the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Intro to Saussure’s Semiotics

Posted by gninja on September 6, 2007


In the spring, I worked on a project to design a presentation demonstrating the basic concept of the sign, as defined by Saussure in his Course in General Linguistics. I collaborated on this with James Conlon, the wonderful director of the Visual Media Center at Columbia University, who is responsible for putting the content I provided into a great flash presentation. Enjoy.

Saussure: An Introduction

2 Responses to “Intro to Saussure’s Semiotics”

  1. John Muse said

    I appreciate the primer, especially the concluding bit with the Picasso. I’ve been struggling through Saussure’s Course to support teaching Barthes and have been tripped up by a few things you don’t try to deal with: for Saussure both the signifier and the signified are psychic entities, and “entities” only on the plane of analysis. The signifier isn’t the material side of the sign; “sound image” is his phrase–I don’t have the French with me or I would refer to that. I wouldn’t call it the “material or linguistic half”; the sign itself is the object of linguistics. Try “sense impression” or “sensual half”… which avoids committing to heavily. Just a suggestion.

    It’s important to avoid the impression that for Saussure language is a nomenclature, that words are labels for things, however arbitrarily joined to each other. Signifieds aren’t ideas as Plato might have conceived them; they are as differentially articulated as signifiers are. Further, the analogy of the recto/verso sides of paper applies not to the signifer and signifieds but to Language per se, to the stream of sound on the one hand and the stream of thought on the other–and boy I don’t quite know what to do with that yet.

    I know you can’t deal with everything in a brief, very brief intro. I just thought you would appreciate a response, even if a bit cranky one.


  2. John Muse said

    Oh, and something more basic: when the tab opens it says “Sassure: An Introduction”; “Sassure…” and not “Saussure.”


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