Schema as both the key to and the puzzle of life: Reflections on the Uexküllian crux

  • Jui-Pi Chien Institute of Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Taiwan University No. 1, Sec. 4, Roosevelt Road, Taipei 106


Jakob von Uexküll’s problematic is manifested in his paradoxical portraiture of form within the plan of nature: the one a sensual schema and the other a transsensual ideal form. At first sight, Uexküll’s belief in the Platonic and the Reformational notions of the immobile becoming of form seems to be a resignation from the heated debates among his contemporary materialists, vitalists, dynamists, and evolutionists. However, in terms of the Kantian subjective teleology, Uexküll’s appropriation of the ancient philosophy reinstates the invisible, static, but repetitive cycle as his regulating principle in the observation of the activity of animals. This regulating principle distinguishes itself from the rule of resemblance established by the appearances and fossil remains of animals, which is linear, incomplete, and digressive. In the light of Michel Foucault, the transition from the visible to the invisible recoups the study of nature from the living beings (les êtres vivants) to the life itself (la vie), from natural philosophy to biology. My study suggests that we recast Uexküll’s sign theory from his observations on the crux that models and triggers an animal to action in its Umwelt. Bracketing Uexküll’s transcendental configuration of form and image, we still find that schema, in its sensual and functional context, evolves from a reflection of the objects to a summary of their features plus an ignorance of their proper names. Uexküll's erasure of proper names (in different languages) that directs our attention to the presentation in its pure form (Gestalt) not only constitutes an important step in epistemology, but also in a life science that meticulously delves into the genotypes.


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How to Cite
Chien, J.-P. (2004). Schema as both the key to and the puzzle of life: Reflections on the Uexküllian crux. Sign Systems Studies, 32(1/2), 188-208.