Chapter 29. Semiotic protest

Aristoteles once described six forms of government dividing them into three good and three bad forms: monarchy is good, tyrannis is bad, aristocracy is good, oligarchy is bad. And finally, democracy is good, ochlocracy is bad. 

While those opposition seem to fit quite well onto a white paper giving the impression that there is a possibility to investigate good and bad forms of government through classifying the forms on a tableau, one might ask, how does transformation and emergence work in such a static concept? 

Kant through his theory of enlightenment argues, that the good but authoritarian forms will change into the republic form of democratic power by the immense strength of reason. 

But history has taught us that this is not so easy – maybe because those forms of government rely on the symbolic order, which is patriarchic producing hierarchic meaning of every gesture, word and image. 

What if every form of government is a symbolic order and held in place by the meaning such a symbolic order produces? Working with and through symbolization monarchy as well as democracy defines what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, symbols have a specific function in society – namely to make sense. But how can one change the symbolic order in totalitarian systems? Imagine there is a semiotic structure flowing beneath the symbolic order. The semiotic is more emotional and less rational, but it is not dissociated from reason, but more related to the body. Rationality is not equivalent to reason.  

Poetic language as Julia Kristeva argues is highly semiotic engaging with the symbolic order in addressing the speaking subject. But in our case, it is not about obscene words, or rhythm and sound of poetic language but it is about producing signs of resistance: like cutting your hair or the blank paper. Those are symbols emerging from the semiotic hence destroying the patriarchic structure of meaning. In times one cannot speak freely, we must articulate the semiotic sphere, the χώρα to produce subjectivity which will and cannot be silenced anymore. 

Cite this blog post
Martin Bartelmus (2022, November 28). Chapter 29. Semiotic protest. Dark Hermeneutics. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

By Martin Bartelmus

Martin Bartelmus is a Postdoctoral Scholar of German Literary, Media, and Cultural Theory at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. He studied German Literature, Philosophy, Political and Social Studies at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg and received his PhD in Media and Cultural Studies as part of the DFG graduate program “Materiality and Production” from Heinrich Heine University. His PhD-Thesis is entitled Cultural Born Killer: Poetics of Killing around 1900. Before joining the department of German Literature at Heinrich Heine University for his current postdoctoral position, he worked as a curator for the Museum of Natural History of the Benrath Palace and Park Foundation and as a freelancer for the Julia Stoschek Collection. He is interested in Animal and Plant Studies, killing in literature and film, French theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and literature without humans.

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