On Amazon

Through the Eye of the Literal: Adventures in Monosemy

Over the last century, humanists have exploited the conceptual resources of semiotics to play up polysemy in the interpretation of cultural artifacts — the excesses and richness of multiple, overlapping, ambivalent, gap-filled and surplus meaning–and thereby have overlooked the possibilities of monosemy. Today, it is monosemy that deserves the humanist’s attention, as our technology-driven society is becoming increasingly two-tiered along the polysemy/monosemy divide.

In contemporary times, it is the creators–whose digitized works can be brilliantly interpreted through sophisticated polysemic lenses in natural language–who earn pennies on the dollar for their efforts, while the media platforms that stream their content–and which are based on the monosemic meaning-units of math, logic, data, algorithms, code and currency–accumulate the billions. Academic units in the humanities, in training their graduates for careers in rich polysemic interpretation, can add skills in monosemy to improve their students’ employment prospects and likely as well, the professional prospects of humanists themselves.

Through the Eye of the Literal: Adventures in Monosemy aims to demonstrate that a new century’s worth of humanist attention to monosemic meaning units may prove as fruitful as the past century’s focus on the polysemic. The volume engages monosemy across a varied terrain including postmodernism, advertising, cave art, new media art, music, film, narrative, speculative software and sociotechnical systems. After reading through its contents, the reader will literally have a new perspective on literality, and may well wonder how the past century’s semiotic scholars almost completely forgot about this flip side to their favored form of meaning.