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COMPARATIVE SEMIOTICS

Between: Disciplines, Schools, Cultures, Societies, Histories

( The Semiotics/Ethics Website of Youzheng Li )

WWW.YOUZHENGLI.COM

 

   0. Background: Our era is strongly characterized by a sharp contrast between the rationalist direction of the sciences/technology and the irrational tendency of the humanities, ironically it is the latter that is related to problems of meaning, value and faith that determines human existence. Consequently, the former attains its planned aim while the latter fails in realizing its own ideal. Accordingly, in modern times, technology can effectively dominates the humanities. In fact, human history has seriously suffered from ambiguous and blurry expressions of the humanities in all cultures. Compared with the natural sciences and the social sciences, the human sciences, with their persistent semantic and axiological divergences, are in fact more relevant to the welfare of mankind. For practical and intellectual reason, there is a necessity for mankind to more relevantly rationalize its mentality and discourse about the humanities. Semiotics is a very useful tool to do this. That is why the semiotic movement of the 20th century has been so important for promoting western human sciences. The significance of semiotics will be further increased when human sciences are to be expanded and reorganized at a global and cross-cultural level in the new century.

1. Achievements of Semiotics: Contemporary semiotics represented by Saussure, Pierce, Frege, Husserl, Jakobson, Mukarovsky, Hjelmslev, Morris, Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Metz, Greimas, Ricoeur and many other present-day distinguished western semiotics scholars has already become the theoretical kernel of today’s human sciences. All of their interdisciplinary efforts have been directed toward a deeply rational   reformation of human sciences.  In this new era of globalization the interdisciplinary practice has been expanded cross-culturally so that semiotics can be expected to become a new global movement in the near future. Comparative semiotics at a global level will first rid itself of traditional philosophic or linguistic centrism and move towards a more synthetic and pluralist theory building. Therefore, cooperation between the western and nonwestern semiotic practices will turn to be ever-increasingly significant in our rapidly changing world.

2.  Independent Practice: Interdisciplinary-directed semiotics implies that its followers have an attitude critical of the existing institutionalized academia. Therefore, semiotics should not become another kind of established discipline with scholars working  professionally with ossified scholarly rules. In particular, interdisciplinary practice means an intellectual liberation from the dominant academic hierarchy. It is the technology of a new era, the Internet, that makes a creative semiotic practice more productive and much more effectively promotes worldwide scholarly communication. Neither should cross-cultural semiotics be restricted by the academic institutions nor by western minority culture studies or by Chinese traditional learning. Semiotics is different from other mainstream theories since it is more open to  those who have an original and intelligent imagination.

3. Cross-cultural Expansion: The website host You-zheng Li’s conception of comparative semiotics involves multiple dialogues between disciplines, schools, cultures, societies and histories. Thus, general semiotics cannot be reduced to a certain fixed theoretical system or to any established new discipline in human sciences. Rather it should be regarded as an epistemological orientation and a methodological strategy based on different intellectual sources. In other words, it plays a role of scholarly strategy and operative steering. Therefore we prefer to say that semiotics is a way to use knowledge, rather than knowledge itself. In this case, so-called general semiotics does not need to become a fixed theoretical system. Nevertheless, with such a strong strategic understanding, it must inherit all past successful interdisciplinary-theoretical practices, especially the structural movement. A cross-cultural semiotics doesn’t hold that there is a simplistic interaction between the established western theory and the traditional nonwestern history. Rather it insists in the necessity to systematically reorganize mankind’s knowledge of the humanities.

4. Human Sciences: It is true that a history of semiotics involves all fields of human knowledge. Comparative semiotics suggests there is a special link that exists between semiotics and human sciences; in other words, semiotics, in particular, should focus on the conceptually blurry or uncertain intellectual discourse. For this reason, cross-cultural semiotics is able to become an essential part of the current semiotic practice throughout the world. In fact,  semiotic ways of thinking tends to be critical of both western and nonwestern traditions in the human sciences, and instead seeks to renovate the two traditions along a new empirical-positive direction. In opposing the post-modernist nihilist rhetoric, in the future we should firmly emphasize the rational goal of human sciences, including semiotics. Extreme relativism and artistic nihilism are an  “intellectual cancer” in these technical times. In this sense, Hedeigerrian criticism of technology  in fact  helps maintain the domination of technology.

5. Chinese Semiotics: Among all of the comparative semiotic practices, that between the western science/theory and Chinese history/ethics could play a much greater role worldwide. This could lead to a highly fruitful results in connection with the humanities, ethical thought and semiotic theory. It means that intellectual interaction between the strongest theoretical tradition of the West and the richest historiographic tradition of China could make a constructive contribution to the further modernization of global human sciences in future.

6. Ethics: Li’s semiotic conception is that in two areas ethics is related to semiotics: there are ethics as the essence of human sciences and ethics as the motivational determination of semiotic practice. Accordingly, the ethical aspect is related to the orientation and consequences of scholarly activities, including semiotics. In these times of globalization, ethical scholarship also must be reorganized employing an interdisciplinary- and a cross-cultural-directed strategy. In this sense, classical Chinese ethics, namely the original Confucian ethics (not it’s historical political- ideological distortion) will play a positive part across the world when dealing with human sciences in general and semiotic scholarship in particular.

7. Website: The website host You-zheng Li, who has independently worked on both Chinese and Western humanities under different social-cultural-academic conditions over the past several decades. He introduces observations and analysis to Chinese and international scholars interested in semiotic practice and the progress of the humanities. However, due to technical and linguistic restrictions, this website can only make Li’s publications available as electronic texts very gradually. Its principal purpose at present is to provide Internet users with an intellectual outline of Li’s comparative semiotic/ethical scholarship.

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2005/03/19

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