Language As Work & Trade

Ferruccio Rossi-Landi

The essays addressed some dominant cultural trends with an aim of changing some of their basic tenets both by the introduction of new ideas and by the construction of new relations among ideas which were already being discussed. To pare it to the bone, there was then a great divide between socio-oriented scholars, usually but not necessarily Marxists of orthodox or unorthodox description, and "human scientists", a denomination I am here using to refer to scholars specialized in, and more often than not confined to, some field of enquiry such as linguistics, literary criticism, anthropology, or psychology. Semiotic studies were at the time disregarded both by social philosophers and by human scientists. The attitudes of the two groups were of course different. Marxists considered semiotics and other human sciences as " bourgeois" and " separatist," whereas human scientists considered Marxism to be " non-scientific", or " scientific in fields that are not our own". The consequence of this was that Marxists despised semiotics , while human scientists were afraid of it because of the unifying power of a generalized science of all systems of signs. Both were ignorant of semiotics, but the self-justifications were again different. Too many Marxists placed themselves in the position of refusing new ideas and new intellectual techniques with the argument that they were of " neocapitalistic descent" . In this way they short-sightedly confined their attention to the origin of ideas (or to what they thought was their origin) and refused to operate creatively upon them. Scholars specializing in the human sciences were not only insensitive to social philosophy (leaving alone the dialectic of theory and practice) , but liked to use special blinders preventing them from looking outside of their specialization. The latter only cultivated their garden, while the former refused to acknowledge that there were new gardens to cultivate. The little warfare that I waged in the essays collected in this book was directed against both. I also had to develop an approach against the separatism of so many specialized scholars, trying to show that their limited activities could be traced back to , and given more relevance by, a generalized science of all sign systems. There was a further dimension which, perhaps paradoxically, was of importance for both targets. This was a vindication of the intellectual power of Marxist methodology. At a deeper level, it was a vindication of Marx as a thinker, a figure more damaged than not by the often indiscriminate use made of his ideas, and sometimes only of his name, by so many wildly different political movements.

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