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Critical Semiotics

Instructor: Scott Simpkins

Course Description

This course introduces semiotics by examining contemporary critiques of it. The lectures build on an overview of basic concepts of semiotics by discussing several prominent critics of modern semiotics. An analysis of James Thurber's short story, "The Catbird Seat," is used as a conclusion to demonstrate potential applications of the techniques and principles associated with semiotic analysis.
Readings will include texts by John Deely, Umberto Eco, John Stewart, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress, Roland Barthes and others.


Course Outline

1) The lingua franca of semioticians.
Readings:

Selections from Frontiers in Semiotics, ed.s John Deely, Brooke Williams, and Felicia Kruse (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986); Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979); John Deely, Basics of Semiotics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).

2) Two extensive critiques of semiotics.
Readings:

John Stewart, Language as Articulate Contact: Toward A Post-Semiotic Philosophy of Communication (Albany: State University Press of New York, 1995); Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress, Social Semiotics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).

3) The implications of codes.
Readings:

Roland Barthes, S/Z: An Essay, Trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974).

4) The "problem" of controlling the decoder.
Readings:

Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979).

5) The limits of "system" and the authority of the encoder.
Readings:

Umberto Eco, The Limits of Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?"; Roland Barthes, "Textual Analysis: Poe's 'Valdemar'" and "From Work to Text."

6) Finite infinite semiosis
Readings:

Scott Simpkins, "Reeling in the Signs: Unlimited Semiosis and the Agenda of Literary Semiotics," Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici 55/56, 2 (Gennaio-Agosto 1990), 153-173; Eco, The Open Work, trans. Anna Cancogni (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).

7) Semiotics based on radical polysemy, structuration, and play.
Readings:

Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author"; Jean-Francois Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); Jacques Derrida, "'I have forgotten my umbrella.'"

8) Semiotic analysis of James Thurber's short story, "The Catbird Seat," that draws upon and illustrates the points discussed in the first seven lectures.
Reading:

"The Catbird Seat."

Send comments or questions to Scott Simpkins


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