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Parallels, Interactions, and Illuminations

Parallels, Interactions, and Illuminations: Traversing Chinese and Western Theories of the Sign

  • Book Info
    Parallels, Interactions, and Illuminations
    Book Description:

    The first major work in Sino-Western comparative semiotics, Parallels, Interactions, and Illuminations is a trans-disciplinary and intercultural effort that makes intellectual connections not only across diverse academic fields but also between Chinese and Western theories of the sign.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8570-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Ersu Ding
  4. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Meaning of Symbols and Orthographic Conventions
    (pp. xi-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    Despite its modest length, this book aims to be an in-depth probe into the age-old issue of meaning – an issue that is of great relevance and significance to all branches of human knowledge. The assertions and statements made in it cannot be called original in the sense that similar things have never been said by others before. Nevertheless, they are the results of what may be called a unique configuration of textual materials gleaned from a variety of traditions in terms of both “discipline” and “culture.” More specifically, this book strives to be what Charles Morris called in his definition...

  7. 1 The Platonic Triad and Its Chinese Counterpart
    (pp. 8-17)

    As is made clear in the introduction, this book explores the age-old problematics of meaning. However, this will be done within a theoretical framework in which the unifying point is no longer the ontological reality presumed by so many classical theories of meaning, but rather signs and their interpretations, which involve human participation. Here the term “so many classical theories” refers to the particular tradition of philosophical speculations over meaning that were initiated by Plato (c. 428– 347 BC) in the West and by Mo Zi (c. 476– 390 BC) in China some 2,400 years ago and that have remained...

  8. 2 Ontological Realism under Fire
    (pp. 18-35)

    The realist theory of meaning outlined in the previous chapter has throughout its history faced criticism from the opposing camp of nominalism. Over the final quarter of the twentieth century it came under concentrated attack from a group of French intellectuals led by Jacques Derrida, whose deconstructivist philosophy of language has had a powerful impact on contemporary debates about language.

    Deconstructionists reject as “essentialist” the idea that concepts expressed in a language correspond to real states of things or affairs that exist independently of language. According to the realists, consciousness has direct access to reality and has no need of...

  9. 3 The Return of the Subject(s)
    (pp. 36-58)

    Early in the second chapter, we showed through examples that deconstructionism fails as an approach to understanding the oral or written text except for the not so useful generalization that the play of signs in the text is infinite. We have also seen that the deconstructionist theory of meaning has radicalized Saussure’s principle of difference in an attempt to rid his system of metaphysical remnants. To make a case against deconstructionism, one logical step is to take a second look at the Saussurean definition of meaning as structural differentiation – a principle that has been crucial to both structuralists and deconstructionists....

  10. 4 The Peircean Trichotomy
    (pp. 59-76)

    We showed earlier that the meaning of a linguistic sign has its source in a certain object or segment of our life experience and therefore corresponds to it in one way or another. For example, the principal meaning of /horse/refers to the whole class of large, hoofed mammals that have been domesticated since ancient times for riding, pulling vehicles, and carrying loads. Saussure would have explained the formation of the concept as resulting from its being , , , and so on, but this explanation obviously does not fit the Chinese situation.

    As can be seen from...

  11. 5 The Poetic Logic
    (pp. 77-100)

    In our discussion of the evolution of signs in the previous chapter, we saw three different techniques of sense making at work. The first is based on the spatial and temporal contiguity between things and states of affairs that gives rise to “indexical” signs; the second is based on the similarity (of various kinds and degrees) that obtains between things and states of affairs, resulting in “iconic” signs; the third is based on the “symbolic” convention of a particular language community, which links ideas or concepts with images or sequences of sounds through social habit. What needs to be pointed...

  12. 6 Metaphor and Culture
    (pp. 101-132)

    As theoretical constructs, conceptual metaphors are abstract by nature. What is more, they can be arranged hierarchically, with the categories at the top being more abstract than those at the bottom. Consider the following metaphorical expressions:

    1. She is a lark.

    2. He is a vulture.

    3. Lorrita always keeps her children safely under her wing.

    All of these could be subsumed under the meta-metaphorical category “HUMAN IS BIRD,” which obviously is open ended. We could develop another list of metaphors that are slightly different but nevertheless related:

    1. Lisa galloped through the book in two days.

    2. He eventually...

  13. 7 Myth Making and Its Socio-Economic Functions
    (pp. 133-152)

    In the previous chapters, we discussed meaning in its philosophical sense, meanings of words and sentences, and meanings of metonymy and metaphor. It this final chapter, our topic is meanings of media images. The cultural texts we have chosen for analysis are an extremely popular Chinese TV series titled A Native of Beijing in New York and the literary works of Gao Xingjian, the only Chinese recipient of Nobel Prize for Literature.

    Here we find ourselves engaged in a recently hot academic topic: Orientalism. This intellectual movement, initiated by the late Edward Said, amounts to a self-critique by some Western...

  14. Epilogue: Semiotics as an Interdisciplinary Enterprise
    (pp. 153-156)

    To conclude our journey back and forth between Chinese and Western theories of the sign, we now return to the very first paragraph of chapter 1, which stated that our discussion and investigation of meaning would be conducted “in a theoretical framework in which the unifying point is no longer the ontological reality presumed by so many classical theories of meaning, but rather signs and their interpretations, which involve human participation.” This initial point of departure makes it sound as if one could still approach the issue of meaning from a non-semiotic perspective, one that is not true and therefore...

  15. Technical Glossary
    (pp. 157-176)
  16. Biographical Sketches
    (pp. 177-188)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 189-194)
  18. Cited Works and General Bibliography
    (pp. 195-204)
  19. Index
    (pp. 205-210)