Acta Structuralica

international journal for structuralist research

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Aesthetics and semiotics

a stroll along their border

Sorin Alexandrescu

pp. 3

Aesthetics and semiotics Alexandrescu Sorin; Archiving of XML in sdvig press database Open Commons December 6, 2019, 1:55 pm ( )


1So many years after French structuralism proved itself to be critical of philosophy — especially of phenomenology and existentialism —, we now see a trend among various semioticians to reformulate their questions about the construction of meaning in accordance with philosophy rather than in opposition to it. According to them, semiotics might be said to better prove its identity in dialogue with philosophy than by refusing any contact with it “on principle.” If this is so, then semiotics ought first to answer certain questions regarding its methodological fundaments, which hitherto it has easily rejected precisely because it regarded them as (too) “philosophical.” Some of them arise precisely in the border zone between aesthetics and semiotics; my short stroll through this area will attempt to identify them.

2While traditional literary criticism placed the emphasis on value judgement, semiotics rejected this strategy as irrelevant and shifted the discussion to a completely different dimension of the text: it was the meaning of the text that was to be examined, rather than its value. Whether or not to apply the label “beautiful” to a text was to be secondary, according to this stance; what counted above all else was how we lend meaning to a given text.

3“Beautiful,” like other evaluative terms, was to be struck from the semiotic dictionary. Does it have any importance to the analyses of Jakobson, Barthes, Greimas, or Eco whether the text under analysis has a particular value?1 The question itself, I think, sounded highly naïve to them. The semantic richness of a story by Maupassant, as revealed by Greimas, might be an argument to praise the value of the author in question, but cannot such richness also be suggested by Eco’s analysis of a James Bond novel or a cartoon strip, even though he regards both as kitsch?2 Not only does the question sound naïve, but also it is wrongly expressed: from Peirce, we know that semiosis is by definition infinite and that its chain of interpreters often reveals astonishingly rich processes of meaning; the eventual value of one of these interpreters plays no role in the process, however.

4On the other hand, both the formation of meaning and the weighing of value struggle with the same problem: how to legitimise the movement from premise to conclusion? The leap from descriptive to theoretical terms seems just as difficult as the leap from descriptive to evaluative statements.3 The last two terms reveal two additional problems, however: the subjectivity of the act of evaluation and the question of which system of concepts, that of signification or that of values, plays the most important role in the evaluation process.

5Semioticians long denied having any interest in either group of problems, although implicitly they reacted by the fact that they dealt only with the process of the creation of meaning. This choice had two consequences: semiotics was unable to decide on whether the object of study had any value or why people lent a particular meaning to an object. Intuitively, it seems that the two concepts, meaning and value, are mutually bound up with each other, but it also seems not to be out of the question that in certain cultures they might be mutually translatable; in any case, analysis of any particular text shows us that it is difficult to deal with just one of these concepts in isolation.

6Semiotics has traced the boundaries of its territory in such a way that both the question of value and the question of the knowing subject have remained outside. Both were ceded to philosophy thanks to the presupposition that they do not pertain to the essence of the chosen object of knowledge, namely, the formation of meaning. But the irony of the situation resides in the fact that this founding act — the reduction to the essential — is itself a philosophical act, and a phenomenological one to boot. Semiotics therefore split away from philosophy through a philosophical act and — this is my overall hypothesis — namely one that concealed philosophical presuppositions in an unconscious manner, and therefore in a manner that cannot be analysed in its fundamentals.

7Since I will be unable to develop this hypothesis any further here, I shall limit myself to observing that the question of value, which, through this strategic decision, was removed from semiotics, later returned. It could not have been otherwise: what takes place on the aesthetic side of the border lives in the phantasms that arise on its semiotic side. But the opposite is also possible: are there not aestheticians wracked by a desire for precision, which has seeped into their souls having crossed from the semiotic side of the border?


8Kant can be found at the origin of the debate outlined above. The aesthetic consists in a certain type of experience:

Was an der Vorstellung eines Objekts bloss subjektiv is, d.i. ihre beziehung auf das Subjekt, nicht auf den Gegenstand ausmacht, ist die ästhetische Beschaffenheit derselben; was aber an ihr zur Bestimmung des Gegenstandes (zum Erkenntnisse) dient, oder gebraucht werden kann, ist ihre logische Gültigkeit. (Kant 1986: 48)

9It is therefore a question of different types of life experience, each of which rests under a different authority: pure reason, practical reason, and value judgement. The knowledge, practical experience, and aesthetic experience of an object are kept separate, and the third becomes possible through the disconnection of the first two. The intervention of the subject rather than the concreteness of the object is in fact what decides which type of experience occurs. The object must be defined, as a minimum feature, either to be Form (Gestalt) in the spatial arts or Play (Spiel) in the temporal arts. But Kant does not further specify these elements. (Kant 1986: 103) The subject must enjoy the object without having any ulterior interest; the judgement of taste is personal and occurs outside conceptual thought (Kant 1986: 79).4

10Modern aestheticians, like semioticians as well, the latter despite their disinterest in philosophy, have, I think, always struggled with Kant’s opinions about art without genuinely being able to break free of the framework of his thought. Without here making any claim to provide an all-encompassing view of the alternatives to Kantian ideas, I shall merely point out those of them that might be relevant to semiotics. In the following, they will be discussed relative to the “subject/object” relation, the dilemma of “the aesthetic experience of the subject, or the aesthetic features of the object,” and the dilemma of “the aesthetic of the sign, or the sign of the aesthetic.”

Subject versus object

11Kant positions aesthetics within a special relationship between subject and object, while emphasising its individual character: it is and remains the private affair of a cultivated bourgeoisie that thereby separates and also protects itself from the rest of society. This locus or reservation of the beautiful is essential to the modern world, determining the distance between the private and the social, the autonomy as well as the economic value of art, the role of the art critic as intermediary, and so on. Countless modern theories and practices flow, implicitly or explicitly, from this fundamentally Kantian vision, and accept the subject/object dualism, thereby reducing the certifiedly artistic to a personal intuition of the individual features of the object, or, on the contrary, contest the relationship between subject and object as being insufficient and consequently add to it a third element, namely, society. Heidegger, for example, grants art a different function than Kant does, that of opening up a world that would otherwise remain hidden, but nonetheless to him it is obvious that the fulfilment of this function is the personal task of an artist. (Heidegger 1972) On the other hand, Marcuse (Marcuse 1978) and Adorno (Adorno 1980) emphasise precisely the social dimension of the art object.

12Semiotics creates another framework of thinking. Peirce and Saussure go beyond the metaphysics of the subject and the limits of its relationship with the object by defining semiotics as an inevitable and constitutive third element of the process of knowing. Peirce explicitly opposes Descartes and Kant’s mode of thought, (See Peirce 1960 [1878]) while Saussure emphasises the institutional framework of language and sign systems.5 Although different among themselves, the semioticians that followed them agree on the fact that the employment of signs is possible only based on a social code. The individual performance of a user of signs entails competence, i.e. knowledge, of these social codes. Knowledge is therefore produced by complex semiotic acts, rather than by a subject/object binary relationship. The subject is neither the origin of knowledge, nor the guarantor of its accuracy; the subject dissolves into anonymous codes and operations along with them.6

13Although not all semioticians agree with this view of the subject — Kristeva obviously does not, for instance (Kristeva 1975: 47-55) — those that do agree in fact refer only to the subject of acts of knowledge and communication; the aesthetic experience remains completely outside the discussion. They therefore agree among themselves both on what they allow into their territory and on what they relegate outside it. The Kantian aesthetician would probably not have many objections against such a division of the territory. Albeit grudgingly, he might even accept to cede the area of pure language and knowledge of the artwork to the “aggressive horde” of semioticians in exchange for keeping the experience of the beautiful for himself. A quarrel between neighbours at the border might therefore erupt only if this territorial division is not abided by.

14The founders of semiotics, Peirce, Saussure and Hjelmslev, therefore abolish the metaphysics of the subject, but bestow little interest on aesthetics. Peirce once explained the change in his ideas regarding the relationship between semiotics — which, as is well known, he placed within the field of logic — and aesthetics. I think this attitude is typical of many other semioticians.

I must confess that, like most logicians, I have pondered that subject far too little (....) and then aesthetics and logic seem, at first blush, to belong to different universes. It is only very recently that I have become persuaded that that seeming is illusory and that, on the contrary, logic needs the help of aesthetics. (Peirce 1960: 2.197)

Aesthetics, therefore, although I have terribly neglected it, appears to be possibly the first indispensable propaedeutic to logic. (Peirce 1960: 2.199)

15The following paragraphs of the same article involve ethics in the discussion, however. Peirce argues that logic studies the means that thinking possesses in order to achieve a particular goal, but the goal at stake is defined by ethics. In turn, ethics makes recourse to aesthetics in order to discover what in fact it is desirable that we experience. Aesthetics is therefore not at all the same thing as semiotics, but rather must become its foundation. The border continues to exist, but it is unexpectedly shifted from the horizontal — separating equal disciplines, but which develop alongside each other — to the vertical, where it creates a hierarchical relation: aesthetics is now what makes semiotics possible! Just as Kant before him, Peirce too feels obliged to introduce aesthetics into the system because otherwise the system would seem no longer to function. This “soft” science, according to Peirce, now acquires an obligatory place in the system and carries out a function comparable with a “Mittelgleid”: (Kant 1976: 16-17) that which brings pure and practical reason together in Kant acts as the foundation of the whole structure in Peirce. But unlike Kant, Peirce does not stop there.

16Other semioticians likewise reduce aesthetics to an axiom that makes possible the whole theory, but here is not the place for us to situate it and therefore it is not worth analysing it further: in Derrida, for example, the parergon is neither inside nor outside the ergon, but encloses it, influences its content, and in fact makes it possible. (Derrida 1978) Greimas is one of the few semioticians who attempt explicitly to introduce into semiotics the aesthetic subject and the subject of experience. It is remarkable that although Greimas is situated at a completely different point within semiotics than Peirce, he pursues a similar path. The axiomatic nature of the aesthetic and in fact of value in general, arose in his system when Greimas had to provide an answer to the following question: What is the first impulse capable of setting in motion “le parcours génératif” of a discourse? To declare an object as the goal of his action, the subject must first axiologically institute the world in which he acts, in other words, he must grant value to the basic semantic units that constitute that world. This “projection” occurs thanks to the thymic category that connotes the unity in question as euphoric, i.e. desirable, or dysphoric, i.e. undesirable.

17The share of axiology in Greimas’s standard version of semiotics remains limited to these observations and creates the impression that thymic values here fulfil only an axiomatic role.7 Later, however, in De l'imperfection (Greimas 1987: 28-32), Greimas returned to the problem of value, particularly in aesthetic experience, and defined aesthesis as a “saisie,” a seizure of the object by the subject in order to achieve almost a mystical “conjunction” with it. Apart from the fact that this reversal occurs in Greimas’s semiotics quite unexpectedly, his closeness to aesthetics proves for the umpteenth time that whenever modern thought touches on questions of the subject of experience, it always displays the strange tendency to return to the Kantian mode of thinking.

The beautiful: an experience of the subject or a property of the object?

18Numerous aestheticians who have sought an alternative to the first of the above terms, the Kantian term, of the dilemma, and namely the experience of the subject, have also referred to the second term, but have immediately found themselves faced with the difficult question of what properties the object must have in order to be declared an aesthetic object. An old debate that took place in the English-speaking world is still topical from this standpoint.

19René Wellek, who had read F. R. Leavis’s Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry in 1937, the year after it was published, remarked that although he frequently agreed with the author’s evaluations, he was dissatisfied with the fact that he never supported them with explicit criteria. Such criteria might be reconstructed retrospectively, however:

Allow me to sketch your ideal of poetry, your “norm” with which you measure every poet: your poetry must be in serious relation to actuality . . . must be in relation to life . . . the language of your poetry must not be cut off from speech.

20Wellek wrote to Leavis suggesting he might agree with the above, but in the following issue of Scrutiny,8 Leavis replied that he could not, since although Wellek the philosopher probably required such abstract criteria of evaluation, he as a literary critic did not. “Literary criticism and philosophy seem to me to be quite distinct and different kinds of discipline.” He went on to voice his reaction to a proposal on Wellek’s part:

The romantic view of the world, a view common to Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley and others, yes, I have heard of it. But what interest can it have for the literary critic? For the critic . . . those three poets are so radically different from one another that the offer to assimilate them in a common philosophy can only suggest the irrelevance of the philosophic approach.

21Leavis’s response is an extreme example of nominalism and anti-theoretic literary criticism, but nonetheless, such opinions were typical of many critics of the time — P.F. Schmitz cites the attitude of Menno ter Braak in this context9 — and they are not alien to many of today’s professional literary critics, despite cultural pluralism.

22The translation of the evaluative term “good” into non-evaluative terms has always been a thorny issue in aesthetics. As we have seen, Kant expressed himself in very general terms when it came to “form.” Hegel defined it according to the three phases of the evolution of art. Normative aesthetics, from classicism to “socialist realism” has never wondered whether a norm of artistic worth really does exist, but rather decides unilaterally that such a norm must exist. The decision itself became a norm if a political or cultural authority so ruled. The norm did not express a truth, but was presented as a truth.

23The impossibility of maintaining “absolute” criteria in aesthetics and the theory of modern values became obvious after the Umwertung aller Werte, however: the overthrow of all values advocated by Nietzsche, and after the triumph of modernism in art. The “relativists” arrived either with the criterion of either good in its way or the viewpoint of the researcher himself. 10

24The first criterion was put forward by a number of aestheticians. J. Schulte-Sasse sums up the various proposals: (Schulte-Sasse 1978) stilistische Einstimmigkeit (stylistic concordance, in Staiger, Kayser), Vieldeutigkeit (multiple meaning or ambiguous meaning, Wellek, Warren), polyphone harmony (Ingarden), complexity, ambiguity (the New Criticism), ostranenie (estrangement, in Russian Formalism). All these criteria can fit multiple situations, but nonetheless, we may easily demonstrate that there are masterpieces that have different basic criteria or that there is also kitsch based on the very same criteria. Isn’t a slushy novel stylistically coherent? Doesn’t a television series about interplanetary wars estrange us from the everyday? Isn’t even a piece of doggerel ambiguous in its own way?

25Beardsley wanted to put an end to such debates by means of a principle of aesthetic perspective, but in order to define it he employed the term gratification, i.e. the exact same word used by in the English translation of Kant for Vergnügen (pleasure), thereby falling back onto Kantian terminology. (Beardsley 1982: 15-34)

26The most radical critique of the general norms of evaluation came from Moore. (Moore 1971 [1903]) His attack of what he called the “naturalistic fallacy” can be summed up in the observation — an obvious one, I might add — that it is impossible to reduce directly perceptible natural qualities, such as colour and volume, or indirectly perceptible qualities, such as narrative construction or the repetition of a musical theme, to a “non-natural quality,” such as the good, or “to be good.” Based on this “category gap,” other aestheticians have concluded that traditional aesthetics has come to an end: “Does traditional aesthetics rest on a mistake?” as W. Kennick asked. (Kennick 1980: 459-476) His answer was yes, it does, as long as aesthetics searches for universal essences and criteria; according to him, only the personal experience of art is real, but we express it in persuasive terms rather than in syllogisms. Frank Sibley agrees with him. (Sibley 1978: 64-87) Aesthetic experience cannot come under the rules of necessary and sufficient conditions. We talk about artworks and artistic pleasure in the same vague, subjective way we talk about any other experience, and nevertheless we can always justify artistic experience, although we cannot always provide a final argument for it. (Wittgenstein 1979)

27In classical German aesthetics, there is a different type of reflection relevant to our discussion: Hegel defines the artwork through the relationship between content, die Idee, and form, ihre sinnliche bildiche Gestaltung (literally, “its sensorial imaginal form”). (Hegel 1980: 126) Saussure would not have had any objection to this, all the more so given that Hegel even employs the term “sign”:

der Ton, das letzte äussere Material der Poesie, ist in ihr nich mehr die tönende Empfindung selber, sondern ein für sich bedeutungsloses Zeichen, und zwar der in sich konkret gewordenen Vorstellung. (Hegel 1980: 149)

28The sign appears through “eine ganz willkürliche Verknüpfung” between Bedeutung and Ausdruck, (Hegel 1980: 423) i.e. through a completely arbitrary relation between meaning and expression. Hegel’s definition is deductive and he feels obliged to specify it by dwelling on its formal side: the aspects of the material or medium with which each type of art works. He thereby opens up the way to an approach to art in which speculative thinking will give more and more ground to concrete, technical analysis oriented toward the text or painting.

29In the second place, when Hegel orients the definition of the beautiful toward the object alone, he understands the beautiful only as “das sinnliche Scheinen der Idee,” the appearance of an idea in sensible form, and draws the conclusion that truth and beauty are in fact the same. (Hegel 1980: 179) The question I posed at the beginning of the article, namely whether semioticians, in analysing the meaning of a text, are also interested in the value of the text, and if so, how this meaning arises, therefore receives an affirmative answer from the Hegel: value arises in the same manner as meaning! In order to express beauty or truth, people use means which in themselves are neither true nor beautiful: words, images and actions. These tools/materials are employed in order to bring the immaterial to presence. The great absence from one system of thought to another is either God, or the Spirit, or History, or the Good, or the Beautiful, and so on, but its coming to being, its coming to presence, is always produced using the same means. Hegel is therefore situated at the beginning of a process in which it becomes increasingly clear that the form and the content of a phenomenon are two sides of the same event, namely the production of meaning, an event which we shall later call now “semiosis,” now “value.”

30This trend in thinking is extended by aestheticians such as N. Hartmann, (Hartmann 1966: hfst 6-7) as well as semioticians such as Mukařovský and Morris. (Mukařovský 1978) After the war, however, the new structuralism limited itself to the formation of meaning in language or the text, although Jakobson was the last still to speak of the poetic (or aesthetic) function; according to him, the aesthetic drops out of the discussion. (Jakobson 1960) Erscheinung will henceforward mean only the emergence of meaning. The exhaustion of the discussion in traditional aesthetics will lead semioticians, insofar as they still notice the phenomenon, to become even more rigid in their attitude (look how the aestheticians have been deprived of the object of their research!) without realising that, on the contrary, this evolution on the contrary brings the two groups closer together.

The aesthetics of the sign, the sign of aesthetics

31The semioticians defeated the metaphysics of the subject by placing the emphasis not on the features of the object, like the aestheticians, but on the semiotic process of which social codes and contexts are as defining a part as subject and object. Morris, Mukařovský, Lotman, Eco, and, to a point, even Kristeva no longer situate the background of semiotics in the aesthetic, as Peirce and Greimas had, but specify the locus of the aesthetic within semiotic relations and functions as a whole.

32Mukařovský and Morris unexpectedly focus on exactly the concepts that their forerunners, Saussure and Peirce, had neglected: aesthetics, value, norms. The aesthetic, says Mukařovský, is located neither in the characteristics of the object nor in the attitude of the subject, but in the codes and norms whereby society confers form on both the one and the other. The artwork is as ontological as any other object; but what is characteristic is the fact that here the aesthetic function dominates in the sense that the material signifier does not refer to a real object, but rather mirrors the social reality overall. The aesthetic sign is therefore a certain type of sign, but its specifics ultimately boil down to autonomy: a negative definition that in fact emphasises the impossibility of any concrete referential function. This idea characterises the whole of modern art and philosophy, which, since Frege, has defined the aesthetic by placing a minus sign in front of it:11 it is supposed to have a meaning (Sinn), but not a reference (Bedeutung). In order to answer the question of how so defective a sign can nonetheless be employed in communication, Jacobson embarked on a purely technical analysis of the text. In such an analysis, the aesthetic dwindles to nothing, seeping like sand through the fingers: the literary text is reduced to a technical procedure, despite what Jakobson believed in his youth.

33Is the aesthetic something tangible, a perfume we sense everywhere but which seems to emanate from nowhere, given that neither the semioticians nor the aestheticians are able to locate it?

34Morris was of a different opinion. He defined the aesthetic sign as “an iconic sign whose designatum is a value,” while at the same time distinguishing between the “designatum” (i.e. sense) to be found in every type of sign and the “denotatum” (reference) available only to certain types of sign. Value is not a property of an object, but rather the relationship between the object and the importance placed upon it by a subject, according to Morris, a semiotician who worked within the epistemological framework of behavioural psychology.12 In a sign, meaning is not only signification, but also significance, the sign’s value. In his most important book, Signs, Language and Behaviour, Morris then develops an impressive taxonomy of signs, defining twelve types of discourses, including the poetic discourse that he will later call aesthetic discourse. But he reduces aesthetic signs to iconic signs and the concept of value to that of stimulant to action, which considerably reduces the persuasiveness of his theory. He places the emphasis on the pragmatic dimension of semiosis, it is true, and introduces a relationship between semiotics and the theory of value that is clear than Mukařovský’s, but his theory finally gets bogged down in a kind of indigestible positivism.

35Unlike Morris and Mukařovský, Lotman does not link meaning to value in any way. On the contrary, he is sooner representative of those semioticians who explicitly renounce the concept of value and just as explicitly chose to dedicate themselves to the analysis of meaning.13

36Lotman and, in a way, Eco construct a semiotic aesthetics that sets out from the theory of communication. Lotman sees art as a “secondary modelling system” that processes data from a primary system, that of the natural languages. (Lotman 1973: 36-37) Here, the aesthetic is clearly regarded as an aspect of meaning, but the problem of value is explicitly excluded from text analysis and relegated to a rather broadly defined typology of cultures. As the aesthetic is reduced to the polysemy of a text, it remains unclear to what extent the text is specifically aesthetic.


37We may conclude, I think, that in the first half of the twentieth century various tendencies became manifest, within both aesthetics and semiotics, tendencies that attempted objectively to bring the two disciplines closer together. Attention to the form of the artwork in aesthetics leads progressively toward ever more technical analyses, so that general speculative statements are reduced to a rather general axiomatic basis. Nevertheless, attempts to lend norms a logical structure fail, and they lead to the confirmation of the Kantian definitions of aesthetic experience. The artwork is experienced personally; no more than that can be said, but the object possesses observable aspects which, on the contrary, are susceptible to extended analysis. Then why do we not limit ourselves to a no nonsense approach to the artwork and focus on what we are rationally able to do, which is to say, to interpret the text or painting in question?

38This is what happens in reality, but there is also a fear of exaggeratedly technical analyses: do we not risk forgetting what is specific to the trade, i.e. the aesthetic experience, and analysing a poem the way we might analyse a newspaper article? Semiotics programmatically refers to the formation of meaning, and this causes it to negate aesthetics, or to reduce it to notes in the margin. Semiotics by definition does not deal with aesthetic experience and this opens up the way to unlimited technical analyses for it. On the other hand, texts of value and texts devoid of value are tackled using the same type of analysis, which has a levelling effect. This issue is not denied, but rather it is tossed to the other side of the border. For, if semioticians leave the border open, do they not risk lowering the working level of the profession from objective scientific analysis to subjective, essayistic opinion? Yet again, the boundary between the disciplines is used by both disciplines in order to ensure their own integrity.

39But if value and meaning, the aesthetic and the semantic “erscheinen,” i.e. appear, with the same force, then the two systems of thought become at least functionally comparable and research with a shared basis becomes obligatory. It seems to me that both disciplines, semiotics and aesthetics, have reached a point at which they realise that the denial of each other’s problems harms their own field rather than protecting its integrity. The aesthetic experience of a text cannot appear in all its amplitude to the aesthetician if he ignores its technical, linguistic and textual aspects. And vice versa, analysis of a text becomes levelling and counterproductive is its value is ignored. But this stroll of mine through their borderlands was intended only to mark discreetly on the map the typical catcalling of the two sides at each other rather than to bring about a swift peace treaty in the naïve belief that thereby it would immediately cease.


40This article was originally written in Dutch and published in Mooie dingen. Over de esthetica van het object [Beautiful things, on the aesthetics of the object], the proceedings of a conference held in 1988, edited by Maarten van Nierop, Renée van de Vall and Albert van der Schoot for Boom, Meppel and Amsterdam, 1993. Even at the time, I regarded myself as a semiotician; I taught classes on semiotics at the University of Amsterdam; I had founded a research institute at the university, in which semiotics played an important rôle, as well as the Dutch Semiotics Association, of which I was the chairman. Nevertheless, rereading the text today, which has deliberately been left unchanged, I realise that I was already asking myself whether the relationship between semiotics and aesthetics ought not to change. A few years later, I was to discover other modes of interpretation whereby both the attitudes, which I left in positions of observing each other at the end of the article, were to change. But the essay does have the merit of capturing a historical moment of wavering between the two attitudes toward the text and ultimately toward any object of interpretation, such as, I might now add, the visual image. (Sorin Alexandrescu, Bucharest, 2018)


  • 1 Even so, a number of evaluative terms can be found in Roland Barthes: the écrivain/écrivant binary in Essais critiques (Barthes 1964: 147-154), and the lisible/scriptible binary in Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (Barthes 1965: 122). On the need to make evaluations despite the absence of a system of shared norms in society, see J. F. Lyotard, Le différend (Lyotard 1983), and La faculté de juger (Lyotard, Derrida & Descombes 1985).
  • 2 Apocalittici e integrati (Eco 1964: 133-185), The Role of the Reader (Eco 1979: 144-172), De alledaagse onwerkelijkheid (Eco 1985)
  • 3 On the status of theoretical terms, see among others: (Harding 1976).
  • 4 (under discussion is the initial moment of value judgement). For the reduced role of the concepts, see the difference between pulchritudo vaga and pulchritudo adhaerens (Kant 1986: 109), and the definition of the term Gemeinsinn (sensus comunis), (Kant 1986: 80-89, 125-127)
  • 5 F. de Saussure: “la langue est une institution sociale.” (Saussure 1984: 33)
  • 6 Barthes repeatedly pronounced the death of the author in Le bruissement de la langue (Barthes 1984: 61-67). He also made fun of the illusion that a subject was supposed to be behind the text (Barthes 1973: 29). Foucault too saw in the concept of the “author” just as regrettable a limitation of the manner in which meaning takes shape (Foucault 1971: 28-31), such as in the concept of the subject itself (Foucault 1985).
  • 7 Greimas introduces the category of the thymic in order to refer to the axiological basis of the formation of meaning. See the term “thymique” in Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage (Greimas & Courtès 1979) (with various authors, including myself, S.A.).
  • 8 Both letters are published in The Importance of Scrutiny (Bentley 1964).
  • 9 Kritik en criteria. Menno ter Braak en het literaire waardeoordeel (Schmitz 1979). He discusses the work of Menno ter Braak (1902-1940), a great democratic essayist and journalist, known among other things for his discussion of the criterion for evaluating a writer: Vorm of vent, which should we evaluate, the form of the writing or the personality of the author? Menno ter Braak chose the second term. As a democrat and an anti-Nazi, he committed suicide in 1940, in order not to fall into the hands of the Germans when they invaded Holland.
  • 10 The emotive theory of ethics (Urmson 1968); Tekst en lezer (Mooij 1979); De wereld der waarden (Mooij 1987).
  • 11 The term “Odyssey” has meaning but not a reference, but even so, it is “a matter of no concern to us . . . so long we accept the poem as a work of art.” (Frege 1970 [1892]: 63)
  • 12 Esthetics and the theory of signs (Morris 1971 [1939]: 421); Signs, language and behaviour (Morris 1946); Signification and significance (Morris 1964).
  • 13 There are of course many other contributions to aesthetics that I am unable to discuss here. My choice is motivated by their relevance to the discussion I am in this way trying to provoke. Other articles might contribute to a wider discussion: U. Eco, A Theory of Semiotics (Eco 1976) (the concept of over-codification); articles by E. Fischer-Lichgte and K. Chvatik, Zeitschrift für Semiotik, 1983, no. 5, Vol. 3; various articles in Kodikas/Code, 2 (1980), no. 3; Ästhetik und Semiotik (Sturm & Eschbach 1981), various books by P. Zima on the semiotics of the text and the critique of ideology; various contributions to Peircian aesthetics by M. Nadin, including Zeichen und Wert (Nadin 1981). For a more philosophical approach to semiotic problems see G. H. von Wright, Norm and Action (von Wright 1963); Variety of Goodness (von Wright 1973); Ästhetische Erfahrung und literarische Hermeneutik (Jauss 1977); Le sublime du quotidien (Parret 1988); Aesthetics (Sheppard 1987). A number of contributions on Greimas: Paul Klee (Thurlemann 1982); Petites mythologies de l’oeil et de l’esprit (Floch 1985); Les formes de l’empreinte (Floch 1986). As well as numerous works by Lyotard, Derrida, and others.


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Publication details

Published in:

Apostolescu Iulian (2019). Romanian Structuralism. Acta Structuralica Special Issue 3.

Pages: 3

Full citation:

Alexandrescu Sorin (2019). Aesthetics and semiotics: a stroll along their border. Acta Structuralica 3, pp. 3.