BMCR 1990.02.05

Sources of Semiotic: Readings with Commentary from Antiquity to the Present

, Sources of Semiotic: Readings with Commentary from Antiquity to the Present. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Pp. xvi, 208. ISBN 0809316137

This book is a welcome and useful collection of short selections from primary sources in translation, with concise linking commentary. Down to Kant, the arrangement is chronological, but thereafter it breaks up into sections composed around distinctive approaches to the subject. Though it is nowhere identified as such, it seems very much the sort of successful anthology that emerges from several practice runs in a well-organized advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate course. Everything about it is clear, concise, and utilitarian.

Two limitations need to be marked for readers of BMCR. First, the ancient and medieval sections fill only 30 pages, and the ancient authors are limited to Hippocrates, Aristotle, Quintilian, Sextus Empiricus, and St. Augustine. Second, the anthologist is himself an analytic philosopher and has deliberately constructed this selection to complement others now in existence and to be used with existing histories of semiotics. Accordingly, the emphasis to most classicists who wish to expand their range of information will seem unusually shifted away from the literary implications of the subject. C.S. Peirce, Carnap, Quine, and Chomsky loom larger than the few names from the contemporary and near-contemporary European schools who appear (Saussure in two pages, Barthes in 7, Jakobson in 2), and the concluding pages are devoted to “recent philosophical developments” among mainly analytic philosophers.

It is of particular value that as the anthology approaches the present, the accompanying commentary becomes more aggressive at pointing out open areas of controversy and discussion and thus at stimulating readers to look beyond the tradition to the direction such studies may now reasonably take.

In short, the book is intelligent and extremely useful, given the right audience.