Book Discussion – Elements of Semiology (Roland Barthes)

Host: Ivan Kurniawan Nasution

On 3 June 2017, we have held a book discussion on “Elements of Semiology”. The book was published on 1964 and written by Roland Barthes, a French bourgeois critic. As entitled, the book covered the primary elements of semiology, a field of study on sign.

A sign is not specifically defined by Barthes in the book. However we know that a sign tells an existence of a thing. A sign can be studied through 3 instrumental substances: signifier, the matter which we can perceive; signified, the mental representation of a thing; and signification, the process of relating signifier and signified. Signification is a personal experience, and every individual through their particular events and moments of life may have varied output of the process. Signification leads to various outputs of values, borne by each individual toward a certain thing. Values are personal and not debatable.

For example, the stimulus our brain perceive when we see the color red, is a signifier; the idea that in front of us lies a red color, is a signified; the process of coming to know that the color in front of us is red, is a signification; the concept that follows after we see the color, e.g. feeling warm, sensual, reminding us of sun, is a value we had.

Should a sign is given a particular value which comes from a public acclamation, it is called a speech. We learn how to structure a perfect system of language through the understanding of each speech, by the leading of a norm which is publicly accepted.

Architecture, according to Mies van der Rohe is a language; it has its speeches: columns, facades, beams, rooms, spaces, that shall complete a sentence, and thus being readable. A great architect is one who is capable of restructuring each speech to be unique to his identity.

Syntagm and System have two axes of language which are syntagmatic and association which evoke two kind of “discourse” — Metaphor (Systematic order) and Metomyny (Syntagmatic order). These bring semiologist to learn from linguistic to semiology. Nature of speech is categorized as syntagmatic, however, Saussure doesn’t agree there isn’t linguistic of speech , because exist some fixed syntagms. Syntagm appears to be “text without end”. Therefore, commutation test is needed to devide the syntagm. Combination of constraints is also needed to determine and arrange syntagm.

Start from staggered system then devided into two groups — Connotation and Metalanguage. In connotative semiotics, the signifiers of the second system are constituted by the signs of the first, and it is reversed in metalanguage. the signifieds of the second system are consituted by the signs of the first. As each language rises, another takes its place, “a diachrony of metalanguages, and each science, including of course semiology, would contain the seeds of its own death, in the shape of the language destined to speak it”.

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