Semiotics taking form: Through the eyes of ten leading semioticians
“So ist die Erkenntniss immer und überall bloss semiotisch”, cognition is always and everywhere semiotic. Gustav Teichmüller (philosophy professor at the University of Tartu) stated this already in 1886 (see Teichmüller 1889, Neue Grundlegung der Psychologie und Logik, p. 277) – just at the time when Jakob von Uexküll studied there.
Those interested in semiotics and its problems in the late 19th – early 20th century had produced much more than semiotically oriented researchers could use later, during the rapid growth and institutionalization of semiotics in the 1960s-1970s. The aim of many studies conducted at that period, often described as structuralist par excellence, supposed a formalization of the conceptual apparatus used by semioticians. However, this ambitious program remained unaccomplished, contributing at the same time to the appearance of a number of crucial (and seemingly independent) trends during several decades which followed this “failure”. They are, in particular: (a) poststructuralist criticism of the attempts to formalize semiotics; (b) rapid development of Peircean semiotics; (c) impetuous growth of biosemiotics and placing the lower semiotic threshold at the origin of life; (d) development of commercial semiotics.
As a result, the conceptual systems of various branches and approaches within the framework of contemporary semiotics differ considerably. Even if, since the 1970s, semiotics as a discipline has noticeably extended its (both visible and invisible) limits, its potentially general models and conceptual system(s) are seemingly still being formed.
Having interviewed ten internationally known semioticians about their work and views, we shall analyze their understanding of the current situation in semiotics in general, trying to distinguish some important and fruitful problems in this field and suggesting certain possible ways of their solution.