Primary sign, object/case and interpretation
In the following, the sign phenomenon for toys is described as a logical grouping of many elements within which signs are developed.
Peirce calls logic “semiotics” so what we will do is form toy semiotics. The description follows the instructions of Eco (1971), Nöth (1985) and particularly Dines Johansen (1989:13-22) concerning text and literary values and evaluation. Thus, we are talking of toys’ values and evaluation in relation to the exchange of signs.
- The primary sign
“The object” is a concrete object (e.g. a car) as it is seen, for example, in the street by an observer. The car’s sign system of course includes the materials or combination of materials it is made of and the way in which it is manufactured and developed, i.e. its complexity and degree of reality.
“The toy” (e.g. a small toy car) is an expression/symbol for (a copy of) the real thing. It is a sign for something that is object-specific which can be classified as “a car”.
(Concerning the toy’s classification and material determination, please refer to Part 2, where very many elements are categorised.)
We very often use the expression “What picture corresponds best to what you would like to see?”! This expresses a search towards achieving a consciousness in relation to the sign system which e.g. an object represents. Even if we observe the same things, we don’t see them in the same way because our understanding and interpretation of things are individual - although there are some signs which are understood by all of us in the same way.
In play with a toy, in firstness play, the person-at-play experiments his way to a subjective criteria for truth concerning the toy as a copy of the object and that which it superficially represents. The sign system in play thus becomes a message or piece of information on the strength of the material categories and classification - even though classification and material determination can be complicated enough in themselves.
- The Object or Story is also split into two parts.
The immediate object (physical or intangible) or the superficial case is that to which the object and the toy points or refers, seen exclusively from what the toy itself purports to resemble (in this case, any ordinary car).
Here, what matters is the object’s/case’s (toy car’s) particular roles/stories: Role within the family, role in relation to the person-at-play’s development, its technological role, its role on the toy market, artistic role and general cultural and creative roles.
What also matters are the general main classification groups, functions and structures, especially educational or psychological values and the car’s general meaning within social and cultural frameworks.
The dynamic object or the dynamic case is the object/case which exists independently of the given object’s reference.
By this we mean that the object exists due to its being attributed quite special qualities of usage which are decided with the help of the spheres of investigation and the triads (within physics, biology, psychology, physiology, logic and metaphysics) which were at the core of Peirce’s investigative triads.
The difference between the superficial case and the dynamic case can be illustrated by the following example:
Some toy figures are produced which are intended superficially to represent a specific ethnic population., The designer has unconsciously (presumably!) given the figures some degrading (education, psychological, social) features and values which are superficially seen as identical with the real ethnic group.
By using dynamic methods of research and investigation, the ethnic group will naturally be able to draw attention to the fact that these features are pure fabrication, myths or a product of spite and would therefore be in a position to reason that the group itself could not be identified with the features communicated by the figures.
The design of these figures means that they do not send credible signs of sincerity but communicate with the help of false signs and illegitimate codes and therefore create a diffuse impression.
One central condition for understanding a toy’s expression is that it has a natural double link to its potential meaning, which is evident in both the toy’s coding and reference to the case itself (which can justifiably be termed the toy’s “discursive universe” - and which maybe does or maybe does not exist - dependent upon the nature of the original object).
Secondness play revolves around the experiences with that which is expressed by and contained in the case.
Through the toy’s form, it is possible for the person-at-play to classify the toy so that play can unfold both on the toy’s conditions and on the strength of the person-at-play’s experiences with it.
On the basis of the confrontations, conflicts, experiments and manipulations which the toy adds to the game, the person-at-play gains cognition, insight, opinions and other experiences.
- The Interpretant
The interpretant communicates the primary sign’s relation to the object and is a “translation” of the object to another form of visual expression which has the same meaning. The interpretant is “that” which the interpreter interpreted. And that too is split into two.
The superficial interpretant is the toy’s possible meanings, such as they are to be interpreted from signs, symbols, design and the total impression the toy gives as a whole. (A car which looks like a racing car can both be “driven fast” when you play with it and as a model it “looks good” as part of the collection of cars on the shelf).
The possible meanings decide the character of the toy. In thirdness play with the toy’s possible meanings, the I of the person-at-play is expressed through reflection, recognition and personal conclusions which result in a judgement (or many personal conclusions which result in a judgement (or many judgements) over the toy and play with it).
Play then takes place on the bedrock of a judgement of the toy’s value. Evaluation takes place on the basis of the person-at-play’s and the game’s intensity. (Caillois calls it play’s “euphoria”, Sutton-Smith calls it “getting high on play”, Gadamer (1982) calls it “deep play”.)
The dynamic interpretant is the objective content of the interpretation which the observer, the person-at-play, the interpreter apportions the object, the toy. It is subject to significant variation depending on the interpreter’s individual preconceived ideas and especially his imagination!
The subjective content is constituted on criteria which are called the toy’s criteria for objectivity and judgement, which are well and truly infiltrated with both ethnic and moral criteria. The criteria for marketing toys to children and advertising criteria are also of significance.
The interpretation of a toy - the degree to which it is comprehensible, true, truthful and legitimate - is therefore quite individual (universally pragmatic).
This individual interpretation of the objective content of a toy is due to the concepts in the relationship between toy text and context. The most important aspect is the individual’s free will to “want to interpret”. Without it, there can be no dialogue.
The concepts of relationships in this book are explained as “genre relation and object transformation” (Einsiedler) and the many complex relations between mastery, power and emotion, competition, etc. are described in Part 4 (from Huizinga to Sutton-Smith.)