Jeff Bernard In Memorian

Jeff Bernard In Memorian: 12.09.1943–24.02.2010

Gloria Withalm Death Notice

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with deepest sorrow that I announce the death of our friend and colleague, my partner Jeff Bernard.

Jeff passed away entirely unexpectedly after suffering a severe heart attack on Wednesday, February 24, 2010.

Please find attached the death notice giving details concerning the date and place of the burial service. I have scheduled the funeral at this date to give as many friends and colleagues as possible the chance to bid a last farewell to Jeff.
I would appreciate to welcome you at the service.

You are kindly asked to distribute the sad news and the death notice in your own circles since I’m not sure to have valid email addresses of everybody who knew him.
Enclosed you will also find a very brief biographical note. By the end of next week I will try to open a small site on Jeff within my own website
offering information on and pictures of Jeff for possible memorial notes and obituaries. In case you find a possibility to include a short or even longer commemorative text in your journal or newsletter, I would be deeply grateful for this kind of appreciation. Moreover, I would like to ask you to send any pictures of Jeff taken at one of the many semiotic congresses and events he attended over the decades — we certainly don’t have copies of all of them.
Kind regards,

Gloria Withalm

Fri, 5 Mar 2010 15:57:00 +0100

Funeral & Burial Service

Susan Petrilli text written in Jeff Bernard honour. The text was read in his funeral.

For Jeff Bernard

(written between 17 and 18 March 2010)

I first met Jeff Bernard with Gloria Withalm in 1984, at the IV International Conference, entitled “Signs of Humanity/ L’homme et ses signes”, organized by the International Association for Semiotic Studies. The conference took place in two cities, first in Barcellona (Spain) and then Perpignan (France), between 31 March and 6 April. It was Thomas A. Sebeok who presented me to Jeff and Gloria in Perpignan. They were happily involved under various aspects in the organization of this big event, and I remember being impressed – such an outstanding couple, and really committed to semiotics, to the international association, to the people involved. They seemed to really care. It was my first impact with semiotics internationally.

However, our friendship came later, in 1992, when we met again at another International Conference, this time a conference dedicated to the great Italian master of signs, Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, whom we sadly lost in 1985, him too prematurely and unexpectedly. I met Jeff more closely on that occasion, as a friend, great admirer and promoter of Rossi-Landi and his work. The conference was organized by Janos Kelemen, a friend to both Ferruccio and Jeff, with the participation of the Austrian Semiotics Society. It took place at the Hungarian Academy on the 21 February 1992. Jeff was then 49 years of age and more than ever a contagious enthusiast, full of ideas for research and meetings of various sorts. He came up with plans to get people together and share ideas, he was moved by ideals, by a strong sense of purpose, by a strong sense of community, in Charles Morris’s sense of course, the “open community”.

The Conference Proceedings were published in 1994, under the editorship of Jeff Bernard himself, with Massimo A. Bonfantini, Janos Kelemen and Augusto Ponzio, under the title, Reading su Ferruccio Rossi-Landi. Semiotica come pratica sociale, in the book series “Semiosis. Il senso e la fabbrica dei testi”, directed by Massimo Bonfantini. I took care of the typographical aspect of the volume, issues connected with style, and with Augusto we edited Rossi-Landi’s bibliography and updated it to 1993.

On the back cover Jeff Bernard was presented as follows:

Jeff Bernard, sociologist, semiotician, architect, has published numerous volumes, directs the Institute for Socio-semiotic Studies in Vienna; he is the Secretary General of the Austrian Association for Semiotics; Director of the S–European Journal of Semiotic Studies and co-director of the journal Semiotische Berichte.

To this let me add that from 1994 to 2004, he also acted as Secretary General of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, ten years officially in that role and this was just the point of an iceberg. The context of his commitment was much more extensive and articulated, before, during and after that which was, without a doubt, an extraordinary decade for semiotics internationally. And as the years rolled on from the time of our meeting in Rome, in 1992, our contacts intensified. Having anything to do with Jeff and Gloria was like being part of a semiotic family, an open semiotic family: Jeff and Gloria were always genuinely interested, generous, and totally involved. They had semiotic research at heart and together were an inexhaustible source of information, ideas and initiatives. Together they created an incredible network of relations and interconnections among people and institutions – and at a time when internet and emails were not as serviceable as they are today. Jeff and Gloria were committed and busy workers. The energy that together they transmitted throughout that network of relations was always innovative, revitalizing, exciting.

At the conference in Rome, we founded the Ferruccio Rossi-Landi Network. This initiative was promoted by Jeff and with him Janos Kelemen, Massimo Bonfantini and Augusto Ponzio. Jeff proposed Ponzio, him too an important Rossi-Landi scholar and promoter of his work, as President of the Network.

The title of Jeff’s paper at the International conference on Ferruccio Rossi-Landi was “The social philosophy and socio-semiotics of Ferrucio Rossi-Landi. Already in the title Jeff Bernard grasped an important aspect of Rossi-Landi’s work, that is, the fact that Rossi-Landi did not identify completely with semiotics. And, in fact, Rossi-Landi considered himself as a philosopher, specifically, a philosopher of language: his last book, published in 1985, the year of this death, is entitled Metodica filosofica e scienza dei segni.

Jeff’s paper was the first to be delivered at the 1992 Rossi-Landi conference, and is the one that opens the proceedings: the analysis Jeff offered was accurate and detailed, as was in his style. On the blackboard first (powerpoint was not yet available to us), and in the Proceedings afterwards, the graphs accompanying Jeff’s verbal discourse were numerous, and this too was characteristic of his style. He liked to visualize ideas, and translated the fundamental concepts of what he called Rossi-Landi’s “social philosophy,” into graphic icons, and did so brilliantly – this must have been the artist in him. Like Rossi-Landi, Jeff was plurivocal, he was not just a semiotician, he was an architect, a musician, and above all a man with a vocation for listening.

Jeff drew up a schema in which he illustrates the relationship between ideology as false thinking, ideology as world-view, and ideology as social planning. In another figure he admirably visualized Rossi-Landi’s homological model, and in yet another he presented the “Schema of Social Reproduction” which Rossi-Landi considered as the arché, the principium of all things.

From the conference in Rome onwards, there was a real crescendo in our contacts between myself, Augusto Ponzio and Jeff in Vienna. Our meetings were numerous and always interesting, full of promise. Occasions for collaboration intensified as we progressed from one project to the next, organizing conferences and publications. Jeff invited me to organize a session with him under the title “Semiosis, Community, Sociality”, at the 7th IASS Congress that took place in Dresden, in 1999. I was honoured. Jeff and Gloria were in Bari on diverse occasions. We collaborated in the preparation of another international conference in honour of Rossi-Landi, “The Relevance of Rossi-Landi’s Semiotics Today,” the title was Jeff’s, which took place in Bari from 14 to 16 November, 2002. The proceedings appeared in 2003-4, under the title Lavoro immateriale, as a special issue of the book series Athanor, founded by Augusto Ponzio with Claude Gandelman, in 1989, and still directed by Augusto (we lost Claude, again prematurely in 1996). Thanks to Jeff, Augusto and myself published a special issue of the journal Semiotishe berichte, entitled Signs of Research on Signs which appeared in 1998, and another special issue of S–European Journal for Semiotic Studies, under the title Semiotic Studies in Bari, published in 1999. Jeff did all the work himself, including the typesetting. To meet deadlines, I remember frantically exchanging emails with him deep into the night for proof corrections. There were no limits to Jeff’s generous dedication, to his hospitality and participation.

I think it’s fair enough to say that the thread running through our relationship with Jeff has always been our common interest in Ferruccio Rossi-Landi. Rossi-Landi was the reason our friendship started in the first place.

With Augusto Ponzio we were also in Vienna to celebrate Jeff’s 60th birthday. But the last time we saw Jeff was at a conference organized by himself and Kelemen, in Vienna and then in Budapest, in December 2005. The occasion, promoted once again by Jeff, was Ferruccio Rossi-Landi. Jeff’s paper was entitled, “Ferrucci Rossi-Landi and a Short History of the Rossi-Landi Network”, and is available on the relative website, directed by Augusto Ponzio.

These are just some aspects concerning our work and collaboration together, and it goes without saying that much more could be said.

Instead, as to the sense of friendship that has always bonded me as much as Augusto to Jeff over the years, how not to say that as a friend Jeff was unique, a friend without equals for humane intelligence, loyalty and generosity, such that the sense of pain for the loss and for the void our dear Jeff has left in us and in our work, is sense beyond words.

Susan Petrilli

More texts can be found at

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