Project without external funding

The Crisis of Representation: Its Semiotic Foundations and its Manifestations in Culture and the Media

Project Details
Project duration: 01/200012/2004

Crisis of Representation was the topic of the German-Italian Semiotic Colloquium at the Wissenschaftliches Zentrum für Kulturforschungof the University of Kassel. It took place in February 2000, organized by Winfried Nöth, at the initiative and with the generous support of Luigi Volta, Director of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Frankfurt am Main in cooperation with the German Association for Semiotic Studies.

At the threshold from the second to the third millennium, postmodern philosophers, cultural critics, media theorists, and poststructuralist semioticians are discussing the crisis of representation. In a world of delusions, illusions, simulacra, and virtual realities, but also of constructed realities and of 'deconstructed' textualities, the means of representation, the signs, seem to dissolve and become autonomous semiotic agents in the ongoing process of infinite semiosis.

The crisis of representation is the apprehension of a world in which the signs have lost their power to represent anything. Words become deprived of their referent, images are no longer anchored in reality, the media become more and more self-referential, and the result is a world of virtual or hyperrealities. Texts begin to lose their structural autonomy and ramify in a network of hypertextualities. Closely related is the debate about the 'decentering' of the semiotic subject. The idea of the autonomous subject seems to be threatened by discovery of the evolutionary and genetic determination of humans as well as by the ever increasing participation of semiotic machines in human processes of communication. The apocalyptic scenario of a 'posthuman age' is symptomatic of the visions of those who fear this variant of the crisis of representation.

And yet, the discourse is divided. While cultural critics and postmodern philosophers evoke the scenario of crisis, cognitive and computer scientist have been concerned more and more with research in models of mental or artificial representations of the world in human minds, computers, robots, or even in the minds of artificial lives. At the same time, however, the idea of a crisis of representation is gaining support from research in the 'exact' sciences: In physics, quantum theory has demonstrated the impossibility of an unbiased, 'objective' observation and hence representative of the world. In mathematics, catastrophe theory has drawn our attention to ruptures in dynamical and apparently continuous processes. Finally, chaos theory has testified to the existence of identities and self-similarities in apparently chaotic processes and has thus given further evidence to support the idea of self-referentiality in nature.

The contributions of the participants of this colloquium to the questions raised by the debate on the crisis of representation are neither 'apocalyptic' nor are they merely 'integrated.' The focus is on the semiotic foundations of the crisis of representation: will representation still be possible in the third millennium, or will the idea of representation prove to be an illusion of the first two millennia of our era?

The results of this research project have been published in the special issue of Semiotica 143.1-4 (2003), edited by Winfried Nöth and Christina Ljungberg. The contributions, dividen into four thematic sections, are:

The Semiotic Challenge
Winfried Nöth Crisis of representation?
Solomon Marcus Representation: Between normality and pathology
Ugo Volli Crisis of representation, crisis of representational semiotics
Uwe Wirth Derrida and Peirce on indeterminacy, iteration, and replication
Lucia Santaella-Braga Why there is no crisis of representation according to Peirce
Poststructuralist Positions
Peter Rusterholz On the crisis of representation
Dieter Mersch Writing and event
Hans-Georg Möller Before and after representation
Culture, Social Systems, and History
Josef Wallmannsberger An apparatus of one's own: Modalities of representation and the two cultures
Tarja Knuuttila Is representation really in crisis?
Ren? Jorna & Barend van Heusden Why representation(s) will not go away: Crisis of concept or crisis of theory?
Federico Montanari Crisis of representation in the journalistic communication during the Kosovo War
M?rcio Seligman-Silva Catastrophe and representation: History as trauma
Aesthetics and the Digital Media
Claus Dreyer The crisis of representation in contemporary architecture
Guido Ipsen The crisis of cognition in hypermedia
Karin Wenz Representation and self-reference: Peirce's sign and its application to the computer

The results of this project are the basis of a follow-up project: Self-Reference in the Media.

Principal Investigator

Last updated on 2017-11-07 at 14:00