Re: [-empyre-] C. S. Peirce and Code

Sorry for monopolizing today... I meant to add something to my previous post on language and code.

Relative to breaking free of familiar languages involving how we write, interpret and discuss texts so that we can write, interpret and talk about digital story without chaining ourselves to well-worn cultural constructs, a helpful practice is to make and to see "story" beyond text.

For me, it meant making an artist's book. Until I made "Nether Provence," embedded practices (margins and other layout CODES) emerged in every digital story I wrote. Once I began to make a BOOK without a typewriter, a computer, a pen, I began to SEE the languages by which I had been practicing. Following this act, the way I made Covalent Bonds changed significantly. What a liberating experience it was.

By the way, are you seeing what is happening to mainstream print books these days? Novels have pages of postmodern style art, photographs, etc ... and OUTSIDE the margins. A return to chirographics, perhaps?

----- Original Message ----- From: "marcus bastos" <>
To: "soft_skinned_space" <>
Sent: Sunday, October 16, 2005 2:48 PM
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] C. S. Peirce and Code

Dear Bill,

probably the very idea of semiosis, rather than Peirce´s sign
definition, is more useful to describe Digital Writing, since it both
allows to keep up with the expansions and mutations on the symbolic
environment and stresses the processual and systemic functioning of
language. This processual and systemic functioning is much more easily
perceptible on digital media, since the binary code is never fixed,
but rather constantly updated as the RAM memory of the computer reads
information recorded on its hard drive.

For semiotics, the sign is part of a very complex architecture. Peirce
defines very general categories, which he names Firstness, Secondness
and Thirdness, and describes semiosis as the recursive movement of
these. Every manifest sign is predominantly First, Second or Third,
but never purely so. That means that it is possible to find traces of
each of the categories in every manifest sign. The signs in which
Firstness is predominant are called Icons; the signs in which
Secondness is predominant are called Indexes; and the signs in which
Thirdness is predominant are called Symbols.

Some quotations, from the Collected Papers:

--------------> the Manifestation of Firstness
"The idea of the First is predominant in the ideas of freshness, life,
freedom. The free is that which has not another behind it, determining
its actions; but so far as the idea of the negation of another enters,
the idea of another enters; and such negative idea must be put in the
background, or else we cannot say that the Firstness is predominant.


Firstness is predominant /…/ on account of its self-containedness. It
is not in being separated from qualities that Firstness is most
predominant, but in being something peculiar and idiosyncratic. The
first is predominant in feeling, and distinct from objective
perception, will, and thought".

(CP 1.302)

--------------> the Varieties of Secondness
The idea of second is predominant in the ideas of causation and of
statical force. For cause and effect are two; and statical forces
always occur between pairs. Constraint is a Secondness.


In the idea of reality, Secondness is predominant; for the real is
that which insists upon forcing its way to recognition as something
other than the mind´s creation. (Remember that before the French word,
second, was adopted into our language, other was merely the ordinal
numeral corresponding to two.) The real is active; we acknowledge it,
in calling it the actual. (This word is due to Aristotle's use of
<energia>, action, to mean existence, as opposed to mere germinal
state). Against the kind of thought of those dualistic philosophers
who are fond of laying down propositions as if there were only two
alternatives, and no gradual shading off between them, as when they
say that in trying to find a law in a phenomenon I commit myself to
the proposition that law bears absolute sway in nature, such thought
is marked by Secondness.

(CP 1.325)

--------------> the Reality of Thirdness It is impossible to resolve everything in our thoughts into those two elements [of Firstness and Secondness]. /…/ In truth the only difference is that when a person means to do anything he is in some state in consequence of which the brute reactions between things will be moulded [in] to conformity to the form to which the man´s mind in itself moulded, while the meaning of a word really lies in the way in which it might, in a proper position in a proposition believed, tend to mould the conduct of a person into conformity to that which it is itself moulded. Not only will meaning always, more or less, in the long run, mould reactions to itself, but it is only in doing so that its own being consists. For this reason I call this element of the phenomenon or object of thought the element of Thirdness. It is that which is what it is by virtue imparting a quality to reactions in the future.

(CP 1.343)


It could be argued that each of these general categories, as well as their related manifest signs, are predominantly sound, visual or verbal. This idea was developed in a book called "Matrixes of Language and Thought", by Lucia Santaella – unfortunately this is published only in Portuguese.

Santaella proposes that:

Firstness <---> Icon  <---> Sound
Secondness <---> Index  <---> Visual
Thirdness <---> Symbol  <---> Verbal

Given that, it is possible to think of the rhythmic structures in a
painting as the "sound" traces to be found at the "visual" sign. Or,
to think of visual narratives as "verbal" traces to be found on
"visual" signs. And so on.

Transposing this to Writing, we get to an important point, which might
be related to the "old" vs. "new" topic discussed by Friedrich, Jim
and Giselle. Given the assumption that verbal signs are predominantly
symbolic, it could be argued that Writing and Digital Writing are
different on the sign <---> object axe, but similar on the sign <--->
interpretant axe (1). As far as I am concerned, this proposition is
only partially sustainable, in that it does not examines if and how
coding transforms Digital Writing into executable operations rather
than persuasive sentences (this is also related to Brigid´s post, more
on that later on…).


(1) It is possible to say that most of the figurative visual signs are
predominantly indexical, since the figurative image "has a genuine
relation to its object, despite of the interpretant connection to the
object" (CP 2.92). That is: the figurative image of a ball is
perceived as a round shape, and it is not logic to imagine that it
could be perceive differently.

This genuine relation — sometimes described by semioticians as a
dynamic connection — happens both in painting and photography, despite
the differences they have when it comes to examining how each one is
produced and how each are embodied.

So, thinking about a painting and a portrait of the same person, we
could say that the relation of the painted image (sign 1) and the
photography (sign 2) to the same object are different regarding how
one and other gives body to the visual world (sign-object axe), but
similar in that the interpretant sees similar things in both
(sign-interpretant axe).

Santaella, Lúcia. Matrizes da Linguagem e do Pensamento. São Paulo:
Iluminuras, 2001.

On 10/15/05, Charles Baldwin <> wrote:
On this, perhaps look at the extended discussions of codework and the
analog/digital on the plaintext wiki. I believe Peirce was part of the

>>> 10/15/2005 5:26:40 AM >>> The question is, in terms of Code and the potentials it brings about (as idea and code intermingle to provide the experience for the reader/participant) do we need to develop new language and approaches related to our understanding of digital Writing? Who best addresses this at this time?

I asked Marcus off list to talk about his ideas on Pierce and how
they might be applied to our current subject. I wonder if he might
answer here in more detail (although he is busy with the list itself).

Giselle may also want to talk about this.

Peirce defines Semiosis:

By Semiosis I mean an action, an influence, which is, or involves, a
co-operation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object and its
interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in anyway
resolvable into actions between pairs. (Peirce, 1931, p.484)


I will often return to Peirce's definition of the sign, because it is
sufficiently open and all of my media-elements can be considered as
signs in terms of this definition:

A sign [or representation] stands for something to the idea which it
produces, or modifies. Or, it is a vehicle conveying into the mind
something from without. That for which it stands is called its
object; that which it conveys, its meaning; and the idea to which it
gives rise, its interpretant. (Peirce, 1931, p.171)

Peirce points toward part of the problem:

But an endless series of representations, each representing the one
behind it, may be conceived to have an absolute object at its limit.
The meaning of a representation can be nothing but a representation.
In fact it is nothing but the representation itself conceived as
stripped of irrelevant clothing. But this clothing never can be
completely stripped off; it is only changed for some more diaphanous.
So there is an infinite regression here. Finally, the interpretant is
nothing but another representation to which the torch of truth is
handed along; and as representation, it has its interpretant again.
Lo, another infinite series. (Peirce, 1931, p.171)

PEIRCE, C. 1931. Collected Papers, Volume I-VIII. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press.
See also
PEIRCE, C. 1966. Selected Writings. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.


Professor Bill Seaman, Ph.D.
Department  Head
Digital+ Media Department (Graduate Division)
Rhode Island School of Design
Two College St.
Providence, R.I. 02903-4956
401 277 4956
fax 401 277 4966
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