“The Meaning of Collections between Media and Practices”, revue Punctum
Échéance des proposition : 31 Mai 2023
In 2009, in an essay that was to become famous, Umberto Eco associated the list with a kind of dizzying, vertigo-like semiotic mode of accumulation and categorization. The list, the catalog, the register, the inventory, are indeed quasi-synonyms, all united by their belonging to a specific semantic area: they refer to a set of things, whose being together is governed by some kind of pertinence and relevance. This is, de facto, the very same principle that guides the semiotic researcher in the act of carving up the text to be studied, in the act of constructing the corpus of analysis, which to be meaningful must show an isotopic coherence, at least – as Peirce puts it – in some respects. There is, therefore, a sort of elective affinity between the procedure that the semiotician puts in place in building their own field of action and the subject who draws up their lists and, even more generically, collects and sorts things.
But this is not all, because sets are also capable not only of signifying as semiotic objects, but also of profoundly resemanticizing the elements that compose them. This is precisely the principle of the collection. For instance, a beer cap is, in itself, an object whose significance is rapidly exhausted and, basically, strictly limited to its primary function (that of preventing the liquid from escaping from a bottle). However, that same stopper takes on another, higher value when it is associated with others in a syntagma defined by the collector. The collection is therefore a primary whole, which by semiotic statute precisely defines its boundaries and their value, what they contain and what they exclude. Collecting is a practice already codified in antiquity, as demonstrated by the medieval and then Renaissance Wunderkammer, an exercise in orderly accumulation that ennobles both the contained object and the container context. From here arises the iconographic flow that makes the “chamber of wonders” a spectacle for the eyes not only on account of the objects it contains, but also because of how they are contained. Collecting is not simply gathering, since the term takes on specific semantic values, which recall the grafting around the practice of identity communities, forms of life, market sectors. The collection also pushes us to reconsider an assumption shared by semiotics: the collecting market is in fact a market dominated by tokens, rather than by types (essential for the expert in establishing, however, the authenticity of the token). The sense of the whole is capable, à la Aby Warburg, of illuminating the sense of the single component.