Thursday, March 5, 2009

Why Language Proper Ought Not Be the Deterministic Point of Departure for Exploring Semiotics

What we should look for is the first indication of symbolic behavior, which is not likely to be anything as specialized, conscious or rational as the use of semantic. Language is a very high form of symbolism; presentational forms are much lower than discursive, and the appreciation of meaning probably earlier than its expression. The earliest manifestation of any symbol making tendency, therefore, is likely to be a mere sense of significance attached to certain objects, certain forms or sounds, a vague emotional arrest of the mind by something that is neither dangerous nor useful in reality. The beginnings of symbolic transformation in the cortex must be elusive and disturbing experiences, perhaps thrilling, but very useless, and hard on the whole nervous system. It is absurd to suppose that the earliest symbols could be invented; they are merely furnished to the senses of a creature ready to give them some diffuse meaning. But even in such rudimentary new behavior lies the first break with the world of pure signs. Aesthetic attraction, mysterious fear, are probably the first manifestations of that mental function which in man becomes a peculiar "tendency to see reality symbolically," and which issues in the power of conception, and the life-long habit of speech. [Susanne Langer]

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