Monday, October 29, 2012

Ortega y Gasset: Revolt of the Masses, Chapter 6

A complete chapter from my translation of Jose Ortega y Gasset's landmark book The Revolt of the Masses.

Chapter 6 — The Dissection of the Mass-Man Begins

What is he like, this mass-man who today dominates public life? —political and non-political life— and why is he the way he is? I mean, how has he been produced?

Let’s answer both questions together, for they throw light on each other. The man who today is attempting to take the lead in European existence is very different from the man who directed the 19th Century, but he was produced and prepared by the 19th Century. Any keen mind of the years 1820, 1850, and 1880 could by simple a priori reasoning, foresee the gravity of the present historical situation, and in fact nothing is happen­ing now which was not foreseen a hundred years ago. "The masses are advancing," said Hegel in apocalyptic fashion. "Without some new spiritual influence, our age, which is a revolutionary age, will produce a catastrophe,” announced Comte. "I see the flood-tide of nihilism rising," shrieked the en-mustachioed Nietzsche from a crag of the Engadine. It is false to say that history cannot be foretold. Countless times this has been done. If the future offered no window to prophecy, it could not be understood when fulfilled in the present and when it becomes history. The idea that the historian is on the reverse side a prophet, sums up the whole philosophy of history. It is true that it is only possible to anticipate the general structure of the future, but that is all that we in truth understand of the past, or of the present. Accordingly, if you want a good view of your own age, look at it from far off. From what distance? Elementary: just far enough to prevent you seeing Cleopatra's nose.

What appearance did life present to that multitudinous man who in ever-increasing abundance the 19th Cen­tury kept engendering? To start with, it presented the appearance of uni­versal material ease. Never had the average man been able to solve his economic problem with greater looseness. While the great fortunes deceased proportionately, and life became harder for the individual worker, the middle classes found their economic horizon widened every day. Every day added a new luxury to their stand­ard of life. Every day their position was more secure and more independent of another's will. What before would have been considered one of fortune's gifts, inspiring hum­ble gratitude towards destiny, was converted into a right not to be grateful for, but to be insisted on.
From 1900 on, the worker also begins to extend and assure his existence. But he has to struggle to obtain his end. He does not, like the middle class, find the benefit attentively served up to him by a society and a state which are a marvel of organization.
To this ease and security of economic conditions are to be added the physi­cal ones: comfort and public order. Life runs on smooth rails, and there is no likelihood of anything violent or dangerous disruptions.

Such a free and open situation was bound to instill into the depths of such souls an idea of existence which might be expressed in the witty and graceful phrase of our old country: "Wide is Castile." That is to say, in all its primary and decisive aspects, life presented itself to the new man as exempt from restrictions. The realization of this fact and of its importance sprouts automatically when we remember that such a freedom of existence was entirely lacking to the common men of the past. On the contrary, for them life was a burdensome destiny — economically and physi­cally. From birth they felt existence as an accumula­tion of impediments which they were obliged to bear, without possible solution other than to adapt themselves to them, to settle down in the narrow space the obstacles left available.

But still more evident is the contrast of situations, if we pass from the material to the civil and moral. The average man, from the second half of the 19th Century on, finds no social barriers raised against him. That is to say, that as regards the forms of public life he no longer finds himself from birth confronted with obstacles and limitations. There is nothing to force him to limit his existence. Here again, "Wide is Castile." There are no "estates" or "castes." There are no civil privileges. The ordinary man learns that all men are equal before the law.

Never in the course of history had man been placed in vital surroundings even remotely familiar to those set up by the conditions just mentioned. We are, in fact, confronted with a radical innovation in human destiny, implanted by the 19th Century. A new stage has been mounted for human existence, new both in the physical and the social aspects. Three principles have made pos­sible this new world: liberal democracy, scientific ex­periment, and industrialism. The two latter may be summed up in one word: technicism. Not one of those principles was invented by the19th Century; they proceed from the two previous centuries. The glory of the 19th Century lies not in their discovery, but in their implantation. No one but recognizes that fact. But it is not sufficient to recognize it in the abstract, it is necessary to realize its inevitable consequences.

The 19th Century was of its essence revolutionary.

This aspect is not to be looked for in the scenes of the barricades, which are mere incidents, but in the fact that it placed the average man-the great social mass-in con­ditions of life radically opposed to those by which he had always been surrounded. It turned his public exist­ence upside down. Revolution is not the uprising against pre-existing order, but the setting up of a new order contradictory to the traditional one. Hence there is no exaggeration in saying that the man who is the product of the 19th Century is, for the effects of public life, a man apart from all other men. The 18th-Century man differs, of course, from the 17th-Century man, and this one in turn from his fellow of the 16th Century, but they are all related, similar, and even identical in essentials when confronted with this new man. For the "common" man of all periods "life" had principally meant limita­tion, obligation, and dependence; in short, pressure. Say op­pression, if you like, provided it be understood not only in the juridical and social sense, but also in the cosmic. For it is this latter which has never been lacking up to a hundred years ago, the date at which starts the prac­tically limitless expansion of scientific technique-physi­cal and administrative. Previously, even for the rich and powerful, the world was a place of poverty, difficulty and danger (15).

The world which surrounds the new man from his birth does not compel him to limit himself in any fashion; it sets up no veto in opposition to him; on the contrary, it incites his appetite, which in principle can increase in­definitely. Now it turns out-and this is most important -that this world of the 19th and early 20th Centuries not only has the perfections and the completeness which it actually possesses, but furthermore suggests to those who dwell in it the radical assurance that tomorrow it will be still richer, ampler, more perfect, as if it enjoyed a spontaneous, inexhaustible power of increase. Even to­day, in spite of some signs which are making a tiny breach in that sturdy faith, even today, there are few men who doubt that motorcars will in five years' time be more comfortable and cheaper than today. They believe in this as they believe that the sun will rise in the morning. The metaphor is an exact one. For, in fact, the common man, finding himself in a world so excellent, technically and socially, believes that it has been produced by nature, and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly-en­dowed individuals which the creation of this new world presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all these facilities still require the support of certain difficult human virtues, the least failure of which would cause the rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice.

This leads us to note down in our psychological chart of the mass-man of today two fundamental traits: the free expansion of his vital desires, and therefore, of his personality; and his radical ingratitude towards all that has made possible the ease of his existence. These traits together make up the well-known psychology of the spoilt child. And in fact it would entail no error to use this psychology as a "sight" through which to observe the soul of the masses of today. Heir to an ample and generous past-generous both in ideals and in activities -the new commonalty has been spoiled by the world around it. To spoil means to put no limit on caprice, to give one the impression that everything is permitted to him and that he has no obligations. The young child exposed to this regime has no experience of its own lim­its. By reason of the removal of all external restraint, all clashing with other things, he comes actually to believe that he is the only one that exists, and gets used to not considering others, especially not considering them as superior to himself. This feeling of another's superiority could only be instilled into him by someone who, being stronger than he is, should force him to give up some desire, to restrict himself, to restrain himself. He would then have learned this fundamental discipline: "Here I end and here begins another more powerful than I am. In the world, apparently, there are two people: I myself and another superior to me." The ordinary man of past times was daily taught this elemental wisdom by the world about him, because it was a world so rudely organized, that catastrophes were frequent, and there was nothing in it certain, abundant, stable. But the new masses find themselves in the presence of a prospect full of possi­bilities, and furthermore, quite secure, with everything ready to their hands, independent of any previous efforts on their part, just as we find the sun in the heavens with­out our hoisting it up on our shoulders. No human being thanks another for the air he breathes, for no one has produced the air for him; it belongs to the sum-total of what "is there," of which we say "it is natural," because it never fails. And these spoiled masses are unintelligent enough to believe that the material and social organization, placed at their disposition like the air, is of the same origin, since apparently it never fails them, and is almost as perfect as the natural scheme of things.

My thesis, therefore, is this: the very perfection with which the 19th Century gave an organization to certain orders of existence has caused the masses benefited thereby to consider it, not as an organized, but as a natural system. Thus is explained and defined the absurd state of mind revealed by these masses; they are only concerned with their own well-being, and at the same time they re­main alien to the cause of that well-being. As they do not see, behind the benefits of civilization, marvels of inven­tion and construction which can only be maintained by great effort and foresight, they imagine that their role is limited to demanding these benefits peremptorily, as if they were natural rights. In the disturbances caused by scarcity of food, the mob goes in search of bread, and the means it employs is generally to wreck the bakeries. This may serve as a symbol of the attitude adopted, on a greater and more complicated scale, by the masses of today to­wards the civilization by which they are supported.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Semiotics, Semiosis, Signs, Symbols

Aberrant decoding — Umberto Eco's reference to decoding a text using a different code from that used to encode it.
Absent signifiers — Signifiers which are not mentioned in a text but which (by contrast) influence the meaning of a signifier used.
Analogue oppositions (antonyms) — Pairs of opposing signifiers: virtue – sin, where 'not virtuous' isn’t necessarily 'sinful.'  
Analogue signs — are signs in a form in which they are perceived as unbroken relationships on a continuum rather than as discrete units (in contrast to digital signs). Digital technology can transform analogue signs into digital ones which may be perceived just as indistin­guishable from the 'originals'.
Anchorage — Roland Barthes introduced the concept of anchorage. Linguistic elements in a text (such as a caption) can serve to 'anchor' the preferred readings of an image (conversely the illustrative use of an image can anchor an ambiguous verbal text).  
Arbitrariness — Saussure emphasized that the relationship between the linguistic signifier and signified is arbitrary: the link between them is not necessary, intrinsic or natural. Many subsequent theorists apply this also to the relation between the signifier and any real-world referent. American logician Peirce noted that the relationship between signifiers and their signifieds varies in arbitrariness. Many other semioticians hold that all signs are to some extent arbi­trary and conventional.
Associative relations — refers to Saussure's term for what later came to be called paradigmatic relations. The 'formulaic' associa­tions of linguistic signs include synonyms, antonyms, similar-sounding words and words of similar grammatical function.
Binarism — is the ontological division of a domain into two discrete categories (dichotomies) or polarities. Binarism is a term which critics have applied to what they regard as the obsessive dualism of structuralists such as Levi-Strauss and Jakobson. Hjelmslev argued against binarism.
Binary oppositions (or digital oppositions) — Pairs of mutually exclusive signifiers representing categories which are logically opposed, e.g. alive-not-alive.
Bricolage — Levi-Strauss's term for the appropriation of pre-existing handy materials which are widely used to refer to the intertextual authorial practice of adopting and adapting signs from other texts. See also intertextuality.
Broadcast codes — Fiske's term for codes which are shared by mem­bers of a mass audience and which are learned informally through experience rather than deliberately or institutionally. In contrast to narrow-cast codes, broadcast codes are simpler, employing standard conventions and 'formulas.' They are more repetitive and predictable - 'overcoded' - having a high degree of redundancy.
Channel — A sensory mode utilized by a medium (e.g. visual [TV], auditory [radio], tactile [Braille]).
Codes — Semiotic codes process systems of understanding through learned conventions in interpretive communities. Codes provide a framework within which signs make sense.  
Codification — A historical social process whereby the conventions of a particular code (e.g. for a genre) become widely established.
Combination — axis of a structuralist term for the 'horizontal' axis in the analysis of a textual structure: the plane of the syntagm (Jakobson).  
Commutation test — A structuralist analytical technique used in the analysis of a text to determine whether a change on the level of the signifier leads to a change on the level of the signified.
Complex sign — Saussure's term for a sign which contains other signs. A text is usually a complex sign.
Connotation — The socio-cultural and personal associations produced as a reader decodes a text. For Barthes, connotation was a second 'order of signification' which uses the denotative sign (signifier and signified) as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified.
A connotation is frequently described as either positive or negative, with regards to its pleasing or displeasing emotional connection. For example, a stubborn person may be described as being either strong-willed or pig-headed; although these have the same literal meaning (stubborn), strong-willed connotes admiration for the level of someone's will (a positive connotation), while pig-headed connotes frustration in dealing with someone (a negative connotation).
Contiguity — In ordinary use, this term refers to something which touches or adjoins something else; semioticians (e.g. Jakobson) use it to refer to something which is in some sense part of (or part of the same domain as) something else. Contiguity may be causal, cultural, spatial, temporal, physical, conceptual, formal or structural. See also metonymy.
Conventionalism — is a term used by realists to describe a position which they associate with epistemological relativism and the denial of the existence of a reality outside repre­sentational conventions. They associate it with the 'severing' of signs from real world referents and with the notion that reality is a construction of language or a product of theories. They regard 'conventionalists' (or constructivists) as reducing reality to nothing more than signifying practices, criticizing also as 'extreme conventionalism' the stance that theories (and the worlds which they construct) are incommensurable.
Conventionality — is a term often used in conjunction with the term arbitrary to refer to the relationship between the signifier and the signified. In the case of a symbolic system such as verbal language this relationship is purely conventional - dependent on social and cultural conventions (rather than in any sense natural). The conventional nature of codes means that they have to be learned (not necessarily formally). See also arbi­trariness, primacy of the signifier, relative autonomy.
Decoding — is the interpretation of texts by decoders with reference to relevant codes. Most commentators assume that the reader actively constructs meaning, 'extracting' it from the text.
Deconstruction — This is a poststructuralist method for textual analysis, which was developed by Jacques Derrida. Practitioners seek to dismantle the rhetorical structures within a text to demonstrate how key concepts within it depend on their unstated oppositional relation to absent signifiers. Decon­structionists have also exposed culturally embedded conceptual oppositions in which the initial term is privileged or favored, leaving 'Term B' negatively 'marked'. Radical deconstruction is not simply a reversal of the valorization in an opposition but a demonstration of the instability of such oppositions..
Denaturalization — The denaturalization of signs and codes is a Barthesian method seeking to reveal the socially coded basis of phenomena which are taken for granted as natural. The goal is to make more explicit the underlying rules for encoding and decoding them, and often also to reveal the usually invisible operation of ideological forces.
Denotation — refers to the relationship between the signifier and its signified (or referent). In the pairing denotation/ designation it signifies the relation of reference (Sebeok). In the pairing denotationlconnotation, denotation is routinely treated as the definitional, literal, obvious or common-sense meaning of a sign, but semioticians tend to treat it as a signi­fied about which there is a relatively broad consensus.  
Denotatum — is a Latin term for a referent. In relation to language, the denonatum is extralinguistic as distinct from the signatum (Morris, Jakobson). See also designatum, object, referent. designation refers to the relation of sense or meaning as opposed to denotation (Sebeok).
Diachronic analysis — Diachronic analysis studies change in a phe­nomenon (such as a code) over time (in contrast to synchronic analysis). Saussure saw the development of language in terms of a series of synchronic states.  
Differance — Derrida coined this term to allude simultaneously to 'difference' and 'deferral'. He deliberately ensured that (in French) the distinction from the word for 'difference' was apparent only in writing. Adding to Saussure's notion of meaning being differential (based on differences between signs), intending to remind readers that signs also defer the presence of what they signify through endless substitutions of signifiers.
Digital signs — involve discrete units such as words and numerals, in contrast to analogue signs.
Discourse — Contemporary theorists influenced by Michel Foucault treat language as structured into different discourses (fields) such as those of science, law, government, medicine, journal­ism and morality. A discourse is a system of representation con­sisting of a set of representational codes (including a distinctive interpretive repertoire of concepts, tropes and myths) for con­structing and maintaining particular forms of reality within the ontological domain (or topic) defined as relevant to its con­cerns. Representational codes reflect relational principles underlying the symbolic order of the 'discursive field'.  
Dominant (or 'hegemonic') code and reading — Within Stuart Hall's framework, this is an ideological code in which the decoder fully shares the text's code and accepts and reproduces the preferred reading (a reading which may not have been the result of any conscious intention on the part of the author(s
Double articulation A semiotic code which has double articulation (as in the case of verbal language) can be analysed into two abstract structural levels. At the level of first articulation the system consists of the smallest meaningful units available (e.g. morphemes or words in a language). These meaningful units are complete signs, each consisting of a signifier and a signi­fied. At the level of second articulation, a semiotic code is divisible into minimal functional units which lack meaning in themselves (e.g. phonemes in speech or graphemes in writing). They are not signs in themselves (the code must have a first level of articulation for these lower units to be combined into meaningful signs).
Elite interpreter — Semioticians who reject the investigation of other people's interpretations privilege what has been called the 'elite interpreter,' whiles socially oriented semioticians insist that the exploration of people's interpretive practices is funda­mental to semiotics.
Empty signifier — or 'floating' signifier is variously defined as a signifier with a vague, highly variable, unspecifiable or non­existent signified. Such signifiers mean different things to dif­ferent people: they may stand for many or even any signifieds; they may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean.  
Encoding — is the production of texts by encoders with reference to rele­vant codes. Encoding involves foregrounding some meanings and backgrounding others.
Foregrounding, stylistic — This term was used by the Prague school linguists to refer to a stylistic feature in which signifiers in a text attract attention to themselves rather than simulating transparency in representing their signifieds. This primarily serves a 'poetic' function (being used 'for its own sake') rather than a 'referential' function.  
functions of signs In Jakobson's model of linguistic communica­tion, the dominance of anyone of six factors within an utterance reflects a different linguistic function: referential, oriented towards the context; expressive, oriented towards the addresser; conative, oriented towards the addressee; phatic, oriented towards the contact; metalingual, oriented towards the code; poetic, oriented towards the message.
hegemonic code See dominant (or 'hegemonic') code and reading.
homology See isomorphism.
iconic A mode in which the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified (recognizably looking, sounding, feeling, tasting or smelling like it) - being similar in possessing some of its qualities. See also indexical, isomorphism, symbolic.
ideal readers This is a term often used to refer to the roles in which readers of a text are 'positioned' as subjects through the use of particular modes of address. For Eco this term is not intended to suggest a 'perfect' reader who entirely echoes any authorial intention but a 'model reader' whose reading could be justified in terms of the text. See also addresser and addressee, modes of address, preferred reading, subject.
imaginary signifier This term was used by Christian Metz to refer to the cinematic signifier. The term is used in more than one sense. The cinematic signifier is 'imaginary' by virtue of an apparent perceptual transparency which suggests the unrnedi­ated presence of its absent signified - a feature widely regarded as the key to the power of cinema. The term is also related to Lacan's term, 'the Imaginary' - the cinematic signifier is theo­rized as inducing identifications similar to those of 'the mirror stage'.
indexical A mode in which the signifier is not purely arbitrary but is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified - this link can be observed or inferred (e.g. finger­print). See also iconic, symbolic.
interpellation Interpellation is Althusser's term to describe a mech­anism whereby the human subject is 'constituted' (constructed) by pre-given structures or texts (a structuralist stance). See also subject.
interpretant In Peirce's model of the sign, the interpretant is not an interpreter but rather the sense made of the sign. See also unlimited semiosis.
interpretive community Those who share the same codes are members of the same' interpretive community'. Linguists tend to use the logocentric term, 'discourse community'. Individuals belong simultaneously to several interpretive communities. See also code, signifying practices.
Intertextuality — Intertextuality refers to the various links in form and content which bind a text to other texts.  
Intratextuality — While the term intertextuality would normally be used to refer to links to other texts, a related kind of link is what might be called 'intratextualit,y' involving internal rela­tions within the text.
Irony — Irony is a rhetorical trope, a double-coded sign in which the 'literal sign' combines with another sign to signify the opposite meaning (although understatement and overstate­ment can also be ironic)..
Isomorphism The term is used to refer to correspondences, paral­lels, or similarities in the properties, patterns or relations of (a) two different structures; (b) structural elements in two different structures and (c) structural elements at different levels within the same structure. Some theorists use the term homology in much the same way.
Langue and parole These are Saussure's terms. Langue refers to the abstract system of rules and conventions of a signifying system - it is independent of, and pre-exists, individual users. Parole refers to concrete instances of its use. See also diachronic analysis, synchronic analysis.
Literalism The fallacy that the meaning of a text is contained within it and is completely determined by it so that all the reader must do is to 'extract' this meaning from the signs within it. This stance ignores the importance of 'going beyond the informa­tion given' and limits comprehension to the decoding (in the narrowest sense) of textual properties (without even reference to codes).
Logocentrism Derrida used this term to refer to the 'metaphysics of presence' in Western culture - in particular its phonocentrism, and its foundation on a mythical 'transcendent signified'. Logocentrism can also refer to a typically unconscious inter­pretive bias which privileges linguistic communication over the revealingly named 'non-verbal' forms of communication and expression.
Markedness The concept of markedness introduced by Jakobson can be applied to the poles of a paradigmatic opposition. Paired signifiers (such as male-female) consist of an unmarked form and a 'marked' form distinguished by some special semiotic feature. A marked or unmarked status applies not only to signi­fiers but also to their signifieds. The marked form (typically the second term) is presented as 'different' and is (implicitly) negative. The unmarked form is typically dominant (e.g. statis­tically within a text or corpus) and therefore seems to be neutral, normal and natural. See also analogue oppositions, binary oppositions, deconstruction, paradigm, transcen­dent(al) signified.
Meaning — Osgood and Richards (1923) listed 23 meanings of the term 'meaning'. The key distinction in relation to models of the sign is between: (a) sense - referred to by various theo­rists simply as 'meaning', or as conceptual meaning (e.g. linguistic meaning), content, designation, signatum, signifi­catum, signified, signification, interpretant, idea or thought; and (b) reference to something beyond the sign-system (e.g. extralinguistic) - what is 'represented', variously termed deno­tation, denotatum, designatum, object, reference, referent, or simply 'thing'.
Medium — is used in a variety of ways by different theorists, ncluding such broad categories as speech and writing, or print and broadcasting or relate to specific tech­nical forms within the media of mass communication or the media of interpersonal communication. Signs and codes are always anchored in the material form of a medium, each of which has its own constraints and affordances. A medium is typically treated instrumentally as a transparent vehicle of representation by readers of texts composed within it, but the medium used may itself contribute to meaning.  
Message — variously refers either to a text or to the meaning of a text - referents which literalists tend to conflate. See also text.
Metaphor — Metaphor expresses and ideas and its image. In semiotic terms, a metaphor involves one signified acting as a signifier referring to a rather different signified. Since metaphors apparently disregard literal or denotative resem­blance they can be seen as symbolic as well as iconic.
Metonymy — is a figure of speech that involves using one signified to stand for another signified which is directly related to it or closely associated with it in some way, notably the substitution of effect for cause. It is sometimes considered to include the functions ascribed by some to synecdoche.
Modality — refers to the reality status accorded to or claimed by a sign, text or genre.
Modeling systems, primary and secondary — Secondary modeling systems are described, following Lotman, as semiotic super­structures built upon primary modeling systems. Saussure treated spoken language as primary and saw the written word as secondary. Since this stance grants primacy to the spoken form, it has been criticized as phonocentric. Other theorists have extended this notion to texts in other media, seeing them as secondary modelling systems built out of a primary 'language'.
Modes of address Implicit and explicit ways in which aspects of the style, structure and/or content of a text function to posi­tion readers as subjects ('ideal readers') (e.g. in relation to class, age, gender and ethnicity).
Motivation and constraint — as used by Saussure is sometimes contrasted with 'constraint' in describing the extent to which the signified determines the signifier. The more a signifier is constrained by the signified, the more 'motivated' the sign is: iconic signs are highly moti­vated; symbolic signs are unmotivated. The less motivated the sign, the more learning of an agreed code is required.
Multiaccentuality of the sign — Voloshinov's term is used to refer to the diversity of the use and interpretation of texts by different audiences.
Myths— For Levi-Strauss, myths were systems of binary alignments mediating between nature and culture. For Barthes, myths were the dominant discourses of contemporary culture. He argued that myths were a meta-language operating through codes and serving the ideological function of naturalization.
Narrow cast codes — In contrast to broadcast codes, narrow cast codes are aimed at a limited audience, structurally more complex, less repetitive and tend to be more subtle, original and unpre­dictable.
Natural signs — (a) (in classical theory) representational visual images as opposed to 'conventional signs' (words); (b) signs not inten­tionally created but nevertheless interpreted as signifying, such as smoke signifying fire (St Augustine); (c) signs (apparently) produced without the intervention of a code (as in Barthes' initial characterization of photographs); (d) (allegedly in popular perception) metonyms (in contrast to metaphors).
Naturalization Codes — are those which have been naturalized and are so widely distributed in a culture and which are learned at such an early age that they appear not to be constructed but to be naturally given. Myths serve the ideological function of naturalization.
Negotiated code and reading — Stuart Hall says that this is an ideological code in which the reader partly shares the text's code and broadly accepts the preferred reading, but some­times resists and modifies it in a way which reflects their own social position, experiences and interests (local and personal conditions may be seen as exceptions to the general rule).
Object — is a term used in Peirce's triadic model of the sign to describe the referent of the sign - what the sign 'stands for'.
Open and closed texts — Umberto Eco describes as 'closed' those texts which show a strong tendency to encourage a particular interpretation - in contrast to more 'open' texts.
Oppositional code and reading — Stuart Hall's framework holds that a personal ideological code in which the reader, whose social situ­ation places them in a directly oppositional relation to the dominant code, understands the preferred reading but does not share the text's code and rejects this reading, bringing to bear an alternative ideological code.
Orders of signification — Barthes modified Hjelmslev’s notion to highlight different orders of signification (levels of meaning) in semiotic systems. The first order of signification is that of denotation: at this level there is a sign consisting of a signifier and a signified. Connotation is a second order of signification which uses the denotative sign (signifier and signi­fied) as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified. Barthes argued that myth is also a higher order of significa­tion built upon language.
Overcoding — refers to simple, conventional and repetitive texts having what theorists call a high degree of redundancy. These are alleged to be features of broadcast codes. Under-coding is a feature of texts using less conventional narrowcast codes.
Pan semiotic features — Jakobson's term for properties shared by all systems of signs (not just verbal language).
Paradigm — A paradigm is a set of associated signifiers which are all members of some defining category, but in which each signi­fier is significantly different. In natural language there are grammatical paradigms such as verbs or nouns. In a given context, one member of the paradigm set is structurally replace­able with another. See also paradigmatic analysis, syntagm.
Paradigmatic analysis — Paradigmatic analysis is a structuralist tech­nique which seeks to identify the various paradigms which underlie the 'surface structure' of a text. This aspect of struc­tural analysis involves a consideration of the positive or negative connotations of each signifier (revealed through the use of one signifier rather than another), and the existence of 'underlying' thematic paradigms (e.g. binary oppositions). See also analogue oppositions, binary oppositions, commuta­tion test, markedness, paradigm, syntagmatic analysis.
Phonocentrism Phonocentrism is a typically unconscious interpre­tive bias which privileges speech over writing (and conse­quently the oral-aural over the visual).
Preferred reading (Stuart Hall). Readers of a text are guided towards a preferred reading and away from 'aberrant decoding' through the use of codes. A preferred reading is not neces­sarily the result of any conscious intention on the part of the producer(s) of a text. The term is often used as if it refers to a meaning which is in some way built into the form and/or content of the text - a notion which is in uneasy accord with a textual determinism which Hall rejected. See also dominant (or hegemonic) code and reading.
Primacy of the signifier The argument that reality or the world is at least partly created by the language (and other media) we use insists on the primacy of the signifier - suggesting that the signified is shaped by the signifier rather than vice versa. Some theorists stress the materiality of the signifier. Poststructuralist theorists such as Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, Foucault have devel­oped the notion of the primacy of the signifier, but its roots can be found in structuralism.
Reference — The meaning of a sign in relation to something beyond the sign-system. Sometimes a synonym for referent.
Referent Term used by some theorists (e.g. Ogden and Richards) for what the sign 'stands for'. In Peirce's triadic model of the sign this is called the object. In Saussure's dyadic model of the sign a referent in the world is not explicitly featured - this is sometimes referred to as 'bracketing the referent'. Note that referents can include ideas, events and material objects. See also representation.
Reflexivity — Some 'reflexive' aesthetic practices foreground their textuality —the signs of their production (the materials and techniques used) — thus reducing the transparency of their style. Texts in which the poetic function is dominant foreground the act and form of expression and undermine any sense of a natural or transparent connection between a signifier and a referent. Postmodernism often involves a highly reflexive intertextuality.
Relative autonomy — Saussure's model of the sign assumes the rela­tive autonomy of language in relation to reality (it does not directly feature a 'real world' referent); there is no essential, inherent bond between words and things. In a semiotic system with double articulation the levels of the signifier and of the signi­fied are relatively autonomous. The signifier and the signified in a sign are autonomous to the extent that their relationship is arbitrary.
Representamen — The representamen is one of the three elements of Peirce's model of the sign and it refers to the form which the sign takes (not necessarily material).
Representation — Dictionaries note that a representation is something which stands for or in place of something else ­which is of course what semioticians call a sign. Semiotics foregrounds and problematizes the process of representation. Representation always involves the construction of reality. All texts, however realistic they may seem to be, are constructed representations rather than simply transparent reflections, recordings, transcriptions or reproductions of a pre-existing reality. Both structuralist and poststructuralist theories lead to reality and truth being regarded as the products of particular systems of representation.
Selection — axis of a structuralist term for the 'vertical' axis in the analysis of a textual structure: the plane of the paradigm (Jakobson).
Semiology — Saussure's term semiology. It is sometimes used to refer to the study of signs by those within the Saussurean tradition (e.g. Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Kristeva and Baudrillard), while 'semiotics' sometimes refers to those working within the Peircean tradi­tion (e.g. Morris, Richards, Ogden and Sebeok). Sometimes 'semiology' refers to work concerned primarily with textual analysis while 'semiotics' refers to more philosophically oriented work.
Semiosphere — The Russian cultural semiotician Yuri Lotman coined this term to refer to 'the whole semiotic space of the culture in question' - it can be thought of as a semiotic ecology in which different languages and media interact.
Semiotic square — Greimas introduced the semiotic square as a means of mapping the key semantic oppositions in a text or practice. If we begin by drawing a horizontal line linking two familiarly paired terms such as 'beautiful' and 'ugly', we turn this into a semiotic square by making this the upper line of a square in which the two other logical possibilities - 'not ugly' and 'not beautiful' occupy the lower corners. The semiotic square reminds us that this is not simply a binary opposition because something which is not beautiful is not necessarily ugly and that something which is not ugly is not necessarily beautiful.
Semiotic triangle — Peirce's triadic model of the sign is a semiotic triangle. See also referent, sense, sign vehicle.
Semiotics, definition of — Semiotics is 'the study of signs'. It is not purely a method of textual analysis, but involves both the theory and analysis of signs, codes and signifying practices.
Shifters — Term adopted by Jakobson from Otto Jespersen for 'index­ical symbols' in language - grammatical units with an indexical (deictic) character (such as personal pronouns) ­which can be decoded only by reference to the specific context of particular messages.
Sign — A sign is a unit of meaning which is interpreted as 'standing for' something other than itself. Signs are found in the phys­ical form of words, images, sounds, acts or objects (this physical form is sometimes known as the sign vehicle). Signs have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when sign­users invest them with meaning with reference to a recognized code.
Sign vehicle — A term sometimes used to refer to the physical or material form of the sign (e.g. words, images, sounds, acts or objects). For some commentators this means the same as the signifier (which for Saussure himself did not refer to material form). The Peircean equivalent is the representamen: the form which the sign takes, but even for Peirce this was not neces­sarily a material form.
SignatumIn Jakobson's dyadic model the signatum is the signified or conceptual meaning of the sign; in language it refers to linguistic meaning as distinct from the denotatum. See also signans, signified, signum.
Signification — In Saussurean semiotics signification refers to the relationship between the signifier and the signified. It is also variously used to refer to: the defining function of signs (i.e. that they signify, or 'stand for', something other than them­selves); the process of signifying (semiosis); signs as part of an overall semiotic system; what is signified; the reference of language to reality; a representation.
Signified (signifie)For Saussure, the signified was one of the two parts of the sign. Saussure's signified is the mental concept represented by the signifier (and is not a material thing). This does not exclude the reference of signs to physical objects in the world as well as to abstract concepts and fictional entities, but the signified is not itself a referent in the world.
Signifier (signifiant) — In the Saussurean tradition, the signifier is the form which a sign takes. For Saussure himself, in relation to linguistic signs, this meant a non-material form of the spoken word. Subsequent semioticians have treated it as the material (or physical) form of the sign - something which can be seen, heard, felt, smelt or tasted (also called the sign vehicle).
SignumJakobson's favoured Latin term for a sign, uniting a signans and signatum in his dyadic model.
Simple sign — A sign which does not contain any other signs, in contrast to a complex sign.
Simulacrum — This was Baudrillard's term (borrowed from Plato); 'simulacra' are 'copies without originals' - the main form in which we encounter texts in postmodern culture. More broadly, he used the term to refer to a representation which bears no relation to any reality.
Single articulation codes — Codes with single articulation have either first articulation or second articulation only. Codes with first articulation only (e.g. traffic signs) consist of signs ­meaningful elements which are systematically related to each other - but there is no second articulation to structure these signs into minimal, non-meaningful elements. Other semiotic codes lacking double articulation have second articulation only. These consist of signs which have specific meanings which are not derived from their elements (e.g. binary code). They are divisible only intofigurae (minimal functional units).
Subject — In theories of subjectivity a distinction is made between 'the subject' and 'the individual'. While the individual is an actual person, the subject is a set of roles constructed by dominant cultural and ideological values. Poststructuralist theorists cri­tique the concept of the unified subject.
Symbol — (a) for some theorists (e.g. Goodman), and in popular usage, is simply a sign; (b) a symbolic (i.e. conventional) sign, as distinct from an iconic or an indexical sign.
Symbolic — A mode in which the signifier does not resemble the signi­fied but which is arbitrary or purely conventional - so that the relationship must be learned (e.g. the word 'stop', a red traffic light, a national flag, a number).
synchronic analysis — Synchronic analysis studies a phenomenon (such as a code) as if it were frozen at one moment in time. Saussurean structuralism focused on synchronic rather than diachronic analysis and was criticized for ignoring historicity. See also langue and parole.
Synecdoche — is a figure of speech involving the substitution of part for whole, genus for species or vice versa. Some theorists do not distinguish it from metonymy. See also irony, metaphor, metonymy, trope.
Syntagm — is an orderly combination of interacting signi­fiers which forms a meaningful whole. Syntagmatic relations are the various ways in which constituent units within the same text may be structurally related to each other. These can be either sequential (e.g. in film and television narrative sequences), or spatial (e.g. in paintings or photographs).
Syntagmatic analysis — Syntagmatic analysis is a structuralist tech­nique which seeks to establish the 'surface structure' of a text and the relationships between its parts.
Text — Most broadly, this term is used to refer to anything which can be 'read' for meaning; to some theorists, the world is 'social text'. Although the term appears to privilege written texts (it seems graphocentric and logocentric), to most semioticians a text is a system of signs (in the form of words, images, sounds and/or gestures). The term is often used to refer to recorded (e.g. written) texts which are independent of their users (used in this sense the term excludes unrecorded speech).
Tokens and types — Peirce made a distinction between tokens and types. In relation to words in a text, a count of the tokens would be a count of the total number of words used (regardless of type), while a count of the types would be a count of the different words used (ignoring any repetition). The medium used may determine whether a text is a type which is its own sole token (unique original) or simply one token among many of its type ('a copy without an original').
Transcendent(al) signified — Derrida argued that dominant ideological discourse relies on the metaphysical illusion of a transcenden­tal signified: an ultimate referent at the heart of a signifying system which is portrayed as 'absolute and irreducible,' stable, timeless and transparent, as if it were independent of and prior to that system. All other signifieds within that signifying system are subordinate to this dominant central signified which is the final meaning to which they point. Without such a foundational term to provide closure for meaning, every signified functions as a signifier in an endless play of signification.
Transformation — rules of Levi-Strauss argued that new structural pat­terns within a culture are generated from existing ones through formal rules of transformation based on systematic similarities, equivalences, parallels, or symmetrical inversions. The patterns on different levels of a structure (e.g. within a myth) or in dif­ferent structures (e.g. in different myths) are seen as logical transformations of each other. Rules of transformation enable the analyst to reduce a complex structure to some more basic constituent units.
Trope  — Tropes are rhetorical 'figures of speech' such as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony.
Types and tokensSee tokens and types.
Unarticulated codes — are codes in a series of signs bearing no direct relation to each other. These signs are not divisible into recurrent compositional elements (e.g. the folkloristic 'language of flowers').
Unlimited semiosis — Umberto Eco coined the term 'unlimited semi­osis' to refer to the way in which, for Peirce (via the 'interpretant'), for Barthes (via connotation), for Derrida (via 'freeplay') and for Lacan (via 'the sliding signified'), the signi­fied is endlessly commutable - functioning in its turn as a signifier for a further signified.
Value — Saussure distinguished the value of a sign from its significa­tion or referential meaning. A sign does not have an absolute value in itself - its value is dependent on its relations with other signs within the signifying system as a whole. Words in different languages can have equivalent referential meanings but different values since they belong to different networks of associations.