What is semiotics useful for?

For what is semiotics useful?

I flipped through a book on semiotics a couple of days ago and was thoroughly confused.

My Humble Opinion is that it was a fad in humanities that has since mostly passed over. IIRC semiotics was the studies of signs and signification, based on the works of De Saussure. The career of Eco, for one, was based on semiotics. It dovetailed into structuralism (actually I’m not really sure whether the one maybe isn’t just a synonym for the other), which later gave way to (or morphed into) post-modernism and deconstructivism.

Since the french philosophers who were seen as figure-heads of post-modernism have mostly passed away, with the exception of Derrida, who is AFAIK moving away from more radical interpretations of deconstructivism, it looks as if semiotics day in the sun is over.

Maybe my previous post sounded a bit dismissive, so let me elaborate a little bit.

Semiotics is the study of signs. In the sixties/seventies there was a lot of interest into it. People found it interesting to think about the nature of the relation between sign and signified, and to analyse the world with such semiotic tools. See for example Umberto Eco’s A Theory of Semiotics for semiotics proper, and Roland Barthes’s Mythologies for applying it as an analytical tool (though he didn’t base himself on semiotics IIRC).

To my mind, the problem with semiotics is that it never made good its promise that it would yield interesting results as an analytical tool. The relation sign-signified is nowadays studied in the elevated realm of philosophy of language. People have become dissatisfied with the rather rarified atmosphere of semiotics and structuralism, which don’t seem to have a connection with real-world subjects, or insofar they have a connection, the semiotic tools do not have any advantage over other analytic tools. Interest in semiotics has waned to the point of it being non-existent, as far as I can tell. It certainly isn’t a mainstream interest with philosophers anymore.

A brief study of semiotics may be useful for understanding some philosophers (notably Lacan) whose theories use semiotic terminology a lot. Furthermore semiotics might still be in vogue (and possibly useful there as well) in literary analysis or related fields. Since I’m not well informed on those subjects, I shouldn’t presume to say semiotics is useless. Hopefully someone else can tell you more there.

Semiotics is the theory behind deconstruction, which is a tactic pretending to be a theory type (“poststructuralist”, with or without hyphens connecting it to other terms).

Mostly deconstruction is good for winning arguments when your position is that the other guys’ position is not unassailable. It’s usually used to destroy someone else’s assertions by chopping up the premises and the various generalizations.

In contrast, it isn’t worth a damn for making assertions of your own.

Ultimately, it is a defeatist position with regards to saying anything or making sense out of anything; it is all about how any construct is chock-full of unexplained, undefended, and questionable assumptions, even such things as the notion that you exist as an individual with a consciousness and a perspective (as opposed to being a blank slate onto which history and location have written their signatures, etc).

Sorry, AHunter3, but deconstructivism is not equivalent to semiotics. While deconstructivism indeed seems to derive from semiotics, the converse is not the case. See for example the debate between Umberto Eco and among others Richard Rorty in Interpretation and Overinterpretation (Cambridge University Press, 1992), where Eco specifically defends the position that the text puts certain limits on the available interpretations. Whatever the worth of deconstructivism, you can’t use it as an argument against semiotics.

I don’t like deconstructivism much more than you seem to do, and I don’t believe there is much to be gained from studying semiotics (as I posted), but I felt I had to set things straight.

Didn’t mean to imply that deconstruction was the sum total of semiotics, just that semiotics is the theory on which deconstructive practice is based. Well, OK, also that this is how you most often run (::smack::slight_smile: into semiotics in academia, I suppose. You put it better than I did: deconstructivism derives from semiotics.

Those were unintentional but highly appropriate smilies.

What I put was: how you most often run (::smack::slight_smile: into semiotics…