Some Fundamental Concepts

Winner, Thomas G. 1979. Some Fundamental Concepts Leading to a Semiotics of Culture: An Historical Overview. Semiotica 27(1-3): 75-82.

While Peirce named many non-linguistic sign systems in his meticulous and path-breaking taxonomical and logical studies, the question of how different sign systems interrelate was hardly touched upon by that great 'backwoodsman' in the theory of signs. (Winner 1979: 75)
I wish there was something more specific about this. Some day I will have to undertake a reading of Peirce with an eye towards these many non-linguistic sign systems that he supposedly named.
I shall try to show that the Prague contribution lay essentially in three areas: (1) the position that sign systems are not totally immanent, and that they are in complex ways interrelated; (2) the view of function and of the polyfunctional nature of human activity; and (3) the view of the existence of sign systems other than natural language which form a complex system of systems of semiotic codes of all kinds: the various arts, codes of dress, various ethnographic information systems, etc., all of which were seen to co-exist in a vast and complex system of systems. (Winner 1979: 75-76)
It sounds a bit like he's reading the Prague contributions in light of TMS.
And in 1928, Jakobson and Tynjanov had posited the strong social function of poetry and oral art, and their relative dependence upon cultural norms. (Winner 1979: 76)
Is that what they did in their "Theses"?
In the joint statement, Jakobson and Tynjanov challenged, for the first time, the isolation of the work of art and replaced the concept of immanence with that of autonomy. The work of art is seen as autonomous, because it is organized according to its own laws of structuration, and evolves according to these. Yet, although not reducible to other phenomena, such as society, or the author's or reader's psyche, it is not totally immanent, but exists in rather complex relations to other structures which need to be taken into account, especially when examining the evolution of artistic forms (Jakobson and Tynjanov 1928:37). (Winner 1979: 76)
I wish someone would explain the bothe theses, J & T 1928 and Lotman et al. 1973 with such clarity.
Mukarovsky's view of complexly interrelated structures forming higher systems, which he calls a "system of system", significantly anticipates the contemporary position that culture may be understood as a complex semiotic system of information, which is advanced by the Tartu-Moscow scholars and others. As Mukarovsky wrote in 1946-7:
... Structuralism which more than any other scientific orientation is aimed at the totality of phenomena - since structure itself is by definition a totality - had to touch, during its evolution, increasingly on problems lying outside the structure of the work of art: as soon as a certain view was obtained about the composition of the artistic structure and its movement, structures of a higher order began to become outlined behind this, structures of which the structure of a given art is only an element. It becomes clear that if we want to understand the evolution of a certain branch of the arts, we must examine that art and its problematics in connection with the other arts ... . Furthermore, art is one of the branches of culture, and culture as a whole, in turn, forms a structure, the individual elements of which (for example art, science, politics) are in mutual, complex and historically changeable relations to each other. However, the structure of a culture as a whole is again not an isolated phenomenon, for the basic source of its dynamics is the movement of society ... (1946-47:50).
Thus the Prague School's view of the interdependence of systems never went so far as to threaten the autonomy of art as specified in the aesthetic function. Rather, the Prague scholars posited a relation between structures in culture, all of which have their autonomous evolution, and none of which is a priori superior to any other one (cf. Mukarovsky 1948b:349). (Winner 1979: 78)
Mukarovsky was simply brilliant (or just happened to work in a fruitful intellectual climate). In any case I feel that I have to read more from Mukarovsky. // The quote comes from Mukarovsky's 1946-47. "Problemy individua v uměni". University Lecture. Printed from manuscript in 1977. Cestami poetiky a estetiky. Praha: Čsl. Spisovatel, 49-84.
The semiotics of art was suggested by Jakobson in his trenchant essay on the semiotic character of film (1933), the effects of which remain an important influence on the work of Metz, and others, on the filmic code. (Winner 1979: 79)
Huh. I was not aware that his paper on the crisis in cinema suggested a semiotics of art. It does make sense, though, and I should probably re-read his paper with this in mind.
The early semiotic aesthetics of the Prague group was also informed by Saussure's insight into the theory of signs, but Peirce's fundamental semiotic studies were not known to the members of this group. (Winner 1979: 79)
Wrong. At least Mukarovsky was aware of (and mentioned) Peirce in 1934. I have my suspicions that Charles Morris had a role in this, as he travelled through Europe during his sabbatical in 1934.
All these quotations, which are still agitating semiotic discussions today, were raised in Mukarovsky's seminal lecture at the Philosophical Congress in Prague, thought its importance is frequently overlooked. (Winner 1979: 79)
I wouldn't surprised if this is also where Morris, Carnap and others congregated. The full name of this event seems to be The 8th International Congress of Philosophy in Prague, 1934. A whole 35 years later, in 1969, someone published the proceedings of this event. According to Wikipedia, the event could also be named "World Conference of Philosophy". I perused through indexes of issues of The Journal of Philosophy from 1934 and found Ernest Nagel's repert of "The Eight International Congress of Philosophy" in Vol. 31, No. 22 (Oct. 25, 1934), pp. 589-601.
In his work on folk costume, Bogatyrev utulizes the concept of function, of the teleological character of all communication, which was developed by the Prague Linguistic Circle first for natural language and then extended to other systems, in his examination of functioning of clothing, which is seen as operating as signs linking the wearer with certain social groupings or certain specific attitudes (1971:93). (Winner 1979: 80)
In short, clothing is expressive, or in some cases even emotive.
Finally, the costume has a very specific function, that of markedness as 'our costume', a function called by Bogatyrev "the function of the structure of functions" (1971:96), which - just as the function 'our language', 'our village' - is opposed to 'the others'' costume function. Here Bogatyrev comes closer than any other scholar of the Prague group to the contemporary theories of semiotics of culture, especially to the opposition of the inner vs. the outer view of culture, especially to the opposition of culture vs. non-culture, or 'our' vs. 'not our', which is parallel to the opposition organization vs. chaos posited by the Theses of the Moscow-Tartu scholars in 1973 (paragraphs 1.1.1, 1.2.1, 1.2.2.). (Winner 1979: 80)
Oh wow. The wording is almost like Bourdieu's "structuring structures". It seems that clothing has a bunch of different functions and if this bunch of functions is viewed as a unitary structure then it functions on another level as a marker of belonging (to a specific group, for example). This is just another phenomenological doubling. This one reaches something that can be termed "metafunction".


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