First, my apologies for not having posted anything in a while – I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts on a recent semiotic anthropology-related article, and hope that others might wish to post reviews or info about recent (or older) articles/monographs in semiotic anthropology to this group (I know a few posts here already include citations to specific works): perhaps we could start a running bibliography on semiotic anthropology (maybe a link to a wiki page would be better for that?)

Here’s the complete citation:

Crossland, Zoë. 2009. “Of Clues and Signs: The Dead Body and Its Evidential Traces”. American Anthropologist. v.111(1):69-80.

In it Crossland examines some of the semiotic dynamics at work in the interpretation of dead human bodies – something relevant to archaeology, bio-anthropology, forensic anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology. Drawing upon M. Taussig’s work in Mimesis and Alterity (and applying Peirce’s semiotic description of the different sign-types) she notes the kind of magical thinking at work in some forensic sciences, as they oscillate between the iconic and indexical aspects of dead human bodies. This really spurred my thinking about matter (Peirce’s ‘mind hidebound with habit’), and human identity: when does one’s body become an index of the person? When it’s dead? Is this the moment of slight remove, the slight mediation of self, from being iconic (identical with the habits of habit-change that mark the human self) to indexical with self – i.e., the dead body points to the person that was, in a factual way (i.e., a real existential connection)?

Crossland also discusses the uncanny – the unheimlich – aspect of the dead with respect to this oscillation between the submerged iconic and indexical foregrounding through which the dead body represents (maybe that’s why zombies are so creepy – they are lurching and struggling toward iconicity, while being arrested in indexicality… that, and their proto-hominid gait, which doesn’t help matters any).

In any event, it’s a really good article, if others have comments/critique, send them on, and please feel free to send on other readings/research in semiotic anthro as we build this field further – (if we start generating a bibliography I can try to compile it at some point so that it can be added to).

Veerendra (Veve)

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