Violence is constantly at the centre of the media scene. The arts have developed countless representations of it, and researchers such as Pierre Clastres and René Girard have identified it as one of the fundamental driving forces of cultural history. All the social sciences are interested in it, but always as if it were an obvious phenomenon in itself, which everyone is able to recognize: a "fact", without asking what we are really talking about when we speak of "violence". With all the intuitive evidences that it gives rise to, the semantic spectrum of violence is very broad, and mixes the modal features of "power", "force" (in German gathered under the expression Gewalt), control or domination, with the manifestation of extreme passionate phenomena - from hatred to horror - and the sudden and imperious irruption of Death.
Semiotics, for its part, has often analyzed situations and scenes that are violent, or that involve violence, treating the meaning of collective phenomena such as terrorism, war, social conflicts, as well as private ones, "domestic fights" for instance; it has considered the implicit presence of violence in the narrative strategies and dynamics that characterize the polemical circulation of values: this is what reveal several terms in Greimas and Courtés' Semiotics and Language. An Analytical Dictionary, such as "aggressor", "appropriation", "punishment"; or, as well, violence determined by the manifestation of some passions, such as jealousy, anger, revenge. However, it has never, either, made violence an phenomenon of reflection and analysis in itself.
With the present proposal, we invite the semiotic community to transform the many implicit theories that characterize the "scene of violence" into an explicit object of study, in order to question its significant dimensions and to offer other social sciences some keys to an articulated reading of the meaning of violence.
In the first place, as has been said, violence can be described as a particular discursive result of the polemical configuration of the circulation of values.
A narrative dimension of violence is therefore given, which could allow us to elaborate an articulation of its forms, and distinguish different values according to the sequence of the narrative scheme: at first, violence within persuasion strategies; then, pedagogical violence of acquisition and imposition of skills (initiations, binding thematic roles); then, pragmatic violence in confrontation; and finally violence of punishment following judgment (the "splendour of tortures" according to Michel Foucault); legitimate and legal violence (its "proportionate" use). A narrative diversification that also implies taking into account the possible modes of existence of violence, which is not given exclusively as it is carried out, but which can also be presented as threatening, actualized or potential, as the Louis Marin's reflections on power clearly show.
This first line of research therefore suggests considering the narrative and passionate syntagmatics of violence, or even its inclusion in a specific scheme, against the dominant image of its sudden and irreducible irruption. Contemporary debate on the judicial reclassification of the previous "crime of passion" into "feminicide" partly concerns its inclusion in a process of anticipatory sequences (for instance, around the narrativo-passionate schema of the "influence").
If narrative models of polemicity can offer a first key to the articulation of "violence" as a phenomenon of meaning, it is certainly at the level of the discursive organization of the violent scene that a series of interesting "challenges" for the work of semiotic description and theorization emerge. The narrative syntax of conflictuality produces, by the very fact of its level of generality, a "crushing" effect that eliminate the corporeal, and more specifically carnal dimension of violence. This implies that this term must be precisely defined and endowed with a conceptual status through the set of relations it induces and the characteristics proper to its various configurations: violence and non-violence, intentional violence and violence of the natural elements (wind, land, sea), rationalization and impulsiveness between programmed violence (cf. torture) and uncontrolled violence (cf. fury), between its aspectual and strategic manifestations, making it possible to distinguish between compulsive and occasional violence on the one hand (cf. "acting out"), and lasting and iterative violence on the other (cf. domestic violence).
These manifestations do not only concern the different ways of aspectualizing the process of violence, but also the variety of its passionate forms, with their specific thematic and pathemic roles, and their different ways of involving the body. In this regard, Gilles Deleuze had already pointed out, on Losey's cinema, how the manifestation of violence can be seen from the way it vibrates the bodies of those who practice it and those who undergo it, and inscribes it in their own flesh through pain. Whether we are dealing with singular bodies or collective bodies - also endowed with flesh that can be wounded as in the case of violence commonly referred to as "symbolic" - or whether we are dealing with "enunciative" bodies implied by the very existence of violence as a scene, also set in vibration by the modes of presence and presentation of violence itself, in all cases its incarnation is a central question for semiotics.
Beyond the "scene of violence", its phenomenality is finally inscribed in more general and encompassing forms of life. These are characterized, on the one hand, by the congruence of the figurative, modal, aspectual and axiological elements that define all forms of life from a semiotic point of view, and, on the other, by the very power of their cultural codifications. Codifications that freeze them, "canonize" them and determine their socio-semiotic status, between stereotyping, glorification or scandal to be conjured up: one can think of thematic figures such as sadism and masochism, of ambiguous rituals (such as cockfighting or bullfighting), of complacency towards the celebrated "cruelty" of this or that "criminal life", of the aestheticization of extreme pathemic roles (cf. the tragedy), the "ethicisation" of violence as a moral necessity, the fascination with catastrophe, the enjoyment, fruition or literary exaltation ("sublime, necessarily sublime"), in short, the more general confrontation of violence with the open field of axiologies.
On the basis of these introductory reflections, some possible themes for development can be suggested as a guideline:
- The expression of violence: from the arts to the media stage..., the feeling and aesthetics of violence (e.g., Literary figures of violence and their modeling potential...)
- Semantics of violence: definitions, comparative semantic statuses, figurative, symbolic and abstract expansions, violence and enunciation...
- Violence as strategy: persuasive violence (torture as a rhetorical instrument?)
- The somatization of violence: violent bodies and abused or violated bodies, pain and suffering
- Violence and forms of life: established violences and instituting ones (private and public violence)
- Comparative treatment of violence in other disciplines of the Human, Social and Cognitive Sciences, yesterday and today (semiotic analysis).
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