Peirce's semiotics and Russian formalism

Kiryushchenko, Vitali 2012. Peirce's semiotics and Russian formalism: The story of Oedipus Rex. Semiotica 189(1): 255-269.

[...] while Saussure made most of his basic assumptions against the background of rationalism, Peirce's pragmatism and semiotics emphatically denies such a background while Saussure was largely preoccupied with describing natural language as a self-contained system of differences between linguistic signs. Peirce's semiotics made much wider ontological claims while Saussure's theory was rooted in associationistic psychology. Peirce tried to do his best to denounce psychologism (Deledalle 2000: 100-113); while in Saussure's Course the constitutive law of meaning has no importance for the "practical Self," Peirce puts decisive emphasis on conceivable practical results (Colapietro 1991; Broden 2000: 27-89). (Kiryushchenko 2012: 256)
And yet we know very little about associationistic psychology (presumably, a movement in German psychology at the end of the 19th century, focused on such phenomena as sensory discrimination and association).
Obviously, in Peirce's case, like in Propp's, the idea of classification thus described is closely related with the idea of a process of continuous mediation that culminates in the formation of a general rule, and as such is just one of many steps to the concept of continuity that Peirce in his late writings represented as "relational generality" (Cf. CP 6.172, 6.190; Peirce 1992: 181-196). A still earlier germ of this same synechistic concept was presented by Peirce in his "ON a New List of Categories." It is in this paper that Peirce introduced the term "interpretant," an intermediate concept that was to play in his own "List" the role the notion "I think" played in Kantian deduction of the pure concepts of understanding - the role of the foundation for bringing a multitude of experience to conceptual unity. And it is in this paper that Peirce, by introducing this term, offered an alternative, non-Hegelian synechistic interpretation of Kantian synthesis of the manifold types of intuition; here he represented the synthesis not as a pure self-positing but as an act of continuous development addressed to possible future (Cf. W2: 49-58; KRV: B 133). (Kiryushchenko 2012: 259)
I recently explained the interpretant to a non-semiotician as that which connects the representamen (sign-manifestation) and object (the content that the sign makes manifest). I was not too far off.
Taking the story of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles as an example. Propp names several such narrative functions: "Prophesy," parental marriage," "escape," "nurturing," "particide," "sphinx," etc., each one being subject to a similar analysis. But, unlike other formalists, instead of simply presenting these narrative functions as ahistorical structural components shaping the plot, in the course of his analysis Propp, against expectations, begins to explicate them step-by-step as specific iconic units of discourse by means of which certain larger forms of narrative are transmitted from one historical period to another. In other words, instead of routinely describing the way mutual arrangement of distinct discursive elements endows the story with meaning; that is, instead of describing a pure ahistoric narrative structure, he uses the Oedipus example to show how folklore discourse exists in time. (Kiryushchenko 2012: 260-261)
For some reason I feel similarly about my study of the literary descriptions of nonverbal behaviour.
So, at first sight, the prophesy motive appears to play no constitutive part in the story. Nevertheless, it turns out that if a prophecy of precisely this kind should be excluded from the story, the plot would literally fall apart, since nearly all the meaningful events would be rendered incomprehensible, consecutive parts of the plot would become disconnected from one another, and the behavior of characters would seem totally unmotivated. If we excluded what the oracle says to Laius, we would simply not be able to understand why this or that character does what he or she does. For a formalist, to solve this problem is to tell why this motivational structure occupies the exact position in the plot that it does. (Kiryushchenko 2012: 162)
It Shpet's definition, we have a struture (and not a system) at our hands.
The sum total of all motives performing the same function that the prophecy itself performs in the story could then be called an interpretant, as it embraces a network of mediating links that provide an understanding of the story as a whole. That is, without introducing any significant changes to the plot, it directly reduces the manifold of actions, facts ad events to a unity (cf. W2: 54). Moreover, it does so by leaving certain unsaturated links as a possibility of further interpretations in another discursive system that would make the initial symbol grow still further (see figure 2). (Kiryushchenko 2012: 264)
I am reminded of Lotman's similar attempt to identify the interpretant with the "function".
This intermediate structure Kant calls the "transcendental scheme," which (and this, without question, is the ssum and substance of the second version of the first Critique) is always a product of imagination, or something that, as Peirce later puts it in his pramatic maxim, we "conceive" to be such and such. It is neither a percept, nor a concept, but something that interprets the former into the latter (Cf. one of Peirce's definitions in the beinning of MS 212 "On Representations": "A representation is an object which stands for another so that an experience of the former affords us a knowledge of the latter"; W3: 62). (Kiryushchenko 2012: 266)
In short, the representamen is synonymous with sign.


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