Art — depression — fiction: A variation on René Thom’s three important kinds of human activity

Semiotica 2005 (157):35-47 (2005)
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The construct of ‘alexithymia,’ formulated in the late 1960s, described the inability to express one’s feelings as a deficit in the signifying-abilities of men and women. In this study, the profile of the alexithemic serves as a point of reference for a discussion concerning language and consciousness and the cognitive/neuroscientific turn in the past decades. The objectives of this paper are to show that the cognitive/neuroscientific turn profoundly affected the understanding of alexithymia in particular and the relationship between language and consciousness in general. As the dominant cognitive/neuroscientific models of consciousness ignore the social embeddedness and the importance of the signifying abilities of human beings, this paper presents alternative models of consciousness and issues of intersubjectivity by proposing a variation on a model from René Thom’s ‘catastrophe theory’ and Uexküll’s theory of ‘autoambience.’ These models, predicated upon social embeddedness and semiotic ability, explain how certain circumstances, such as are often identified as ‘depression,’ can be catalysts of productive outcome. In particular, the notion of ‘play’ in René Thom’s catastrophe theory underscores the primacy of ‘language play’ as a combinatorial signifying activity with a restorative function that is exemplified in the notion of fiction in the work of David Lodge.



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