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On Signs

edited by Marshall Blonsky

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Thirty years ago Roland Barthes and others first perceived the power of unassertive objects as "signs," bearers of accepted opinion and of ideological manipulation. In the three decades since, there has developed a new science of signs, called semiotics. Its practitioners include advertisers, politicians, media pundits, and cultural mandarins, all of whom send signals—a product, an image, a service, an idea—to those who will "buy" only if they recognize themselves in the message.

On Signs opens up semiotics to a broad, nonspecialist audience. Here the founders of the discipline, along with some…

Thirty years ago Roland Barthes and others first perceived the power of unassertive objects as "signs," bearers of accepted opinion and of ideological manipulation. In the three decades since, there has developed a new science of signs, called semiotics. Its practitioners include advertisers, politicians, media pundits, and cultural mandarins, all of whom send signals—a product, an image, a service, an idea—to those who will "buy" only if they recognize themselves in the message.

On Signs opens up semiotics to a broad, nonspecialist audience. Here the founders of the discipline, along with some of the leading "signmaker" of contemporary culture, undertake to explain the signs in subjects as diverse as El Salvador's death squads and ladies' lingerie, the letters of Pliny and the windows of Tiffany's, fashion, food, film, jokes, psychoanalysis, and history.

The forty-six essaye gathered here are either newly written for On Signs or (save one) newly translated into English. Among the contributors are Roland Barthes, Michel de Certeau, Jacques Derrida, Edmundo Desnoes, Umberto Eco, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Thomas A. Sebeok, and others.

On Signs is, to say the least, provocative. Umberto Eco writes on cowboys and Indians at a White House press conference, Edmundo Desnoes on the meaning of Castro's beard. Jan Kott explains the dramaturgy of a heart attack, Roland Barthes tells how to spend a week in Paris, and Milton Glaser reveals the semiotic underpinnings of supermarket design. Thomas Sebeok show how—and why—to communicate with people who wil live 10,000 years from now.

On Signs will astonish, enlighten, and amuse. What it does, no book has done before.

Reviews

Reviews

Blonsky has grouped numerous original and newly translated works by those who have been highly visible forces in semiotic circles... His book functions as a unified voice proclaiming the power of semiotics to reveal the hidden practices and secrets of modern society.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

Preface
Friends
Introduction. The Agony of Semiotics
Part I. Seeing Signs
Part II. Understanding the Meaning of Signs
Part III. Signs of Life
Endword. Americans on the Move
Notes on Contributors
Acknowledgeme

Preface
Friends
Introduction. The Agony of Semiotics
Part I. Seeing Signs
Part II. Understanding the Meaning of Signs
Part III. Signs of Life
Endword. Americans on the Move
Notes on Contributors
Acknowledgements
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Marshall Blonsky

Marshall Blonsky has been involved in the teaching of semiotics and in research into its repercussions on commercial and cultural life. He is on the faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York.