Walker Percy Wednesday 137


I will not try to decide here whether what the word apple conjures up in your mind, its signifié, is a percept or a concept, because it is somewhere in between, A percept refers to an individual apple. A concept is an abstraction from all apples, a definition of apple. But the signifié of apple is both and neither. What comes to mind when I hear apple, what in fact the word articulates within itself, is neither an individual apple nor a definition of apple but a quality of appleness, such as John Cheever intended in his title, World of Apples. Perhaps it should be called a “concrete concept” or an “abstract percept,” or what Gerard Manley Hopkins called inscape.
Let us take note of a notorious philosophical farrago without attempting to resolve it: Why is it that when we look at an apple, we believe we are looking at an apple out there, and not at sensory impression, a picture, in our brain? This puzzle can hardly be addressed here, since it is nothing less than the main source of the troubles which have dogged solipsist philosophers from Descartes and Locke to the present day. My own conviction is that semiotics provides an escape from the solipsist prison by its stress on the social origins of language—you have to point to an apple and name it for me before I know there is such a thing—and the existence of a world of apples outside ourselves.


One sees a line of ants crossing the sidewalk and sees it as—ants crossing the sidewalk. Fabre saw ants crossing the sidewalk and stopped to wonder where they came from, where they were going, how they knew how to get there, and why. Then, like von Frisch and his bees, he discovered there is no end to the mystery of ants.


Consciousness: Conscious from conscio, I know with.
Consciousness is that act of attention to something under the auspices of its sign, an act which is social in its origin. What Descartes did not know: no such isolated individual as he described can be conscious.


It is also not an accident that grammatical usage requires that conscious and consciousness are generally followed by of. One is always conscious of something.
It is also the case that one is always conscious of something as something—its sign.
If a hunter is conscious of an animal in the field, it is part of the act of consciousness to place it—as a rabbit, fox, deer.

If a hunter is conscious of an animal in the field, it is part of the act of consciousness to place it—as a rabbit, fox, deer.


The fateful flaw of human semiotics is this: that of all the objects in the entire Cosmos which the sign-user can apprehend through the conjoining of signifier and signified (word uttered and thing beheld), there is one which forever escapes his comprehension—and that is the sign-user himself.
Semiotically, the self is literally unspeakable to itself. One cannot speak or hear a word which signifies oneself, as one can speak or hear a word signifying anything else, e.g., apple, Canada, 7Up.
The self of the sign-user can never be grasped, because, once the self locates itself at the dead center of its world, there is no signified to which a signifier can be joined to make a sign. The self has no sign of itself. No signifier applies. All signifiers apply equally.
You are Ralph to me and I am Walker to you, but you are not Ralph to you and I am not Walker to me. (Have you ever wondered why the Ralphs you know look as if they ought to be called Ralph and not Robert?)
For me, certain signifiers fit you, and not others. For me, all signifiers fit me, one as well as another. I am rascal, hero, craven, brave, treacherous, loyal, at once the secret hero and asshole of the Cosmos.
You are not a sign in your world. Unlike the other signifiers in your world which form more or less stable units with the perceived world-things they signify, the signifier of yourself is mobile, freed up, and operating on a sliding semiotic scale from –α to α.

The signified of the self is semiotically loose and caroms around the Cosmos like an unguided missile.
From the moment the signifying self turned inward and became conscious of itself, trouble began as the sparks flew up.