[-empyre-] on the prominence of the semiotic

Lee Mackinnon lmackinnon at aub.ac.uk
Wed Jul 6 03:13:54 AEST 2016

Here is some attempt to respond to the points raised by Aviva and Lauren: There is always so much to say, I find it hard to draw it into a salient nugget! But I will try to give a sense of my thinking:

It is interesting to consider representation as privileging the semiotic- but it is also useful to consider that the semiotic is a means of expressing thought, action and presence that begins with the body, even as perhaps, moves us toward more extreme forms of abstraction. And that even these forms of abstraction are increasingly relevant to the realm of digital materiality that now constitutes our everyday lives. for example, here we are, in this discussion, reliant on invisible systems of abstraction such as quantum mechanics and binary code that facilitate this conversation about bodies. This network/ discussion is no less reliant upon our bodies than the thought that can be abstracted into it! While human thought systems and the database can be distinguished by qualitative differences (as Hayles puts it, human thought systems have been developed through narrative that is not possible for databases), they are co-collaborators in constructing meaning here.

It is interesting to consider that computers were once human groups of calculators (very often women, as it was considered basic, manual labour), and that the digital refers to fingers used to perform calculation (why we also have a decimal system: 10 fingers, even though it is not necessarily the most effective number base for mathematics)... I might contest the idea that what happens in the mind or in semiotic application (whether in mathematics or language) could be distinguished from somatic experience. I think this is erroneous and disingenuous considering the context of this discussion! 

Kay O' Halloran (2009) notes that, 'The semiotic construal of thought in written form permitted the study of ideas and the hierarchical development of knowledge'. It is the hierarchical development of knowledge that has been problematic rather than semiotic forms per se, which are extremely effective, complex, and even beautiful.

For me, a feminist data visualisation is one that begins to first unearth and re-navigate assumed meanings- an exploration of technics that always begins and ends with the bodies whose presence has been overwritten, or written out of these hierarchies of knowledge, or forms of production. 

As regards Murat's question concerning the camera obscura and the digital image- can you narrow the question somewhat- is it the function of the camera obscura, or the image that results from capturing it, either by drawing it or capturing it on a light sensitive surface? In other words, is it the technical system of representation or the representation of the image itself that interests you?

I look forward to more thoughts!

Lee Mackinnon 
Lecturer  - BA (Hons) Photography

+44 1202 363281
lmackinnon at aub.ac.uk

Arts University Bournemouth
Wallisdown, Poole
Dorset, BH12 5HH
United Kingdom


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