
dynamical interprétant; see Peirce 1931-58:4.536; cf. 2.8.1 of this
volume).
84 Adventures of the Sign

Under this respect, Peirce's interest in Peter of Spain, whom he


quotes on numerous occasions in the Collected Papers, is not incidental.
With direct reference to Peter of Spain's Tractatus, Peirce makes
a point of specifying that the signiflcatio belongs to the field of
lexicography because it depends upon given conventions, whether
only one signiflcatio or several correspond to the vox; the suppositio,
instead, is more specifically the object of logico-linguistic studies
according to the general principles of language or of logic.
The various suppositions which may belong to one word with one signiflcatio
are the different senses in which the word may be taken, according to the
general principles of the language or of logic. Thus, the word table has different
significationes in the expressions "table of logarithms" and "writing-table";
but the word man has one and the same signiflcatio, and only different sup-
positions in the following sentences: "A man is an animal", "a butcher is a
man", "man cooks his food", "man appeared upon the earth at such a date",
etc. (Peirce :5.320).

Furthermore, similarly to Peter of Spain, Peirce believes that sup-


positio must be kept distinct from acceptio and be considered as a
special case of the latter together with the copulatio :
Some later writers have endeavored to make "acceptio" do service for "sup-
positio"; but it seems to me better, now that scientific terminology is no longer
forbidden, to revive supposition. I should add that as the principles of logic
and language for the different uses of the different parts of speech are different,
suppositio must be restricted to the acceptation of a substantive. The term
copulatio was used for the acceptation of an adjective or verb (ibid.).

Suppositio and in general acceptio do not concern the term taken


in isolation, as instead takes place by abstraction in the field of
lexicography, but rather as it occurs in a linguistic and situational
context. Thus the distinction between signiflcatio and suppositio
(and acceptio) tends to take the form of a distinction between the
abstract and general signification of an isolated term and its specific
signification within the proposition (and in general the utterance).
It is precisely in this sense that the distinction came to be understood
by Ockham.
As observed by Ghisalberti (1980:62), the topic of supposition
reveals "the development of medieval semiotics from a theory of
the single terms to a theory of the co-text and context".
In Peter of Spain, the distinction between the single isolated term
and the overall meaning of the utterance is lacking: the latter cannot
be merely conceived of as the total sum of the single meanings, but
Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain 85

rather represents something unitary and qualitatively different f r o m


t h e single meanings of the terms that compose the utterance.
This distinction was t o be directly theorized by Gregorio da Rimini
(between 1341-45) who turned his attention to the significatum com-
plexe, that is, t o t h e total meaning of the proposition.
The distinction between signiflcatio and acceptio also anticipates
the distinction proposed by Bakhtin-Volosinov 1929 between meaning
and theme, even if this distinction presupposes consideration of the
whole meaning of t h e utterance. The theme is precisely the whole,
unitary sense of an utterance; it is connected t o a concrete com-
municative situation and as such it is determined not only by verbal
factors (words, syntactic structures, intonation, linguistic c o n t e n t )
b u t also by extra-verbal factors, which are part of t h e situational
context. On the o t h e r hand, by meaning Bakhtin-Volosinov intends
all that which presents itself within the utterance with the character
of reproducibility, stability, and which can be identified by t h e listener.
In other words, the " m e a n i n g " is the whole set of all those aspects
which are c o m m o n to different utterances when we abstract f r o m
t h e concrete situation of the execution of each and f r o m what con-
stitutes their " t h e m e " . While the " t h e m e " of an utterance is unitary
and cannot be taken apart, its meaning can be broken down into
t h e signifying elements of which it is composed (cf. 2.11.1 ).
In Peter of Spain, we are also able t o trace — despite the affirmation,
considered above, of t h e priority of signiflcatio with respect t o sup-
postilo — indication of the inseparability, if not by abstraction or
for analysis, of signiflcatio and acceptio. This is stated explicitly by
Bakhtin-Volosinov in relation to t h e more precise distinction in terms
of meaning and theme :
. . . it is even impossible to convey the meaning of a particular word (say, in
the course of teaching another person a foreign language) without having made
it an element of theme, i.e., without having constructed an "example" utterance.
On the other hand, a theme must base itself on some kind of fixity of meaning;
otherwise it loses its connection with what came before and what comes after —
i.e., it altogether loses its significance (Bakhtin-Volosinov 1929; Eng. 1973:100).

The distinction between signiflcatio and acceptio may also be made


to correspond to the subdivision of t h e interprétant, proposed by
Peirce, into immediate interprétant (signiflcatio, whose res significata
is what Peirce calls the immediate object) and dynamical interprétant
(acceptio, in which aliquid — acceptio pro aliquo — corresponds
in Peirce to the dynamical object). According to Peirce, in fact, the
86 Adven tures of the Sign

immediate interprétant is fixed by use and tradition, it is given in


the correct deciphering of the sign itself, in its recognition, "and
is ordinarily called the meaning of the sign" (Peirce, cit.: 4.536). The
dynamical interprétant "is the actual effect that the sign, as a sign,
really determines" {ibidem).
So far we have seen how the distinction between significatio and
acceptio recalls the distinction between intension or connotation,
and extension or denotation, and furthermore how it is linked to
the problem of the meaning of the sign not taken in isolation but
as a whole utterance.
As we have seen, in Peter of Spain's opinion, specification of
acceptio either in the form of suppositio or of copulatio depends
upon the significatio and, that is, upon the fact that the res significata
is signified as a noun or adjective. Substantivity and adjectivity (ex-
pressed by terms that are respectively nouns and adjectives or verbs)
is the presupposition of acceptio, in the forms respectively of
suppositio and copulatio; and acceptio, with such forms, is the
presupposition of the subject and predicate forms proper to the
proposition (the subject generally presupposes the suppositio, the
predicate the copulatio): all this, which emerges directly or indirectly
in the Tractatus, finds expression in Husserl (1948) in the following
terms:

Genauer besehen ist schon in jedem einfachsten prädikativen Urteil eine


doppelte Formung vollzogen. Die Glieder des Urteilssatzes haben nicht nur die
syntaktische Formung als Subjekt, Prädikat usw. als Funktionsformen, die
ihnen als Gliedern des Satzes zukommen, sondern sie haben darunter liegend
noch eine andere Art Formung, die Kernformen: das Subjekt hat die Kernform
der Substantivität, im Prädikat steht die Bestimmung ρ in der Kernform der
Adjektivität. Die Formung als Subjekt setzt voraus einen Stoff mit der Form der
Substantivität. Dieser muß aber nicht notwendig die Subjektform annehmen,
er kann auch, wie wir sehen werden, die syntaktische Form des bezüglichen
Objektes haben. Desgleichen kann das in der Form der Adjektivität Erfaßte
ebensogut als Prädikat fungieren wie als Attribut. Auch darauf werden wir
noch zu sprechen kommen.

2.1.3 Typology of the Suppositio

Not always however is the syntactic form of the predicate achieved


through adjectivity ('the rose is red'; 'the rose is withering'). In certain
Meaning and Referen t in Peter of Spain 87

cases it occurs in the form of substantivity ('the rose is a flower')·


This means that suppositio does not only carry out the function of
subject but also of predicate. Peter of Spain was well aware of this and
consequently distinguishes between various types of suppositio.
It is one thing to say 'the rose' in order to refer to the rose in general,
and another thing to use this expression in order to refer to a particular
rose: thus we must distinguish, in the first place, between common
supposition and discrete supposition.
Discrete or particular supposition occurs in expressions: 'this rose
is red'; 'this man is running'; 'Socrates is conversing', etc.
Furthermore, common supposition may be divided into natural
and accidental. Natural supposition is the assumption of a common
term for all that to which that term may be referred, e.g., 'man' used
in contexts in which the reference is to all men, those that were,
are and will be: 'man is an animal'. Accidental supposition is the use
of a common term with reference only to a part of what may be
referred to generally: 'in ancient times man lived in caves'.
Supposition with a predicative function occurs when an accidental
supposition of the type called by Peter of Spain simple, as distinct
from personal, appears in the form of the predicate. Let us see in
what consists the distinction between simple accidental supposition
and personal accidental supposition:
Simplex suppositio est acceptio termini communis pro re universali significata
per ipsum. Ut cum dicitur ''homo est species' vel 'animal est genus', iste terminus
'homo' supponit pro homine in communi et non pro aliquo inferiorum, et iste
terminus 'animal' pro animali in communi et non pro aliquo inferiorum. Et
similiter est de quolibet alio termino communi. Ut 'risibile est proprium',
'rationale est differentia', 'album est accidens'. [...]
Personalis suppositio est acceptio termini communis pro suis inferioribus. Ut
cum dicitur 'homo currit', iste terminus 'homo' supponit pro suis inferioribus
(Tractatus :&l-82).

When the predicate is formed by a noun, so that we have a sup-


position with a predicative function, such a noun stands for the whole
class to which it refers and not for its components, in other words,
its supposition is simple and not personal. Thus, in 'every man is
an animal', 'animal' has a simple supposition. It does not in fact follow
from such a statement that 'every man is this animal here', just as
'this man is a species' does not follow from 'man is a species', in which
the term with a simple supposition bears the role of subject. The noun
that has a supposition with a predicative function indicates the entire
88 Adventures of the Sign

class to which a given subject may be made to belong. To Peter of


Spain's comments concerning supposition with a predicative function,
we may add that the subject of a proposition may be expressed by
a term with a common supposition ('the rose is a flower', 'man is an
animal'), as much as by a term with a discrete supposition ('Socrates
is a man', 'John is a bachelor').
In the proposition 'man is an animal', 'man' has a natural common
supposition, for it is assumed with reference to all the members, with-
out exclusion, of the class "man". 'Animal', instead, has an accidental
common supposition because it only refers to some of the components
of the class it indicates: the relation between subject and predicate
is here a relation between the subclass and class respectively, so that
it is not symmetrical and, therefore, cannot be inverted when we wish
to define the class.
The addition of one or more adjectives (or of relative propositions
with a predicative function) to the noun carrying out the role of
predicate may cause the noun, on restricting the supposition, to
designate uniquely that which is presupposed by the term with the
function of subject: 'man is a rational animal'. In this case, an exchange
of parts between terms constituting the subject and the predicate is
possible, not only by saying that 'a rational animal is man', just as
we can say that 'an animal is man', but also that 'the rational animal
is man'.
With respect to what Peter of Spain says about the predicative
supposition, we have added that the subject of the proposition may
also be a term with a discrete supposition, and that in this case as
well the relation between subject and predicate is a relation between
subclass and class. We can also go further and say that an exchange
in roles between the terms of a proposition is possible, in this case,
when the class is only formed by members presupposed by the term
acting as the subject: thus while it does not follow from 'John is
my friend' that 'this person who is my friend is John', or from 'Peter
is Paul's brother' that 'this person who is Paul's brother is Peter', it
does indeed follow from 'Peter is my husband' (where polygamy is
not admitted) that 'this person who is my husband is Peter'.
Peter of Spain's study as carried out in the Tractatus is rich in
insights and ideas for further development and, especially as regards
supposition with a predicative function, it anticipates principles and
perspectives that characterize contemporary logico-linguistic and
semiotic thought. In this respect, it may still be observed that among
Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain 89

the possible uses of simple supposition with a predicative function,


we may count the case where the subject of the proposition is not
a nonlinguistic object, but rather a very element of language as in
the propositions 'man is a noun', 'John is a proper name', etc. This
term function was to be indicated by Ockham as suppositio materialis
(already theorized by Shyreswood) so as to distinguish it from the
simplex and the personalis (which together constitute the suppositio
formalis). The typology of the supposition, as established in the
Tractatus, though not tripartite, enables us to explain the distinc-
tion among propositions of the type John is my friend, John is a
man and John is a proper name, and therefore, as Dinnen observes,
it anticipates the distinction made by contemporary philosophy of
language between the object language and metalanguage (see Dinnen
1967).
Also rich in implications is Peter of Spain's observation that
cum dicitur 'homo est species' iste terminus 'homo' supponit pro homine in
communi et non pro aliquo inferiorum; [. . .] unde non consequitur: 'homo
est species ; ergo aliquis homo est species'.

The argumentation used by Frege to demonstrate that numbers


are names of sets or classes is no different: if Jupiter has four satellites,
this does not mean that each of them is four; therefore, four stands
for the whole class, it is a property of the set (see Frege 1884).

2.1.4 Appellatio

In the Tractatus, to the distinction between significatio and acceptio


is added the distinction between these two concepts, on the one hand,
and appellatio, on the other (Tractatus: 197-198).
With the latter distinction the Tractatus gives a noteworthy contribu-
tion to criticism of the hypostatization, reification, and reduction
of the referent at the basis of contemporary non referential semantics.
The thesis maintaining that meaning does not require a referent is based
upon the contradictory interpretation of the referent as something
that lies outside semiosis while at the same time being something
that is observable, individual and determined in its value of reality;
that is, this thesis stands upon the reification of the referent which is
90 Adventures of the Sign

consequently rendered a u t o n o m o u s with respect t o the sign, thus


supplying assumptions in favour of the argument for the reciprocal
a u t o n o m y of meaning and referent. But the referent is such solely
within semiosis and that which acts as referent is decided within
semiosis itself. The erroneous identification of the referent with the
physical object has o f t e n led t o the conclusion that since there are
signs which do not refer t o things, to physical objects, the referent
is n o t an essential element of semiosis (cf. 1.2).
Indeed, the function of referent may also be covered by a thought,
sentiment or desire, or by an imaginary, illusory, or fictitious object.
Furthermore, the referent of t h e supposition m a y be an individual
object, as in the expression 'this is a dog'; but it may also be an object
in its generalized aspect, a class, as in the expression 'the dog is a
quadrupedal animal'. This is evidenced with extreme clarity in the
Tractatus.
It is precisely in order t o eliminate the misunderstanding that to
have a referent, t h a t is, the supposition, necessarily involves the physical
existence of that t o which the expression refers (so that a term or
a proposition expressing something inexistent, or simulating the
existence of something, does not have a referent — what we would have
is signiflcatio without suppositio —) that Peter of Spain distinguishes
between signiflcatio and suppositio on the one hand, and appellatio,
on the other.
This distinction is analogous t o t h e one proposed by Morris, in 1938,
when he subdivided the referent of Ogden and Richards' triangle
into t h e concepts of denotatum and designatum.
We have a denotatum when the sign — with its interprétant (Peter
of Spain's significatio) — refers t o something that really exists in
t h e terms referred to. Otherwise, the sign has a designatum b u t it
does n o t have a denotatum.
Similarly, in section X of t h e Tractatus, entitled De Appellation-
ibus, Peter of Spain maintains the following:

Appellatio est acceptio termini communis pro re existente. Dico autem 'pro
re existente', quia terminus significans non ens nichil appellai, ut 'Cesar* vel
'Antichristus' et ' c h i m e r a e t sic de aliis.
Differt autem appellatio a suppositione et a significatione, quia appellatio
est tantum de re existente, sed significatio et suppositio tam de re existente
quam non existente. Ut 'Antichristus' significat Antichristum et supponit pro
Antichristo, sed nichil appellai, 'homo' autem significat hominem et de natura
sua supponit tam pro existentibus quam non existentibus et appellai tantum
homines existentes.
Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain 91

Appellationum autem alia est termini communis, ut 'hominis' alias termini


singularis, ut 'Sortis'. Terminus singularis idem significat et supponit et appellai,
quia significat rem existentem, ut 'Petrus' vel 'Iohannes' {Tractatus: 197).
Analogously to the notion of suppostilo, we also need to specify in
relation to appellatio (thus pushing ourselves beyond what is specifically
stated in the Tractatus, but perhaps not going far from what is implied)
that it is decided in the utterance and within the field of semiosis. In
fact, if we limit ourselves to considering isolated terms, it is not clear
why 'Caesar' signifies and supposes but does not have appellation, while
'Petrus' signifies, supposes and names, as stated in the passage quoted
above. Obviously, the term 'Caesar' is used in a context in which the
referent no longer exists, while 'Petrus' is used to refer to a real person
while he still exists. In this sense, the concept of the existence of
referents (Morris' designata), according to which it is decided whether
the term has appellation, is relative to the mode of reference of the
term within the field of the actual linguistic and situational context.
Thus 'Caesar' employed today to refer to the person killed on the
Ides of March of 44 B.C. does not currently have appellatio, while
it does have signification and supposition. On the other hand, if
referred to one of my colleagues, it has an appellative function, as
does 'Caesar' in the context of De bello gallico. Similarly, centaurs
exist in Greek mythology, while they do not exist in zoology, so
that the term 'centaur' has appellation (and may or may not have
a denotatum as intended by Morris) according to the various contexts
of semiosis. In the same way, in the Odyssey 'Ulysses' appellai, while
there is no corresponding denotatum from the historical point of view.
Thus certain expressions may have an appellative function, and
therefore a denotatum, while others do not within the same ideational
context (for example a novel or a fable) even if, with respect to the
concept of existence in the observational sense, none of them have
either appellation or denotation. The well known utterance examined
by English analytical philosophy 'The present King of France does
not exist' is considered to be at the same time both true and con-
tradictory because it denies the existence of that to which it refers.
It is endowed with supposition, which enables it to have a referent
about which a true judgement may be expressed, even though it
is devoid of appellation as is explicitly stated by its denying the
existence of its own referent: the distinction between appellation and
supposition clears up the contradiction that this utterance would
seem to present. The same utterance pronounced, for example, during
92 Adventures of the Sign

the reign of Louis IV would have been false, while at the same time
being endowed with appellation in addition to supposition.
Peter of Spain is well aware of the fact that semantic problems
cannot be treated adequately by considering the various parts of
discourse in isolation. The determination of the significatio, suppositio
and appellatio of a single term, as well as the correct deciphering
of a sentence are always dealt with in the Tractatus with reference
to the general context of the oratio to which the term or sentence
belongs. The meaning of the oratio is decided, in its turn, in the real
context of communication, so that the very distinction between oratio
perfecta and oratio imperfecta is made to depend upon the overall
effect obtained upon the mind of the listener.
Oratio perfecta est que perfectum generat sensum in animo auditoris, ut 'homo
est albus'; imperfecta oratio est que imperfectum generat sensum in animo
auditoris, ut 'homo albus' (Tractatus 3).

Furthermore, in Peter of Spain's opinion, it is use that determines


the meaning of a term; and if that term acquires a new meaning which
from being secondary becomes the main meaning, this too depends
on use:
Propria significatio dicitur dictionis quam recipit usus communiter. [. . .]
Contigit sic significationem que non est modo propria, sed transsumptiva, fieri
postea propriam per frequentem usum (ibid. : 113).

Another distinction established in the Tractatus in relation to the


general linguistic context is that between main signification and con-
signification: even though they share the main signification expressed
by the same root, am-, 'amo', 'amans', íamantis\ 'amabilis' have
different consignifications: for example, 'amo' has the consignifica-
tions: "first person", "singular", "active", "present"; while 'amabilis'
has the consignifications: "any person", "singular", "passive",
"masculine or feminine". But Peter of Spain shows that consignifica-
tion may only be effectively established within the context of
discourse. For instance, 'laborans' consignifies both laborantem tunc
as well as laborantem nunc, and this may give rise to misunderstandings
until the term finally finds a precise consignification in discourse,
expressed, for example, by such syncategorematic terms as 'tunc'
and 'nunc' (see Tractatus Λ 03). Analogously, in the utterance 'Petrus
est amabilis\ the consignifications of 'amabilis' are limited to the
"third person" and "masculine".
Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain 93

Peter of Spain also anticipated themes that were to be dealt with


by contemporary semantics concerning the restriction of suppositions,
especially in relation to the problem of how the objects of reality
may be determined by terms that are themselves vague, indeterminate
and imprecise. The answer proposed in the Tractatus is no different
from that expressed by Schaff in his discussion of the positions of
Russell, Black and the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus (see Schaff 1975).
Reference to the single datum is only possible through the processes
of abstraction and generalization; but denotation is specified through
the combination of a series of words with a general content within
a specific context of discourse.
94 Adventures of the Sign

2.2 Signifies and Semiotics.


Victoria Welby and Giovanni Vailati

But your Signifies brings Plato and Aristotle into line with all
that is most modern in knowledge and that promises most for
the future. Even the work of Locke and J.S. Mill has fallen
short of what Signifies will do in time. It is a work like that
of Nicholas of Cusa preparing for a Copernicus. It gives us, in
exchange for a small, a great — for a poor, a rich — world of
light. It must react upon all religion and theology, on practical
as well as moral life, setting them free from the distorting pres-
sure which deforms and sterilises. It is at the heart of things —
the first glimmer of the answer and the guidance for which
we are looking (Calderoni and Vailati as reported by Lady Welby
in a letter to her daughter Nina Cust, cited by Schmitz 1985 :
clxxiv).

Confrontation between what is possible and what is thought


to be so, the evaluation of dreams, the construction of utopias
are integral parts of activity and they are not less important than
consideration of the various ways and directions in which reality
may be modified, or than the balance of the advantages and
inconveniences which each of the possible alternatives present.
The very advances in science are evaluated by the moralist not
only because they increase the bearing and power of human
action and volition, not only because they open up new paths
to pre-existent ideals, but also because they broaden the horizon
of our aspirations (ignoti nulla cupido), and because they tend to
suggest more and more admirable "Atlantises" and more and
more luminous "Cities of the sun" (G. Vailati "La ricerca del'
l'impossibile", Leonardo, III, 1905).

2.2.1 Towards the Hypothesis of Ethosemiotics

In a letter of March 28, 1903 to Giovanni Vailati, V. Lady Welby


says (Vailati 1971&):

Allow me to thank you for the kind words wherewith you have honoured my
book [What is Meaning?] and to explain that the word 'Signifies' was chosen
Signifies and Semiotics. Welby and Vailati 95

after consultation with English scholars, because (1) it had not been used before
and had no technical associations like those of semiotic, semasiology, semantic,
etc.; and (2) because in English idiom it appeals not merely to the student and
the Scholar but also to what we call 'the Man in the street'.
All men alike with us ask naturally 'What does it Signify?' and puts aside,
ignores what does not signify. He unconsciously gives the Sign its true place
and value. He says 'never mind that' throw it away, it does not signify (it is
no sign and has therefore no sense). I think it is important to take a case where
the popular instinct is unconsciously philosophical and utilise this in favour
of an advance in thought which must concern us all, though in different ways.
[ . . .] May I add one more word. Neither Locke nor any other thinker, it appears
has ever yet analysed on 'signifie' lines the conception of'Meaning' itself.

These words were written in reply to an objection made by Vailati


who, though generally in agreement with the vital points of Lady
Welby's contention, wrote the following to her in a letter of March
18, 1903:

I would subordinately object to the word 'Signifies' that it could, as it seems


to me, with some advantage be substituted by Semiotics which has already been
appropriated to the very same meaning by no less authority than that of Locke
(Essay 1V, 21, in fine, see also Schmitz 1985 xlxxiv).

The problem of the relation between the words "Signifies" and


"Semiotics" is central t o the thought of b o t h Lady Welby and Vailati
on sign and meaning. Both authors extend the limits of semiotics in
the direction of what Lady Welby called "Signifies", and which I would
suggest we call "Ethosemiotics" thus maintaining the relation to the
notion of semiotics according to the tradition extending from Locke
to Peirce. On proposing the substitution of "Signifies" f o r "Semiotics",
Vailati did n o t sufficiently consider the difference between his own
and Lady Welby's view on the one hand, and semiotics as theory of
knowledge, as logic or as theoretical philosophy, in short, as cognitive
semiotics, on the other. Lady Welby's specifications are important.
Her tenet of Signifies is that t h e problem of sign and of meaning
cannot be approached separately f r o m consideration of the true place
and value which, indeed, the sign has in every possible sphere of human
interest and purpose.
In What is Meaning? Lady Welby (1903, 1983:83) maintains that
Signifies enables us " t o deal afresh and in a practical form with the
ancient problems": it is "a m e t h o d of mental training", "implied in all
true views of education", even if it "is not yet practically recognised or
systematically applied". Lady Welby very o f t e n reaffirmed the ethical
and educational implications of Signifies given that it concerns the
96 Adventures of the Sign

very condition both of human intercourse and of man's mastery of


his world (see Welby 1911, 1985 :vii). If Signifies, giving up'semantic
specialism, takes in every field of human knowledge and life, this is
not due to some pretension to semiotic omniscience, but to its commit-
ment towards what we assume to be the main value of practical and
speculative life and "vaguely call 'meaning' " (Welby 1903, 1983:83).
Similarly to Lady Welby, Vailati also researched into language and
signs. Beginning with inquiries into the history and methodology of
the sciences, Vailati's work turns to the problems of language in
general, including the language of ordinary life and of ethics. When,
as from 1896, he took an interest in problems connected to the
sciences, he too engaged in research "analogous" to that of Lady
Welby, as he himself said to her on June 16, 1898, and as we may
see, for example, from his considerations on the function of "word-
questions" in the development of the physical sciences, especially
mechanics. Vailati traces the foundations of the sciences in social
practice and in their relations t o goals, instruments and models
(including the linguistic). He does not lose sight of the human
operations that go to form the foundations of scientific and ordinary
meaning. If, in the letter to Lady Welby of July 12, 1898, Vailati
seems to insist on the value of the "definitions of phrases" (but indeed
only by contrast to "definitions of words") — a view that Lady Welby
could not agree with (see Schmitz 1985:cixxii), nevertheless, in his
inaugural speech of December 12, 1898, he maintained that if the
speaker is conscious of what he says, it is not essential that he should
be able to give definitions. I believe that Vailati's letter of July 12,
1898 gives rise to misunderstandings due to linguistic interferences
between English and Italian: Vailati says "phrases" and "propositions",
but what he means are "sentences" and "utterances". "Phrase" is
"/oewz/one", "espressione" in Italian, e.g., "in the garden", "in order
t o " ; furthermore, the expressions " t o be", " t o act", "to produce", " t o
represent" are quoted by Vailati as examples of linguistic elements
to be defined in the "phrase", but as Lady Welby properly observed,
they are already in themselves "phrases" (see Schmitz 1985:cixxiii).
The misunderstanding is further increased by the fact that in Lady
Welby's opinion (as we may see from her handwritten notes on the
letter from Vailati), "if such phrases are defined" (Vailati), "they
become words" (Lady Welby), whereas according to Vailati it is the
definition of the phrase which determines whether the "words com-
posing them" appear to be ambiguous or defined. It is clear that Lady
Signifies and Semiotics. Welby and Vailati 97

Welby and Vailati employ " w o r d " as well as "sentence" differently.


The same is true of "proposition". When Welby says that propositions
are used as words and that phrases become words in communication,
she employs " w o r d " to mean "utterance" or "parole", whereas Vailati
employs " w o r d " for reference to the isolated and abstract terms of
the utterance (sentence), in other words, what he means is " m o t "
or "moneme". But, in spite of the terminological difference, both Lady
Welby and Vailati maintain that everything we say can only be defined
in the utterance and in context. Vailati increasingly recognized, in
his successive publications, the influence of the context of semiosis
on meaning; however, I do not believe that he "was largely bound",
not even in his initial works, " t o traditional semantics (e.g. that of
Brèal)", that is, to semantics interested in the rules governing changes
in verbal meaning (see Schmitz 1985:cixxiii).

2.2.2 Criticism of Definition as a Panacea

Vailati only attributes an operating and pragmatic value to definition:


it is not important in itself, but for its connection to the operations
through which we arrive at definition; what counts more is the
reasoning employed to explain it (Vailati 1898, in Vailati 1972:100).
Moreover, Vailati maintains that the inability to formulate definitions
does not denote poor knowledge, but more often a great familiarity
with what we cannot define: because we know it, we are unable to
find anything more familiar that may act as a definiens or interpré-
tant. This is the reason why words such as "time", "space" and
" m o t i o n " are difficult to define (see Vailati 1899, in Vailati 1972:
108-109). According to Vailati, the common opinion that the in-
ability t o formulate definitions denotes ignorance, arises from the
habit — formed back in childhood - of regarding any information
as an answer to a question of the kind: "What is it?". Thus Vailati
was not far from Lady Welby's view that definitions, though essential
in specific fields of knowledge, would tend, if exalted into a panacea,
to hinder the most precious quality of language, that is, the power
of growth and adaptation to contexts of any kind. The idea that
definition is the true remedy for defects of expression is shown to
be fallacious (see Lady Welby 1896:194; 1903:2). Moreover, Lady
98 Adventures of the Sign

Welby returned to the subject of Vailati's view on definition, in a letter


of February 17, 1907, in which she wrote to Vailati that his work
goes in the direction of Signifies. (Vailati agreed with Lady Welby on
the word "Signifies" as far back as the summer of 1903, when he
visited her at Harrow together with Calderoni: see Schmitz 1985:
clxxiv, as well as the epigraph to this paper). In the above-mentioned
letter, Lady Welby says:
Then further the broadening method of definition of a group of words or
phrases instead of an isolated word, is part of the case for Signifies. Again I
rejoice at the contribution of Mathematical logic towards the exposure of the
fallacy of the traditional logic in assuming that some of our most important
words in science and philosophy are indefinable. Of course they are — in
isolation: it is, as you say, absurd.

Though Lady Welby talks of "group of words or phrases", together


with Vailati she agrees on the concept of the relativity of what is
"definable" as a proposition or sentence, to the context and intention-
ality of utterances. In fact, she declares herself very glad to read in
Vailati's 1906 essay "Pragmatismo e logica matematica" (see Vailati
1988) that mathematical logicians were revising their criteria for the
choice and determination of postulates which were resigning their
"divine right" to become the servi servorum at the service of derived
propositions (letter of Feb. 27, 1907; see Vailati 1972:238). In
Vailati's opinion, postulates are propositions like any other proposi-
tion; some of them are "democratically" chosen as postulates according
to the purpose of the discussion and operations to be carried out.
Moreover, we cannot decide that a given word or concept is definable
in isolation, but only with regard to other words or concepts and with
reference to a given working context. Both pragmaticism and mathe-
matical logic have revealed that certain philosophical and scientific
words cannot be defined, and certainly not because "the essence
of things" is unknowable: often the conditions necessary for definition
are lacking.
Lady Welby declared that she was impressed by the essays published
by Vailati in Leonardo from 1904 onwards and by the paper "Le
rôle des paradoxes dans la philosophie" (1905): "The most recent
definitions of Mathematics, I find very interesting" (letter to Vailati
of July 13, 1904); "With the argument of your 'Rôle des Paradoxes'
I am of course in complete sympathy and especially with the position
taken on the last page" (letter of March 1, 1905). "Of your articles
the one on the 'Art of Questioning' and that on 'Antithesis' have a
Signifies and Semiotics. Welby and Vailati 99

special interest for me" (letter of May 18, 1905; see Vailati, "Sull-
l'arte dell'interrogare", in Rivista di psicologia, now in Vailati 1972:
204-209); "I have now the pleasure to send you copies of the three
translations of your articles that I have had made for my own use.
They are to me of great interest but especially perhaps that on 'The
Art of Questioning'. It is a great satisfaction to me to find that views
on education which even quite recently were laughed at are now on
all sides being more and more recognised" (June 25, 1905); "I cannot
forget that you have been among the very first of European thinkers
to encourage me in my most difficult enterprise, the need of which
you had already felt" (letter of December 28, 1907); "I have at once
given myself the pleasure of reading your article on the 'Attack of
Distinctions' for which I venture to thank you as it is an admirable
example of the critical method of Signifies (although of course in an
indirect sense)"; "I read your Article in the Journal of Philosophy
and shall look forward to the next. There could be no more interesting
subject for the significian than that of philosophical distinctions,
illusory and substantial (or indestructible)" (Letter of June 15, 1908).

2.2.3 Welby, Vailati and Peirce

Vailati's name appears in Lady Welby's letter of November 18, 1903


to Peirce :
. . . Prof. G. Vailati, who shares your view of the importance of that — may
I call it, praticai extension? - of the office and field of Logic proper, which
I have called Signifies. For the latter seems to see as I do that the acceptance of
such an extension will bring a time when no one with any sense will any longer
say Oh, I don't care for (or, am incapable of) the study of Logic. That isn't
my line'. For that would be to announce indifference not merely to rational
order, but also to the very attribute which may be said to give its human value
to life, — that is (1) its 'Sense' and sense-power in every sense from the biological
to the logical, (2) its intention, conscious and increasingly definite and rational,
which we call 'Meaning' and (profess to) use language to express, (3) its
Significance, its bearing upon, its place among, its interpretation of, all other
cosmical facts. To be thus indifferent, indeed, would be to stultify not only
every word they said but all the activities of their life. And then, in our
expressive English idiom, nothing to them would signify at all, and they would
not signify either (in Hardwick 1977:6).
100 Adventures of the Sign

This is a key passage for the understanding of the relation between


Lady Welby and Vailati and of the relation of these two, in their turn,
to Peirce. The relation is that between Signifies, logic and the science
of signs. It is noteworthy that Lady Welby should have placed Vailati's
work in the field of logic while, for his part, Peirce considered Lady
Welby's Signifies as belonging to logic.
In her Britannica article "Signifies", Lady Welby says that Signifies
as the science of meaning or the study of significance "is given to its
practical aspects as a method of mind, one which is involved in all forms
of mental activity, including that of logic" (Lady Welby 1911, in
Hardwick 1977:167). As in the above-mentioned letter to Peirce,
Lady Welby considers Signifies to be inclusive of logic without the
two coinciding perfectly.
On his part, Peirce maintained that Signifies and logic coincide and
he defined logic as the doctrine of the formal conditions of the truth
of symbols, i.e. of the reference of symbols to their objects. In
Peirce's opinion (see letter to Lady Welby of December 23, 1908) logic
"considered as semeiotic" researches into the reference of symbols
to their objects; but Signifies, as the science of meaning and
significance, would appear to be that part of Semiotic which inquires
into the relation of signs to their interprétants (for which as limited
to symbols Peirce proposed, in 1867, the name Universal Rhetoric).
Thus unlike logic, Signifies does not care for the truth of signs (see
Hardwick 1977:80, and Peirce, Collected Papers:8.342-379).
In spite of the connection initially asserted between Signifies and
logic, however, Peirce is forced to admit that Signifies does not con-
centrate on truth not only because it is concerned with signification
(significatif) as intended by John of Salisbury) but also because it is
oriented towards ethics:

I hope your article will cause readers to appreciate Signifies as a study of grave
importance not merely from the point of view of Morals, but also from that of
Truth (8.379).

This acknowledgement is of great importance for the problem of


the relation between signifies and semiotics (and logic). And this
not only concerns Lady Welby but also the "logician" Vailati. In
my opinion, both Lady Welby and Vailati work on the junction of
logic and ethics, of semiotics as theory of knowledge and ethics; both
contribute to the founding of a philosophical methodics in which
the critique of pure reason is united to that of practical reason.
Signifies and Semiotics. Welby and Vailati 101

By this I do not mean to maintain, with Hardwick, that


there is a strong moral tone in Lady Welby's work, no doubt a carry-over from
her early religious concern. There is an almost evangelical zeal, the suggestion
of a moral obligation to seek clarity of understanding. But her work still lacked
the logical rigor that characterizes Peirce's work (Hardwick 1977:xxiii).

One could reply to observations of this kind with the words of Lady
Welby herself from a letter to Peirce of January 21, 1909:
Of course I am fully aware that semiotic may be considered the scientific and
philosophic form of that study which I hope may become generally known as
Signifies. Though I don't think you need despair of the acceptance of your
own more abstract, logically abstruse, philosophically profound conception of
Semiotic. Of course I assent to your definition of a logical inference, and agree
that Logic is in fact an application of morality in the largest and highest sense
of the word. That is entirely consonant with the witness of Primal Sense. Alas,
there is no word (except religion) more dangerously taken in vain than morality
(in Hardwick :91).

It is undeniable that consideration of Lady Welby's religious orienta-


tion and interest in the English Evangelical religious movement is
fundamental for an adequate understanding of her philosophy (see
Schmitz 1985:xxviii-xxxvii), just as, for example, it is important to
examine the influence of the Russian Orthodox tradition in the study
of Bakhtin's ideas (see Clark-Holquist 1984:120-145). But leaving aside
the "evangelical overtone" of Lady Welby's Links and Clues (1881)
and the "strong moral tone" of What is Meaning?, I consider it
vitally important to stress that there is a particular relation in Lady
Welby between Signifies, logic, and ethics which unites the theory
of knowledge to the critique of practical behaviour. This relation is
founded on the question "What does it signify" put by the "un-
consciously philosophical popular instinct": using this question as
a guide, we ignore what does not signify and unconsciously give the
sign its true place and value. Furthermore, all that is true or false
also has value on the grounds of the same question "What does it
signify?". That which is true becomes a truism if it does not signify.
And there are many true sentences in the field of common sense
as well as in the sciences, however, they become true for us and may
be explained rather than dogmatically taught on condition that we
can answer the question "What does it signify?". Signifies assumes
the task of putting us in the position of being able to answer questions
of this kind responsibly and in person. Owing to its attention to
answerability, Signifies seems to prefer signification to denotation
102 Adventures of the Sign

and to place ethics before truth. But indeed it seeks the foundation
of truth as well as of ethics and of all other values: this foundation
lies in signifying, that is, in the interpretation of the signs of ethics
and truth (in other words, of the signs by means of which truth and
other values are expressed) through interprétants that signify for us,
given that for signifies the specialists are not the sole agents, but,
as Lady Welby says, all of us could be "significians". With regards
to this last aspect, the science of signs is part of Signifies and does
not coincide with it: compared to semiotics as a specialized discipline,
Signifies presents a surplus, in consideration of which it may be called,
as I proposed at the beginning of this paper, "ethosemiotics".
I also believe that Peirce's semiotics is an ethosemiotics, and that
consequently there is a common ground to his and Lady Welby's work,
and not only because the latter's trichotomy of Sense, Meaning, and
Significance coincides with Peirce's tripartite division of the Inter-
prétant (see Peirce's letter to Lady Welby of March 14, 1909). I
cannot dwell on this point now but will simply limit myself to calling
attention, for example, to a series of papers by Peirce collected in
the volume Chance, Love and Logic.
The "logician" Vailati also was concerned with the relation between
what is true by common or scientific tradition and what may signify
because one can answer for it in person. This relation is fundamental
to the educational process, and it is significant that both Lady Welby
and Vailati should have attached so great an importance to the
educational issue.
In the article "Sull'arte dell'interrogare" (1905), Vailati compares
questions of the kind "What is it?" — which induce as answers verbal
clichés, stereotyped sentences, mechanical definitions — with those
of the kind "What would you do, if . . . " o r "What would you do to,
in order that . . .", which show the connection between concepts and
definitions on the one hand, and the behaviours, operations, contexts,
and expectations by means of which the concepts and definitions
may signify, on the other. For Vailati, too, the question "What does
it signify for you, for us?" is fundamental. That which is true may be
taught only if we bring it back to the conditions, experiences, and
experimental verifications by which we understand what it signifies
that something is true.
The connection between ethics and science does not lie, for Vailati,
in some kind of intrusion and pretension to leadership in the field
of ethics on the part of the scientist as a scientist. Rather, that which
Signifies and Semiotics. Welby and Vailati 103

unites scientific knowledge and ethics is their common foundation


on the reference to presuppositions, premises, hypotheses, axioms
and postulates from which their sentences are drawn. In fact, Vailati
rejected the dichotomy, which was later to be defended by the Neo-
Positivists, between facts and values: the so-called facts of scientific
knowledge are constructions and the word "fact" does not always
mean something different from a law (see Vailati 1972:167). But
he also rejected the pretension of reducing the problem of moral values
to mere consideration of the "facts" given as consequences of
actions: if particular consequences are preferred, for example, general
utility, this depends on consideration of particular facts as values, so
that Utilitarianism also is a form of ethics. Thus Vailati agrees with
Moore's criticism of the "fallacy of Naturalism" (Utilitarianism,
Evolutionism etc.) which claims to deduce what should be from
what is, and substitutes the question what ought to be done for the
ethical question what ought to be. In addition to Moore's Principia
Ethica, Vailati also refers to Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics as well as to
Brentano's Psychologie vom emprischen Standpunkt. To agree
with Stuart Mill and Moore that questions concerning ends are not
amenable to direct proof, and to maintain that, as Moore says, such
moral words as "good" cannot be defined, does not mean, in Vailati's
opinion, that ethics is to be separated from physics and the other
natural sciences — on the contrary, it makes them similar: in fact
not even the physicist is able to express in definitions those elementary
experiences or sensations of which one can only have knowledge
by perceiving them directly (see Vailati's "La ricerca dell'impossibile"
[1905], in Vailati 1988:227-236).
On the other hand, in "I tropi della logica" (1905, Eng. trans.
"On Material Representations of Deductive Processes", Journal of
Philosophy, 1908) — which begins with a reference to Lady Welby's
What is Meaning? —, Vailati shows that metaphorical speech is not only
present in ordinary language, in ethics and the humanities, but also
in logic and mathematics where use is made of such phrases as "to
be based", "to be founded", "to depend", "to go back to", "to
descend", "découler", "to be drawn".
Just as in "La grammatica dell'algebra" ([1908] in Vailati 1988)
Vailati compares verbal language to the language of algebra from
a semiotic viewpoint, in "La ricerca dell'impossibile" he compares
the sentences of ethics to those of geometry from a viewpoint which
we have suggested could be named ethosemiotic. This comparative
104 Adven tures of the Sign

method, which consists in confronting different fields of knowledge


and culture — and in which Lady Welby recognized her procedure
of translation (see Schmitz 1985:clxxv) —, introduces the procedure
of applying the terms and conceptual instruments used in one particular
field to another field. Examples of such a procedure are the application
of the conceptual framework elaborated in the study of verbal com-
munication to nonverbal communication (Lévi-Strauss), and the applica-
tion of the conceptual instruments elaborated in the study of nonverbal
sign-communicative systems to verbal communication (Rossi-Landi).
In geometry, says Vailati, for the construction of figures not only
is it necessary to have recourse to axioms, but also to postulates.
Likewise in ethics, to prove the desirability of something it is necessary
to have recourse to propositions which assert the desirability of an
end without proving it.
Altogether analogous is the case of ethical questions. In the place of questions
relative to the construction of a given figure, assertions are made concerning
the desirability of some fact or object. In geometry, to solve a problem of
construction, two kinds of propositions are necessary: that is, on the one hand,
those which assert that the construction called for could be carried out if others
were carried out, and, on the other hand, those that assert that the latter can
in fact be carried out. Thus in ethics also, to test any proposition that affirms
the desirability of some fact or object, it will not suffice to use propositions
that only affirm that something serves for a given end, but rather we also need
proof that this other end is desirable. And given that, for proof of the latter
proposition, the same observation may be repeated, all we can do is use a
proposition which affirms the desirability of some fact or object without proof,
a proposition, that is, in which what is asserted is our will, just as with the
postulates of geometry what is affirmed is our power (Vailati 1972:231).

Another important link between Lady Welby and Vailati is con-


stituted by the fact that both have recourse to commonsense logic,
to the common way of expressing oneself and of signifying. In the
above-mentioned letter to Vailati, Lady Welby's appeal to the
viewpoint of "the Man in the street", gifted with an unconsciously
philosophical popular instinct, is not incidental. Similarly, Vailati
remarks that the determination of the ends constituting the minimum
social morality indispensible to ordinary life "is not up to the scientist,
nor to the jurist in that he finds them already designated by popular
consciousness or by common moral sense, whatever the organ or
organs for which it manifests itself' (review of an article by Calderoni,
1902, in Vailati 1972:158-159). Furthermore, both Lady Welby
and Vailati have a deep respect for language just as it is, with its
Signifies and Semiotics. Welby and Vailati 105

ambiguities and metaphors, in virtue of which it flourishes and adapts


itself to differing contexts to the point that the very pretension of
using language in a literal sense resorts to a metaphor (see Lady Welby
1891:512).
In his critical analysis of language, centred upon the identification
of the different meanings of words, the unconscious use of which
gives rise to misunderstandings and linguistic traps, Vailati never loses
sight of ordinary language and its expressive potentialities. This is
true both in the sense that, unlike neopositivism, Vailati does not
aim at constructing a formal language able to resolve the problems
of the indeterminacy and plurivocality of common language through
the imposition of univocality, as well as in the sense that the critique
of language does not discount the practical functions of language
in common speech. Thus Vailati's analysis did not become an end
in itself, as instead was to happen in certain phases of English analytical
philosophy.
Concerning this last point, what Vailati has to say to Lady Welby
in the letter of Feb. 16, 1908, is significant:
Un autre sujet qui m'interesse beaucoup à présent c'est la critique de la
spéculation philosophique effectuée en la regardant comme une extension au
delà du point 'rémunératif, des procédés ordinaires employés par la science
ou par le sens commun (procédés de 'definition', de 'démonstration', de 'géné-
ralisation', etc.). Dans toute cette direction l'activité du philosophe me semble
pouvoir être comparée à celle d'un enfant, qui ayant appris à tourner la vis
d'un binocle de théâtre, pour obtenir de l'adapter a sa vue, continue à la tourner
lors même que le point de la vision distincte a été atteint, en croyant ainsi voir
plus clair encore.

Vailati's attention and respect for common language caused him


to maintain that the best attitude towards words in common language
with an undecided meaning and deformed by dangerous associations,
is that advised by the Gospel: "it is not death that should be desired
but conversion to new life". Therefore, semantic "purification" must
attribute a sense which is as close as possible to that vague and
indistinct sense which common language "naturally" attributes to
words. From this viewpoint, we can without doubt maintain that,
in Italy, the explicit and programmatic - but isolated - continuation
in the direction indicated by Vailati concerning the adherence of
language analysis and of philosophical speculation to the potentialities,
functions, practices and objectives of common speech, is represented
by Rossi-Landi's approach to language as proposed towards the end
106 Adventures of the Sign

of the 1950s and which could be described as the "methodics of


common speech" (see Rossi-Landi 1961; see the following section
2.4).
In a letter of March 14, 1909, Peirce says to Lady Welby:

I think, dear Lady Welby, that perhaps you are in danger of falling into some
error in consequence of limiting your studies so much to Language and among
languages to one very peculiar language, as Aryan languages are; and within
that language so much to words.

Such risks are always present for whoever works in the field of
philosophy of language, and one of Rossi-Landi's criticisms of English
analytical philosophy lay precisely, with his proposal of a methodics
of common speech, in its having exchanged the characteristics of
the English language for those of language in general (a similar criticism
may be directed at Chomsky). But even if the limits are those of
verbal language, what to me seems to characterize Lady Welby's work —
as well as that of Peirce, Vailati and Rossi-Landi (for the latter, see
1968; 1972; 1985) who explicitly refers to Vailati's work - is the
orientation towards the methodics of a common semiosis (or at least,
for Lady Welby, of common speech) which connects the theory of
knowledge and ethics within the ambit of that perspective which I
have proposed to call ethosemiotics.
On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 107

2.3 On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's


Work

HAMLET: O god, your only jig-maker. What should a man do


but be merry? For, look you, how cheerfully my mother looks,
and my father died within's two hours.
OPHELIA: Nay, 'tis twice two months, my lord.
HAMLET: So long? Nay then, let the devil wear black, for I'll
have a suit of sables. O heavens! Die two months ago, and not
forgotten yet? Then there's hope a great man's memory may
outlive his life half a year; But, by 'r Lady, 'a must build churches
then; or else shall 'a suffer not thinking on, with the hobbyhorse,
whose epitaph is "For, 0 ! for O! the hobbyhorse is forgot!"
(Shakespeare.Hamlet. Act III, sc.ii, 11. 126-138).

One can say about Ferruccio Rossi-Landi (1921-1985) what he said


about Charles Morris: "It is often said that every nation has the govern-
ment it deserves. One cannot certainly say that every original thinker
has the type of academy and society that he deserves. Morris surpassed
the environment in which he happened to live; he was ahead of his
time"(Rossi-Landi 19756:174). In 1953 Rossi-Landi published a mono-
graph on Charles Morris in which, among other things, he presented
him as the re-founder of semiotics (the founder, of course, was Charles
Sanders Peirce whose work Rossi-Landi had been studying since the
early 1950s) and as the originator of twentieth century semiotics.
This was the first book on semiotics as the general theory of signs
every to have appeared in Italy and possibly also in Europe. There
was no reaction to the new discipline and the monograph was simply
dismissed, or ignored. Moreover, at that time, Morris was still seen
on the European Continent only as an analytical or linguistic
philosopher of a neo-positivist or neo-pragmatist description (see
Rossi-Landi's Preface to the 1983 American edition of Rossi-Landi
1968 and Rossi-Landi 1984). The time was not ripe for semiotics.
Things began to move in the second half of the 1960s (though, in
Europe, the movement remained mainly within the limits of Saussurean
semiologie) and are improving now as a consequence of the return
(also in Italy from 1979/80), to Peircean semiotics. In Significato,
communicazione e parlare comune (1961) [Meaning, communica-
tion, and common speech] — to quote from its foreword - Rossi-
Landi was making an attempt at "grafting some logico-linguistic
108 Adventures of the Sign

techniques onto the trunk of [non-idealistic] Continental historicism".


The book introduced the notion of common speech (or speaking,
a sort of collective parole) which indicates all those operations in
speech essential to successful communication between human beings,
independently of the obvious complications that take place in reality.
What is involved is the fact that beyond all possible historical and
geographical differences, there are basic similarities in the biological
and social structure of all human communities. The notion of
"common speech" was introduced in Rossi-Landi's 1961 book
primarily in opposition to the "ordinary language" of the Oxonians,
but it also involved the overcoming of the code-and-message approach,
which presupposes previously formed individuals, in favour of a
semiotics of interpretation where interpretation itself is a main factor
in the forming of individuals (cf. Rossi-Landi 1961 [1980] : 199-225;
and 1984). Subsequently, Rossi-Landi developed the notion of
common speech into that of linguistic work and sign work at large
(Rossi-Landi 1968) and later (for the first time in Rossi-Landi 1972a:
201), into that of social reproduction. The pioneer character of Rossi-
Landi's work — begun with the monograph Charles Morris (1953a),
followed by the Italian translation and ample comment to Morris'
Foundations of the Theory of Signs (1954), and subsequently by the
rewriting in Italian of Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind (1955a) -
was such that, apart from some rare exception, Significato, comunica-
zione e parlare comune appeared in a situation of almost total ignorance
as regards the theoretical orientations under discussion. Not only was
the subject of Rossi-Landi's research an object of misunderstanding,
but even his approach to the study of such problems was misunder-
stood, discordant as it was with the current dominant conception
of philosophical work. The paradoxical situation in which the 1961
book was written and published was such that it discussed attitudes
towards interlocutors who were being largely ignored or considered
unworthy; it distinguished between the attitudes of various authors who
had never been juxtaposed, because they had always been associated
with the general idea that they "overestimated" problems concerning
language. In such a perspective, Morris was viewed as an "analytical
philosopher" or "a linguist", while in the best of cases, Rossi-Landi's
book was itself viewed solely as a contribution to analytical philosophy
(see Rossi-Landi's introduction to the 1980 edition of 1961 book).
The Italian tradition centering on Giovanni Vailati (a selection of
Vailati's papers edited by Rossi-Landi had appeared in 1957), to which
On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 109

Rossi-Landi's work belonged in a certain sense, formed no more than


a minority group. This meant that the continual reference in Rossi-
Landi (1961) to the philosopher and semiotician Giovanni Vailati
(Vailati was the first Italian student of Peirce and Lady Welby) did
nothing to hinder the general impression that the 1961 book was at
the service of Ryle and other analytical philosophers from Oxford
and Cambridge (incidentally Wittgenstein, too, was freely associated
with this school of thought; see Rossi-Landi 1981).
Rossi-Landi's life and career were shaped by the aforementioned
circumstances. He was born on March 1, 1921, in Milan. His father,
Gino, was an industrialist. His mother was a bilingual Austrian (she
spoke Italian and German) who became an Italian citizen after
World War I. Through his family background, Rossi-Landi absorbed
ideas and intellectual instruments not only from Italian culture,
but also from the cultural traditions of Austria and Germany, and
not only from Continental European, but also from the British-
American traditions. Therefore, he used to say that perhaps the
main feature of his intellectual formation is that it was bicultural:
but, in fact, it was multiple. He was fluent in various languages, and
several of his essays and some of his books appeared directly in English.
Moreover, he lived for many years in countries other than Italy,
especially in England and the United States. In fact, after a degree
in French literature (Milan 1945) and after another degree in
philosophy (Pavia 1951, with a thesis on American semiotics), in
the early 1950s (1951-53) Rossi-Landi spent two years in Oxford
doing research work on analytical and linguistic philosophy. Having
earned his libera docenza (1953), he became professor of philosophy
at the University of Padua (1958). In 1962, he retired from his
chair, due to incompatibility between the academic environment
in which he happened to be teaching and his new, creative, and
unprejudiced ideas. After having lost, for similar reasons, a com-
petition for a chair, he was a visiting professor in the early 1960s
at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, (1962-63) and at the
University of Texas, Austin, (1963), which he re-visited several
times. In fact, he was a free lecturer at various universities in Europe
and America between 1964 and 1975. He also taught courses in
philosophy and semiotics at the University of Havana and Santiago
(Cuba). Only in 1975 did Rossi-Landi return to the Italian academic
world, as a professor of the Philosophy of History at the University
of Lecce. In 1977 he became a full professor of theoretical philosophy
110 Adventures of the Sign

at the University of Trieste. His mother was from Trieste and therefore
he was very fond of that city.
Rossi-Landi was also a great cultural promoter both as editor and
translator. He was editor, or member of the editorial board, of
Methodos (1949-52), Occidente (1955-56). Nuova corrente (1966-
68), Dialectical Anthropology (from 1975), and finally Ideologie
(1967-74) and Scienze umane (1979-81), two reviews which were
founded by him and which contain many contributions to the
theory of signs. Together with Maldonado, Prieto and Schaff he was
a member of the editorial committee of the series "Semiotica e pratica
sociale" (Feltrinelli-Bocca). Rossi-Landi's contribution to the
knowledge of semioticians and philosophers of language is also con-
siderable. However, although he published a full monograph on Morris
and also wrote on Vailati, Wittgenstein, Ryle, and other contemporary
thinkers, Rossi-Landi cannot be considered a professional historian
of ideas. As he himself said, in the aforementioned writings "my
main interest was theoretical. 1 have written only books and articles
about problems" (Rossi-Landi 1984).
Rossi-Landi's work can be divided into three cycles (as he wrote
to me in a letter in 1978). The first cycle belongs to the 1950s and in-
cludes the monograph Charles Morris (1953a, and republished with new
materials in 1975¿>), as well as Significato, communicazione e parlare
comune (1961, written between 1960 and 1961 but in fact the con-
clusion of the work of the 1950s and re-published in 1980). This
cycle also includes some of the essays collected by Rossi-Landi for
two of his unpublished volumes: Dall'analisi alla dialettica [From
analysis to dialectic - essays from 1949 to 1976; some of which
are unpublished], and Between Signs and Non-signs [essays from 1952
to 1978, in English; some of which are unpublished]. See the
bibliography of the second edition of Rossi-Landi 1961 (1980).
The second cycle belongs to the 1960s and includes: Il linguaggio
come lavoro e come mercato (1968, [1983 3 ]) [Language as work
and trade - Essays 1965-1968] ; English translation 1983. This is an
organic volume and proposes, for the first time, a theory of linguistics
and, in general, of sign production and work, laying the foundations
for the study of the semiotic homology between linguistics and
economy. Semiotica e Ideologia (1972a [1979]) [Semiotics and
ideology - essays 1967-1970] completes the preceding volume and
contains important essays such as "Ideologia della relatività linguistica"
which appeared in English in the form of a volume with the title
On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 111

Ideologies of Linguistic Relativity (1973). Lastly, Linguistics and


Economics (1974«) written directly in English in 1970-1971 for Current
Trends in Linguistics vol. 12, and reprinted as an independent volume
in 1975 and 1977. This book concludes Rossi-Landi's inquiry of the
1960s and was considered by the author (1978) as his most important
publication of the second cycle.
The third cycle belongs to the 1970s and includes the transition
book Ideologia (1978a [1982]), where Rossi-Landi discusses the
problem of the connection between ideology and language with
particular reference to alienation in general, including linguistic
alienation: in fact, one of Rossi-Landi's tenets of Ideologia is that
ideology cannot be approached independently but has to be treated
together with false consciousness and false praxis, within the broader
notion of alienation which contains them all. The third cycle is most
clearly inaugurated by the essays "Criteri per lo studio ideologico di
un autore" [Criteria for the ideological study of an author] (1976);
"Introduction to semiosis and social reproduction" (1977); "Sign
systems and social reproduction" (1978e); and others that belong
to the volume Metodica filosofica e scienza dei segni, [Philosophic
methodics and the science of signs], (1985) which beyond Rossi-Landi's
pessimistic expectations and in conformity with the delay of the
preceding volumes, appeared in the decade subsequent to that in
which they were written.
The current situation in semiotics and the philosophy of language
is, in general, characterized by the surpassing of that phase which we
might call the semiotics of the code or the semiotics of equal exchange.
The latter began in 1916 with the publication of Saussure's Cours,
was still very strong in the 1960s and weakened from approximately
1980 onwards. The semiology of Saussurean matrix conceives the
sign in terms of equal exchange between the signifiant and the
signifié and reduces the complexity of linguistic life to two poles
between which all linguistic phenomena and, taking linguistics as
their model, all semiotic phenomena, are expected to be placed: these
two poles are the unitary system (langue) and the individual realization
of this system on the part of the single user {parole). A static con-
ception of the sign is quite common. This is not to be attributed to
the separation between synchrony and diachrony and, therefore,
it is not through the affirmation of the dialectic link uniting the
latter that such a conception may be corrected: the static nature
of the sign is due to its being based on equal exchange between the
112 Adventures of the Sign

signifying form and the signified content ideated according to the


model of economic exchange in our own society. It is not incidental
that the Saussurean model of sign — which gives expression to this
egalitarian vision of perfect correspondence established with reference
to a system as it appears in a state of equilibrium — should be con-
structed on the basis of the model of value of the economic science,
especially marginalistic economics as elaborated by Walras and Pareto.
Such a conception of sign causes the message to be conceived as
something already given in a definitive manner and as something
that passes unmodified from the sender to the receiver. The latter,
for his part, limits himself to the mere decodification of the message
with absolutely no creative intervention as would instead take place
in participating and in active comprehension. The receiver, therefore,
is in no way actively involved in the semiotic process; his role is simply
that of deciphering the message with reference to a code unambiguously
and previously fixed and established once and for all. Furthermore,
this conception of the sign is connected to a conception of the subject
in which the subject coincides perfectly with his own consciousness;
he is, therefore, fully conscious of himself, he is present to himself,
and is not at all aware of any distance, autonomy, or reality with
respect to his own self as consciousness.
With the remarkable book of 1961, Rossi-Landi already placed
himself outside the Saussurean perspective, and was therefore free of
the reductive dichotomy, linguistic system/individual parole, as well
as of the code-and-message approach, which, as we mentioned at the
beginning of this chapter, presupposes previously formed individuals
in favour of a semiotics of interpretation where interpretation itself
is a main factor in the formation of individuals. In fact, not only did
this book contain a full-winged critical discussion of some of the
notions which were central in analytical or linguistic philosophy, but
it also made a move towards a socially oriented theory of signs. Its
general framework derives from Vico, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Peirce —
not to speak of Bradley, the skeptic. More exactly, for the first time
ever, this book grafts the line of thought that goes from Peirce to
Morris — together with elements of Oxonian analytical philosophy,
Wittgenstein's philosophy of language and Ceccato's and Dinglers's
operationism — onto the trunk of continental non-idealistic historicism.
By introducing the notion of common speech as the set of
techniques used to communicate, and handed down from one genera-
tion to the next as a relevant and indeed central part of social practice,
On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 113

Rossi-Landi in 1961 had already distinguished himself from the


Saussurean perspective, even if he made a specific study of the official
Saussure of the Cours only in his 1968 book. As Rossi-Landi says,
the methodics of common speech "cuts across" the dichotomy between
the linguistic institution and individual speaking. Of particular interest
is the homonymous chapter (first published in 1965) of Language
as Work and Trade, in which criticism of the dichotomy between collec-
tive language (langue) and individual speech (parole) is recalled. Rossi-
Landi maintains that the bipartition between language and speech
must be replaced by a tripartition between collective or common
speech (now collective linguistic work), collective language (necessarily
founded on common speech), and individual speech (exercised upon
and with collective languages as it uses the assemblage of social
techniques that go to make up common speech). Our author returns
to the notion of common speech in chapter VI (originally written
in 1966-67), paragraph 8, entitled "The notion of collective speech
and the use of models" (English trans, pp. 148-152). He affirms that
individual speech necessarily requires the dialectic co-presence of
language {langue) and speech which are both collective. It is a matter
of admitting that not only language (langue), but speech too, is
collective. Individual speech is secondary insofar as it is formed
uniquely on the basis of collective speech. Common unitary language
(langue) is also relative to common speech: as a system of linguistic
norms, common unitary language is a mere abstraction when taken
in isolation from common speech. The individual utterance uses models
and techniques taken from common speech and thus lies on the
borderline between oneself and the other: the individual speaker does
not get his words from a neutral and impersonal language, but rather
uses materials, instruments and models which are already a part of
collective speaking, his speech is "half someone else's", as Mikhail
Bakhtin would say.
Rossi-Landi (1961) suggests an approach to the study of communica-
tion that is different from the perspective in which it is considered
in the subsequent debate between the "semiotics of communication"
and the "semiotics of signification". In fact, a contrast arises between
the former and the latter owing to the mistaken assumption that
what is voluntary, intentional, and conscious, can be clearly separated
from what is not, and that communication may be examined by taking
as the starting point situations of consciousness or unconsciousness
outside the actual communication process: in reality, consciousness
114 Adventures of the Sign

and unconsciousness are relative conditions obtained within expressive,


communicative, and interpretative (for the sender also) processes.
Today the model of communication which proposes the message as
an object passing from one point to another proves to be more and
more inadequate, thanks among other things to the recovery of Peirce's
semiotics of interpretation (Bakhtin's philosophy of language can also be
seen to have effects in this sense). Such a model had already been
questioned by Rossi-Landi (1961). According to the latter, communica-
tion cannot be understood in terms of something which passes from
point A to point Β as though we were dealing with a parcel despatched
by one post office and received by another:
What in communication may correspond to the postal package is only its vehicle,
that is, words insofar as they are physical objects which are pronounced or
written and heard or seen [. . .]. But for what concerns the interpretative
process and the quantity and quality of the information transmitted, the model
of an object which changes place, is totally inadequate [. . .] (Rossi-Landi
1961, [1980] :207-208).
As we have already seen in the previous chapter, in his introduction
to the 1980 edition of Rossi-Landi 1961, it is the author himself
who gives us the right interpretation of his theory of common speech:
it constructs models, that is, it is a theoretical construction and not
a direct description of real processes, although reference to such
processes is involved. This distinguishes it from both the ordinary
language of analytical philosophy as well as from Chomsky's notion
of competence or of generative grammar. Common speech is a model
with interpretative functions, a hypothesis applicable to various
languages. Rather than being a description of linguistic use, the theory
of common speech (or speaking) proposes a general model of speaking
which is able to explain linguistic use and is applicable to a plurality
of languages. What underlines linguistic use is not at all something
mentalistic or in any other way ontologically pre-existent to natural
language: it is a result of interpretative hypotheses which put us into
the position of approaching real linguistic phenomena with an
appropriate conceptual apparatus. Similarly to Saumjan, Rossi-Landi
proposes a bigradual theory of language. This theory explains the
concrete linguistic use of this or that language (phenotypic level)
in terms of the common speech hypothesis (genotypic level) whose
validity increases the more it is extensible to the different languages.
" S t u d y i n g t h e a priori in language does not mean adopting a deductive
aprioristic method" ( 196,1:9). We could speak, then, of the hypothetical-
On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 115

deductive method, or more properly, recalling Peirce's concept of


abduction, of the abductive method in which a given event is explained
by hypothesizing on the general conditions that make such an event
possible. For Rossi-Landi, common speech has a methodic function.
In relation to this aspect, Rossi-Landi's investigation is inspired by
Kantian transcendental logic which, however, undergoes decisive
reformulation. We could speak of him taking an ante litteram stand-
point as regards Chomsky's "Cartesian Linguistics".
Peirce's semiotics is also connected to Kantian philosophy. In fact,
Peirce proposes a "new list of categories" (see Collected Papers 1.545-
1.559) as well as a re-interpretation of the a priori and the tran-
scendental in linguistic and semiotic terms. Peirce's semiotics also
takes an explicit anti-Cartesian stance, and refuses the rationalism-
empiricism dichotomy as unfruitful and abstract (see 5.215-263 and
5.264-317). Rossi-Landi took up a similar position when he maintained
that common speech could be considered as including something a
priori, thereby assuming a methodic function. He also emphasizes the
inconsistency and arbitrariness of the contraposition between idealism
and empiricism, as well as that between logico-linguistic inquiry and
historicism. The problem of a philosophical methodics as inquiry on
a priori, by proceeding with Kant beyond Kant (whether the a priori
is identified in common speech or, according to Rossi-Landi of the
1970s in social production), played a very important part in Rossi-
Landi's work, and it is not incidental that the title of his last book
should be "Philosophical methodics and the science of signs".
Moreover, on the basis of his methodics of common speech, Rossi-
Landi (1961) also proposes the important distinction between initial
meanings and additional meanings. This distinction is part of a compre-
hensive conception in which meanings are not detached from the real
processes of communication and interpretation. It not possible to
reconcile such a distinction to that elaborated by Chomsky between
surface structure and deep structure. The latter considers language
separately from its communicative function, and from its social, inter-
subjective, and dialogic dimension. On the other hand, Rossi-Landi's
"initial meanings" do in fact involve experiences, practices, values,
knowledge of a particular environment, and thus speakers, ranging
from the restricted family group to the broader environment of a
whole culture. "Additional meanings" are determined by the inter-
subjective and dialogic character of the practice of signifying which
presupposes co-knowledge, orientation towards the viewpoint of
116 Adventures of the Sign

others, and towards the various sectors of cultural life. The distinction
between initial meanings and additional meanings "cuts across" the
recurrent distinction between meanings fixed by use and meanings
dependent upon the context. In fact, we are able to identify something
implicit, mediated and latent not only in meanings dependent upon
context, but also in meanings which are far more autonomous in
relation to a given communicative situation. The very meanings we
share and which are fixed by tradition are more dependent than others
upon the implicit, indirect, mediated, hidden, absent, remote,
secondary, or unconscious, in language. In any case, initial meanings
and additional meanings are present in the langue and in the parole,
in the "meaning" and in the "theme" (Volosinov) in the "immediate
interprétant" and in the "dynamical interprétant" (Peirce).
The view put forward by Rossi-Landi in his writings of the second
cycle is that common speech can be interpreted in terms of work,
by means of the categories of economic science and in the framework
of general sign production.
From the observation that words and messages do not exist in nature, since
they are produced by men, we can directly derive that they are also products
of work. It is in this sense that we can begin to speak of linguistic human work.
[ . . . ] . The aim here is to render unitary the character of the definition of man
as a working and speaking animal, who sets himself apart from all the others
in that he produces tools and words (more properly, as we shall see later,
utensils and sentences) and with this production, which constitutes "the social",
historically forms himself (Rossi-Landi 1968 [1983 3 ] ; Eng. trans. 1983:36).

According to Rossi-Landi, the production and circulation of com-


modities and the production and circulation of messages are aspects
of the same social process — communication: "The various types of
human communication are constitutively united; 'natural' divisions-
among them sufficient to force us to segregate them into separate
regions do not exist" (Rossi-Landi 1968; Eng. trans. 1983:66). For
Rossi-Landi the use of the categories of economic science in the study of
language is justified by the fact that it is not only by pronouncing and
writing words that we speak to each other and exchange messages
reciprocally: "Man communicates with the whole of his social organiza-
tion" (Rossi-Landi 1968; Eng. trans. 1983:66). This means that all
cultural phenomena can be viewed as communicative phenomena based
on systems of signs, and that we must place nonverbal communication
next to verbal communication. This becomes clearer when one
considers that both in the case of commodities and in the case of
On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 117

linguistic messages semiotics deals with the same problems — the


work that produces them and that makes exchange and communication
possible.
An example of the application to nonverbal communication of
the conceptual framework elaborated in the study of verbal com-
munication is given by Lévi-Strauss, who uses the categories of
linguistics in the study of the rules of matrimony and systems of
kinship. Rossi-Landi tries the opposite procedure: he applies to verbal
language the conceptual instruments elaborated in the study of
a nonverbal sign-communicative system, using the categories of
economic science in its classical, Ricardian-Marxian phase. The com-
parison with Marxian criticism of political economics proves to be
pertinent and in some ways inevitable in the discussion of the concept
of sign and sign value if one keeps in mind that Saussure's model
of the verbal sign, with its influence in semiotic science, is taken from
marginalistic economics of the School of Lausanne. Using the theory
of value of the School of Lausanne as his model, Saussure reduces
linguistic value to exchange-value and overlooks the theory of labor-
value elaborated by the Classical School (Smith, Ricardo) and by
Marx. It is not merely a question of "transferring" Marxian theories
from the field of political economics to semiotics. The point of view
of Marx's criticism is already a semiotic point of view. According to
Rossi-Landi, the Marxian démystification of fetishistic visions, which
envisage commodities as simply given and natural and which inter-
pret the relation among commodities as a relation among things and
not among men inside specific social structures, is already in itself
a semiotic analysis and is inseparable from the consideration of com-
modities as messages. A commodity is a commodity rather than a
mere product because it functions as a message. For Rossi-Landi,
in the semiotic analysis of every kind of social sign, similarly to the
Marxian analysis of commodities, it is a question of passing from
the level of sign exchange and sign market to the underlying levels
of the social work of communication and signification (see Rossi-
Landi 1972a [1979] :110-116; Rossi-Landi 1974a [1975] :31-69,
158-173).
The originality of Rossi-Landi's position can also be brought to light
by comparing it to Wittgenstein's (1953) conception of language of
which it seems to take up some fundamental themes (see Rossi-Landi
1968; English trans. 1983:1-34). Wittgenstein's theory of "meaning as
use" proves insufficient. Limited to the description of the use of words
118 Adventures of the Sign

according to the situation in which linguistic games occur, and


excluding investigation as to how a particular use may have been
produced, the theory of "meaning as use" leads us to view the instru-
ments used in communication as given to us, as natural, instead of
as historical-social products.
I would say that Wittgenstein lacks the notion of labor-value, that is, of the
value of a given object, in this case a linguistic object, as the product of a given
linguistic piece of work. From the linguistic object, he moves only forward
and never backwards. He thus considers the instruments we use to communicate
as given to us and therefore "natural"; they are a sort of wealth we find freely
available. His is a physiocratic position applied to language (later given a
mercantilistic turn b y Gilbert Ryle in a series of essays on linguistic use (Rossi-
Landi 1968; Eng. trans. 1983:31).

In the 1960s Rossi-Landi formulated his important thesis of the


homology between verbal and nonverbal communication (see Rossi-
Landi 1968, Eng. trans.: 107-152; Rossi-Landi 1972a [1979]:57-
63; Rossi-Landi 1974Û [ 1975] :70-120; Rossi-Landi 1985:47-84). The
structural homology between material and linguistic production throws
light on the double articulation of language as described by Martinet
(see Rossi-Landi 1968, Eng. trans.: 141-142, 194-195). Rossi-Landi
proposes the possibility of a plurality of articulations: the problem
of linguistic and material articulation is present in Rossi-Landi's inquiry
from the 1968 book through to his last volume (see the chapter entitled
"Plurality of articulations", in Rossi-Landi 1985:85-98).
With the global approach to linguistic and nonlinguistic techniques
it is possible to view linguistic alienation in terms of a process con-
cerning technique in general — the process of losing sight of the
function of work. The speaking subject finds himself in the condition
of being spoken by his own words, a passive repeater of superpersonal
models, spokesman of a totalization of reality which he himself did
not choose and of which he does not understand the purpose and
function (see Rossi-Landi 1972a [1979] :168-174; Rossi-Landi 1973:
71-79). The problem of linguistic alienation is considered by Rossi-
Landi in connection with the problem of ideology, which is felt to
be strictly related to the semiotic approach to society.
The Rossi-Landi book on Ideology introduces us into the third
cycle of his inquiry and is currently being translated into English.
It is a long, detailed and articulated development of ideas already
partially contained in the essay "Ideology as social planning" (now
in Rossi-Landi 1968), together with new ideas and within the
On the Signs of Ferruccio Rossi-Landi's Work 119

framework of social reproduction. There are several long exemplifica-


tions and there is also an interdisciplinary bibliography on alienation.
But Rossi-Landi's theoretical pivot, around which the research
that leads to the 1985 volume rotate, is the working hypothesis that
recurrent difficulties in the study of the relations between structure
and superstructure come from the lack of a mediating element.
According to Rossi-Landi, the mediating element consists in the
totality of the sign system, verbal as well as nonverbal, operating
in every human community : the pieces in the game are not two, but
three: to the modes of production and to the ideological elaborations
of the superstructure it is necessary to add sign systems. Consequently,
a topic which later became central in the essays of Metodica filosofica
e scienza dei segni (a unitary inquiry though a collection of articles)
is that of social reproduction.

Once the position of sign systems within social reproduction has at least been
glimpsed, we can afford to state that every typology of signs is necessarily a
function of social reproduction. [. . .] If there is one metaphysical belief which
is invalidated at its roots by this approach, it is the belief that it may be
possible never to discover a typology valid for all times and places, and perhaps
common to all living beings. From this it does not follow, however, that
common elements in various instances of social reproduction, or in the
reproduction of human and other animals, cannot be discovered and usefully
investigated (Rossi-Landi 197%, now in Rossi-Landi 1985:144).

For Rossi-Landi, somewhere must lie the end of a skein of social


reproduction, and pulling it may allow us to propose a typology
of signs. The end of the skein that Rossi-Landi proposes to begin
pulling is the methodological notion of sign residues. Sign residues
are the elements which are present in all semioses in every human
community, both on the side of the signantia, and on the side of
the signata: from the methodics of common speech Rossi-Landi
arrives at a methodics of common semiosis in which the theory of
sign residues takes part.
In a bio-bibliografical note (typescript) Rossi-Landi said of
himself :
If I had now to choose myself some sort of a general formula for describing
the bulk of my production, I would say that in the main it is a synthesis of
historical materialism, on the one hand, and analytical philosophy and semiotics,
on the other: the framework is historico-materialistic, the mentality and the
techniques used are at least partially analytical and semiotical. A synthesis,
I said; and quite a few critics would agree. But perhaps it is only a mixture.
Paraphrasing a famous saying of Wittgenstein, this is for the public to decide.
120 Adventures of the Sign

My two main hobbies are classical music and sailing, and this is not for the
public to decide.

As a composer Rossi-Landi also took an interest in musical language


and, as one fond of sailing, he wrote an essay on "The signs of the sea
interpreted by seamen" (in Rossi-Landi 1972a).
On May 5, 1985, while sailing in his boat off Trieste, Rossi-Landi
was struck by cerebral ictus and died, falling into the arms of his
Hungarian friend János Kelemen.
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 121

2.4 Methodics of Common Speech in


Rossi-Landi 1

2.4.1 A Text of Great Topical Interest

The current situation in semiotics and the philosophy of language


can be characterized in general by the overcoming of that phase which
we might call the semiotics of the code. This phase began in 1916
with the publication of Saussure's Cours de linguistique, remained
dominant through the 1960s and began to weaken from approximately
1980 onwards. During this period the following theses dominated:
1) The (verbal/nonverbal) sign presupposes a code, that is, a sign
system which is defined and fixed antecedently to the actual use of
the sign (message) and its interpretation. As a result, the difference
between sign and signal is suppressed: signs, including signifying verbal
units (from the moneme to the text), are confused with signals (e.g.,
road signals). Both are in fact determined by a preconstituted code,
given that the context does not come into play and that there is a
univocal correspondence between signifiant and signifié.
2) Two fundamental theoretical orientations emerge: one considers
the sign from the point of view of the sender and must deal, therefore,
with the intention of communicating something (the semiotics of
communication: Buyssens and Prieto); the other considers the sign
from the point of view of the interpreter, so that the sender's com-
municative intention is no longer relevant. In this case the code
underlying the sign (viewed as a symbol in the psychoanalytical sense)
is not necessarily recognized by the sender who, instead, gradually
"discovers" it (semiotics of signification: Barthes 1964). A variant of
the semiotics of signification is offered by the Chomskyian theory
of language: communication is not a characterizing function of
language, and the utterance does not necessarily require awareness

1. This chapter is related to my preceding studies in the philosophy of language


and semiotics in Italy, with particular reference to the work of Ferruccio Rossi-
Landi. It has been further developed in my book, Rossi-Landi e la filosofia del
linguaggio, Bari, Adriatica, 1988.
122 Adventures of the Sign

of the code (transformational generative grammar), which only the


linguist is in a position to discover.
3) The whole complex process of semiosis in which something
works as a sign is traced back to two poles: one is collective, stable,
common and normative — this is the code (langue or grammar in
the Chomskyian sense); the other pole concerns the use of the code
by the individual in a free and innovative manner — this is usually
called the message, parole or utterance.
4) Nonreferential semantics — that is, a semantics which denies the
semiotic pertinence of the referent (Ullman 1962, Jakobson 1952; Eco
1975) - is opposed to referential extensional semantics, which instead
considers the referent as a constitutive factor of semiosis: we are
dealing here with the traditional dichotomy between intension (con-
notation) and extension (denotation).
5) The sign is viewed as an autonomous totality. It is severed from
both the historical-social tradition to which it belongs genetically as
well as from social practice, in spite of the fact that it is only within
social practice that the sign is used and its sense determined.
The overcoming of the semiotics of the code is not simply the
chronologically inevitable result of a sequel in ideas, nor does it concern
a single specific field of knowledge. Broader changes of a sociocultural
nature come into play. These lead to broader signifying practices and
prove to be intolerant of the polarization between code and message,
langue and parole. Criticism of code semiotics is related to the
weakening of the centripetal forces of linguistic life and of sign-cultural
life at large. Such centripetal forces characterize the tendency in
semiotics to privilege the unitary system with respect to the sign.
As it is not possible to consider all these aspects here, I will limit
my attention to the following:
A) The semiotics of the "third sense" or the "semiotics of writing"
(Barthes, Derrida, Kristeva) was theorized as early as the late 1960s.
It is characterized by the concepts of renvoi, deferment and displace-
ment (see the notions of différence and déplacement), which act
upon the sign and free it from the guarantee of a code.
B) From 1979-1980 there is a return to Peircean semiotics — and
not only in the United States. This approach is based on the concept of
sign as what exists only in relation to another sign, which acts as an
interprétant and so forth, in an open chain of interprétants.
C) The theories of Mikhail Bakhtin and his Circle became known
thanks to the translation of his works. As early as the 1920s Bakhtin
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 123

criticized code semiotics and proposed a model of sign based on the


centrifugal forces of sign-cultural and linguistic life. His conception
is related to a poly logic and dialectic logic.
It is surprising that a book containing theoretical perspectives which
were only to emerge in more recent times (and not without great
difficulty) was to appear in Italy as early as 1961 — that is to say,
before the advent of structuralism and semiotics. Furthermore, the
book is a re-elaboration of ideas which had already been conceived
and expressed in writings by the same author during the 1950s. This
remarkable book is Significato, comunicazione e parlare comune
[Meaning, communication and common speech] by Ferruccio Rossi-
Landi. With these writings, the author placed himself outside the
Saussurean perspective, freeing himself therefore of the reductive
dichotomy linguistic system (langue) I individual parole, as well as of
the conception of communication as the exchange of messages
between independent individuals pre-existent to the communication
process. SCPC is an original attempt at making two distinct traditions
meet for the first time: the Italian line of thought, with its German
and Continental influences at large, is made to encounter such trends
as British analytical philosophy and American pragmatism. More
exactly, for the first time ever, this book grafts the line of thought
that goes from Peirce to Morris — together with elements of Oxonian
analytical philosophy, Wittgenstein's philosophy of language, and
Ceccato's and Dingler's operationism - onto the trunk of Continental,
nonidealistic historicism.
SCPC introduces the original notion of Common Speech which
indicates all those operations in speech essential to successful com-
munication between human beings — and this independently from
the obvious complications that take place in reality.* What is pre-
supposed here is the fact that beyond all possible historical and
geographical differences, there are basic similarities in the biological
and social structure of all human communities.
After this book, Rossi-Landi developed the notion of Common
Speech into that of linguistic work and sign work in general. Sub-
sequently (for the first time in Rossi-Landi 1972a:201), he introduced

* It should be noted that some of the implications of the Italian parlare would
be better rendered by speaking rather than speech·, the latter term, however,
is here preferred as being more "common" in English (Trans.).
124 Adventures of the Sign

the still broader notion of social reproduction. It was only in 1968 with
Il linguaggio come lavoro e come mercato [Language as Work and
Trade] that Rossi-Landi dealt specifically with Saussure — the official
Saussure of the Cours — even if with his notion of Common Speech, he
had already distinguished himself from the Saussurean perspective. Com-
mon Speech was also something entirely different from Oxonian
ordinary language as well as from neopositivistic constructions of ideal
languages:

Within all real or possible languages, we can distinguish as a necessary,


fundamental and constitutive part a "collective speech" which I have for some
time referred to as Common Speech to separate it both from the Saussurean
individual parole and the ordinary or daily or colloquial language of the
Oxonians, as well as from the technical or special or ideal languages of the
builders of generic models. In a certain sense, it stands as a synthesis of the
three conceptions which are individually to be rejected. Common Speech is
a specification of language, not of this or that language alone; and it is a social,
not an individual, specification. As a specification reached through investigation,
it retains in part the nature of a special language (Rossi-Landi 1968; Eng. trans.
1983:40).

As the author observes under the entry "Semiotics" in the Dizionario


teorico-ideologico of the journal Ideologie (12, 1970:38-44; now in
Rossi-Landi 1972α, 1979 2 :301-08), the Saussurean model of sign has
the merit of having insisted upon the connection between signifiant and
signifié, or — to express ourselves in Augustinian terms which avoid
the mentalistic ambiguity of Saussure's signifié — upon the union of
signans and signatum (see Rossi-Landi 1972α, 1979 2 :21ff.). At the
same time, however, the Saussurean model runs the risk of reifying the
sign totality thus understood, turning it into an autonomous and
separate entity. Compared to such a model — or to that offered by in-
formation theory as expounded by Shannon and Weaver — the sign
model developed by Peirce and taken up by Morris has the advantage
of using the sign situation or semiosis as the starting point, and of
considering the sign-vehicle, the meaning, the referent, the interpreter
as well as the very code, as nonexistent outside the semiosis totality: all
these things are no more than different aspects of the same process,
that is, the articulated process of semiosis taken in its wholeness.
The notion of Common Speech, however, was introduced by Rossi-
Landi in his 1961 book in opposition, especially, to the "ordinary
language" of the Oxonians. In spite of some efforts to the contrary,
one of the limits of the Oxonian conception consisted in its claim of
being able to describe ordinary, daily or colloquial language in general,
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 125

while in reality describing the characteristics of a given natural


language. Such confusion between two levels, the general and abstract
level of so-called ordinary language and the particular and concrete
level of a given natural language at a given moment in its historical
development (in this particular case the English language) is recurrent
not only in the Oxonian conception and in the more recent analyses
of language that are inspired by it, but also in Chomsky's linguistic
theory, where the specific characteristics of a language (yet again
English) are actually mistaken for the universal structures of human
language. The untranslatability of the phrases used by Chomsky as
examples of his theories is symptomatic of the problem at hand. One
of the fundamental limits evidenced by Saumjan in the transformational
model proposed by Chomsky lies precisely in the fact that such a
model confuses elements which in fact belong to two different degrees
of abstraction, ideal language and natural language. As is well known,
Chomsky's model cannot be extended as it is to natural languages
different from that privileged by his description. This leads Saumjan
to oppose his own bigradual theory of generative grammar to Chomsky's
unigradual theory, by distinguishing between two levels of abstraction:
genotypic language and phenotypic language (see Saumjan 1965).
The notion of Common Speech does not oppose that of pluri-
lingualism - that is, the notion of the co-presence of thousands of
languages, each one different from the other. On the contrary, precisely
because Common Speech is nothing more than a similarity of functions
fulfilled by the various languages in satisfying needs of expression and
communication, it can explain and justify the difference, variety, and
multiplicity of the different languages as due to the variety in
expedients, solutions, and resources that each language offers — never
in a complete and definitive fashion, as language is in continual develop-
ment and transformation — for the satisfaction of the basically similar
social needs of expression and communication. The notion of Common
Speech does not neglect or underestimate what, together with George
Steiner (1975), we might call "the enigma of Babel," that is to say,
the diversity and the multiplicity of languages, in contrast to those
tendencies in the study of language that try to reconduct the
multiplicity of languages to an Ursprache or to the universal linguistic
structures of Logos or of the biological nature of man. The Common
Speech Rossi-Landi speaks of is certainly not the product of a mythical
unity at the origin of all languages, and even less so of a natural law
unity of the human species; this is evident throughout the entire 1961
126 Adventures of the Sign

book in which the notion of Common Speech is proposed, and it is


stated explicitly by Rossi-Landi in 1968 (Eng. trans.:41), where the
same notion is more fully expressed in terms of work:
The similarity of the functions fulfilled by the various languages is derived from
the fact that in the process of language development the general forms of social
formation, that is, the basic work and production relationships that separate
any human society from any pre-human (only animal) society, are necessarily
represented.

Subsequently, both the notion of expressive and communicative


needs as well as that of basic social processes were re-examined by
the author (cf. now Ideologia 1982, 1.3, especially 1.3.5; and Rossi-
Landi and Pesaresi 1979).
We said that the notion of Common Speech was formulated in
contrast to the Oxonian conception of language. This should not lead
us to believe that at the time of writing SCPC, English analytical
philosophy was a major interlocutor in either Italy or most Continental
countries. It did not represent a position to be dealt with whenever
studying problems of a theoretical order. The pioneer character of
Rossi-Landi's works (begun with the monograph on Charles Morris
(1953a), followed by the Italian translation and ample comment to
Foundations of the Theory of Signs (1954), and subsequently by the
rewriting in Italian of Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind (1955a,
reprinted in 1982)) was such that, apart from some rare exceptions,
SCPC appeared in a situation of almost total ignorance in regard to the
theoretical orientations under discussion. Not only was Rossi-Landi's
research the object of misunderstanding as regards the problems he
dealt with, but even his approach to the study of such problems was
misunderstood, discordant as it was with the current dominating
conception of philosophical work. (For a study of these aspects of
Italian culture, see Rossi-Landi's "Introduction" to the 1980 edition
of SCPC, and also "On Some Post-Morrisian Problems" [1978c?], as
well as his introduction to the American edition of Language as Work
and Trade.) The paradoxical situation in which the 1961 book was
written and published was such that it discussed attitudes towards
interlocutors who were in the main ignored or considered unworthy
of serious reflection and who tended to "overestimate" problems
concerning language. In such a perspective, Morris was viewed as an
"analytical philosopher" or a "linguist," while in the best of cases
Rossi-Landi's book was itself viewed solely as a contribution to
analytical philosophy. The local tradition to which Rossi-Landi's
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 127

work could in a certain sense be seen to belong formed no more


than a minority group, the main representatives of which were
Cattaneo, Peano, Vailati, Calderoni, Enriques, and Colorni. This
meant that the continual reference in SCPC to Vailati (one of the
most quoted authors in the volume) did nothing to hinder the general
impression that the 1961 book was at the service of Ryle and other
analytical philosophers from Oxford and Cambridge (incidentally,
Wittgenstein, too, was freely associated with this school of thought,
cf. Rossi-Landi 1981).
In some of his well-known essays, Ryle had attempted to distinguish
between use and usage. To a certain extent this distinction does in
fact correspond to the phenotypic distinction between linguaggio
and lingua (or, in French, between langage and langue). Rossi-Landi
went a step further in trying to identify the general conditions of
language as seen against both a linguistic and nonlinguistic background.
It could be said that there is here an existential dimension to Common
Speech.
By resolving to explain linguistic use rather than simply describe it,
SCPC was already working along the lines that were to lead to LWT
with its criticism of the notion of use as elaborated by Wittgenstein.
In this book, in fact, Rossi-Landi develops a theory of linguistic
production according to which any linguistic unit can be viewed as
the product of individual and social linguistic work. In the light of
such a conception, Wittgenstein's notion of linguistic use concerns
something which is given only because it has already been produced,
but leaves out of consideration the question of how that something
came into existence. Rossi-Landi criticizes the notion of linguistic
use in terms that are basically Marxian, while at the same time taking
into account certain notions from both Peirce and Bradley. Here
Wittgenstein is said to lack in the notion of labor-value because "from
the linguistic objects, he moves only forward and never backward"
(LWT: 31).
In the "Preface to the American Edition" of LWT, Rossi-Landi
says that many of the ideas in this work "were already present, if
only in an embryonic form, in the 1961 book." However, I believe
that SCPC has an autonomous value and that, independently of any
subsequent developments, it constitutes an important event in the
philosophy of language. In this sense, I agree with Rossi-Landi when
he says that the criticism he makes of his 1961 book in LWT (pp. 26-
27) needs to be in some way modified (see the "Introduction" to the
128 Adventures of the Sign

1980 edition of SCPC.25-26). With respect to the project of a


linguistic-semiotic reflection in the perspective of historical materialism,
the concept of Common Speech could have seemed "mentalistic"
which led to the need of reformulation in terms of social work. If,
on the other hand, we consider this notion independently of the
subsequent development in Rossi-Landi's thought, his own criticism
is "excessive," and even out of place. In his introduction to the 1980
edition (SCPC.26), it is Rossi-Landi himself who, in fact, gives us the
key: the theory of Common Speech constructs models, that is, it is
a theoretical construction and not a direct description of real processes,
although a reference to such processes is obviously involved. He
distinguishes it from the ordinary language of analytical philosophy
as well as from Chomsky's notion of competence or of generative
grammar. Common Speech is a model with interpretative functions,
a hypothesis applicable to various languages. Rather than being a
description of linguistic use, the theory of Common Speech (or
"Speaking") proposes a general model of speaking which is capable
of explaining linguistic use and is, moreover, applicable to a plurality
of languages. In this sense, what underlies linguistic use is not at
all something mentalistic or in any other way ontologically pre-existent
to natural languages: this model is the result of interpretative hypotheses
which put us into the position of approaching real linguistic phenomena
with the aid of an appropriate conceptual apparatus.
Much like Saumjan, in his 1961 book Rossi-Landi proposes a
bigradual theory of language. This theory explains the concrete
linguistic use of this or that language (phenotypic level) in terms
of a common speech hypothesis (genotypic level) whose validity
increases the more it is extensible to the different languages. Rossi-
Landi himself guides us towards an interpretation of this kind when
in the foreword to the first edition of SCPC he says that

both the pretension to a science of sign behavior of the biopsychological or


sociological type, and competition with the analytical and historical work
carried out by glottologists on the facts of the various languages, are excluded.
It does not follow from this that what I wish to offer is some sort of theory
or general doctrine, of the cognitive speculative kind, as regards the phenomena
under examination. Rather, I merely want to offer a structural background
and make an attempt at clarification. Studying the a priori in language does
not mean adopting a deductive aprioristic method (1961:9).

We could speak then of the hypothetical-deductive method, or


more properly, recalling the Peircean concept of "abduction," of
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 129

the abductive method in which a given event is explained by positing


hypotheses on the general conditions that make such an event possible.

2.4.2 A Priori in Language

"Common Speech" indicates that part of speech which is common to


the various languages in spite of the differences. When we speak, no
doubt we speak a particular so-called natural or historical language
such as Italian or English etc. Furthermore, speech is always relative
to the specific sectorial language (familial, ethical, scientific, theological,
poetic, etc.) of a given national language at a specific time in history.
However, even though we always speak in a specific national language
and in one of its particular sectors, it is possible for us to identify
a constant and common factor. In short, there are repeatable opera-
tions in common speech that guarantee its relative constancy. Even
if these operations are not completely constant they are, however,
sufficiently so for them to be regarded as the same operations, and this
holds true in spite of the variety of languages and linguistic contexts. We
may establish what forms Common Speech by studying the general
conditions that make meaning and communication possible. Here, we
intend "possible" in Kant's sense, so that research orients itself as
the study of the a priori in language, as the investigation not so much
of facts as of conditions that make such facts possible.
For Rossi-Landi, Common Speech has a methodic function. In
fact, it is in the light of such a notion that the study of language is
characterized as a general methodology of language and of human
speech in its signifying capacity (see SCPC 1980:158ff.). Common
Speech evidences how language functions, for it signals those opera-
tions we inevitably perform when we speak. In relation to this aspect,
Rossi-Landi's investigation is inspired by Kantian transcendental
logic which however undergoes decisive reformulation. Common
Speech insists precisely on what was left aside by Kant, that is to say,
on the general methodic capacity of language. A return to Kant filtered
through Cassirer (in particular "Structuralism in Modern Linguistics"),
the "Kantian Peirce" and some British analysts.
A priori exists in language. However, it is not to be studied in its
"expressed linguistic" results, but rather in its "internal and hidden
130 Adventures of the Sign

structure" (SCPCilóS). There is, here, an implicit reference to the


"innere Sprachform," which Cassirer borrows from Humboldt and
which is connected to the idea of language as energheia rather than
as a product, that is, as ergon. We could speak of an ante litteram
standpoint taken against Chomsky's "Cartesian linguistics" (in his 1966
essay of the same title, Chomsky too tries to make Humboldt and
Kant enter into his own perspective). Chomsky's conception of
language remains tied to the classical alternatives between conscious-
ness and experience, rationalism and empiricism, and in this sense
it is extraneous to both Kantian criticism and the overcoming of
the latter by abstract rationalism and abstract empiricism. Cassirer
continued in this approach, which was that of linguistic structuralism.
However, he affirmed the need of not limiting oneself to the structure
of language in its preconstituted form (as does, instead, a certain
structuralism of the descriptive and taxonomical type), but rather
of highlighting the process of formation of such a structure. We could
say that structural linguistics, as we find it in Cassirer's late writings,
is a dynamical theory in Saumjan's sense: that is, a theory which does
not identify the synchrony of language with statics, but concentrates
rather on the dynamic aspect of the synchrony of language. In this
way, not only does such a theory differentiate itself from structural
linguistics of the taxonomical type, but also from the theory of
language as elaborated by Chomsky. Yet Chomsky sees no alternative
with regard to linguistic behaviorism, other than that of appealing to the
rationalistic philosophy of the seventeenth century, and maintains that
the only valid approach to the study of linguistic behavior is that
offered by mentalism and innatism (cf. SCPC 1980:142; see also my
1971 essay, now in Ponzio 1974α).
Peirce's semiotics is also connected to Kantian philosophy. In fact,
Peirce proposes a "new list of categories" (see Collected Papers 1.545-
59) as well as a reinterpretation of the a priori and the transcendental
in linguistic and semiotic terms. Peirce's semiotics takes an explicitly
anti-Cartesian stance too, and refuses the rationalism-empiricism
dichotomy as unfruitful and abstract (see the two 1868 essays,
"Questions Concerning Certain Faculties of Man" and "Some Con-
sequences of Four Incapacities," 5.215-263, & 5.264-317).
A similar stance was taken by Rossi-Landi when he stated that
Common Speech could be considered as containing something a priori,
thereby assuming a methodic function. He demonstrates the incon-
sistency and arbitrariness, in the study of meaning, of the opposition
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 131

between idealism and empiricism, as well as of that between logico-


linguistic inquiry and historicism, to which Italian philosophy was still
quite tied at the time he wrote SCPC. In fact, Rossi-Landi points out
how modern historicism has given an essential contribution to the study
of language according to regions and universes. By going back to Vico's
historicism, Rossi-Landi emphasized the importance of the criticism,
operated by Vico, of the Cartesian model of knowledge which, insofar
as it is based on evidence and deduction, cannot be applied to the
historical or "human" sciences. Rossi-Landi also finds the refusal
of an equal and unitary procedure in Comte. Despite the prejudices
(still very strong at the time) inherited from Croce and Gentile against
Comte's positivism, Rossi-Landi acknowledges the importance of
Comte, who insisted on the impossibility of an absolute empiricism,
and then demonstrated that scientific knowledge does not consist
in the mere accumulation of facts, but rather in connecting such
facts and identifying constant elements upon which to construct laws
capable of predicting phenomena.
The pages of SCPC dedicated to Francis Herbert Bradley show how
a neo-idealistic conception inspired by Hegel influenced the logico-
linguistic method in philosophy. This conception is very different
from Croce's and Gentile's neoidealism, especially as it is deeply rooted
in the tradition of skepticism characteristic of English philosophy (see
pp. 87-95). Bradley's skeptical idealism made its influence felt on
empiricism: both George E. Moore and Bertrand Russell derived
something from Bradley's logic and it is precisely here that Rossi-
Landi identifies the historical matrix of the use of the adjective
"logical" together with the terms "empiricism" and "positivism."
Logical positivism and empiricism cannot be traced back to the
traditional opposition between idealism and empiricism. According to
Rossi-Landi, these notions are incomprehensible to both those em-
piricists who have remained tied to a "pre-logic" phase, and to those
idealists who still take a metaphysical anti-empiricist stance (see 1980:
95-96).
Rossi-Landi also attaches particular importance to Russell's anti-
Humean polemics on the logical rather than psychological character of
analysis and to the criticism of psychologism in logic by such authors
as Bolzano, Bradley, Brentano, Frege, Meinong, Vailati, Husserl, and
Dingler. He does this in view of the overcoming of traditional
empiricism in the direction not only of logical empiricism but also
of what he calls the Methodics of Common Speech.
132 Adventures of the Sign

All this may certainly be seen in connection to the teachings of


Kant, who distinguished between anthropology and philosophy.
But it may also be developed, as Rossi-Landi proposes, by proceeding
with Kant beyond Kant, by identifying the a priori in language, and
by attributing a methodic function to the notion of "Common Speech."
It is Rossi-Landi's conviction that the a priori can certainly be
identified in language through the methodology of Common Speech.
This is so because the a prior is connected to thought and considered
as a model rather than as an event, as the Bild of the world rather
than as a part of it; but even more, the a priori is identifiable in speech,
intended here as the "concrete linguistic acts" through which language
is actualized. Or again, it is identifiable in common speech (that is,
that part of speech which concerns all humans), understood as a part
of social practice, as a system of human techniques which are relatively
repeatable and constant. Repeatability and constance concern
fundamental categories, structures, signantia and signata of various
descriptions because the human situation, biologically and socially, is
what it is all over the earth, and this in spite of relevant local variations.

2.4.3 Metalinguistics in Common Speech

The constant-and-repeatable is not located in the unitary language of


a single nation or group of speakers, that is, in the langue. As a system
of relatively constant human techniques, Common Speech is
distinguished from natural languages insofar as it is not limited to
national-cultural spheres, but is rather an international phenomenon.
The search for what is constant in language does not move in the
direction of philological studies which are the theoretical expression
of the historical processes of linguistic unification and centralization,
of the centripetal forces in language. I would say that Rossi-Landi's
research moves in the very opposite direction: his investigations go
beyond the limits of those linguistic studies which search for the
constant factors of a single given language viewed as a system of
linguistic forms. Using a term employed by Bakhtin in 1963, we could
say that Rossi-Landi's research presents itself as a "trans-linguistics,"
that is, it exceeds the limits of linguistics, philology, and philosophy
of language in which the common factors of speech are identified with
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 133

the linguistic norms of a given natural language. From this point of


view, the methodics of Common Speech is also a criticism of linguistic
and philosophical theories that give expression to forces that may
serve to unify and centralize the verbal-ideological world: it is the
same critical stance we find in Bakhtin's "Discourse in the Novel"
(1934-35; Eng. trans. 1981:269ff.).
Furthermore, the notion of Common Speech is explicitly fashioned
as a means of freeing oneself from the pretension of explaining all
linguistic phenomena with the two notions of system of unitary
language and individual speaking.
Much like the rest of Bakhtin's writings, the already mentioned
essay "Discourse in the Novel," was completely ignored until very
recent times. In that text Bakhtin writes:
Philosophy of language, linguistics and stylistics have all postulated a simple
and unmediated relation of the speaker to his unitary and singular "own"
language, and have postulated as well a simple realization of this language in
the monologic utterance of the individual. Such disciplines actually know
only two poles in the life of language, between which are located all the
linguistic and stylistic phenomena they know: on the one hand, the system
of unitarv language, and on the other the individual speaking in this language.
(Bakhtin 1934-35; Eng. trans. 1981:269).

Unaware and independently of this position, Rossi-Landi had arrived


at analogous critical considerations (see especially pp. 168-69 of SCPC)
as regards linguists and philologists who re-propose the dichotomy
between the system of language and individual speech (the reference
in Italy was to G. Devoto, G. Nencioni, A. Pagliaro, and B. Terracini).
Rossi-Landi points out that these linguists and philologists concentrate
particularly on linguistic results, rather than studying the general
conditions of language which make meaning and communication
possible. The consequence was that they would either take an
ideological stance that favoured the centripetal forces in language,
thus focusing on the concept of unitary language, or they would
evince the possibility of "linguistic liberty," thus concentrating on
the other term of the dichotomy, that is, individual speaking. These
linguists as well as such Italian philosophers as Enzo Paci (1957:311-
19), who did not disregard the work of the linguists, examined the
permanent-and-constant in speech in terms of language as a historical
institution, while attributing innovation and creativity to individual
speaking. In such a perspective, therefore, we have, on the one hand,
the permanent and constant, what in language is institutional,
134 Adven tures of the Sign

traditional or objective, and is called inventum; on the other, we have


the inventio, that is, the new and the creative, all that which in language
is individual and subjective.
Every reader is certainly acquainted with the fact that in language —
in any language whatsoever — there are elements which remain
sufficiently constant and others which change continuously. Whatever
is constant, even if relatively so, is what makes language possible
because, in Kant's sense, with respect to the actual use of language it
is transcendental. The mutable or flowing, instead, is conditioned in
two ways: by diachronic variation, and by the shifting of contexts
and universes of discourse. As Rossi-Landi says, the methodics of
Common Speech "cuts across" the dichotomy linguistic institution
or inventum and individual speaking or inventio. In fact, what in
speech is constant cannot be allotted to either of the two poles of
this dichotomy. Bakhtin too had refused this dichotomy, showing
that it could not be made to correspond to that between permanence
and innovation:
A unitary language is not something given (dan) but is always in essence
posited (zadan) [. . .]. Language [. . .] is never unitary. It is unitary only as an
abstract grammatical system of normative forms, taken in isolation from the
concrete, ideological conceptualizations that fill it, and in isolation from the
uninterrupted process of historical becoming that is a characteristic of all living
language. Actual social life and historical becoming create within an abstractly
unitary national language a multitude of concrete worlds, a multitude of
bounded verbal-ideological and social belief systems; within these various
systems (identical in the abstract) are elements of language filled with various
semantic and axiological content and each with its own different sound (1934-
35, Eng. trans. 1981:270,288).

On the other hand, innovation is limited even in individual speaking:


repeated elements are continuously present because of the simple fact
that, despite efforts of appropriation, words never become exclusive
private property of the speaker:
Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private
property of the speaker's intentions. [ . . . ] Expropriating it, forcing it to submit
to one's own intentions and accents, is a difficult and complicated process
(ibid. 294).

Bakhtin's considerations continue a line of thought begun in


Marxism and the Philosophy of Language with its criticism of "individu-
alistic subjectivism" (Vossler) and "abstract objectivism" (Saussure).
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 135

In 1961 t h e cultural climate in Italy was such that Croce's idealism


had not yet been overcome and new linguistic studies were not free
of the impasse resulting f r o m the dichotomy institutional permanence/
individual innovation (a situation which continued until very recent
times). It is against such a background that Rossi-Landi elaborates an
approach t o the relation between the " c o n s t a n t " and the " m u t a b l e "
(or "flowing") in language. He maintains that what is constant in
language and constitutes the presupposition c o m m o n to the different
natural languages, t o individual speech and ideal or artificial languages,
is neither t o be f o u n d in the inventum nor in t h e inventio :

The inventum can change, and in any case, it too is always historical and thus
always "flowing"; and inventio cannot but consist at least partially in repeatable
operations and uses. In short, to reach the "constant," we need the notion of
language-in-general-as human work (SCPC 1980:169).

At the m o m e n t , my interest lies in highlighting the a u t o n o m o u s


value of the notion of C o m m o n Speech as it was initially proposed
in the first edition of SCPC in 1961. In view of the fact, however,
that there is a line of continuity between the 1961 book and the 1968
book (as the last sentence, which anticipates ideas later developed
in LWT, of the quotation above shows), I will briefly examine the
1968 book with the intention of pointing out, parenthetically, not
how but what has developed directly out of the methodics of Com-
m o n Speech. Of particular interest is the h o m o n y m o u s chapter of LWT
(first published in 1965) in which criticism of the dichotomy between
collective language (langue) and individual speech (parole) is recalled.
Rossi-Landi states here that the bipartition between language and
speech must be replaced by a tripartition between collective or com-
mon speech (now, collective linguistic work), collective language
(necessarily f o u n d e d o n c o m m o n speech), and individual speech
(exercised upon and with collective language as it uses that assemblage
of social techniques which go into making up C o m m o n Speech):

By making language a simple combination of langue and parole, we preclude


the study of the collective and communitary techniques of language (Rossi-
Landi 1968, Eng. trans.:39-40).

Our author returns to the notion of C o m m o n Speech in Chapter


VI (originally written in 1966-67), paragraph 8, entitled " T h e Notion
of Collective Speech and the Use of Models" (Eng. trans, pp. 148-52).
He affirms that individual speech necessarily requires the dialectic co-
presence of language (langue) and speech, b o t h of which are collective
136 Adventures of the Sign

(p. 152). It is a matter of admitting that not only language {langue),


b u t speech t o o is collective. Individual speech is secondary insofar as
it is formed uniquely on t h e basis of collective speech. C o m m o n unitary
language (langue) is also relative to C o m m o n Speech: as a system of
linguistic norms, c o m m o n unitary language is a mere abstraction when
taken in isolation f r o m C o m m o n Speech.
An utterance arises and flourishes in C o m m o n Speech, its authentic
environment. Similarly t o the langue, C o m m o n Speech is anonymous
and collective; at t h e same time, however, similarly t o individual
speech, it is orientated toward specific communicative objectives and
situated in relations between the speaker and listener. The relation
between individual speech, on t h e one hand, and c o m m o n unitary
language, on the other, is mediated by Common Speech. Insofar as
it is produced by C o m m o n Speech, c o m m o n language is never wholly
and definitively a language {langue), that is, a neutral and unitary
system, a univocal and a u t o n o m o u s code with respect t o concrete
communicative and interpretative relations. Likewise, insofar as it is
secondary to C o m m o n Speech, individual speech in never totally and
absolutely individual. The individual utterance uses models and
techniques taken f r o m c o m m o n language and thus lies on the border-
line between oneself and the other: the individual speaker does not
get his words f r o m a neutral and impersonal language, but rather uses
materials, instruments and models which are already a part of collective
speaking, his speech is always "half someone else's", as Bakhtin would
say. Not only individual speaking, b u t t h e individuals themselves
take shape within collective speech:

There are no speakers without listeners, nor listeners without speakers, nor
speakers and listeners without messages that go from one to the other, and
so forth. The whole situation slowly takes shape together; and the individual
sets himself or herself off and assumes a particular position within it only much
later(Rossi-Landi 1968; Eng. trans. 1983:149).

2.4.4 Common Speech and the Plurality of


Universes of Discourse

The notion of universe of discourse is central to SCPC. A universe of


discourse is a linguistic and conceptual organization founded on certain
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 137

fundamental terms expressing one or more guiding ideas. All that


can be said in a universe of discourse is determined by such guiding
ideas. Just as the notion of Common Speech does not exclude the
differences between the various languages, nor does it exclude the
differences between the universe of discourse or contexts in which
words are used. On the contrary, it actually conditions the individual
utterance to the extent that each time we speak, we do not merely
speak in this or that natural language, but also in a particular context
and universe of discourse, and we use a language which is familiar,
or scientific, or theological, or professional, etc. According to Rossi-
Landi (SCPC 1980:43), a universe of discourse is an inevitable fact:
the universe to which any discourse belongs must be identifiable.
Analogously, any linguistic piece endowed with meaning, from the
single word to the sentence to complete discourse, is specified in
relation to the context to which it belongs.
Just as the plurality of natural languages presents different ways of
satisfying basically similar needs of expression and communication,
the pluridiscoursivity characteristic of a single national language is
indicative of the specific orientations and specializations present in
Common Speech: in passing from one universe of discourse t o another,
we move along the leading edge of human activity, from one operative
cycle to another, and consequently we deal with different aspects
of the phenomena to which operations refer {ibid. :83).
The fact that contexts, universes of discourse and special languages
are manifold does not exclude that factors from Common Speech
persist in the transition from one universe t o another, and from one
context to another. For example, when a mystic sees an angel sitting
t o the right of another, and when a mason lays a brick to the right
of another, we are dealing with cases from two very different universes
of discourse; but this does not at all change the meaning of " t o the
right o f . " Specific expectations as regards words and sentences,
individual interpretative operations, and particular strategies deployed
to get at meanings, which belong to the normal and ordinary use of
language in the customary exchange between persons, all persist.
Rossi-Landi put this into evidence by analysing our possible attitude
towards different cases of scarce signification, non-sense, linguistic
"strangeness," "non-familiarity" and so forth. And it is precisely
through limited cases of "strangeness" and "debatability" that we
are able to examine the common attitudes we assume in the inter-
pretative work of all kinds of words and utterances.
138 Adventures of the Sign

On the other hand, the presence of something constant and common


to the different universes of discourse does not exclude the contextual
function of the latter, or deny the importance of the context as a
totality with respect to its parts.
Without the constancy of Common Speech we would not be in
a position to explain what it is that binds the innumerable individual
"speeches" together (see Rossi-Landi 1968; Eng. trans. 1983:148);nor
would we be able to explain how it is that the speaker, on the mere
basis of a limited number of utterances experienced as a child, is able
t o produce an unlimited number of sentences, which is proof of a
relative noncontextuality of speaking (see SCPC 1980:150). Chomsky
attempts an explanation of this phenomenon with his notions of
"generative grammar" and "linguistic competence." However, as
useful as they might be for a description of the noncontextual com-
ponent in language, these notions are unable to explain certain aspects
which must not be underestimated, that is, the pluridiscoursivity and
contextuality of linguistic use - and this is largely because Chomsky's
theory is tied to innatistic presuppositions of a biological kind, and
leaves aside considerations concerning the notion of communicative
competence:

Contexts always contribute to determining the sense of the linguistic material


they enclose, to the point, at times, of reversing the effect; each proposition,
however it may be uttered, is always to be interpreted against the right back-
ground (SCPC 1980:150).

The double affirmation that there is a Common Speech which no


universe of discourse, individual speaking, natural or artificial language
can leave aside, and, at the same time, that all that we say, we say
in different languages, universes of discourse, and contexts, is what
orients the methodics of Common Speech towards respect for the
plurilinguistic and pluridiscoursive character of speech. In this way
it keeps at a safe distance from the monologic temptations that
characterize investigations in search of what is common in language,
as in Chomsky's theory of language:

To a certain extent, languages, universes and types of discourse are independent


from each other, even as regards their very function concerning the linguistic
material of which they are composed (ibid.).

By placing Common Speech as the mediating term between the


unitary language (langue) and individual speaking (parole), in SCPC
Rossi-Landi acknowledged both the plurality as well as the autonomy
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 139

of sectorial, special or technical languages, of the different universes,


fields, strata and types of discourse, and of contexts (see pp. 44-46).
It is precisely in this, I believe, that we must recognize the un-
mistakably polylogic character of the methodics of Common Speech
as it is proposed by the author.

2.4.5 Contributions of the Methodics of Common


Speech

Now let us look at how the methodics of Common Speech influences


our approach to certain fundamental problems concerning language.
I will only examine what seem to me to be the most important con-
tributions that such a methodics offers. The first is the metalanguage
employed in the study of language. The second concerns the problem
of the division of language into the object of logical investigation, on
the one hand, and of empirical analysis, on the other. To some extent,
this corresponds to the traditional division of language into syn-
categorematical and categorematical signs. A third important contribu-
tion of the methodics of Common Speech concerns semantics. First
of all, there is the problem of the meaning of "meaning"; furthermore,
in connection with this issue, we need to re-examine the distinction
between intension and extension; and finally, we have the question
of the distinction between "initial meanings" and "additional
meanings." Other noteworthy consequences of the methodics of
Common Speech concern, in particular: 1) the relations of inter-
dependence between semantics, syntax and pragmatics (see p. 171); 2)
the problem of communication between different languages (inter-
linguistic translation) and different universes of discourse (endolinguistic
translation); and 3) the problem of the definition of the very com-
munication process as regards both a) identification of the factors in
play in semiosis, and b) opposition between the linguistic and non-
linguistic (see pp. 154-58). In SCPC Rossi-Landi anticipates the
approach to these problems adopted in his subsequent writings.
Concerning the language employed in the actual study of language,
the methodics of Common Speech certainly does not exclude use of
some sort of "technical" language. However, this technical language
must always be related to common speech, which is its very foundation.
140 Adventures of the Sign

As Vailati had already suggested, in view of the methodics of Common


Speech, technical languages (all of them, especially those developed
in relation to such methodics), must move away from common speech
as little as possible. Concerning this last aspect we have Rossi-Landi's
criticism of the "technicalism" which characterizes the language of
much traditional philosophizing. He interpreted such "technicalism"
as the expression of total detachment from, or clamorous contempt
for, the linguistic heritage that speakers have in common, that is,
for the "indefinite wealth of common speech." Rossi-Landi identified
an eloquent example of arbitrary separation from common speech
in Benedetto Croce's introduction to his Estetica come scienza della
espressione e linguistica generale:
Knowledge has two forms: it is either intuitive knowledge or logical knowledge;
knowledge for the fantasy or knowledge for the intellect; knowledge of the
individual or knowledge of the universal·, of single things or of their relations;
in other words, it is either a producer of images or a producer of concepts (see
SCPC 1980:172).
"Technical language is not necessarily a formal language": Rossi-
Landi made this extremely important specification against certain
excesses of formalism in the construction of ideal metalanguages often
used to avoid the indeterminacy and imprecision of common language.
In relation to this point, the notions, models and abstractions
elaborated by Rossi-Landi distinguish themselves from those offered,
for example, by Saumjan's dynamical theory (up to now we have
simply looked at the analogies between the theories of the two
scholars). Saumjan persists in the identification of technical and formal
language, or at least he considers formalization as the highest aspiration
of a technical language. On the contrary, Rossi-Landi employs a
language that in adhering as much as possible to the wealth of Common
Speech, has nothing to do with fashionable formalizations, especially
when they prove to be useless, misleading and without justification in
Common Speech. In fact, he often took terms and expressions from
formalized contexts in order to deformalize and use them in a broader
sense. This is the case, for example, of the term "universe of discourse"
as it appears in SCPC.
In line with the methodics of Common Speech is also the specifica-
tion — made by Rossi-Landi from the very beginning — or reduction
of the multiplicity of meanings that words have in their ordinary use.
In the very attempt at fulfilling the different and multiple needs of
expression and communication, such impoverishment would be in
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 141

strong contrast with the orientation towards plurivocality proper to


common speech (see SCPC 1980:42). We need to be specific about
words and expressions but without forcefully making them univocal.
On the contrary, we need to examine the very similarities and dif-
ferences in the multiple meanings of words. Such an attitude enables us
to appreciate the wealth of Common Speech rather than impoverish it.
Another important aspect of Rossi-Landi's 1961 study is the de-
monstration of the relative lack of relevance of the distinction between
categorematical and syncategorematical terms, a distinction often
considered to be objective and unquestionable. Up until very recent
times (see Eco 1975:88) there was always someone ready to resort
to such a distinction as proof of the nonreferential character of
semantics. If, however, we turn our attention to the techniques, models
and objectives which remain constant in language and which go to
form common speech, the distinction between syncategorematic and
categorematic terms loses value — and this is so because constant and
repetitive elements are present in both these terms. From this point
of view, the methodics of Common Speech cuts across the subdivision
between syncategorematics (involving such terms as "and," "or,"
"not," etc.) and categorematics ("idea," "book," "table," etc.), and
evidences the impossibility of making such a subdivision coincide
with that between the constant part of language — object of logical
analysis, and its flowing aspect — object of empirical analysis: in fact,
any term whatsoever has its own logic concerning the operations that
may be performed with it. Two radically different types of terms
do not exist in language; the difference, rather, lies in the various
uses we make of the same term: such a state of affairs enables us to
identify a relatively constant nucleus among the different uses of words.
This is what constitutes Common Speech as distinct from the flowing
part of language which is itself determined by the variation of contexts
(see pp. 47-49, 124).
Another distinction which is "cut across" in SCPC is that between
intension and extension. The intension of a single term or other broader
discourse unit, or more precisely, what belongs conceptually to each of
these linguistic units, is determined by what that term or any other
broader part of discourse can possibly stand for. In fact, the operations
we perform in using any linguistic unit and which specify the meaning
of a sign or sign complex, are operations which enable us to refer to
certain things, thanks to the concepts which belong to such linguistic
units and to the way in which they go to form such units. Vice versa,
142 Adventures of the Sign

concepts belong to given linguistic units and form them in a certain


way as a function of the different ways of referring to certain things.
The distinction between intension and extension also proves to be of
little relevance - even if this is not true of restricted and formalized
languages — once it is traced back to the operations we perform when
we speak and to the rules that govern such operations. By means of
these operations and rules, therefore, the methodics of Common
Speech will distinguish between what is flowing and what is relatively
constant in language (SCPC 1980:46-47). In the light of such
methodics, the distinction between intensional and extensional
semantics, such as it is proposed by the semiotics of codes and
messages, is untenable (see Eco 1975:88-100) (cf. also section 2.1.1.).

2.4.6 Initial Meanings and Additional Meanings

The conception of meaning in SCPC takes up Wittgenstein's approach


to meaning as use and shows traces of a semantics inspired by analytical
philosophy. However, the influence of the semiotics of Morris is also
strong. In his monograph on this author (1953), Rossi-Landi had already
stressed the importance of placing meaning and signification within
the total context of the process of semiosis. The properties of being
a sign vehicle, an interprétant and a referent (divided by Morris, in
1938, into designatum and denotatum) are relational properties re-
lative to any process of semiosis:
"Meaning" is a semiotical term and not a term in the thing-language; to say
that there are meanings in nature is not to affirm that there is a class of entities
on a par with trees, rocks, organisms and colors, but that such objects and
properties function within processes of semiosis (Morris 1938, now in 1971:20).

This lead Rossi-Landi to state that to say "sign," or "semiosis," or


"meaning," is almost to say the same thing: the difference is given
by the fact that using one term instead of another means stressing
different aspects of the situation (1975b:202). In SCPC Rossi-Landi
identifies a strong analogy with the semantic conception of Ryle as
expressed in 1957 in his "The Theory of Meaning." According to this
philosopher, meanings are not things, and knowing the meaning of
a term, or of other linguistic units, means knowing how to use them
appropriately.
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 143

In Chapters VII and VIII of SCPC, Rossi-Landi proposes a distinction


between initial meanings and additional meanings on the basis of his
methodics of Common Speech. This distinction is part of a comprehen-
sive conception in which meanings are not detached from the real
processes of communication and interpretation:

Meanings are the way we use terms and other linguistic units, the operations
we perform when we use them, and so forth: in any case, pieces of human
behaviour (SCPC 1980:179).

"Initial meanings" are meanings given in a direct, immediate,


explicit, literal, or conscious manner. Meanings belonging t o these
categories are subject to, and more often than not dependent upon,
other meanings which, on the contrary, are indirect, implicit, meta-
phorical, latent, or unconscious. Upon all that we say openly is exerted
the manifold influence of what we do not say. "Additional meanings"
are those meanings which are not immediately present but which in
the actual process of interpretation are subordinate to initial
meanings — they come later, as it were. Apparently simple utterances
may potentially refer to infinitely complex realms of signification
such that the interpreter must draw upon himself or herself in order
t o completely understand the original utterance. Thus utterances
prove to be pluristratified and this pluristratification is not a feature
of their internal structure but rather concerns their relation to the
outside: to other linguistic units, to contexts and to what remains of
the universes of discourse to which the original unit belongs. I do
not believe it possible to reconcile such a distinction to that elaborated
by Chomsky between surface structure and deep structure. The latter
considers language separately from its communicative function, and
from its social, intersubjective and dialogic dimension. On the other
hand, Rossi-Landi's "initial meanings" do in fact involve experiences,
practices, values, knowledge of a particular environment, and thus
speakers ranging from the restricted family group t o the broader
environment of a whole culture. "Additional meanings" are determined
by the intersubjective and dialogic character of the practice of
signifying, which presupposes co-knowledge, orientation towards the
viewpoint of others, and towards various sectors of cultural life. The
implicit is relative to the receiver of the message and increases or
diminishes according to the experiences, knowledge, values, and
competences that the sender and receiver share. Initial and additional
meanings are given in the concrete process of semiosis and in the
relation between signs and interprétants, between expressive needs and
144 Adventures of the Sign

capacities and interpretative needs and capacities. By evidencing the


multiple and complex stratification underlying initial meanings which
in themselves are simple, Rossi-Landi emphasizes the complexity of
the operations implicit in c o m m o n speech:

The quantity of mental work which, in using language, we all exercise and
presuppose continually, is immense, even in the case of the most simple
sentences in common speech: if, on the one hand, these constitute the small
change of the daily exchange between men, on the other, they always represent
complex situations and refer to the enormous social patrimony accumulated
by mankind during the course of its biological and historical evolution and
transmitted from one generation to the next through the learning of language;
subsequently these sentences refer to the habitual notions possessed by all
men living in a civil community (SCPC1980:180-81).

The distinction between "initial meanings" and "additional meanings"


raises questions concerning the recurrent distinction between meanings
fixed by use, tradition, t h e c o m m o n code, on the one hand, and
mutable meanings connected to a specific communication and inter-
pretation context, on the other. It cannot be made t o correspond to
the distinction between meanings of t h e langue and those of the parole :
meanings of t h e parole m o d i f y , renew or in any case add something
extra to what is fixed in t h e linguistic institution by adapting the
latter t o t h e context. Instead, what corresponds t o the distinction
between langue and parole is that worked out by Volosinov (Bakhtin)
in 1929 (see Ponzio 1980 and 1981), between "meaning" and " t h e m e , "
and that conceived by Peirce between "immediate interprétant" and
"dynamical interprétant": the former is fixed by use and tradition,
while the latter is the actual effect that a sign in fact determines in a
given situation of semiosis. T o use a recurrent expression in SCPC,
I think we could maintain that the distinction between initial meanings
and additional meanings " c u t s across" that between meanings fixed
by use and meanings dependent u p o n the context. In fact, we are
able t o identify something implicit, mediated and latent, not only in
meanings dependent u p o n context, but also in those meanings which
are far more a u t o n o m o u s as regards the circumstances of a given
communicative situation. The very meanings we share and which are
fixed by tradition are more dependent than others upon the implicit,
indirect, mediated, hidden, absent, remote, secondary, or unconscious
in language. In any case, initial meanings and additional meanings are
present in the langue and in the parole, in the "meaning" and in the
" t h e m e " (Volosinov), in the "immediate i n t e r p r é t a n t " and in the
"dynamical i n t e r p r é t a n t " (Peirce) (see also 2.1.2, 2.7.2, 2.11.1).
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 145

The correspondence is perhaps greater between Rossi-Landi's


"additional meaning" and the notion of "implication" as examined
by Volosinov-Bakhtin in a 1926 essay entitled "Discourse in Life
and Discourse in Poetry." In this essay the author shows how the
meaning of a real-life utterance does not exhaust itself in what is
said explicitly and directly — the uttered word is impregnated with
the implied and the unsaid :

A real-life utterance, as an intelligible whole, is composed of two parts: 1)


the verbally realized (or actualized); 2) what is implied. So we may compare a
real-life utterance with an enthymeme (Volosinov 1926; Eng. trans. 1983:12).

Events, experiences, values, behaviour programs, knowledge, stereo-


types, etc. are all implied and are by no means abstractly individual
and private. From the term "implied" {podrazumevaemoe, lit. "under-
mind-ed") — says Volosinov — overly subjective-psychological connota-
tions must be eliminated. As regards the implied part of the utterance
in the sense of the above text, the individually subjective recedes into
the background as against the socially objective. What is implied in
the utterance is the "socially determined and necessary act":
What I know, see, desire and love cannot be implied. Only what all of us who
are speakers know, see, love and acknowledge, in which we are all at one, can
be the implied part of an utterance [ . . . ] . Thus each real-life utterance is an
objectively social enthymeme (ibid. ).

The implied part of an utterance, says Volosinov (1929), is the


"real-life context" ("a form of life" as the Wittgenstein of the
Philosophische Untersuchungen says, even if this expression is intended
in a more limited sense: see Rossi-Landi 1968):
This unified purview upon which the utterance depends can broaden both in
space and time. What is implied may be family, kinsmen, nation, class, days,
years and whole epochs. The implied elements of an utterance become more
and more constant in proportion to the broadening of this shared purview and
the social group to which it corresponds (Volosinov 1978:12-13).

As much as what is implied may be narrow, it must at least coincide


with the actual purview of the two people. In this case, even the most
ephemeral alteration inside this purview can be implied. On the other
hand, the more that which is implied is broad and complex, the more
it is based on the stable and constant elements of social life, on essential
and fundamental behaviour and evaluations:
146 Adventures of the Sign

Particularly important significance is attached to implied evaluations. The


point is that all the fundamental social evaluations which develop directly from
the specific conditions of the economic life of a given group, are not usually
uttered. They have become the flesh and blood of all members of that group,
they organize actions and behaviour, they have, as it were, fused with the objects
and phenomena to which they correspond, and for this reason they do not
need special verbal formulations (ibid. : 13) (cf. 2.4.5).

2.4.7 Criticism of the Postal Package Model

As Rossi-Landi stated, the initial meaning, especially when it is literal


and direct, " f l o a t s " u p o n one or more strata of meaningful materials
(see SCPC 1 9 8 0 : 2 0 I f f . ) . The qualification "especially" indicates
the fact that in many cases the initial meaning is not itself literal
and direct: for instance, it can be metaphorical as in " t h a t man
is a f o x . " Thus the utterance does not communicate initial meaning
alone, but also additional meanings. From the very m o m e n t of its
formulation — that is, considered f r o m the point of view of who-
ever emits it — the utterance is conditioned by t h e meaningful material
of the situation in which it is used. This does n o t mean that the sender
is aware of all the meaningful material which is being communicated,
nor that interpretation must consciously refer to all the additional
meanings.
Rossi-Landi examines the relation between "conscious" and "uncon-
scious" (see pp. 207-10) with reference t o the communication process
and in particular to the distinction between initial and additional
meanings. He shows how it is not possible to speak of consciousness
and unconsciousness in an absolute sense and on the basis of the
stratification of the message into initial and additional meanings. In
SCPC he suggests an approach to the study of communication which is
different f r o m the perspective in which it was subsequently framed in
the debate between the "semiotics of c o m m u n i c a t i o n " and the
"semiotics of signification." In fact, a contrast between the f o r m e r and
the latter arises from the mistaken assumption that what is voluntary,
intensional or conscious can be clearly separated f r o m what is not, and
that communication may be examined by taking as the starting point
situations of consciousness or unconsciousness already given outside
the actual communication process: in reality, consciousness and un-
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 147

consciousness are relative conditions obtained within expressive,


communicative and interpretative (for the sender also) processes.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the fact is that
semiotics (of communication as much as of signification) as semiotics
of the code and message — derived from Saussure's Cours and informa-
tion theory — remains tied to the model of communication in which
the message is posited as an object traveling from one point to an-
other. Today this model proves to be more and more inadequate
thanks to the recovery of Peirce's semiotics of interpretation and
Bakhtin's philosophy of language (cf. 2.11.1 ). Such a model was already
questioned in SCPC. According to Rossi-Landi, communication cannot
be understood in terms of something which passes from point A to
point Β as though we were dealing with a postal package sent from
one post office to another:

What in communication may correspond to the postal package is only its vehicle,
that is, words insofar as they are physical objects which are pronounced or
written and heard or seen [ . . . ] . But for what concerns the interpretative process
and the quantity and quality of the information transmitted, the model of an ob-
ject which changes place is totally inadequate [ . . . ] . It would be better, perhaps,
to speak of an "informative river": we immediately see, that is, capture the
surface, and we know that underneath is all the volume of the moving waters.
Enriching the image, we could speak of a boat on the river. The first corresponds
to "initial meaning," denominated because it is the more visible and conspicuous,
that is, direct and immediate, the second, to all the rest. What is communicated
is not only the boat, but also the river, and we have already spoken above
about the "floating" of initial meaning upon the thick of meaningful material
(SCPC 1980:207-08).

In relation to the entire informative flux, we are only able to make


relative distinctions between conscious and unconscious parts. What
flows on the surface is the immediately conscious, what moves in
depth is not immediately conscious. We could speak of a succession
in degrees of consciousness. In recovering the model of mental work
as polyphony from Silvio Ceccato (the simultaneous flowing of various
superimposed melodic lines), Rossi-Landi also purported that the initial
meaning may be construed as the "main melodic line" and additional
meanings as all the others. Thus he developed a comparison between
understanding music and understanding verbal communication. The
notion of "polyphony" brings to mind further comparisons with
Bakhtin. In dealing with these models, Rossi-Landi never did in
fact convey a sense of finality: models are instrumental to the
ungarbling of such a complex situation. An attempt at a solution,
148 Adventures of the Sign

for instance (see pp. 222-224), is that a sentence does not simply
convey its own meaning but also instructions for its use.
SCPC, as we said before contains an affirmation that was already
present in Rossi-Landi 1953a, and to which the author later returned,
particularly in his criticism of certain distorted interpretations of Morris'
semiotics. It concerns the inseparability of the three dimensions of the
sign, that is, the syntactic, the semantic and the pragmatic. This view
of things is particularly rich in theoretical implications: the sign does
not exist if not with other signs; the sign does not exist if not for an
interpreter·, the sign does not exist if not with a signification or designa-
tion, and eventually a denotation. From this point of view, Rossi-
Landi's theory of Common Speech provides an important point of
reference for Chomskyian linguistic theory. In fact, even if Chomsky,
in contrast to what he had previously stated (see Syntactic Structures),
recognizes the necessity of connecting the syntax to the semantics of
verbal language, and of examining them together with the phonological
aspect, he continues to deliberately leave aside the pragmatic
dimension. In contrast to such an approach, Rossi-Landi insisted
that pragmatics is at the basis of syntactics and semantics, just as in
their turn syntactics and semantics are at the basis of pragmatics (see
SCPC 1980:171). Concerning this point, most relevant is Rossi-Landi's
specification that signification and denotation belong to the dimension
of semantics, whereas meaning, intended as having sense or signifying
something, "is present in all three dimensions."

2.4.8 The River Under the Boat

Today, Rossi-Landi's 1961 study on the conditions that make com-


munication possible between human beings is still topical. It is rich
in indications and orientations that open it to confrontation and
dialogue with other currently important theories in semiotics and the
philosophy of language. But the very reasons that make for its
topicality are what caused this research to be considered incomprehen-
sible at the time of its publication, and this contributed to its being
isolated: in his introduction to the 1980 edition, the author himself
spoke of his research in terms of a "reckless intellectual expedition
into an inexistent territory."
Methodics of Common Speech in Rossi-Landi 149

In this survey of SCPC, I have chosen to concentrate especially on


the contents, leaving aside aspects that are by no means less significant
and topical than those discussed. For example, in a chapter dedicated
to communication between different languages, there are analyses
of problems concerning translation as well as contributions to "con-
trastive linguistics." Nor have I mentioned Rossi-Landi's style: his
shunning of systematic rigidity and argumentative hastiness, his
deliberately anti-academic tone, his ingenious use of amusing ex-
emplifications and his closeness to the semantic, argumentative and
dialogic wealth of everyday speech.
The reading possible today of this 1961 book is the best indica-
tion of the fact that only gradually do "additional meanings" make
themselves felt. For certain works which prove to be particularly
rich and stratified, as in the case in question, it is necessary to find
ourselves outside the context in which they were written (Bakhtin
speaks of extralocality) in order to fully understand and appreciate their
innovative vigor. A look from a distance is necessary if we want to
frame together the boat and the river that flows under it. Today, we are
able to view the whole of Rossi-Landi's research itinerary from the early
1950s onwards. Thus, should we remain at the level of the immediately
and directly conscious, we have at least the advantage, for example,
of being able to identify a connection between the "methodics of
Common Speech," "philosophical methodics" and the science of signs.
150 Adventures of the Sign

2.5 Humanism, Language and Knowledge in


Adam Schaff

2.5.1 Human Individual, Language and Knowledge

In the works of Adam Schaff, problems concerning the "human


individual", "language", and "knowledge" constitute an organic whole.
This is a reflection of the real and objective relation connecting these
three topics: in this chapter it is my intention to examine this inter-
relation, even if certain disciplines not only keep the three topics
separate, but tend to fractionize them even further according to their
specific interests.
In his philosophical research, Schaff concentrates on three main
areas: a) philosophy of language, b) philosophy of the human individual,
c) theory of knowledge. In his most recent books (1974; 1975), Schaff
attempts to unify his research and insists on expressing his disapproval
of the tendency towards dividing these three fields on the one hand,
and the suppression of their autonomy on the other.
During an interview I held with Schaff in 1977, I asked what the
unifying element of his research was. He answered that it was the
human individual, an issue concerning the philosophy of language,
the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of man, that is, all the
human sciences in general. This does not imply that this topic is
necessarily dealt with in such areas of study: on the contrary, in
fact, despite its primary importance in historical, social, linguistic,
cognitive and economic processes, it is often ignored. A fact which
explains the abstract nature of so many theories. In Schaff's opinion,
the problem of the human individual is of fundamental importance
for the scientific foundation of theory, and consequently for the
capacity of theory of analysing and explaining any particular phe-
nomenon. Research in philosophical anthropology and the philosophy
of man remains isolated if not applied to the various fields of the
human sciences: results obtained in the latter act as some kind
of feedback which, in its turn, enriches the former — provided that
researchers do not limit themselves to mere speculation and metaphysics.
The fact that Schaff places so much importance on the problem
of the human individual is particularly relevant for the question of
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 151

"what it means to be a Marxist today". In fact, Schaff believes that


the problem of the human individual is particularly relevant in a
Marxist perspective, not only because of what the Classics of Marxism
have said about it, but also because of what certain Marxists have
tended not to say, thus denying the legitimacy of such an issue.
Furthermore, certain philosophers reject this problem in the name
of "true Marxism", and of the "true Marx" (that is, the later as
compared to the early Marx), as they consider it to be a bourgeois
ideological residue. They use the human individual and related issues
(alienation, Marxist ethics and so forth), as a means of discriminating
between "orthodoxy" and "revisionism" and formulate negative
judgements a priori wherever such concepts as "alienation", "human
individual", "humanism", and "marxist ethics", appear.
As an example, we have the discussion between Schaff and Lucien
Sève on the translation-interpretation of Marx's Thesen über Feuerbach,
published in the journal "L'homme et la société" (1971-72). This
discussion clearly demonstrates the superficiality of those who consider
"Marxist humanism" in extremely vague terms, regarding the latter
as evidence of revisionism and thus proposing an even vaguer "anti-
humanism" as a token of true Marxism and "guarantee" of its scientific
character.
The expression "Marxist humanism" can be referred to the theories
of both Schaff and Sève. Both philosophers, in fact, support the inter-
pretation of Marxism as scientific humanism and refuse Althusser's
theoretical "anti-humanism". However, they take up completely
different points of view: they diverge in their interpretation of the
Marxist classics and, therefore, in their ideological and political stances
as emerges from their debate. And this is so, despite their common
defence of Marxist humanism and of the maintainance of such concepts
as "man", and "human individual" within Marxism.
The human individual and the related issues of alienation, socialist
humanism, and Marxist ethics are not to be underrated or considered
alien to Marxism itself but, on the contrary, should receive particular
attention within a Marxist perspective. Especially when, like Schaff,
we consider Marxism as an "open system", a scientific system open
to continual transformation, discussion and modification, and not
as a set of fixed principles demanding absolute loyalty, dogmatic
and orthodox acceptance. Marxism should not be viewed as a set of
principles established once and for all, free of the risk of confutation:
such a "risk" rather, is of vital importance to a system which aims
at being scientific (cf. 2.6.1).
152 Adventures of the Sign

Some of Marx's earlier works and certain problems, therefore,


concerning the human individual such as alienation, have often been
labelled as revisionist and anticommunist. This has led to the refusal
of these very issues by certain Marxists, and to the acceptance of
the division between "the early and the later Marx": the former being
an ideologist and humanist, the latter a scientist and antihumanist.
It is absurd to tax any Marxist position, which refers to Marx's juvenile
production, with "revisionism", just as it is absurd to distinguish
between "ideology" and "science". This is a reflection of the tendency
of attributing exorcizing functions and magical powers to such words
as "ideology", "humanism", "revisionism", and "science".
It is certainly true that the word "humanism" can be ambiguous,
given all the different meanings which have been attached to it in
the course of tradition: when applied to Marxism it has often given
rise to revisionist and speculative interpretations. It is not less true,
however, that misunderstandings and ideological mistakes have arisen
because rather than making a precise criticism of certain interpretations
of Marxism, the latter has been interpreted in terms of a generic
antihumanism.
When dealing with humanism in connection to Marxism, Sève has
shown how we may use the same approach as when dealing with
"materialism", "dialectics", "philosophy", "socialism", that is, all
those concepts which are considered to be in direct contrast with
Marxism. Despite pre-Marxist interpretations of materialism, Marxism
asserts itself as materialism, historical-dialectic materialism, as scientific
materialism. In their aim of attaining a "highly-developed materialism",
Marx and Engels criticized a certain type of materialism. However, this
must not lead to confusion of such criticism with the absolute refusal
of materialism, as Lenin demonstrated in his criticism of the Russian
Machists, of idealistic and subjectivistic stances, of "low idealism".
Though vitiated by Hegelian idealism, Marxian theory maintains the
term "dialectics", using it with a new meaning. Moreover, Marxism
puts an end to traditional philosophy, but to refuse to recognize
that Marxism itself is a philosophy on the belief that it is possible
to rid oneself of philosophy once and for all, is the worst kind of
philosophy ; it would mean acting as "slaves to the worst vulgar residues
of the worst philosophies", as Engels put it. Similarly, it would be
arbitrary to conclude that Marxism is a form of "theoretic antisocialism
simply because Marx and Engels criticized Utopian forms of socialism.
Just as Marxism is the transformation of Utopian socialism into
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 153

scientific socialism, of metaphysical materialism into scientific materi-


alism, it is also the transformation of speculative humanism into
scientific humanism.
As Schaff observes, by denying Marxism the character of humanism
(as did certain Polish Marxists, even before Althusser, during a debate,
held in Poland in 1947, on the relation between Marxism and
humanism), we strengthen the position of those who oppose Marxism
and communism, and consolidate the aim of dividing the proletariat
using humanism as the discriminating factor.
We are now able to understand why Schaff attaches so much impor-
tance to the problem of the human individual which lies at the very
centre of his theories of language and knowledge. I once interviewed
Schaff who claimed that:
neglect of the problem of the human individual leads to the impoverishment
of Marxism at the theoretical level and to its distortion at the practical level.
In this mistake lies the deep secret of Stalinism. This is why the protagonists
of "true" Marxism - where the individual is absent - are so dangerous. I am
referring not only to those who put Stalinism into practice, but also to its
theorist, whose various political lucubrations and theoretical mistakes have
resulted in the thesis that Marxism is antihumanism. If this were the case, it
would be necessary to fight against it. But it is a pure lie: Marxism is humanism,
and it is the concern of Marxists to fight in the name of this humanism. This
has always been my firm belief, as a Marxist and as a Communist. And this fact
explains the choice of the lietmotif of my philosophical works (Schaff 1977a).

Schaff has dealt with the issues of the human individual and of
socialist humanism since 1947. Writings from this period prove the
fallacy of the thesis of an existentialist influence on Schaffs Marxism.
Among other things they testify to the presence of anthropological
issues among Polish Marxists even before the diffusion of existentialism
- and Schaffs own position is indicative of this. In fact, as early
as 1947 we already have a discussion of two main tendencies which,
though seemingly opposed, are both based upon the division be-
tween Marxism and "humanism". On the basis of the assumption
that such a separation exists, the first tendency proposes to "inte-
grate" Marxism and humanism; the second tendency maintains that
Marxism is intimately opposed to "humanism". In contrast to these
two main tendencies, Schaff believes that Marxism is the humanism
of our time. In fact, differently to other forms of humanism, insofar
as Marxism is scientific socialism, it also has the real capacity of in-
dicating the way to a profound transformation of the current relations
of inequality and exploitation.
154 Adventures of the Sign

In his essays of \9Ala and 1947Ô, Schaff formulated the problem


of Marxist humanism with the same methodological procedure of
Strukturalismus und Marxismus (1974) which deals with the same
issue, only twenty-seven years later. In the latter, Schaff criticizes
Althusser's anti-humanism and demonstrates how it is misleading
to speak of "humanism" (as well as of "anti-humanism"), without
specifying the meaning of such terms in relation to particular historical
and social conditions. Words like "freedom", "democracy", "justice",
"equality", "property", receive an appropriate meaning only when
related to particular historical and social conditions. Similarly the
word "humanism" also needs a historical specification. Only on this
condition is it possible to avoid making a moralistic use of the term
which renders it inefficacious for the transformation of the capitalist
system. By specifying the term humanism historically, we are also
able to eliminate the semantic ambiguity and stereotyped component
present in it which makes it liable to exploitation by those aiming
at the preservation of current order and at anticommunist propaganda.
In his 1947 essay Schaff wrote:
Humanism does not exist in itself, just as man taken in himself and for himself
does not exist. Only concrete man exists, man set in a particular age, living
in a particular country, belonging to a particular social class, representing a
particular tradition and particular personal ideals.

In his criticism of Althusser in Strukturalismus und Marxismus,


Schaff demonstrates how, to a certain extent, the semantic ambiguity
of the word "humanism" is responsible for the separation and
opposition between Marxism and humanism. Althusser uses this word
as though its meaning were univocal and in no need, therefore, of
specification. Here too, Schaff shows how no real alternative between
Marxism and humanism actually exists while it does, in fact, exist
between Marxism and anti-Marxism. Now, anti-humanism is precisely
a form of anti-Marxism. Schaff also brings to attention the mystifying
character of Althusser's structuralist anti-humanism: in Althusser
"humanism" implies an idealistic and speculative conception of the
essence of man while, on the contrary, his "anti-humanism" is not
symmetric to "humanism". Althusser's anti-humanism states rather
that production relations are not relations among human individuals
and that the human individual has no role in history. Althusser
attributes this last statement to Marx (the later as opposed to the
early Marx) (cf. 2.6.1).
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 155

In Entfremdung als soziales Phänomen (1977Ô), Schaff analyses


such concepts as alienation, fetishism, revolution, reformism, Marxism,
revisionism, and socialism. He deals with problems related to Marxist
humanism and the human individual concentrating on two main
aspects: a) the demand, intimately connected to the historical-
materialist approach, for "historical specifications"; b) the demand
for linguistic analysis which is considered to be of major importance,
and not only when dealing strictly with language problems (his book,
in fact, is full of "semantic digressions").
Such issues are not forgotten in the 1973 essay "Marxismus und
das Problem der gewaltsamen Revolution" (now in Schaff 1975).
They are particularly relevant in the last chapter of Entfremdung als
soziales Phänomen (written especially for the Italian edition where
he deals with the particular approach to Socialism on the part of
the Italian, French, and Spanish communist parties). Schaff refuses to
acknowledge violence as a means of achieving the socialist revolution :
he specifies that the Marxist concept of the "social revolution" is
one thing, and the way in which it can be carried out, is another. The
expression "social revolution" implies a qualitative transformation of
both social foundations and of the superstructures. Such transforma-
tion may be achieved either violently or pacifically by means of reform.
The choice cannot be decided upon the basis of abstract theory but
rather is determined by the specific historical and social conditions
of a country. There are no fixed formulas as far as the way of building
socialism is concerned, even if some scholars are convinced of the
contrary and search the classics of Marxism for a solution able to
overthrow the capitalistic system. In reality, the solution changes
with the different situations, accordingly taking on different forms
such as the juridical, constitutional, or trade-union form. By rendering
Marxism static, we betray one of its most essential characteristics,
that of "historical specification". Recourse to reforms does not
necessarily imply giving up class struggle or the building of a socialist
society with the acquisition of power by the working class. Use of
the word "reformism" in relation to the enacting of reforms is
justifiable when the aim of reform rather than being social revolution
and transformation of the social relations of capitalistic production,
is, instead, the preservation and reproduction of those very relations.
The choice of a peaceful way to socialism (with particular reference
to Western European Communist Parties), when the historical
conditions make this possible, is not at all a "disavowal of Marxism".
156 Adventures of the Sign

Rather it is the refusal of Marxism in the form of dogma and "ortho-


doxy" isolated from the dialectic relation to social praxis and concrete
historical circumstance.
Between the second half of the 1950s and the beginning of the
1960s, existentialism — especially in the version given to it by Sartre —
deeply influenced certain Polish Marxist intellectuals: a phenomenon
related to the "crisis of Stalinism" and the events of the Polish and
Hungarian October. It was at that time that Schaff demonstrated
the profound "incompatibility" between Existentialism and Marxism.
Historical materialism explains human behaviour in terms of social
conditioning, the human being is viewed as the result of social relations
(Marx's IV thesis on Feuerbach); on the other hand, existentialism
explains social phenomena in terms of individual freedom considered
as an absolute, natural and non-historical fact. In his criticism of
existentialism, Schaff places great importance on semantic definitions:
In fact, he underlines the ambiguous nature of the notions and
arguments employed by Sartre. This is one of the most recurrent
aspects highlighted in his analysis of Critique de la raison dialectique
(1960).
However, the same reasoning which led Schaff to contrast Marxism
with Existentialism, and to polemize against certain Marxists (e.g.
Leszek, Kolakowski) for having accepted the existentialist conception of
the human individual, induced him to reject the oversimplified criticism
of existentialism on the part of other Marxists. The latter, in fact,
concluded their discussion of the matter by simply taxing existentialism
with "bourgeois ideology", "revisionism", and "idealism". This kind
of criticism did nothing but confuse the problems examined by ex-
istentialism with the approach adopted towards such problems. Schaff
himself supports the Marxist rather than the Existentialist approach,
but shares interest in the same problems concerning the human
individual. Though certain problems have often been neglected by
Marxism, he believes that they are not at all extraneous to Marxism
at the theoretical level. In fact, they belong to the same sphere of
interest which generates Marxism and which gives a more profound
meaning to the Marxian analysis of the social relations of production.
Certain superficial critics have confused an open and constructive
criticism of Existentialism with a form of Existentialist Marxism.
The German title of Schaffs 1961 book Marx oder Sartre!, is indicative
of the relation he establishes between Existentialism, on the one hand,
and Marxism, on the other.
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 157

In Marksizm a jednostka ludzka (1965) — which Schaff considers


to be a full-length political as well as philosophical study (the same
could also be said of Entfremdung als soziales Phänomen) — the human
being is taken as the direct object of analysis. In his Beitrag, part
of a debate organized by the Polish review "Studia Filoficzne", which
took Schaffs book as the starting point for discussion, Schaff declares
that anthropological issues must not be neglected in the ideological
struggle. In such a perspective, the importance of assuming the human
individual as the focal point of Marxism at the theoretical level, is
determined by two main factors: the first is that anti-Marxism has
taken advantage of the fact that Marxism has ignored these problems,
and as a consequence insists upon the relation between the individual
and society giving particular attention to such issues as freedom,
individual happiness and so forth; the second is that these problems
are particularly evident — unless we are blind or in bad faith — in
socialist countries today.
Alienation is a major issue at both the theoretical and the praticai
levels in the building of a socialist society. The acknowledgement of
the existence of such a phenomenon is of primary importance to
the development of socialism. Some people believe it is contradictory
to take great pains to eliminate alienation, on the one hand, while
stating, on the other, that alienation can never be permanently
eliminated given that it constantly occurs in different forms. During
a debate organized by "Nowe Drogi" for the discussion of Schaffs
book Marksizm a jednostka ludzka (1965), Schaff insisted that such
a contradiction could in fact be easily explained in the terms of Marxist
dialectics. Particularly convincing is the comparison he establishes
between the theory of alienation and the Marxist theory of truth.
Although the cognitive process is endless, it does not exclude the
objectivity and truth of knowledge, nor does it exonerate us from
the search for truth. Similarly, the unending struggle against alienation
does not exclude the possibility of overcoming such alienation by
means of the transformation of specific social relations, nor can the
fact that the struggle is unending be used as a pretext for leaving
things unchanged.
In his Marksizm a jednostka ludzka, Schaff analyses the different
aspects of alienation as they appear in socialist countries. He examines
the issue even more closesly in his Entfremdung als soziales Phänomen.
especially in the chapters entitled "Sozialismus und Entfremdung"
and "Sull'alienazione nella rivoluzione". We could ask those who pose
158 Adventures of the Sign

themselves the problem of alienation in socialism the insinuating


question, to whose benefit does all this go? This question was asked
in relation to Schaff's book Marksizm a jednostka ludzka, in the above-
mentioned debate in "Nowe Drogi". Schaff answered that by bringing
to attention and analysing the contradictions and diverse forms of
alienation inherent in the building of socialism, rather than favour
anti-communist propaganda, in the long run we actually favour the
communist movement and Marxism. In fact, the critical capacity
of Marxism is broadened so that it is able to deal with problems which
have been generally monopolized by anti-communist propaganda. In
this way we contribute to the development of a socialist society and
to the shaping of man in such a society.
Despite attempts by certain Marxists at "exorcizing" the problem
of alienation by considering it a "non-scientific" and "non-Marxist"
notion, "alienation" is an adequate label for certain social phenomena
for which solutions have been attempted through practice based on
Marxist theory. Such attempts at exorcism become increasingly
frequent when analysis of the various forms of alienation is extended
to the different socialist countries, and when it is considered that
the struggle against alienation is endless given that it cannot be
eliminated once and for all.
Marxism involves a struggle against the different historical forms
of social alienation whereby the individual is prevented from being
a conscious protagonist of his own history. Furthermore, in Schaffs
opinion, it is also a radical, positive and materialist humanism. It
is a combatant humanism, that is, it is committed to a historical
social reality where it is desired that the history of men be a very
human history. Marxism takes an interest in the human individual
historically specified by the relations of production of the particular
country he lives in, and because of this it opposes the interpretation
of alienation in the abstract terms of "human essence" and "human
nature".

2.5.2 Theory of Language and Theory of


Knowledge
Linguistic analysis is particularly useful in the study of the historical-
social structure of the human individual, given that it is especially
through language that the historical and social conditioning inherent
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 159

in the shaping of the individual is made possible. Language is a social


fact and constitutes the social background to consciousness, thought
and speech. Language is a social product as well as being a genetic
phenomenon and is functional to human praxis. This is at the basis
of the historical-materialistic and dialectic character of the "active
role" of the subject both at the level of cognitive processes as well
as of practical action. The individual is able to act upon the historical-
social situation which is pre-existent to him conditioning him from
the outset, through his use of language (it too a social product).
Language is not only an instrument for the expression of meanings,
but it is also the material which goes to form meaning and without
which meaning could not exist. Consequently, what we call the
"subjective", does not at all mean the abstractly individual or
absolutely autonomous, but rather it is the concretely individual and
that which is conditioned, that is, a social product with a social func-
tion: the "subjective has an objective and social-historical character".
The linguistic sciences are able to grasp the socio-historical nature
of language thus ridding themselves of both biologistic, innatistic,
conventional prejudices on the one hand, and of related mechanistic
and idealistic conceptions on the other, merely by reconsidering the
human individual in the perspective of historical-dialectic materialism.
It follows that language is neither wholly natural nor wholly unnatural
and conventional. Like any human fact, it is first of all a socio-historical
phenomenon resulting from historically determined needs, mediating
between needs and the satisfaction of such needs.
An innatistic and biologistic interpretation of language, as that of
Chomsky and Lenneberg, can only be maintained by reducing man
to the status of mere product of natural evolution, as if his biological
history were uninfluenced by his social history. In such a perspective,
he is viewed as "man in general", as abstract man, rather than as a
historical and social being conceived in his concreteness, in his special
historical specification according to the social system, the specific
division of labour, class and level of productive forces to which he
belongs.
Furthermore, many authors agree that what is innate in language
is only the capacity of learning to speak (which undoubtedly depends
upon the hereditary structure of the brain, the vocal apparatus, and
so forth), while the concrete realization of language is determined
by social relations. Though true, this explanation is insufficient for
it does not eliminate the dangers of a biological interpretation of
160 Adventures of the Sign

language: in Lenneberg's work, for instance, social relations and the


relations among individuals of the same species are placed at the same
level. They are considered to be the same as relations existing in the
animal kingdom at large.
It is absolutely necessary to found the theory of language on inter-
pretations of man and of interhuman relations which are free of any
tendency towards naturalistic positions with respect to the scientific
achievements of historical-dialectic materialism. In a Marxian perspec-
tive, social relations are characterized by relations of production;
they represent a particular form of production, they are historical,
nonnatural relations (cf. 2.7).
If we wish to free ourselves of what Schaff called the "fetishism
of the sign" referring to the Marxist notion of the "fetishism of goods",
we must view the analogy and typology of signs in connection with
the issue of the human individual and social relations. In fact, to
give up a reified conception of the relations between signs as well
as between signifier and signified, it is necessary to take the social
process of communication as the starting point of our analysis, and
to consider the sign relation as a relation among men who use and
produce signs in specific social conditions. All analyses should start
from the "social condition of the individual" and from the notion
of the individual as a social product. This would prevent us from
considering communication as a set of relations among originally
separate and abstract subjects, while removing idealistic and materialistic-
mechanistic explanations of the communication process.
The question of the relation of language to reality is closely
connected to both the theory of knowledge and to the conception
of the human individual. Does language create our image of reality?
Or does language reflect and reproduce reality? Does language have
an active, creative function in the cognitive process? To answer these
questions implies taking a definite stance as regards the three funda-
mental models of the theory of cognition: idealism, mechanistic
materialism, dialectic materialism. The latter two refer the problem
of the relation between language and reality to the theory of
reflection. All three concern the role of the subject in the cognitive
process and consequently the problems related to the human individual.
The subjective-idealistic and materialistic-dialectic models differ
from each other in their interpretation of the active role which both,
in contrast to mechanistic materialism, assign to the subject and con-
sequently to language in the cognitive process. In Schaff's opinion,
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 161

in comparison to naive materialism, materialistic-dialectic theory


recognizes the superiority of language theories which stress the active
function of language in the cognitive process (even if from an
idealistic point of view) and the connection between language and
Weltanschauung, between language and the "image of reality" (think
of Humboldt, Sapir, and Whorf). However, in the perspective of a
Marxian interpretation, the human being should be considered as
the result of social relations, and language as the product of social
praxis. This interpretation recognizes the active function of the
cognitive subject and, at the same time, maintains that far from being
the starting point of the cognitive process, the subjective element
is the result — and a complex one at that — of specific social influences.
In a certain sense, the subject may be considered as the resultant
construction of cognitive processes.
The concept of "reflection" is closely related to the concept of
the " h u m a n individual", and it is precisely on the basis of the inter-
pretation of such notions that we mark the difference between dialectic
and mechanistic materialism in connection with the theory of
knowledge. As Schaff writes:

the specific interpretation of the theory of reflection in the Marxian system is


directly related to the interpretation of the concept of the human individual
(Jçzyk a poznanie, 1964; It. trans. 1973:158).

The connection between the theory of language and the theory


of knowledge is evident if we acknowledge interaction between
language and thought, as well as the indivisibility of meaning and
concept. Schaff recalls Lenin's "On Dialectics", in which the latter
outlines the programme for Marxist epistemology with reference to
the history of language, as sufficient evidence of this, maintaining
that:

. . . when in accordance with the materialistic analysis of the cognitive process


we consider thought and human consciousness as linguistic thought, as thought
made of language (Marx maintained that language is "my consciousness and
that of others"), it is evident that any analysis of the cognitive process must
also be the analysis of the linguistic process, without which thought is simply
impossible (Szkicez filozofii jezyka, 1967; It. trans. 1969:20-21).

"Pure" thought which is subsequently to find expression in a specific


language does not exist, on the contrary, there exists a language-
thought process. Any form of human speech implies the use of a
particular language; thinking always takes place in a certain language.
162 Adventures of the Sign

In reply to the school of Würzburg, Vygotsky demonstrated the unity


of thought and language, and of meaning and concept, through
experimental research in the formation and development of conceptual
thought (cf. 2.12.5).
Such unity of thought and language highlights the active function
of language in the reflection upon reality, as well as the social character
of individual thought, its status as a social product.
On defining the sign in general (that is, at the semiotic level), and
on dealing with semantics, it is impossible to leave the theory of
knowledge out of consideration. For example, to consider the problem
of the referent, or the material object, as irrelevant to a semiotic
point of view does not at all mean separating semiotics from the theory
of knowledge and, therefore, allowing semiotics to remain neutral as
regards such a theory, as certain authors believe. On the contrary,
it means assuming a specific standpoint in relation to the theory of
knowledge, which would be described as conventional-idealistic for
the insistence upon the autonomy of the code and of the message
with respect to material reality.
Semantics and the theory of knowledge are both implied whenever
we ask the following questions: "what is meaning?"; "what is the
relation between meaning and the sign-vehicle?"; "what is the relation
between meaning and object?"; "what kind of existence do we refer
to when we say that meaning exists?"; and so forth (cf. 2.2).
On the other hand, all the problems with which the theory of
knowledge deals, insofar as they are problems concerning language,
imply semantics. This does not mean that the theory of cognition
should be exclusively a semantic analysis or that language should
be the sole object of any philosophical research, as is maintained
by Semantic Philosophy. The Marxist theory of reflection clearly
demonstrates all the implications existing between semantics and
the theory of knowledge, rejecting any schematic attitude typical
of conventional and idealistic relativistic standpoints. Certain philo-
sophical trends such as Cassirer's neo-kantism, neo-positivism, Russell's
logical atomism, the linguistic philosophy of the school of Oxford
connected to Wittgenstein's later production, the semantic analysis
of the school of Warsaw and so forth, deserve recognition for having
maintained and demonstrated that language is not merely the instru-
ment, but also the object of philosophical research.
The theory of knowledge is not the only theory in need of support
from studies on language. The philosophy of the human individual —
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 163

to the extent that it deals with the function of the individual in social
relations and with problems of traditional ethics (which does not imply
any form of moralism) — must inevitably consider that individual
behaviour is conditioned by society mainly through the influence
of language. This leads us to a new vision of issues related to language:
the problem of the connection between language and ideology, concept
and stereotype, language and social praxis. On considering the concepts
of "choice", "responsability", "individual freedom", we need to take
account of the "tyranny of words", of the problem of "linguistic
alienation". We should reject the idealistic and conservative point
of view which refers contradictions and individual alienation to a
semantic origin and maintain, similarly to the young Hegelians, that
man can be "set free" by simply clarifying the meaning of words
and by substituting false ideas with true ones.

2.5.3 The Concept of Contradiction in Formal


Logic and Dialectic

The relation between Marxist dialectic and formal logic demon-


strates the connection between the theory of knowledge and the
analysis of language. Schaff shows how the word "contradiction"
has two different meanings depending on whether it is considered
from a Marxist dialectical, or formal logical point of view; this implies
that Marxist dialectic does not exclude the logical principle of non-
contradiction. From the point of view of formal logic, the term "con-
tradiction" signifies a relation between two sentences, or utterances,
one of which maintains that something is in a given relation with an
object at a given moment, while the other denies this. On the contrary,
from the point of view of Marxist dialectic "contradiction" means
"unity of antithesis", that is, unity of contrasting tendencies, aspects
and forces; in this way, dialectics is the constitutive element of every
phenomenon.
When Marx maintains that at a certain level of their development
the productive material forces of society are in contradiction with
the existing relations of production, the word "contradiction" does
not express the relation between a positive and negative judgement
164 Adventures of the Sign

(as in formal logic), but rather the juxtaposition between opposed


and yet complementary tendencies which form the unity of a certain
system, and which are, at the same time, the mainspring of its transfor-
mation. In this case, the word "contradiction" - notwithstanding the
misunderstandings it can give rise to - when intended as an objective
rejection of the logical principle of non-contradiction, has a specific
meaningfulness which justifies its use. In this particular case, the
word "contradiction" stresses a contrast characterized by inadequacy
and discordance such as to interfere with the functioning of the social
mechanism to the point of causing its collapse.
A central point in S c h a f f s analysis of the relation between dialectics
and the principle of non-contradiction is his demonstration that
consideration of movement as a confutation of the logical principle
of non-contradiction, is unfounded. Engels t o o fell into this trap.
In Plechanov's opinion we must face the following dilemma: either
we acknowledge the existence of the fundamental laws of formal
logic and we deny movement, or, on the contrary, we acknowledge
movement and deny these laws. Schaff observes that this is a false
dilemma. It arises from the interpretation of movement as an ob-
jective confutation of the logical principle of non-contradiction, as
something which is and is not at the same time in the same place.
This interpretation which the Marxist classics derive from Hegel, in
reality originates from the ancient Eleatic philosophers:

Die Eleaten bejahten den Satz vom Widerspruch und negierten folglich die
Objektivität der Bewegung; Hegel stand umgekehrt auf dem Standpunkt der
Objektivität der Bewegung und verwarf infolgedessen die Gültigkeit des Satzes
vom Widerspruch in der Beschreibung der Bewegung (Schaff 1975:26).

Schaff establishes a connection between the fact that Marx and


Engels accepted the Hegelian interpretation of movement (as something
which both is and is not in the same place at the same time) and the
level of development of the mathematics of the time, in particular of
differential calculus. Newton and Leibniz's conception of the infini-
tesimal entity, considered to be a quantity equal to and different from
zero, strengthened the influence on Marx and Engels, of the Eleatic-
Hegelian principles concerning movement.
As far as the relations between Marx and the mathematics of his
time are concerned, today we can say that things are different from
how they were described by Schaff in 1955. Thanks to the publication
of Marx's Mathematical Manuscripts (Moscow 1968), today we are
familiar with Marx's critical analyses of Newton's and Leibniz's
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 165

"mystical" differential calculus, of D'Alembert's and Euler's ration-


alistic method, and of Lagrange's purely algebraical method. In criti-
cising Newton's and Leibniz's differential calculus, Marx highlighted
the presence, in their theory, of metaphysical notions and of the
use of procedures which contradict the laws of mathematics. Though
making use of Lagrange's work, through such criticism Marx in-
dependently reached positions attained by such XIX century mathe-
maticians as Cauchy and Weierstrass, who accomplish the transition
from a simpler to a more profound and scientific stage of calculus.
Schaffs considerations can certainly be referred to Engels but not
to Marx. What Engels wrote in his Anti-Diihring about the differential
relation gives the impression that he accepted exactly that kind of
interpretation of differential calculus which Marx defined as "mystical".
Marx maintained that differential calculus is mystical in character; in
fact it attains exact results by means of algebraically inexact pro-
cedures, as Marx says, it makes use of exceptional laws, that is, it
confers contrasting properties to the terms employed; it resorts to
devices devoid of any mathematical rigour, it resorts, that is, to
"conjuring tricks". In Marx's opinion, calculus is to be dealt with
in strictly mathematical terms, and in this sense he kept account
of Lagrange's contribution for the attempt of founding calculus on
pure algebraic grounds. If procedures not founded upon demonstration
were employed in differential calculus, this was not due to the dialectic
character of such procedures, as Engels seemed to believe when he
explained that the lack of understanding, on the part of contemporary
mathematicians, of Leibniz's differential calculus was caused by the
impossibility of understanding the principles of calculus on the basis
of formal logic. On the contrary, it was due to the fact that differential
calculus was based on metaphysical and non-dialectical definitions.

2.5.4 Criticism of Chomskyian Biologism

The Marxist conception of the individual is founded, from its very


origin, upon criticism of naturalistic, innatistic, and biological inter-
pretations of human behaviour. With reference to Marx's Theses on
Feuerbach, Schaff shows how naturalism is materialism, though
in a limited form. Man is reduced to the mere status of biological
166 Adventures of the Sign

specimen and human relations are simply viewed as relations among


individuals of the same species. The human being is certainly biological,
a specimen of the species homo sapiens, but in his specific reality as
man, he is the product of historically determined social relations.
The description of man as a mere biological specimen is not enough
to characterize him, given that he is determined not only by biological
conditions but also by social conditions, he is fundamentally a
historical and social being. His "natural" delimitations are the result
of an evolutionary development conditioned by social and historical
situations.
Bio logistic interpretations of man are formulated on the basis of
molecular biology, especially in research pertaining to the genetic code.
These, however, cannot be proven in the present state of scientific
research. Despite this, however, a biologistic interpretation goes as
far as expecting to explain something which is intrinsically socio-
anthropological, that is, language — which together with material
work constitutes the basis of the human and cultural world. The
success of molecular biology explains Chomsky's belief in innate ideas
and the translation of the latter into biological terms by Lenneberg.
In his essay "Gramatyka generatywna a koncepcja idei wrodzonych"
(1972), Schaff analyses Chomsky's conception of language and deals
with the possibilities of either accepting or rejecting the existence
of innate and universal grammatical structures. This issue has been
discussed by linguists and philosophers of language and many argu-
ments have been brought forward both by those who agree with the
innatistic theory: such as Chomsky, Katz, Lenneberg, as well as by
those who reject it.
Schaff makes a specific contribution to the debate: he is aware
that this problem can be settled by neither philosophers nor linguists,
but only by the specialists of natural sciences, particularly molecular
biology. In Schaff's opinion, given that scientific research in its current
state cannot give an answer of any kind, neither the innatistic nor
the non-innatistic point of view can be scientifically proven. Schaff's
purpose is not to solve the problem but to prospect it in the right
terms; he aims at uncovering implicit assumptions and the logic of
the arguments put forward by the parties involved.
In his analysis of generative transformational grammar, not only
does Schaff emphasize the links with so called "Cartesian Linguistics"
(that is, the philosophical tradition from Descartes to Humboldt),
but also with contemporary mathematical logic, and particularly
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 167

the school of the logical analysis of language (above all the Circle
of Vienna and the school of Lvov-Warsaw). From this point of view,
we have two main forerunners of generative transformational grammar:
Carnap and Ajdukiewicz. For an understanding of the "filiation of
ideas" underlying generative transformational grammar we need to
consult Carnap's The Logical Syntax of Language, and Ajdukiewicz's
works published by "Erkenntins" in 1930. Rules for a theory of
language (rules of meaning and of syntax), absent, as Chomsky points
out, in traditional structuralism, while on the contrary fundamental
to the conceptual apparatus of generative grammar, were particularly
developed by neopositivism with Ajdukiewicz as one of its major
representatives (see Gramatyka generatywna, 1972). Thus the semantic
component of transformational grammar (the others being the syntactic
and the phonological), gives deep structures semantic meaning and
behaves in the same way as Ajdukiewicz's rules of meaning.
The theory of generative grammar aims at being a universal model
capable of explaining the creativity of language also, that is, it presents
itself as a model capable of generating and understanding an infinite
number of sentences on the basis of a finite number of elements and
a limited experience of language. The conception of innate structures
underlying linguistic behaviour and the linguistic apparatus is, there-
fore, fundamental to generative grammar. It is on the basis of this
thesis that the universality of grammar and of deep structures is
asserted. In Schaffs opinion, the thesis of "linguistic universale"
is essential to generative grammar in the same way that the thesis
of "linguistic differentials" is essential to the theory of linguistic
relativity as conceived by Sapir and Whorf.
In Chomsky's work, the assumption that innate and universal
structures exist constitutes a preliminary axiom of generative grammar
which therefore appears as a hypothetical-deductive model. Such an
assumption not only takes on the value of a thesis to be verified,
that is, a hypothesis, but also appears as an empirical thesis which
has already been demonstrated, though this is not the case.
Schaff stresses the fact that Chomsky's conception of innate
structures — which in his 1957 review of Skinner's Verbal Behaviour
was simply put forward as a hypothesis and a prudently formulated
postulate — was presented more emphatically in his later works.
This is particularly true of Recent Contributions to the Theory
of Innate Ideas (1967) and of Language and Mind (1968). What Schaff
wishes to stress is that such a development is not the result of scientific
168 Adventures of the Sign

research but of reference back to a certain philosophical tradition. In


fact, Chomsky presents Generative Grammar as a return to rationalism
and to the tradition of "Cartesian Linguistics".
One of Schaff's main criticisms of the innatistic theory of language
is that Chomsky, Katz and Lenneberg claim an empirical character
for their theses when, in fact, the natural sciences (and particularly
molecular biology which should be the eventual source for the solution
to such issues), are not, as we have seen, in a position to give a
satisfactory answer at the present moment. This does not mean,
however, that the problem is empirically insoluble. Schaff demonstrates
this with his analysis of two of the most important representatives
of modern biology: François Jacob and Jacques Monod.
Jacob observes that the more the nervous system of animals is
developed, the less rigid is their hereditary nature. In the genetic
code we may distinguish between a fixed component and an open
one, which assures a certain amount of differentiation between one
individual and another in ontogentic development. In Jacob's opinion,
speech is determined genetically but at the same time, it is related
to the second and open component, in other words, the capacity of
learning any language is a possibility, a potential. This is very different
from maintaining that every man possesses an innate generative
grammar, as Chomsky asserts. Moreover, Jacob believes that human
behaviour is characterized by the lack of any rigid conditioning on
the part of a genetic code, so that symbolic systems mediate and
act as a filter in the interaction between any organism and his environ-
ment. Culture is viewed as a second genetic system which overlaps
biological heritage; therefore, the human world — historical and social
reality — cannot be explained solely in biological terms. Jacob does
not take a clear stance concerning the concept of innate structures,
but he does agree that science is not yet ready to give an answer.
On the contrary, Jacques Monod agrees with Chomsky's conception.
As Schaff points out, however, Monod has no scientific proof to
support this conception which appears more as a hypothesis for which
he propends than as a scientific theory.
If, on the one hand, the conception of innate ideas is legitimate and
cannot be rejected as such, on the other, it cannot be given scientific
status as it has not yet been empirically proven. Consequently, in
Shaffs opinion, given the impossibility of arriving at a solution to
the problem, any remarks concerning Chomsky's innatism should
be restricted to the formulation of the problem and to the criteria
employed to deal with it.
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 169

As regards this aspect, Schaff points out that we cannot accept


the hypothesis of innate linguistic structures simply because there
are no available alternative scientific theories with which to confute it.
Moreover, Sapir and Whorf offer an opposite hypothesis — that of
linguistic relativism — which in its turn has never been empirically con-
futed. To verify Chomsky's thesis, not only would we have to prove the
existence of innate learning mechanisms, but we would also have to
prove that such a mechanism is universal, that is, that linguistic
structures are the same for the whole of the homo sapiens species.
One of the weakest aspects of Chomsky's theory of language is
that while he insists on innatism, the language sciences, and especially
sociolinguistics and ethnolinguistics, insist on stressing the historical
and social character of language. Rather than being considered in
the terms of something which is either natural or nonnatural, language
should be considered as a social and historical phenomenon. Chomsky
and Lenneberg could not deny that the learning and the use of language
are conditioned by society, but they reduce social relations to relations
among individuals of the same species. The social environment is
viewed in the terms of any natural environment necessary to the
development of attitudes peculiar to the species. The social factor
is nothing more than input formed from sentences pronounced by
people living in the same environment, it sets off the innate mechanism
of language learning and creates the linguistic competence inherent
in the particular language to which the subject is exposed. Concerning
such an interpretation of social conditioning: first of all, for Schaff the
statement that the quantity of input (that is, the quantity of sentences
to which we are exposed in childhood) does not affect the output (that
is, the production of spoken language), is false. In fact, if a child is
exposed to incorrect language, he too will speak incorrectly as
compared to official grammar; secondly, the social factor does not
merely consist of sentences listened to by the speaker, it is also the
relation between language and social praxis where language develops
according to particular social and historical structures. Language itself
is the product of social praxis, it is the means by which the individual
receives his historical heritage. The individual belongs to a specific
social system, he speaks, thinks and behaves according to specific
social values and causes which, as part of a society divided into classes,
have a class character.
170 Adventures of the Sign

2.5.5 Language, Ideology and Stereotypes

Linguistic analysis and the sociology of knowledge together with


Marxism, contribute to demonstrating the social character of thought
and consequently its social and ideological nature.
Concept and meaning are two faces of the same phenomenon:
this phenomenon is thought-language. There is no meaning outside
natural language or independently of linguistic signs. However, as
already mentioned for example in section 2.4.6, the verbal sign is
not only closely connected to concept, but also to what Schaff calls
the stereotype. It is related to beliefs, established opinion, emotional
tendencies, group and class interests, and so forth. The stereotype is
a specific reflection of reality related to specific linguistic signs; but
since it involves emotional, volitive, and evaluational elements, not
only does it play a particular role in relation to cognitive processes,
but also in relation to praxis. The stereotype is not simply a category
of logical thought, it is also a pragmatic category. From language
we receive concepts as the product of a certain society in the course
of history, in the same way we receive stereotypes which carry with
them specific tendencies, behaviour patterns and reactions.
This means that speech is always more or less ideological since
it is connected to social praxis.
Schaff maintains that reflection upon the stereotype is characterized
by a high degree of "intrusion of the subjective factor" in the form
of emotional, volitive and evaluational elements. This "subjective
factor", however, is social and not individual in nature, it is linked
to interests of social groups (social classes, ethnic groups which speak
the same language and so forth). Seen in these terms the "subjective
factor" is present in any form of reflection upon reality as well as
in scientific knowledge. Schaff says:
Science and ideology are closely connected to each other, in spite of those
pedants who would like to separate them. In any case, since social praxis,
which produces and promotes the development of language, is the common
basis for both the relatively objective knowledge of the world, and for attitudes
of evaluation, a genetic link exists (Szkice ζ filozofii jezyka, 1967a; It. trans.,
1969:127).

Schaff singles out the following relation between stereotype and


ideology: "it is not possible to directly identify the stereotype with
ideology but the latter could not subsist without the stereotype".
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 171

We may also deal with problems concerning ideology and the "sub-
jective factor" of human knowledge - where the subject, as we have
seen, is viewed as a social rather than individual product from the
viewpoint of the sociology of knowledge. This discipline, in fact,
acknowledges the subject as a socially produced and conditioned
individual. As Schaff frequently stresses, the sociology of knowledge
derives from Marxism and particularly from the structure and super-
structure theory, it is also directly related to epistemology and to the
theory of knowledge.
Schaff divides the definition of the concept of ideology into three
groups so as to avoid any ambiguity and equivocations: a) the genetic
definition which examines the conditions of development of ideology;
b) the structural definition, which attempts to define the specific
character of ideology, and therefore to establish the differences, from
the logical point of view, between the structure of ideological discourse
and the structure of scientific discourse; c) the functional definition,
which underlines the functions fulfilled by ideology in relation to
social, group, and class interests, etc.
Furthermore, Schaff believes in the necessity of distinguishing
between the problem of the definition of ideology, on the one hand,
and the problem of the value of ideology in relation to objective truth,
on the other. Though related, these problems are different and should
not be confused: the definition of ideology is one thing, while its
value in relation to the question of objective knowledge is another.
Therefore, though apparently a definition, the statement "ideology
is false consciousness", is not, in fact, a definition, but is rather an
answer to the question of the value of ideology. The main error made
by Mannheim in his theory of ideology and in his criticism of Marxism,
lies in his having mistaken the statement "ideology is false conscious-
ness" for a definition of ideology.
We also need to distinguish between the meaning Marx and Engels
gave to the word "ideology", and the meaning it was given in the
Marxist tradition (especially from Lenin onwards). Such expressions
as "bourgeois ideology", and "ideological science", are very much
in use. They characterize ideology on the basis of its function. In
Schaff's opinion, therefore, we may give the following functional
definition of ideology: by ideology we mean a system of opinions
related to the aims of social development which are founded upon
a system of values; these opinions are at the basis of specific attitudes
and behavioural patterns in the different objective situations.
172 Adventures of the Sign

Marx and Engels employed the word "ideology" in a narrow sense,


that is, in reference to the "ideology" of the bourgeois class. Leading
class ideology aims at the preservation of a society divided into classes.
Consequently it aims at concealing those contradictions which reveal
the necessity of transformation in the current structures of productive
relations. Bourgeois ideology was thus characterized by Marx and Engels
as false consciousness with respect to objective consciousness. Marx
and Engels considered ideology as false consciousness because they use
the word in a narrow sense, that is, in reference to the ideology of
the bourgeoisie, and not in the broad sense where the reference is
to the "ideology of the proletariat", to "scientific ideology", and
so forth. When Mannheim stated that if ideology is generally false
consciousness, then Marxist ideology is also false, he made a mistake
for he identified ideology in the narrow sense with ideology in the
broad sense (cf. Schaff 1970: Historia i prawda).
We may summarize what we have said with the following points:
1) the statement "ideology is false consciousness" is not a definition;
2) when we speak of ideology as false consciousness we are referring
to bourgeois ideology which aims at the reproduction of class society
and of social inequalities; 3) use of such expressions as "ideology
of the proletariat", and "bourgeois ideology", is now frequent. In
Schaffs opinion, by considering these points we become aware of
the necessity of defining the word ideology in such a way as to explain
its different meanings, on the one hand, and so that it suits the Marxian
perspective, on the other. In this sense, ideology may be defined as
either all those opinions formed under the influence of the interests
of a specific class (genetic definition), or, as those opinions useful
to the defence of the interests of a specific class (functional definition).
It is by considering ideology in relation to its genesis and to its
function that we are able to more properly face the problem of the
value of ideology as related to the objective and scientific knowledge
of reality.
It must immediately be said that according to Schaff this problem
cannot be dealt with on the basis of a linguistic-structural definition.
Ideological discourse does not have a specific structure which
distinguishes it from scientific discourse. It is an error to maintain
that the difference between science and ideology lies in the structure
of their propositions. According to such an opinion, ideological
discourse would mainly consist in evaluative and normative pro-
positions, whereas scientific discourse would consist of descriptive
Humanism, Language and Knowledge in Adam Schaff 17 3

propositions. Schaff severely criticizes the neopositivistic dichotomy


between judgements of facts and judgements of value. This dichotomy
appears in Marxism in the forms of the division between science and
ideology.
The difference between science and ideology does not consist in
the fact that the "subjective factor" (which, as we have seen, is social
and not individual), is present in science and absent in ideology. It
consists, rather, in the diversity of the role of the "subjective factor"
which is present in both science and ideology.
Scientific analysis and the sociology of knowledge have made an
important contribution to the destruction of the myth of the pure
objectivity of scientific propositions. Given that both science and
ideology are conditioned by society, both are in a certain sense
subjective (at least because language without which human thought
is impossible, introduces subjective elements in every form of human
knowledge). Therefore, in Schaffs words
in contrast to the thesis which sets science against ideology, another thesis is
here presented. It maintains that not only are the propositions of science and
of ideology linked, but in some cases they are identical ("La définition
fonctionelle de l'ideologie", 19676:51)

to the point of being able to speak of "ideological science" and of


"scientific ideologies".
Schaff stresses that to recognize that any discourse is more or less
ideological because of social and historical conditioning, does not
imply that all ideologies are distorted and to be placed, therefore,
at the same level. We need to distinguish between true ideologies
and ideologies as distortions of reality; between scientific ideologies
and forms of false consciousness. This distinction is determined by
the different genesis and the different function of ideologies.
174 Adventures of the Sign

2.6 Notes on Semiotics and Marxism

2.6.1 What it Means to Keep Account of Marxian


Criticism in Semiotics

There is not much point in formulating the relationship Marxism-


semiotics in terms of a "Marxist approach to semiotics," "the constitu-
tion of a Marxist semiotics", and even less in terms of the "application
of Marxism to semiotics". Not only are such formulations pointless in
the determination of the methods, field and objects of scientific
research, but they also run the risk of provoking a distorted vision of
the problem itself.
"Marxism" and "Marxist" are abstractions which in the very Marxian
sense are hardly at all "determinant", especially when reduced to the
role of labels and used in a way similar to directional signals or arrows
indicating a pre-established route so that all that remains to be done
is choose it, embark upon it, in fact, all that is required is an act of
will. And it seems that Marx himself once said, laughing; "The only
thing I can say is that I'm not a Marxist!" (see Enzensberger 1977:456).
Furthermore, the problem appears to be badly placed because
the two terms of the relation — but especially one of them, that is,
"Marxism" — are presented as elements existing autonomously of
each other and which subsequently are made to meet owing to an
arbitrary decision and individual initiative. The "constitution of a
Marxist semiotics" thus appears to be a completely optional question,
something gratuitous to be accounted for purely on the basis of
declared principles.
Because of its very peremptoriness and gratuitousness, the introduc-
tion of Marxism, from the point of view of semiotics, generally gives
rise to defensive attitudes which call on the distinction between
"science" (semiotics) and "ideology" (Marxism) and which set them-
selves to safeguarding the "purity of scientific research" from any
"ideological" and "political" element that may corrupt it. In all this, the
relation of semiotics to ideology is presumed to be a relation to some-
thing separate and "external", so that semiotics has its encounter with
ideology only once it is completely developed and formulated. What this
means is that pre-theoretical and ideological choices are not taken into
Notes on Semiotics and Marxism 175

account when, in fact, they intervene in the very determination of


the methods, categories and even of the objects of semiotic research
(see Ponzio 1978Ò). It is on this difference between those who, in
the field of scientific research, play with their cards on the table as
regards their relation to ideology and those who do not, that is based
the highly unproductive contrast between those who militate for a
Marxist semiotics in the form, as has often been said, of a pure and
simple ideological alignment, and those who on the other hand
denounce the illusory pretext of founding the science of signs upon
Marxism in the belief that (as Meillet who already disapproved of
the simple fact that an article by N. Ja. Marr should have appeared
in the journal Unter dem Banner des Marxismus used to say), a scientific
work "cannot place itself under any banner at all" (see Baggioni, in
Marcellesi et alii 1978:238).
The relationship semiotics-Marxism is to be understood in the sense
that the study of signs is not at all something accessory to historical-
dialectic materialism, a mere opportunity to enlarge the field of
"application" of the latter, but rather it represents a constitutive
moment in the development of Marxism, a study that in the very
foundation of a historical-materialist perspective cannot be set aside.
As we have already seen in section 2.5.1 of the preceding chapter,
Marxism is an "open system": a "system", that is, not in the sense of
speculative philosophy, particularly Hegelianism, not in the sense,
therefore, of a deductive organism based on a single principle; in
such a sense even Marx and Engels themselves would have denied the
qualification of "system" for their theorizations. It is, rather, a system
by virtue of the fact that it consists of a group of elements related
in such a way that the modification of one of them cannot take place
without provoking the modification of the others. It is an open system
because it is a scientific system which as such, being subordinated to
the laws of science, is continually susceptible to verification and
exposed to confutation. In reference to the development of social
reality and human knowledge this system develops and integrates
new elements thus bringing about the transformation and renewal
of the old ones. In the extreme case, such a transformation could
be total so that Marxism, as a particular theoretical-ideological system,
ceases to exist in the sense that the result could no longer be called
"Marxism": this too is one of the risks that Marxism, as all scientific
systems, must take and which must not hinder verification to the last
degree of each part of Marxist theory (see Schaff: 1978α).
176 Adventures of the Sign

In this process of thorough examination and verification, the study


of signs occupies a position of the first order for Marxism. Let us look
at the main reasons for this.
a) An initial reason is to be found in the very configuration of
the Marxian critique of political economy. The latter, in fact, con-
centrates on the deciphering of the "language of commodities" (Marx,
The Capital, I), and on the explanation of the entire process of the
functioning of such commodities as messages. In this way the Marxian
critique of political economy overcomes, through the analysis of
communicative social structures, the fetishistic vision in which
merchandise is presented as something natural while the relation
between commodities assumes for mankind the phantasmagorical
form of a relation between things and not, as it is in reality, of a
specific type of social relation between actual people. As such this
Marxian critique is itself a semiotic analysis and is inseparable from
the consideration of goods as messages which it does not study merely
at the level of exchange but also at the level of production and con-
sumption (see Rossi-Landi 1973 and 1975a).
b) Another reason concerns the Marxist analysis of the different
ideological forms and the use in this connection of the notion of
"superstructure". The study of ideologies is inseparable from the study
of sign systems and from the relations of implication and hierarchical
stratification that come to be established between such systems. On
the other hand the notion of superstructure, rather than being used
to define verbal language as well as the other languages of society —
as though as a category it were defined autonomously and prior to
the study of these different languages to which therefore it would
only have to be applied — requires specification of its relation to
the "social structure" precisely through the study of sign systems
that go to form the social, from the material base to the highest levels
of ideology (see VoloSinov 1929: chp. 11).
c) Furthermore, it is obvious that as a theory of knowledge as
well, historical-dialectic materialism must of necessity undertake
analyses which the study of verbal language and of signs in general
entail (see Schaff 1969). Each analysis of the cognitive process must
be the analysis of sign processes without which knowledge would
simply be impossible.
d) Lastly, the necessity of examining problems concerning communi-
cation, of studying messages and sign systems, presents itself when
Marxism operates as a political ideology, as social planning, when
Notes on Semiotics and Marxism 177

it aims at gaining consent for specific objectives of the organized


workers movement. Marxism cannot avoid penetrating into the domain
of semiotics when faced with problems concerning information,
political propaganda, mass communication, and ideological struggle
(see Klaus 1971). Contrary to a reductive and mechanistic vision
of its connections to language and "ideological" superstructures, class
struggle does not appertain to an "extralinguistic social reality" which
subsequently is supposedly "reflected" in the "ideological-linguistic
sphere". On the contrary, class struggle takes place entirely on the
terrain of signs and above all verbal signs, whether belonging to a
particular class is the result of a determination undergone passively
or whether it arises in the form of organisation and planning (see
Ponzio 1970:145-65).
If, vice versa, one takes semiotics as the starting point and needs
to motivate orientation towards Marxism, the following points can
be made:
a) We may begin by saying that a Marxist approach contributes
to the constitution of semiotics as an explicative and critical discipline
which from the superficial level of the exchange of messages extends
to the analysis of the historical-social structures of sign production
(see Ponzio 1973).
b) The processes of social sign production are the same as those
which produce ideology. In this sense, an explicative and critical
theory of the signs employed by human societies must necessarily
be contemporarily a critical theory of ideology. Renouncing the
illusory claim to ideological neutrality, sign theory takes up a position
towards the social programs that it identifies in all human behaviour
insofar as it is sign behaviour. Because of its totalizing perspective,
the awareness it develops of the location of the programming of
human behaviour within the social system as a whole and also therefore
of the historical-social specification of such programs, semiotics
proposes itself as both the place for criticism of cultural codes as well
as for the formulation of alternative programming (see Rossi-Landi
1979 and Solimini 1974).
c) As critique of the "naturalness" and "spontaneity" of social
phenomena, semiotics finds in historical-dialectic materialism the in-
struments and the perspectives that enable it to identify — exactly where
it seemed to be a matter of "natural", "spontaneous", "gratuitous",
"private" behaviour —, the presence of precise programs, codes, and
social planning whose existence the subject of such behaviour did
178 Adventures of the Sign

not even suspect; and therefore to discover forms of unawareness,


of the lack of consciousness, and of false consciousness precisely
where there seemed to be nought else but conscious and voluntary
communication.
d) The very Marxian indication (contained in German Ideology)
that "language is the real, praticai consciousness, the latter exists also
for other men and therefore it is the sole existent for myself also,
and language, like consciousness arises only from need, from the
necessity of relations with other men", can be developed by semiotics
as a critique of the reduction of signs to a mere means of communi-
cation and the reduction of communication itself to a process of
information, the transmission of meanings, the exchange of news
and messages. Contrary to what the so-called semiology of communi-
cation maintains, signs do not exist merely when it is a question of
informing someone, of expressing something with a precise intention
in a knowing, voluntary manner. Even the individualization, the
constitution and determination of this certain something, the formation
of personal experiences to communicate, of awareness, the realization
of decisional acts, the existence of a particular relationship between
individuals through which intentional communication comes about,
are not conceivable without the intervention of signs, without a
socially organized working of signs. To consider as a sign only that
which presupposes, that has behind it a convention, a consciousness,
an awareness, a willingness, means not only to interpret the sign in
a reductive manner but also to conceive meanings and the operations
of consciousness idealistically, attributing to them an autonomy and
existence anterior to the sign material in which, on the contrary, they
are incorporated from the very beginning, with which, says Marx, they
are "infected". Social communication is not simply the process that
intervenes between sender and receiver, but it is also the process at
the basis of their very existence as sender and receiver, not only as
far as concerns the actual exchange of messages, but also their very
differentiation as individual subjects (see further, for example, 2.5.1
and 2.8.4).
e) We must not undervalue the fact that the Saussurean model
of the sign, which has had and continues to have a significant bearing
upon semiotic theories, shows traces of the influence of the marginalist
theory of the school of Lausanne (Walras, Pareto). The confrontation,
therefore, with the marxian critique of political economy is pertinent
and in a certain sense inevitable when discussing the concept of sign
Notes on Semiotics and Marxism 179

and sign value. Here, too, it is not a matter of mere "applications",


of "transporting" the marxian labour theory of value from political
economy to the field of semiotics, thus disregarding current discussion
on the Marxian theory of value as well as the interpretations that
have been successively accumulating on the Marxian text and that
have contributed to defining the limits of the latter, to making it
more precise and to indicating the lines of future development. All
that a Marxian critique of political economy can do is give indica-
tions to semiotics for a task that still remains to be done: as in the
Marxian analysis of commodities, in the study of social sign processes
it is necessary to proceed from the constituted to the constituting,
from the epiphenomenal structure of exchange value and of the
"sign market" to the underlying structures of the social labour of
communication and signification. In this way, the sign value, which
seemed to consist solely of a relationship between signs, on its being
reconducted to social and sign labour and to the organization of such
labour of which it is the objectivation, proves to be a relation of social
production. In other words, it is a matter of carrying out in the
structural analysis of the sign systems which flourish in a particular
society, that which Marx obtains in the analysis of commodities and
capital: to make social relations apparent exactly where there only
seemed to be relations between things and relations of things between
people (see also, e.g. 2.4.7.).

2.6.2 Ten Theses

The verification and incrementation of the scientific character of


historical-dialectic materialism calls for continuous confrontation
with the natural and social sciences. The development of the sciences
is certainly incompatible with vulgar materialism and with Marxism
reduced to dogma; on the other hand, it is complementary to the
development of historical-dialectic materialism, to Marxism as an
open system.
This obviously holds true also in the case of the relations between
Marxism and semiotics, where it is not a matter of "applying" Marxism
to semiotics, but of testing the extent t o which a semiotic theory
180 Adventures of the Sign

can endure a Marxist critique, and vice versa, the resilience of the
Marxist system (in the sense here put forward) in the face of the
developments of the science of signs.
I believe that a relationship of complementarity and of mutual
support between Marxism and semiotics rests on a theory of signs
based on the following theses (cf. also 1.1).
1) For semiosis to exist, we must necessarily have a body, a physical
object which acts as sign material whether it is a natural body or an
artifact.
2) It is only in the historical-social dimension that a body becomes
sign material; in this sense, even the so-called natural signs are social.
3) Semiosis presupposes that the sign body is integrated in a system
of sign bodies. An isolated body cannot transmit any meaning: it
refers to a system formed by a number of signs (at least two) with which
it enters into paradigmatic relations each time it makes an appearance.
4) As a body the sign is material in a physical sense; as a sign it
is material in the sense that it is a historical-social product. It is through
its historical-social materiality that a sign is such; and it is this
materiality that is of interest when a body is considered and studied
as a sign, that is, from a semiotic point of view. The fact of belonging
to both physical reality as well as to historical-social reality makes
of the sign something fully objective. As regards meaning, sign
materiality — where it is understood only in the physical sense -
presents itself as a vehicle of meaning, as an instrument for the
transmission and circulation of meaning; on the other hand, where
the materiality of the sign is understood as historical-social reality,
that is, when considered from the semiotic point of view, it no longer
acts as a mere vehicle, as a means for the circulation of meaning, but
rather is inseparately connected up with meaning.
5) Any body whatsoever can become sign material and take on
an indeterminate number of meanings. All sign material can have
several meanings not only in succession (diachrony) but also con-
temporaneously (synchrony); and from this point of view a difference
can be established between "sign" and "signal" in that the signal
establishes a one to one relationship between sign material and
meaning. We may therefore consider the signal function as the lowest
level of the sign function.
6) The meaning of a sign is the class of sign materials that may act as
signs of each other, that are in a relation of reciprocal substitutability
among themselves. The concept of meaning and the very question
Notes on Semio tics and Marxism 181

"what does it mean?" presuppose a relation of interchangeability


between specific signs.
7) Meaning is to be distinguished from the referent, and the referent
itself is also an essential element of semiosis. The identification of
meaning with the referent is fallacious whether it comes about in
the form of the reduction of the meaning to the referent, or of the
referent to the meaning.
It is advisable to look at the problem of the referent in greater
detail on account of the misunderstandings to which this notion
often gives rise in the determination of the theoretical foundations of
semiotics. Another reason is that with such a notion materialism
is directly called into question given that very often, whether the
semiotic pertinence of the referent is being denied or affirmed, the
starting point is the interpretation of the referent in terms of vulgar
materialism, of "low materialism".
The function of referent can be carried out by a "thing", a physical
object, or by any thought, sentiment, or desire, by any imaginary,
illusory, fictitious object, or by an entire situation, that is, by the
situational context in which the sign is used. Furthermore, the referent
of a sign can be an individual object, as in the expression "this is my
dog"; but it can also be an object in its generalized aspect, a certain
class, as in the expression "the dog is a quadrupedal animal".
By using Morris' terminology we can split the concept of referent
into the two concepts of denotatum and designatum. Morris' inter-
prétant corresponds to Saussure's signifie (see Rossi-Landi 19756:
179) and to reference as proposed by Ogden and Richards, it therefore
finds its place at the vertex of the triangle proposed by the latter.
Morris' model, on the other hand, entails the splitting of the referent
into the designatum (signifieatum) and denotatum on the right hand
side of such a triangle. By designatum Morris (1938) intended that
to which the sign refers. This object, with these properties, with
these characteristics could even not really exist in the way in which
it is referred to by the sign. When, instead, that to which we refer
really does exist in the way in which it has been referred to, the
object in question is indicated with the term denotatum. In this
sense it can be said that if a sign always refers to something and
therefore always has a designatum, which is thus a necessary com-
ponent of semiosis, it does not always have a denotatum. Proceeding
with this terminology, we can propose to relativize the concept of
existence of denotata in relation to the mode of reference of the sign,
182 Adventures of the Sign

saying, for example, that in Greek mythology centaurs exist, while


they do not exist in zoology, so that the sign "centaur" has or has
not a denotatum according to the contexts of semiosis. Analogously,
in the Odyssey, "Ulysses" has a corresponding denotatum, while there
is absolutely no corresponding denotatum from a historiographical
point of view. So within a single ideational context, for example,
a novel or a fable, some expressions have a denotatum while others
do not, even if all of them, as regards the concept of existence in
the observative sense, are to be considered devoid of a denotatum.
For example, in Pinocchio, "The Country of the Balocchi" has a
denotatum because something that really exists inside the story
corresponds to it; while 'The field of Wonders' has a designatum but
no denotatum because it is a mere invention with the aim of deceiving
the character in the tale (cf. also 1.2).
In any case, that to which the sign refers is of a semiotic nature.
The sector of experience to which the sign refers is part of organized,
segmented territory, structured into differentiated situations, into
distinct and individuated objects, by means of the system of codes
employed by a certain human community. It exists as a referent
because there is a sign which, through the mediation of the system
in which it is inserted, and on the basis of the sign-situational context
in which it appears, expresses a meaning that refers to it. The referent
of a sign and its meaning do not stand in a relation of mechanical
causality extending from the first to the second, precisely because of
the fact that the referent is part of semiosis, of both that in course
as well as of other previously realized moments of semiosis, and no
less than the meaning, it does not exist if not as the component of
this particular social praxis.
8) In accordance with the various situations of semiosis, a certain
body can function as the sign material of a class with a specific meaning
and therefore place itself in a relation of reciprocal substitutability
with the other sign materials of the same class; or else it can act as a
referent. Taking a pencil, I can say: "this is what the word 'pencil'
means". In this case the object acts as a sign. Or I can say: "this is the
pencil I was talking to you about": here, the object acts as a referent.
In as much as something acts as a referent, it does not act as sign
material. That which serves to represent a certain meaning, cannot
contemporaneously act as a referent, and that which is a referent
cannot at the same time act as sign material and as interprétant of
other sign materials belonging to the same class meaning. Exchange
Notes on Semiotics and Marxism 183

of the parts is certainly possible, but then the sign situation is another.
9) If by ideology we mean the practical orientation, the opera-
tive intentionality that a sign assumes in a concrete sign situation,
and that accompanies it (even if rather weakly and even when the
ideology is considered separately from the text-context of semiosis),
we can maintain that all signs are ideological. Ideology does not
exist outside sign material and like the sign it has a social charac-
ter. Just as it is made of signs, the social in its entirety is also made
of ideologies. The ideological and sign systems do not each represent
a separate stratum, a sphere in its own right, in which social organi-
zation is reflected. Signs and ideology actively intervene together
in all forms of social relations, from the "base" to the "super -
structure", and without the ideological sign (Bakhtin), without sign-
ideological material, the whole of social reproduction would be
inconceivable. This also means that the ideological sign does not
passively reflect social inequalities and contradictions but is a con-
stitutive part of social organization in its various forms of "inequality
and of dominion" (Balandier). In those societies in which classes
(bourgeois societies, socialist societies) subsist, ideology takes on a
class connotation that is stronger or weaker relatively to the role of
determined messages and sign systems in class interests. This is
dependent upon the hierarchical relations that come to be established
between the different fields of the sign-ideological. Being an active
expression of class contradictions (and not their mere re-presentation),
the ideological sign is itself contradictory, it is ambiguous, plurivocal,
and it is increasingly so the more the social contradictions grow and
the more the sign ideological system in which the sign appears becomes
decisive for the social organization and development of the productive
forces. Concerned with reproducing itself, the dominant class forces
itself to give a univocous, definitive and "serious" character to signs.
But signs are not the product of a single class; they are the product
of a whole society, and social contradictions make them burst out
into plurivocality, ambiguity, and double meanings.
10) As regards the various studies in particular fields of social com-
munication - the various "semiologies" we could say thus distinguishing
in this sense the term "semiology" from "semiotics" — not only does
semiotics present itself as a purely theoretical science, as a general
theory that determines the categories and methods in the study of
signs and establishes the theoretical foundations, it also has a totalising
function with respect to the sectorial nature of the various semiologies.
184 Adventures of the Sign

Furthermore, given that it examines the diverse sign systems in the


social system of sign production as a whole, and identifies the links be-
tween the different communication programs in the framwork of total
social reproduction, semiotics represents the highest explicative and
critical level of semiological analysis.
Even if the degree of abstraction and of generalization can be
justified as procedures necessary to the determination of the concrete,
each of these points has the limitation of being excessively schematic
and thus calls for far more detailed argumentation. But together, at
any rate, they give us an idea of a specific proposal for work in
semiotics in which historical-dialectic materialism is present not in
the sense of a mere "application", but rather in the form of research
intent upon making a thorough examination and verification of itself.
Historical-dialectic materialism which at this point is felt to be a radical
part of our cultural and political history (even if we are unaware of
it) is a presence that orientates scientific research, especially the social
sciences, and that, in its turn, receives from such research elements of
revision and confrontation.
Another shortcoming of what has been said in this paper is con-
stituted by the fact that semiotics is made to appear uniquely as a
human science, a social science. Owing to the way semiotics and
the sign have been presented, physical events arising from natural
sources and interpreted as signs — clues, traces, and symptoms — are
not left out because they presuppose a cultural context, a social labour
of interpretation and signification, but particular forms of natural
communication such as that of animals, that pertaining to the genetic
code, to stimuli, etc. certainly are. This exclusion should at least be
explained, especially since the study of signs has developed in such
a way as to include, for example, even that sector that goes under
the name of "zoosemiotics". Marxism cannot ignore the "lowest
threshold of semiotics" (Eco 1975:33), that is, the largely natural
aspects of signification, just as it cannot in general ignore the natural
sciences, if it is true that, as Engels would have said, materialism must
change its form in relation to the development of the natural sciences
(cf. 2.12.3). It is possible, all the same, to justify the way the relation
semiotics-Marxism has been considered here with the fact that semiotics
is certainly a prevalently human science, a social science.
For a Critique of Equal Exchange Semiotics 185

2.7 For a Critique of Equal Exchange


Semiotics

2.7.1 Criticism of Code Semiotics and Marxian


Criticism of Political Economy

The semiologies of Saussurean matrix not only conceive the sign


in terms of equal exchange between signifiant and signifié, but as
Bakhtin maintains, only two poles in linguistic life are taken into
consideration between which all linguistic phenomena and, taking
linguistics as the model, all semiological phenomena are expected to
be placed: these two poles are the unitary system (langue) and the
individual realization of such a system by the single user {parole).
This leads to a static conception of signs, based on equal exchange
between the signifying form and the signified content which, in its
turn, is based on the model of equal exchange in our own society.
It is not at all incidental that the Saussurean model of sign (which
gives expression to this egalitarian vision of perfect correspondence,
established with reference to a system as it appears in a state of
equilibrium) should have been constructed on the basis of the model
of value of the economic sciences, with particular reference to marginal-
istic economy as elaborated by Walras and Pareto.
The encounter between the study of signs and economic exchange
was achieved by Saussure in 1916. He used, as his methodological
model, concepts taken from "recent works" of Political Economy
"which tend to be scientific". The very expression "which tend to be
scientific" contains a general reference to the so-called "Marginalistic
Revolution" headed by Menger, Jevons, Walras, and Pareto, which,
in contrast to classical political economy and the German Historical
School headed by Schmoller, aimed at acquiring scientific status. It
is above all the School of Lausanne (Walras and Pareto), with its
application of the "pointe de vue statique" that exerted the deepest
influence on Saussure's theory of sign value. In Saussure, the concept
of value is of primary importance and consequently the relationship
between linguistics and economics plays a central role, since both
are value sciences. The distinction between diachrony and synchrony
186 Adventures of the Sign

is also the result of the relationship between the two disciplines. As


early as 1883, Menger, in his Untersuchungen über die Methode,
distinguished between the theory and the history of economics, and
the same distinction was confirmed by the school of Lausanne. It is
along these lines that Pareto distinguished between a static and a
dynamic perspective in economics. The former is concerned with a
particular state of economic stability while the latter examines
subsequent balances and developments of economic phenomena. A
procedure analagous to the theory of economical balance of the School
of Lausanne is to be found in Saussure's Cours.
Using the theory of value of the School of Lausanne as a model,
Saussure reduced linguistic value to exchange-value. The value of a
sign is given by its position within a sign system just as the value of
a commodity is determined in "pure economics" (Walras) by its
relationship to the other commodities on the market. Saussure said
nothing about linguistic production just as economic production is
not mentioned by the School of Lausanne, which studied the market
in its "purity", thus emptying it of historical perspective. As Rossi-
Landi said, "Saussure . . . does not appear to possess a theory of
linguistic work, the most viable foundation for any theory of linguistic
value" (1975a: 139). The reason for this is to be found in the fact
that Saussure overlooked the theory of labor-value elaborated by the
classical school of economics (Smith, Ricardo) and by Marx; con-
sequently the langue as a social phenomenon is reduced to the sum,
the average of individual acts, the parole. The concept of the social
as the product and as "external constriction" reveals a clear ideological
tendency of individualistic flavour.
Traces of marginalistic epistemology are present also in Lévi-Strauss'
structural anthropology, where categories used in the study of verbal
language are applied to the study of nonverbal communication and
in particular to exogamic exchange. This is due both to the indirect
presence of Saussure's structural anthropology and to the explicit
relationship established by Lévi-Strauss between structural anthropology
and the economic sciences modelled on the marginalistic theories
of Neumann and Morgenstern.
We do not here intend to analyse Saussure's theories, as this would
of necessity entail a comparative study of the official Saussure and
the Saussure who has recently emerged from the direct analysis of
the course notes taken by his students (see Godei 1957). What we
want to insist upon, however, is that the Saussurean model of sign,
For a Critique of Equal Exchange Semiotics 187

which has had and continues t o have a far-reaching effect on semiotic


theory, reveals the influence of the marginalistic theory of the School
of Lausanne. The comparison with Marxian criticism of political
economy, therefore, appears to be pertinent and in some ways inevit-
able in the discussion of the concept of sign and sign value (see Rossi-
Landi 1968 ; 1975a ; Ponzio 1978 ; 1980).
It is not merely a question of "transferring" Marxian theories of
labour value f r o m the field of political economy t o semiotics. Such
a proposal would simply be naive, for it presents Marxian theory
as a definitive system, ignoring the subsequent interpretations which
have accumulated around the works of Marx, together with current
discussion of the Marxian theory of value.
In his criticism of political economy, Marx aimed at deciphering
the "language of commodities" (Marx: Das Kapital, I). He considered
commodities as messages and looked for the explanation of the whole
process of their functioning. By analysing commodities in the context
of communicative and social structures, we are able t o overcome
fetishistic visions which conceive of commodities as simply given
and natural and which interpret the relation among commodities
as a relation among things and not among men inside specific social
structures.
Marxian démystification of bourgeois economy and analysis of
commodities in particular, appear as semiotic analyses and are in-
separable f r o m t h e consideration of commodities as messages: the
c o m m o d i t y is studied not only at the level of exchange but also at
the level of production and consumption (see Rossi-Landi 1968:
116; Rossi-Landi 1975a: 133-137). A commodity is a commodity rather
than a mere product because it functions as a message. If we deprive
commodities of their character as messages and subtract the character
of sign communication f r o m the market, we will have neither
commodities nor market. The production and consumption of a
product is one thing, the production and consumption of a sign is
another. A commodity is a c o m m o d i t y n o t when a product is produced
and consumed in its use-value b u t when it is produced and consumed
as an exchange-value, that is, as a message. All this makes economics
a sector of semiotics.
In this perspective, the semiotics of economics has its starting point
in Marxian analysis, while, on t h e other hand, Marxian criticism of
political economy can lead semiotics into a field of research yet to
be explored. The result is that, despite the inclusion of economics
188 Adventures of the Sign

in semiotics, semiotics is not to be seen as an imperialistic and all-


inclusive science, as it accepts indications and suggestions from political
economy. In the semiotic analysis of every kind of social sign, as in
the Marxian analysis of commodities, it is a question of passing from
the level of sign exchange and sign market to the underlying levels
of the social work of communication and signification. In this way,
sign structures appear as structures of human relations. In other words,
we must achieve in semiotics what Marx achieved in his analysis of
commodities and capital: social relations must be made to emerge
in the place of mere relations between things and individuals reduced
to things.

2.7.2 Beyond Equal Exchange : Peirce, Bakhtin,


Rossi-Landi

The conception of sign based on the model of equal exchange causes


the message to be conceived as something already given in a definitive
manner and as something that passes unmodified from the sender
to the receiver. The latter, for his part, limits himself to the mere
decodification of the message with no creative intervention as in
the case of active comprehension. The receiver, therefore, is not
actively involved in the semiotic process, his role is simply that of
deciphering the message with reference to a fixed code. Furthermore,
this conception of the sign is connected to a conception of the subject
which views the latter as coinciding perfectly with his own conscious-
ness. This subject is fully conscious of himself, he is present to himself,
and is not aware of any distance, autonomy, or alterity with respect
to his own self as consciousness. The sign contains only that which
the subject consciously chooses to place in it, so that we may not
read into it anything more than what has been established by
intentional meaning.
The overcoming of the conception of sign based on the notion of
code and on the theory of equal exchange is achieved by Peirce's
model of sign which obviously has no direct contact with Saussure's
theories. Further indications for the surpassing of Saussurean semiotics
are also present in both Bakhtin and Rossi-Landi. If in Peirce we
For a Critique of Equal Exchange Semiotics 189

discover a materialistic orientation, in Bakhtin and Rossi-Landi we


have an explicit adherence to Marxian historical materialism.
The collocation of the sign in the total context of semiosis and
relation to the interprétant on Peirce's part, and in the dialogic context
as the only kind of context in which the sign can live as such on
Bakhtin's part, causes alterity to emerge at the very core of the sign's
identity. In Peirce's view, the relation between the sign and its object
is necessarily mediated by the relation between the sign and its inter-
prétant. Without the interprétant there is no sign. This means that
rather than being an accessory or something secondary, the sign acting
as an interprétant is in fact constitutive of the interpreted sign. In
other words, meaning does not lie in the sign but in the relation
between signs; these signs, however, do not belong to a closed and
defined system, a code, (the langue), but rather they encounter each
other during the process of interpretation which becomes stronger
and more responsive the more it does not limit itself to mere repetition,
literal translation, or synonimic substitution, but is re-elaboration
and explicative reformulation. Conceived in this way interpretation
proves to be risky for it is not covered by the guarantee offered by
appeal to a single, pre-established code which, in turn, does not lend
itself to open interpretation. For Peirce, meaning is the interprétant.
As a sign, the interprétant refers to another interprétant which
acts as sign and in its turn refers to still another interprétant and so
forth, in an open chain of deferments. There is no fixed point, no
definitive interprétant. Identity of the sign requires displacement
of the sign, this means that each time it is interpreted it becomes
other: it is, in fact, the other sign that acts as interprétant. This
kind of. procedure has repercussions on the very conception of the
subject which, as Peirce explicitly says, is itself a sign. Therefore,
the subject is continually displaced and made other in a continuous
play of deferrals from one interprétant to another. Rather than being
antecedent to the sign, thus exerting control over it, the subject
presupposes the sign, it is determined and identified by becoming
itself a sign-interpretant of another preceding sign. Consciousness
of self is no more than a relation between a sign-object and a sign-
subject or meta-sign, or more simply, it is no more than the relation
between a sign and its interprétant. The dialogic character of the
subject is, therefore, inevitable.
We find an analogous point of view in Bakhtin not only for that
which concerns the affirmation of the dialogic character of the word
190 Adventures of the Sign

including so-called interior discourse, but also in his explicit criticism


(not only in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, published
under Volosinov's name, but also in later writings published under
his own name) of the conception of language as an abstract system and
of the reduction of linguistic life to the t w o poles, langue and parole.
For that which concerns Rossi-Landi, we may summarize his
conception of sign, which is founded on Marxian criticism of political
economy, by referring to the following theses, taken from his paper
entitled "Ideas for a Manifesto of Materialistic Semiotics" (see Rossi-
Landi 1979).

(i) Semiotic studies are deeply involved in the study of social reproduction.
In fact, social reproduction is also, necessarily, the reproduction of all sign
systems. Even in those sectors or moments of social life where no work in
the material sense is performed, sign work of which linguistic work is a species
continues to be expended, whether consciously or not (the latter, not the
former, being the normal case). But usually students interested in sign systems
give little importance to social reproduction, and vice versa. Thus there are
Marxist scholars who know everything about social reproduction, except . . .
that it is also, necessarily, the reproduction of sign systems (an extreme example
of a totally a-semiotic and therefore pre-semiotic approach is Althusser's). And
there are semioticians who tackle sign systems as something existing independent
of social reproduction, without ever dreaming that for sign systems to exist
there must be other social processes going on as well.
(ii) The sign systems reproduced within social reproduction are both verbal
and non verbal. No consideration of verbal languages by themselves would be
sufficient from the point of view of social reproduction. The difference between
linguistics as the science of verbal sign systems and semiotics as the general
science of any sign systems whatsoever becomes here particularly evident. A
proper approach to the sign factors of social reproduction cannot be but a
fully semiotic approach. No merely linguistic approach would ever do. The
internal weakness of Sapir's and Whorf s theories concerning so-called "linguistic
relativity" is evidence of the inadequacy of linguistic intellectual tools to cope
with society at large. Semiotic tools are required instead.
(iii) Everything that goes on in social reproduction is also a sign process. The
production of corn in the fields or of cars in an assembly line is also sign
production. By this we mean, almost tautologically, that nothing made by man
can be exempt from signs at the human level. Also animals use signs; but stating
that corn or car production is human does not seem to be irrelevant when
measured against common ecological literature on animal behaviour and natural
settings. There is, therefore, a semiotics of material production. Sign processes
which accompany or even are at work within material production are themselves
a huge chapter of the semiotic enterprise.
(iv) However, it seems that the semiotic approach acquires its full strength when
applied to non-material production, i.e., to the production of superstructural
For a Critique of Equal Exchange Semiotics 191

items such as legal systems, religious and moral sets of rules, arts and poetry,
philosophies and ideologies. Notice that, for instance, rituals and rules are non-
verbal sign systems independent from whether or not they are also verbally
expressed. In other words, not even at the superstructural level is a merely
linguistic approach sufficient. But then the economic base and the super-
structures are developing together in a condition of continuous reciprocal
influence.
(v) Consideration of some of the above difficulties — more of those which have
here remained between the lines than of those I have openly hinted at — has
brought me to an attempt at introducing sign systems as a "third i t e m " in
between the economic base and the superstructures. This acquires perhaps
more sense if we call the former mode of production and the latter ideological
superstructures. It would appear that passing f r o m a dichotomy t o a trichotomy
is of help here. "Civil society" as defined b y Gramsci would be the most proper
place for the study of sign systems, whether verbal or non verbal. This is the
zone of social reality where consensus is produced. It would then also appear
that the semiotic endeavour can acquire a demystifying power. It does not
follow that it should not extend t o other zones.

2.7.3 Ten Theses on Semiotics and Marxism

By moving in the direction indicated by Peirce, Bakhtin and Rossi-


Landi, I believe that a relation of complementarity and mutual support
can be established between semiotics and Marxism, in a theory of
signs based on the following theses which I have already anticipated
in the preceding chapter of this volume and which I am now proposing
as the basis for further discussion:
1 ) For semiosis to exist, we must necessarily have a body, a physical
object which acts as sign material whether it is a natural body
or an artifact.
2) It is only in the historical-social dimension that a body becomes
sign material; in this sense, even so-called natural signs are social.
3) Semiosis presupposes that the sign body is integrated in a system
of sign bodies. An isolated body cannot transmit any meaning: it
refers to a system formed by a number of signs (at least two)
with which it enters into paradigmatic relations each time it
makes an appearance.
4) As a body the sign is material in a physical sense; as a sign it
is material in the sense that it is a historical-social product. It is
through its historical-social materiality that a sign is such; and it is
192 Adventures of the Sign

this materiality that is of interest when a body is considered and


studied as a sign, that is, from a semiotic point of view.
5) Any body whatsoever can become sign material and take on
an indeterminate number of meanings. All sign material can have
several meanings not only in succession (diachrony) but also con-
temporaneously (synchrony); and from this point of view a difference
can be established between "sign" and "signal", for the signal establishes
a one to one relationship between sign material and meaning. We
may therefore consider the signal function as the lowest level of
sign function.
6) The meaning of a sign is the open class of sign materials that
can be signs of each other, that are in a relation of reciprocal inter-
pretation. The concept of meaning and the very question "what does
it mean?" presuppose a request for signs able to interpret the sign
whose meaning is in question. The interprétant sign is never in a
relation of equal exchange with the interpreted sign: they are
connected, rather, by a relation of irreducible alterity.
7) Meaning is to be distinguished from the referent, and the referent
itself is also an essential element of semiosis. Identification of meaning
with the referent is fallacious whether it is realized in the form of
reduction of meaning to the referent, or of the referent to meaning.
Following Morris, we may divide the referent into designatimi, which
is always present in semiosis, and denotatum, which is only present
when the designatum exists in the way the sign considers it to exist.
In accordance with the various situations of semiosis, a certain body
can function as the sign material of a class with a specific meaning
and, therefore, place itself in a relation of reciprocal interpretation
with the other sign materials of the same class; or else it can act as
a referent.
8) Taken dialectically, the sign is not a single signifying element,
it is not an isolated term. Nor is it even a "piece", with a specific
value, in a "sign" system, in a relation of mechanical "opposition"
with the other elements of the system. To say that the sign coincides
with the whole message, with the whole utterance in the case of verbal
signs, is also an oversimplification. In fact, the message lies between
the sender and the receiver, and as such it is only one of the elements
of semiosis. In addition to the sender and the receiver, externally to
the message we also have the interprétant, the referent, the situational
context, evaluational parameters, all that which is given as implied
and understood in the message. All these elements are part of semiosis.
For a Critique of Equal Exchange Semiotics 193

Taken dialectically, the sign is not different from semiosis: it coin-


cides with the whole sign situation. A sign is not fulfilled merely
in its relation to a particular sign system, or interpreter, or to that
which acts as its interprétant, or in the relation between the elements
of its eventual articulations, or in relation to the type of language,
register, genre (literary, daily, folklore,. . .) to which it may belong; nor
is the sign fulfilled solely in relation to extra-sign reality, or in a
"triangular" relationship, as in Ogden and Richards, with "reference"
and "referent", etc. The sign is all these relations', it includes all that
which is expressed as well as all that which is implied and contributes
to its sense.
It is difficult to say where a sign begins and where it finishes once
it is viewed dialectically and is no longer reduced to a single element
or broken down into its various components. The sign is not a thing,
but a process, an interweaving of relations in which social relations
are always included even when we are dealing with natural signs,
as it is only in a social context that it can exist as a sign. A comprehen-
sive, unitary sense of the sign is inseparable from concrete communica-
tive contexts, social interaction, from its connection to a concrete
situation with particular values, ideological orientations, etc.
9) Ideology does not exist outside sign material and like the sign
it has a social character. Just as it is made of signs, the social in its
entirety is also made of ideologies. The ideological and sign systems
do not each represent a separate stratum, a sphere in its own right,
in which social organization is reflected. Signs and ideology actively
intervene together in all forms of social relations, from the "base"
to the "super-structure", and without the ideological sign (Bakhtin)
or sign-ideological material, the whole of social reproduction would
be inconceivable. This also means that the ideological sign does not
passively reflect social inequalities and contradictions but is a con-
stitutive part of social organization in its various forms of inequality
and dominion.
10) The relation between semiotics and Marxism is to be under-
stood in the sense that the study of signs is not secondary with respect
to historical-dialectic materialism, a mere opportunity to enlarge
the field of "application" of the latter. On the contrary, the study
of signs is fundamental to the development of Marxism, part of the
very foundations of a historical-materialist perspective.
194 Adventures of the Sign

2.1 Λ Signs and Contradictions

To say that contradictions exist only in thought and language, but


not in reality, is possible only through a hypostatic interpretation
of each of these three terms which thus emerge as abstractions devoid
of any determining function.
The opposition between "thought" and "reality" loses sight of
the fact that, as the thought of another, thought is just as real and
material (as intended by Lenin, that is, it exists outside the conscious-
ness of a specific ego) as physical objects. The alien word, expression
of alien thought, has its own materiality to which 1 must adjust,
whether I wish to interpret it or modify it.
Furthermore, the thought of a specific ego is not monolithic, always
the same, nor is it the product of itself with its particular contents.
There are differences, contradictions within "thought"; there are
"thoughts" which I did not decide to have, that escape my control,
which I myself do not create autonomously. Certain strata of our
psyche exist outside our consciousness, they have, therefore, a material
consistency and resistance. The unconscious is also made of linguistic-
ideological material, historical and social material. "Psychic contradic-
tions" are neither logico-formal contradictions, nor "interior", "private"
oppositions, that idealistically can be made to disappear by intervening
on the psyche itself, by simply substituting "false ideas" with "true
ideas". Contradictions are material and dialectic with a precise
historical-social specification, whether they are expressed in the
language of the unconscious, in the language of dreams, or in the
language of our vigilant life (see Ponzio 1978).
The juxtaposition of "language" and "reality" in the statement
"contradictions can only exist in language but not in reality", does
not keep account of the fact that language also is reality, it too is
material, objectively existent, a constitutive part of real life, and that
"reality", in its turn, is also made of languages, verbal and nonverbal.
As Marx and Engels knew well (1845-46), social reality presents a
whole series of varying languages that go from the language of the
material relations between men and from the language of commodities
to the language of politics, law, morals, religion, etc. "Contradic-
tions are to be found in language, but not in facts and things": semio-
tics discovers the existence of languages exactly where for centuries
nothing but facts and things were ever seen. From this point of
For a Critique of Equal Exchange Semiotics 195

view, the work of semiotics meets with Marxian criticism of poli-


tical economy. The latter, in fact, concentrates on deciphering the
"language of commodities", on studying commodities as messages,
thus overcoming a fetishistic view of reality in which commodities
are considered as natural data, and in which the relation between
goods appears to mankind in the phantasmagoric form of a relation
between things instead of in the form of a particular social relation
among men (see Rossi-Landi 1968; 1972; 1975a). Marxian analysis
of the capitalistic means of production highlights relations of social
communication where there seemed to be none, where it seemed
that we were dealing with mere things and with pure and simple re-
lations among things: capital, commodities are social relations of
production and speak the language of economical communication
with its "superficial structures" and its "deep structures".
After all, the abstract juxtaposition of "language" and "reality"
was amply criticized by Marx and Engels in Die Deutsche Ideologie,
where they show how the problem that the young Hegelians pose
themselves of passing from the reign of thought to reality, and there-
fore, from language to real life, is a false problem which "only exists
for philosophical consciousness which is itself unable to understand
the nature and origin of its apparent separation from life" {ibid.). If
philosophers have set themselves the task, the "mission" of descending
from the world of thought, from the world of sentences to the real
world, this is because — say Marx and Engels — they persist in the
illusion of the reciprocal independence of these two "spheres".
According to Feuerbach, (1843), for example, "when words stop,
only then does life begin, only then does the secret of existence reveal
itself". Analogously, Stirn er attributed himself the merit of having
found a word — Der Einzige — which, even though a word, has the
power of leading from the reign of language and thought, from the
domain of the "verbam" and of the "sentence", to real life.
Full recognition of semiotic materiality requires the surpassing of
the various forms of reification of the sign, of sign fetishism; and it
is connected to examination of real contradictions, those contradic-
tions, that is, that do not exist in a fictitious and "formal" manner
uniquely in relation to a monologic and therefore abstract conscious-
ness. Semiotic materiality, dialectic and dialogism are notions, there-
fore, that recall each other reciprocally. Dialectic of the sign has
its foundations in dialogue, in the relation of alterity, in the material
resistance of the "other" with respect to the "ego". This implies
196 Adventures of the Sign

that meanings are not given once and for all in the form of static
univocality, while communication is viewed as an open process with-
out the guarantee offered by the possibility of appealing to meanings
which exist autonomously, outside the communication process itself.
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 197

2.8 Symbol, Alterity and Abduction

2.8.1 Symbol and Alterity

One of the fundamental problems of the sign is that of establishing


in what way we might reconcile similarity and difference, stability
and transformation, uniqueness and polysemy, identity and alterity.
The symbolic universe is not stable, uniform and monolithic. It is
made of deviations, differences, deferments and renvois, displacements
and transformations. In other words, we need to explain in what way
alterity is able to infiltrate the very sphere of the symbolic. It is pre-
cisely the semiotics of Peirce that offers a possible solution to the
problem, especially because in his theorizations the symbol, the sign
par excellence, is such because alterity and identity co-exist in it.
In the Peircean conception of the symbol, alterity is constitutive of
the very identity of the sign. By taking Peirce's viewpoint into con-
sideration we are led to the awareness that the problem of the connec-
tion between identity and alterity in the sign is not a problem of
semiotics alone but also concerns the theory of knowledge. It is not,
in fact, incidental that Peircean semiotics is definable as cognitive
semiotics. In Peirce this problem directly concerns logic which as
a theory of argumentation also involves the problem of dialogue.
Abduction belongs to the sphere of the symbolic as intended by
Peirce, that is, it concerns the transuasional: the symbol is a tran-
suasional sign because it signifies through the mediation of another
sign which functions as an interprétant 1 (see 2.92). The symbol is
a sign seen in its dependence on a third element, the interprétant,
as compared to the two-way relation constituted by the sign and
that to which it refers, that is, the object. This triple relation exists
by virtue of a law, a convention, an arbitrary decision. The symbol
itself is a general type of law, that is to say, it is a Legisign and as such
acts through a Replica. Not only the symbol, but also the object to
which it refers is of a general nature (see 2.249).

1. Unless otherwise stated, the numbers in brackets in this chapter refer to


Collected Papers, by Charles S. Peirce.
198 Adventures of the Sign

However, identity of the law, its self-sufficiency and repetitiveness,


is continually threatened. Unlike the semiotics of Saussurean deriva-
tion it is not f o u n d e d on a code, a system of conventionally established
modalities of correlation between elements at the level of expression
and those at the level of content. The symbol refers to the object
in some particular respect or quality through a thought that interprets
it, that is to say, through a sign which functions as an interprétant and
which in turn is a sign related to an object through the mediation of
another interprétant, and so f o r t h ad infinitum.

Anything which determines something else (its interprétant) to refer to an


object to which itself refers (its object) in the same way, the interprétant be-
coming in turn a sign, and so on ad infinitum. [. . .] If the series of successive
interprétants comes to an end, the sign is thereby rendered imperfect, at least
(2.303).

This endless succession of interprétants, this interminable process


of deferment and renvoi is the foundation of the law of the symbol,
that is to say, that which zu Grunde gehet (cf. 2.11.1, this volume).
Peirce makes the overcoming of t h e m y t h of the ontological guarantee
of the code possible by proposing a semiotic conception according
t o which identity of the law of the symbol is continually exposed to
alterity of the interprétant and object. At the same time all the
difficulties that the m y t h of the ontological guarantee of the code
involve concerning the explanation of the communication process
are overcome. A double exclusion associated with this m y t h is also
annulled: that is, the exclusion of the subjectivity of the interprétant
and objectivity. In fact, identity of the law of the symbol is such in
Peirce merely on the basis of creative mediation, of "tri-relative" in-
fluence [5.484] which impedes closure within a dual and fixed relation
in which alterity ultimately merges into identity and the logic of
sameness. This instead would happen if to interpret were to mean
nought else b u t to decodify and if the foundation of the symbol
were t o be given by the code instead of by the interprétant.
Abduction plays a central role in the symbolic and indexical nature
of the sign. This is especially true of that which concerns the innova-
tion and enrichment of the interprétant. And all this is due to the
iconic character of abduction.

An originary Argument, or Abduction, is an argument which presents facts in


its Premiss which present a similarity to the fact stated in the Conclusion, but
which could perfectly well be true without the latter being so, much more
without its being recognized; so that we are not led to assert the Conclusion
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 199

positively but are only inclined toward admitting it as representing a fact of


which the facts of the Premiss constitute an Icon (2.96) (see section 1.1, this
volume).

In denoting an object by virtue of a law, the symbol involves in-


dexicality within its very own universe given that it is determined by
existent instances in that universe:

There must, therefore, be existent instances of what the Symbol denotes,


although we must here understand by "existent," existent in the possibly
imaginary universe to which the Symbol refers. The Symbol will indirectly,
through association or some other law, be affected by those instances; and thus
the Symbol will involve a sort of Index, although an Index of a peculiar kind.
It will not, however, be by any means true that the slight effect upon the Symbol
of those instances accounts for the significant character of the Symbol (2.249,
the italics are my own).

Although it determines the relation of the symbol t o its object


(Dynamical Object), and its content (Immediate Object), the inter-
prétant does not per se permit identification of its instances. In this
case too, identity involves alterity. Such alterity, however, is entirely
internal to one and the same system whether meaning is expressed
in a more analytic form by means of other expressions (endolinguistic
translation as intended by Jakobson) within the same system, or
meaning is translated (interlinguistic translation) into the expressive
elements of another system.
However, not even in these relations of substitution through which
the sign develops its self-identity, is identity at all fixed and definitive.
It is obtained rather at the price of a relative indeterminacy and in-
stability of the sign which must appear alien in order to be this sign
here. The identification of a sign cannot be developed if not by ex-
hibiting another sign and cannot be grasped if not as the reflection in
the mirror of another sign: therefore, it also contains all the defor-
mations that such a play of mirrors involves.
But, as previously mentioned, the interprétant does not come into
play for identification alone. The relation to the interprétant also
makes the surpassing of identification possible so that identification
becomes comprehension of actual sense. The comprehension of con-
textual, actual sense does not merely consist in the recognition of
elements that constantly repeat themselves without change. Here,
too, we have a dialectic unit of self-identity and alterity. The actual
sense of a sign consists in something more than what may be merely
added to elements so that they may be recognized.
200 Adventures of the Sign

Bakhtin (VoloSinov 1929) insisted on the dialectic nature of the


relation between these two aspects of the sign. He labelled them with
the terms "meaning" (all those properties of the sign that are repro-
ducible, stable and subject to the process of identification), and "theme"
(the new aspects of the sign requiring active comprehension, a response,
a viewpoint, and are connected to a specific semiosic situation). The
distinction between "meaning" and "theme" corresponds to the sub-
division of the interprétant, as proposed by Peirce, into the immediate
interprétant and dynamical interprétant. The immediate interprétant
is fixed by use and tradition, it is given by the correct deciphering of
the sign itself, by its recognition, "and is ordinarily called the meaning
of the sign" (4.536). The dynamical interprétant "is the actual effect
which the Sign, as a Sign, really determines" (ibid, the italics are my
own) (see 2.1.2 and 2.11.1, this volume). Considered in relation to both
the dynamical interprétant and dynamical object, that is to say, in
relation to "the Reality which by some means contrives to determine
the Sign to its Representation" (ibid. ), the sign can by no means be
repetetive. Each time it is used we have a new semiotical act. This
implies a continual renewal of the sign so that the corresponding
interprétant is never fixed and established. All this is connected to the
conception of the hypothetical and approximative nature of knowledge
which underlies Peirce's "cognitive semiotics".

2.8.2 Indexicality and Iconicity as Degeneracy of


the Symbol

Let us think a moment about the Peircean conception of the relation


between the symbol, icon, and index which has very often been mis-
understood, (a significant example may be found in the exposition
and relative criticism of Peirce's theories in the volume by Adam
Schaff entitled, Introduction to Semantics). This has come about
because the symbol, icon and index were thought to denote three
clearly distinguished and different types of sign, each with charac-
teristics so specific as to exclude the other two. Now, first of all,
signs which are exclusively symbols, icons or indices do not exist in
the real world. Secondly, and what most interests us here, in the
theory of Peirce the symbol is a mere abstraction. It is never conceived
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 201

as existing as a pure symbol but is always more or less mixed with


iconicity and indexicality, or to say it with Peirce, it is always more
or less degenerate. This implies, therefore, that more than being signs
in their own right, the icon and index represent different levels of
degeneracy of the symbol.
The symbol is not a symbol alone; it almost always assumes some
of the characteristics of either the icon or index. The symbol can
be represented iconically as a body in a state of unstable equilibrium
in which the stabilizing symbolic force is counteracted by the iconic
and indexical forces. But this image establishes a relation of contrast
between symbol, index and icon when, in fact, they are not distinct,
nor are they in a relation of opposition. Otherwise we would have
with respect to the symbol, for example, signs that are purely icons
or indices and not contemporaneously symbols, or symbols with
no trace of iconicity or indexicality. Perhaps the image that best
accounts for the relation of the symbol to the index and icon is that
of a filigreed transparence with uneven traces of iconicity and in-
dexicality as opposed to pure transparence. Indexicality is at the
core of the symbol for the very reason that the symbol depends upon
the interprétant as a result of its relation to the object. This is what
makes a sign a symbol. This means that Transuasion, which charac-
terizes the symbol making it a transuasional sign, is considered in its
obsistent aspect (see 2.92), and that the index is an obsistent sign.
On the other hand, as already seen above, in so far as it is determined
by the instances of what it denotes and being a general type of law,
the symbol entails indexicality.
In the sign considered as a symbol, identity hinges upon alterity
of the sign which is determined by the mediation of the interpré-
tant so that, insofar as it is a symbol, 'a sign is something by knowing
which we know something more' (8.332). But this is true because
the sign is not a symbol alone, or better still, the very fact of its being
a symbol involves iconicity and indexicality for the reason that third-
ness, the mode of existence of the symbol, presupposes firstness and
secondness or originality and obsistence, the ways of being of the
icon and index respectively.
Considered from the point of view of its relation to the object,
the sign is a symbol insofar as it involves the mediation of an inter-
prétant; from the point of view of its relation to the interprétant,
the sign-symbol is an Argument. This is true if the sign-symbol dis-
tinctly represents the interprétant which it determines as its Con-
202 Adventures of the Sign

elusion through a proposition that forms its Premiss, or more generally


its premisses (see 2.95). Depending on the type of sign relation that
comes to be established in the argument between the premiss and con-
clusion, three kinds of arguments are possible: Deduction, Induction
and Abduction. Though differentiated, all three belong to the sphere
of the symbolic and are therefore of a transuasional nature. For this
reason Peirce used the term Transuasional logic to indicate the doctrine
of the general conditions of determination of the interprétant (the
conclusion) through propositions acting as premisses (see 2.93). But
three types of arguments are possible because they do not belong to
the sphere of the symbolic alone. This implies that not only the
category of Transuasion comes into play but also that of Originality
and Obsistence (see 2.84-2.96).
In Peirce, the term Symbol indicates the genuine Sign obtained
by abstracting from the two levels of "degeneracy" of the sign. These
are: the minor level - that of the Index; and the major level - that of
the Icon. In the Symbol or genuine sign, signification is dependent
upon the relation to the interprétant, whereas in the index and icon
the capacity to signify is relatively autonomous with respect to the
relation to the interprétant (see 2.92).
By virtue of the relation between icon, index and symbol, which
is neither of autonomy and indifference nor of opposition, but rather
of reciprocal implication, the sign is at the same time both identical
to itself, and other. The relation of implication has different weightings
according to whether the iconic, symbolic or indexical aspect domi-
nates and this is determined by the type of semiosis in course. (For
criticism in a Peircean perspective of the conception of the sign as
similarity, equation and identification, see Eco 1981a: 642 and 663-
664). All signs are symbols given that they signify through the media-
tion of an interprétant, but it is precisely because they do so that they
are not symbols alone. The overlapping of symbols, indices and icons
is such in the semiotics of Peirce that if the symbol were to be of
a purely symbolic nature, the relation between the premiss and the
conclusion in the argument would paradoxically be indexical and not
symbolic: it would not, in fact, give rise to a transuasive argument
or induction. Among other things, the latter presupposes a hypo-
thesis resulting from a preceding abduction which implies iconicity
(see 2.96). Let us suppose that the relation between the conclusion
and premiss is of a purely analytical type thus remaining wholly within
the symbolic universe, the conventional/arbitrary, the Law; let us
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 203

suppose, that is, that there is a mere relation of identity between the
symbol and interprétant. In such a case the relation between the
conclusion and premiss would be of deduction and as a constrictive
argument it would have the character of indexicality.
From what has been said so far, the reciprocal complicity between
the symbol, icon and index is evident. These three different shades
of the sign are in their turn implicated in the cognitive process. This
means that they are at the same time categories of both logic and
semiotics. This is of importance to that which concerns the character
of the Argument and to the role of the icon in the argument of the
abductive type (cf. also section 2.11.2, this volume).

2.8.3 Logic and Dia-Logic

Between the sign and the interprétant the relation is not of equality,
similarity, reduction of the differences, of ultimate equivalences, or of
substitution of the identical with the identical (see Eco 1981α:663).
On the contrary, there is a relation of reciprocal alterity which implies
that the sign and interprétant are not to be viewed within a monologic
framework: their rapport is dialogic. Such a relation is internal to the
sign since the interprétant is basic to the sign function. Furthermore,
given that the interprétant, as a sign, refers to another interprétant,
and that the sign function is thirdness — a triadic relation between
the sign, interpreting thought and object (which as the immediate
object refers dialectically to the dynamical object), not only are the
dialogic voices internal to the sign, but the dialogue itself is polysémie
and open ; it is not univocally orientated towards a single conclusion.
Given the polyphonic structure of dialogue constitutive of and
internal to the sign, alterity, in Peirce, cannot be conceived as an
accessory, as something external or mechanically opposed to identity,
to subjectivity, or to the interpreting thought. Alterity is essential to
the constitution of subjective identity, it is the internal condition, the
only possible mode of existence of subjectivity. Therefore, the relation
with the other self is by no means different from that with internal
alterity. By the latter we mean the multiple others in dialogue within
the single individual continually experienced by the self and with
which the self dialectically co-exists and increases (or decreases).
204 Adventures of the Sign

Cases of " d o u b l e and multiple personality", says Peirce, " m a k e quite


manifest [. . .] that personality is some kind of coordination or con-
nection of ideas." T h e word coordination implies "a teleological
harmony in ideas, and in the case of personality this teleology is more
than a mere purposive pursuit of a predeterminate end; it is a develop-
mental teleology [. . . ] . A general idea, living and conscious now, it
is already determinative of acts in the f u t u r e to an extent to which
it is n o t n o w conscious" (6.155-156).
Only rarely did Peirce directly examine the so-called "problem of
the o t h e r " , t h a t is, t h e problem concerning b o t h the possibility of
experiencing other selves separate f r o m the self who actually poses
the problem, and the possibility of interpersonal communication.
This is because Peirce continually dealt with this problem implicitly
in his conception of the relation sign/interpretant, and f o u n d a solu-
tion in characterizing this relation as one of alterity. On those rare
occasions when Peirce did directly examine t h e "problem of t h e
o t h e r " , it was t o affirm that there is absolutely n o ontological or meta-
physical bias in favour of thoughts or feelings that the self calls " m i n e " .
Further, he claimed that experience of the other self does n o t present
a more complex problem than that relative t o the fact that specific
interprétants are recognized as " m i n e " ; those through which " I " become
conscious of myself. Such interprétants permit self-consciousness
and are related t o the signs that they interpret by alterity.

The recognition by one person of another's personality takes place by means


to some extent identical with the means by which he is conscious of his own
personality. The idea of the second personality, which is as much as to say that
second personality itself enters within the field of direct consciousness of the
first person, and is as immediately perceived as his ego, though less strongly.
At the same time, the opposition between the two persons is perceived, so that
the externality of the second is recognized (6.160) (cf. section 2.11.2, this
volume).

While t h e interprétant of a sign can in general be actual or potential


the argument aims at determining the interprétant, its conclusion,
in a precise and programmed fashion. In t h e argument, the sign or
more exactly the symbol (and given its degeneracy, the other signs
as well) directly encounters its interprétant. This relation of alterity,
implicit and virtual in the sign in general but in this case explicit and
actualized might lead us t o represent the Argument as divided (a
division between premiss and conclusion) between the t w o partici-
pators of a dialogue.
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 205

Now, in the case of the Obsistent Argument or Deduction, both


speakers are compelled (see 2.96) to acknowledge that the facts
asserted in the premisses by both or only one of the speakers could
not obtain if the fact stated in the conclusion did not exist. On the
other hand, in the Originary Argument or Abduction, and in the
Transuasive Argument or Induction, speakers can only be inclined
towards admitting that the conclusion — which as the rule is drawn
from the case and result (induction), or as the case is drawn from the
rule and result (abduction) (see 2.619-631) — is true, given that the
speakers are in a position to accept the premisses without having to
accept the conclusion also.
This division of the Argument into parts so that each is supported
by a subject, on the one hand, accounts for the difference between a
proposition, a sign for which no-one makes himself responsible, and
an assertion for which someone makes himself responsible for the
truth of a proposition through the judgement which is precisely the
act wherewith one resolves to adhere to a proposition (see Peirce
1902:5-15). On the other hand, the dialogic division between the parts
enables us to take into account the level of dialogic complexity, that
is, of alterity, differentiation, distance and novelty that comes to be
established in the argument between the sign and the interprétant that
it represents. It is not incidental that Peirce should have used the term
Speculative Rhetoric to designate transuasional logic (see 2.93), the
doctrine of the general conditions whereby symbols and other signs
refer to and determine the interprétants. In fact, the term Rhetoric
implies reference to the addressee, the interlocutor and recalls such
terms as to converse, to argument, to convince and to account for.
Furthermore, it represents a "break in the conception of reason and
reasoning that originated from Descartes" (Perelman), and therefore
alludes to the uncertain, probabalistic, and approximative nature of
human knowledge.
Peircean logic is presented as dia-logic. It is closely related to the
conception of sign (with its various shades of degeneracy beginning
with the genuineness of the symbol) as identity/alterity. The sign,
in fact, is actualized by a relation of alterity to the interprétant with-
out which no specific conferral of sense would be possible. The inter-
weaving of iconicity, indexicality and symbolicity involves different
levels of dialogue and alterity of the interprétant (conclusion) with
respect to the initial propositions of the argument (premisses). How-
ever, this is quite independent of the fact that the selves which deter-
206 Adventures of the Sign

mine propositions through judgements transforming them into


assertions, and which argument among themselves, should be external
to each other or part of the same person. We could have a purely formal
dialogic situation with two or more interlocutors between whom,
however, there is no effective relation of alterity, or we could achieve
a substantially dialogic interaction among the selves of one and the
same person.

2.8.4 Orience and Alterity

a) In deduction the relation to the interprétant is of an indexical


type; in induction it is symbolic; in abduction, iconic. In the case
of deduction there is no relation of alterity (or at least it exists at
a minimal level given that there is always a certain amount of dis-
tancing in the deferment and renvoi to the interprétant between the
two parts of the argument, that is to say, between the premisses and
the interpretant-conclusion). Once the premisses have been accepted
the conclusion imposes itself making its acceptance compulsory. We
are dealing with obsistence which characterizes the category of
secondness and is typical of the index.
There is secondness and obsistence each time two terms are re-
lated to each other in such a way that one term cannot be eliminated
without negating the other (2.84). Such terms are connected to each
other by a relation of dependence and reciprocal imposition.
If such were the relation of the self to the other (for reasons already
given it is of no consequence whether this other is intended as being
external or internal to the sphere of the single individual) neither of
the two would have alterity, nor effectively be other given that their
existence would come to depend upon reference one to the other:
'If χ, therefore y'
'If y, therefore x'.
These formulas do not express an effective relation of alterity as it
truly exists between the self and the other. The two terms are between
themselves other because each exists, as Lévinas would say' 5 C '
αύτό, has meaning in its own right, autonomously, manifests itself
independently from the position that is taken towards it as self.
Obsistence, which characterizes the category of binarity, does not
Symbol, A Iterity and A bduction 207

make alterity possible. An effective relation of alterity is not possible


where there is binarity, secondness, and therefore obsistence. Relations
of alterity are not possible in a system of binary oppositions where
an element exists with its distinctive traits only on the condition
that it refers to another element and would be destroyed should this
other element be negated. Alterity goes beyond such a system, it is
not part of the Totality, of the sphere of the identical, of the order
of discourse. If each self is other, this is because it is not reduced to
the meanings, roles, and functions foreseen by a specific code.

Take, for example, a husband and wife. Here there is nothing but a real twoness;
but it constitutes a reaction, in the sense that the husband makes the wife
a wife in fact (not merely in some comparing thought); while the wife makes
the husband a husband (2.84) (see also 2.12.4, this volume).

The category of binarity appears in the case of doubt (duo habeo)


which as such does not imply something: there is no opening therefore
towards alterity. This is especially true when by doubt we intend total
doubt in the Cartesian sense, (see Peirce's criticism of Cartesianism,
5.265). The category of binarity also appears in negation, similarity,
and identity (see ibid). Identity does not mean to exist for the self,
which, on the contrary, characterizes alterity, but presupposes re-
ference to a second term on which it depends. Individual identity
is a "markedly dualistic conception" (2.11.4, this volume).
The two speakers among whom a deductive type of argument is
hypothetically divided are connected by a relation of reciprocal de-
pendence and constraint. Despite each having its own identity they
are not reciprocally other just like husband and wife, where one cannot
exist without the other.
In the deductive argument the premiss determines the conclusion,
that is, the precedent determines the consequent with the same force
of compulsion with which the past imposes itself upon the present.
The conclusion must passively acknowledge the premiss which has
already been formulated like a fait accompli :
[. . .] the Conclusion is drawn to recognize that, quite independently of whether
it be recognized or not, the facts stated in the premisses are such as could not
be if the fact stated in the conclusion were not there; that is to say, the Con-
clusion is drawn in acknowledgement that the facts stated in the Premiss con-
stitute an Index of the fact which it is thus compelled to acknowledge (2.96).

b) In induction, on the other hand, the conclusion is not imposed


by the premiss and is susceptible to modification. The value of the
208 Adventures of the Sign

facts stated in the Premisses depends on their predictive character.


The premisses, therefore, refer to the interprétant (conclusion) on
which their meaning depends as well as to their status as assertions
and not mere propositions. Thus the first part of the argument, com-
pletely orientated as it is towards the second part (the interprétant)
is a predominantly symbolic type of sign.
We do not have here the predetermination of one part of the argu-
ment by virtue of the other as occurs in deduction. They are to a
degree independent of each other in the sense that if the assertion
of the premisses is definitely a function of the conclusion, the facts
stated could exist even if the fact stated in the conclusion did not.
The category of mediation or thirdness with its characteristic element
of Transuasion, dominates (see 2.86).
Given that in induction there is no determination of the consequent
by the precedent, as occurs on the contrary in deduction, it is not
so much memory and the past that has weight in the argument, as
prediction, expectation and orientation towards the future. The premiss
predisposes the interprétant, it feeds the conclusion and is its foil.
There is an adjustment to the future in the sense that the formulation
of the premisses whatever they be, and the very statement of the
facts could not have been, had a third element — prediction — not
been formulated.
Contrary to the deductive argument dominated by the category
of obsistence, the transuasive argument or induction, by virtue of
its opening towards the future, of the importance attached to reference
to the interprétant, and of the lack of a relation of mechanical de-
pendence of the conclusion upon the premisses, offers us the possibility
of broadening our beliefs. Despite this, however, the inductive argu-
ment is merely repetitive and quantitative, given that its sphere of
validity remains that of the fact, that is, of the totality of facts on
whose basis alone can it infer the future.
As in deduction, the inductive process is unilinear and moves in
a precise order of succession from the point of departure to the
point of arrival without interruption, reversal or retroaction as opposed
to abduction which, as we will see, moves backwards from the con-
sequent to the antecedent. Because of the role played by the category
of mediation, we might compare induction to the process of natural
evolution (see 2.86). We might also say that it is similar to a narrative
process which develops the unitary story of an ego or single individual.
Furthermore, relations in both the inductive and deductive arguments
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 209

(similarly to those of egological identity which obviously cannot be


reduced to the tautology self-self), are relations of the subject-object
type. They are, without doubt, relations in which the subject is deter-
mined by the object and is projected towards an end that displaces
it and makes it move onwards. Such a subject, however, does con-
tinually reaffirm its own subjective identity as these determinations
and objectives take their place in the univocous and unilinear process
of its constitution. We are not dealing, therefore, with intersubjective
relations, or with relations of effective alterity (yet again here intended
as being external as much as internal to the same person).
It is the connection of induction to abduction, mediated in scientific
research by the experiment, which allows a qualitative broadening,
enrichment and renewal of knowledge.
c) In abduction the relation between the Premiss and Conclusion
is one of similarity: the facts in the premiss form an icon of those
facts stated in the conclusion. Renvoi to the interprétant is of an
iconic type. Furthermore, whatever is stated in the premisses is in-
dependent of the conclusion in the sense that its validity is independent
of the value of truth of the conclusion (see also section 1.1, this volume).
The category of Originality dominates in abduction, "Originality
is being such as that being is, regardless of aught else" (see 2.89). It
is precisely this capacity of being regardless of anything else that
constitutes alterity. The other is other because of its being Κaâ 'αύτό,
that is, independently of reference to a viewpoint, a function, an
objective, a relation of distinction or opposition, or of insertion into
a unitary story. For this reason, the other is a surplus external to the
totality, to the totality of the Self and Sameness (see Lévinas, cit. )
which in so far as being a unity, a teleological organization, is in the
order of binarity and mediation (cf. 2.10.4, this volume).
Firstness, or Orience, or Originality is "something which is what
it is without reference to anything else within it or without it, re-
gardless of all force and of all reason" (2.85). For this reason it cannot
be incorporated by the totality, but on the contrary stimulates a
breach, a renewal, the reopening and reorganization of a totality
which is never definitively concluded and systematized.
All knowledge, totality, binarity and mediation, all cognition
as adjustment to objects, presuppose orience, that is, alterity. The
latter being the lack of adjustment par excellence, the surpassing
of the objectifying thought, of the subject/object, and means/end
relation.
210 Adventures of the Sign

In its more innovative aspects at the basis of the abductive process,


abduction ventures beyong the limits of a defined totality without
the guarantee of return or reconciliation to the principles that exist
in it. There is a movement towards alterity which more than in terms
of intentionality (the latter belongs to objectivization and the relation
subject/object) or of need, we might express as desire: desire of the
absolute other. The Peircean conception of the interminable deferment
and renvoi of interprétants on which the sign flourishes and through
which the "dynamical object" manifests itself, alludes to this non-
finalized and disinterested movement towards alterity. Peirce, in fact,
established an explicit relation between meaning and desire: if meaning
characterizes a sign, and if meaning belongs to the family of value,
it is connected to desire through the relation between value and de-
sirability (see Peirce 1902: 26ff.).
Given that the process of abduction is present in every moment
of psychic life including sensation, the inherent opening to alterity
is the foundation of all totalizing operations. However this opening
is not satisfied, concluded or exhausted in such operations: it does
not find its own justification in them. Furthermore, the opening
to alterity is relative to the different levels of freedom and creativity
in abductive "orience" (for a typology of abduction, see Bonfantini
and Proni 1980:264-265 and Eco 19810:10-11).
At the higher levels of abductive creativity an effective dialogic
relation is established between the parts of the argument. This is
due to two main factors: the interprétant is relatively independent
of the premiss; and the remainder of the argument contains within
itself relations of alterity with respect to the interprétant (the con-
clusion) which are determined by the level of novelty in the abduc-
tive conclusion.
We make inferences from case through interpretation on the basis
of a rule and a datum or result. The rule, therefore, is not given
antecedently to and outside the processsof interpretation — there
are no pre-established rules that orientate the relation between the
parts of the argument uni-directionally. The conclusion is the inter-
prétant of the statement that describes a certain datum or result, and
from this interpretation springs the law or general principle with
respect to which the interprétant is determined. The thought-sign
(the minor premiss) and the thought-interpretant are connected by
a dialogic relation which is not pre-determined by the pre-dialogic
selection of a law. Retroaction of the interprétant on the premiss
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 211

to the point that interpretation determines the major premiss is


precisely what causes us to define this type of reasoning as retroduction
or abduction.
At the higher levels of creativity and abductive innovation, the
relation of alterity that comes to be established between the parts
of this kind of argument allows us to characterize the dialogic relation
between these parts as:
1) a dialogue of inquiry and constriction, here we have planning, the
determination of a specific field of investigation and orientation
towards the search for a conclusion; or as
2) a dialogue of inquiry and questioning in which though the in-
tention of investigation remains, the explorative sense of adventure
is pushed to an extreme. In this case, similarly to philosophic-convivial
conversation (see Bonfantini & Ponzio, 1982), icons, images, models
and metaphors do not have a purely functional value in the search
for truth.
By virtue of its dialogic opening, abductive reasoning can push the
sense of exploration to the point of making the relation between
the parts of the argument independent of immediately productive,
transformative and practical objectives so as to favour the moment
of contemplation, projectual imagination, and understanding (see
Bonfantini "Dalla produzione all' interpretazione del senso", Bonfantini
1981:30-31).

2.8.5 From Equivalence to Displacement:


Icons and Alterity

We have abductions of the following kind: "Tom is a person of male


sex who has never been married" = "Tom is a bachelor": in fact,
"bachelor" = "a person of male sex who has never been married";
as we can see, this kind of abduction does not involve an effective
development in thought with respect to what is stated in the Premiss.
We could describe them as low abductions: they are characterized
by the actualization of exchange and equivalence between the premiss
and interpretant-conclusion.
We also have, however, what we could call high abductions in which
there is no equivalence between the interprétant and the datum or
212 Adventures of the Sign

result to which it is connected: in such cases the interprétant says


something more with respect to the datum or result, it gives more
than what the datum offers. Thus, the interprétant runs risks, and
sometimes evaluates the datum in the light of a general principle
invented ex novo. A principle, that is, to which the datum is not auto-
matically connected. The interprétant risks an investment without ex-
change, a dépense (as intended by Bataille), it places itself in a position
which is not at all economical in the sense that there is an investment
with no return, that is, without a counterpart. This happens, for
example, in scientific reasoning each time abductions that revolutionize
conceptions relative to a specific field of knowledge are produced.
Together with Peirce, we might call the relation that comes to be
established between the sign and the interprétant in such abductions,
an agapastic relation (6.302). The premiss is connected to the con-
clusion by a movement of affinity or attraction stronger and more
passionate than any calculation of convenience, fair exchange, corres-
pondence and equivalence. Platonically we could say that, in this case,
knowledge is animated by Eros which sets aside all prudence and
convenience thus risking exposure even when uncertain of finding
support. This does not mean that the relation between sign and inter-
prétant is haphazard. The deferment and renvoi between sign and in-
terprétant is neither a question of chance (tychism) nor of mechanical
necessity (anancism): we are dealing, rather, with a movement of
evolutionary development through creative love (agapism). We also
need to add, however, that just as there is no reciprocal exclusion
between the symbol, icon and index, an agapastic evolutionary process
excludes neither chance (tychasm) nor necessity (anancasm). The
latter are degenerate forms of agapasm just as the icon and index
are degenerate forms of the symbol. Tychasm and anancasm are there-
fore to be considered as two degenerate expressions of the very
agapastic relation (6.303).
The relation between the sign and interprétant in high abductions
contradicts the unconditional validity of the model of economic
exchange and its extension to all human activity. This also implies
moving away from Saussurean semiotics or better still, from a parti-
cular way of interpreting it in which both the relation between
signifiant and signifié and that among signs in the system of the langue
(linguistic value) are led back to the model of economic exchange.
It is not incidental that Saussure, in developing his linguistic theory,
should refer to the marginalistic economy of Walras and Pareto (see
Symbol, Alterity and Abduction 213

Ponzio, 1981, pp. 95f.).


As far back as 1893, Peirce argued that
The nineteenth century is now fast sinking into the grave, and we all begin to
review its doings and to think what character it is destined to bear as compared
with other centuries in the minds of future historians. It will be called, I guess,
the Economical Century; for political economy has more direct relations with
all the branches of its activity than has any other science. [...]. But the study
of doctrines, themselves true, will often temporarily encourage generalizations
extremely false, as the study of physics has encouraged necessitarianism (6.290).

In the renvoi and deferment between the sign and the interprétant
which forms the thought process, we have, in abduction, signs that
though related do not follow on mechanically one from the other,
nor do they correlate perfectly: what we do have is a surplus which
stimulates the qualitative amplification, modification and revision
of the totality with which at a certain point thought identifies. The
iconicity of abduction consists in establishing a relation between
that which originally and naturally is not related: imaginative re-
presentation attempts an approach to that which is given as other
in order to lead it back to a relation of similarity.
Similarity is rightly listed by Peirce together with all that we
associate with the category of obsistence; in fact, originality or firstness
is surpassed by secondness or obsistence when whatever exists au-
tonomously is related to something else. To have an understanding
of alterity in a certain sense means to exceed it. The innovating,
creative, displacing capacity of abduction is not to be found there-
fore, so much in its exhibiting an image which draws that which seems
to evade all constraints nearer, as in its directing itself towards the
autonomously other. In the abductive process we run the risk of
surpassing the datum, thus developing an interprétant that has its
own alterity and autonomy in so far as it is not motivated, justified
or compensated by the object-datum it specifically refers to. Such
self-sufficiency of the abductive interprétant, that is, its iconicity
and originality presents a challenge, a provocation with regards to
the concept of identity and totality. It thus questions even that which
seemed settled and definitive, and exhibits an image which can neither
be incorporated nor accounted for whether through immediate
reference to the fact or datum, or on the basis of a system of pre-
established laws. With a logic that goes beyond the logic of exchange
and equilibrium, it is possible for an argument to actualize firstness,
originality, or alterity in the very core of the symbolic, of the law,
214 Adventures of the Sign

of the transuasional. Although the argument has traces of symbolicity


and indexicality, it also has the characteristics of iconic invention
whose value "consists in its exhibitioning the features of a state of
things regarded as if it were purely imaginary" (4.448).
As we can see, the Peircean conception of Sign allows a revision
of the traditional concept of the image. In all western thought from
Plato to our own times, the image has always been conceived as a
means of reduction to sameness. It is in the image that the subject
finds and recognizes himself: the image is nought else but the reflection
of he who produces it. In this sense, the myth of Narcissus is parti-
cularly significant. In the function that Peirce assigns to the image,
and that is, to the iconic dimension of the symbol, we find instead
a new conception: rather than being confirmation and repetition,
a moment of encounter and recognition, the image is déplacement,
an opening towards alterity, the beginning of a voyage in which the
return chez soi is not guaranteed.
Dialogue and Alterity in Bakhtin 215

2.9 Dialogue and Alterity in Bakhtin

2.9.1 One's Own Word and the Word of Others

The question of the relation of the individual word to the word of


others plays a central role in the whole of Bakhtin's works, including
those which appeared under the name of his disciples Volosinov and
Medvedev (see Volosinov 1927; 1929; Medvedev 1928; see also
Volosinov 1978 [papers 1926-30]). It is on the basis of this relation
that the word may be characterized and classified according to a
particular discourse genre. The specific characteristics of a literary
genre, its internal variations, the characterization of a given work
in relation to the genre, the relationship between author, character,
receiver, all these things are determined and may be understood in the
light of the relation of the word to the word of others. It is precisely
the study of this relation that makes the extension of the limits of
linguistics necessary — the latter considers language in its general
aspect as that which makes the dialogic relation possible and con-
sequently it fails to take the dialogic relation itself into consideration
— thus fostering the constitution of that approach to the concrete
life of the word that Bakhtin labelled metalinguistics.
The word is endowed with a double directionality : it is both directed
to the object of discourse as well as to the alien word, that is, to the
discourse of others: it is always the rejoinder in an explicit or implicit
dialogue. Every text whether written or oral is connected dialogically
to other texts to which it alludes, replies, objects, or to which it looks
for support taking them up again, examining them closely, and imitat-
ing them; each text is calculated in relation to utterances which have
not yet been formulated but which could be produced in reaction
to the text which thus anticipates possible replies and objections. The
entire form of the utterance is determined by its relation to the word
of others: the choice of words, their syntactic organization, and their
ideological orientation all vary according to how such a relation
orientates itself.
Before being one's own word, originally the word belongs to others,
it is never neutral or ideologically empty but on the contrary, from
time immemorial, it bears its own orientation of evaluation, its own
216 Adventures of the Sign

direction, and ideology. As a result, the word is characterized by its


"heteroglossia", its "ideological pluridirectionality", present in varying
degrees, even in what would seem to be monological discourse. The
verbal sign distinguishes itself because of its adaptability to ever new
and different situational contexts, because of its multiplicity of
meanings, semantic indeterminacy, and ideological pliancy. The word
participates in communicative processes that take place in continually
different social conditions, hierarchical relations, linguistic registers,
and according to the different ideologies, individual perspectives
and points of view of the various cultural environments, groups and
classes. We are able to understand and make ourselves understood
precisely because words are not given once and for all outside com-
munication, they are not the actualization of concepts and rules that
exist independently of concrete communicative contexts, but rather
they acquire their full meaning within the communication process
itself, they provide us with instruments and materials that are pliable
and subject to a continuous process of elaboration and modification
by the linguistic community which, in its own turn, is by no means
fixed, identical to itself, and homogeneous. The verbal, and the sign
in general — I am here referring to the distinction that VoloSinov
made in 1929 between "sign" and "signal" —, is the field of indeter-
minacy, ambivalency, deviation, creativity; it is the field where every-
thing is decided on a social basis, where everything is determined by
circumstance, social relations and practices which are all gradually
specified as they occur.
"Unitary language", says Bakhtin in "Discourse in the novel" (1934-
35; see Bakhtin 1975; see also 1963), rather than being given once
and for all, remains as an objective to be reached. The centripetal,
unifying forces of linguistic life which work towards "unitary language",
act in a pluridiscoursive reality. In every given moment of its develop-
ment, language is stratified into linguistic dialects as well as into varying
ideological-social languages. So long as a language is alive and develops,
centrifugal forces act alongside centripetal forces so that processes
of decentralization and disgregation take place continually. When
he speaks of unification and disgregation, Bakhtin does not refer to
processes of a simply abstract verbal nature, but rather what he has
in mind is ideological-verbal reality in its concrete indissolubility. In
speaking of the unitary language:

What we have in mind here is not an abstract language, in the sense of a system
of elementary forms (linguistic symbols) guaranteeing a minimum level of
Dialogue and A Iterity in Bakh tin 217

comprehension in practical communication. We are taking language not as


a system of abstract grammatical categories, but rather language conceived as
ideologically saturated, language as a worldview, even as a concrete opinion,
insuring a maximum of mutual understanding in all spheres of ideological life.
Thus a unitary language gives expression to forces working toward concrete
verbal and ideological unification and centralization, which develop in vital
connection with the processes of socio-political and cultural centralization
(Bakhtin 1975).

Contrary to N.Ja. Marr's naive conception of language as the product


and instrument of a single class, language is pluridiscoursive and
polylogic in all the historical moments of its ideological-verbal life,
"it is the coexistence of ideological-social contradictions between the
present and the past, between the various epochs of the past, between
the different ideological-social groups of the present etc. . ." (Bakhtin
1975). The different languages, those belonging to different classes,
generations and genres etc . . are not closed and self sufficient: they
reveal dialogic relations, relations of reciprocal influence and of con-
tradiction not only between different languages but also within one
and the same language. And it is precisely these dialogic correlations
— sustained by the concrete interests of praticai communication and
which vary in strength according to the social relations of produc-
tion and exchange — that, interacting with the centrifugal forces of
language, support the tension towards maximum ideological-social
unification. Contrary to what Stalin maintained in an article in the
Pravda (1950) against Marrism, we do not have, on the one hand,
a neutral language, common to all, indifferent to the diverse social
interests and devoid of ideological orientation, and on the other,
the concrete use of language with a different ideological orientation
each time it is used :

Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private
property of the speaker's intentions; it is populated, overpopulated with the
intention of others. To expropriate it, forcing it to submit to one's own in-
tentions and accents, is a difficult and complicated process (Bakhtin 1975).

The word does not exist as something neutral and impersonal


until someone decides to take possession of it; we find it where
we meet it for the first time, that is, "on the lips of others, in the
context of the discourse of others, at the service of the intentions
of others" (ibid.). On taking possession of it, the word is never
empty or waiting to be filled with ideological contents; but rather it
is "already inhabited" so that appropriation takes place through the
218 Adventures of the Sign

encounter, whether this be of adherence or of opposition, with the


ideological contents already present in it. But the word does in fact
always remain "semi-other" (a word which in part continues to belong
to another). The process of appropriation — which in the concrete
communicative context is n o t purely grammatical (phonological,
syntactic, semantic) in the sense of Chomskyian "competence" —
is never complete, nor always possible: intentions foreign to the speaker
remain in the word, intentions, that is, which he does not always
succeed in dominating, which do not always coincide with his own
intentions: "words sound foreign on the lips of the speaker . . .; it
is as though they place themselves in quotation marks, on their own,
against the will of the speaker" (ibid.).
According to Bakhtin, that language should be considered by
philosophy of language, linguistics and stylistics as a unified grammatical
system of normative forms, abstracted from the concrete ideological
interpretations which fill living language ("abstract objectivism",
analysed by Volosinov, 1929), can be explained in the light of the
forces of linguistic-ideological centralization. The category of unitary
language is "the theoretic expression" of such concrete historical
processes and is functional to the centralization and unification of
European languages.
Philology "with the study and teaching of dead languages and,
therefore, in fact, unified languages, as all that which is dead" (Bakhtin
1975) on the one hand, and the tendency of European languages
towards unification under the impulse of particular historical events
on the other, have orientated Western linguistic theories towards
unity to the detriment of multiplicity, towards the univocal and stable
aspects of the word, thus ignoring the multiplicity and mutability
of meaning constitutive of the very word.

2.9.2 "Manipulation" of the Word of Others:


Reported Discourse

Reported speech, quoted discourse in its various forms, is not merely


a specific type of discourse. Rather, it is continually present in the
sense that all speech is reported speech and draws on the discourse
of others.
Dialogue and A Iterity in Bakhtin 219

As we have already stated, when we speak, it is always through


the words of others. This is true whether in the form of simple imita-
tion, quotation, or literal translation, or in the form of transposition,
with different levels of distancing from another's discourse, such as
in the "word" of comment, critique, refusal, etc. Linguistic appropria-
tion is a process that ranges from mere repetition of the word of
another to its re-elaboration, where this re-elaboration is such as to
make the same word resound differently thus conferring on it a new
orientation and permitting it to express different points of view.
Despite this, however, the word always remains in part the word
of another, private property is never exclusive or total.
The words we use are obviously not taken from the dictionary:
they are taken from the discourse of others not in the form of the
isolated word, but as the constitutive pieces of complete utterances,
of texts; nor are they taken as neutral words devoid of evaluations,
but rather as words previously used with a specific ideological orienta-
tion, that is, as expressing a particular design; conceived in this way,
words are the expression of a special connection to praxis.
Furthermore, words are not taken from language in the abstract
sense, but from specific modes of discourse, linguistic registers, and
discourse genres: everyday speech, literary genres, scientific genres
etc. We may express all this by speaking of the manipulation of the
word of others. In this context, "manipulation" bears no negative
implication whatsoever, nor does it refer to anything that could or
must be dispensed with: all discourse is the manipulation of the dis-
course of others which it necessarily presupposes and resorts to as
its only source of materials. Discourse is not conceivable if not on
the basis of pre-existing signifying practices. To speak, both in the
written form and the spoken, is to use pieces obtained by dismantling
the discourse of others. These pieces are not merely those we refer
to when speaking of the double articulation of language (that is,
phonemes and monemes), they are not those that belong to an
abstract system, but rather they are taken from concrete discourse
connected to a specific situational and linguistic context. They are
materials that have already been manipulated so that at the semantic
level they are not merely semantemes but ideologemes, that is, not
only do they have a general meaning, but also a precise ideological
sense. Using a metaphor employed by Lévi-Strauss in his analysis of
myth and of so-called "savage thought", we could say that all discourse
is necessarily a sort of bricolage.
220 Adventures of the Sign

There are two orientations in language each time we produce dis-


course: one of a thematic or referential order, and the other of a
formal, grammatical, stylistic order. Both presuppose orientation
towards the word of another, the determination and choice of a theme,
and the individuation of a referent, both are part of the communicative
context and pre-existent orientation of discourse. However, the formal
orientation is especially indicative of intentionality towards the
utterance of another which — for that which concerns the form — may
be taken up in its wholeness or remanipulated in a more or less original
manner. The utterance that denotes, nominates, represents, communi-
cates, that is, expresses its object, does all this through the mediation
of other utterances which have previously been expressed and are
ready to be used as models, tradition, and which generate specific
discourse genres, linguistic fields, etc. All ideological innovations,
all innovations concerning the discourse genre, linguistic registers,
etc., necessarily presuppose assimilation of a tradition, signifying
practices and models that belong to others. Thus every word con-
cretely expressed, that is, every utterance, while saying its own object
also says, directly or indirectly, its own position in relation to the
word of others. And the latter is not experienced as inert matter but
rather as the live word that reacts when manipulated; it is something
to be dealt with through the prediction and prevention of the possi-
bility of retro-action, resistence, rejection, and cancellation of the new
senses towards which it is orientated and for which it is manipulated.
The relation to the word of another is never a relation between
two: the manipulation of the word of another is possible thanks to
the complicity of a third party, the addressee. Each time I speak I
relate to at least another two people: he whose word I take possession
of and he to whom I address myself. Thus the minimal relation is
triangular. This triangle has one vertex in the point of view of the
addressee, while the other two lie respectively in that of the speaker
and in the point of view conferred by others upon the word which
the speaker now takes up and uses again. Orientation towards the
word of others may aim at expressing a certain theme; but it could
also aim at representing a certain form or style. Here, the object of the
word is the word itself: we are dealing, that is, with stylization in which
we do not have identification between the speaker or the author
and the discourse of others which, as a result, becomes conventional.
Depending on whether the distance between the author and model
is wholly eliminated, augmented or decreased, we have, respectively,
Dialogue and A Iterity in Bakh tin 221

cases of imitation, stylization or of semi-stylization. If the duplicity


of tone, intention, and point of view are not present in the form of
clash and contrast, we are in the field of stylization and of the con-
ventional word. If, on the other hand, we are dealing with a case of
contrast, we have a different type of word, the parodie word and thus
discourse genres of the parodie type. Similarly to the case of styliza-
tion, the author speaks with the word of others from which he dis-
tances himself, but differently from what occurs in stylization, the
author introduces an intention which is directly opposed to the in-
tention already present in this word. Orientation towards the discourse
of others may also take on the character of dialogue within one and
the same utterance, the character of polemics within one and the
same discourse which thus becomes double-voiced discourse (see
Bakhtin 1963).
The dialectic relationship between one's own word and alien dis-
course is particularly evident when the former has the role of reporting
the latter in the forms of direct, indirect, free indirect discourse and
their variations (anticipated, disseminated, concealed and substituted
direct discourse). As is clearly demonstrated by VoloSinov (1929), in
this case we have two discourses which are both orientated towards the
alien word, as every discourse is, but one is inside the other, is the
theme of the other: the context of discourse is provided by another
discourse, that is, reporting speech.
It is precisely through examination of the patterns of reported
speech that we are able to see how the modality of representation
of alien discourse is not the product of abstractly subjective choices,
but depends rather on the instruments that a specific language con-
cretely offers us. This dependence concerns especially the syntactic
rules of language in which a specific history of communicative pro-
cesses has sedimented. The modality of representation of the discourse
of others reveals the possibilities that a language offers of distancing
between one's own word and that of others, and of awareness of the
semi-other character of both one's own word as well as of the re-
ported word.
These possibilities are in their turn relative to specific socio-historical
conditions, to the force of dominating ideologies, and to whether
a unidimensional culture prevails or is dissolved to the advantage
of a polysémie vision of reality; they are relative to the capacity of
resistance of a specific social system in the face of social contradic-
tions and, therefore, of the alternative points of view which have
222 Adventures of the Sign

found verbal expression. Certain social conditions lead to the pre-


valence of specific modes of orientation towards alien discourse which
we may call "grammatical": they become, that is, the syntactic models
of a given language and as such determine the reception and representa-
tion of alien discourse by the speakers of that language.
The force of these crystallized forms, the influence exercised by
these models on the behaviour of the speaker also depends on factors
of a socio-historical nature. Any change that may come about in social
conditions reflects upon such models and changes them or at least
weakens their function of control and restraint, widening, in this way,
the range of variations relative to a specific model.
A language can influence the dynamics between reported speech
and reporting speech by facilitating, for example, the representation
of the word of another so as to make this word clearly distinguish
itself from the reporting word and thus characterizing it stylistically,
socially, or by facilitating the representation of alien discourse so as
to make the content rather than the individual characteristics of dis-
course emerge. The syntactic rules of language may also influence
reporting discourse either favouring its realization as the objectivating
single-voiced word, or its "relativization" and development into a
"double-voiced word" (Bakhtin 1963): rather than being a mere
instrument of representation, an external and absolute point of view,
the word rings with the voice of others. Relativization of the word
of another and/or of the reporting word itself implies the availability,
at the linguistic level, of syntactic forms that are able to nuance the
contours between authorial context and the context of the reported
word, or that even eliminate the distinction between the represented
and the representing word.
On indication given by Volosinov, who in 1929 studied reported
speech and explicitly spoke of the "manipulation of the word of
another", we can single out two fundamental ways in which the models
and variations of quoted discourse orientate the relationship between
one's own word and the word of another. The first renders the two
discourses (for example, that of the author and of the character in
a narrative text) self-sufficient, absolute, and does not characterize
them with relations of reciprocal interdependence. In this case, the
stylistically realized linguistic models prove to be deaf to the multi-
orientated character of the word, to its fundamental nature of double-
voicedness in the social reception of alien discourse. We are here dealing
with the monologic manipulation of the reported word complemented
Dialogue and A Iterity in Bakh tin 22 3

by the monologic orientation of the reporting word. The second


presents the reporting and the reported word in such a way as to
annul any precise contour between the two: the intentionality of
one speaker penetrates into the intentionality of the other and vice-
versa. In this case the author's discourse does not represent an ab-
solute and external point of view: in the narrative text it appears as
the discourse of a narrator as distinct from the author, and is at a par
with the discourse of the various characters, it is not orientated towards
its own end but places itself rather in a relation of reciprocal influence
and of interdependence between the different points of view and
intonations. The representation of alien discourse thus orientates itself
towards polylogic forms.
Even though it is very difficult to establish a clear line of demarca-
tion between grammar and style, the difference between models and
their variants can be made to consist in the difference between
grammar and stylistics: certain grammatical forms undergo stylization,
and certain stylistic forms become grammatical.
Despite the considerable differences between languages for that
which concerns the "syntactic indicators" of reported speech, it can
generally be said that the syntactic models are formed by direct,
indirect and semi-direct or free indirect discourse (Bally); while their
variants are, for example, "disseminated direct discourse", charac-
terized by the presence of the discourse of others with or without
inverted commas within the context of authorial discourse, also
"rhetorical direct discourse" ("But who is now arriving in the heart
of the night?"), "substituted direct discourse" (the farewell to the
mountains of Manzoni's Lucia), etc. (see Volosinov 1929).
How do we characterize indirect, direct and free indirect discourse
independently of any syntactic differences? This is a particularly im-
portant question in view of the fact that we cannot always characterize
indirect speech in relation to direct speech on the basis of syntactic
rules: in Russian, for example, there is no consecutio temporum in
indirect discourse.
We could identify the peculiarity of indirect discourse in its tendency
towards analysis, in its analytic transmission of reported speech. Not
only does the conversion of direct speech into indirect speech simply
require "literal translation", a syntactic transposition, but also a
stylistic re-adaptation. The emotional-sentimental characteristics of
discourse, for example, cannot pass intact into indirect discourse:
they are expressed thanks to a process of re-elaboration of either the
224 Adventures of the Sign

reporting or reported word; think of such expressions as "Agreed!",


"Well done!", "No joking!", "What a shame!". Indirect speech ex-
periences the message of others differently to direct speech because
it comments and analyses it. Depending on the orientation of such
analysis, we may distinguish between two variations of indirect dis-
course: that which analyses the content of the alien word and that
which analyses the form, style and direction of evaluation.
Free indirect discourse is also a particular mode of perceiving and
representing the relation between one's own word and the word of
another. As Volosinov himself showed in 1929, we are not dealing
in this case with unification between the indirect speech form and
direct speech, but rather with the fusion of one's own word, the
authorial word, with that of others, the character's word. Free indirect
speech is not simply a syntactic model; it also expresses a specific
form in the consciousness of linguistic exchange, a specific ideological
orientation. "The sign of an ideology" (as Pasolini says in 1972:88),
generally "implies a sociological consciousness, whether clear or not, in
the author": such consciousness is the sign of specific socio-ideological
conditions and makes possible a comparison between different linguistic
varieties, styles and ideologies, it relativizes points of view and desecrates
the monologic word. What Pasolini had to say about the presence of
free indirect discourse in Dante and Ariosto is particularly significant
in the light of the role that Bakhtin himself assigned to this form of
discourse in the dialectics between monologism and polylogism.
In the signifying practices that Bakhtin contrasted to monologism
and that we may define as "polylogical", the word becomes a "double-
voiced word", it assumes a double directionality which tends towards
the object of discourse as well as towards the actual word of others.
We are no longer dealing here with the uniquely objectivating word
nor with the univocal objectivated word, but with the kind of word
that keeps the alien word in mind. Dialogic relations are not merely
present between utterances, on the contrary, they penetrate into the
very utterance itself, into the single term.
It is not only in language and the patterns it offers us for reporting
alien discourse that we aie able to discover particular modes of recep-
tion and manipulation of this alien word. Literary genres also relate
to the word of others in different ways and are renewed according
to modifications in the way the words of others are perceived. It is
precisely on the basis of such considerations that Bakhtin distinguished
between "serious literary genres" and "parodie literary genres", epos
Dialogue and Alterity in Bakhtin 225

and novel, the "monologic novel" and the "polyphonic novel". When
the novel as a genre dominates in literature, the relativism characteristic
of the word of the novel infiltrates the other genres as well (see Bakhtin
1975): the other literary genres are "novelized", in other words,
they assume the character of stylization, the technique of the word
held at a distance and put between inverted commas, in certain cases
they also present the phenomena of parodistic stylization.

2.9.3 Verbal and Nonverbal Signs: Carnivalization

According to Bakhtin, there is a very strong tendency towards mono-


logism, the direct word, the objectivated and univocal word in all
the major classical literary genres - in epos, tragedy, high rhetoric,
lyric poetry, and in a certain kind of novel which we could define
as monological and which has its origins in epic poetry and rhetoric.
Such genres develop in situations of relative monolingualism in which
language is experienced as being isolated and closed, as a self-sufficient
totality that coincides fully with ones own consciousness completely
filling the spaces of one's own world. Although monolingualism never
totally excludes plurilingualism given that it develops out of the con-
flict between the different languages and dialects which are structurally
connected to ideological and social conflicts, in these "serious" genres
monolingualism prevails in the author's relation with language so
that both internal and external plurilingualism are excluded from his
creative consciousness. There are cases in which, despite a certain
plurilinguistic reality, there is no polylogic linguistic consciousness.
This happens when static forms of coexistence are present between
the different languages, linguistic registers and dialects. For a polylogic
consciousness to develop, on the other hand, the different languages
and linguistic varieties need to be experienced as contradictory, they
need to be confronted dialogically. For two voices to encounter each
other dialogically within one and the same utterance, it will not suffice
to merely represent the different styles, linguistic varieties, and social
dialects; each of these styles, dialects, etc. must be experienced as
a way of perceiving the world, as the expression of different ideological
points of view. According to Bakhtin, it is at the ideological and not
226 Adventures of the Sign

immediately linguistic level that the monological or non monological


character of the word is decided.
The formation of monodie literary genres is accompanied by the
development of parodie genres which are the expression of an under-
lying state of plurilingualism. It is difficult to find a serious genre
that does not have a comico-ironic contre-partie. An example is the
so-called fourth drama or satyr play, a parodie counter-elaboration
of the theme treated in the tragic trilogy. Bakhtin dedicated particular
attention to the numerous genres that made their appearance and
developed at the beginning of the Classic and Hellenistic age and which
the ancients grouped together under the name of σπουδογέλαΐομ, that
is, they are of the serio-comic type as opposed to the serious genres.
In antiquity, the dialogic character of language found its major
expression in two specific genres: the Socratic dialogue and Menippean
satyr. According to Bakhtin, it is especially to these two genres of
the field of the serio-comical that we must go back if we intend to
reconstruct the "prehistory of novelistic discourse" (this is the title
of an essay by Bakhtin 1975), and trace the origins of both the modern
polyphonic novel (Dostoevsky) as well as of its antecedents (Rabelais,
Cervantes, Swift, Balzac, etc.). The various types of serio-comical
genres are closely related to popular comicality and carnival folklore.
Their origins are to be found in the irony of ritual laughter, they
show traces of the atmosphere of the "gay relativity" of the carnival
worldview.
Bakhtin maintained that the original elements of a genre only remain
thanks to a process of constant renewal: the genre is the depository
of literary memory, a specific system relative to a specific signifying
practice, a model of the world, an ideological model, "it is always
this and other, it is always new and old simultaneously. The genre
is reborn and renews itself at every new stage in the development
of literature in every individual work of that given genre" (1963).
The carnival worldview, present in the memory of the novelistic genre,
conditions the particular way in which the novel relives in Dostoevsky
and confers that potential which Dostoevsky — the meeting point of the
genre memory with the socio-historical conditions of his epoch —
develops in a new and original artistic vision and presentation of the
world, thus giving rise to the "polyphonic novel".
Bakhtin called the process of transposition of the language of
carnival, with its specific worldview and categories, into the language of
literature, the "carnivalization" of literature; its overturning in an upside
Dialogue and Alterity in Bakhtin 227

down topsy turvy world with the abolition of the hierarchical order,
the jumble of values, thoughts, phenomena and things (sacred and
profane, sublime and infamous), and profanation (carnival sacrileges,
parody of sacred texts, parody of the mysteries and so forth).
Comic popular culture is analysed in detail in Tvorcestvo Fransua
Rabie (Bakhtin 1965). Here Rabelais' system of images becomes
the place of assembly and unification of the contents and forms of the
comic rites and spectacles diffused throughout all countries of Medieval
and Renaissance Europe, especially the Romance countries. Here,
too, we encounter the alien word with its specific ideology, both
different and opposed to "official" culture. In Rabelais, Bakhtin
continued his analysis of the relations between official and unofficial
ideology begun in Freudianism (see Volosinov 1927) where the
Freudian unconscious is interpreted in terms of "unofficial language
and ideology". The comic and the serious are closely connected in the
primitive phase of civilization: alongside the serious cults we have
the comic cults (ritual laughter) and both enter into official culture.
With the formation of the state and its social classes, however, this
kind of coexistence, where equal rights are conferred to the two
aspects, becomes impossible. As a consequence, all comic forms — some
before and some after — are relegated to the domain of the unofficial.
Bakhtin examined the dialectic between the ideology of comic
popular culture and of semi-official culture and identified a certain
fusion of this double worldview in particular moments of humanistic
and Renaissance literature. As the feudal and theocratic regime was
gradually extinguished, we witness the infiltration of non-official
culture into official literature at different moments in the various
European countries: after having flourished in popular culture in
the Middle Ages, carnevalesque laughter erupted into "high" literature
through Boccaccio, Erasmus (Eulogy of madness), Rabelais, Cervantes,
and Shakespeare. The use of vulgar languages through which the
ideology of everyday, popular life passed into literature contributed
to the temporary fusion and amalgamation of official and non-official
culture. Such fusion sparked off a double process in humanistic and
Renaissance literature: comic popular culture enriched and invigorated
official literature and, at the same time, the transition from the extra-
official to the official caused comic popular culture, characterized by
its radical, dialectic and material nature, to pass from a stage of
spontaneous existence to a stage of awareness. And so it became the
expression of the new, free, critical and historical consciousness of the
Renaissance (see Bakhtin 1965).
228 Adventures of the Sign

Novelistic discourse (and particularly the carnevalesque variation


of the novel that reaches as far as Dotoevsky), originates in folkloristic
and low literary genres, in the parodie genres, in popular comicality
and carnevalesque laughter. In the novel, the alien word, the language,
style and manner of speaking of others is the main object of representa-
tion. In From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse (see Bakhtin
1975), Bakhtin maintains that novelistic discourse has had a long
pre-history in those multiple forms of representation (in which the
word of others is disguised and parodied) which characterize the
initial phases of literary culture.
The polyphonic novel, with its plurality of voices and worldviews
which proliferate separately and independently of the word of the
author, is characterized by the role that the word of others plays
in it. In contrast to the homophonic novel, the heroes are not merely
the object of the word of the author, they are also the subject of
their own word, their consciousness is given as another and alien
consciousness. Such consciousness is not defined once and for all
and resists identification with a single point of view, that of the author,
in which all the various points of view, discourses, ideas and ideologies
represented are reunited. Dialogic differences in the polyphonic novel
cannot be recomposed, says Bakhtin. In his view, dialogism and polylo-
gism do not coincide at all with subjectivistic relativism: he does not
put different points of view and different ideologies on the same
level; each has different values from the other. According to Bakhtin,
artistic representation is part of a creative process of continual refine-
ment in which the varying literary genres, with their different ways
of interpreting reality artistically, do not appear as equal models of
the same value: the novel, for example, surpasses epic representation
just as the polyphonic novel, in its turn, develops the expressive po-
tential of the earlier forms of the novel. The genre novel gives artistic
representation to aspects of human reality which are not perceived
by the point of view of other literary genres: in particular, the dialogic
nature of human consciousness is made t o emerge.
Consideration of the linguistic dimension is central to Bakhtin's
theory of literature, and similarly to his analysis of the specificity
of the literary fact, here t o o he accepted the position of the formalists.
However, he diverged from the latter when he maintained that the
linguistic aspects of any interest to literary theory and criticism are
those that go beyond the limits of institutional linguistics. It is in
this sense that Bakhtin intended the necessity of developing a kind
Dialogue and Alterity in Bakhtin 229

of meta-linguistics. All of Bakhtin's works, from the first half of the


1920s onwards, concentrate on the study of those artistic and linguistic
phenomena which are beyond the reach of the categories of linguistics
and which he consequently signalled as pertaining to meta-linguistics.

2.9.4 Polylogism and Active Comprehension

In the preface to the French edition of Marxism and the Philosophy


of Language (originally published under the name of Volosinov in
Leningrad, 1929, and recently attributed to Bakhtin), Roman Jakobson
says of Bakhtin that which Bakhtin had said of Dostoevsky: "rien ne
lui semble accompli; toutes problèmes restent ouvertes, sans fournir
la moindre allusion a une solution definitive" (Jakobson 1979:8).
From this point of view, Bakhtin's style recalls that of another
great master of signs, Charles Sanders Peirce who significantly declared
that as far as he could remember only once had he experienced the
pleasure of being praised, even if it was meant as a reproof in the
intention of the author: this happened when a critic accused him of
not being absolutely sure of his own conclusions.
Bakhtin's tendency to continually recommence his research is
what Todorov in his recent study on Bakhtin calls repetition: "un
ressassement éternellement recommencé" (1981:25). Bakhtin's work,
says Todorov, does not know development in the true sense of the
word: the centre of interest and formulation changes, but despite
certain changes and shifts (even if they are hardly perceptible),
Bakhtin's discourse continually returns upon itself. It is as though
each part contains the whole, the open totality of which it is a part.
For this reason we may affirm that "entre son premier et son dernier
écrit, entre 1922 et 1974, sa pensée reste fondamentalement la même;
on trouve aussi des phrases presque identiques, écrites à cinquante
ans de distance" (ibid. ).
This lack of development is not dogmatic reiteration of the same
thesis. On the contrary, I believe it is to be understood in the sense
intended by Bakhtin when on discussing Dostoevsky's novels he main-
tained that the spirit of the author does not evolve, it does not "be-
come". The dialectic development of a single spirit according to
relations of thesis, antithesis and synthesis is absent, there is no tension
230 Adventures of the Sign

towards a single and definitive conclusion for which all the various
parts of the work must be functional. The very object of Bakhtin's
research makes the application of dialectics of the Hegelian type
inappropriate: this object remains constant throughout his analyses
even though the materials and problems change: the sign in its whole-
ness and not as a single element, an isolated term endowed with
meaning. This conception of sign with its polysémie, dialogic and
polylogic character, makes Hegelian dialectics figure as a unilateral,
rigid, and fossilized conception, in the final analysis as pseudo-dialectic.
Bakhtin made numerous polemic allusions towards Hegel and the
monologic dialectic of his system. As early as the criticism of Hegelian
philosophy operated by Marx in 1843, it is evident how in Hegelian
dialectic contradictions are posed and fictitiously overcome, with
the word that arrogates an absolute point of view. In "From the note-
books of 1970-71", Bakhtin describes the process of the constitution
of monologic dialectic which originates from the dialogic character
of the word: "In dialogue we take out the voices (the division of
the voices), we take out the intonations (personal and emotional),
concepts and abstract judgements are drawn from the living words
and responses, all is mixed inside a single abstract consciousness and
this is how we obtain dialectic" (Bakhtin, 1970-1971).
Unidirectional, providential logic which looks to a single end is
put into crisis by polysemy, ideological pluridirectionality, and
polylogy of the sign. It is difficult to say where a sign begins and
where it ends once it is no longer reduced to the single element or
broken up into its various component parts. This is so because it is
not a thing, but a process, an interweaving of relations. The overall,
unitary sense of the sign is inseparable from the concrete communi-
cative context, social interaction, and relation to specific ideologic
values and orientations. The interpretation of a sign cannot be limited
to its identification. It requires an "active comprehension". The sense
of a sign consists in something more with respect to the elements
that allow its recognition: it is made of those semantic ideological
aspects which are in a certain sense unique, which have something
special and are indissolubly connected to the situational context
of semiosis. Comprehension of the sign is active comprehension
because it requires a reply, the taking of a position, it arises from
a dialogic relation and provokes, in its turn, a dialogic relation: the
sign flourishes as a rejoinder in a dialogue (see "From the notebooks
1970-1971"). These aspects of the sign are already analysed in the
Dialogue and Alterity in Bakhtin 231

perspective of a general semiotics in Volosinov 1929, but they are


still more clearly demonstrated in two essays, one published in 1926
and the other in 1929, which also appeared under the name of
Volosinov, though now attributed to Bakhtin.
Referred to the verbal, the sign is a complete utterance, it is not
isolated from the social context, the field of the ideological, and from
the discourse genre to which it belongs ("the unending variety of
discourse genres", says Bakhtin in the "Notebooks": among his un-
finished books there is one entitled precisely Discourse Genres). We
intend the utterance as a constitutive part of a socially and historically
specified relation, as a living text and not as an inanimate thing; not
as an isolated monologic expression to be interpreted on the basis
of the relation between linguistic units and language as an abstract
unit. In one of his final papers (see Bakhtin 1974) Bakhtin writes
that: "the text lives only through contact with another text (context),
we emphasize that this contact is a dialogic contact between texts
(utterances) and not a mechanic contact of opposition between abstract
elements [. . .] behind this contact there is contact between people
and not between things".
Conceived in this way, the text is the main hero in both of his very
important monographs, one on Dostoevsky and the other on Rabelais,
as well as in his theoretical and methodological studies. For this reason
we could say that not only is Bakhtin's theory a theory of the text,
but more specifically of the literary text: a theory of dialogue as
dialogue lives in literary writing (see Ponzio 1983α).
The text is the specific object of all human sciences which concern
themselves with man as a producer of texts (written or oral, verbal
or nonverbal). It is in relation to this particular object — the text - that
Bakhtin's method finds its specificity. Active comprehension, that is,
comprehension that is responsive, dialogic, is the principal component
of such a method. The specific logic of the text is a dialogic, a dialectic
between texts. The sense of the text is decided in the logic of question
and answer, which are not abstract, absolute and impersonal categories
of logos, but concrete, dialogic aspects. Dialogue presupposes a recipro-
cal assymetrical distance between two interlocutors: it presupposes
that question and answer come from time and space differently ex-
perienced , it presupposes different chronotopes for he who speaks and
he who answers.
Alterity of the word is an essential element in Bakhtin, and this
is true not only of the object of his analysis, but also in relation to the
232 Adventures of the Sign

historical period to which he belongs. Bakhtin's word is a word that


remained other in the 1920s with respect to the two poles of the
literary debate of the time — formalism and sociologism; with respect
to the opposition between individualistic subjectivism (Humboldt,
Vossler, Croce, Potebnja) and abstract objectivism (Saussure, 1916)
in studies on language; and to the opposition between Marrism and
antimarrism; furthermore, for that which concerns the study of
ideology, with respect to individualism and mechanistic materialism.
Such alterity also operated in relation to the schools of semiotics
contemporary to Bakhtin, including the semiotic trend to which he
explicitly referred, the so-called school of Tartû (Lotman, Ivanov, etc.).
The result is that Bakhtin's theory of the social sign, the ideological
sign, and in particular the verbal sign constitutes a term of confronta-
tion more than of confirmation and mere anticipation in relation to
the field of official semiotics and its Saussurean, Peircean, Morrisian
and Husserlian, etc. matrixes.
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 233

2.10 Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin,


Blanchot, Lévinas

2.10.1 Introductory Remarks

One of the most important orientations in semiotic theory today is


that which re-considers the problem of the sign and of communica-
tion in terms of otherness. The role played by the other in the func-
tioning of signs is becoming more and more obvious. In order to exist
as a sign every sign presupposes another sign, the interprétant, as
Peirce, in particular, taught. If it is true that to understand signs is
not merely to decode them but to interpret them or to introduce
them into that dialogically structured process which Bakhtin described
as a process of answering comprehension, then the importance of the
concept of other becomes even more obvious: what type of otherness
comes into play in the dynamic of signs?
At this point, reference to authors who have dealt with the issue
of otherness becomes interesting. Their treatment of the topic is
often fascinating because of the type of sign examined: such signs
as the literary text which, given their plurivocality and constitutive
otherness with respect to any one reading, resist mere decodification
in favour of interpretation and answering comprehension. The problem
of otherness, in fact, emerges most clearly precisely where meaning
is continually generated and re-generated within the sphere of inter-
textuality. The three authors examined in this paper are particularly
interesting for, even if independently of each other, all three insist
that the logic of the sign is a dia-logic, in which otherness plays a role
of fundamental importance. Each move away from the semiotics
of decodification in the direction of what can be described as the
semiotics of interpretation, of dia-logism, semiotics of the text, of
writing, of otherness.
234 Adventures of the Sign

2.10.2 From Semiotics of Decortication to


Semiotics of Interpretation

Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas: three "philosophers" of otherness, surplus


dissymetry and extralocality: three "philosophers of language" who
examine the opening in language towards irreducible otherness. Accord-
ing to Lévinas, in the relation of otherness "les termes s'absolvent de
la relation — demeurent absolus dan la relation" (1961:35-36), or
as Blanchot (1969:41) says, the capacity of the word is such that
speaking might entail this:
ce ne serait plus dévoiler par la lumière. ... Ici, ce qui se révèle ne se livre pas
à la vue tout en ne se réfugiant pas dans la simple invisibilité. [...] Révéler
suppose, en effet, que se montre quelque chose qui ne se montrait pas. La
parole (celle du moins dont nous tentons l'approche: l'écriture) met a nu, sans
même retirer le voile et parfois au contraire en revoilant — d'une manière qui
ne couvre ni ne découvre.

"Philosophy of language": Bakhtin-Volosinov (1929) had already


used this term with reference to his research. Why philosophy of
language and not semiotics? Because, as Bakhtin himself specified
in his "Iz zapisej 1970-1971 godov" (Bakhtin 1979:352), semiotics
(he was thinking of code semiotics or communicative (equal) exchange
semiotics — the semiotics of interpretation inaugurated by Peirce
deserves separate treatment), deals mainly with the transmission of
a message formulated by recourse to a pre-established code (so that
the message is formulated independently of the interpretative process)
while, in fact, in living language, the message is actually constituted
during the very process of transmission. There is no such thing as a pré-
existent code with respect to the answer required by the message,
that is, to the process of "active comprehension" (aktivnoe ponimanie)
(see Volosinov 1929:104; Eng. 1973:102). Why then "philosophy"?
Why may we define Bakhtin's research as philosophical, as he himself
does in "Problema teksta (Bakhtin 1979:281-307; after all, the subtitle
of this work is significantly Opyt fllosofskogo analiza), given that it
is neither a linguistic nor a philological analysis, nor does it offer an
analysis pertaining to literary criticism or to any other specialized
field? Moreover, Bakhtin's research moves along the boundries of
all the above-mentioned disciplines, and is concerned with those
areas where they enter into contact and intersect.
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 235

Bakhtin's philosophy might be related to "those thinkers, from


Heraclitus to Emmanuel Lévinas, who have preferred the powers that
inhere in the centrifugal forces" (Clark, Holquist 1984:8) of social
and linguistic life, and who have kept account of semantic and on-
tological differences and discrepancies, of shifts in sense, of the drifting
movement of signs and, therefore, of human life, if it is true, as Peirce
said (but so did Bakhtin-Voloäinov already in his Frejdizm 1927),
that "Man is a sign".
What brings Bakhtin, Lévinas and Blanchot together is not only
the fact that they all find their place in this same theoretical trend,
or that they share a common interest in the question of dialogue
and otherness, or that they all underwent similar influences (such
as that exerted by Martin Buber). Beyond any analogies or coincidences
with other authors interested in the same themes, that which charac-
terizes the relation between Bakhtin, Lévinas and Blanchot (at least
as concerns those aspects I wish to highlight in this paper), is the
connection that each of them establishes between the problem of
dialogue and of otherness, on the one hand, and the problem of writing,
on the other. As Barthes explained in Le grain de la voix (1978:9-10),
the kind of writing intended. . .
n'est pas forcément le mode d'existence de ce qui est écrit [...]. L'écriture
n'est pas la parole [...], mais elle n'est pas non plus l'écrit, la transcription:
écrire n'est pas transcrire.

Lévinas' research also is strongly centred on writing, and obviously


not only on "sacred" writing, but on literary writing as well: this
emerges especially in his 1976 book Noms Propres, but also in an
essay "La réalité et son ombre", published in 1948, in which he wrote
the following:

On prend l'introspection pour le procédé fondamental du romancier [...].


Nous croyons au contraire qu'une vision extérieure — d'une extériorité totale
[...] où le sujet lui-même est extérieur à soi - est la vrai vision du romancier.
[...]. Même le romancier psychologue voit sa vie intérieure du dehors, non pas
forcément par les yeux d'un autre, mais comme on participe à un rythme ou
à un rêve. Toute la puissance du roman contemporain, sa magie d'art, tient,
peut-être, a cette façon de voir de l'extérieur l'intériorité, qui ne coïncide nulle-
ment avec les procédés du behaviourisme (Lévinas 1982:114).
236 Adventures of the Sign

2.10.3 Outwardness and Extralocality

T h e analogy between Lévinas' concept of extériorité (outwardness)


and Bakhtin's concept of vnenachodimosf, finding oneself on the
outside, exotopie (Todorov), extralocality (Clark, Holquist) is sur-
prising, especially as Bakhtin used this term when he introduced it
for the first time in a work of 1920-1924, "Avtor i g e r o j ν esteticeskoj
dejatel'nosti" (now in Bakhtin 1979), that is, t o characterize the re-
lation between t h e self and the other, and between the author and the
hero in the "aesthetic e v e n t " (esteticeskoe sobytie).
In this paper, the concept of extralocality is connected with the
view of the author as incorporating the character - a view which
was later abandoned (Todorov in particular [1981 and 1984:88]
insists on this turn in Bakhtin's theories which was caused by the
influence of Dostoevsky's polyphonic point of view. This connection
is also evident in part 111 of Marksizm i filoso fija jazyka [ 1929:122ff.;
Eng. 1973:115ff. ] which analyses the relation between t h e author's
discourse and the discourse of others — Cuzoj jazyk, reported speech
in the English translation of VoloSinov 1929). However, the concept of
extralocality, just as it is here used t o explain the aesthetic event,
bears important implications for t h e development of Bakhtin's research
as well as f o r its interpretation.
In "Avtor i geroj" Bakhtin analyses the relation between the author
and the character with a view t o determining the relation between
work of art and content in the literary work, and he compares his
analysis, at the terminological level as well, with that of Russian
formalism. Bakhtin states that extra-literary values, related t o a specific
social situation, penetrate into the work of art through the character
and the author, and in it find aesthetic expression. The form of the
literary work coincides, he says, with the word of the author. By
f o r m he does n o t merely intend the f o r m of the material b u t also
that of the content, or, if we prefer, of the sign-ideological material:
"All world values enter the aesthetic object, b u t with a particular
aesthetic coefficient" (1979:165). T h e artistic form, that is, the word
of the author, organizes the contents of the word and of the life of
others, and if the characters are to appear convincing and the content
real, with life-like values, the authors word must give full expression
t o otherness.
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 237

The relation between the author and the hero, as well as that be-
tween the form and content, is analogous to the relation between the
literary word and the word as it is used in real life, the artistic form
and the contents of social life, aesthetic value and extra-aesthetic
values. The artistic representation of the world is achieved in the
tension of these rèlations, and while it penetrates into social life and
all its values, at the same time it proposes a point of view which is
external to real life. It is this external point of view that constitutes
the otherness of artistic representation, the specificity of the artistic
form, the surplus of the author's point of view (izbytok videnija),
his "extralocality" with respect to life as it appears in his representation.
"Finding oneself on the outside", extralocality, is, therefore, a
determining condition of the literary word, in the same way as is
participation in life, in the contents and values of social life. The
literary work assumes different physiognomies according to how
the dialectic between the "being inside" and the "being outside"
of the literary word is characterized and which, therefore, always
involves a certain distancing (even where there seems to be identifi-
cation) between the author and hero (or character) as a condition
of the fact that the content receives an artistic form. The literary
word is always an indirect word, even if Bakhtin characterizes certain
literary genres (e.g. epos, lyrical poetry), as compared with others,
as genres of the direct word. Furthermore, owing to its extralocality,
the literary word is always dialogic, even if Bakhtin considers certain
genres together with some of their variants as monologic in compari-
son with strongly dialogic genres (the novel and particularly the
"polyphonic novel"). (The characterization of Tolstoy's novels as
"monologic" is obviously relative to Dostoevsky's "polyphonic"
novel). In the same way, if certain literary genres are characterized
as being relatively serious, the literary word, precisely because of its
extralocality, is always an ironic word, a word that takes its distances,
that does not identify itself wholly with its own contents. Even where
the author identifies himself with the character, as in autobiography,
the literary nature of the text is determined by a certain degree of
distancing between the author and character, which causes the latter,
as it were, not to be taken seriously. His worldview is presented as
being relative to and overcome by an external point of view which
makes him an "unfinishable" character (Bakhtin 1970-71) so that he
finds his place beyond the limits of the world that renders the word
complete and finished. As Barthes (1984:412) says, the question
238 Adventures of the Sign

to ask concerning the hero of the diary is not the tragic question
"who am I?", but rather the comical question "is it me?" Literary
writing always places itself, more or less, outside functional and pro-
ductive discourse; given that it places itself outside life, it has a certain
relation with death, and always looks to the human condition from
the "extreme threshold", and therefore with a degree of irony,
that is, with a serious-comical attitude, that is more of less accentu-
ated according to the literary genres and their variants. Bakhtin
describes the aesthetically creative attitude as one which views the
literary character as a dying subject (moriturus). The aesthetic event
enables us to view man from the outside, from an external point of
view, so that we are plainly able to see in man and in his world precisely
what in principle man does not see in himself, given that he remains
closed within himself and lives his life seriously (see Bakhtin 1920-24,
in 1979:165).
The characterization of the writer's "position" as external to the
literary work calls to mind Blanchot's theories on the relation between
writing and death (see, e.g., "La littérature et le droit à la mort" 1949,
now 1981 and the pages devoted to Kafka in L'espace littéraire 1955).
For Blanchot, too, there is no other perspective for the writer but that
"of the outside", the eternal flowing of the outside. Through Kafka's
Diary, Blanchot arrives at the following conclusion: the writer is he
who finds the possibility of writing in an anticipated relation with
death, which enables the author to look towards his characters, and
towards himself as the character of a diary, in a way which is not
restless, so that he is able to approach them in "clairvoyant intimacy".
Writing, as the practice of the writer, "intransitive" writing as intended
by Barthes, requires that the relation to the world of normal life
be interrupted, and it is this detachment, this being on the outside,
that characterizes the writer's point of view, and makes his characters
belong to the indefinite time of dying.

2.10.4 Relative Otherness and Absolute Otherness

A special relation is thus accomplished in writing. Bakhtin was fully


aware of this in his early writings. A particular relation of otherness
is expressed in every literary text relative to the genre and subgenre
to which it belongs; aesthetic activity only properly begins when
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 239

the author takes up a position outside the event he is describing,


and places himself outside his own discourse.
An evaluative attitude towards oneself is totally unproductive from an aesthetic
point of view, for myself I am aesthetically unreal. [...]. In all aesthetic forms
the organizational force is given by the category of the value of another, of
the relation towards the other enriched by the evaluative surplus of observa-
tion [...] (ibid, : 164).

As is especially obvious in the experimentation of a situation of


extralocality pushed to the extreme limit, Dostoevsky's polyphonic
novel, the fact of finding oneself on the outside, aesthetic extra-
localization, favours a relation of irreducible distancing between the self
and the other, that is, a relation of real otherness, a radical separation
which impedes the reconstruction of the totality. The otherness of
literary writing, the specificity of its point of view, is determined in
the dialectic between "being inside" and "being outside", between
participation and distancing.
Like Lévinas and Blanchot, for Bakhtin the relation of otherness
was neither reducible to being-with, Heidegger's Mitsein, nor to Sartre's
being-for. In Bakhtin, otherness is located inside the subject, the
self, which is itself a dialogue, a relation between self and other, to
the extent that the so-called "problem of the other self', as Peirce
would express it, is not a problem more complex than that relative
to the fact that given interpretante, which enable self-consciousness
and have a relation of otherness with the signs they interpret,
are recognized as "mine", those with which " I " become aware of myself
(see Peirce 6.160) (cf. 2.11.2, this volume). There is no ontological or
metaphysical privilege in the consciousness of self given that conscious-
ness is inseparable from language, and language always belongs to the
experience of other people before it becomes one's "own", identi-
fying itself with one's own consciousness, one's own intentions and
point of view (see Bakhtin 1975; Eng. trans. 1981:293-94).
The word always remains more or less other, and the self, like
language, is never unitary: it has an interior otherness, its own heter-
oglossia (raznorecie; hétérologie, Todorov; pluridiscorsività), pluri-
lingualism (raznojazycie; hétéroglossie, Todorov; plurilinguismo),
and internai multivoicedness (mnogogolosnost' raznogolosie; hètéro-
phonie, Todorov; plurivocità). One of Dostoevsky's major merits
lies in his having developed the potential of fictional narrative to
the point of making accessible through the "polyphonic novel" "...
certain sides of a human being, and above all the thinking human
240 Adventures of the Sign

consciousness and the dialogic sphere of its existence" (Bakhtin 1963;


Eng. trans. 1981:270).
The other, both in the sense of drugoj (ja i drugoj; another, other
person), as well as in the sense of cuzoj (other, outsider, alien), is
inseparable from the ego, the Self (Même as intended by Lévinas),
and as cuzoj, Etranger, it cannot be included within the totality of
the ego. The other is necessary to the constitution of the ego and
its world, but at the same time it is refractory to all those categories
that wish to extinguish its otherness, thus subjecting it to the identity
of self (see Bakhtin 1961, Eng. trans. 1984: Appendix to Eng. trans, of
Bakhtin 1963).
What unites Bakhtin and Lévinas in particular is their both having
identified otherness within the sphere of self, which does not lead
to its assimilation, but quite on the contrary, gives rise to a constitutive
impediment to the integrity and closure of self (as for Lévinas, see
"La substitution" 1968, now in Lévinas 1974). The relation with the
other, instead,, is intended as a relation of excess, as a surplus, as
the overcoming of the objectivating thought, as release from the
relation between the subject and the object and from the relation
of equal exchange. Present as it is in the very make-up of self, it
produces: at the linguistic level, the internal dialogization of the word,
the impossibility of its ever being an integral word, so that it remains
a split, divided, dvugolosnoe, diphonic word, double-voiced discourse;
at the linguistic-aesthetic level, the extralocality of writing (its other-
ness with respect to real life, to the writer, to "contemporaneity",
sovremennosf, to the realm of literature, to the interprétant text);
at the moral level, restlessness, obsession with the other, answerability.
This concept, recurrent in Lévinas, is present, and not incidentally
so, in the first piece of writing by Bakhtin ever to have reached us,
"Iskusstvo i otvetstvennost'", ["L'art et la responsabilité" (Todorov
1981), "Art and Answerability" (Holquist)] ; the English title em-
phasizes the ethic-dialogic condition of having to answer to/for. Indeed,
Holquist entitles the book, thought to be composed of a series of
Bakhtinian papers written between 1918 to 1924, The Architectonics of
Answerability, which includes the above mentioned paper as well
as "Avtor i geroj". An ethical foundation, therefore, is common to
both Bakhtin and Lévinas as regards the relation self/other.
But what is 'ethical' in this context? Lévinas (1949:167-169) gives
the following explanation:
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 241

Nous appelions éthique une relation entre des termes où l'un et l'autre ne sont
unis par une synthèse de l'entendement ni par la relation de sujet à l'objet et
où cependant l'un pèse ou importe ou est signifiant à l'autre, où il sont liés
par une intrigue que le savoir ne saurait ni épuiser ni démêler.

The relation self/other irreducibly goes beyond the realm of knowledge,


of the concept, of abstract thought, even if it is just this relation
that makes them possible:
The differences in space and time of the self and other. They are present in
living sensation, but abstract thought cancels them. Abstract thought creates
a single general world for man without any reference to the self and to the
other (Bakhtin 1970-71:139).

The appearance of the relation of otherness exactly when one develops


self-awareness (a condition of self-identity), is described in almost
the same words by Lévinas and by Bakhtin:
Quel est le rapport entre le "soi-même" et le pour soi de la représentation?
Le "soi-même" est-il une récurrence du même type que la conscience, le savoir
et la représentation et qui se sublimerait seulement dans la conscience conçue
comme Esprit? Le "soi-même" est-il conscience à son tour ou tout autre
événement qui justifierait l'emploi de termes distincts: Soi, Je, Moi, âme?
Les philosophes ont le plus souvent décrit l'identité du soi-meme par le retour
à soi de la conscience. Pour Sartre, comme pour Hegel le soi-même est posé
comme un pour soi. L'identité du Je, se réduirait ainsi au retournement de
Yessence sur elle même, à son retour à elle même et à l'identification du Même
dont elle semblait à un moment être le sujet ou la condition (Lévinas 1968,
now reformulated in 1974:131).

Contrary to Sartre and Hegel, for Lévinas the self of "being conscious
of oneself" does not coincide with consciousness nor does it pre-
suppose it; rather, it is pre-existent to consciousness to which it is
connected by a relation of otherness and autonomy. This leads to
the irreducible insinuation of a me/other relation inside the very
self. Bakhtin:
Does the person who is conscious coincide with the object of his conscious-
ness? In other words, does man remain only with himself, that is, solitary?
Does not the whole event of the being of man change here radically? This is
exactly the case. Here something absolutely new appears: the sur (nad-) -man,
the sur-ego, that is, the witness and judge of all man (of all self), therefore, he
is no longer man,, he is no longer self, but another. The reflection of self in
the empirical other which we must cross in order to arrive at the ego-for-self
(can this ego-for-self be solitary?). Absolute freedom of this self. But this free-
dom cannot change being materially as it were (and it cannot even desire this):
it can only change the sense of being (recognize, justify, etc.): it is the free-
242 Adventures of the Sign

dom of a witness and of a judge. It finds expression in the word. Truth is not
inherent in the being, but only in the known and pronounced (Bakhtin 1970-
71, in 1979:341).

Witness and judge: once again and similarly to Lévinas, ethical terms
are used for a problem normally dealt with in terms of knowledge
and ontology, and once again we have the relation of extralocality
which writing accentuates to the highest degree of "answering com-
prehension" and dialogization, as in the "polyphonic novel".
Literary extralocality enables the representation of this otherness
constitutive of consciousness and of the word. The word is objectivated
0ob'ektnoe) and the author remains external to it. The literary work
as such is irremediably separate from the author: in it we will find
the represented author, who is someone else with respect to the
author who is representing, but not the latter himself, the pure author,
the writer (see "Problema teksta", Bakhtin 1979:288).
Another point of encounter may be here established with Blanchot's
theories: Blanchot represents the theme, taken from Mallarmé, of the
disappearance of the author in the work of art, of the writer as the
place of absence (Blanchot 1959: Le livre à venir). The starting
point for the realization of the literary work is the writer's absence,
the omission of self, a sort of death that literary writing involves.
In order to defend himself from this oblivion of self and maintain
a relation with self as he actually is, apart from objectivation in writing,
the writer, says Blanchot, resorts to the diary: here the writer wishes
to leave memory of himself, of the person he is when not writing,
as he is in everyday life. This is an illusion, similar to that of the literary
critic who searches the diary for the true image of the author, for the
real author as he is outside his work. The lot of the writer, however,
is ironic, for the diary is also the expression of a form of writing and,
therefore, it represents the objectivation of the author in writing,
in a specific discourse genre (see Blanchot 1955:14-15).
In "Problema teksta", Bakhtin clarifies the concept of distancing
between the author and his work, of the author's "extralocality" even
when he is the hero of his own writing. When looking at the portrait
of an author, what we see, says Bakhtin, is not the author it represents,
but only the artist's representation of the author. The "image of the
author" is a contradictio in adjecto. Insofar as it is an image, a re-
presentation, an objectivation, the "image of the author" is distanced
from the author, it is other with respect to him. The author, as he
is represented in the literary work, presupposes a "pure", representing
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 243

author who as such remains irremediably outside the work and, there-
fore, as Blanchot says, he remains in a state of "essential solitude",
of "absence", and of "oblivion": a sort of death. According to
Bakhtin, insofar as they are represented images, the image of the
first person narrator of a story, the image of the hero in auto-bio-
graphical works (autobiographies, confessions, diaries, memories,
etc.), all have an extralocated author (see Bakhtin 1979:288).
No doubt, says Bakhtin, discourse may be pictured, represented
and objectivated in extra-literary language as well, but such an ob-
jectivated image is not part of the author's intentions and goals. On
the contrary, the literary word is always an objectivated word. For
this reason, in literary discourse we may perceive the author's presence
but not see him directly, while, instead, in extra-literary discourse,
in direct discourse, the speaker or writer identifies himself with the
self of discourse. Literary discourse is always more or less indirect,
distanced discourse, and as such it represents the otherness constitu-
tive of consciousness and of self-awareness, that is, of the internal
dialogization and heteroglossia of the word. On the other hand, in
discourse turned towards an external goal, rather than towards the
representation of itself as the word of someone else, otherness and
dialogization must be forgotten and set aside. In literature, we never
have "pure" words, that is, we never have the direct words of the
author characterized by the tendency to find expression in a single
voice, as occurs outside literature where this very tendency instead
motivates and orientates the word, despite its constitutive dialogicality
and internal otherness. Every author, says Bakhtin, even the pure
lyric poet, is always a "dramatist", in the sense that he distributes
all the words he uses among the voices of others, including the "image
of the author" (and the author's other masks). "The writer is he who
knows how to work on language while remaining outside it, is he
who possesses the gift of indirect speech" (ibid. ).
No doubt, the phenomenon of "internal dialogization" in the word,
particularly evident in the various forms of reported speech, is present
in spoken language, in written language, in literature, as well as in
extra-literary writing. Therefore, we obviously find the different
models (and their variants) of reported speech, as well as the dialectics
between one's own word and the alien word, in extra-artistic (every-
day, rhetorical, scientific) prose, also. But when, in literature, the
internal dialogization of the word becomes the object of artistic re-
presentation, that is, in the novel and especially the polyphonic novel,
244 Adventures of the Sign

the dialogic potentialities of language are pushed to the extreme limit;


and exchange, relative and oppositive otherness, subordination of the
signifier to the signified, to the subject, to truth, the instrumental
and productive character of language, are all set aside in the realization
of a word which is unproductive, which has no specific function, and
which is oriented towards relations of absolute otherness.
In the otherness of literary writing, especially where extralocality
is greatest, we find the expression of the otherness of what is not
(intransitive) writing, but which, like writing, aspires to expressing
itself in an autonomous, self-signifying, and unproductive word. A
word which is an end in itself, which is xaû' αύτό (Lévinas), that is
to say, constitutively other, étranger (cf. 2.8.4).
Monologism, the distribution of words into one's own and those
belonging to others, the objective point of view, the position of third
party which abstracts from the first and second persons and from
the unrepeatable individuality of each, as well as from primary realities
which it subjects to the generalization of the concept, also find ex-
pression in language. Language is not only an encounter with the
other, answering comprehension, a unique and infinitely variable
utterance (vyskazyvanie): it is also the imposition of general meanings,
repetition, cancellation of the differences, universalization (see Bakhtin
1970-71; see also Volosinov 1929, chp. 4, part II on "theme" and
"meaning") without any reference to the self and to the other, to
the individual concreteness of things and contexts.

2.10.5 Otherness in Literary and Extra-literary


Language

The deception of language, says Blanchot, — in the double sense that


it deceives both itself and us — consists in the illusion of believing
that the absence may be definitively and firmly encompassed by
a presence. Sense is achieved at the cost of the annulment of exis-
tence, of presence. On giving the idea of a thing, the sense of a word
(mot) denies that word's existence as a thing. The word is the absence
of being (cf. Blanchot 1981:57).
But language is also multivoicedness, misunderstanding, contradic-
tion. Beyond the word tending towards stability and unambiguousness,
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 245

towards the fullness of sense, we have a word whose sense is im-


precise, ambiguous, made of deferrals and of references to other words
in a play of neverending deferrals. A sick word, says Blanchot, which
is the very health of words. According to Blanchot, there would be
no dialogue without ambiguity, no possibility of understanding with-
out misunderstanding. He describes language as being based on the
word intended as emptiness, as an interrogation — as a word which
expresses negation, absence, recul.
This sort of eulogy of multivoicedness, of ambiguity, of the word
objectivating the word, rather than of the objective word, is a praise
of literature in both Blanchot and Bakhtin. Literature is the experience
through which language discovers its own ambiguity, an ambiguity
essential to it. Indeed with its restlessness, scissions and contradic-
tions, literary language does no more than express the specificity
of language.
According to Blanchot, the impotence of language lies in the im-
possibility of its escaping from its own power, of leaving its own
reign, which is that of the "day" and not of the "nocturnal" intimacy
of that which has been discarded and excluded from nomination.
But this impotence may be displayed: in such a case the word assumes
as its own sense, the very impossibility of its escaping from sense,
so that it becomes "un pouvoir vide, dont on ne peut rien faire, pouvoir
sans pouvoir, simple impuissance à cesser d'être" (ibid. 48). A triumph
of words over sense, a relation without power, outside the dialectic
between master and slave, we have a language, as Blanchot puts it. . .
qui parle aussi seulement à qui ne parle pas pour avoir et pour pouvoir, pour
savoir et pour posséder, pour devenir maître et se maîtriser, c'est à dire un
homme fort peu homme (Blanchot 1959:44).

Writing knows and tastes (latin sapere) of the death that language
confers upon things when it pronounces them; language that becomes
ambiguous tells of the absence of these things, of their forbidden
presence, of their challenge to the kind of language that wishes to
reveal them and determine them, ambiguous language tells of the
nothingness of things with respect to what it makes of them by denying
them. Language relates to death twice-over: to death as the assertion
of its own truth, on the one hand, and to death as death without
truth, on the other. The expulsion of death from the order of dis-
course renders it a transgression, a surplus, an "incurable deviance"
(Baudrillard). As in the carnival vision insisted upon by Bakhtin in
his Rabelais, life is not the opposite of death. It becomes so when
246 Adventures of the Sign

life, in the illusion that it can be nothing else but life - in its dissimula-
tion of all ambivalence, unproductiveness and loss, and on becoming
a linear design of production and accumulation, becomes itself death,
the absence of life.
For Blanchot, language borders on what is other with respect to
the human person, close to that which is irreducible on the horizon
of Being, on the horizon of the possibilities of the Self {Même) and
of the Totality {Totalité), as Lévinas would say. Blanchot's research
cannot be separated from reflection on the relation of otherness in
the very terms used by Lévinas: a kind of otherness that goes beyond
the totality, the objective word, utility, economy, and the power
of language.
To assume the viewpoint of literary writing means to give up the
assumption of a subject who is always ready to answer for his own
word, to justify and clarify it. Moreover, reference to literary writing
involves further consequences regarding the right to ownership over
the word and regarding the category of "subject". Literature, especially
in certain genres and in certain works, appears as a sort of disarrange-
ment and decomposition of the self, as a form of distancing, irony,
and disengagement with respect to the edifying, authoritative, and
unilaterally ideological word. And even when literature attempts to
make one foreget its unproductiveness by engaging in political or
social action, according to Blanchot (1981:92) "cet engagement
s'accomplit tout de meme sur le mode du dégagement. Et c'est l'action
qui devient littérature".
Like Bakhtin's metalinguistic s {metalingvistika; translinguistique
(Todorov), translinguistica), Blanchot's word tells of what linguistics
(of the langue and parole) does not know about language; and this
is possible thanks to the immanent going beyond — within language
— that literature permits.
Bakhtin's philosophy of language is closely connected to literary
criticism and could be called literary semiotics, not because it may
be applied to literature, but because it uses literature as its point of
view. In fact, in Bakhtin it is precisely the kaleidoscopic nature of litera-
ture that offers us the opportunity of seeing, in language, that which the
linguistics of equal exchange in communication cannot grasp: that
is, the alien word, not only in the sense of the word that belongs
to other people and that calls for answering comprehension, but also
in the sense of the voice of others that rings in the word of the "same"
subject. As Todorov (1981:165) says, "c'est Dostoïevski, et non
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 247

Bakhtine, qui a inventé l'intertextualité!". But if Bakhtin may be


considered as Dostoevsky's mouthpiece, the latter, in his turn, is the
mouthpiece of a literary tradition connected to a specific genre, the
novel, as it emerges in its "carnival" orientation.
Literary writing overcomes the monologicality of language, its
limited dialogization, as it tends towards heteroglossia. Writing is this
very movement, and the different literary genres and subgenres may be
classified in relation to their collocation between these two poles.
Through literary writing we are able to see the other face of the
word and of language. It enables us to see that which does not reveal
itself, that which does not give itself immediately, that which is not
assertion of the self, but rather its questioning. Literary writing enables
us to see a kind of otherness that goes beyond the system of opposi-
tions, an autonomous and absolute otherness.
The kind of otherness perceived in the spoken word is given directly;
it is relative otherness and presents itself as identity, as assertion of
another self that obtains its identification as ipseity, egoity (the selfs
unity and continuity of its being self), through opposition to the self,
in a system of mutually opposed roles and distinctive features. He
who speaks does so from a given point of view; that which he says
belongs to him: the speaking subject cannot separate himself from
the "ego" of his own discourse.
By contrast, the otherness of literary language is déplacement;
in relation to the oppositions, roles, and commonplaces of language,
it gives itself as atopia, as absence. Literary writing pronounces the
unutterable; it expresses and silences the unutterable. The otherness of
writing does not ask to be listened to, it does not ask for an audience,
because it does not propose to inform, persuade, educate, or sensitize
anyone. It gives itself over in the quietness, in the silence of reading,
and it has nothing to unveil; in spite of this, however, it speaks and,
furthermore, it is disquieting and attractive, like a silent face. The
writer, says Bakhtin, covers himself in silence. He cannot say anything
directly, and if he does speak directly he is immediately something
else — a journalist, moralist, scholar, etc. (cf. Bakhtin 1970-71 ).
Literary writing does not speak directly, but rather it represents,
plays, puts on a performance, mimes, parodies:
The subjects of discourse of high, vaticinating genres - priests, prophets,
preachers, judges, leaders, partriarchs, etc. - have disappeared. They have all
been substituted with the writer, simply the writer, who has become the heir
of their styles (Bakhtin 1979:354).
248 Adventures of the Sign

If "irony has entered all languages, all words and forms of the
modern age", so that " t h e modern age man does not proclaim, but
rather speaks, that is, [. . .] speaks with reserve" (ibid.), writing
accentuates this irony, this distancing which sets the word free.
Whether intentionally or not, every discourse always forms a dialogue
with other discourses. The dialogization of writing, particularly obvious
in the polyphonic novel, is characterized by the disengagement of the
writer insofar as he is a writer, by his discourse which is indirect,
déplacé: the writer escapes that rule of discourse according to which
all subjects are obliged to take up a stance.
Bakhtin's metalinguistics not only tends to surpass linguistics but
also language itself, and this is possible thanks to the immanent sur-
passing afforded by literature within language. This new science,
metalinguistics (Bakhtin 1963), is a science of literature. Here, "of
literature" is, grammatically, the possessive case. The viewpoint of
literature enables us to perceive the possibility of a metalinguistics:
beyond language, beyond linguistics, beyond the oppositions forming
the system of language, beyond the otherness determined through
oppositions - otherness as identity dependent upon renvoi to another
identity, otherness which has no sense for itself.
The otherness of writing is not complementary to the assertion of
consciousness, to its constitution as a totality; it is not the otherness
necessary for the achievement of identity, or functional to the sphere
of the self. It is, instead, the kind of otherness that may be described,
using Peirce's categories, as firstness, originality, or orience (Peirce
uses this term t o designate the category of firstness, of that which
has value in itself without need of reference to something else; absolute
otherness), that is, as something that is what it is without referring to
anything outside itself, free from all forces and reason; like the essence
of a thing as it is without regard for anything else.
The literary word is an alien word, with its own unfinalizability
and surplus with respect to the culture of which it is a part; this
differentiates it from all other functional and productive words which
are realistically adequate and respondent to specific communicative
contexts. Bakhtin identifies this difference between Dostoevsky the
journalist who, as such, remains within the confines of a finished
dialogue, a dialogue which adheres to and is functional with respect
to real problems and which is, therefore, wholly comprehensible and
justifiable within the limits of the contemporary cultural context,
and Dostoevsky the writer, who, as such, succeeds in representing
Writing and Otherness in Bakhtin, Blanchot, Lévinas 249

polyphonic dialogue, which is unfinished and infinite because it is


situated (or better still, "extralocated") in the "long life of literature".
In his 1948 essay quoted at the beginning of this paper, Lévinas
also asserted the impossibility of reconducting art and literature back
to the horizon of their contemporaneity and to the sphere of freedom
and engagement of the self. He uses such concepts as "évasion",
"ombre", "entretemps" - the neverending between-time, the eternal
duration of the interval, present in the characters of the novel, whose
story "n'est pas jamais finie, elle dure encore, mais n'avance pas".
It is significant that this essay on art and literature should end by
affirming the need of broadening one's perspective, so as to think about
the question of the relation to the other.
What is it that unites Bakhtin, Lévinas and Blanchot, placing them in
a relation of reciprocal "answering comprehension", like the voices of a
dialogue centred around the same problem (a real dialogue between
Blanchot and Lévinas, ideal with Bakhtin)? A dialogue whose inter-
locutors are also distant from each other from the viewpoint of the
cultural tradition to which they belong (Hebraism and Christianity). The
answer might be that what unites them is a common interest in the
specifically human present in any human enterprise, whatever it may
be. As Lévinas (1948:106) says, beyond the perfect adaptation to
its own goal, the human enterprise. . .

. . . porte le témoignage de son accord avec un je ne sais quel destin extrinsèque


au cours des choses, et qui la place en dehors du monde, comme le passé à
jamais révolu des ruines, comme l'insaisissable étrangetè de Γ exotique.

2.10.6 Concluding Remarks

It seems to me that the following has emerged from this paper: the
problem of the sign cannot be separated from the problem of other-
ness. Indeed it is just this connection between the two that confers
philosophical consistency on semiotics: semiotics is inevitably phi-
losophy, especially philosophy of language (in the broad sense of
the word language), if we recover from philosophy its original tension
towards the foreign, different, irreducibly other and, therefore, towards
dialogue. Such dialogue is not only structural but is part of the very
make-up of philosophy, which is always discovering something more,
250 Adventures of the Sign

something which has not yet been encompassed by the official sciences
and which is characterized by an uncontrollable desire of displacement,
adventure, risk: of the irreducibly other.
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 2 51

2.11 Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin

2.11,1 Homology

Examination of the conception of sign in both Peirce and Bakhtin


will no doubt enable us to compare their respective stances and to
identify the specific characteristics of each thought system. How-
ever, I do not propose to do this alone in this paper, for I do not intend
to simply make a neutral study of two separate theoretical perspectives.
On the contrary, my interest in these two "masters of the sign" has
its starting point in a specific point of view: this confers a specific
theoretical orientation to my study which, therefore, does not merely
aim at being a historical reconstruction.
It is my conviction (which I will here try to demonstrate, though
I have already argued in this direction at least as a working hypothesis
in my previous studies on Bakhtin and Peirce) that, in the light of
the Peircean and Bakhtinian conception of sign, we are able to con-
struct a far more complex and powerful semiotic model which is
consequently far more capable of explaining the complexity of
signs, or better still of semiosis, than any other model which limits
itself to the breakdown of the sign into two perfectly correlated parts,
that is, the signifiant and the signifié. The reference is obviously to the
semiologies of Saussurean matrix (the Saussure of the Cours rather
than of the anagrams) which not only, as we were saying above
conceive the sign in terms of equal exchange between the signifiant
and the signifié, but which, as Bakhtin himself says, are only aware
of two poles of linguistic life between which they expect to place
all linguistic and (taking linguistics as the model), all semiological
phenomena: these two poles are the unitary system (langue) and the
individual realization of this system by the single user (parole).
The sign is commonly conceived as being static. This is not due
to a separation operated between synchrony and diachrony, so that
it is not simply by affirming the existence of a dialectic link uniting
the latter that such a conception may be corrected. The static nature
of the sign, rather, is due to its being based on equal exchange between
the signifying form and the signified content, ideated according to
the model of economic exchange in our own society. According to such
252 Adventures of the Sign

a model, we cannot give more in signifying intentionality as trans-


mitters in the communication process than what we receive in exchange
in signified content. In other words, the sender exchanges a signifiant
for a signifié offered to him by the receiver, in the same way that a
ten dollar piece may be exchanged for two five dollar pieces, or a
certain number of working hours is exchanged for a certain salary.
It is not incidental that the Saussurean model of sign (which gives
expression to this egalitarian vision of perfect correspondence es-
tablished with reference to a system as it appears in a state of equili-
brium) should be constructed on the basis of the model of value of
the economic sciences, especially marginalistic economy as elaborated
by Walras and Pareto (see Ponzio 1974; 1981). But it is not in this
kind of analysis that I here intend to involve myself. As far as these
things are concerned, I will limit myself to emphasizing that such
a conception of sign causes the message to be conceived as something
already given in a defined and univocal manner, ready to pass un-
modified from the sender to the receiver. The sole task of the latter is
to decodify the message so that no creative intervention is required
of him as instead would take place in an active form of answering
comprehension. The receiver, therefore, is not actively involved in the
semiotic process, his role is simply that of deciphering the message
with reference to a previously established and unambiguous code.
Furthermore, this conception of the sign is connected to a particular
conception of the subject and of consciousness. In fact, the subject
is described as coinciding perfectly with his own consciousness, so
that he is fully conscious of himself and is not at all aware of any
distancing, autonomy or otherness in the relation between himself
as the subject and the various parts of his consciousness. Thus the
sign only contains that which the subject consciously chooses to
place in it, so that no more may be read into it than what has been
established by intentional meaning (for a discussion of such identifi-
cation between sign and communicative intentionality see Ponzio
1976: introduction).
As compared with this particular conception of the sign which
in reality is rather oversimplified and naive — and according to which
the sign: 1) is at the service of meaning pre-established outside the
communication and interpretation process, 2) is a flexible and passive
instrument in the hands of a subject who is also given, pre-established,
and capable of controlling and dominating the sign, and furthermore,
3) is decodifiable on the basis of a pre-existent code common to
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 253

both partners in the communicative process -, the model of sign


propounded by Peirce and Bakhtin is certainly far more complex
and interesting.
The collocation of the sign within the general context of semiosis
with its relation to the interprétant as described by Peirce, and within
the dialogic context as the only kind of context in which the sign
may flourish as such as described by Bakhtin, places otherness at
the very heart of the sign's identity. In Peirce the relation between
the sign and its object is necessarily mediated by the relation between
the sign and its interprétant. Without the interprétant there is no
sign; this means that far from being an accessory, the interprétant
sign is in fact constitutive of the interpreted-sign. In other words,
meaning does not lie in the sign but in the relation between signs.
Moreover these signs do not belong to a closed and defined system,
a code (the langue), but on the contrary are part of a dynamic inter-
pretative process which becomes richer and increasingly responsive
the more it does not limit itself to mere repetition, literal translation
or synonimic substitution, but rather evolves as re-elaboration and
explicative reformulation. Conceived in this way the process of inter-
pretation proves to be risky and fully reveals its hypothetical nature,
for it is not covered by the guarantee of a definitive and pre-established
code which excludes all ambiguity and open interpretation. For Peirce,
meaning is the interprétant.
As a sign, the interprétant refers to another interprétant which as
a sign refers, in its turn, to still another interprétant and so forth in
an open-ended chain of deferrals. There is no fixed point, no de-
finitive interprétant. The sign's identity is constituted by its continual
displacement, so that each time it is interpreted it becomes another
sign which in fact acts as the interprétant of the preceding sign.
This kind of procedure has repercussions on the very conception
of the subject which, as Peirce explicitly stated, is itself a sign. As
such it is continually displaced and made other in a process of deferrals
from one interprétant to the next. Rather than being antecedent
to the sign and exerting control over it, the subject presupposes the
sign, it is determined and identified by becoming itself an interpretant-
sign of another preceding sign. Self-awareness is no more than a relation
between a "sign-object" and a "sign-subject" or meta-sign, or more
simply, it is no more than the relation between a sign and its inter-
prétant. Thus, the dialogical character of the subject is inevitable.
We find an analogous point of view in Bakhtin, not only for that
254 Adventures of the Sign

which concerns the affirmation of the dialogic character of the word


including that of so-called interior discourse, but also in his explicit
criticism of the conception of language (not only in Marxism and the
Philosophy of Language, published under the name of VoloSinov,
but also in later writings signed with his own name) as an abstract
system and of the reduction of linguiste life to the two poles, langue
and parole.
In both Peirce and Bakhtin the dialogic as well as the dialectic
structure of the sign (if dialectic by contrast with monologic pseudo-
dialectic necessarily presupposes dialogue and is thus dia-logic) are
the result of the sign's being at one and the same time both identical
to and different from itself. It is only within the perspective of the
abstract sign system that the sign seems to be characterized by fixity
and to coincide perfectly with itself, so that it may be represented by
the formula A=A. In concrete communicative contexts the sign is not
subject to a process of identification alone. To interpret a sign does
not simply mean to identify it as that sign there, as it is foreseen by
a given system.
Identity is no doubt necessary to semiosis as without it recognition
of the sign would not be possible. However, such identity is not
obtained directly as foreseen by the formula A=A. If we are to use
formulas we would represent identity of the sign as A=B=C=D=E
(where the equal sign does not annul the differences, confrontation
and otherness) for identity of the sign is always indirect, mediated
and problematic. The equal sign indicates inference based on similarity
and analogy in which the interprétant is of the iconic type. As we
w(ill see later, Peirce demonstrates that it is the very icon which allows
inferences of the innovative and creative type.
Even a word isolated from its linguistic and situational context,
a word which is no longer alive (e.g. a word in a dictionary), needs
the mediation of other words, of other expressions that function
as interprétants for the realization of the very identity of the word
in question: its meaning cannot be immediately fixed.
Thus sign identity is not given by a tautology, but rather by the
deferrals from itself to other signs in an open-ended chain of inter-
prétants which never closes upon itself. In this way the identity of
the sign is continually displaced: nor is it possible to cancel the effect
of the sign's pilgrimage and transmigration into other sign bodies
through which it affirms its identity. Identity of this kind contains
all the variety of experience that the sign has gradually derived from
its various dealings with other signs.
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 255

Identification of sign A more or less implies the following procedure:


A, i.e. B, i.e. C, i.e. D, i.e. E, i.e. . . . We arrive at its identity, which
is not fixed and definitive, by establishing these relations which are
not of mechanical synonimic substitution, but rather require inter-
pretation and hypotheses involving not only deductive but also in-
ductive and abductive inferences. The sign finds its identity in its very
indeterminacy and instability for it must appear as other in order to
be this sign here. The sign's identity cannot be made evident if not by
exhibiting another sign, it can only be caught as the reflection in the
mirror of another sign. And such identity contains all the deformations
that this play of mirrors involves. The interpretant-sign is not always
in a relation of contiguity with the interpreted-sign (that is, not always
is it an index as intended by Peirce): "natural" contiguity (smoke
means fire); deductive contiguity (Socrates is a man: all men are
mortal); contiguity within the same code which makes endolinguistic
translation possible; or among different codes which makes inter-
linguistic translation possible; contiguity which derives from belonging
to the same field of knowledge. Given that we frequently require
hypothetical and explicative identifications and not just those of the
deductive and analytical type, the interpretant-sign is often to be
looked for in some rather distant system, and identified through
a relation of hypothetical similarity (i.e., like the icon) and not of
necessary contiguity. In exceptional cases the interpretant-iconic sign
must even be invented ex novo when not foreseen by a code within the
particular field of knowledge in question.
Even the comprehension of a single term, e.g. "bachelor", calls
for an inferential process according to which we may conclude that
"bachelor" means "unmarried human being of male sex". If this
seems trivial, it is certainly because we are dealing with an interpre-
tative habit connected with a term of everyday language. When, how-
ever, no habit is involved, the match between a term and its interpré-
tant has a highly informative value and rings as completely unusual
and surprising: innovations in the field of knowledge are provoked
by interpretative matchings of this last type. For example, it is one
thing to be content with the definition of the word "sign" as offered
by a common dictionary and which refers to its common uses, it is
another thing to venture towards a definition or redefinition of such
a term in the course of a discussion on semiotics and in the light of
different models and interpretative theories.
As Peirce demonstrates, a sign or representamen is such because it
stands to somebody for something, its object, in some respect, insofar
256 Adventures of the Sign

as it creates in the mind of that person "an equivalent sign, or perhaps


a more developed sign", i.e., an interprétant (Collected Papers 2.228).
We could say then that the meaning of a sign is an (open) class which
includes that sign and all its possible interprétants. The mediating
function between the meaning and object of the sign is, in its turn,
obtained through the mediation of other signs. A sign, says Peirce,
exists according to the category of "thirdness", in other words, it
presupposes a triadic relation between itself, its object and the inter-
preting thought, it too a sign. A sign always plays the role of third
party, for it mediates between the interprétant sign and its object.
I spoke before of the sign's enrichment as a consequence of its
outings to the exterior in search of itself, and of the disguises to
which it resorts to in order to affirm its very identity: but a semiotical
debasement and devaluation may also be verified. And such enrich-
ment or debasement is always connected to relations with other signs.
In any case, as I said at the beginning of this paper, these relations
are never of equal exchange. The latter characterizes the signal (and
from this point of view Bakhtin-VoloSinov's analyses are quite elucidat-
ing) where, by contrast to the sign, there is a one to one corres-
pondence between the signifier and the signified. More exactly, the
meaning of a sign is the class which contains that sign and its inter-
prétants according to relations of mere substitution (the red of a
traffic light, which has a single meaning, is a signal, i.e., its meaning
is the class of meanings that limit themselves to substituting the colour
red: "stop" in the graphic or phonic form, a policeman with out-
stretched arms, etc.).
Signs also contain the factor of signality and its correlate, self-
identity, but they are not accounted for, as signs, by these factors alone.
The comprehension of a sign does not merely consist in the recogni-
tion of stable elements that constantly repeat themselves. Signs are
characterized by their semantic and ideological flexibility which makes
them continually available to new and different contexts. Signality
and self-identity are overcome by the features that characterize signs:
changeability, ambivalence and multi-voicedness.

In the speaker's native language, i.e., for the linguistic consciousness of a


member of a particular language community, signal-recognition is certainly
dialecticatty effaced. In the process of mastering a foreign language, signality
and recognition still make themselves felt, so to speak, and still remain to
be surmounted, the language not yet fully having become language. The ideal
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 257

of mastering a language is absorption of signality by pure semioticity and of


recognition by pure understanding (Bakhtin-VoloSinov, 1929; Eng. trans.
1973:69).

It is in this sense, as I was saying above, that the sign is a dialectic


unit of self-identity and otherness. The actual sense of a sign consists
in something more which is added to those elements that permit
its identification. It is made of those semantico-ideological aspects that
in a certain sense are unique, that are peculiar to it and indissolubly
connected to the situational context of the semiosis in course. Bakhtin
(Volosinov 1929) insists on the dialectic relation between these two
aspects of the sign indicated with the terms "meaning" (all that which
is reproducible and stable in the sign, and which is subject to a process
of identification) and " t h e m e " (the new aspects of the sign requiring
active comprehension, a response, a point of view, and which are
connected to the specific situation in which semiosis occurs). With
reference to the verbal sign in particular and t o the dialectic relation
between " t h e m e " and "meaning", Bakhtin observes the following:

. . . it is even impossible to convey the meaning of a particular word (say, in


the course of teaching another person a foreign language) without having made
it an element of theme, i.e., without having constructed an "example" utterance.
On the other hand, a theme must base itself on some kind of fixity of meaning;
otherwise it looses its connection with what came before and what comes
after — i.e., it altogether loses its significance" {cit. 100).

The distinction between "meaning" and " t h e m e " finds corres-


pondence in Peirce's subdivision of the interprétant into immediate
interprétant and dynamical interprétant. The immediate interprétant
is fixed by use and tradition, it is given in the correct deciphering
of the sign, in its recognition, "and is ordinarily called the meaning
of the sign" (Peirce, Collected Papers: 4.536). The dynamical inter-
prétant "is the actual effect which the Sign, as a Sign, really deter-
mines" (ibid, the italics are my own). Considered in relation to both
the dynamical interprétant and dynamical object, that is, in relation
t o " t h e Reality which by some means contrives to determine the
Sign in its Representation" (ibid.), for Peirce, also, the sign could
never be something repetetive. Each time it is taken up, it makes its
appearance in a new semiotical act. This causes the sign t o be con-
tinually renewed, so that its interprétant is never established once and
for all: this is the Peircean principle of unlimited semiosis, of the un-
ending succession of interprétants (a principle connected to the con-
ception of the hypothetical and approximative nature of knowledge
258 Adventures of the Sign

underlying his "cognitive semiotics"). It is worth mentioning en passant


that Ferruccio Rossi-Landi proposed an interesting alternative to
Peirce and Bakhtin with his distinction between "initial meanings"
and "additional meanings" (1961, 1980 2 :177-198 and 201-210)
(cf. 2.4.6).
In "Discourse in the novel", Bakhtin proposed the expressions
"neutral meaning" and (its) "actual sense" which correspond to
the terms "meaning" and "theme", used by Volosinov 1929. Such
terminology could lead us to believe (but only if isolated from the
whole context of Bakhtin's theories) that self-identity of the sign
is separate from and antecedent to the sense that the sign gradually
assumes each time it is used in a concrete communicative context.
The distinction between "neutral meaning" and "actual sense" is,
in fact, a pure abstraction at the theoretical level, used as a means
of facilitating analysis. In reality, only "actual senses" exist, that is,
signs used in concrete situations. The signs we handle have already
been used in specific communicative contexts, they are endowed
with their own sense and are connected dialectically, in their turn,
to the sense of the contexts from which they have been taken. Identity
and signality of signs are no more than the accumulation of preceding
senses, which must be surpassed if signs are to acquire the vitality
of living signs. These preceding senses contribute to the creation of
sign material which as such determines the resistance, objectivity
or materiality of signs.
As is observed in Medvedev 1928, where Bakhtin called "evaluation"
that which in VoloSinov 1929, is called "theme" (evaluation is what
individualizes, puts into effect, and specifies a particular sign), it is
not correct to speak of "sign potentialities" as though they were
established in advance with respect to "evaluation". Rather than
"sign potentialities" which are only subsequently transformed into
"concrete sign facts", what we have are sign potentialities which
on arising and during their development are embodied within the
sphere of evaluations which are inevitably formed by the various
social groups.
Representamen, Meaning, Interprétant, Immediate Interprétant,
Dynamical Interprétant (Meaning and Theme for Volosinov-Bakhtin),
Immediate Object, Dynamical Object, Referent, divided into De-
signatum and Denotatum by Morris (who works along the same lines
as Peirce, Ogden and Richards): these are the fundamental notions
constituting the model of sign as proposed, though here we are simpli-
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 259

fying, by Peirce and Bakhtin. I have put aside other notions such
as Icon, Index and Symbol (Peirce) and Text and Intertextuality
(Bakhtin), which I intend to look into further on in this paper.
As we have already seen in section 2.1, the semiotic model just
described very strongly resembles that proposed by Peter of Spain
(12057-1277) in his Tractatus or Summule logicales. Moreover, Peter
of Spain situated his own language theories within the field of dialectics,
which he viewed as dia-logic, thus stressing the etymologic relation
between dialectic and dialogue. The model of sign as proposed by
this scholar is described as containing the following elements: vox
significativa (= representamen); significatio or representatio (immediate
interprétant, dynamical interprétant; meaning and theme); res significata
or representata (immediate object); acceptio pro (to stand for); divided
into copulatio (reference to a designatum) and suppositio (reference
to a designatum which is also a denotatum)·, aliquo (dynamical object).
As surprising as this resemblance may be (though Peirce in fact
often refers to the Tractatus in his Collected Papers), still more sur-
prising is the fact that the "discovery" of semiotics in the 1960s
(especailly in France and Italy) was generally characterized by recourse
to a rather oversimplified and reductive model of sign inspired by
Saussure, ignoring, on the one hand, the tradition that from Peirce
extends back to medieval semiotics, and, on the other, the objective
historical context. Bakhtin, who in the 1920s had already distanced
himself from Saussurean linguistics, was also left aside. The failure
to take such traditions into account led to the debates of the 1960s
and first half of the 1970s (in Italy, Eco's Trattato, 1975, emble-
matically brings this phase to a close) on such alternatives as: semiotics
of communication versus semiotics of signification; non-referential
semantics versus referential semantics, etc. However, it is especially
thanks to the influence of Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, and Roland
Barthes (for the Barthes of the "third sense", see further on), that the
Saussurean model of sign based on equal exchange between signifiant
and signifié is finally overcome. As Derrida shows, the implications
of this model are still present in the "Seminaire sur la lettre volée"
(the programmatic manifesto of Lacan's Ecrits), as well as in the
Saussure of the Anagrams (see Saussure's perplexities as described
by Starobinski), even though they clearly express a tendency towards
the conception of the autonomy of the signifiant and of renvoi from
one signifiant to another (so that the model of sign can no longer
be reconducted to the logic of equal exchange).
260 Adven tures of the Sign

2.11.2 Dialogism of Signs

Let us return to the model of sign as it emerges from the research of


Peirce and Bakhtin. As we mentioned previously, this model is
dialectic in character, if by "dialectic" we intend a multi-lateral view
that does not lose sight of the whole, that does not mistake the
details of a totality for isolated and self-sufficient entities, and, in
particular, that does not consider the context simply as the sum of
its component parts.
Taken dialectically, the sign is not described as a single signifying
element, or as an isolated term, or as a "piece" (with a specific value)
of a "sign system" in a relation of "mechanical opposition" with the
other "pieces ' of that system. It is also an oversimplification to state
that the sign coincides with the whole message, or, in the case of
verbal signs, with the whole utterance. In reality, the message, which
is passed from sender to receiver, is only one of the components of
semiosis. Other aspects, beyond the sender and receiver, to be viewed in
conjunction with the message (and which are implied by the message)
include: interprétant, referent, situational context, and evaluational
parameters, all of which are elements of semiosis. Considered dia-
lectically, signs coincide with the whole sign situation, that is, with
semiosis. A sign is not fully described by relating it uniquely t o a
particular sign system, or to an individual interpreter, or to its inter-
prétant, or to a specific type of language, register or genre (literary,
ordinary speech, scientific language, folklore, etc. . .), or to extra-
sign reality, or, as in Ogden and Richards, to "reference" and "re-
ferent", etc. The sign is made of all these relations and includes not
only all that which is expressed, but also all that which is implied thus
contributing towards the development of its sense.
Once signs are no longer reduced to a single element, or broken
down into their component parts, it is difficult to say where they
begin and where they end. Signs are not things, but processes, the
interlacing of relations which are social relations, even in the case
of natural signs, for it is only in a social context that signs exist as
signs. A comprehensive and unitary view of signs must keep account
of concrete communicative contexts, social interaction, and of the
relation to specific values, ideological orientations, etc. In short, signs
are inseparable from what, together with Volosinov 1929, we have
called " t h e m e " as distinct from "meaning". The theme is unitary
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 261

and as such cannot be broken d o w n into its c o m p o n e n t parts, this


is possible, if anything, in the case of "meaning", viewed as the
"technical apparatus" for t h e accomplishment of the " t h e m e " .
O f t e n in t h e study of signs, rather t h a n concentrating on the
sign as a whole, we consider its constitutive parts as in, for example,
linguistics which provides us with categories for the definition of the
elements, the internal units, of an utterance. Even the category of
" s e n t e n c e " refers to an element-unit and not t o a whole. As Bakhtin
continually reminds us, f r o m 1929 onwards, all categories of linguistics
are incapable of accounting for single words when they coincide with
the whole utterance, given t h a t they are only able to define words
as sign elements, as potential discourse elements, and not as whole
signs. This criticism is n o t only relevant t o taxonomical linguistics,
b u t may even be extended to Chomskyian linguistics: the latter works
on sentences considered independently of their communicative func-
tion, leaving out of consideration b o t h the socio-ideological orienta-
tion according t o which these sentences are formulated and inter-
preted, as well as the heterogeneity of the linguistic c o m m u n i t y to
which the speaker belongs, so that it is unable to account for the
real utterance, f o r the utterance as a sign.
With reference t o verbal reality, the sign should be viewed as an
utterance related t o a social context, ideological orientation and parti-
cular discourse genre. Our interest lies with the utterance viewed as
a verbal rejoinder in a dialogue, as part of a socially and historically
specified interpersonal relation, as a live text and n o t a reified text
(the latter alludes to those analyses that describe the text as an isolated
monological expression to be interpreted solely on the basis of the
relation between t h e linguistic units that compose it and with re-
ference t o language intended as a closed system, a defined code. Indeed,
signs are n o t even single texts:
The text lives only by coming into contact with other texts (context). [...]. We
emphasize that this contact is a dialogic contact between texts (utterances), and
not a mechanical contact of "opposition" among abstract elements ("signs"
internal to the text) only possible within a single text and indispensable only to
an initial phase in comprehension (comprehension of meaning and not of sense).
Behind this contact there is contact among people, and not (internal) contact
among things (Bakhtin, "Methodology for the Human Sciences", in Bakhtin
1975).
In each act of "answering c o m p r e h e n s i o n " (cf. section 1.7), not
only does the surrounding environment of he who expresses himself
and of he w h o interprets come into play, but there is also interaction
262 Adventures of the Sign

between the axiological horizons of each. However, the dialectic


between " s e l f ' and "other" does not intervene solely at the level
of interpretation: it also comes into play during the formulation of
the expression, thus determining both its content and form.
The more the sign is complex, consistent, and endowed from an
axiological point of view, which links it to a past tradition and opens
it towards future translations (where the latter is intended not only
in the literal sense, but also in terms of interpretation, of the dialogic
relation between signs and interprétant), the more difficult it becomes
to establish the boundaries of the sign taken in its wholeness. Such
is the case, for example, of literary texts where the extra-textual
context enriches them with new senses. This occurs not because the
context arbitrarily adds new senses from the outside, but rather be-
cause each new temporal and axiological interval allows senses,
already present in the text, to finally emerge, thanks to the relation
of alterity and extralocality that comes to be established between extra-
literary context and literary text. A great literary text does not
flourish limited to the confines of its contemporaneity. In addition
to being semantically enriched in subsequent epochs, it is rooted in the
past, in the history of its own genre, in the values and ideologies that it
transmits and reorganizes artistically, etc. As Bakhtin (1970) says. . .

Semantic phenomena may exist in hidden, potential form only to reveal them-
selves in semantic cultural contexts of subsequent epochs favourable to such
revelation. The semantic treasures placed in his works by Shakespeare developed
over centuries and millenia: they lie hidden in both literary and popular language
at levels which, during Shakespeare's time, had not yet entered into literature,
into the multiform genres and forms of discourse exchange; they were hidden
in the different (prevalently carnival) forms of a powerful popular culture which
had developed over thousands of years; they were hidden in the spectacular-
theatrical genres (mystery plays, farces, etc.), in plots that have their roots in
ancient, pre-historic times, and finally, in the various forms of thinking [...].
The author and his contemporaries see, comprehend and evaluate, in the first
place, that which is closest to their own present. The author is a prisoner of his
times, of his contemporaneity. Subsequent epochs free him of such imprison-
ment and the science of literaure is called upon to help towards this liberation.

The notion of text, therefore, overcomes that of sign as an element


but, in its turn, understood as a coherent system of elements, it is
itself surpassed by the dialectics between text and context. All the
significations of the text lead us beyond its boundaries and exist in
correlation with other texts; they are continually enriched as a con-
sequence of intertextual relations.
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 263

Texts, whether written or oral, verbal or nonverbal do not have


precise boundaries, they are not defined once and for all. That which
constitutes the very specificity and singularity of a certain text is not
given by those elements of a particular system that may be repeated,
but rather is given in the sequence of texts (that is, by those texts
which precede it, for example those belonging to the same discourse
genre, and those which it encounters once it has been produced).
The text is connected to other (unrepeatable) texts by dialogic and
dialectic relations. All this is indicated in Bakhtin's writings on the
text (1959-61) as the problem of the semantic (dialectic) and dialogic
interconnection between texts within the boundaries of a particular
sphere, and as the historical interconnection of texts.
The text is not something given, it is a dialogic relation, a relation
between texts which in their turn are again dialogic relations; its
boundaries are evanescent and, in each new intertextual relation, it
always appears to be more or less "other" with respect to a previously
given "identity". The text remains identical to itself only in the case
of mechanical reproduction where it is not considered from the view-
point of its specific sense or signification (the production of a series
of copies of the same text, a reprint, etc.). On the other hand, the
reproduction of a text as a text, a new reading, a performance, a
mere quotation, that is, a new form of fruition of the text, transforms
it into something individual, unique, non repetetive and unrepeatable.
On the basis of indications that come to us from Bakhtin, we may
distinguish between two logics relative to the two "poles" of the
text. The logic of mere reproduction, repetition, and identification
of the elements constituting the system to which the text belongs,
and the logic of uniqueness, singularity and intertextual interconnec-
tion. According to Bakhtin (cf. 2.9), we have a common logic of sign
systems, a potential language of languages, a specific logic of the
text, a dia-logic, and intertextual dialectic. Concerning the verbal
text, Bakhtin (1970) believed that . . .
We may either turn towards the first pole, that is, towards language, the lan-
guage of the author, of the genre, of the ideological orientation of the times,
towards the national language (linguistics), or, finally, towards the potential
language of languages (structuralism, glossematics), or we may orient ourselves
towards the second pole, that of the unrepeatable event of the text. All possible
humanistic disciplines based upon the primary fact of the text find their place
between these two poles.
264 Adventures of the Sign

The signification of a text is always to be found along the boundaries


marking its encounter with other texts. We could speak of the pluri-
topicality of textual sense, where the latter is always an answer to
a question, a rejoinder in a dialogue, where question and answer, more
than the mere exchange of information, involve evaluations and specific
stances and orientations: they concern truth, good and evil, aesthetic
value, the interests of social, professional and class groups, etc. This
question and answer logic, in which the particular sense of the text
is decided, escapes the limits of a monologic view. Question and answer
are not the abstract and impersonal categories of Logos, rather they
are the concrete components of dialogue. Differently to monologic
relations which appear as being free from spatial-temporal references,
or as situated in the space-time dimension of monologic discourse,
the dialogic relations of question and answer have a precise and
diversified spatial and temporal collocation. Spatial-temporal distancing
between the text-question and the text-answer determines the reciprocal
irreducible otherness of each.
Question and answer presuppose a reciprocal finding oneself on the outside,
vnenachodimosf. [...]. Dialogue presupposes different chronotopes for he who
asks questions and for he who replies (and different semantic worlds, "self',
"other") (Bakhtin 1975).

Chronotopic diversity is also of an axiological order: the ideological


distance between different generations, epochs, cultures and languages,
etc.; the different values of words relative to different cultures,
traditions and epochs; the "contemporaneity" of a text intending
its capacity of being at the heights of present time; its projection
towards the future, and thus its capacity to continue to be meaning-
ful in subsequent eras, and even of "saying something more" (quali-
tatively as well) about one's own times.
All this renders the dia-logic of question and answer polylogic
and dialectic. The value of an answer lies in its capacity to provoke
a new question: if it fails to have this effect, it is no longer part of
a dialogic chain, its sense atrophies and ceases to be a living sense.
The sign taken in its wholeness is always open, thanks to its other-
ness with respect to the past, present and future, and it is just this
opening towards otherness that enables it to subsist as a sign. It ex-
pects a reply, and in those cases in which the dialogic disposition of
the sign and, therefore, its dialectic force and semantico-ideologic
force are greater, such an expectation is not directed exclusively
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 265

towards that which is close at hand at both the temporal and spatial
levels. According to Bakhtin (1959-61), Marx believed that conscious-
ness becomes real consciousness for the other as well as for myself
only through the word. And this "other" does not merely refer to
the other that is closest to us, for in the search of answering compre-
hension the word pushes itself further and further away.
The dialectic of the sign is given in Peirce by the interaction of
three components: the symbolic, iconic and indexical. All signs con-
tain symbolicity, iconicity and indexicality in varying degrees (cf.
2.8.2, this volume).
As a symbol, the sign refers to a given object from a given point
of view thanks to the mediation of the interprétant. It is the inter-
vention of the interprétant that makes it a sign and, in fact, as a symbol
the sign relates to its object solely through the interprétant. There-
fore, the symbol is a sign on the basis of convention, in virtue of
a law which determines that a given sign (symbol) refers to a given
object. In short, the symbol, says Peirce, "is itself a general type of
law, that is to say, it is a Legisign" (2.249). However, as much as
it is based on a convention, on a law, the particular relation established
by the interprétant between the symbol and its object is not based
upon the authority of a code free of the risks of interpretation (a code,
that is, conceived as a system of univocal correlations between com-
ponents at the level of content and those at the level of expression),
the relation is based uniquely upon the renvoi from one interprétant
to the next, which in its turn, can account for itself only through
another interprétant and so forth ad infinitum.
Thus the law of the symbol is founded upon the endless flight
of interprétants, upon an interminable process of deferral and renvoi.
Therefore, even as a symbol and despite the fact that as such its re-
lation to the object is determined by a law, the sign (symbol), is not
static or repetetive, it does not benefit from the guarantee of a code
without sharing in the risks involved in belonging to an interpreta-
tive process.
However, the sign is never a symbol only: it is always more or less
"degenerate", in the sense that it contains simultaneously traits of in-
dexicality and of iconicity to a weaker or stronger degree. In its turn, as
much as a sign may be above all of an indexical or of an iconic nature,
it is also, at the same time, a symbol. This means that it needs, even if
to a smaller degree with respect to a sign that is predominantly symbolic,
the mediation of an interprétant and recourse to a convention.
266 Adventures of the Sign

In signs which are prevalently indices it is not interpretation that


decides on the relation to the object. This in fact pre-exists interpre-
tation as an objective relation and conditions interpretations. The
objective relation is a relation of contiguity: the sign and that of
which it is a sign are given together independently of interpretation:
knocking on the door as a sign that someone is behind the door and
wishes to enter. This does not imply, however, that such a relation,
in order to be a sign relation, may do without convention.
When the symbol's relation to the object is degenerate in the
indexical sense, it is métonymie in character, when the symbol's
degeneracy is of the iconic order, the relation to the object is meta-
phorical. The icon is a sign that signifies in virtue of its quality, so
that a sign that is predominantly iconic has a maximum degree of
autonomy with respect to its object: it does not rely upon the presence
of the object, it is not provoked by the object, nor is it determined
by convention. But in this case too, the icon is also a symbol and an
index: even though the portrait of a person is a sign mainly because
it is an image, independently of whether or not the person portrayed
is present (which does not imply that the iconic sign is established
by convention), it is also an index insofar as it is the expression of
the effect produced on the artist by the object, as well as a symbol
insofar as it obeys conventional rules both when it is produced and
when it is interpreted.
The dialectic between iconicity, indexicality and symbolicity
gives rise to different degrees of dialogism between the premisses
and conclusions of an argument, that is, between the sign and its
interprétant within a text (the argument). The argument aims at
directly determining the interprétant, making of it its conclusion. Argu-
ments may be of three types: deductive, inductive or abductive. Each
is characterized by the prevalence of either indexicality, symbolicity,
or iconicity, and this is conditioned, among other things, by the
degree of otherness and diaologism established between the premiss
and conclusion.
In deduction the relation to the interprétant is of the indexical
type; in induction it is of the symbolic type; in abduction it is of
the iconic type.
In deduction the premisses oblige us to acknowledge the facts
established in the interpretant-conclusion so that the level of other-
ness and dialogism is very low. In induction the premisses do not
rigidly impose the conclusion: everything depends upon an inter-
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 267

pretation, a convention, so that the relation between premisses and


the conclusion is of the symbolic type. In this case, we do not have
the predetermination of a given dialogic part in an argument in virtue
of another part as occurs in deduction, here there is a certain relation
of autonomy between the parts in question: however the distancing
between the premisses and the conclusion is only of a quantitative
type: similarly to deduction, the inductive process is unilinear, it
develops according to a precise order of succession extending from
the point of departure to the point of arrival without discontinuities
or retroactions.
The course of abduction, characterized as it is by a backwards
movement from the consequent to the antecedent, is certainly very
different. It is especially at the higher levels of creative abduction
that a relation of effective dialogism is established among the parts,
given the relative autonomy of the interprétant with respect t o the
premisses: a determination in which the conclusion is decided. At
the higher levels of abductive novelty and creation, a relation of other-
ness (unforeseen by the logic of equal exchange and of equivalence)
is established between the sign and its interprétant. The interprétant
overcomes the datum in which it does not find its own motivation,
justification or compensation. The abductive imagination establishes
a connection between the datum or result and an interprétant which
is not its exact equivalent, it risks a relation which is not economical,
in which there is an investment without a counterpart (cf. sections
1.1 and 2.8.2).
Just as it refuses the principle of the supremacy of the code with
reference to the sign-interpretant relation, Peirce's semiotics also
refuses the supremacy of the subject over such a relation. Similarly
to Bakhtin, in Peirce otherness is constitutive of the very subject who
is himself an open dialogue between the sign and the interprétant.
According to Peirce also, thought has a dialogic structure for there
is never a relation of the reduction of the differences, of mere equality,
similarity, of substitution of the identical for the identical between
sign and interprétant. When we think, says Peirce (5.284), the thought-
sign, which is our very ego, is interpreted by one of our subsequent
thoughts, another one of our selves without which the first could
not have the value of thought-sign. Each thought-sign is always trans-
lated and interpreted into a subsequent thought-sign in an open chain
of deferrals among the multiple self-signs which make up the thought
of a "single person". All cognition or representation is made of inter-
268 Adventures of the Sign

pretative relations between different mental states at different times.


We do not have the subject first, and the interpretative processes,
that is, the sign-interpretant relations taking place inside that subject
when he is thinking, after. The subject does not contain these inter-
pretative processes, he is not pre-existent to them nor does he control
them from the outside: he is the chain of sign-interpretant relations
in which he recognizes himself, to the point that experience of the
self of another person is not a more complicated problem than that
relative to the recognition of certain sign-interpretant relations as
"mine", those through which " I " become aware of myself. Conse-
quently, says Peirce, just as we say that a body is in movement and
not that the movement is in a body, we should say that we are in
thought and not that thoughts are inside us.

2.11.3 Difference

There is, however, a point of total differentiation between Bakhtin's


position and Peirce's. The semiotics of the latter is closely connected to
the theory of knowledge, it is a "cognitive semiotics", while Bakhtin's
semiotics, or better, his "philosophy of language" (Bakhtin preferred
the latter expression for reference to his reflections on the problems
of sign, text, and intertextuality and used it in both his 1929 book
which appeared under the name of Volosinov, as well as in his writings
of '59-60 on the problem of the text), is closely connected to literary
criticism and could be described as literary semiotics. Such a de-
scription is appropriate not because Bakhtin's semiotics is applied
to literature, but rather because it uses literature as its point of view.
In fact, according to Bakhtin, it is the kaleidoscopic nature of the
language of literature that gives us the possibility of perceiving in
language that which escapes the linguistics of communication, pre-
relegated, as is the latter, to the sphere of the Same. Through the
language of literature we are finally able to perceive the alien word
— and by this we not only intend the word of other people, but also
the word of others as it resounds within the word of the "same"
subject. Used in a literary context, the word fully emerges as dialogic,
as internally dialogic, dialectic and intertextual. As Todorov says
(1981:165), "it is Dostoevsky, and not Bakhtin, who invented inter-
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 269

textuality!". But if we may think of Bakhtin as continuing the word of


Dostoevsky, the latter may certainly be considered as continuing the
word of a literary tradition connected to a specific genre, the novel.
Literary writing goes beyond the monologism of language, its limited
dialogism in its movement towards polylogism. Writing is this very
movement, and the various literary genres and subgenres are classifiable
in relation to their collocation between these two poles.
Literary writing enables us to see that which does not reveal itself,
that which does not give itself directly, that which is not the affir-
mation of the self which, instead, is questioned. Literary writing en-
ables us to perceive the otherness which overflows from the system
of oppositions: an absolute, autonomous otherness.
The alterity which we perceive in the oral word reveals itself directly:
it is relative alterity which presents itself as identity, as the affirmation
of another self that achieves its identification as ipseity, its egoity
in a system of mutually opposed roles and characteristic features.
He who speaks does so from a specific point of view, that which
he says is attributed to him; the speaking subject cannot separate
himself from the "self" of his own discourse.
On the contrary, the otherness of literary writing is déplacement:
in comparison with the system of oppositions, roles and commonplaces
of language, it emerges as atopia, as absence.
Writing utters the unutterable, it speaks and silences the unutterable
(cf. 2.10). The otherness of writing does not ask to be listened to,
it does not demand an audience for it does not aim at informing, per-
suading, or educating: it gives itself in silence, to be contemplated
in the silence of reading; all the same it speaks, disquieting and attrac-
tive like a silent face. Bakhtin (1970-71) defined all this as different
forms of silence. In his opinion, literary writing does not speak directly,
but rather it pictures, represents, puts on stage, mimes, parodies, and
the discourse subjects of "high" genres, such as prophets, preachers,
judges, leaders and patriarchs, etc., are all substituted by the mere
figure of the writer, the heir of their styles.
If it is true, as Bakhtin assured us, that irony has entered into all
languages, in all modern day words and forms, so that man no longer
proclaims, but rather speaks, that is, he speaks with reserve, then we
may add that literary writing accentuates this irony, this distancing
which sets the word free. If all discourses always form a dialogue with
other discourses, whether intentionally or not, the dialogism of literary
writing (which reaches its climax in the polyphonic novel) is charac-
270 Adventures of the Sign

terized by the writer's lack of commitment: his word is indirect,


déplacée. Literary writing escapes that rule of discourse which es-
tablishes that every subject must take up a stance.
Not only does Bakhtin's translinguistics go beyond linguistics but
also language in its common use, thus developing its hidden potential
of "going beyond". Such a possibility, which finds expression in
literature, is in fact immanent in language. This new science proposed
by Bakhtin (1963) is a "literary" science in the sense that it uses
literature as its point of view.
The language of literature extends beyond language, beyond lin-
guistics, beyond the oppositions constituting the system of language,
beyond relative otherness determined through opposition - otherness
as identity dependent upon deferral, renvoi to another identity, other-
ness that has no sense if not in itself.
What we are describing is the immanent capacity of "going beyond",
already inside language. In fact, a linguistic relation presupposes the
radical separation, extraneousness, and autonomy of the interlocutors.
A linguistic relation presupposes a level of otherness that cannot
be reduced to a relation of opposition (a/non-A), it presupposes a
relation in which, as Lévinas (1961:35-36) says, the terms absolve
themselves from the relation, thus remaining absolute in the relation.
We may describe this kind of otherness, to use Peirce's terminology,
in terms of Firstness, or Orience, or Originality, that is, as something
which is what it is without reference to anything else: free of con-
strictive forces or reason; like the essence of a thing as it is without
referring to anything else.
Translinguistics, therefore, makes evident the potential of language
itself, the constitutive tendency of language towards alterity. Such
potential finds its maximum expression in writing and particularly
in those literary genres and sub-genres that take language beyond
the boundaries of alterity as it is determined by the system of opposi-
tions: in fact, that which cannot be spoken can be written (in the
intransitive sense of writing).
If, as Roland Barthes says in Le grain de la voix (1981:83), Bakhtin's
work has revealed to us the possibility of analysing literary writing
as a dialogue with other forms of writing, a dialogue in writing within
writing, then we must, in the first place, characterize such dialogue
with respect to the dialogue of the oral word. Given that, as Bakhtin
(cf. 2.10.3) says, the ownership rights advanced by an author over his
own words are completely relative and oriented ideologically, we must
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 271

consider the function of writing in relation to the relativity of such


rights as claimed by the speaker and the author, and upon which
the rights of the subject are founded.
The otherness of writing does not complement the affirmation
of consciousness, its constitution as a totality; it is not the kind of
otherness necessary to the realization of identity, functional to the
sphere of self. In this sense, the dialogicality of literary writing — which
finds its full expression in the polyphonic novel — distinguishes itself
from the dialogicality of the written or the oral word which aims at
the realization of a specific end, whether scientific, ethical, political,
pedagogic, etc.
An exceptional kind of relation is therefore achieved in writing.
Each genre expresses a different kind of relation with the other through
the degree of detachment established between the author, character
and receiver. This is not determined only by the rules of grammar,
by the use, for example, of the first, second or third person, or by the
use of the various forms of reported speech, but also by the specific
rules of each genre and by the potential of the latter of being renewed
and bent towards novel expressive requirements.
As we have already seen in the previous chapter (section 2.10), literary
activity only properly begins once the author has taken his distances
with respect to the event he is describing, and places himself outside
his very own utterance, thus accomplishing a situation of "extra-
locality".
By finding oneself on the outside — extralocality — a detachment or
a relation of otherness is maintained between self and other such
as to impede the reconstruction of the totality. Complementary to the
otherness of writing is the dispossession of self, its decomposition
and escape from a return to self. The state of finding oneself on the
outside is constitutive of the creative activity of literature: irony,
indirect communication, extralocality are different aspects of the same
phenomenon: the otherness of writing.
Dialogue in writing, especially as it finds expression in the poly-
phonic novel, has different characteristics with respect to dialogue
as it is realized outside literature. In literature the dialogic potential
of language is experimented and pushed to the extreme limit where
exchange, relative and oppositive otherness, subordination of signi-
fiant to signifié, the Subject, the Truth, the economic, instrumental
and productive character of language are all overcome by a word
that is not functional and that presupposes relations of extralocality
272 Adventures of the Sign

and of absolute otherness. The otherness of writing expresses the other-


ness of that which is not writing, but which, similarly to writing,
aims at finding expression in an autonomous, self-signifying and non
functional word. A word that holds good for itself, that is constitu-
tively free, kath'autò. In this sense Bakhtin (1970-71) speaks of the
"peculiarity of polyphony", of the "unfinalizability of polyphonic
dialogue", specifying that "such dialogue is developed by unfinished
personalities and not by psychological subjects. Personalities charac-
terized by their lack of incarnation (by their tension towards a surplus)"
(cf. 2.8.4 and 2.10.4).

2.11.4 Moving in Two Directions

In an essay entitled "Le troisième sense" (1970; Eng. trans. 1977),


included in the posthumous collection of essays L'obvie et l'obtus:
Essais critiques 111, Barthes identified a third meaning or a third
level of sense: signifiance. The latter is related to the sphere of the
signifiant and as such it is distinguished from signification. This be-
longs to the second level of sense, the symbolic, and in its turn, is
distinguished from the first level, the informative, that of communi-
cation. Three different orientations in semiotic theory emerge in
relation to these three levels of meaning: semiotics of communication
(which concentrates on the informative level, on the message) ; semiotics
of signification (which concentrates on the symbolic level and is linked
to the sciences of the symbol — psychoanalysis, economy, dramaturgy);
semiotics of signifiance (which may also be called text semiotics, or
semiotics of writing as intended by the same Barthes).
In the light of what we have said up to now, both Peirce and Bakhtin
clearly take their distances from the semiotics of communication as
well as from the semiotics of signification, of the symbol. The whole
itinerary of Bakhtin's research, extending from 1924 to 1974, may
be traced within the sphere of the semiotics of signifiance, of the text,
of writing, finding its place, therefore, alongside such authors as
Blanchot, Derrida, Kristeva and Barthes himself (the Barthes sub-
sequent to Eléments de sémiologie, 1964, which we may consider as
the manifesto of the semiotics of signification). However, the semiotics
of signifiance, as the semiotics of deferral and renvoi from one signifiant
Semiotics Between Peirce and Bakhtin 27 3

to another, emancipated from the myth of the supremacy of the code,


of the subject, of meaning, can also include Peirce's semiotics. Con-
sequently, a double orientation emerges in the semiotics of the third
meaning, or of signifiance: semiotics of the text and of (intransitive,
literary) writing, and semiotics of interpretation which includes the
cognitive semiotics of Peirce.
274 Adventures of the Sign

2.12 Looking Back While Moving On

2.12.1 Philosophy of Language and Semiotics

It is difficult to establish a boundary between semiotics and the philoso-


phy of language. While it is possible to distinguish between philosophy
of language and the specific areas of semiotic research (including
linguistics) viewed as grammars of particular sign systems, the distinc-
tion between general semiotics and philosophy of language is rendered
more problematic by the fact that general semiotics is necessarily
philosophical. Nor can the problem be solved by simply stating that
while general semiotics concerns itself with all types of signs, philosophy
of language only turns it attention to verbal languages (natural and
specialized) and to those disciplines that study them. Apart from a
few exceptions, owing to the need for a contingent and temporary
restriction of the field of research, more than to an attempt to define
it, philosophy of language — in Italy we could go back as far as Giovanni
Vailati (cf. section 2.2) — has concentrated upon verbal and nonverbal
signs, described according to the perspective of semantics, logico-
syntactics or pragmatics.
The problem of the relation between philosophy of language and
semiotics is indeed related to the more general problem of the relation
between philosophy and science. As the general science of signs and,
therefore, as one of the many sciences of language, semiotics dis-
tinguishes itself from the philosophy of language, even if, as Eco
(1984) says, general semiotics, as opposed to the various specific
semiotics, cannot prescind from a philosophical study of its own
categories. And the very fact that Eco, despite his declaration that
semiotics is philosophical in nature, entitled his 1984 book Semiotics
and the Philosophy of Language shows how not even this author con-
siders these two disciplines as being identical. Philosophy of language is
characterized by its exploration of the external limits, of the pro-
trusions and excesses with respect to the "semiotic field", or to the
field of the science — or "theory" (Morris) or "doctrine" (Sebeok) — of
signs. Taking up the expression used by Bakhtin, who characterized
his own descriptions of language as "metalinguistic" because they
went beyond the limits of linguistics, we could characterize philosophy
Looking Back While Moving On 27 5

of language as "metasemiotic". After all, Bakhtin himself, in the


book that appeared under Volosinov's name in 1929 — Marxism and
Philosophy of Language — used the expression "philosophy of
language" to designate his own research which unfolds in adjacent
fields and along the boundaries of all the disciplines that concern
themselves with languages and signs, concentrating on their points
of contact and intersections. And even in more recent times (during
the first half of the 1970s), when the term semiotics was generally
accepted as indicating the general science of signs, Bakhtin never
used that term to indicate his own research, thus distinguishing his
work from that of such authors as Ju. M. Lotman. The dialogic character
of the relation between these two levels of investigation, and, con-
sequently, the scientific commitment of the philosophy of language
and the philosophical foundation of semiotics, clearly emerge from
the connotation of philosophy of language as trans-semiotics. This
distinction between philosophy and the science of signs is also present
in the title of a book by Ferruccio Rossi-Landi (1985), Metodica
filosofica e scienza dei segni, a scholar who always looked towards
semiotics from an "alien" point of view, from the point of view of
philosophy (which with respect to science is especially characterized
by dialogic alterity), from the point of view of philosophy of language.

2.12.2 Beyond Code Semiotics

In the last ten years we have been witnessing a more direct and explicit
assumption of the epistemological presuppositions that have made
it difficult for "semiotics of the code", or of "equal exchange" to
take root in Italy. The latter alludes to the general model of sign
according to which messages are formulated and exchanged on the
basis of a code (which has been defined and fixed antecedently with
respect to the actual use of signs so that, requiring only decodification,
it does not present the risks involved in interpretation), of a two way
correspondence between signifiant and signifié. Code semiotics, the
product of a distorted interpretation of Saussure and of the reformula-
tion of the Saussurean dichotomy langue/parole in terms of the theory
of information (see The Mathematical Theory of Communication,
by Shannon and Weaver, 1949), is tied to a notion of communication
276 Adventures of the Sign

that describes communicative interaction in terms of an object that


passes from one place to another. This model today appears more and
more inadequate, thanks also to the emergence of Peirce's "semiotics
of interpretation" (but Bakhtin's philosophy of language may have
also had effects in this sense), as well as to socio-cultural trans-
formations that tend towards new signifying practices intollerant of
the polarization between code and message, langue and parole. By
socio-cultural changes, we are alluding to the weakening of those
centripetal forces of linguistic life, and of socio-cultural life in general,
that privilege the unitary system of the code with respect to the multi-
voicedness and multi-availability of the sign. This need that "philosophy
of language" should concentrate on that aspect which is irreducibly
other with respect to the expectation of totalization on the part of the
dichotomous schema of code semiotics, is already explicitly expressed
by Rossi-Landi (cf. section 2.4) in his 1961 book, Significato, comuni-
cazione e parlare comune : in it he takes a clear stand against conceiving
communication in terms of a postal package sent off by one post-office
and received by another one. Going back still further, the writings of
Giovanni Vailati (at last collected in a volume of his complete works,
edited by Mario Quaranta, Forni, 1988), include studies in philosophy
of language that criticize the expectation of solving problems of in-
determinacy and ambiguity, present in common language, through
recourse to the imposition of univocality and use of definitions.
And this is even more interesting if we keep account of the fact that
Vailati conducted his work on language in relation to Peirce's prag-
matism and Victoria Lady Welby's Signifies (cf. section 2.2), only
just recently brought to attention in Italy thanks also to the translation
of a selection of her writings (see Petrilli 1985).
This perspective also leads us to reflect upon the applicability of the
notion of "system" introduced by Saussure and taken on uncondi-
tionally in the study of natural languages and, by extension, of all other
languages, despite the doubts and perplexities expressed by Saussure
himself. The fact that communication is a continual questioning of
the rules governing linguistic games which are continually adapted
to the needs and contexts of communication, is emphasized more and
more: meaning is considered to be inseparable from the work of trans-
lation carried out in the process of interpretation, to the point that,
together with Peirce, we may state that signs do not exist without
there being another sign acting as interprétant. The very notion of
"language" appears suspect, loaded as it is with Saussurean and
Looking Back While Moving On 277

Chomskyian systemic valencies. As for the notion of "code", a debate


was conducted in Italy on its uses and abuses from approximately
the mid 1970s onwards (see, Intorno al codice, Eco et alii, 1976).
Eco substituted the notion of "code" with that of "encyclopedia".
Segre (1983:144) has observed that by concentrating solely on the
level of codification and of the institution of the rules of use, we lose
sight of the processes of signification which, "cannot be studied by
taking the Saussurean model of sign as the starting point; [signifi-
cation] , on the contrary, should be placed at the centre of the pro-
cesses of sign production and considered among the more complex
results of unlimited semiosis".
By considering verbal signs (oral and written) and nonverbal signs
as being connected to each other like the nodes or the points of in-
tersection in a large and dense network, which, similarly to the
nodes in a network, would disappear if the pieces joining them were
eliminated, I have proposed that we define meaning as one of the possi-
ble interpretative routes connecting the nodes in this network, that is,
(interpreted) signs, to an open series of interprétants (cf. 1.1, this
volume). Even when the interprétant limits itself to identification,
to the mere recognition of the interpreted, it differentiates itself
from that interpreted, it does not repeat it, it shifts it in some other
direction, risks an opinion, and offers something more than what the
interpreted sign actually proposes. Thus the relation between the
interpreted sign and the interprétant is a relation of alterity, and
as Peirce stated, the sign is something which always enables us to know
something more.
From interpretation given at the level of perception to the critical
interpretation of a written text, all signs are constitutively dialogic
given that they take form in a relation of alterity with the interprétant,
without which the conferral of sense would not be possible. Therefore,
the logic of interpretation is dialogic. In this sense it is possible to
propose a philosophy of language which evokes simultaneously both
Peirce and Bakhtin.

2.12.3 Extensions on the Boundaries of Semiotics

If we are able to characterize philosophy of language as trans- or meta-


semiotics, then another three themes may be indicated that clearly
278 Adventures of the Sign

demonstrate (as a requirement of philosophy of language), the over-


coming of the boundaries previously traced around the field of
semiotics. We will take Eco's Trattato di semiotica generale, 1975
(A Theory of Semiotics, 1975), as a point of reference for the identi-
fication of such boundaries.
One theme concerns the referent. If in La struttura assente, 1968,
Eco stated, in accordance with the stances taken up by Jakobson
and Ullman, that "the problem of the referent has no relevance
in a semiological perspective", in the Trattato he declared that "the
semiotic object is first of all the content and not the referent". Using
Eco's own terminology, we might describe the change of position as re-
gards the problem of the relation between meaning and referent, as it is
documented in the passage from La struttura assente and Le forme del
contenuto to the Trattato di semiotica generale, as the passage from
an "antireferential" semiotics to a "non referential" semiotics and
subsequently to a semiotics that is "not immediately referential". Exclu-
sion of the referent from the study of the conditions of signification,
from the "theory of codes", and its assignment to the competencies of
truth value theory, was the result of wrongly considering the referent
as something external to semiosis, as a non-cultural entity ; or of identi-
fying it with meaning and thus annulling it in that notion. On the
contrary, the referent is part of semiosis and should not be identified
with the meaning of the sign of which it is a referent: this clearly
emerges also in the light of Peirce's triadic analysis of the sign into
representamen — interprétant — object. On the other hand, to identify
"having a referent", with "being true" means not to keep account of
the distinction proposed by Morris between the sign's (always) re-
ferring to something (its designatum) and the sign's (not always)
referring to something that exists in the sense of existence attributed to
it by the sign (its denotatum). This distinction was already present in
Peter of Spain's Tractatus or Summule logicales (It. trans., 1985) where
the suppositio (to stand for something) was differentiated from the
appellatio (to stand for something existent), and both were distin-
guished in their turn from the significatio (to have meaning) (cf. 1.2 and
2.1.4). In Eco 1984, instead, the relevancy of the referent to a theory of
semiosis was recovered through the use of the term (taken from
Jakobson) renvoi. He distinguishes between the sign's (always) having a
renvoi (the designatum) and its (not always) having a "referent" (the
denotatum), and between the renvoi and meaning, which is all that
which identifies and is liable to interpretation (see pp. 55ff.). One way
Looking Back While Moving On 279

of freeing the referent of its erroneous exclusion from the process


of semiosis is by considering it as an "implicit interprétant" (cf. section
1.2). Given that that to which we refer are not "hard dry facts" or
"things in flesh and blood", but facts and things acting as interpreted-
signs and in their turn interpretant-signs, the referent belongs to an
implicit interpretative route.
Another theme that shifts the study of signs beyond what were
thought to be the boundaries of semiotics, is what Eco (1975) called
"the lower limit of semiotics": this, however, does not only involve
the behaviour of non-human and therefore non-cultural communities.
It is especially through Sebeok's work that we realize today that the
study of signs cannot be restricted to the "science qui étude la vie des
signes au sein de la vie sociale", but must also turn its attention to
communication of a zoosemiotic and bio-semiotic order. As Sebeok
says, zoosemiotic behaviour and biological foundations are at the
epicentre of the study of both communication and signification.
Finally, a third theme is that of the relation between signs and the
subject: under this aspect, also, reflection on language goes beyond
semiotics as a science and concerns it instead as philosophy of language.
The allusion is to what Eco (1975) called "the extreme threshold of
semiotics". The overcoming of this threshold and reflection on the
relation between "sign and subject" (this is the title of a paragraph in
Eco 1984), is now necessary owing to the fact that, as Eco himself
recognizes (see ibid. pp. 53-54), there is always a very close implication
between the conception of sign and that of the subject (the sign viewed
as equality and identity is connected to a sclerotic notion of the sub-
ject), and the sign situated within the open process of semiosis is
connected to a subject prone to continual construction and deconstruc-
tion. As Peirce says, the subject is itself an open chain of signs and
interprétants.

2.12.4 Binarism and Triadism

It has been said that semiotic research today is celebrating a "cold war"
between semioticians of Saussurean/Hjelmslevian/Greimasian orienta-
tion and semioticians of Peircean orientation: these two factions
seem to oppose binarism to triadism. I am convinced that the heart
280 Adventures of the Sign

of the matter does not lie in the opposition between binarism and
triadism, but rather between a model of sign that tends to oversimplify
things with respect to the complex process of semiosis and a semiotic
model (as is that perspected by Peirce) that seems to do more justice
to the various aspects and factors of the process by which something
is a sign. This is achieved not on the mere basis of an empty triadic
form, but rather thanks to the specific contents of Peirce's triadism, that
is, to the categories it in fact consists of, the typology of signs it pro-
poses, the dynamic model it offers by describing signs as founded
upon renvoi from one interprétant to another. The categories of
i
'firstness', 'secondness', and 'thirdness', the triad representamen\
'interprétant', and 'object', the characterization of the sign on the
basis of its triple tendency towards symbolicity, indexicality and
iconicity, permit the emphasis and maintenance within a semiotic
perspective of the alterity and dialogism constitutive of signs. In an
article published in Versus (n. 34, 1983) and entitled "Abduzione
e alterità", I attempted to put into evidence the dialogic and polylogic
character of Peircean logic (see 2.8). The merit does not go to the
triadic formula. The proof is offered by Hegelian dialectic in which
triadism, abstracted as it is from the constitutive dialogism of sign
life, gives rise to metaphysical, abstract and monological dialectic.
Bakhtin gave a good explanation of how this type of dialectic is
formed in his 1970-1971 notebooks, showing how it actually has its
roots in a vital dialogic sign context: the process consists in taking
out the voices (division of voices) from dialogue, eliminating any
(personalistic/emotional) intonations, and thus transforming live
words into abstract concepts and judgements, so that dialectic is
obtained in the form of a single abstract consciousness. Peirce himself
also took a stand against the systematic skeleton of the Hegelian
analysis, against dialectic intended as a kind of hypocondriac search
for an end, that is, oriented unilaterally instead of being open and
contradictory (on the relation between dialogue and dialectic in
Peirce and Bakhtin, see Ponzio and Bonfantini, 1983) (cf. 2.11.2).
The alternative, therefore, is not between binarism and triadism,
but between monologism and polylogism. The limit of the model
of sign as proposed by the semiology of Saussurean matrix is not deter-
mined by binarism as such, but by the fact that such binarism finds
expression in the conception of equal exchange between signifier and
signified, and in the reduction of complex sign life to the dichotomous
schema of the code and message (2.7).
Looking Back While Moving On 281

2.12.5 Philosophy of Language and Marxism

Unless we refer to the unsuccessful attempt carried out by N. Ja.


Marr of constructing a Marxist linguistics (cf. J. -B. Marcellesi et alii,
1978; L. Formigari (ed.), 1973), I would prefer to speak of a Marxian
conception, or better still, of a Marxist conception of language,
in order to avoid the misunderstanding that we are dealing with a
conception elaborated by Marx (despite his frequent references to
language, we cannot speak of a Marxian theory of language or, even
less so, of Marxian linguistics). In the chapter of this book devoted
to the relation between semiotics and Marxism, I have already dis-
cussed the lack of "determinacy", precisely in the Marxian sense, of
such abstractions as "Marxism" and "Marxist". If we wish to speak, all
the same, of a Marxist conception of language, what we must intend is
certainly not a theory which applies Marxism to the study of language,
but an approach to language that contributes to the development
and to the verification of historico-dialectical materialism, opening
it to confrontation with the current sciences of language. From this
point of view, we may cite as examples of the Marxist conception
of language that proposed by Bakhtin/Volosinov in Marxism and
Philosophy of Language (1929, Eng. trans. 1973), and taken up again
in his subsequent writings on aesthetics and literary criticism; Vygotsky,
in Thought and Language (1934), and his school; Schaff in Introduc-
tion to Semantics (1962) and in his other subsequent writings on
language; Rossi-Landi in his trilogy Π linguaggio come lavoro e come
mercato (1968, Eng. trans., Language as Work and Trade, 1983),
Semiotica e ideologia (1972, 197 9 2 ), and Metodica filosofica e scienza
dei segni (1985). It is precisely by keeping in mind the work of such
authors — whom I will not analyse here, as I have extensively concerned
myself with them in other writings — that I believe we may state
with certainty that a Marxist conception of language, as I intend it,
may give a considerable contribution to the determination of the
specificity of verbal language with respect to other sign systems (cf.
2.6.2 and 2.7).
282 Adventures of the Sign

2.12.6 Signs and Exchange Value

Language is naturally given over to exchange. But what kind of


exchange? It is a mistake — as has been demonstrated in cultural
anthropology from Mauss to Godelier — to believe that there exists
only one form of exchange, pointing to exchange in mercantile and
capitalistic society as its natural form. I have described the latter
as equal exchange: that is, a form of exchange obtained on the basis
of an ideology of equality, of symmetry between giving and receiving.
Such an ideology emerges very clearly in the exchange between salary
and work force, for the latter aims at equalizing that which cannot
be equalized, in other words, work, insofar as it is precisely work that
is the source of value.
In the case of language, it is not a matter of setting the dominion
of use value against the dominion of exchange value: such oppositions
are yet again in line with Saussurean linguistics and marginalistic
economics, which, according to a separatistic ideology between pub-
lic life and private life, identify an individual use of products (the
Saussurean parole) exchanged according to the laws of the social
system of the market (the Saussurean langue). In the analysis of lan-
guage, therefore, it is not a question of affirming the rights of the
individual word (use value) over the social laws of langue, but rather
of substituting the bipartite division between langue and parole with
the tripartite division into collective linguistic work, collective language
produced by such work, and th & speech of single individuals. The latter
is obtained on the basis of models and instruments produced by collec-
tive speech and is not less social than languages in general and natural
language.
Language is naturally given over to exchange. This, however, does
not mean that it is consecrated to equal exchange. The signifier may
function autonomously with respect to the meaning that the speaker
is aware of formulating in his thoughts and messages: such signifiers
are developed on the basis of models and programs that the speaker
ignores, or that he is unable to control. The signifier is at the service
of a signified predetermined by interests in which the speaker does
not recognize himself and which orient his own linguistic work towards
aims which are not his own. A part of the linguistic work carried out
by speakers is a function of their communication needs; while another
part, surplus work, is a function of their private interests and of the
Looking Back While Moving On 283

reproduction of the social relations of dominion and exploitation.


Language presents itself as alienated language in a system of linguistic
production in which the dominant class excercises control (even if
with contradictions — the expression of contrasting interests within
this same single class), as a function of its own reproduction, over
communication channels and imposes rules for the formulation and
interpretation of messages. In the exchange between signifier and
signified, a surplus is obtained in the signifier which is functional
to the maintenance of the order of discourse as it univocally orientates
communicative intentionality — against the will and without the
knowledge of the speaker — towards meanings which express the
dominant ideology. Equal exchange between signifier and signified
emerges, therefore, as the subjection of the signifier to a signified
passively endured to the detriment of other semantico-ideological
possibilities. Equal exchange, towards which it would seem that lan-
guage is naturally inclined, is therefore no more than the mystification
of a real relation characterized by the lack of equality and by dominion
in which speech is univocally and monologically channelled. Linguistic
alienation is inseparably connected to monologism. Whenever the
signifier reacquires its own autonomy with respect to the signified to
which the dominant order of discourse makes it correspond (so that it is
once again multivoiced, ambiguous and ideologically pluriaccentuated),
the power of the dominant ideology is put into crisis. The oppressive
monologism of equal exchange is substituted by the polyglossia of a uni-
verse of discourse in which the signifiers affirm their lack of symmetry,
their autonomy and otherness with respect to signifieds pre-established
and fixed once and for all, thus obliging the interpretative process
to become an open, innovative and critical process, "an endless flight
of interprétants".
If language is naturally inclined towards exchange, there are forms
of exchange that are naturally refractory to the ideology of equal
exchange: I am alluding to exchanges as a sort of potlach, as the
surplus of signifiers, as dépense, as an investment without returns,
without a counterpart. The word finds the possibility of subtracting
itself from the logic of equal exchange in the phatic function of dis-
course, in "fragmented amorous discourse", in writing (that of the liter-
ary writer), "intransitive writing" (Barthes) which is achieved as the "ab-
sence of the work", as "infinite entertainment" (Mallarmé, Blanchot).
All uses of language in the form of dépense (Bataille), of the loss of
a counterpart, that is, with no specific function and unproductive,
284 Adventures of the Sign

language as the challenge of seduction, as intended by Baudrillard,


as a challenge interrupting the balance of equal exchange, may be
generally described as the practice of writing (cf. 2.10 and Ponzio,
1983). The inertia of signifiers connected with meaning, with a func-
tion, with a referent, with a fixed subject set in a given role, with
the order of narration, with the "facts", with prefixed and contracted
relations, is countered with a practice in which the signifiers, caught
up in a perverse game, to seduce and be seduced by each other, refer
back to themselves, thus dissipating all routes that may lead from
themselves to a fixed point, a goal, a conclusion, an end.
The vocation of natural language to exchange value, to its collective,
social, public existence, does not exclude the possibility (even if it
contradicts it — at the dialectical and not at the logico-formal level)
of linguistic alienation and of linguistic private property, just as capital
though a common product (activated, in the final analysis, by all the
members of a given society so that it represents a social rather than a
personal potential), does not exclude the possibility of subsisting in
the form of personal property and of assuming a class character. Marx
himself established a relation between language and property: despite
their social character, this emphasizes the possibility of both private
property and economic alienation as well as of linguistic private pro-
perty and of linguistic alienation (cf. Grundrisse).

2.12.7 From Peirce and Bakhtin

Interest in Bakhtin is no less strong in Italy than in France or the


United States. Some of the works of Bakhtin and his "circle" appeared
in Italy even before their appearance in France or in the United States.
Furthermore, we must not forget Japan and Canada; the first Interna-
tional Colloquium on Bakhtin (1983) was held in Canada, at Kingston
(Ontario). Whoever is interested in records should consult Thomson's
paper "Bakhtin-Baxtin-Bakhtine-Bachtin-Bakutin: On the Evolution
of Bakhtin Criticism", held at the above-mentioned convention on
Bakhtin and which examines the diffusion of interest in Bakhtin
at a worldwide level. I will simply add to this, as confirmation
of the interest in Bakhtin in Italy, that the second International
Colloquium on Bakhtin was held in Cagliari, in 1985; and, also,
Looking Back While Moving On 285

that the presence of Bakhtin's influence may be traced even where


it is not immediately obvious. As for example, in Eco's Name of
the Rose which, though a novel, I consider to be the most "advanced"
and "updated" text by this author on his conception of semiotics,
given that with this novel he frees himself completely of code semiotics :
the very enigma of the murder solved at the end of the novel is
"Bakhtinian".
The major contribution that can come to us from Bakhtin is his
theorization of the dialogic dimension of language as it emerges parti-
cularly in literary writing and in certain literary genres, such as the
novel, and especially the polyphonic novel. I believe that we must turn
our attention, today, to both Peirce and Bakhtin for the theoretical re-
writing of semiotics. Peirce's semiotics is closely connected to the
theory of knowledge, it is a "cognitive semiotics". Bakhtin's work,
instead, is closely connected to literary criticism and could be de-
signated as "literary semiotics", not because it is applied to literature
(from this point of view Peirce's semiotics may also be, and in fact
is, applied to literature), but because it takes literature as its point
of view (cf. section 2.10).
Indeed, in Bakhtin it is precisely the kaleidoscope of literature that
offers the possibility of seeing in language that which the linguistics
of communication, pre-relegated as it is to the sphere of the Self,
cannot capture: that is, the alien word, not only the word of others
which requires answering comprehension, but also the resonance of
an alien voice in the word of the "same" subject. From the point of
view of literature, the word presents itself as being internally dialogic,
dialectic, intertextual. The dialogue of writing, especially as it emerges
in the polyphonic novel, has something peculiar about it that distin-
guishes it from dialogue as it appears externally to literature. Literature
experiments the dialogic potential of language in all its possibilities,
pushing it to the very limit where exchange, relative and oppositive
otherness, the subordination of the signifier to the signified, to the
subject, to Truth, where the economic, instrumental and productive
character of language are all overcome by a word that has no function
and that presupposes relations of extralocality, absolute otherness:
a word that is self-signifying.
286 Adventures of the Sign

2.12.8 A Semiotic Babel

In an interview published in Dove va la semiotica? (G. Marrone [ed],


1984), 1 was asked the following question: "One of the biggest prob-
lems in semiotic studies today is the fact that the results obtained
by single researchers cannot be homologized. All semioticians speak
their own language: how are we to get free of this semiotic Babel?".
My reply was the following: Why get free of it? I do not think that
a babelic situation in linguistics is a misfortune. I even wrote an
apologue on this issue entitled "Babele felice" (see Ponzio, 1983¿»),
in which I aimed to show how the true misfortune is a condition of
monolingualism. If anything, it is a question of passing, in the case of
semiotic studies as well, from the kind of plurilingualism that consists
of separation and reciprocal indifference among the diverse languages
(where researchers, that is, mutually ignore each other's proposals
of unifying terminologies and programs and of linguistic homologiza-
tion), to a situation of dialogic plurilingualism. However, I do not
believe we have a situation of reciprocal separation and indifference
in current studies in semiotics. On the other hand, despite differences
between the single theoretical positions, reference to the same problem
(those which are recognized as being "semiotic"), enables us to com-
pare these positions if it is true that they are not already connected by
an internal and direct relation, or by a relation of reciprocal influence,
or that they do not belong to the same school or orientation, or even,
that they are not connected by a relation of opposition. The very
fact that we are able to speak of a history of semiotics as delineated in
the last twenty-five years, and to establish a typology of the diverse
positions held in semiotics (for this aspect I refer the reader to Bon-
fantini's essay "Le tre tendenze semiotiche del novecento", to my own
paper on semiotics between Peirce and Bakhtin, [cf. section 2.11.1],
in addition to Barthes' splendid article "Le troisième sens"), shows
that direct and indirect relations between results and terminologies
within semiotics do in fact exist. The real problem does not lie in the
dialogic polyglossia internal to semiotics, but rather in external
dialogism, that is, between semiotics and the other sciences (leaving
aside in this case also any inclination towards monolinguistic homologi-
zations) and between semiotics and the general socio-cultural context
whose languages it believes it masters. Indeed, I do not think that
there is any desire to form some sort of association of semioticians
Looking Back While Moving On 287

who understand everyone completely and who (in spite of their claim
of knowing all about languages) succeed in communicating with anyone
who does not work in their same field.
288 Adventures of the Sign

Bibliography

Note
The subsections in the bibliography correspond to the chapter divisions in Part 2.

2.1 On Meaning and Referent in Peter of Spain

Bakhtin, Mikhail; Volosinov, Valentin Nicoelaevic


1929 Marksizm i filosofila jazyka (see bibliography section 1.0.), chp. 4.
Barthes, Roland
1985 "L'ancienne rhétorique", in L'aventure sémiologique, Paris: Seuil,
pp. 85-166.
Black, M.
1949 "Vagueness", in Black, M., Language and Philosophy, New York.
Bottin, Francesco
1976 Le antinomie semantiche nella logica medievale, Padova: Antenore.
Corvino, Francesco et alti
1983 Linguistica medievale, Bari: Adriatica.
Dal Pra, Mario
1956 "La teoria del significato totale della proposizione nel pensiero di
Gregorio da Rimini", Rivista critica di storia della filosofia, II, pp. 287-
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Derrida, Jacques
1967 La voix et le phénomène, Paris : PUF.
1971 "Sémiologie et Grammatologie", in J. Kristeva, J. Rey-Debove, D. J.
Umiker, Essays in Semiotics, The Hague: Mouton, pp. 12-17.
Dinnen, Francis, P.
1967 An Introduction to General Linguistics, New York: Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, 1967.
Eco, Umberto
1975 Trattato di semiotica generale, Milano: Bompiani; Eng. trans. A Theory
of Semiotics, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Frege, Gottlob
1884 Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik, Breslavia: Köbner.
Ghisalberti, Alessandro
1980 "La semiotica medievale. I terministi", in P. Lendinara and C. Ruta,
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del cìrcolo semiologico siciliano, 15-16,1980, pp. 53-68.
Gilson, Etienne
1952 La philosophie au Moyen Age, Paris: Payot.
Husserl, Edmund
1948 Erfahrung und Urteil, Hamburg: Classen Verlag.
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Jakobson, Roman
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Paris.
Lamberto d'Auxerre
1970 Summa logicae, ed. by F. Alessio, Firenze.
Morris, Charles
1938 Foundations of the Theory of Signs, in Morris, Writings on the General
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Ockham, William
1974 Summa totius logicae, Ph. Boehner, G. Gài, and S. Broxn, St.
Bonaventure, (eds.) New York: The Franciscan Institute.
Ogden, C.K.; Richards, I.A.
1923 The Meaning of Meaning, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, chp. 1.
Pagliaro, Antonino; De Mauro, Tullio
1973 La forma linguistica, Milano: Rizzoli.
Peirce, Charles Sanders
1931-58 Collected Papers, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, voi. 2.
Peter of Spain
1972 Tractatus, subsequently called Summule logicales, first Criticai Edition
from the Manuscripts with an Introduction by L.M. De Rijk, Assen:
Van Gorcum. It. trans, by A. Ponzio, Bari: Adriatica, 1986.
Ponzio, Augusto
1976 La semiotica in Italia. Fondamenti teorici, Bari: Dedalo, pp. 69-98.
1978 "Semiosis, referent and sign production in a theory of semiotics",
Ars Semeiotica 2, pp. 7-27.
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Rossi-Landi, Ferruccio
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Schaff, Adam
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Volosinov, V.N., see Bakhtin, Mikhail
William of Shyreswood
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290 Adventures of the Sign

2.2 On Signifies and Semiotics: V. Welby and G. Vailati

Bréal, Michel
1897 Essais de Semantique, science des significations, 3rd ed. Paris: Hachette,
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Cust, Henry-Nina
1928 Wanderers: Episodes from the Travels of Lady Emmeline Stuart-
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1929 (intro. and ed.) Echoes of a Larger Life: A Selection From the Early
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1931 (ed.) Other Dimensions: A Selection from the Later Correspondence
of Victoria Lady Welby, London: Jonathan Cape.
Eschbach, Achim
1983 "Signifies as a Fundamental Science", in Victoria Lady Welby: What
is Meaning? Reprint of London: Macmillan, 1903; Amsterdam/
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Hardwick, Charles S.
1977 (ed.) Semiotics and Signifies. The correspondence between Charles
S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby, Bloomington/London: Indiana
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Hayakawa, S.I.
1954 "Semantics, General Semantics, and Related Disciplines", in Hayakawa
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Mannoury, Gerrit
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1923 The Meaning of Meaning, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, chp. 8,
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Peirce, Charles Sanders
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1953 Charles S. Peirce's Letters to Lady Welby, ed. by Irwin C. Lieb, New
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1956 Chance, Love and Logic. It. trans, by N. & M. Abbagnano, intro.
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1957 "Materiale per lo studio di Vailati", in Rivista critica di storia della
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1892 The Use of "Inner" and "Outer" in Psychology: Does the Metaphor
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2 . 3 O n t h e Signs of R o s s i - L a n d i ' s W o r k *

Petrilli, Susan
1987 (ed.) Per Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, Il Protagora, 11/12.
1988 (intro. It. trans, and ed.), Charles Morris, Segni e valori, Bari: Adriatica.
1988 Signifies, semiotica, significazione, Bari: Adriatica.

* See the next section for a more exhaustive list of Rossi-Landi's publications.
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1988 Rossi-Landi e la filosofia del linguaggio, Bari : Adriatica.
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2.4 On the Semiotics of Common Speech

Amer, Mohamed, A. et alii


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1974a Filosofia del linguaggio e prassi sociale, Lecce: Milella.


1974b "Linguistica saussuriana ed economia politica", Filosofia, XXV, 3,
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