The concept of the "Negative Semiotic" bounced in my head while purusing Thodore Adorno's Negative Dialectics. It's the application of Adorn’o’s negative dialectic to the systematic structures of semiotic analayis. Negative semiotics aims to undo the idealism and generalizing concept of the semiotic (this too was the goal of post-structuralism, once semiotic structuralism pushed its limits). In the “twofold character of the system” (ND 25-26), Adorno states: comprehension is to perceive something in its individual connection, “what the conception of the system recalls, in reverse, is the coherence of the nonidentical.” Semiotics is incredibly systematic, it subsumes the nonidentical into a larger signifying code. So how can the code be broken or opened into a new realm of conceptuality? (Adorno: angst is the claustrophobia or the systematized society (ND 24).... is semiotics the obsessive-compulsion of that society?).
Might we use semiotics as a way to undermine identity: all is contingent in relation to other systems. But can the identity of the system/sign system be broken? Like Adorno's negative, the negativity of semiotics is multivalent. A few initial thoughts on its negativity:
- Negative/pessimistic in that it will never work. Semiotics can never contain everything, something always escapes the code. What is the difference that makes a difference sets boundaries? Yet, the distinctions of semiotics are grounded in historical materialism.
- Negative in that it negates the semiotic terms: Greimas shows how to spread a semiotic pairing into a square simply through the negation of original terms and then building up a new conceptual map. So here, negation builds (negation of 1, makes 2, which leads to 4 terms). But this expanded system will also lose something, and therefore needs to be negated and unfolded yet again. This was modeled by students of Maffesoli to suggest the semiotic frieze
- Negative in the sense that unlimited semiosis leads to infinity, which (floded over the zero axis,) is also nothing.
- Negative in the sense that it claims that semiotics is false.
Much thanks to Carl Sachs for inspiring these ruminations. His response: "I like, yes. Adore, no."