Making sense of things: Takes and Double Takes

I recently landed on a very recent text (I know, how novel of me) that deals with certain topics that I have had to address in my own research. Anyway, so the text in question is Rolf Kailuweit’s ‘Linguistic landscapes and regional languages in Southern France – a neo-semiotic approach to placemaking conflicts’, a book chapter contained in ‘Linguistic Landscape Studies: The French Connection’. I haven’t read the editorial, nor the other chapters, so I won’t comment on them. I’m looking at, what I reckon, is a nearly finalized version of the text, so don’t blame me if the pagination is off, the content is slightly different etc.

Now, I’m not going to go through the data, nor the analysis. What I’m interested in are the segments on various issues that apply to all this type of research. Contained in section two, ‘Towards a neo-semiotic approach’, the first subsection ‘Fuzzy quantifications’ is the part of the text that struck me the most. It contains particularly good observations and arguments. Kailuweit (134) starts by aptly noting that “[f]rom a semiotic point of view signs are uncountable” because what one might call a semiotic item isn’t separate from the semiotic process that creates it. In other words, the sign, the item, only comes to being, as countable in the encounter, when we engage with the world. The point here is that the sign isn’t some object that is there, waiting for us to come across it. I guess we could say it comes to have a being, but only eventually. So, as expressed by Kailuweit (134), “[w]hat we count are physical entities that unfold semiotic potential for us as interpreters.” I agree.

Kailuweit (134) states that the various aspects pertaining to the semiotic potential are rarely addressed in quantitative studies. I agree. However, I’d add that these are hardly ever taken into consideration. This includes the qualitative studies. My own methodology oriented article did originally include a separate segment dealing with these issues, how the objective aspects, aka exogeneous or bottom-up factors, shared by common human physiology (how the eye works, in conjunction with the brain with regards to curvature, color, luminance, motion, orientation, reflectance and size), and the subjective aspects, aka endogeneous or top-down factors, variable by the person who comes to encounter the said semiotic items (affected by experience, knowledge, planning, goals), but that ended up being cut, because it was, to my disappointment, considered unnecessary, trivial or tedious (I don’t really know why, but it ended up cut). It ended up being condensed to a mere passing remark about how, unlike in previous studies, the underlying issue as to what counts as a sign (a countable item) and what kind of effect items may have on people is far more complex than a matter of physical proportions (size). As I don’t see it making the cut in an article, thanks to their prefab nature, perhaps I manage to include that outtake in the upcoming thesis discussion. We’ll see.

Kailuweit (134-135) discusses the issue in more detail, making note of the various issues involved. Centrally, if you are atomistic, looking at one physically continuous thing at a time, you end up in all kinds of absurdity, like counting the different letters of a word as separate items, just because they are not physically connected. I’ve pointed this out in my own work in the past. The other end is to be holistic. Kailuweit (134-135) finds this problematic because it is hardly clear cut which elements are part of a larger whole. As he (134-135) points out, a larger whole, consisting of a bit of this and a bit of that in close proximity, can include items that have something to do with one another but also items don’t have anything to do with the other items.

He (135) points out how even if we agree on a physical definition, a spatially definable frame, it’s not all that clear that what’s contained in the same frame can be considered parts of the same item. I reckon that in most cases this is not an issue, but it is an issue nonetheless. If someone has altered an item, for example a street sign, in a way that it doesn’t appear separate, a mere addition, is it to be considered one sign or two signs (or more, depending on the alterations)? I reckon there is no way one can solve this issue, because, as he (134) points out, it is the process, there and then, that makes it appear to us as this and/or that.

If I had my way, which I usually don’t because of x, y and/ or z reason, typically because I lack any relevant authority in the eyes of those who do get to have a say, I’d go start explaining this through the double articulation, as conceptualized (and aptly illustrated by a photo of a lobster!) by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’.

Deleuze and Guattari (41) characterize the two articulations as both having to do with substance (territoriality, degrees of territorialization/deterritorialization) and form (code, modes of coding/decoding), the first being typically (not always) “more molecular, merely ordered”, the second being typically (not always) “more rigid, molar and organized” and marked by the production of overcoding, resulting from “centering, unification, totalization, integration, hierarchization and finalization.” They (44) emphasize that while the two articulations tend to coincide with the molecular and the molar, as I just indicated, that does not have to be the case. Moreover, they (44) warn the reader not to confuse or conflate the two, the first articulation (content) and the second articulation (expression), nor to separate them (one without the other), because they are always distinct, always coming into being in the same instance, thus existing only in reciprocal presupposition (interdependence, necessitating one another).

They (40) explain what happens in the first articulation:

“The first articulation chooses or deducts, from unstable particle-flows, metastable molecular or quasi-molecular units (substances) upon which it imposes a statistical order of connections and successions (forms).”

Here it’s worth adding that the first articulation has to do with content, as they (44) point out later on. They (41) also explain what happens in the second articulation:

“The second articulation establishes functional, compact, stable structures (forms), and constructs the molar compounds in which these structures are simultaneously actualized (substances).”

The first articulation has to do with content, whereas the second articulation has to do with expression, as they (44) go on to add. So, in summary, what makes the two articulations different does not have to do with substance and form but content and expression.

To be clear, the first articulation deals with content, moving from substance to forms, choosing or deducting, followed by deposition or sedimentation, putting what was chosen or deducted in a certain order, as they (41) go on to further clarify the process. The second articulation deals with expression and sees these forms become substances again, as they (41) go on to add. Their (41) simplest example is the process of sedimentation, how suspended or saltated materials move downstream, to be eventually deposited in a certain place, followed by cementation of that sediment into sedimentary rock. This is, however, an example that has to do with geology and geomorphology. This is also the link to the concept of stratification (strata, layer upon layer, like with sedimentary rocks).

To complicate this, or, perhaps clarify it (depends how you look at this), according to Deleuze and Guattari (44), while there is a distinction between the first (content) and the second articulation (expression), this is all entirely relative, because there is no neat linear succession, one thing taking place, followed by another thing taking place, which then, instead, results in all kinds “intermediate states between content and expression, expression and content” as they shuttle back and forth. It’d be a bit too simplistic to think that the world works otherwise, as if it had time to wait for one thing to happen, in order for another thing to happen. It’s just conceptually easier to delineate them the way they do initially. Anyway, so, technically there is no ‘first’ or ‘second’ articulation because we are always in the middle of things, the content and the expression always intermingling with one another, as they (44) point out. In their (44) words:

“Since every articulation is double, there is not an articulation of content and an articulation of expression – the articulation of content is double in its own right and constitutes a relative expression within content; the articulation of expression is also double and constitutes a relative content within expression.”

What matters here is that while content and expression are always distinct, never ever the same, nor existing without the other, as emphasized by the two (44), “we [can] find forms and substances of content that play the role of expression in relation to other forms and substances, and conversely for expression.” In other words, as they (44-45) go on to exemplify, one can play the role of the other, ad infinitum (but never become the other, mind you). Therefore, strictly speaking, calling one content and the other expression is only justifiable in terms of their function, to provide an apt label, as otherwise it’s just arbitrary to call one this and the other that when they can play the role of the other, as they (45) point out. I reckon this can be quite a whammy to comprehend but it does make sense.

It’s actually very easy to play this game. Lets take something like a place setting, i.e. how various items are arranged on a table. Put a small saucer on a table. It’s just a small saucer, on a table. Put a coffee cup on that saucer. What we now have is a cup and a saucer. I don’t think there’s a separate word for this, but I get a different sense when these two when they are combined, as opposed to when they are separated. I don’t necessarily think of coffee with only the cup. It just strikes me as odd to have a coffee cup, on table, on its own. Maybe someone left it there. Is it clean or not? It’s even stranger with the saucer. Why is there a saucer on the table? Okay, it’d be even stranger if there was a saucer, on the floor. So, no, it’s not that strange for there to be a cup or a saucer on a table. Anyway, the point is that on their own there isn’t much to talk about them. That said, if we combine them, I get a sense of anticipation, for coffee. I suppose someone is going to have coffee. Hmm… add a spoon, for the added effect. Note how we have all this … content … which turns into another expression. That is what one might call a place setting. I say might because it sure isn’t very elaborate. I mean does one set of this and/or that count as a place setting or does it have to be more than just one set? Anyway, be as it may, it’s probably still a bit strange: a table with a coffee cup, on a saucer, and a spoon. What if we multiply these sets by … let’s say … four. Now, that is most definitely a place setting, for four people. Each of these items is, in itself, an expression of something, some content, it being made out of something, like, ceramic (cups and saucers) or steel (spoon). What we have, the four sets of these, is yet another expression. This time what one might call the expression, the sets of the coffee cups, the saucers and the spoons, function as the content for another expression.

Now, if you struggle with this, the point is that double articulation is everywhere. If we consider things in isolation, it results in absurdity. I was tempted to write that it tends to result in absurdity but you really need to dig in deep. Something like a coffee cup is not just one thing. It’s an expression. Just think of it. When did coffee cups come out of nowhere, on their own, like some divine container for the brew that many of us hold dear? There’s a lot of content and expression that goes into for you to just have a coffee cup, regardless of what it’s made out of.

How is this at all relevant to the topic at hand, how to classify something as an item? Ah, well, see, it depends. This where things get interesting. We can have all these things, like coffee cups, saucers and spoons, as well as tables, listed, on their own and that’s just fine. In a way, that all makes sense. They are, in their own right, expressions of something, at least in terms of what they are made of. Then again, together they are more than just a sum, a list of items. There is this excess, which cannot be explained as the sum of this and that, as explained by Deleuze in ‘The Logic of Sense’. To be more specific, Deleuze (36) states that:

“This time we are confronted with a synthesis of the heterogeneous; the serial form is necessarily realized in the simultaneity of at least two series.”

So, as he (36-38) goes on to elaborate, to avoid infinite regress, going from one word or thing to another thing or word in succession (like in a dictionary, attempting to explain words with other words), each series is synthesized from at least two other series, one functioning as “an aspect of sense” (but not sense itself) and the other(s) “as the correlative to this aspect of sense” (but not sense itself), while these series in questions never collapse to what comes out of them, what is synthesized (the sense itself). That said, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t this or that, just because they together they express something different.

Also, as I elaborated in an earlier essay on this book, on this very issue, I can see why he, with Guattari, changed the terminology, largely abandoning the use of terms present in his earlier work, such as in ‘The Logic of Sense’, as adapted from Saussurian linguistics. So, what we need to do is what Deleuze and Guattari (43) suggest we do, throw away the concepts that we keep using: sign, signifier, signified and signification. What need instead are better, more malleable concepts: matter, content and expression, form and substance (43). These they (43) borrow from Louis Hjelmslev (see ‘Prolegomena to a Theory of Language’). It’s worth noting that what Ferdinand de Saussure calls signified and signifier are called content and expression by Hjelmslev, as pointed out by Deleuze and Guattari (43). What differentiates Hjelmslev from de Saussure are the further distinctions, separating matter, form and substance, as indicated by the two (43). What Hjelmslev calls matter, Deleuze and Guattari (43) call the plane of consistency or body without organs, “the unformed, unorganized, nonstratified, or destratified body and all its flows[.]”

While I could do all this myself, explain this, bit by bit, concept by concept, I’ll keep this short by using Louis Schreel’s illustrations to make this easier to comprehend. He covers this very issue in ‘Pure Designation: Deleuze’s Reading of Hjelmslev in The Time-Image’. He (55) illustrates the concepts used by de Saussure in relation to one another:

Only to illustrate how Hjelmslev’s conception (61), as adapted from a table created by Miriam Taverniers (379) in her 2008 article ‘Hjelmslev’s semiotic model of language: An exegenesis’, the notable changes being the additions to the table to explain this in Deleuzian/Deleuzo-Guattarian terms:

FYI, I made further minor changes to the tables, in order to connect them to certain works by Deleuze and/or Guattari. I also subsequently brushed up the wording a bit and emphasized the forms (it has been a nightmare to parse). It’s worth noting that what is called sense should be understood as how it is discussed by Deleuze in ‘The Logic of Sense’. It’s the unexplainable, which will, as elaborated by Deleuze (20), leave “those who wish to be satisfied with words, things, images, and ideas” unsatisfied because it doesn’t “exist[] either in things or in the mind” as it “has neither physical nor mental existence.” In other words, it’s not reducible to either. The BwO refers to this as how it is presented in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. The use of the word plane is also very appropriate, considering how it is also conceptualized in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. What is important here, in this Hjelmslev’s net, as Deleuze and Guattari (43) call it, is that what’s interesting, what Deleuze calls sense in ‘The Logic of Sense’, is separate from substance and form. As I already pointed out, it’s “neither physical nor mental”, existing not in things nor in the mind, being more like a Möbius strip, a strip that has only one surface (intrinsic property), yet it appears, as if being a twisted loop, having two surfaces if broken and untwisted (extrinsic property), as elaborated by Deleuze (20, 337). You can backtrack to it, you can sort of get what it is by breaking it apart, but once you attempt to put it into words you always fail. As stated by Deleuze (20), it can only be inferred indirectly, it being “endowed with an inefficacious, impassive, and sterile splendor.” This is what is missing in de Saussure’s structuration which is limited to going around in circles. Fair enough, sense doesn’t get us anywhere if we insist that we must be able to explain it, to put it in words, what something means, but, as expressed by Deleuze (20), it’s the route we must take, otherwise we will end up going in circles, tripping on infinite regress.

For those who are interested in how this all came to be, Guattari elaborates Hjelmslev’s influence on him and, through him, on Deleuze in ‘Hjelmslev and Immanence’. It’s quite the task to read though because, Guattari being Guattari, he is all over the place in this one. Then again, you have to take it into account that this is basically just his notes on the topic, so, it’s bound to be a bit rough. It certainly has its moments though. Nothing like reading a text where someone gets called an idiot. Anyway, it should be already apparent at this point but, as stated by Guattari (201), what makes Hjelmslev so important to Deleuze and Guattari is how he goes beyond linguistics:

“[H]is machine needs to work in the extralinguistic field as well.”

Again, Deleuze and Guattari aren’t happy with linguistics that only explains itself. That’s just way too quaint for them. As Guattari (201) points out, there are structures, yes, but they are connected to processes, which changes things for them quite considerably. He (201-202) explains how what he calls the Hjelmslev machine works through the concepts of deterritorialization (and reterritorialization) and notes that what Hjelmslev calls form is what they, Deleuze and Guattari, call code and what Hjelmslev calls substance is what they call flow. This is indicated the table above. The next important and, I reckon, insightful comment by Guattari (202-203) is that substance (flow) and form (code) are both functional or dynamic, not static or fixed as there is no eternal structure. It’s worth pointing out that Guattari (202-203) is actually pointing out certain flaws in Hjelmslev who, according to him, managed to botch this dynamism by insisting that form is eternal. In other words, Guattari is actually making certain changes to the Hjelmslev machine. Guattari (203-204) doesn’t mind, as such, because he sees the vast potential in this, expanding well beyond the confines of one discipline, namely linguistics:

“Hjelmslev is dragging disjointed scientific orders, borders and territories behind him even though his deterritorializing machine was made to sweep them away (which worries the linguists!).”

Oh, yes, if you’ve read the relevant parts of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ on linguistics, this indeed ought to worry the linguists. Of course, what is meant by ‘linguists’ needs to be explained. Instead of dragging you through some definition as to what counts as a linguist, I’m going to do the exact opposite and just give you my take. A linguist, in this context, is to be understood as someone obsessed and stuck in signification, trying to figure out whatever is the real deal in some language. There’s many apt monikers for this bunch, including formalists, structuralists and Chomskyans, to connect this to Guattari’s text and his collaborative works with Deleuze. Another label would be abstract objectivists, to call them like Valentin Vološinov might put it. If you’ve ever been to a conference, a seminar or a workshop pertaining to ‘linguistics’, you know exactly the type of people Guattari is referring to. If you don’t, do yourself a favor and attend one of them. You’ll see. You’ll get the gist of this.

Anyway, Guattari (203-204) is actually making another point, which ought to worry not only the linguists but also people in other disciplines. The point he is making is that the way they conceptualize this threatens to sweep away the disciplinary borders. Again, if you don’t get this, try your luck at publishing an article in a publication of a discipline that is not considered ‘yours’. They’ll be like, who the … this guy/gal thinks he/she is? Not on my watch! Oh, and I’m most definitely speaking from experience. You can clearly sense the hostility, even if it is often masked in the platitudes of politeness.

Right, the next useful bit provided by Guattari (205) is how what he calls the three classes of strata, the planes (content/expressions), the form/substance of content and the form/substance of expression, is organized in a certain way. If you look at the table that covers this, you see that you can’t go from content-substance directly to expression-substance. Instead, what you have to do is to go through the strata, as pointed out by Guattari (205). You need to operate on the relevant plane. In this case that’s the plane of content. You need to move on that plane, hopping from content-substance to content-form, before you can operate on the expression plane, hopping from expression-form to expression-substance. In Guattari’s (205) words, “to go from one to the other, you have to go through the form strata”. You can’t simply skip the strata.

The next interesting bit stated by Guattari (207) has to do with languages, how they operate schematically, thus being capable of “reproducing an infinity (a flow) of signs” within, what appears to be, “a finite (axiomatic) figure machine.” In other words, he is simply fascinated by the potential flexibility of language, even though it appears really fixed, as anyone could point out in an everyday sense. That said, as he (207-208) goes on to point out, what’s mysterious about language is that you can’t access how language really works by attempting to backtrack to it from how we come to use language, the practice (parole), nor from the abstraction (langue). In other words, what’s listed in the table as purport, unformed matter, sense, BwO, plane of consistency and plane of immanence, what Guattari (207) also calls the plane of machinic filiation, is simply out of reach. It’s there but you can’t explain it. If you try, you’ll always end up outside it, on a stratum. In his (208) words:

“Of course, that’s because there is no pure schema, or pure code, that escapes history. There is only code work, code surplus value in the historic process of deterritorialization!”

Now, I reckon I’ve already explained what the upside of this approach is when compared to attempting to understand the world through signification, so I won’t explain that further. Anyway, I like how he (208) comments this:

“Which is enough to make linguists insane, it’s this insane meaning theory!!”

I don’t know about you, but I just love his enthusiasm, using two exclamation marks. Moreover, he (210) explains that in order to get there, to purport, the plane of consistency or plane of immanence, whatever you want to call it, you’d have to get rid of the planes. Of course, that’s not exactly recommended, because then you end up botching the machine. What Guattari (209-210) finds interesting is how in Hjelmslev’s treatment the content plane (signified) is treated as the one that has to do with semiotic meaning whereas the expression plane (signifier) has to do with absurdity (because it’s non-semiotic, just sounds). In his (210) words:

“The result is that to save the plane of content signification, he made the plane of the meaning of expression absurd!”

Another way of putting what he is on about is to call the Hjelmslev machine or, well, Guattari machine, the semiotic machine, an inscription machine (205, 210) because it is like a big ass typewriter that is hooked on to the purport, sense or plane of consistency/immanence, as well as to the strata, what Guattari (211) indicates as residing in the historical plane of consistency. If you fail to grasp what’s what here, Guattari (211) is very explicit about this:

“[M]eaning exists only in a machinic assemblage.”

If you’ve read ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, you’ll be familiar with concept of assemblage. Already in its introduction Deleuze and Guattari (4) exemplify this:

“As an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs. We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge.”

If you are completely lost, take another look at the table that covers this. It should open up to you, if you just let it open up to you. Anyway, they (4) further explain this:

“A book exists only through the outside and on the outside. A book itself is a little machine; what is the relation (also measurable) of this literary machine to a war machine, love machine, revolutionary machine, etc. – and an abstract machine that sweeps them along?”

How is a book a machine? Doesn’t someone has to write it? Well, yes, someone must have written the (here imaginary) book you are looking at. Sure. That said, it’s of little consequence to you that someone has written it when it’s already there, for you to engage with. Of course, this is not to devalue writing. The process of writing (or speaking) is important. You wouldn’t be reading this if I hadn’t written it. It’s the same in a conversation. Don’t go dissing your interlocutor. You won’t have much to call a conversation otherwise. Anyway, to get to the point, I called the semiotic machine a big ass typewriter (nowadays that would probably be a word processor) for this very reason, because, as they (4) point out:

“[W]hen one writes, the only question is which other machine the literary machine can be plugged into, must be plugged into in order to work.”

Only to provide some examples (4):

“Kleist and a mad war machine, Kafka and a most extraordinary bureaucratic machine[.]”

And (4):

“What if one became animal or plant through literature, which certainly does not mean literarily? Is it not first through the voice that one becomes animal?”

Which is exactly why they (22) state that:

“[A]ll we know are assemblages.”

Or, to further elaborate on this (4):

“All we talk about are multiplicities, lines, strata and segmentarities, lines of flight and intensities, machinic assemblages and their various types, bodies without organs and their construction and selection, the plane of consistency, and in each case the units of measure.”

In terms of writing then, as that’s hugely important, they (4-5) state that “[l]iterature is an assemblage” and that “[w]riting has nothing to do with signifying”, as opposed to “surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.” What are these assemblages then? Well, again, if it isn’t obvious already, they (22) elaborate:

“[T]he only assemblages are machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation.”

Take another look at the table. See, see! It makes sense! To make more sense of it, it’s worth noting that they (40) place the assemblage between two strata. On one side it faces the strata. On the other side it faces the BwO or the plane of consistency (i.e. purport, sense, whatever you want to call it, what they also at times confusingly refer to as strata). This is how it operates. They (140) also indicate how one side, or plane, deals with semiotics, or enunciation, whereas the other side, or plane, deals with bodies, being the machinic aspect of the assemblage:

“Only one side of the assemblage has to do with enunciation or formalizes expression; on its other side, inseparable from the first, it formalizes contents, it is a machinic assemblage or an assemblage of bodies.”

I’m pointing this out just so that what’s contained in the table is easier to comprehend. I’m not going to further explain this in reference to ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ though. I think I’ve gone on a long enough tangent anyway. So, in summary, what I take from this, all this discussion related to how we come to make sense of the world, is that there is no right or wrong way to approach the issue of what counts as a sign in linguistic landscape studies. We can examine something as an item distinct from other items, albeit the machine is already working at that point. We can also examine different items and argue that they form a larger whole, but the machine is working its magic in this case as well. We could also go back to each item and backtrack from there, to point out that these items are made out of other items. There’s this continuous doubling up. This is why Deleuze and Guattari (40) state, provocatively, that:

“God is a Lobster, or a double pincer, a double bind.”

In other words, the world is assembled, here and now, never actually being static, even if it appears to be the case, which is why they (22) state that all they know are assemblages, “machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation”, and that you are a misguided to think in terms of signifiance and subjectification and that you are the source of whatever you express, typically in speech or writing. If this God business bothers you, think of that in Spinozist terms, God being everywhere, in everything, or so to speak, then think of it as one big event, happening, like, a machine. Anyway, what is so great about this is that it permits one to argue in favor of one and the many at the same time, ones forming many, which, again, function as ones for the many, always stacking up, machines inside other machines, and, oddly enough, making sense, yet never being the sense (or meaning) itself as that’s something we can’t reach. So, as we are always in the middle of something, the way we come analyze things, at this and/or that level, depends on how we want to assess the state of affairs. For example, we can look at a storefront and consider it just that, a storefront. Alternatively, we can look at individual items, such as the sign indicating the store name, the writing on the door that indicates opening times, the posters on windows and the like, and examine them individually. We could also look at both. That’s perfectly fine. If we wanted to, we could also look at those individual items and assess their components. We could do all of these and even more, or look at the state of affairs completely differently. Do we have to do all this? Well, no. Obviously no. But, of course, you can. I reckon that what matters just really depends on what it is that you want to achieve with what you are doing.

So, where was I with Kailuweit? Right, he (134-135) recommends caution with how we go about with things. For example, as he points out, it’s not at all that clear that a storefront is one coherent unit, rather than a collection of things. Some of it may of course be parts of a coherent unit, by design if you will. That said, they don’t have to be, considering that there can be all kinds of items present, some which have no ties to the storefront beside the location, having been placed there at some point in time. For me, this is not a major issue, if we consider how Deleuze and Guattari would solve this.

In another section of his book chapter, Kailuweit addresses the role of producers. He (137) indicates that a recent trend is to ask the producers about their intentions. The purpose of this is to find out why someone put something on display, for others to see, and why the sign is the way it is, what it contains. He (137) points out that while  this is not a fruitless endeavor, this is not how signs work. To be more specific, as clarified by him (137), as each sign functions as a speech act, the emphasis ought to be on the encounter with the sign, what one might call the perlocutionary act, i.e. the actualized effect, rather than the illocutionary act, i.e. the intended effect. Simply put, as noted by him (137), as interesting and insightful as “secondary commentaries of the producer[s]” of signs may be, the focus ought to be on those who come to encounter the signs, the passersby. That said, that’s not without its limitations either. He (137) notes that it would be possible to assess this by observation, or through questionnaires and interviews, but it might still be hard to get anything substantive, anything representative of the “semiotic potential of the sign” beyond individual takes, what he calls “subjective reactions”, on the signs. I’d like to add here that observation would also likely affect their encounters with the signs, unless done covertly, which, to my knowledge is a big no-no. Then there’s also the discrepancy between experience, the actual encounter, the engagement with the signs, and the subsequent explanation of that past experience, which will never be the experience itself. On top of that, as pointed out by Kailuweit (137), in order to address the accounts of passersby, the researcher needs to interpret their interpretation, and, I might add, thus subsequently produce a take (article) of a take (interview), or a representation of a representation (if we want to use those terms).

Kailuweit (138) makes another argument against the emphasis on production, albeit his example has more to do with the placement of an item than anything else. However, I’d say that these issues are related. I’ve pointed out in the past that it’s one thing to name or locate the producer of an item, what I like to call the designer, and another thing to address how did the item come to appear in front of me, wherever it happens to be that I encounter it, what I like to call the matter of the issuer. Kailuweit’s (138) example of a postcard is very fitting in this regard and I reckon he makes the same point I’ve made in reference to Derrida. Anyway, as Kailuweit (138) points out, various items may end up having semiotic effects beyond a certain anchoring. A postcard is great example of how this works because it can and frequently does end up somewhere else, to be examined by someone else, who then assesses it according to one’s own criteria, not the criteria set by the producer of that postcard, nor the criteria set by the person who wrote something on it, nor the criteria set by the person who put one’s name on it (as the person who wrote something on it is not necessarily the same person who signed it, nor who sent it, for that matter). This is, more or less, the point he makes earlier on about illocution and perlocution. Anyway, Kailuweit (141) reiterates what results from this:

“[A] methodological approach focussed on finding out the motives of sign producers by interviews will hit its limits.”

What he (141) suggests instead is:

“This kind of agency of an actor who produces a sign, posts it, or assumes responsibility for its form and/or content can only be assessed on the basis of a profound semiotic analysis of the sign.”

To put this more concisely, as he (141) goes on to do, he is, mon Dieu, advocating for an expert oriented approach, something which may cause irritation in certain people for, I assume, being elitist and thus not inclusive. I agree with him on this though. For the reasons discussed by Kailuweit in his book chapter, I don’t really know any other way that would work. In order to be sensitive to the encounter, to be on the lookout, one has to be aware of a lot of things, many which pertain to landscape, which is something that most people aren’t even aware of (hence my own interest in landscape), and to various discourses, which is also something that most people aren’t even aware of (hence my own interest in discourse studies). That’s a lot to take into account. That said, by no means does this mean that this is only for the pro or the expert, someone with formal credentials to prove it. You don’t need a fancy title at a university, nor a proven track record that you know about these things to be able to do what Kailuweit covers in his book chapter. You can do it, pending you do the necessary work it takes. There’s nothing wrong being an autodidact, although I am well aware how many established academics feel about them.

There are other aspects that Kailuweit covers in his book chapter, but I think it’s only fair to leave something for you to read, by yourself. Plus, I have to stop somewhere. I think I got to cover what I wanted in this essay.


  • Deleuze, G. ([1969] 1990). The Logic of Sense (C. V. Boundas, Ed., M. Lester and C. J. Stivale, Trans.). London, United Kingdom: Athlone Press.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Guattari, F. (2006). Hjelmslev and Immanence. In F. Guattari, The Anti-Œdipus Papers (S. Nadaud, Ed., K. Gotman, Trans.) (pp. 201–223). New York, NY: Semiotext(e).
  • Hjelmslev, L. ([1943] 1953). Prolegomena to a Theory of Language (F. J. Whitfield). Baltimore, MD: Waverly Press.
  • Kailuweit, R. (2019). Linguistic landscapes and regional languages in Southern France – a neo-semiotic approach to placemaking conflicts. In M. Castillo Lluch, R. Kailuweit and C. D. Pusch, (Eds.), Linguistic Landscape Studies: The French Connection (pp. 131–162). Freiburg, Germany: Rombach Verlag.
  • Schreel, L. (2016). Pure Designation: Deleuze’s Reading of Hjelmslev in The Time-Image. Itinera (11), 49–74.
  • Taverniers, M. (2008). Hjelmslev’s semiotic model of language: An exegenesis. Semiotica , 171 (1/4), 367–394.