Preconditions of Czech structuralist semiology

Sus, Oleg 1972. On the genetic preconditions of Czech structuralist semiology and semantics. An essay on Czech and German thought. Poetics 1(4): 28-54.

Ernst Cassirer did not establish his own systematic aesthetics as a special symbolic discipline, and, without ceasing to be a philosopher, he did no ttry to verify his categories by means of particular analysis of works of art. (Sus 1972: 29)
The same holds for Susanne Langer, as far as I know.
Freudian 'aesthetics' are seemingly an exception; they used to tend to deal with interpretations of individual works of art (e.g. cf. Sigmund Freud, Psychoanalytische Studien an Werken der Dichtund und Kunst [1924], and elsewhere sparsim). (Sus 1972: 29)
Sparsim is a latin adverb that signifies "scatteredly, here and there, in a scattered manner, sparsedly, dispersedly". Much like inter alia in criminology/sociology and sensu in medicine/biology, sparsim seems to be a term commonly used in legal discourse.
Already in the early 1930s there appeared conceptions, at first rather general, which became a kind of independent parallel in relation to the efforts of Czech aesthetic semiology and semantics. At the same time both branches, namely contemporary Czech aesthetics and the noetic investigations of the Polish philosophers, coincide in various basic points which have influenced both sides. Let us mention at random the very important influence of F. Brentano's conception of psychology and naetic which was received in Poland by the mediation of the pupils of K. Twardowski. In the Czech environment of the early 20th century this contact was mediated chiefly by Prague University, above all by linguists, e.g. by A. Marty. (Sus 1972: 29-30)
And so the plot thickens.
(a) What does structuralist semiology really look like (its reconstruction); how does it function and what is its mission (the question of its purpose); how can it be verified - i.e. the question of its scientific truthfulness and reasonableness in general.
(b) The second group of questions concerns problems of history (genesis): What is the actual origin of structuralist semiology and semantics; what presumptions and preconditions have they met in their development in Czech aesthetics and in the wider context of European aesthetics; what aret he other general theoretical presuppositions of their origin; what are the artistic trends they have arisen from, etc. (Sus 1972: 30)
Hopefully something like this investigation could be performed on the Tartu-Moscow School of semiotics.
The sheer unhistorical measuring by the means of stiff theses which are in no way motivated, the simple comparison carried out from the outside - all that would lead to very superficial and sometimes even wrong results. (Sus 1972: 32)
This is why I am beginning to doubt if there is any point in revising Jakobson's communication model. No matter how many disjoined quotes I compare, I am always "outside" of this tradition, "looking in" and seeing only surface associations.
By his concept of sign in Phenomenology of Mind Hegel surpasses mere conventionalism. That is to say Hegel refused to connect the category of sign directly with noetic, i.e. with the content, functions, bounds and value of the cognitive process (either theoretical or artistic). That was a fundamental step forward in the history of philosophy and aesthetics. Thus Hegel has principally corrected the ruling traditions which were manifest in the filed of the psychological emprism and sensualism (nominalism) as well as in the older symbolism of the above-mentioned theories of panplexism: namely that the sign-character affects the totality of the cognitive process (i.e. the meaning, the content of knowledge) in a more or less degrading way. For instance already Cusano has it, expressed in a striking manner: He says that our thinking only organizes and interprets the sensual data, that is to say, it is not directed towards the substance of things. The system of knowledge is merely a set of signs and the absolute world of objects remains unattainable for knowledge. According to Cusano only in God's mind things are contained in their subntantial truth, for God's thinking is "vis entificativa" (creating) while the human intellect remains only "vis assimilativa", i.e. a kind of power which does not grasp the existence of things, but comprehends their 'similitude' ("similitudo") only by intermediation. The language of signs conceals the substance of things in closer and closer veils. (Empirist nominalism later adopted a completely different nomenclature, nevertheless it has arrived at analogical results.) (Sus 1972: 38)
All this sounds a lot like the material reviewed by Oscar Ewald in 1913 - that knowledge consists in both mirroring (reality) and creating (constructing and defining).
Hegel has outlined - even though not completely solved - the question of the relation between the problem of the sign and the category of human work (i.e. the teleology of the sign). Thereby he has urged traditional semiotics to go beyond the bounds of the considerations hithero limited only to the field of logic and psychology as well as noetic; those considerations were now restricted to introspection, now to the mere description of outer signs, now to the account of their functionings. Hegel has demonstrated that the sign itself remains a sensual thing that has its immanent outwardness and objectivity precisely by virtue of the fact that it exists as a sign. For a sign (e.g. a linguistic one) is a product of a working activity ("Tätigkeit", "Tun") and does not differ in any absolute, substantial way from the products of human work proper. Thence Hegel's parallel between the working hand and the speaking mouth. The outward shape of a sign, being a product, is not an activity, but - according to the German philosopher - it is a quiet whole, an outward expression whose real material content ("fysis") are in themselves insignificant. So the sign is a sign which is not the thing itself, the sign is connected with it only arbitrarily ("durch freie Willkür") and in regard to the thing it is casual. That is to say, the sign is - in the Hegelian term - an 'alienated' thing (in the narrower sense, provided that work transforms "res" - i.e. matter, and provided the purpose projects - i.e. objectivizes itself into the outer object). The activity proper, however, is "das Innere" (i.e. the cognitive process, idea, content) which Hegel puts into opposition to "das Aussere" (sign). The content, the meaning of our thinking cannot be identified with the sign. The objectivity of idea, of meaning is of an utterly different ontological and noetic character than the objectivity (external existence) of the reified sign. Truth in its substance has nothing in common with the sign-character as a phenomenon. (Sus 1972: 38-39)
Much of this sounds like Peirce, but generally it comes across as cryptic as Mamardašvili and Pjatigorski's insistence that the symbol is a something that is a non-thing, with one side submerged in consciousness and the other end in the world of things.
So, it is then questionable whether it is possible to proclaim Hegel the inspirer of the sign-conception in the history of Czech aesthetics, as Mirko Novák did in his book Česká estetika [Czech Aesthetics] (1941). It was right of him to call attention to the first contact of Czech 'formalist' aesthetics of teh 19th century with some problems of sign and meaning in the work of Josef Durdík (1837-1903). Direct contact, however, between Hegel's interpretation of sign (and symbol) and Durdík's interpretation of 'sign' does not exist. (Sus 1972: 39)
Curiously, there is no wikipedia article for Josef Durdík in English but there is in Estonian.
Durdík was much closer to the empiricism of John Locke - by reason of his liking for the English 'way of life' - than to Hegel. (Sus 1972: 40)
I'm already beginning to like this guy.
It is not by accident too that in 1934 - in the time of the purposeful rise of structuralist aesthetics - the work of Jan Mukařovský has only traces of Hegel's and neo-Hegelian influence solely in the doctrine of the dialectic of contradictions and of immanenge, the doctrine at the same time being transformed by Mukarovsky in a specific way. (Sus 1972: 40)
Claude Gandelman, too, remarked this in his paper "The Dialectical Functioning of Mukařovský" (1988).
From Hegel the path leads to Vischer and through Vischer to Volkelt. And only then, in what has been termed the school of Hostinský, Otakar Zich met Volkelt to take over from him his (Zich's) central category of the 'significatory image' (významová představa = Bedeutungsvorstellung) which has been interpreted in an empirical way and employed for the argument - which is most important - that works of art are significatory structures, i.e. that they 'mean' something. (Sus 1972: 40)
When I wrote my "artistic pseudo-scientific text" (something like experimental literature) titled "Somatoception", I invented a false-history of semiotics with one specific strain named "significatorics" (something like Lady Welby's "significs"). But here, obviously, these weird terms come from translation - they could probably just as well be "significant images" (though this sounds like Charles Morris).
Beauty does not exist without the endeavour of the observing subject. Such is the thesis of Friedrich Theodor Vischer. (Sus 1972: 41)
Compare this to Peirce's thesis which goes something like this: signs do not exist without the endeavor of the interpreting subject.
The aesthetic act becomes a process of identification (a feeling-into or personification of the object by the spectator) in which we project our emotions, images and ideas outwards. Such an introducing of human psychical phenomena into the extra-human things and 'inanimated' phenomena becomes at the same time the point of departure for modern myth-making. (Sus 1972: 41)
Compare this to Susanne Langer's suggestion that "To understand the "idea" in a work of art is therefore more like having a new experience than like entertaining a new proposition" (Langer 1956[1942]: 213-214).
One strives for a new aesthetic objectivism. The aestheticians put forward integral theories of the 'aesthetic object', first of all under the influence of phenomenology and life-philosophy ("Lebennsphilosophie"). Ideas are received from the school of F. Brentano (and through it from scholastic philosophy), namely ideas of the absolute difference between on the one hand the act (process) of knowledge, of the artistic perception, which should belong exclusively to the realm of real psychical phenomena dependent on the empirical individual changeability from subject to subject, and thus subject to relativity, and on the other hand the content (meaning, sense) of the idea, of the psychical image. The categories of 'sense', 'meaning', 'whole', 'structure', 'function', 'structural interdependence' ("Strukturzusammenhang"), 'semantic wholes', 'comprehension' set out on their way, and as early as the 1920s they become commonplaces of the contemporary 'humanities' ("Geistwissenschaft"). And they become the central concepts of structural theories in aesthetics, above all in Germany. (Sus 1972: 45)
At this point Brentano seems like the juncture between continental European and American semiotics around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th - both Peirce and Brentano drew from scholastic philosophy.
The poet is in Dilthey's opinion a man who comprehends the semantic content of life. But: "The human world becomes meaningful for a poet only if the poetic perception does not stimulate an action." According to Dilthey Goethe withdraws from life to be able to write. No doubt the man who only writes poetry becomes a dreamer; he who acts, however, sets a limit to his poetry... (Sus 1972: 47)
The man of deeds (action) vs the man of words (poetry).
The methodical limitation to German philosophy and aesthetics could prove to be fruitful; on the other hand we are aware of the one-sidedness of this extraction. For it is necessary to correct the opinions which have greatly exaggerated, e.g., the share of de Saussure's linguistic methodology and theory of language in the building-up of the Czech structuralism, as well as the opinions which attempted to derive it merely as a branch of the Soviet 'formal method' of the 1920s. The empty or nearly empty places in the genealogy of Czech structuralism are to be filled in; for this purpose the general outline of some (not all!) circumstances and interrelations which have remained out of the way or which have been only anticipated may be very helpful. (Sus 1972: 54)
This author has greatly helped to "flesh out" Czech structuralism. And indeed all too often is semiotics referred to de Saussure when he in fact may have had very little to do with it. When it comes to Russian formalism, this paper highlights that Czech and German philosophy had its own "abstract" formalism long before Tynjanov & Co. started their work in Russia.


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