The Dialectical Functioning of Mukařovský

Gandelman, Claude 1988. The Dialectical Functioning of Mukařovský's Semiotic Model. In: Tobin, Yishai (ed.), The Prague School and It's Legacy: In Linguistics, Literature, Semiotics, Folklore, and the Arts. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 265-273.

In the last decades, Mukařovský's functional model dealing with the various functions "at work" in the artistic text or in art objects in general was somewhat superseded (this is rather an understatement) by the model delineated by Roman Jakobson with its six components:
emotive functionreferential function
poetic function
phatic function
metalinguistic function
conative function
Six elements which relate a creator or author to an observer or recipient through a message, a code, a contact-maintaining device, a reality-representing device, according to the following scheme:
creator/authorrepresented reality
message (self reference of the work)
This model is so well-known that there is no need to expatiate upon it. It is, of course, based on the three core-functions defined by the German linguist Karl Bühler: Ausdruck (emotive f.), Darstellungi (reference), Appel (conative f.) during the twenties. (Gandelman 1988: 265)
There are of course significant differences between these schemes. For example, the message's self-referential aspect is over-hyped because the poetic function is not well understood, I think. And the addressee is definitely a recipient and can be a reader, but observer would be far-fetched, as speech/talk is only marginally directed at an unknown observer - most messages are directed towards a participant in the communication system.
An obvious criticism which can be extended against the Jakobsonian model is that the schema is not a dynamic one: all six functions may, indeed, be represented in a text or in an art object but any text or object can function with a minimal set of three functions (either the emotive, the referential and the conative working together or the emotive, the poetic and the conative working together). The operative idea in the functioning of the whole is that of dominant. The "poles" of the Jakobsonian model are not constituted in couples opposed or "dialoguing" with one another. They never constitute sets of oppositions or dialectically shifting combinations but remain "there" coexisting side by side. For instance, the referential and the poetic function can be found cohabiting in peaceful harmony (although one may be a "dominant" over the other) in one and the same art object. In short, the Jakobsonian model seems to be simply a manifuld of six functions which coexist side by side in full functional equality or simply in juxtaposition while four or five of the six serves a "ground" (in a Gestaltist sense) for a "dominant". (Gandelman 1988: 266)
The criticism is valid and I concur, Jakobson's schema is more like a (hierarchical) typology of language functions, not a "communication model in operation" as it is in Ruesch (1953).
Yet in the thirties, Jan Mukařovský elaborated a model which, contrary to the one we have just seen is truly dialectical. Indeed, Mukařovský kept repeating that a truly functional model must also be a dialectical model. I quote from his famous French text "Art as a semiological fact" published in the proceedings of the Prague philological congress of September 1934:
L'ouvre d'art a (...) une double fonction sémiologiquo, autonome et communicative (...) Aussi voit-on apparaître avec plus ou moins de force, dans l'évolution des ces arts, l'antinomie dialectique de la fonction de signe autonome et celle de signe communicatif...
(The work of art has ... a double semiological function, autonomous and communicative ... Thus one sees the reappearance with a greater or a lesser emphasis in the evolution of the arts of the dialectical antinomy between the function of autonomous sign and the function of communication sign...).
And he repeated again at the end of this paper that "the two semiological functions, the communicative and the autonomous which coexist in the arts à sujet constitute through their coexistence (ensemble) one of the essential dialectical antinomies in the evolution of those arts. (Gandelman 1988: 266)
Here I actually have to defend Jakobson. He didn't neglect this point. Both Mukařovský and Jakobson were influenced by Anton Marty who - to my knowledge - first made this distinction. The autonomous sign is covered by language in its poetic function and communication by language in its referential function. True, Jakobson's view of communication may appear limited here, but he nevertheless held on to this double function.
At the same time, let us observe that Mukařovský links semiology with dialectics in his vision of the evolution of the arts. Thus, according to him, the succession of art forms in the course of History should be described as the ups and downs of (paraphrasing Hegel) semiological "mastery" and "slavery" of the poetic function (what Mukařovský calls the aesthetic function) over the referential (in Mukařovský's terminology "communicative" function). And conversely,: "mastery" or "enslavement" of the referential function in relation to the aesthetic function. (Gandelman 1988: 267)
This is where Jakobson's notion of hierarchy relates to the notions of dominant and deformation.
In a later text on architecture in 1937, Mukařovský returned to the problem of the "dialectical negating" of the totality by one of the functions (that is by the "privileged" aesthetic function). I must quote in German, not having found this text in any other language, then give my own translation:
Ohne auf Detaille einzugehen, muss zunächst daran erinnert werden, dass die ästetische Funktion sich im Vergleich zu den anderen Funktionen dadurch auszeichnet, dass die, wo immer und in welcher Nachbarschaft sie auch aftreten mag, die dialektische Negation von Funktionalität überhaupt darstellt".
("Without entering into a detailed description, one must mention in the first place that the aesthetic function - contrary to all the other functions - is characterized by the fact that it always represents the dialectical negation of the very fact of functionality, always and in whatever surroundings one finds it"). (Emphasis mine - C.G.)
There is no doubt whatever that Mukařovský laid great emphasis on the fact that his aesthetic function - Jakobson's poetic function - is really "negative dialectics" that is, dialogically negates all the other functions and even the principle of functionality itself. (Gandelman 1988: 267)
Again, hierarchy and dominant. Onomatopoeia and parallelisms don't contribute much to the communicative function, they even negate the conciseness of clear communication by making the message "aesthetic". That is to say, both aesthetic and poetic function are impractical.
First of all, let me observe that seems to have taken a much greater step with Bütler model than Jakobson did. His model is not hexagonal (I am referring to the six headings of the Jakobson model), that is, evolved from a basic core number of three, but quadripolar or quadratic: a structure of four polar functions. In Mukařovský's terminology, these functions are the pragmatic, the theoretical, the symbolic and the aesthetic (Gandelman 1988: 267)
Charles Morris's scheme is also quadratic. Cf. informative (here symbolic), valuative (here aesthetic), incitive (here pragmatic) and systemic (here theoretical).
Moreover, Mukařovský divided his quadratic set into binary sets. A first set links what he called the immediate functions, that is the practical or pragmatic function to the thearetical function; this set is opposed to a second set he calls the "sign-functions" (in German "die zeichenhaften Funktionen"). Thus, this set constitutes a first group of binary oppositions. Behind it, of course, it is not difficult to recognize the Hegelian dialectical oppositions between the "immediate" (das Unmittelbare) and the "mediate" (das Mittelbare) which Mukařovský rewrites as "das Zeichenhafte". For Mukařovský, the "sign" is the mediated and mediating agend par excellence, the structure or trace which stands for something else and which is only "there" in order to be transcended in the dilection of something else. (Gandelman 1988: 267-268)
All this is very familiar (especially the latter part which is the aspect of renvoi in Jakobson). The latest instance that comes to mind is Zilberman & Cohen's (1988: 312) remark that "the deontic modality denotes the significance of action completely devoid of any signability". It is the question of meaningfulness in practical behaviour as such. See also intrinsic coding (immediate) vs. extrinsic coding (mediate).
A second set links the old Hegelian poles "subject" and "object". There are functions which are "on the side of the object" and others which are "on the side of the subject". Thus, the aesthetic and the theoretical functions are what Mukařovský calls "subject-foregrounding", while the practical and the symbolic functions are "object-foregrounding". (Gandelman 1988: 268)
Thus, curiously, there is a possible connection with Uexküll's Funktionskreis - the asthetic and theoretical functions belong to the Merkwelt and the practical and symbolic functions to the Wirkwelt. That is, the organism engages in "aesthetic reception" and theorizing about it's environment and conversely acts and disperses symbols (conspecifically conventional signs) within its Wirkwelt.
I would like to relate, all these binary oppositions by using the old logical square of Apuleus and Boethius, which, incidentally, is also the foundation of Hegelian logic. In the last decades, this square has been revived as a semiotic pattern and has come very much to the fore thanks to the Semiotic model elaborated by A-J. Greimas and his "École de Paris". Thus, I arrive at the following structure:
The practical function, Mukařovský writes, is the "function closest to reality" ("sie steht der Wirklichkeit am Nächsten"). The symbolic on the other hand, is the function which "strives to act upon reality" ("sie strebt auf die Wirklichkeit einzugehen"). As an example: a magic amulet is used symbolically with the ultimate objective of modifying the reality it "symbolically" represents.
On the contrary, the theoretical function is subject-foregrounding: "its general and final objective is the projection of reality into the mind of the subject" ("sein allgemeines und letztes Ziel ist eine Projektion der Wirklichkeit in das Bewusstsein des Subjects"). In the opposite direction, the aesthetic functions project the subject into the reality in order to subjugate it. (Gandelman 1988: 268)
Ah, so that's what Boethius was about! And here a more complex picture of functions appears and Uexküll's model will no longer do, at least not as easily. The practical function is almost like the organism's actions in themselves (the Objekt or Merkmalen). The symbolic function relates to the organism's subjective reality as such (e.g. Nervensystem or Wirkmalen. The theoretical function mediates the object to the subject(Rezeptoren or Merken). And the aesthetic function mediates the subject to the object (Effektoren or Wirken). The connection with the Funktionkreis is erratic, but possible for sake of understanding.


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