Compulsive Scribblers. A Semiotic Challenge Based on the Works of Kunizo Matsumoto

Bruno Surace

Punctum, 2(1): 47-59, 2016
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2016.0005

The challenge faced in this paper is to attempt to formulate a semiotic analysis around the works of Kunizo Matsumoto, Japanese exponent of Art Brut affected by mental illness. Interfacing with the textualities produced by Matsumoto, thousands upon thousands of pages generated by a form of compulsive graphomania, means questioning some of the premises of general semiotics and of its approach to art: the concept of “autonomy of the text”, the issue of the author’s intentionality, the relationship between communication and signification, the conception of artistic discourse as a rhetorical form, the ambiguous existence of idiolect, the interpolation of the borders between symbolism and iconism. These issues will be subjected to examination in a dissertation which, before embarking on a specifically visual-plastic analysis, will try to delineate the relationship between mental pathology and artistic production in a semiotic regime which can in some way help extrapolate the domains of sense in the works of Matsumoto, providing a possible epistemological pattern to account for the manner in which irregular art is semiotized. In order to substantiate the questions raised above, at the centre of the paper there will, in fact, be a discussion of the possibilities of a signifier for its own sake, released from Saussure’s dual conception of sign, which will lead to a new definition of artistic discourse as a “breaking free from the code” based on the metabole of repetition, a rhetorical device able to describe “lateral” forms of art, such as those produced under an obsessive psychic regime, within a sort of fractal semiotics open to objective analysis. Starting from a hermeneutic declination of Davidson’s “principle of charity”, this may produce semiosic results with reference to the text beyond the psychopathological specifics – which are of fundamental relevance also in pre-semiotic areas – of the subject who elaborated it, freeing Matsumoto’s work from the yolk of an interpretation burdened by biological determinism.

KEYWORDS: Kunizo Matsumoto, graphomania, Art Brut, mental illness, signifier
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