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Revolution of the OrdinaryLiterary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell$
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Toril Moi

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226464305

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226464589.001.0001

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Language, Sign, World

(p.113) 5 Saussure
Revolution of the Ordinary

Toril Moi

University of Chicago Press

While Saussure set out to found linguistics as a science, Wittgenstein sought to understand our lives in language. For this reason, their different visions of language don’t directly compete. This chapter re-assesses Saussure’s concepts of language, speech and speaking; reconsiders the theory of the split sign (the idea that the sign consists of signifier and signified) and its further development in the post-Saussurean concept of the “mark”, or the so-called “materiality of the signifier.” It provides a fresh look at the claim that the “sign is arbitrary,” and investigates the status of the concept of “reference” in Saussure’s work. The chapter shows that Benveniste misreads Saussure in his famous analysis of the Saussurean sign, and criticizes Kirby’s and Meisel and Saussy’s recent “new materialist” readings of Saussure, which it sees as the latest chapter in the long history of post-Saussurean attempts to “philosophize” Saussure. Post-Saussurean readings of Saussure exemplify the “Augustinian picture of language” criticized by Wittgenstein. Casting language as a self-contained system of differences, such readings divorce language from the world, fail to account for the role of speakers, and produce a wholly skeptical vision of language.

Keywords:   Ferdinand de Saussure, Augustinian picture of language, Emile Benveniste, new materialism, Vicki Kirby, the mark, arbitrariness of the sign, reference, materiality of the signifier, post-Saussurean theory

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