CFP: VS Special Issue, Forms of Life / Forms of the Body: Case Studies

Call for papers for VS. – Quaderni di studi semiotici, n. 128 (01/2019)

Special Issue:


Edited by Gianfranco Marrone and Francesco Mazzucchelli


The semiotic notion of “form of life” is somehow self-evident and  confused at once. After being explored and discussed at length for  years, today it is used by many scholars in different contexts and with various purposes, making of it a typical blanket term. At the same time, the current debate inside the science of signification seems to ignore, or even dispense with, several issues related to such notion, declaring it out of date by default, despite of its obvious relevance.

On the one hand, the question posed by the notion of “form of life” echoes various contributions from philosophy of language (Wittgenstein) and sociology of consumption (with their assonance with another notion, that of ‘life styles’), as well as from phenomenology of perception (the concept of “coherent deformation” proposed by Merleau-Ponty). On the other hand, it is rooted in the dispute against the alleged universality of the Canonic Narrative Scheme, from which the idea of beau geste proposed by the last Greimas – thanks to which ethics and aesthetics seem from time to time to prevail over the algorithmic projectuality of narrativity. Beside “pragmatic subjectivities”, based on cognitively controlled decisions, other kinds of subjectivity and experience emerge, more interested towards affectivity, aesthetic expressivity, self-care and body-ostentation, or towards the achievement of a more or less ascetic – and sensual – well-being.

Lots of examples could be provided: from the beau geste of the contemptuous medieval knight to the Brazilian sambas watered with beer, from the bungee-jumping of teenagers in search of strong emotions to the silent ritual of sharing a coffee or a cigarette, from an hallucinated and solitary mescaline experience to the everyday urban prêt-à-porter fashion performances along city streets riddled with global brands. In any event, what is at stake is always the same need of theatralization, the same desire of showing off a personal way of life in the evanescent stage of the world.

These are not accidents: the possibility of staging a form of life seems to be part of it. Without the exhibition of personal ways to reshape social codes, the very existence of a form of life would be undermined. On the one hand, this theatrical aspect links together ethics (which in principle should be from the producer side) and aesthetics (which vice versa lies on the interpreter’s side): urged by an unexpected act and “caught in wonder”, the spectator reconsiders his values, comparing them with those of the others, and eventually reshapes the intersubjective shared social value (‘How things really are’). On the other hand, the showed-off gesture emerges, so to say, metonymically, representing itself as part of a whole which is waiting to be told. It is well-known, a text is not just a fragment of a broader culture, it can effectively express the whole form of that culture, that is being condensed in it. In the same way, a small gesture, the detail of an action or a behavior shall express the form of life of who, assuming it, publicly puts it on display, and thus the entire system of value from which his everyday
practice, choices of life, tastes, decisions, ethical and political beliefs are organized. As everybody knows, a way of dressing can be a way of life, in a deep tension between condensation and expansion,
manifestation and deepness, textuality and narrativity, going far beyond the world of dressing to encompass any event or process of individual and social lives.

In Semiotics, to talk about a form of life, a Subject is requested to select a semantic category (e.g., at an aspectual level, perfectivity rather than an incompleteness, iterativity, rather than terminativity),
framing it as a dominant one inside his existential organization, as all the other categories should be derived from it, or somehow traced back to it, in an incessant movement between expansion and condensation. Given this, the notion of form of life naturally interacts with another semiotic phenomenon, which is, by definition, a massive mover of significance: body and physicality. In Semiotics (as well as in the rest of Humanities), there is an immense literature on the body, but a focused reflection on how its social uses produce veritable forms of life has been rarely proposed. As mentioned earlier, clothing and
dressing are themselves forms of life, but similar consideration could be done for many other (anthropologically and semiotically assorted) phenomena. The aesthetics of everyday life – from Lotman to De Certeau, from Barthes to Greimas and many others – are simply a combination of body social uses and forms of life.

Hence, our decision to dedicate a special issue of Versus to the relationship between forms of life and forms of the body. Articles on this topic are requested, with a specific preference for those focused
on case studies, in a necessary and constant dialogue with analogous research which are being conducted in Ethnology (e.g. the ontologies studied by Descola), Social Sciences and Philosophy (e.g. the modes of existence by Bruno Latour), but also in Linguistics, Philosophy, Sociology, Literary Studies, Psychology, Cognitivism, Anthropology, Cultural Studies etc.

This special issue shall then include contributions aimed at relaunch the semiotic research on forms of life, moving from an empirical perspective, and based on the analysis of observable semiotic processes,
caught in their textual or discursive dimension. Possible areas of interest include (but are not limited to):

-Forms of life and narrativity: how may the notion of form of life be integrated within the classic paradigm of narrativity, meant as the basic mechanism of any form of signification? And how, conversely, can
this notion contribute to shed a new light on it, underlining a diversion from the most canonic forms and in direction towards aesthesic/aesthetic and passional dimensions? How can the narrative and
strategic dimension of social behavior be accounted, not just in terms of adhesion to (or deviance from) given cultural codes, but including the processes of subject construction, as well its inclusion in
practices of (auto and hetero) representation?

-Forms of life and Semiotics of Culture: from Lotman’s pages (e.g. his essay about the Decembrists, where the investigation of “group behavior” relates to the observation of “historical and social types of reaction” and “mechanism of behavior adjustment”) up to the recent theoretical proposals by Fontanille (who expressly includes the analysis of forms of life inside a plan of reconstruction of “great syntagmatics of semiosphere”), the study of form of life evokes unavoidably themes and
problems usually addressed by Semiotics of culture: what is the heuristic potential of this notion, compared to a perspective which aims to address the “logics of culture”? May it bridge textualist and
culturalist Semiotics?

-Forms of life, life-styles, aesthetics of the everyday: on the one hand, forms of life have often been analyzed by Semiotics and especially Sociosemiotics, although sometimes using different phrasings and concepts (practices, social behaviors, life-styles, etc.), on the other hand, many disciplines close to Semiotics (Philosophy of Language, Aesthetics, Anthropology, Sociology of Cultural Processes, Cognitive Sciences, Literary Studies…) have used it, or theorized on it, in forms which are more or less compatible with Semiotics. What is the semiotic specificity of the notion of form of life and its semiotic
pertinence in relation to the phenomenona it wants to designate?

More precisely, with regard to body social uses, the areas for which we are requesting papers are, for instance:

-Fashion and clothing: a classic topic for Semiotics which, if reframed in terms of forms of life, could pinpoint new directions of research. This thematic area may include also tattoos, piercing and scarification cultures, which lie midway between fashion trends and anthropological
rituals, highlighting the cosmetic treatment of the body as an authentic lifestyle; but also, more widely, all those objects with which bodies continually relate producing “hybrids” of various types;

-The so-called “food tribes” – vegetarians, vegans, raw foodists, paleo, sushists, gluten-free people, no-carb people, etc. – for which food is an actual ideology, defining also an ethics, a metaphysics and a
politics as well. Dietology and all the related issues trace back to such “food ideologies”, recalling the ancient Greek notion of “good citizen”, which combines dietary regimes and meaning regimes;

-Sports, including gyms but also all the strategies of body reformation (transformation) and conformation (alignment to standards), not just for recreational purposes, but in view of processes of (both individual and social) identity claiming;

-The long-standing point at issue with regard to medical science and health discourses, which lean more and more towards a mythological acclamation and/or a social downgrading of it: whatever happened to the ill body standing in front of the medical eye? And to what extent does
the latter aim at re-establishing health rather than simply to a performance improvement (at all levels) of the healthy body?

-The recurrent theme, in Semiotics, associated with the manifold developments of life/death semantic opposition, whose apparent universality maybe deserves today a theoretical rethinking, in the light
of the current differing ways to consider the beginning and the end of life, as well as practices of commemoration of the dead.

*_Submission and deadlines:_*

– 05/10/2018: submission of an abstract no longer than 500 words (plus a bibliography and a short biography)

– 15/10/2018: notification of abstract acceptance or refusal

– 31/01/2019: full paper submission

Abstract will be selected through a preliminary editorial review. All papers will be double-blind peer reviewed.

Abstract and papers must be sent to the following addresses: <> <> <>

Accepted languages: English, French, Italian.

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