Umberto Eco wrote: “semiotics is in principle the discipline studying
everything which can be used in order to lie” (Eco’s emphasis). Ergo,
the signifier is the direct tool of the trickster.
Ferdinand de Saussure designated two terms: signifier
and signified. He thereby identified a crucial binary opposition.
His Course in General Linguistics (1916) presented a diagram, showing
an area betwixt and between the two.
Saussure explained that language can be
represented “as a series of contiguous subdivisions marked off on both
the indefinite plane of jumbled ideas (A) and the equally vague plane of
sounds (B)” (p. 112).
Meaning is established by linking the signifier and
signified. The betwixt and between realm is where meaning is determined.
This is a liminal region, and it is governed by the trickster.
As far back as 1950, Claude Levi-Strauss recognized
that magic occurred in the gap between the signifier and signified.
There is an essential equivalence between magic and meaning.
The intellectual lineages of semiotics and structuralism
must be understood before the full implications are realized. The
early debates on totemism, particularly Durkheim’s work, influenced Saussure’s
concepts. The totemism debates grappled with the irrational, and
it is no accident that the same issue emerged with structuralism’s successor,
The Trickster and the Paranormal
addresses topics that are rarely mixed. But this is fitting, for
the trickster subverts classifications and disciplinary boundaries.
A few curiosities regarding semiotics and the paranormal—
Charles Sanders Peirce published in the Proceedings of the American
Society for Psychical Research. His brother was a member of a
committee that investigated telepathy.
John Wilkins’ Mercury, Or the Secret and Swift Messenger (1641)
discussed communications from angels.
Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) is an extraordinary portrayal
of an occult subculture. I only half-jokingly refer to it as the
best available ethnography of U.S. ufology.