42nd SSA – Plenary Roundtable: “The Life and Work of John Deely”

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Plenary Roundtable

The Life and Work of John Deely (1942–2017): 

A Compassionate Human Being and an Exceptional Scholar

The intention of this Plenary Roundtable is to commemorate the exceptional life and the remarkable oeuvre of John Deely (April 26, 1942–January 7, 2017). It is impossible to separate John Deely’s personal traits from his professional contributions as a great philosopher and semiotician. The following plenary speakers focus on the integration of Deely’s life as a dear friend, a compassionate human being, and an exceptional scholar.


Farouk Y. Seif

“Imaginary Dialogue with John Deely: Playing with Boundaries Across Space and Time”

Abstract: We live in a world of fact and a world of fancy, in the Peircean sense, telling real and imagined stories. In this Imaginary Dialogue with John Deely I compose narratives that integrate actual quotations from his seminal work and imaginative interpretation of our numerous conversations that took place over the years. Visiting John in May 2016 at the Latrobe Hospital and grieving his passing on January 7 this year were two cathartic and emancipating experiences that developed into this dialogical narrative as a commemorative manifestation of the exceptional life and the remarkable oeuvre of John Deely. It is inconceivable to separate Deely’s personal traits from his scholarly contributions as a great philosopher, semiotician, and a compassionate human being who not only graciously persevered through the semiotic paradox of life and death, but also gregariously played with many boundaries across space and time.

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Farouk Y. Seif

Farouk Y. Seif, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Antioch University Seattle, Washington. He has taught design for initiating and leading social/cultural change by focusing on the integration of design and semiotics. He has presented and published internationally over 30 transdisciplinary articles and monographs, urging semiotic reinterpretation of ancient wisdom for thoughtful reflections on contemporary life. He is a registered architect and a member of the America Institute of Architects, an artist, a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute, and the former Executive Director of the Semiotic Society of America.


Brooke Williams Deely

John Deely from New Mexico to Mexico to the Universe”

Abstract: I offer random reflections on some traits of John Deely as a person that cannot be separated from his vocation as a philosopher at the cutting edge of history, beyond the boundaries of any one discipline or tradition. Hence, I wish to distinguish personal traits, including his dogged determination and his docility, in order to unite them in the integral wholeness of the man and his work, from his youth to his last days. In such reflections I will showcase our lived experience together when John was a Fulbright scholar in Mexico, where we wrote his opus, Four Ages of Understanding, with a canine Mexican street fighter seated lovingly by his side. Given the play of signs and signs at play in the universe, I reflect on Jacques Maritain’s own reflection on John: “He is a child“.

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Brooke Williams Deely

Brooke Williams Deely, Ph.D., is author of Jacques Maritain: Antimodern or Ultramodern? Her essays in semiotics include History and Semiotics, Toronto Semiotic Circle Publication, and the prefatory essay for the reprinting of Thomas Sebeok’s seminal book, Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs. She is co-editor of Frontiers in Semiotics and an editor for the Special Issue on History in 1991 of Semiotica. She taught semiotics for the 1983 ISISSS at Indiana University and in 1989 at Universidade de Minas Gerais in Brazil. Recently she has edited a major work, John Paul II Speaks on Women. Her children’s novel, Soulmates: Worlds Apart, speaks of her experience with John in relation to the Mexican people and to a fearsome dog who crossed all boundaries not for land but for love.


Richard L. Lanigan

History and Discourse: The Memory and Memorial of John Deely”

Abstract: Émile Benveniste is famous for his description of the double articulation apposition (quadratic reflectivity, reflexivity, and reversibility) that is found in the French verb function, and, is named by him as the tropic aphorism: l’histoire et discours [history and discourse; history and story; public and private narrative; author and reader; memory and memorial]. These translations suggest the semantic richness of the Semiotic Square (Greimas) and Chiasm (Merleau-Ponty) that suggest the approach of my remarks about John Deely’s life and times that are both a memory and a memorial. I make use of the apposition among: Deely / Memory / Memorial. Memory is the evocation of experience that invokes consciousness, whereas memorial is the invocation of consciousness that evokes experience.

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Richard L. Lanigan

Richard L. Lanigan, Ph.D., is Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Communicology (Emeritus) at Southern Illinois University, USA, and Executive Director and Fellow of the International Communicology Institute in Washington, DC, USA. His work is a focus on the Philosophy of Communicology (phenomenology, semiotics) and Intercultural Communicology, especially China—USA relations.



Myrdene Anderson

Another Page for ‘Between The Sheets’: Homage to John Deely’s ‘Historical Layering’ ”

Abstract: John Deely reigned as SSA’s fairy godfather, nearly since its inception under the wing of Tom Sebeok in 1975. It’s not even possible to count the ways he rescued, basically single-handedly, the operations and productions of the Society over the decades. But I daresay what he considered his greatest gift would be the SSA Style Sheet (1984, 1986). And within the Style Sheet, John emphasized its mandate of “historical layering”. In 1991 I reflected on some aspects of the art, craft, and science of bibliography under the title of “Between the sheets: Bibliographic voice incorporating scale, grain, noise”. This paper builds on that, resuscitating the torturous birth of John’s document, as witnessed in phone calls in 1983 and 1984, summarizes John’s compulsive defense of “historical layering”, and relates his final amendment to the Style Sheet, boiling down to how we all must now annotate citations of his work: (1942­–2017).

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Myrdene Anderson

Myrdene Anderson, anthropologist, linguist, and semiotician (PhD in anthropology, Yale University, 1978) is Associate Professor of anthropology, Purdue University. She is the former President of the Central States Anthropological Society (1993-1994) and the Semiotic Society of America (1996-1997). Anderson’s research on Saami (Lappish) ethnoecology commenced in 1971 and continues today, joined by other projects such as artificial life, community gardening, real and metaphoric trash, island ethnohistory, and Peircean semiotics. (Co-)edited publications include “Refiguring Debris—Becoming Unbecoming, Unbecoming Becoming” (1994); “On Semiotic Modeling” (1991); “Cultural Shaping of Violence: Victimization, Escalation and Response” (2004); and “Consensus on the Peircean Concept of Habit” (2016). Other publications include “How qualification and quantification meet, or don’t, in ethnography” (2012); “Ethnography as translation” (1999); “Sharing G. Evelyn Hutchinson’s fabricational noise” (2000).


Paul Cobley

Human Understanding – The Key Triad”

Abstract: This paper will argue that,among the many landmark formulations in Deely’s work—the idea of logic as semiotic, the postmodern moment (properly so-called), relation, physiosemiosis, the thorough recasting of objectivity and subjectivity, and the formulation of the notion of the semiotic animal, to name a few—the triad of sign/object/thing is truly original, is the most far-reaching contribution to semiotics and remains pivotal in understanding Deely’s oeuvre. Not only does it facilitate these other concepts but it also projects contemporary semiotics forward through its re-calibration of the human Umwelt in terms of mind-dependent and mind-independent being.

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Paul Cobley

Paul Cobley, Ph.D., is Professor in Language and Media at Middlesex University. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Cultural Implications of Semiotics (2016) and Narrative 2nd edn (2014). He is co-series editor (with Kalevi Kull) of Semiotics, Communicationand Cognition (de Gruyter Mouton), co-editor (with Peter J. Schulz) of the multi-volume Handbooks of Communication Sciences (de Gruyter), co-edits the journal Social Semiotics, and is associate editor of Cybernetics and Human Knowing. He is the 9th Thomas A. Sebeok Fellow of the Semiotic Society of America and is secretary of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies.


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About Farouk Seif

Professor Emeritus, Antioch University Seattle, Washington, a registered architect, an artist, a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute, and the former Executive Director of the Semiotic Society of America.