Emergent Sign-Action

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We explore Peirce’s pragmatic conception of sign action, as a distributed and emergent view of cognition and exemplify with the emergence of classical ballet. In our approach, semiosis is a temporally distributed process in which a regular tendency towards certain future outcomes emerges out of a history of sign actions. Semiosis self-organizes in time, in a process that continuously entails the production of more signs. Emergence is a ubiquitous condition in this process: the translation of signs into signs cannot be inferred from the properties of the components of a semiotic triad alone, but has to take into account a complex interaction between a micro-semiotic and macro-semiotic level of description. This interaction can be understood as an interplay of potentialities and tendencies, or upward constitutive determinative relations and downward selective determinative relations. According to this view, emergence is a central defining condition of processes of meaning. Ballet is a sign in action. The emergence of classical ballet is a self-regulatory process, in which a system of different kinds of cognitive artifacts (musical, bodily/motor, spatial/architectonic) and agents obtained a stable semiotic relation throughout many phases of development between the 16th and the 19th Century. One case is the development of the verticality of dance in classical ballet as a semiotic relation connecting proscenium arch stages, dancing bodies, and audiences. This development is micro-semiotically determined by the spatial constraints of the proscenium arch stage, and macro-semiotically determined by a historical construction of the dancing body as a sign within a network of semiotic chains, such as the intersemiotic regulation of body of the dancer by principles coming from painting. This is not only the emergence of actual meaning, but also the emergence of an open-ended field of potential and general meanings, an autonomous tendency of development. To say that ballet, as sign action, emerges, is to say that cognitive artifacts such as dancer’s bodies, stages and audience’s point of view, musical compositions, costumes, all sorts of supporting institutions, etc, constitute a niche for sign action, interacting according to tendencies of development that didn’t exist before.
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Archival date: 2020-09-07
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