Signing in the Flesh: Notes on Pragmatist Hermeneutics*



This article corrects:

  1. Queer Theory and Sociology: Locating the Subject and the Self in Sexuality Studies Volume 25, Issue 1, 26–45, Article first published online: 22 February 2007

  • *

    An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, Las Vegas, March 13, 2001. I wish to thank my UNLV students who took part in the 2003 graduate seminar on pragmatist hermeneutics where the ideas of this article were fleshed out. I am also grateful to Vincent Colapietro, Hans Joas, Bruce Mazlish, and Erkki Kilpinen for their comments on the earlier drafts of this article. Anonymous reviewers offered helpful feedback on the article and drew my attention to several recent studies bearing on the issues central to this project. Address correspondence to: Dmitri Shalin, Director, UNLV Center for Democratic Culture, University of Nevada, 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 455033, Las Vegas, NV 89154-5033. Tel.: 702-895-0259; Fax: 702-895-4800; E-mail:


This article offers an alternative to classical hermeneutics, which focuses on discursive products and grasps meaning as the play of difference between linguistic signs. Pragmatist hermeneutics reconstructs meaning through an indefinite triangulation, which brings symbols, icons, and indices to bear on each other and considers a meaningful occasion as an embodied semiotic process. To illuminate the word-body-action nexus, the discussion identifies three basic types of signifying media: (1) the symbolic-discursive, (2) the somatic-affective, and (3) the behavioral-performative, each one marked by a special relationship between signs and their objects. An argument is made that the tension between various type-signifying media is unavoidable, that the pragmatic-discursive misalignment is an ontological condition, and that bridging the gap between our discursive, affective, and behavioral outputs is at the heart of ethical life.