A view of the iconic turn from a semiotic perspective

August Fenk


The “iconic” or “pictorial turn” pulled along by the “digital turn” was sometimes considered rather a re-turn to preliterate societies. But, actually, the respective picture material is embedded in a mix of materials of diverse sense-modalities and symbolic modalities. From a cognitive perspective such materials may be viewed as those modules of an almost inexhaustible “external memory system” that now can be retrieved, linked and extended by its users. Some facets become apparent in a semiotic analysis of these modules: They deprive us from many “indexical” cues that might otherwise allow to directly assign them to concrete agents and intentions, places and points of time. And if the term iconicity is reserved for cases of similarity established by a subject’s simulating (picturing, imitating, modelling …) activities (Fenk 1997), all “automatic recordings”, including the digital format, are non-iconic. Paradoxically, they are at best iconic in cases of artificial reworks or forgeries.


20th century philosophy; media philosophy; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; digital technique; icon; index; information; Peirce Charles Sanders; pictorial turn; sign; similarity; symbol

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