The Semiotics of X: Chiasmus, Cognition, and Extreme Body Memory (Bloomsbury Advances in Semiotics)


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Fearlessly, yet thoughtfully, Jamin Pelkey (who likens himself to an 'investigating detective') pulls down the borders between anthropology, linguistics, psychology, history, philosophy and other disciplines to explore the extremes and reversals that characterize human existence and are expressed by the messages of the embodied X. The book, which is devoted to broadening and deepening our understanding of the rhetorical figure called chiasmus, is itself chiastic in design. Pelkey's odyssey through the currents of primordial to modern times is meant to reveal the strange and unfamiliar behind the old familiar figure of X, and to induce readers to reverse their previous - often superficial - understanding of this powerful symbol.

Every once in a while a book comes along that will change the rules of the academic game. Pelkey's brilliant book is one of these-it will change the game in several fields, including psychology, linguistics, semiotics, and anthropology... It is amazing how Pelkey uses the letter X as his framework for elaborating his theory of mind and how the products of human expression and cognition are intertwined to each other in a chiasmic fashion. This is a must read for everyone working on the relation between mind and reality.

The Semiotics of X is a vital contribution to semiotics, a vibrant work that shows exceptional mastery of the field, and it is a good omen for semiotics research in coming decades. I think Jamin Pelkey will be very influential. Beginning students will have a field day with the first three chapters; those already immersed in the controversies of semiotics will find inspiration right through. Make sure your library has it, and get a copy of your own you can mark up.

The X figure is ubiquitous in contemporary culture, but attempts to explain our fixation with X are rare.

This book argues that the origins and meanings of X go far beyond alphabets and archetypes to remembered feelings of body movements - movements best typified in the performance of "spread-eagle?? as a posture or gesture. These body memories are then projected onto other patterns and dynamics to help us make sense of the world. The argument is accomplished using a blend of insights from linguistic anthropology, cognitive linguistics, rhetoric culture and process semiotics to bring together revealing clues from languages, cultures and thinkers around the world.

Chief among the uses and experiences of X are its tendencies to involve us in surprising reversals and blends. In ancient times the X-pattern was discussed as "chiasmus??, a figure which, according to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, informs the most basic elements of our bodily experience, calling into question polarized dichotomies such as subject versus object. Pushed to extremes, presumed opposites like these tend to reverse suddenly. Likewise, blended experiences of our bodily extremities - arms and legs, toes and fingers, hands and feet - provide a plausible source of grounding for unique human abilities like analogy and double-scope conceptual integration. The book illustrates these dynamics by drawing attention to uses of X in history, prehistory and daily life, from sports and advertising to world mythology and languages around the world.

The Semiotics of X is the first step towards developing a larger argument on the important but neglected role that chiasmus plays in cognition. It aims to inspire continued exploration on the figure, with the full expectation that chiasmus will become for the 21st century what metaphor became for the 20th century: a revolution in thinking about the way we think.

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