Aesthetic regulation of objectionable representations. A semiotic approach to memorials and religious architectural space.

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Whenever a material object is selected to represent a physically absent, but emotionally present referent, such as a religious figure or a deceased relative, we have a complex representation situation that involves what we could tentatively label “transgressive cognitive acts”. A transgressive cognitive act is here meant to involve a part that is experienced as present, and as having an effect, but not evidenced from a rationalist or scientific perspective on existence. Sometimes, the complexity of this type of representation is such that argumentation beside the theological, e.g. aesthetic, comes to stand as vicarious to theological or existential opinions about the matter. The semiotics of such vicarious representation have to consider a “leaking” communication model where one part in the trinity - of the sender, the receiver or the referent - escape a coherent or evidenced definition (God can be all three, depending on type of communication). The fact that empirically non-existing referents have been recognized and theorized in semiotics (Eco; Sonesson; and others) does not explain why certain cases of absent semiotic agents, linked to religious belief, or to sense of presence in grief of a deceased person, may give rise to such extreme degree of emotion or sense of existence.
Departing from a narrated episode written by J M Coetzee, about the controversy brought up by a crucifix, turning into a quarrel about aesthetic preferences, this paper discusses a series of designed or spontaneously created spatial representations of physically absent, but indirectly and emotionally present referents, as they appear in memorials, cemeteries and funeral chapels. In public acts of memorialisation, the physical objects that represent the deceased – like gravestones or memorial objects placed at sites representing the dead – are often strictly regulated, differently in different cultures. When for instance they appear at unexpected places in the urban environment, or with unfamiliar looks, memorials and their material culture can become highly controversial or be regarded as objectionable.
These materialisations with a relation to religion, or existential belief, may give rise to arguments where the aesthetic aspect is the last chance to state a principle order in the cultural scheme in which they are debated. Such arguments are actualised in the current debate about post-secular societies, where it is for instance stated (Habermas) that both religious and secular mentalities must be open to a complementary learning if we are to balance shared citizenship and cultural difference in the post-secular society. It is an objective of this paper to show that the recognition of a semiotics that involves the paradoxical presence of emotionally strong, but fundamentally absent parts in communication can contribute to the aesthetics of physically present, but existentially debated objects, as well as to the discussion about the confronting as well as conjoining elements of regulation of these issues in society.


Enheter & grupper

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Konst
  • Filosofi, etik och religion
Titel på värdpublikationGlobal Semiotics
Undertitel på gästpublikationBridging Different Civilizations
FörlagIASS Publications & Hohai University Press
ISBN (tryckt)ISBN 978-7-5630-3743-8
StatusPublished - 2012
Peer review utfördJa
EvenemangIASS-AIS conference, 2012 - Nanjing University, Nanjing, Kina
Varaktighet: 2012 okt 52012 okt 9
Konferensnummer: 11


KonferensIASS-AIS conference, 2012