Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Juli 2004

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Jeff Bernard (Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs
Moderation / Chair: Renée Gadsden

The Scenic Space: Media and Meaning

Ana Goutman (Mexico City)


Summary: My work develops a semiotics of the scenic space which leaves the traditional semiotics of "mise en scène" and examines that of the spectacle; the spectacle which touches the spectator. The idea of considering the world as a text is common to different cultures, ranging from the comparison of the knowledge of the world to philological analysis of the text. I confront the thought of researchers in cultural semiotics to reach an approach toward the semiotics of meaning. In that sense we arrive at a new and precise definition of the spectacle as we knew it - because meaning is not the result of interpretation but of analysis.



Psychoanalysis and Cinema, a book by Christian Metz, illustrates a road different to the ones previously taken to study films. Cinema, linguistics and psychoanalysis constituted a new alliance which made legal the intuition that a theatrical spectacle can take away the frames of literature and go with other allies.

The existing distance between theater studies and the analysis of spectacles shared by participating spectators is the same as between traditional semiotic research and the one involved in this project of an analysis of the meaning of the scenic space.

Playwriters such as Daniel Veronese, Peter Brook, Sanchís Sinisterra, Julia Varley, Jean Lecoq and others have written about their work and the spirit of their own stories, ideal places not because they are unknown but undone.

Artistic phenomena with a given structure in which the spectator participates and makes a meaning of it are distinguished from those where the spectator's expectations are frustrated. This is because every realistic representation is given up, allowing the adventure of believing in the play and in the function and value accomplished by theater, ballet, opera, and the arts of space.

Which is that function? I am not talking about a message or a moral. If you are not there to say something, what for?

And when? In the absolute present.

In Antonin Artaud's theater of cruelty you cannot take a beg, happiness, pain or love, because everything is deprived from what we know, and we are afraid of the unknown.

These notes describe the experience of a spectator who is not self-conscious and who pays attention to issues of emotion, the unconscious, and personal history. At this moment we don't have to look for continuity, the mix of races or the gaze we are used to taking. We need to descentralize the gaze, the attitude of seeing and the physical idea of looking at. It appears as a pulse and a vibration that presupposes a moment of tension in action and interest. It is the permanent discovery of subjectivity that has to do with the building up of meaning.

Our perception is limited. However, an idea is not enough to hold it, since we arrive at the edges of what has been said, and at that place the spectator is confronted with the obscene and banal. What shall not be represented in front of the audience is the intimate, the violent, everything that is kept secret, not to be shown because it changes the routine.

It happens the first time as a surprise. That time shines and awakens the senses. It always happens in a spectacle because it's the unexpected. The unexpected is the decisive characteristic of a creative act.

Daniel Beronese mentions "being out" of a culture that is not expressed somewhere else but in the theater because that's its place. The end of a rebellion is not in a well-known place, it is a challenge.

The experience of "aesthetic joy", the consciousness of theatricality and the multiplicity of dramatic poetics express an event that in language uncovers every intention of reality.


Some categories of analysis in the semiotics of spectacle


This is the function where the spectator is close to a starting point which is unrenunciable. I thought it was impossible to continue with the studies done from different points of view, then I got interested in pointing out the experience of an artistic-aesthetic reality in the scenic space. It invades an oblivious spectator in a non-precise way until the moment when she or he feels affection or violence, without being an apparent object in that process.

To perceive, to have an experience, to conclude something that has interrupted the rhythm of breath and makes us feel euphoria, emotion, joy and suffering is part of the creation always involved in a spectacle.

No one doubts that the members of the audience are a body within the world where emotions penetrate and alienate, invading and rejecting at the same time. Talking about experience also refers to a reality that is lived and remembered.

The experience I am talking about is linked to memory, and the experience of remembering is another way of recovering personal history.

Philippe Julien (1990: 15), a scholar of the work of Jacques Lacan, says that it is the unconscious that can see the real through a "misunderstanding". The unconscious has memory as an ingredient, "finally, the unconscious doesn't forget" for there is no psychic "in" without a relationship to an "out" that is cultural and political.

The idea of a private experience in which we have immediate and unmistakeable knowledge is intrinsically subjective of content, through representations and ideas produced by a spectacle.

This idea of experience is called by some "private language", limited to the name of sensations or experiences - pain, red - whose meaning will be fixed exclusively to private experiences, according to Wittgenstein.

All language presupposes true criteria and public rules of using expressions. The consequence is already visible as every conception defying the mental, by its private character, is incoherent.

Experiences, adds Wittgenstein, as other psychological states, define our "language games" with certain objective and public criteria.

Is the content of our experiences neccesarily influenced by judgements or inferences? Only to some extent.

Some philosophers insist in the fact that perceiving is not a passive reception of given visual illusions or changing shapes.

A conceptual matrix is needed for a subject to take the content of an experience. R. Gregory (1970) understands that perceiving is comparable to a hypothesis, although he doesn't understand, for example, that visual experience can be identified with judgements founded in that experience.

We distinguish the representational content of an experience that carries unconceptualized information. If we did not make that distinction we would not understand why, in a visual illusion, the illusion remains even after being conscious of its illusory nature.

Why is the spatial and not the temporal crucial to perceiving contents? That same content can be reached at different moments and through a different process, while a spatial translation modifies the content but not the process.

Mutually, a translation does not maintain the identity of the sensorial event although it often keeps the perceiving content.

To Christopher Peacocke (1992), this lack of symmetry between the temporal and spatial characteristics in experience gave birth to a theory of reality, separating the pressure from the content of the sensorial event. It implies a difference between a global vision of perceiving, its sensorial ingredients, and content.

Some observations by Jean Laplanche make clear this subtle topic:

Is there in the unconscious some meaning, a message to communicate and get free? Let's take into account the following question to try to define the language: the unconscious is a phenomenon of meaning, but without a purpose to communicate. (1981: 123)



In these variations of complementarity, intersubjectivity is inevitable as it is generally known in language studies for the dialogic/al relation enouncing the "self" when installing, without a doubt, the "other".


Transference has to do, in particular, with the emotion given by an image or "the incarnation of the symbolic living in the imaginary".


The two substances recognized by Hjelmslev in the meaning and in the meant lead to other questions, viewed from psychonalysis not from linguistics.


I notice that the objective of this work is to group the variants articulated by a theater spectacle, variants that happen one after each other, and are the reason for the event, the catastrophe that represents the meaning in the scenic space. The variants follow an approximation to the semiotics of the scenic space which is the object of research, willing to open the end roads of traditional semiotics, stubbornly parked in the area of the setting of the scene, and the matching between play and actors, sound, scenography, etc. These are revisited by new technologies and proposed alternatives.

Every spectacle has a logic combining the codes that become mere material to group perceiving variants, and are able to host a system of abstract and formal relations. If the image is concrete, the relationships of the setting of a play make intelligible nets.

The experience of a living audience configures a place in the scenic space that becomes the meaning of the spectacle. In order to do that, it is necessary to pay attention to the observations, reflexions and invocations that the subject spectator claims as the center of a renewing semiotics. There is no ending or final point in the achieved meaning, for every spectacle and every spectator have resources, stories that need to be told and listened to.

There is not a frame of signs exhaustive enough, as language, space, geometry, and the unconscious play with and participate in a particular way with every single new object.

As research needs an object-adequate method, to avoid the "lightening" of the method, in a similar way the study of spectacles needs the assistance of the powers that move and touch the conventional gaze of the spectator.

There is no doubt that the bet of an insertion of the theater spectacle into the humanities and social studies echoes Saussure's proposal of a linguistic science in a field defined by the stamp of social and scientific research, calling it semiology.

Followers developed semiology/semiotics but considered that observing the transit signs was the final point of that adventure, and declared the non-functionality of the aforementioned science.

The failure of memory where memory had not failed, to see again not to see the same but to re-see, is the way to complement the frontality which we are used to.

I mean that we need to pay attention to the changing, to what does not fit with the known or reasonable. That is why we try to re-see.

Every mutant level in the objects involves the previous one, and is a new system of communication.

There are two readers. One consumes the anecdote page by page, and the other is the symbolic reader who wonders, as she or he enters the unconscious, where time is not before or after but reversible.

Meaning allows and offers a condition, that is a critique to decipher, to translate, not to interpret.

Let's say that we are dealing with another way of thinking - i.e. reforming our understanding - that it is not only the theater spectacle which is proposing that, but something which is happening in scientific research in biology, medicine, mathematics, in film and cinema studies, etc., a range of activities that the subject employs when she or he feels unrecognized by the atemporal speeches or the historical discourses, moralizing or artistic.

Translated by Rubén Olachea

© Ana Goutman (Mexico City)


Engel, Pascal (1998). Entry "Expérience". In: Encyclopédie Universelle. 19 vols. Paris: Éditions Paris

Gregory, R. (1970). The Intelligent Eye. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Julien, Philippe (1990). Pour lire Lacan. Paris: Éditions E.P.E.L

Laplanche, Jean (1981). L'inconscient et le ca. Paris: P.U.F.

Metz, Christian (1977). Le signifiant originaire. Psychanalyse et cinema. Paris: Union Générale d'Éditions

Peacocke, Christopher (1992). Sense and Content. Cambridge: Cambridge Univesity Press

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs
Moderation / Chair: Renée Gadsden

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

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