This Is Your Life

By Cobley, Paul | New Formations, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

This Is Your Life


Cobley, Paul, New Formations


THIS IS YOUR LIFE Paul Cobley Marcello Barbieri (ed), Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis, Dordrecht, Springer, 2007; xii + 530pp, £54.00.

'The over-arching context for bisoemiotics is our biosphere, in the sense of the organic whole of living matter', wrote Thomas A. Sebeok in 2001, 'and Earth', he went on, 'is the only geosphere which contains living matter. Because there can be no semiosis without interpretability - surely life's cardinal propensity - semiosis presupposes the axiomatic identity of the semiosphere with the biosphere'.1 Thus stated, this has been the general programme for biosemiotics in the last fifteen to twenty years. Yet, this is not an easy thesis to grasp, particularly for those who have retreated into the comfort of a view of the world as comprised solely of different combinations of power and endless language games.

It is for this reason that biosemiotics has thus far failed to see itself at the centre of a sustained academic publishing enterprise, despite the commitment and endeavour of a range of embattled multi- and trans-disciplinary scholars. And it is for this reason that Barbieri's volume constitutes a major achievement. With the arrival of this Introduction, particularly in its open demonstration of a diverse range of opinion within the field, biosemiotics has reached a defining moment. (One is tempted to say that it has 'come of age', but this happened quite some time ago.)

The book is not a single-author monograph, concise and aimed at absolute beginners. Instead, it consists of eighteen largely original contributions from major names in biosemiotics (Hoffmeyer, Kull, Barbieri, Markos), sympathetic major theoretical biologists (Pattee, Salthe) as well as at least one commentator who has come to biosemiotics from semiotics rather than in the reverse direction (Danesi). These contributions are divided into three sections: 'Historical background', 'Theoretical issues' and 'Biosemiotic research'. The volume is not comprehensive -1 would have liked to have seen contributions from, to name just a few appropriate living scholars, Terrence Deacon, Claus Emmeche, Timo Maran and S0ren Brier. However, there are always going to be quibbles of this kind with edited collections. So, it would be more evenhanded to say that this volume provides an invaluable overview in addition to a much-needed summing up of the biosemiotic enterprise.

Let us sketch some of the issues raised by the thematic sections. The explicit 'summing up' is mainly to the fore in the first section on 'Historical background'. Favareau's essay, though seemingly bitty, amounts to a persuasive account of one of the leading trajectories in biosemiotics (if not semiotics generally). Ranging from Aristotle, through Poinsot to Sebeok and, then, Barbieri, with the help of Deely and by way of a coruscating account of the influence of Descartes on modern thought, its 68 pages are worth the (intellectual) admission price alone. Favareau's essay also hauls aloft the main issues and criticisms that biosemiotics has elicited, although in the historical section, it is Jämsä's review that actually looks at the marriage of Peircean theory and biology. Finally, Barbieri's essay in the same section is a 'revised repeat' (as they say in the description of updates on reality TV programmes) of his 2002 review of Kull's special von Uexküll issue of Semiotica. In their summing up, both Barbieri and Favareau suggest that biosemiotics is now a field which is more varied than it previously was when dominated by the rediscovery of von Uexküll; chiefly, the change in the field consists in the way that it has embraced the more mechanistic approach to semiosis of Barbieri himself, leading to a perspective within biosemiotics which is not geared towards explication of the dynamics and context-based nature of signs and texts but allows for understanding the workings of nature as code-based.

The section on 'Theoretical issues' kicks off with Pattee's essay focusing on the 'symbolic control' of matter.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

This Is Your Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.