on February 10, 2011
It seems to me, that you can divide the world's linguists into two categories. There are those who can use their linguistic insights to present their ideas clearly, simply and concisely, and there are those who instead use their linguistic insights to exhibit their vast knowledge of the subject via the liberal use of complexity, clever metaphor, and insider or otherwise obscure references and terminology. Eco is undeniably the consummate grandiloquent semiologue. As Edmund Kean remarked, "Complexity is easy, simplicity is hard." Methinks the truly brilliant linguist, would be one of few words. While reading this book, I just couldn't help thinking, what's wrong with this picture? Is this rocket science? No, I found here a pretentious alchemy, attempting to fashion lead into gold at the end of a semiotic rainbow.
To get a sense of some of the discourse, try this for size, the concluding sentence of the chapter on symbol:
"In any case, behind every strategy of the symbolic mode, be it religious or aesthetic, there is a legitimating theology, even though it is the atheistic theology of unlimited semiosis of or hermeneutics as deconstruction. A positive way to approach every instance of the symbolic mode would be to ask: which theology legitimates it?" p.163
So it ain't science, it's art. No, I take that back, it's a modern religious art (and seasoned with more than a little Dada).
Such pseudointellectual bourgeoisie seem to thrive on belaboring the number of linguistic angels that can dance on the head of a pin. That, and a propensity for name dropping. The true measure of any "science," analysis, or even a mere methodology, is its results. Where's the beef? Sure, Eco is known to tell a good story now and then, but so do many others. Did it really take deep semiotic study to get him there? Well, perhaps it did. I guess that's evidence. Of a sort. Of something.
Of course, many of these modern semioticians are trying to argue that language is fundamentally indeterminate-- by using their own ill-defined terminology and convoluted argumentation as example. Unfortunately, that only demonstrates THEY lack clarity of expression, not that such lack is inherent.
A more down to earth book on "Semiotics" is Daniel Chandler's "Semiotics: The Basics." It's far more practical, and there's far less pretension. Still, it would appear that semioticians are yet struggling with basic definitions and lack coherent methodologies. You'd think by now they'd have figured out enough to get better at communicating with each other, at least. What good is analysis if it doesn't net some understanding, other than to buffalo the deans of universities into paying your bills?
At this rate, significant semiotic insights are still a long ways off. What should we expect to come out of it? An awareness of cultural relationships and connections that will produce startling insights? A new language that is more concise, or suggested refinements of existing languages? The ability to communicate unique concepts that have been heretofore ineffable? Or perhaps, something much more modest-- the ability to identify and eliminate needless complexities and redundancies? Yes, I think that in particular would be a good start...
However, I do give Eco three stars, for effort and the fact that it has provided some comic relief. Irony indeed...