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Literary Discourse

Literary Discourse: A Semiotic-Pragmatic Approach to Literature

  • Book Info
    Literary Discourse
    Book Description:

    Using the semiotic theory of American philosopher Charles S. Peirce, Johansen applies psychoanalysis, psychology, literary hermeneutics, literary history, Habermasian communication, and discourse theory to literature, and, in the process, redefines it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7672-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction: Literature?
    (pp. 3-22)

    What follows is an inquiry into what, to use a somewhat old-fashioned expression, is called the nature of literature, but which I prefer to see as something less pretentious, namely, as an investigation of the dimensions and features that are – rightfully, I think – thought to be general characteristics of the literary texts. Such a generality, however, should not be understood as a claim that every individual text deemed to be literature must possess all of them, because clearly each does not. It is, rather, the thesis of this book that it would be a sound analytic strategy to...


    • One From Sign to Dialogue
      (pp. 25-73)

      On the view presented in the introduction, literature is first and foremost a species of discourse. In addition to general linguistic rules and constraints, different kinds of discourse are characterized by sets of non-linguistic rules or conventions specific to each of them. Before we go into the vexing questions of the number and nature of discourses (the subject of chapter 2), one basic feature common to all of them should be mentioned: they are collections of conventions and patternings partly governing the production of concrete texts. Texts are utterances¹ made up of a number of signs, uttered about something by...

    • Two Discourse and Text
      (pp. 74-110)

      Pragmatics, text linguistics, and linguistic discourse analysis are all productive fields of research. It is not easy, however, to tell them apart, especially because there seems to be no stable terminology: what some scholars call discourse is called text by others, and vice versa (see Vitacolonna 1988: 421–39). Furthermore, there is, in my view, a point in textual analysis where the formal study of linguistic properties has to give way to the historical study of human interaction. It is, of course, both legitimate and fruitful to investigate how far it is possible to advance into specifying linguistic or linguistic-like...


    • Three Mimesis: Literature as Imitation and Model
      (pp. 113-173)

      In semiotics, or at least in what Thomas Sebeok calls its major tradition from Hippocrates to Peirce and onwards (see Sebeok 1976: 181 and 1979: 63–4), the sign is first and foremost characterized by its representative function. Peirce takes up the sign definition of the schoolmen:Aliquid stat pro aliquo, that is, something [the sign] stands for something (else) [the object].

      Likewise, the major conception of literature, from Plato and Aristotle to contemporary works on mimesis such as those of Prendergast (1986) and Gebauer and Wulf (1992), understands literature as representation, although the nature of literary representation is a...

    • Four Self-representation and Analogy in Literature
      (pp. 174-227)

      The preceding chapter has dealt with literary representation as the representation of something else, as other-representation. Even if a universe of fiction is in fact created by an enunciative act, we nevertheless perceive the text as referring to something apart from itself. At one level, we treat fiction as we do a newspaper article, that is, we suppose it is about something that has happened irrespectively of whether it is reported. Obviously, as regards literary fiction, we know that this is not so, but in some phases of our reading, listening to, or watching literature we respond as if this...

    • Five Literature as Self-expression: Subjectivity and Imagination
      (pp. 228-288)

      The sign–world relationship is basic: meaning presupposes reference to a universe and, I would claim, in the last analysis, to a lifeworld. However, this relationship is also precarious, always in danger of being severed. The sign–world, or word–world relationship is always at stake in literature because of the inherent distrust in the representational power of words, because of the pull towards the figurative in literature, and its bend towards self-representation, and, last but not least, because literature serves self-expression; it is thoroughly marked by subjectivity.

      Self-expression in literature should not be confused with self-representation, which was the...

    • Six The Interpreters
      (pp. 289-350)

      In the preceding chapter, literature was conceived as self-expression. Literature as self-expression is so important and compelling to its authors because either it directly focuses on the utterer (cf. Montaigne declaring himself the matter of his own book), or it stages a world existentially important to the utterers. It represents states of affairs and minds bound up with pleasure and pain, with exuberance, and with lack and loss, and thus it evokes a certain understanding of the human condition. Furthermore, as self-expression it may be multidimensional: it may reach backwards to memories that have been forgotten but that are now...


    • Seven Interpreting Literature
      (pp. 353-412)

      In the preceding chapter, literature was seen from the point of view of interpreters as readers. It was argued that there are two principal uses of literature. First, there is a social use of literature as an integrative, or subversive, agency that teaches audience and readership about the beliefs, values, and norms of society at large, or of groups within it. Literature is seen as a parallel to epideictic speech, but includes close parallels to the two other genres, the forensic and the deliberative. According to this view, literature is, through its virtualization of what it represents, able to speak...


    • Conclusion: Literature!
      (pp. 415-432)

      A few years ago, the act of concluding was suspected of displaying an unwarranted belief in the possibility of stopping the unpredictable and indomitable flow of signifiers. At the end of a book, it was then fashionable to point out that concluding would be an illusory act of authority, and instead it was trendy to recommend seeing the text as an attempt to further an ongoing dialogue by publishing a provisional contribution already outdated when it became available.

      I absolutely agree that the idea of being able to close the discussion here is vain and harmful. There will always be...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 433-456)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 457-474)
  11. Index
    (pp. 475-489)