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Charles Peirce and the Role of Aesthetic Expression in 19th-Century U.S. Philosophy and Semiotics
Iris Fischer, University of Kansas, Lawrence

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Theatre at the Birth of Semiotics: Charles Sanders Peirce, Francois Delsarte, and James Steele Mackaye (Article)
Title: Theatre at the Birth of Semiotics: Charles Sanders Peirce, Francois Delsarte, and James Steele Mackaye
Author: Iris Smith Fischer
Abstract: This paper explores the role theatre played in the life of Charles Peirce and his second wife, Juliette, from 1884–1888. Peirce became acquainted with playwright and director Steele Mackaye, who trained Juliette in the acting techniques associated with “aesthetic expression,” a movement derived from the work of François Delsarte. I first trace the Peirces’ interactions with Mackaye during this period. The paper then demonstrates affinities between Peirce’s semiotic account of cognition as mediated through feeling and sensation and the architecture of Delsarte’s system of actor training. The latter employs Delsarte’s séméiotique as an analytical tool for conveying the dramatic character’s inner life. A function of mind, séméiotique intertwines with the functions of life and soul to complete the actor’s task. The affinities between these two accounts of semiotic emerge from the paper’s analysis of Peirce’s 1888 essay on aesthetic expression, “Trichotomic,” and related passages from A Guess at the Riddle.
Year: 2014
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal of American Philosophy

On the 'Realistic Hypostatization of Relations' (Book Section)
Title: On the 'Realistic Hypostatization of Relations'
Author: Iris Smith Fischer
Editor: Jamin Pelkey
Abstract: In late 1887 and early 1888, when Charles Sanders Peirce was drafting Chapter IV of “A Guess at the Riddle,” he was also writing about theatre and performance. Peirce’s wife Juliette had studied with the playwright, actor, and director James Steele Mackaye (1842–1894), and Peirce hoped to see her perform on the New York stage. Mackaye’s approach to actor training drew on the speculative philosophy of his teacher, François Delsarte. In his unfinished essay “Trichotomic” (probably drafted in early 1888), Peirce noted with interest Mackaye’s triadic account of the actor’s task, which involves the use of three capacities (sensation, perception, and affection) to represent the corresponding categories as they are experienced in human life. Peirce did not take up Mackaye’s triads or the speculative philosophy behind them. Yet, as Peirce notes in the above passage from “A Guess at the Riddle,” the artist’s aesthetic task struck Peirce as notably similar to that of the scientist’s “genius of the mind.” In these documents, Peirce seems to treat intuition as a theatrical scene involving a double-sided act of creation.
Year: 201
Publisher: Mouton de Gruyter
Book Title: Charles S. Peirce in His Own Words: 100 Years of Semiotics, Communication, and Cognition
ISBN: 978-1-897493-5

Paradoxes of Reason and Inquiry in the Aesthetics of Francois Delsarte (Book Section)
Title: Paradoxes of Reason and Inquiry in the Aesthetics of Francois Delsarte
Author: Iris Smith Fischer
Abstract: From 1840-1870, François Delsarte’s course in applied aesthetics trained opera singers and orators in his system of gestural and vocal signs (“semeiotique”). Delsarte provided performers with mental, physical, and spiritual tools to inquire into human nature. Delsarte’s aesthetic form of inquiry is paradoxical: he draws on contemporaneous scientific methods while his intellectual framework cites pre-modern sources, chiefly Augustine and Aquinas. Delsarte’s performer utilizes semiotic methods, based on these earlier sources’ understanding of sign, to represent the dramatic character’s mind, life, and soul. Representing triadic human nature thus draws the performer closer to the triune nature of God. This paper argues that Delsarte’s ostensibly scientific semeiotique rests on concepts of reason and inquiry that derive from his mid-19th-century turn to neglected sources in philosophy.
Year: 2015
Publisher: Legas
Book Title: Semiotics 2014: The Semiotics of Paradox
ISBN: 978-1-897493-5

The Role of Semeiotique in Francois Delsarte's Aesthetics (Article)
Title: The Role of Semeiotique in Francois Delsarte's Aesthetics
Author: Iris Smith Fischer
Abstract: This article introduces the aesthetic theory of François Delsarte (1811-1870) and his conception of semiotics. Delsarte created his “applied aesthetics” as a modern scientific method for artists, particularly performers, to investigate the nature of human being. Delsarte’s approach to performance involved the actor in observing human behavior, interpreting it through categories of voice, gesture, and language, and rendering it in an expansive display of types. Delsarte’s applied aesthetics involves the performer’s attention to signs and sign action, a study he called séméiotique. We see Delsarte’s program for inquiry into truth in what I call the actor’s task, which develops his or her human being through observation, analysis, and creation. This was Delsarte’s “orthopedic machine for correcting crippled intellects” – the crippled intellects being those intellectuals and conservatory teachers whose ideas on aesthetics he found to be neither systematic nor attuned to God’s reason. While it is well known in theatre and dance scholarship that Delsarte’s ideas and methods advanced the training of actors, dancers, and orators, particularly in the United States, my paper instead introduces him as a voice in nineteenth-century thinking on signs and semiosis. Delsarte’s aesthetics are firmly based in Thomist assumptions about a triune god whose nature is reflected imperfectly in man. Yet it is striking that Delsarte characterizes the sign relation as mediated in a modern sense, prior to Charles Peirce’s development of his own triadic sign relation, and semiotics as a modern method of scientific inquiry.
Year: 2017
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Semiotica