Q: When we interpret an artwork or literature and deconstruct its meta-levels of meanings from the unlimited semiosis perspective, how could we make sure that we don’t overinterpret it given the limited preferred message embedded by the painter or the author?
Q: Combining Hall’s Encoding and Decoding theory, does the semiosis contribute shift of power from media to audiences since audiences are able to interpret the message sent by media in unlimited ways and the generate more meanings based on the single message?
It is very fascinating to see that people from different areas use similar ways to endow various meaning to different things. In the literature area, different layers of meanings and interpretations also exist. I was requested to read a German novel Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren written by Wolf Haas when I was an undergraduate student. The professor also talked about a similar concept: die Intertextualität. This is a novel that has different levels of plots and is famous for its complexity of narrative technique. The whole book is a dialog between “der Erzähler Wolf Hass” and “die Literaturkritikerin” about his new, actually fictive fiction with the title Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren. Thus, Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren is the title of this real novel, also the title of the fictive novel mentioned in this real novel. It also denotes the weather of the day when the story exactly happens 15 years ago in the fictive novel. The author also embeds intertextual references to other works by himself in the interview, which in turn make a connection between fictional and real author and blur the boundary between the novel and the reality. Such recursive progress of encoding meaning is creative, leaving readers to discover the unlimited interpretation embedded in one phrase.
In the realm of art, metapainting stands for the outcome of such generativity and recursion. What is depicted in a piece of metapainting is greatly based on the abundance of greatest paintings in history. The genre of metapainting directly supports that previous artworks can, in some way, generate more paintings and add value to the following paintings. In the course of metapainting production, artists add their personal preference and thought into the painting, while the social context also embeds social norms in the painting. One artwork could, on the one hand, generates unlimited more meanings embedded in other artworks, and, on the other hand, be interpreted into infinite meanings because of the existence of previous artworks.
Mona Lisa in Morse’s Painting (source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gallery_of_the_Louvre_1831-33_Samuel_Morse.jpg)
Instead of taking an artwork as a whole, to look at it from a more fragmented perspective, people must be again surprised at its meta-levels of meanings. Each object depicted in a painting could be simultaneously regarded as an icon, index or symbol. Morse may be only aware of the symbolic function of the Mona Lisa when he chose to paint it in his painting, but many more levels of meanings and representations could be deconstructed. For example, the Mona Lisa depicted on the wall of Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre could be first seen as an icon, because people will recognize the likeness between the authentic artwork and the imitating one at the first glance. Meanwhile, it is semiotically also an index: The Mona Lisa is a portrait of the actual lady Mona Lisa, while the Mona Lisa on the wall of Gallery of the Louvre imitated by Morse is also a painting of the authentic artwork Mona Lisa. In a higher level, the Mona Lisa is also a symbol, representing a masterpiece in art history, the flourishment of art in Renaissance, one of the Italian schools, etc. All of the psychological process of endowing meanings to one thing just happen in a second without people’s awareness. They are not traceable unless we reverse the whole process and to deconstruct it from the interpretation perspective. However, whether creating meanings and interpreting have symmetrical processes stay questionable.
Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.
Martin Irvine, Introduction to Visual Semiotics (with a case study).
Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality.”
In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.
Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Das_Wetter_vor_15_Jahren
Stuart Hall, Encoding/decoding. In S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, & P. Willis (Eds.), Culture, media, language (pp.5-39). London: Hutchinson.