Friday, February 29, 2008

A new way of thinking -- a new way of being

For years I have read the work of a thinker named Eric Gans. He is a professor at UCLA and has written for years on what he calls “Generative Anthropology” (GA) as well as the origin of language, the human and the divine.

Instead of me trying to poorly describe his thought I will share with you all a few links to his website. His website can be found at:

A link to his introduction to GA is here: and he has recently published a book entitled Scenic Imagination

Here is a link to his most recent Chronicle (a periodic essay he shares with a email distribution list), He describes this essay as, “another of the recent Chronicles that attempt to clarify the basic categories of GA. GA is ‘a new way of thinking’ only because the human is ‘a new mode of being.’” Below is the text of the first three paragraphs from this Chronicle:

Chronicles of Love and Resentment
Eric Gans
A New Mode of Being
No. 355: Saturday, March 1, 2008

Although language and the other forms of human representation are now recognized as unique in the animal kingdom, exploration of the specifically anthropological ontology characteristic of the linguistic sign is a virtual monopoly of generative anthropology, which hypothesizes that the transcendent status of the sign emerges in an originary event through the collective deferral of appetitive behavior. Saussure’s analysis of the sign as consisting of the communally shared relation between signifiant and signifié respects its ontological specificity more clearly than Peirce’s potentially unending chain of interpretants, but neither of these two pioneers of semiology attempted to understand language and its emergence as an anthropological phenomenon.

There is nothing mystical about claiming that the sign has a different ontology from the elements of the real world. A sign is not a thing; it is a complex of things and the relations among them, mediated by the community that exchanges them. Human language and other forms of representation exemplify a new mode of being discontinuous with earlier forms of communication and organization. Were all sign-users to vanish, this ontology would vanish with them, and the sign-traces left behind would become mere worldly objects--although their discovery by a future sign-user could restore them to their particular status.

The apparent similarity of the semiotic type-token relationship to that, for example, of the genotype and phenotype of a given species seems obvious only because we use language to describe it. Each horse is an individual, not a token in the sense that the last word of this sentence is a token of the word "horse." A genotype is an ideal construction to which each individual member of the species Equus caballus corresponds only approximately; a word-type is manifest in each token of a given word. And nothing in the natural world is analogous to the translatability of the type horse into that of Pferd or cheval while retaining essentially the same conceptual extension.

see for the complete text

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why are you not getting any comments? I happen to know that R' Rosensweig mentioned you to his class. Maybe you can hear it online. Best of luck to you.