The Semiotic Animal


Semiotics 1999 & Teresa of Avila, Time for a Semiosis Beyond Feminism

By Brooke Williams Deely

University of St. Thomas


Both texts touch upon the same issues, the definition of feminism and its relation to dualisms. Both texts also talk about semiotics and its irrefutable relation to the way we construct meaning, and therefore, define life.

Hence I have decided to do a comment intertwining both texts.

Professor Brooke Deely talks about the discrepancy between the definitions of patriarchal and feminism theories based on dualism. She suggests feminism must detach itself from the masculine way of thinking. The only way going forward in terms of what feminism should mean to our current society one must get rid of the connotations attached to the incongruence’s of dualism. Male/female, ration/non rational.

“The male/female divide becomes troublesome if feminist thought cannot dissolve the dichotomy” Brooke Deely.

I guess the question one must ask is “Aren’t we all –men, and women: humans – considered to be the “rational animal”? Isn’t human kind the only animal that goes beyond basic levels of communication to construct meaning based on signs and symbols? How can we, a society whose whole thinking system is based on a male rationale – using Aristotle as the father of sex polarity- How are we supposed to redesign the parameter that differentiate – and have done so for so many years among intellectuals – genders and gender identity?

The construction of feminism based on what she is in opposed to what she isn’t is still present in society. It is hard to think outside of these parameters as we tend to construct meaning based on comparison. If the male is rational the female, therefore, is irrational. What is the problem with this model? Philosophers might ask. The issue becomes apparent when trying to justify how irrational beings are able to rationalize, conceptualize, study and develop just as well as the “rational” counterpart. It becomes apparent when we see males displaying feminine traits such as obedience, silence and humility in faith traditions and professions. It becomes apparent, when the conception and reception of the mystical powers – which could be considered, natural and therefore feminine in essence – are to be passed on to men.

“Feminist thought, in both modern and post modern development, has tended to replicate, to reverse or to revel in how to re-valorise the male/female sides of the inherited dualism wherein the female human being signified a less perfect human in relation to the male human being as the measure of the rational animal”       B.Deely.

It is then, the readings suggest, when one should start thinking of the “semiotic animal” instead of the “rational animal”. The semiotic animal, a concept proposed by Professor John Deely, it evolves from St Thomas Aquinas line of thought, and understands the relation between knowledge acquired by signs, and signs existing out of knowledge.  [Or that is the interpretation that my relatively limited knowledge on the subject has subtracted from the readings]   It is not by being rational or irrational, but by the way we interpret the signs around us – individually or collectively – that we construct knowledge and meaning.

Professor J. Deely illustrates this phenomenon in his essay “The Semiotic Animal”, 2003. “The witches at Salem, to mention nothing of those in the European main lands of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, would hardly have been burned had the truth of their alleged witchcraft been properly perceived by the understanding of those who judged them. Taking this into account, it is a matter of perception, not a matter of knowledge. The meaning we attach to a symbol creates a sign. These signs then help us construct knowledge.

Now the question is, are we, as a society ready to accept the semiotic animal theory over the rational animal theory?

Jihane Rodriguez



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