The City and the Sign (2)

Ledrut, Raymond 1986a[1973]. Speech and the Silence of the City. In: Gotdiener, M. and Alexander Ph. Lagopoulos (eds.), The Ciy and the Sign: An Introduction to Urban Semiotics. New York: Colubia University Press, 114-134.

Signification in general can be defined - in a "meta-linguistic" way - as the integration of a "thing" in a system. Thus a "thing" can take many significations and, more particularly, it can be inscribed in different "orders" of significations: one of the consequences is "polysemy." I interpret a "sigh," which belongs in a system of expression of emotions, the "sound of the wind" which is integrated as such in another system. "A sigh" is a sigh only in a system which gives it a signification and makes it at the same time a signifier and a signified; the fact in itself would not yet constitute a signifier. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 115-116)
This is the outcome of a view that denies signs any signification outside of some sign system or signifying order.
Signification in its specificity will depend on the mode of its integration into the system, which is inseparable from the mode of relation of the signifiers and the signifieds. We will call types of semioticity the different modes of integration and of relations of the signifiers to the signified which appear in the universal semiological field. Thus, there is a type of semioticity (or a semioticity) proper to natural languages. In natural languages the signifier is a phonic production connected arbitrarily to the "thing" signified (whatever that may be) and in an unmotivated fashion to the mental contents that constitute the signified. This is to say that, roughly speaking, there is no resemblance between the phonic production and the thing (the pronounciation of the word city has nothing to do with the reality of any city), and that on the other hand it is impossible to deduce from mental contents the phonic form of its expression. This arbitrary relation is relatively fixed: very strongly on the level of "monemes" and less on the level of moneme groupings. A language is learned (arbitrary) and is binding (fixity and necessity). (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 116)
On first reading I thought this first type of semioticity is a-semioticity and will be followed by b-semioticity and so on... (In which case I could end up with a Batesonian mu-signification, for example.) But no, this is just an affirmation that language is arbitrary, exactly the point that Jakobson argues against via Peirce.
The city is perhaps a text because it is a "narrative" - or something like a "story" - but the city is certainly not a "story" because it is by nature a text. The relation of the signifier to the signified has nothing of the arbitrary or the unmotivated. The city and its elements constitute a first level - or a first layer of signification - where urban reality is expressed in a language of denotation using natural language: "city," "road," "square" ... "this road leads to a square," etc. The "city" is signified. At this level there is nothing more than "things" connected to each other and linguistic signs equally connected to each other: two systems on the same level. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 117)
How is the city a narrative or a story? He seems to argue here that all the things that the city is composed of are something like self-referential or intrinsically coded signs. Is it a sign that the pavement is next to a building and leads around the building?
The city speaks to us, certainly, but no more or less than the forest. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 118)
Go tell that to Valdur Mikita.
Who is going to speak, then, through the city? Undoubtedly speakers have existed, but they are authors only of fragments of the city, and sometimes we can detect in the urban elements or in an aspect of the city the presence of many speakers whose words are superimposed or even interferin. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 119)
This is certainly the case with cities that have been molded by various powers. Such is the case with many Estonian cities, that have transformed with each iteration of power change. The Soviet additions are perhaps the most notable, because they stand out with a distinct style.
The city appears to be at the same time "pseudo-text" and "pseudo-speaking subject." This is surely where the essential point lies. The city is the speaker and that by which he speaks. This does not imply that when it speaks it expresses only itself. In a certain way it is only a "mouthpiece." After all every monad expresses the whole universe. In a way, a city, or a type of a city, expresses a society and also the world of this society. We may say then that it is society which speaks through the mouth of the city. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 120)
Several of Lotman's textual communication addressees are noted here. I'm not going to compare them, but I do notice that autocommunication is missing. When I "speak" with the city, or "read" it by living in it and using it, I am also "speaking" to myself. My actions in the city reflect me.
To the question: how does the city speak of this to us?, we have replied: as a work of art, which means as an object charged with meaning by the production and the use men make of it. The only way to learn what the city tells us is to examine the field of the urban experience, the "lived" city. To search for a code is vain. The relation of signified and signifier is not determined by a table of correspondence, regardless of the partial codes used by individual "speakers" and "receivers." Thus, there cannot be an urban "semantics" in the strict sense because the city is not a text, but a pseudo-text confounded with its pseudo-"speaker." (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 120)
This makes a lot more sense than Greimas's and Barthes's search in vain for an urban grammar.
There are no urbemes, distinctive units of the urban space, as there are vestemes or gustemes, because there is no urban logo-technique. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 120)
How about ruremes, though?
[...] we do not use the city as we use a garment or a boox; we do not act on the city (developer, property owner, architect, or contractor) as we act when we manufacture clothes or serve a meal. In other words, the city is not an object produced by a group in order to be bought or even used by others. The city is an environment formed by the interaction and the integration of different practices. It is maybe in this way that the city is truly the city. The consequence is that there cannot be an urban "moneme." (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 122)
This is a step closer to viewing the city from the standpoint of people who inhabit the city. (Rather than a semiologist viewing the city from the "very productive" communication theory standpoint.)
If there is an urban semiology, it is dependent on an urban anthropology. The changes of meaning in the city derive not from a change in the urban language but from a change in the way of "inhabiting," of living collective space, due to changes in the culture and the social system. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 122)
I think this allows for including behavioural ecology in urban socio-semiotics.
In fact, not only in the case of the Bororo village (which after all is only a village), but also in the case of the Greek city and the medieval town, she assumes an intention of signification: the goal is to reveal to the members of the society their social and religious system by giving it a spatial expression which is a translation and presupposes a code. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 123)
Cf. Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground and how St. Petersburg is the most intentional and meaningful city on Earth.
The study and analysis of signification reveals an urban world much richer and more concrete than the world of functions and needs. This is a first gain: we are not stuck in the general, the limited, the closed. We discover the precise diversity of significations brought into play by the urban experience of today. Which does not mean merely the city, far from it. We are on the point of the condensation of man and the city: we find neither "man" alone - with his eternal needs - nor "the city" as it is today constituted in its quality of exterior object. (Ledrut 1986a[1973]: 129)
This should be the socio-semiotic point par excellence - not man or the city, but man+city.

Fauque, Richard 1986[1973]. For a New Semiological Approach to the City. In: Gotdiener, M. and Alexander Ph. Lagopoulos (eds.), The Ciy and the Sign: An Introduction to Urban Semiotics. New York: Colubia University Press, 137-159.

The author focuses on the reading of the city and studies not only urban space, but also people, traffic, urban noises. This extremely broad definition of the object of urban semiotics differentiates him from other authors, such as Eco or Lagopoulos, who limit themselves to constructed space. (Gottdiener & Lagolopous 1986: 137)
How is this "extremely" broad? Rather, limiting yourself to constructed space only is not actual semiotics of the city but a semiotics of built environment.
In the case of the process of semantization of a city, the criterion for the segmentation of the minimum significant units is thus provided by discourse and not by aesthetics or technology, etc. We may specify that we are faced with two possibilities: the semantization process can take place either on the up-side (on the side of the senders) or on the down-side (on the side of the receivers) of the act of communication, something which, incidentally, makes the direction of this communication rather problematical. (Fauque 1986[1973]: 141)
Compare this to Anti Randviir's case of textialization/semiotzation.
  1. The object of our investigation should lead us to confirm or deny the thesis that the city constitutes a system (or a plurality of systems) of signs.
  2. We have a double means of establishing this, in referring either to
    1. the observation of urban behaviors: Which itinerary is chosen for a sweetheart's walk? Where do we take a member of the family or a friend visiting the city? Why? That is, do we show them what is most beautiful? Most interesting? Most picturesque? Most typical? or to
    2. the reactions of persons surveyed in relation to what they see, feel, breathe, etc., while strolling around the citp
(Fauque 1986[1973]: 144)
These two means are essentially: (a) behavioural observation; and (b) self-reports.
In effect there are some urban itineraries that are rather automatic, followed without thinking because they are daily, regular journeys: place of work ↔ place of residence. On the other hand, there are some itineraries which demand a complete availability ("shopping"). We walk around at random without having any preconceived idea of where we want to go. At one extreme, this kind of walking is done in the ludic mode. But this is not all: the nostalgic walker, the unhappy lover, the walker in love, all of them have a characteristic way of preambulation, and we would bet that each time it corresponds to a different reading of the city. (Fauque 1986[1973]: 145)
This is a familiar distinction. There are something like a structured journey vs an unstructured stroll.
Thus we have, on the side of the reader, three series of variables which can explain the variations in reading:
  1. the quality of the itinerary: daily vs. exceptional, for instance;
  2. the variations which refer to the reader's affective situation:for instance happy vs unhappy;
  3. those which refer to the reader's "material" situation: pedestrian vs motorist for instance.
(Fauque 1986[1973]: 145)
These almost correspond to another three-part distinction: affective, behavioural (here material) and cognitive (here quality of the itinerary).
What would one think of a linguist who tried to reconstitute the semantic system of a language by referring to its different modes of actualization (oral language, writing, morse or braille alphabets, etc.) in order to discover the meaning of words? At best he would achieve a certain taxonomic organization of the different kinds of signifiers, but what more would this bring him?
Likewise we remark that we should not a priori consider as signifiers the facade of a building, a fountain in a square, an odor. For here again, what would one think of a linguist who would try to discover the meaning of words by referring to the denotatum (or to the referent)? (Fauque 1986[1973]: 148)
How is this rhetoric not slavishly attached to the linguistic model?
But if it is the different readings that individuals do of the city which constitute the only criterion of segmentation of the urban continuum, we will not have only system of signs, but a plurality of sign systems (as many in fact as there are possible readings of this urban continuum). (Fauque 1986[1973]: 148-149)
This can be taken as a hint towards a semiospheric approach to the semiotics of the city.

Choay, Françoise 1986a[1969]. Urbanism and Semiology. In: Gotdiener, M. and Alexander Ph. Lagopoulos (eds.), The Ciy and the Sign: An Introduction to Urban Semiotics. New York: Colubia University Press, 160-175.

The central issue the author raises is the possibility of considering the city as a non-verbal system of signifying elements, with structures relating to those of other systems of social practices, and thus of studying the city according to a method derived from general linguistics. (Choay 1986a[1969]: 162)
How is this not a slavish attachment to the linguistic model? We have a nonverbal system that accords to social practices... and we're going to study it with methods derived from general linguistics? Why?
Among the Bororo, the position of my cabin in the village circle determines once and for all the nature of my economic activity, my participation in religious ceremonies, and my possible choice of a mate. Moreover, the "structure of the village not only permits the subtle play of institutions, it also renews and assures the intercourse between man and the universe, between society and the supernatural and between the living and the dead" (Lévi-Strauss 1955:229). In a word, it involves and determines the totality of behavior; the constructed system is saturated with meaning.
The proof of this is given in a negative way by the example of what the Salesian missionarries do to the Bororo when they wish to convert them to Christianity. They do nothing more than lay out the round village in a rectilinear plan. Lévi-Strauss' analysis is clear: "Disoriented from their contact with the cardinal points, stripped of their plan which furnished an argument for understanding, the natives rapidly lose the sense of their traditions as if their social and religious systems had become too complicated to accept the scheme, which had been rendered obvious by the plan of their village, the outlines of which the daily gestures perpetually refreshed' (Lévi-Strauss 1955:241). (Choay 1986a[1969]: 162-163)
I believe that similar loss of sense and orientation would abound the westerners if they were forced to live in a system that negated everything they knew about how one should live one's life.
Now let us turn to examples closer in relevance to our own situation and study the fast evolving, open systems which appear to be the cities of "modern times." We immediately notice that, contrary to the former, there is not much to be deciphered in the new urban developments, that they are hyposignificant and that they have lost their former purity [in that they presuppose the use of exterior verbal and graphic codes]. (Choay 1986a[1969]: 166)
Modern urban environment is syncretic?
But the fact that the legibility of our present urban agglomerations is mostly due to the efficiency of such graphic systems (whether designed or not) must not hide the bare, inescapable fact that from now on the built-up system in Western society have lost their [semantic] autonomy: if left to themselves and their specific elements, they do not carry symbolic weight any more. (Choay 1986a[1969]: 167)
And why should they have semantic autonomy?
The second situation occurs when underdeveloped countries become industrialized. We are then dealing with cultures or microcultures which possess their own built-up systems linked to the totality of their cultural structures and customs. Town planning, in the Western manner, deprives these populations of their behavioral framework; it leaves them at a loss. Their only way of coping with such a situation is to master the Western symbolic systems, insert themselves in its cultural structures, learn to use its abstract, supplementary systems of information and communication, and to disengage themselves from place and its non-verbal spell - which is by no means an easy task. It is equally hard for the Western planner who not only has to confront a pre-industrial system, but one belonging to an alien culture - and thus has to learn to decipher it like a foreign language. (Choay 1986a[1969]: 169)
The nonverbal spell here holds the pre-industrials back from living in a symbolically Western world.
Hyposignificant does not mean without signification, but only that the built-up system no longer refers to the totality of cultural behavior. ... (Choay 1986a[1969]: 170)
This reminds me of the case of disneyfication of America. Instead of an urban environment that reflects the historical social practices of people living in a given place, it is replaced by malls, minimalls, parking lots and gas stations, in effect turning every place a non-place.
She indicates four theoretical points clarified by this evolution. First, there has been a gradual replacement of the "language of the city" by the "language on the city." Thus, urban space creates and is created by a metalinguistic discourse which can be approached from two theoretical directions: an epistemological critique of it, which can open new perspectives, and a structural analysis, which would confront a heterogeneous domain consisting of differing ideological structures. Thirdly, the built-up system is also articulated with important psychological and other structures. (Choay 1986a[1969]: 173)
Samamoodi peaksin mina eristama kehakeelt ja keelt kehast (mis kahjuks ei kõla sugugi hästi).

Lagopoulos, Alexandros Ph. 1986a[1983]. Semiotic Urban Models and Modes of Production: A Socio-Semiotic Approach. In: Gotdiener, M. and Alexander Ph. Lagopoulos (eds.), The Ciy and the Sign: An Introduction to Urban Semiotics. New York: Colubia University Press, 176-201.

In addition to the above-mentioned semiotic approach to space, space can be studied semiotically as such, that is, as a set of signifiers. Finally, urban space, once it exists, passes into the consciousness of social classes, groups, and subjects. The signifieds of the mental "image" of urban space, of the semiotic conception of urban space, related to this process, beling to the ideological "plane." (Lagopoulos 1986a[1983]: 179)
Didn't the last few papers prove that it can't be as easy as that?
These three models, which present variants and overlappings, meet in their common requirement to face what is considered as the disorder of the industrial city (see Choay 1965: 7-83). According to the preceding analysis, the dominant codes are the following: vital, historical, aesthetic, naturalist, orderliness, utilitarian (subcode: functional), technological, sanitary, economic, cultural, to which must be added, for the first phase of the progressivist and culturalist models, a socio-political code. (Lagopoulos 1986a[1983]: 193)
Why not dominant functions?

Gottdiener, M. 1986a. Culture, Ideology, and the Sign of the City. In: Gotdiener, M. and Alexander Ph. Lagopoulos (eds.), The Ciy and the Sign: An Introduction to Urban Semiotics. New York: Colubia University Press, 202-218.

As Gerald Suttlers has remarked, "Practically everyone seems to give local sentiments and culture passing attention, but that is usually the end of it" (1984:283). What seems to be missing is a concern with the way urban artifacts, discourse about the city environment, and locationally oriented ideologies comprise factors in the determination of urban processes and activities. This is precisely the object of analysis chosen by the socio-semiotic approach. Thus, a concern with the social life of signs in urban environment promises to return the study of symbolic processes back to the center of inquiry on culture in the city. (Gottdiener 1986a: 203)
This I like. Mainly because human nonverbal behaviour is included in the social life of signs in urban environments.
Suttles (1984) advances a critique of Walter Firey's early casting of the analytical practice for sentiments in the equation on urban behavior. In this Parsonian model Firey's notion is intrasubjective. Environmental meanings are not observable directly. Instead, Firey hypothesized that personal beliefs were linked to action through their concordance with overarching values held in common with others in the local area. As such Firey's intrasubjective sentiments can be said to exist whether they are manifested concretely or not and his theory is non-falsifiable. (Gottdiener 1986a: 204)
Here I see a way of rescuing my own notion of concourse by extending the relation between bodily behaviour and descriptions of bodily behaviours back: personal (and shared) beliefs about bodily behaviour influence actual bodily behaviour.
Firey and, later, cognitive geographers wish to call attention to a crucial fact about urban life. Namely, that behavior within it and therefore the understanding of urban processes, such as the determination of land values, is a partial function of commonly held and sustained sentiments. This is not a quality deriving from some discursive interaction between "experts," neither city detractors nor boosters, for example, but an aspect of everyday social interaction involving what Suttles refers to as "the masses" but which we can more astutely understand as comprised of social groups in a stratified society. (Gottdiener 1986a: 205)
I wish someone had concrete examples of how human behaviour and beliefs about it influence the city environment.
According to socio-semiotics the symbolic conception of objects is indeed the basis of material urban culture. However, these objects encompass an incredible variety of forms. They include buildings as well as graffiti, or, the sign systems which resemanticize instrumental facades. Even space itself, such as the city street, is an important object of signification. Finally, semiotics also studies discourse both written and verbal as significant symbolic referents in the organization of behavior. Writings about the urban environment include planning commission reports as well as the metaphors of novelists, with the former clearly carrying more behavioral weight. (Gottdiener 1986a: 206)
All this can be viewed as the stuff of textualization.
One purpose of collective representations is to attract or repel, but there are others, such as those which connote social functions: entertainment - "downtown"; leisure - "Belle Harbor"; or commerce - "city of industry." The principal aspect of these signs is that they are part of the economic and political group practices which constitute the very core of urban activities. In sum, they are not artifacts removed from the daily life of urban residents which elicit behavior. To believe this is to assert the ecological fallacy. Signs of place are mediations organized at the level of social interaction itself and utilize as tools to facilitate everyday life by helping to organize and direct action. (Gottdiener 1986a: 211)
For my purposes this is the most helpful quote in this book/reader yet.
Ever the core question posed by Appleyard is quite compatible with the research interests of urban semiotics, as he inquires, "How do environmental actors express the identity, power, and status of their creators and how do they communicate with their audiences?" (1979:148). Yet, important differences remain between our approach and his. On the one hand, Appleyard reduces all symbolic interaction in the city to the referential function of communication because of the limitations of his model. In this approach there is a distinct producer and receiver of messages, and symbols are intentionally produced or perceived. On the other hand, the communicative act is said to be organized around perception, in which case Lynch's analysis of image quality serves as the basis of symbolic action. (Gottdiener 1986a: 212)
This is a problem in some other communication models as well. Jakobson, for example, seems to reduce the contents of messages to ostensive reference (that is, references to the context of the speech act) - but only from a very cursory and surface reading. In case of symbolic interaction in the city there are obviously other functions that should come to the fore; especially when one takes symbolic interactionism into consideration. Intentional production and perception is also clearly problematic. It took me over a year, I think, to realize that an annoying message written on my dorm corridor's wall may have been meant for me and written by my ex gf. Mediated communication is complex.
The communications model is a reductionist view of symbolic interaction. It ignores the complex variety of meaningful acts mediating urban activities. (Gottdiener 1986a: 213)
With this I agree wholeheartedly.
[...] consumers of city signs key into the function of place so that environmental conception is ruled by the poly-functionality of urban practices (see Eco, paper 2; Barthes, paper 3). This convergence of separate conceptions means that consumers of space utilize different meanings for the same location precisely because each location within the city is used for different things by different social groups. At the same time, space itself becomes the object of social interaction over contrasting signifieds. This clash of meanings is often resolved by the atrophy of all signifieds in the sign of place to the benefit of monosemic signifiers of instrumental function. Most often, however, instrumental space becomes re-semanticized through social uses. (Gottdiener 1986a: 213)
The papers in this collection/reader seem to become increasingly more reasonable. This might be the point when I begin to enjoy reading it. Maybe. (Celebratory track.)
By applying Jakobson's expanded model of meaning, Agrest (1978:218) was able to identify at least six separate symbolic sources including the role of streets in poetic, phatic, and metalingual communication. (Gottdiener 1986a: 213-214)
The paper is titled "Toward a Theory of Sense in the Built Environment", but it appeared in a book, On Streets and is thus inaccessible.
As Agrest (1978) astutely points out, however, all functional views of communication, even Jakobson's, are limited. (Gottdiener 1986a: 214)
Yup. Even more so as Jakobson didn't put forth a functional view of communication but a functional view of language (or at best a functional view of speech acts).
As Eco (paper 2) and Barthes (paper 3) suggest above, buildings are not single architectural sculptures free-standing in space, they are parts which relate to a larger whole - the urban context. Thus the fabric of the city and its texture changes as forms of construction and modes of land use alter over time. (Gottdiener 1986a: 215)
I don't think I noticed this in Eco or Barthes. But at the moment this reminds me again of the river-side parks in Tartu that were etched with wooden houses before WWII. The war changed the texture of the city. Now we are so used to the small riverside parks that it is difficult even to imagine houses there.

Ledrut, Raymond 1986b[1973]. The Images of the City. In: Gotdiener, M. and Alexander Ph. Lagopoulos (eds.), The Ciy and the Sign: An Introduction to Urban Semiotics. New York: Colubia University Press, 219-240.

The author finds our distinguishing dimensions for the significations of value: ethical, aesthetic, existential, and functional; and four major groups of "objective" traits (caractères): social, practical, recognitional, and formal. (Gottdiener & Lagolopous 1986: 220)
Are these comparable to the four modes presented by Mukarovsky (1934) and later Morris (1946)?
If we consider the image of the city from a "psychological" point of view, we both perceive and understand that there is no image without an affective resonance. The strength of an image is linked to the extent of these reprecussions. There is no image in any case which might be a mere representation. The image is always emotion, whether it impels us toward or away from an object, whether it terrorizes or charms. There is always some fascination in an image: Idol or Imago. Psychoanalysis has recognized this in its very theory of the Imago. For "figures," in fact, do not belong to the order of objectivity and concepts, even when they are set in the field of "science" and "technique": the functional image of the city is an image only from the moment when it becomes the locus of a certain "investment" by the ego. (Ledrut 1986b[1973]: 222-223)
This is the "autocommunication" aspect of reading the pseudo-text of the city (that was missing from one of the expositions above).
The image of the city is, like the image of the body, a schema necessary for anchoring ourselves in the world. Perturbations of the body image are inseparable from perturbations of behavior. Legitimately, we can suppose that it is the same with our image of the environment and thus with our image of the city. Yet it is obvious that the notion of environment introduces a restrictive element in the image of the city, that spatial behavior does not exhaust the repertoire of spatial practices, and that adaptation is not all there is to apprehension. (Ledrut 1986b[1973]: 225)
One can imagine going back in time and having a hard time recognizing the urban landmarks that guide our movements in the present, for example.
The study of factors and groupings had already allowed us to apprehend some of these relations. They are of very great importance, in so far as they reveal that there is not only distinction, but opposition, between the eudaemonic register and the functional register. We are dealing not simply with two levels of discourse but also with two systems in partial opposition. (Ledrut 1986b[1973]: 233)
This study seems like a great model for elucidating speech registers. I wonder if something like it could be applied to a cultural study of nonverbal communication.


Post a Comment