The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857--1913)
revolutionized the study of language, signs, and discourse in the
twentieth century. He successfully reconstructed the
proto-Indo-European vowel system, advanced a conception of language
as a system of arbitrary signs made meaningful through kinetic
interrelationships, and developed a theory of the anagram so
profound it gave rise to poststructural literary criticism.
The roots of these disparate, even contradictory achievements
lie in the thought of Early German Romanticism, which Saussure
consulted for its insight into the nature of meaning and discourse.
Conducting the first comprehensive analysis of Saussure's
intellectual heritage, Boris Gasparov links Sassurean notions of
cognition, language, and history to early Romantic theories of
cognition and the transmission of cultural memory. In particular,
several fundamental categories of Saussure's philosophy of
language, such as the differential nature of language, the
mutability and immutability of semiotic values, and the duality of
the signifier and the signified, are rooted in early Romantic
theories of "progressive" cognition and child cognitive
development. Consulting a wealth of sources only recently made
available, Gasparov casts the seeming contradictions and paradoxes
of Saussure's work as a genuine tension between the desire to bring
linguistics and semiotics in line with modernist epistemology on
the one hand, and Jena Romantics' awareness of language's dynamism
and its transcendence of the boundaries of categorical reasoning on
the other. Advancing a radical new understanding of Saussure,
Gasparov reveals aspects of the intellectual's work previously
overlooked by both his followers and his postmodern critics.
Subjects: Linguistics, Philosophy
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