Signs and figures: Some remarks about Greimas’ theory of the figurative

Paolo Bertetti


The paper is a first attempt to analyse Greimas’ theory of the figurative from a “philological” perspective and discuss some hitherto unresolved issues. In particular, the paper will focus on four main topics: (1) the relation with Hjelmslev’s conception of the figure, showing that while Greimas’ conception of the figure is closely related to that of Hjelmslev’s – mainly in the fact that the figure is placed below the sign – it does, however, possess quite different and peculiar features; (2) the problem of the significant nature of figures, that emerges in many writings of Greimas’ and those of his followers, in which figures are not considered elements of the content that are smaller than a sign, with no autonomous meaning, but as already significant entities; (3) the problematic distinction between the thematic and the figurative; (4) the nature and limits of a semiotics of the sensible, and the (im)possibility of redefining and studying figurativity, not as given in a text, but when first grasped at the moment of perception.


figurative; figures; generative trajectory; natural world; thematic; perception

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia