For a Semiotics of the Theater Author(s): J. F. and Karen Woodword Source: SubStance, Vol. 6, No.

18/19, Theater in France: Ten Years of Research (Dec. 1, 1977), pp. 135-138 Published by: University of Wisconsin Press Stable URL: Accessed: 09/03/2010 04:20
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makeup." in which art is conceived as "collective. props. conceived as an autonomously functioning entity. headdress. tone. kinesics. music. which pays homage to Wagnerian "Gesamtkunstwerk. and setting. in fact. according to the demands of the theory. a structure of signs. Moreover. Thus the results obtained remain specific to each system and are not always applicable to the stage. too often taken. gestures. nothing allows us to affirm that the discoveries of proxemics. Thus every theatrical sign-gestural. just that. in Litterature et spectacle. temporal. eternally in second place. from the very moment of conception of its staging. Tadeus Kowzan. each one autonomously. 1977 135 . We would like to depart from this view of the dramatic work as a sum of varying forms of expression which co-exist on the stage. its characteristics. the director is charged with distributing equitably the numerous impressions which strike the spectator at various moments of the diachrony and with integrating them into a harmonious whole. Sub-Stance NO 18/19. supposes an a priori agreement that any theatrical performance is a system.For a Semiotics of the Theater An analysis of the sign in respect to the theater. awaiting their advances in order to take a step forward itself. attempted to establish a comprehensive list. spatial-must necessarily be read in terms of its relation to the global structure which incorporates it rather than in terms of its more limited relation to the semiotic system to which it belongs. is established on the base of a uniform corpus without taking into account the interferences from other systems with which it interacts constantly. Director and actors collaborate on an equal footing to produce the same end. and its functions. the semiotics of the theater is condemned to follow in the wake of other systems of signs. not in order to contradict it-for the theater does in fact derive its specificity from a multitude of other semiotic systems which kinesics. mimicry. proxemics. actor. borrowing from other systems--which have already been organized functionally and socially-the elements of what will become a specific sign on stage: speech. each one of which possesses its own specific method of functioning and its own autonomy. The fundamental reason may be found in the fact that each of these systems invoked by the theater is necessarily defined in relation to other systems. elements of the setting. or paralinguistics will be able to find an application in the realm of the theater. movement on stage. Each of these systems. By continuing along the first course. each brings to the theater its particular semiosis. and paralinguistics propose to examine-but rather because we are confronted with the impossibility of affirming the unity of theatrical representation and of determining the characteristics of a specificity which differs from the simple recognition of the multiplicity of semiotic systems composing it. costumes. And every performance is. lighting. Music. text." producing a collective effect due to the combination of differing materials. and also in the fact that the sense of the play is produced dialectically by the convergence or shifting of the different significations conveyed by the various systems rather than within the framework of a single one of the systems involved. always remaining a tributary of the others. sound.

Wewould like to take up a position within this line of research. Therefore. the Prague School attempted to study languageas a functional system governednot only by the immanent forces of nature but also by culture and the subject itself. will be able to assure a scenic operation in which the role of a gesture. for any synchronic analysis of a work of art. Sound and Meaning [1976] and Semiotics of Arts [1976]). entitled respectively.that is."On the Potentiality of Language The dynamic characterof languageprevailedover the notion of its state as static. whatever they may be. In another respect. whence the difficulty of establishing a uniform corpus appropriateto the theater. but their efforts were interrupted by the war and have infrequentlybeen followed up. we shall have to consider signs in terms of the structureswhich integratethem into the play and in terms of their context and no longerby isolating them from their concrete manifestations. kinesics. gesture. who sought to introduce positivist principlesinto what:was at that time purely historical linguistics. Mathesius. and published under the direction of Ladislav Matejkaby the Universityof MichiganPressand MIT Press. a tone. and spaces of the play but rather to all of them individually.not to mention the other semiotic systemswhich overlapeach other and incorporatethem at the same time. of also taking into considerationits diachrony. the members of the Prague School emphasized the necessity. From this assumption derivesalso the necessity of finding a means and principlesof selection differentfrom uniformity of form of expression. rather than to take advantageof its conand clusions. In fact.prop.This step still remainsto be taken. as and propounded by the neo-grammarians. Sign. or a movement in space relates not only to the sum of the other gestures. As opposed to of the theories of the neogrammarians the late nineteenth century. linguistics. to the extent that this theory opened the way to the possibility of variationsin structurewhich would account for the functioning of the esthetic sign and of the subject. creativity of language(cf. and setting depend not only on their particular semiotic system and on a single field of investigation. but rather on all of them at one and the same time. allowing room in their theory for the personalexpressivityof the subjectand for the Phenomena"). most fields of semiotic research remain closed to any other manifestationof a system which might become parasitic or contradictory. in articlespublishedin Slovo a Slovenost and in the Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague. in order to delimit a field of researchcapable of securingthe specificity of theatricallanguage. These articles undertake an exploration of the whole problem of the theater.136 Josette Feral In other words.collected. was accompaniedby a theory of the sign viewed in a non-mechanisticway. Thus word. and in contrast to critics who accused them of severingart from reality. it seems unlikely that the discoveries to which this researchmay lead. thus they stressed the fact that art is not self-sufficient but rather constitutes an important component of the social structurewith which it is associatedin a dialectical . these articles have recently been translated.therein lies the prime necessity for constituting a uniform corpus. Certain members of the Prague School of Linguistics attempted to explore this problem as early as 1933. tones.beginningwith an inquiryinto the notions of sign and structure. since they concernmore often art in generalthan the theaterin particular relate more to the esthetic sign than to the specifically orderto profit by the spirit with which it has been conducted. proxemics. (Formerlyinaccessibleto a public unfamiliar with the Czech language.

that is." written in a didactic vein. "The Semiology of Theatrical Production. which endeavors to delineate theatrical discourse within its specificity (the notion of discourse is here taken in its widest acceptance. by way of conclusion. dynamism. The characteristics of the theatrical sign which distinguish it from the purely linguistic sign. since the theater still suffers from a presumption of reality which it is unable to shed." attempts to respond to the first point of laying the general foundation for a problematic study of the theatrical sign: the author endeavors to determine the specificity of the theatrical sign in relation to the linguistic sign. given that theater. * * * The text of Keir Elam. 2." treats the stage more as performance. implies above all movement. in contrast with a pictorial work. since it demonstrates that any staging ("mise en scene") is an act of putting into writing ("mise en ecriture") which appeals to the fantasy of the subject (in Kristeva's sense of the word). makeup). costumes. a warning which reminds us of the limits of any semiotic analysis. Adamov. As for the third problem. This theatrical sign. "Language in the Theater. a dialectic of various systems of signification among themselves. therefore: 1. whether this subject be represented by the director or an actor. It remains open to speculation and future research. The structure which incorporates the theatrical sign and its functioning. The second question is answered by the texts of Danielle Kaisergruber and Andre Helbo. is limited to the semiotic problems of the written theatrical text. the present inarticulate state of the semiotics of the theater does not yet allow its solution. including both discourse in the literal sense and also staging and the entire arrangement of the dramatic space as well as all gestures." we wished to include it in this section. each with its own approach. What we must try to specify is. There too the accent is on dialectical dynamism and not on an examination which would confine the work of art in order to grasp its nature more readily. Finally. As regards the text of Anne Ubersfeld on A. "Adamov Today. although its approach is not strictly semiotic. by taking as an example. the reader is referred to two books which mark the first phase in the establishment of a method of semiotic research specific to the . in order to remain in touch with practical experience. the case of a play which has been produced and whose "text" and staging are available through documents or direct experience. While Danielle Kaisergruber's "Reading and Producing Theater. once defined. 3. music.Semiotics of the Theater 137 relationship. We shall show how a purely synchronic study in this field would be of no avail and how diachrony intervenes inevitably in the establishment of meaning. The last point would aspire to show that the stage functions as a text and staging as an act of writing. Andre Helbo's article. or spectacle. It is easy to recognize the importance of such explanations for the semiotics of the theater. must be analyzed in terms of its relation to the surrounding reality and to the objects it introduces onto the stage. while remaining in constant contact with all other semiotic systems.

... II The Cin6mas Slides-Albums 8 Library binders... by Anne Ubersfeld.each containing120 slides taken from films of Renoir. .. I'Anthologie du Cin6ma The most outstandingcontemporary encyclopedia: 9 books 4500... . .... ..? . . . but they do take a new look at the stage for the first time. .. .. . .. completetexte of an opera.. J. .F. . .. . . ... .. a documentation. 1000playsalready published (sinceseptember1976) ClassiqueslAujourd'hui A Theater collectionof studiesandtextes forteaching. and Problemes de semiologie the'trale. 10 issues a year I'Avant-Scbne Th6atre I D I1i I'Avant-Sc6ne Cin6ma 20 issues a year. . 200 filmsalready published I'Avant-Scbne Op6ra (sincejanuary 1976) 6 double-issues year.. .commentaires. ... Would you be kind enough to send me freely your complete documentation about: D 20 issues a year. Bunuel. . .Godard. Western. ... . . by P. .. . .138 Josette Feral theater: Lire le theatre.. .. _UZiFL?~?re-rRr l . . . Fellini. . Pavis (see our book reviews).. Welles... .T . . Eisenstein. Translated by Karen Woodward DOCUMENTATION REQUEST NAMEAND ADDRESS ... These works do not claim to be comprehensive or to resolve the entire problem posed by the need for a more scientific and less historical method of approach to the dramatic text.Bergman.. . ml . ..pages 2500photos. .