The Semiotics of Feeling

I have suggested that the difference between a metaphoric process that merely transfers meaning and a metaphoric process that transforms meaning can be attributed to the contextual complexity that has been added to perception. The web of associations may be enlarged or constricted by metaphor and metonymy, so that perception comes to interpret sensation. If we think of sensations as internal signs that can be cognitively transformed by interpretation, these ideas are similar to the semiotic theory proposed by the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1910). Peirce described three logical categories of signs: iconic, indexical, and symbolic. An iconic sign is based on similarity alone—the patient who thought he was masturbating when he played the violin interpreted the violin as an extension of his body, an iconic sign of the penis. Indexical signs are based on contiguity. When the wind changes the direction of a weather vane as the wind "touches" the weather vane, the weather vane itself becomes a sign of the wind. Similarly, the rise of the column of mercury in a thermometer is a sign of a rise in temperature. Indexical signs point. Metonymic associations can also be seen as indexical signs, as the part points to the whole. As I described earlier, a metonymic association can evoke, that is to say point to, an entire gestalt of a former affective experience. In Peirce's terminology, a metaphoric process that merely transfers meaning may be both iconic and indexical. Peirce understood the third term symbol to refer to a conventional interpretation of a sign. The cartoon outline of a man that is attached to the door of the men's lavatory would be an example of Peirce's notion of a symbol. For Peirce, feelings are signs that are subject to semiotic interpretations at different levels of complexity.7 This should prove to be a useful way of thinking about sublimation.

Not only did Peirce insist that feelings are subject to interpretation, but also what he described as "feelings" are very similar to raw sensations. Peirce writes, "The elementary phenomena of mind fall into three categories. First, we have Feelings, comprising all that is immediately present, such as pain, blue, cheerfulness. . . . A feeling is a state of mind having its own living qualities independent of any other state of mind" (1891, p. 150).

Peirce's proposal that feelings are immediately present without reference to anything else (a quality for which he created the neologism "firstness") is a good definition of a "raw" sensation. As the psychoanalyst John Muller (2000) commented, Peirce's notion is that feelings are immediately present and are experienced as a form of "coerced mirroring" that leads to action. Peirce thus implied that the interpretation of a feeling can be forced and involuntary.

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