de Man: Thank you for the definition

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"Semiology, as opposed to semantics, is the science or study of signs as signifiers; it does not ask what words mean, but how they mean" (de Man 366)

I am having great dificulty with the signs and signifiers that we keep reading about...So if i am getting this correctly, as we read, we should not be looking at what the words mean, but how they present that meaning.  As Dr. Jerz's example, there is no big book of meanings, so a rose can mean beautiful, but it might not.  So we need to look at the context of where the word is placed in order to find our how it means?

3 Comments

Angela Palumbo said:

James, you posed a great question. I'm not sure that I can answer you for I don't fully understand the whole concept. I do think that you are right about the context, however. We all know what a word like "beauty" might mean, but we also know that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." So beauty, although it has a definate definition, is subject to change. So then we must take the context of that word into consideration in order to find its true meaning within the work.

Greta Carroll said:

James, you bring up an interesting thought. I think the context can help you determine what a rose might mean. However, some texts or works might hint that a rose does mean beauty while it actually means the exact opposite. For example, de Man’s explanation with Archie Bunker. It may seem like he really wants to know the difference between lacing under and over, but really what he’s saying is that he doesn’t care about the difference. So I think we need to be careful about letting the context mislead, for in some cases the context may deliberately lead you to think the opposite of what the rose really is meant to mean. And, if we want to return to the world of reader-response, can there really be a wrong meaning for the rose? If you think it is a sign of beauty whether it was intended to meaning evil or something else does it really matter? Lastly, I would ask, can’t the rose mean both beauty and ugliness at the same time? What’s to stop something from simultaneously representing two contradictory things at the same time?

Going along with Greta's comment I think de Man tries to define, or help, in the understanding of these words by using the rhetorical, like the example of Archie Bunker. Just because a word has a definition which everyone is familiar with doesn't mean that word, or group of words is being used in that particular context. This is why people use rhetoric, metaphor and so on. I like how you ask the question, Greta, why can't a rose be both beautiful and ugly? I think the only way a reader can understand how the writer is trying to use the word is to delve into the whole text, therein usually lies the answer.

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