Breakthrough In Semiotics

Good evening my names Professor Sontag, head of research at the London Institute of Cultural Science.

I am here this evening to present a short talk on the recent revolutionary developments in Semiotics, or more precisely Post Semiotic Theory.

If I could have the first slide please.

As is widely known, Semiotics is the science of signs first proposed by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand De Saussure in 1916 and developed by amongst others Charles Sanders Pierce and Louis Hjelmslev. For the purposes of tonight's talk I shall first establish a basic typology of the sign based on the work of the Prague school.

All communication consists of signs, let us consider the function of the sign.

First there is the material 'sign', for instance a written or spoken word in this case a 35mm slide depicting a carton of orange juice, next there is the 'signified' the idea or mental concept of orange juice and finally there is the 'referent' the thing referred to, the actual orange juice itself. What is the relationship between these three elements, it is arbitrary, there is no causal link between the sign, it's signified and the referent. In other languages orange juice may have another sign - orangesaft, Succo d'arancia, Sinaasappelsap, zumo de naraja... The signified is also unstable, to me orange juice is delicious and refreshing but to you it maybe a revolting acidic pulp. The referent is also variable, there are many types of orange juice, tangerine, mandarin or even satsuma. And what about Sunny Delight ? But , you insist "orange juice is always coloured orangeÓ Well what about blood oranges ? Their juice is red. And what if you were colour blind and you perceived the colour orange as violet and visa versa. Then if I asked you what colour is this orange juice you would respond "It's orange" when in fact you meant violet. And if you were eating a Palma violet you would associate the colour orange with those perfume flavoured lozenges.

By this we can see that language is a system of arbitrary signs. If I say to you do you like orange juice you may reply "No I find it rather salty" but how can I be sure we share the same referent or signified. I cannot be sure. Perhaps I could offer you some of my orange juice and we could both experience the same referent together, but you still maintain that it is salty. What if I see a lovely conker tree but you think it's hideous, how can I be sure we are both perceiving the same tree. I cannot be sure, maybe we are seeing completely different trees, maybe there is no tree at all, it is obvious that we cannot trust our perceptions, perhaps what we have hitherto believed to be the real world does not actually exist. Maybe reality is in fact a shifting dimension of multicoloured geometric cubes and spirals, maybe we are not here at all but are still in bed dreaming or maybe we are floating in a cyber tank of genetic fluid with our minds plugged into the world wide web. Who knows, but what is clear is that the sign has become autonomous and adrift from both the signified and the referent.

The importance of this shift for post industrial capitalism is pivotal for now the economy of signs has replaced the consumer product as the defining 'commodity' of exchange. Throughout the industrialised West signs are traded and accumulated whilst starving girls in Malta and Iraq subsist on a few badly drawn sketches. And this is the point where the most recent discoveries in semiotics are being made.

Following the recent report by Michel Barday let us take for instance the sign for a young goose the word GOSLING, now if we compress that sign by 7,000 kelvin per square inch it becomes apparent that the word gosling is composed of an intricate network of sub molecular particles or syntoms which can be recorded as male or female on the diachronic register. According to classical semiotic theory each particle should then be an arbitrary sub syntom or smaller autonomous sign, but what Barday discovered was that there was in fact a clear hierarchy amongst the sign particles of the order bourgoise or ruling syntoms and proletarian or worker syntoms. The former being shaped like little tiny foxes and the latter like baby magpies. At this sub significant level the foxes are constantly attacking the magpies and then hiding at the margins where they weep.

This dialectical process is known as SUTURE and it is a form of repression brought on by the subliminal sexual impulses directed against the law of the father and it can only be relieved by the historical ascendancy of the proletariat and the negation of Post commodity capitalism. And so how can we apply this to the westerns of John Ford and specifically to the Searchers of 1949 ?

Well if the sign can be accelerated in an atomic tunnel somewhere in California then it would in theory be possible to produce a luminous paint which could be drunk by the poor and underpriveleged people who work in newsagents and hang around on council estates and once absorbed into their synaptic neurons they would no longer be susceptible to advertising and 'Home and Away' and they would instead be able to appreciate Peter Greenaway, Derek Jarman and perhaps even Gillian wearing.

Thankyou very much goodnight.