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  • Signs about Signs
  • Dinda L. Gorlée (bio)
The Self as a Sign, the World, and the Other Living Semiotics Susan Petrilli Transaction Publishers 347 Pages; Print, $59.95

The “living” presence of semiotics means that the doctrine of signs is both absolutely dead and absolutely alive. With the moderation of balance and antithesis, the paradoxical claim undermines death and becomes alive in the techniques of semiotics today. Perhaps the semiotic way of thinking has been lost by the integration of all fields of knowledge in modern times. Perhaps the dichotomy between different teachings of semiotics has stressed the emphasis on mind and body, turning from Ferdinand de Saussure’s difference as negative self-possession within the fixed system of language to Jacques Derrida’s positive and creative neologism of différance. Language is the radical act of expression, the human tool capable of being said, heard, and understood. The strangeness of some language may be confusing semiotics to the readers, but Susan Petrilli’s “open self” and “open society” opens up the trust of one’s personal identity to the self-confidence of giving the gift for others.

Petrilli asserts in her book, The Self as a Sign, the World, and the Other, that semiotics is not the “unilinear and univocal” metaphor of reasoning, but is an open and global method of thought, beneficial to giving otherness. The different processes of giving meaning and signification, or sense and significance, to others are articulated in semiotic narratives. The elements of these narratives are not constantly dealt with to see how semiotics finds the right way from present to the future. Semiotics is not a fable of moral wisdom, but a narration of good and evil possibilities of the dimensions of the human self.

The semiotic method of thought started with the display of knowledge and wisdom, in which thought and language were studied in a mental approach to reasoning the connections of the sign with the object. The goal was the truth of the human mind. The individualistic approach was certainly successful in Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiology. Despite this success, semiology became a weakness, since it is exclusively limited to the captivity of the mental crisis from the human mind. Becoming a collective struggle for a better mind, semiology became challenged with the dynamical exploration of sign-object with Charles S. Peirce’s interpretant. The interpretant is the vital sign of possibilities of the interpretation of the sign, which is itself a sign to be interpreted again and again, and give new interpretations in Peirce’s semiotics.

The emphasis on interpretations in semiotics is different from the mental skill of semiology. The extension to the manifold varieties of interpretations of the sign suggests not only good but also bad varieties of all types of interpretations of the sign in semiosis. Semiotics is the sign which is just a sign, but Thomas A. Sebeok stresses that signs are about signs about signs. Petrilli argues that the selfhood of the sign-receivers started with the isolated monologue of thought and language, but dynamically opens up with answers and replies in the social dialog, or even multilog, to entertain and master the creativity of human understanding.

The solid method of Cartesian reasoning has flourished at French universities, deeply influencing the global tradition of semiology, structuralism, poststructuralism, and deconstructionism. Inspiring the analytical work in the philosophy of language, Cartesian philosophy began with the work of René Descartes (1596-1650), the French mathematician and founder of analytic geometry. He devoted intelligence to the strict workings of the mind in certainty, tabooing the episodes or experiences of the human body as uncertainty about the logical material.

Descartes received a Jesuit education at a semimilitary school with logic, rhetoric, and spiritual lessons. In the despotic time of King Louis XIV, who declared the authoritarian phrase l’état c’est moi (I am the state); Descartes’s “progressive” books were censored and banned. In exile, he travelled the world to study and develop his mathematical method, which he extended to all fields of human knowledge. Despite being placed on the Index of Prohibited Books, Descartes’ books...


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