Designing Imperfection: The Semiotics of the Pixel

Massimo Leone

Punctum, 4(1): 105-136, 2018
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2018.0008


‘Imperfection’ is a key concept in both aesthetics and semiotics; Algirdas J. Greimas devoted a monograph to it (De l’imperfection, 1987), emphasizing the revelatory value of the aesthetic experience as capable to transport the subject from the appearance of imperfection to the perfection of being. Taking this elegant series of five semiotic analyses as a point of departure, the paper will seek to articulate a typology of imperfections in visual communication, arguing that each of them appeals to a different semiotic ideology and elicits, as a consequence, specific pragmatic responses. The article will indicate, in particular, some lines for the possible development of a ‘semiotics of the pixel’. It is a highly speculative enquiry, for it must starts with a foundational skeptical question: are pixels semiotic objects at all? Do they signify autonomously from the image they give shape to? And if that is not the case, if they appear to be simple and inert constituents of digital configurations, what is their status then? According to Umberto Eco’s witty definition, everything that can be used to lie can become an object for semiotic enquiry (1976: 18); but can pixels actually ‘lie’? Or are they bound to produce light and color according to a cold mathematical rule, with no possibility for the randomness of intentional communication? (Mitchell 2005: 87-92). In other words: is it possible to design imperfection in digital signification and communication?

KEYWORDS: imperfection, pixels, semiotics, aesthetics
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