Text Semiotics

Karin Wenz, Assistant Professor of English, University of Kassel

Eco develops his text semiotic that defines the role of the reader as being situated between textual closure, arising from authorial intention and other limits of interpretation, and interpretative openness, resulting from a multiplicity of hermeneutic codes and from semiosis as being an inferential process allowing an infinite series of interpretations (see also Lewis 1985).

Eco focusses on his view of the encyclopaedic nature of the semantic system, in which we find a key to Eco's text semiotics. In the semantic network and labyrinth of an encyclopaedia, all conceptual nodes are connected to form an unlimited semantic space. Thus, every sign is linked to the whole semantic universe, as Eco later puts it (1984: 46): "A sign is not only something which stands for somethingelse; it is also something that can and must be interpreted. The criterion of interpretability allows us to start from a given sign to cover step by step the whole universe of semiosis."

An important source of Eco's encyclopaedic account of meaning is the idea of serial thought. This idea, first introduced in Opera Aperta and resumed in later writings, forms an antithesis to the models of a static structuralism by relating meaning to the unlimited chain of messages to which it is serially connected.