The dual essence of pleasure: Willing, imagining and planning the Saussurean sublime and beautiful in surviving daunting nature and culture


  • Jui-Pi Chien Institute of Foreign Languages and Literatures National Taiwan University No. 1, Sec. 4, Roosevelt Rd. Taipei 10617



mind and consciousness, low-arousal emotions, pleasure and delight, the sublime and beautiful, perspectives and adjustment, memories, sensations and perceptions


This study seeks to update and expand the models of mind and consciousness that Ferdinand de Saussure conceived for the appreciation of linguistic signs. As a response to his theorization of the dual essence of language (a mixture of sounds and concepts), this study proposes a theorization of pleasure and understanding (a blending of different perspectives) deriving from our engagement with daunting situations in nature and culture. To begin with, the author discusses current neuroimaging findings that reveal how we may gain from low-arousal emotions. Certain benefits have been recognized that increase the pleasure and delight we may obtain through conscientious mental work rather than via instincts and preferences. Thus, in this context, the Saussurean network of differences is seen to be capable of generating motivated neural links that function to adjust our viewpoints. Further, in light of Adolphe Pictet’s mingling of philosophical aesthetics and linguistics, this study corrects a misapplication of another Saussurean model (a conjunction of our perceptions of time and space, synchrony and diachrony) in appreciating the Kantian notions of imagination and the sublime. Instead of judging this model as a revelation of one single ideal viewpoint, Pictet’s approach invites us to appreciate it as the functioning of a rigorous yet practical mind that is capable of devising multiple and useful perspectives. Notions of the sublime, the ugly and the beautiful are therefore equated as legitimate viewpoints that we should draw on so as to survive dealing with daunting situations in nature and culture. Finally, this study unifies and fortifies the Saussurean models through aligning them with a phenomenological approach to our memories, sensations and perceptions. Such integration empowers our imagination and confidence while we are widening our horizons to invent larger contexts for our objects of inquiry. All in all, the author cherishes the Saussurean models as a combination of the linguistic, the aesthetic and the moral laws that altogether sharpen our way of devising rationales that may boost the wellbeing of the community.


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How to Cite

Chien, J.-P. (2018). The dual essence of pleasure: Willing, imagining and planning the Saussurean sublime and beautiful in surviving daunting nature and culture. Sign Systems Studies, 46(1), 44–63.