Semiotic Materialism and the Art of Urbane Verificationism: From Plato's bed to Tracey's
The term ‘semiotic materialism’ appears as a half-joking citation in Daniel Dennett’s _Consciousness Explained_. I argue that it usefully draws together several philosophical and cognitive issues that bear on the question of whether the ‘sophisticated’ art of modernity is an entertaining diversion of relevance to a strictly limited fraction of society in pursuit of self-definition (the sociology of taste view), or whether it might be, on the contrary, a vital and indispensable element contributing to the continuing evolution of civil organization (the sociology of knowledge view).
I (half-jokingly) claim for semiotic materialism the slogan: ‘truth is the outcome of verification’, and substantiate this (in all seriousness) using Dennett’s multiple drafts model of consciousness and the mind-tools ontology he has subsequently developed along with Andy Clark. I take the ability to formulate and act quickly and smoothly on informally-constructed working hypotheses when exposed to complicated environmental variables to be a mark of urbanity. Developed from this perspective, urbane verificationism can alternatively be regarded as skilled oral performance--a radically social practice. I propose to illustrate my argument by comparing issues raised by Plato in his exposition of the ideal bed in _Republic_ (book 10) with Tracey Emin’s famously controversial 1998 installation _My Bed_.
Keywords: Semiotics, Sociology of knowledge, Sociology of taste, Cultural anthropology, Connectionism
PhD candidate, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh