World report: Mexico

The Semiotics of Terror


Marco Antonio Rivera
Marco Antonio Rivera

The Semiotics of Terror is a line of research currently underway that seeks to define the prototypical mechanisms of signification of the genre Terror in its various modes of textualization, which include film, literature, painting, visual arts, video games, among many others.

This line of research initially arose from the implementation of an inquiry that sought to describe the production mode of the meaning effect Horror in literature. This research took as object of study the famous story “The Outsider” (1921) of the American writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft (Providence, 1890-1937), given its representativeness regarding Supernatural Horror that constitutes the core of the Horror genre in general.

As a result of this first phase of the research appeared the book Prolegomena to a Semiotics of Horror (2007), which mainly characterizes the semantic mechanisms that produce the atmosphere of horror as meaning effect, in addition to a first description of the Semantic Field of Terror on the basis of Interpretive Semantics developed by François Rastier.

In a second phase, we studied two new aspects of the Semiotics of Terror: on the one hand, one Semiotics of Terror Space and, on the other, a Terrifying Body´s Semiotics. Both lines (in process of consolidation) gave as first fruits several scientific papers that were published between the years 2010 to 2011 in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Thus, in “The Terrifying Body. The Semiotics of the Body in horror story” (2010), based on The Semiotics of the Body developed by Jacques Fontanille in Soma & Sema. Semiotic Figures of the body (2008), we have advanced the first steps in describing the fundamental role played by the body in the production of terror, to show how in the corpus analyzed, the effect of terror is caused by the inability of the enunciator to assign an eidetic structure to the body of (anti) actant, characterized in figurative terms as a smorgasbord of semantic features among which there is no logical link.

Later, in “Space and Horror: the subjective deformation of the stage” (2011) we lay the theoretical and methodological foundations of Semiotics of Space such as it has been worked in philosophy, narratology and Narrative Semiotics (through the Standard Narrative Semiotics built by A.J. Greimas and the Paris School of Semiotics, the Semiotics of Passions of Greimas and Fontanille or the Tensive Semiotics of Fontanille and Zilberberg), in addition to raising a first general approach to the spatialization of horror in literature.

Then in “Horror and figurativity: The semiotics of space in the horror story (2011), we have shown as the instance of enunciation (which in narratological terms correspond to the narrator) produces a subjective deformation of the spaces, printing in their semantic configuration a set of afferents thymic semes which, when they mix their self with the inherent semes for set up the material constitution of objects and places, produce a strong passional axiologization of the space. A semantic phenomenon that we have called affective coloration.

Finally, we have undertaken a broad and deep reflection on the prototypical semiotic mechanisms of the genre Terror at all levels of the Generative Trajectory of Meaning, taking as base the Lovecraftian literature, and having as result our doctoral thesis entitled Lovecraft: The Semiotics of Terror, which describes the main effects of meaning of genre Terror in general, which correspond to semantic mechanisms that can be textualized in various expressive substances such as film, literature, folklore, comics, video games, video music, advertisement, among many others.

A first advance of this thesis has been published in “The Outsider, a subject without Sender. Analysis of the Semionarrative Structures of Surface from Standard Narrative Semiotics” (2012), which analyzes the narrative component of the story in terms of the Actancial Model, Canonical Narrative Schema and Narrative Programmation, offering a first look at the modes of narrative production of genre Terror, which is constituted by an Escape Narrative Schema, which contradicts the supposed universality of Canonical Narrative Schema (of search) proposed by Greimas in the 70s, based on Propp’s research in the field of folklore.
Currently, the Semiotics of Terror is heading towards an expansion of its boundaries, since it has in its horizon checking their first results based on the analysis of literary corpora, to test them objects of study textualized in different substances.

Today it is in preparation a second stage of the Terrifying Body Semiotics that analyzes the significance of the body in films of the genre Terror. While it is in progress also a second stage of Terror Space Semiotics in cosmic horror stories (characterized by the non-dependence of the human factor as a reference center), plus, of course, of a series of theoretical papers seeking to systematize in a coherent model the results achieved and answer some questions arising along the doctoral thesis, which certainly will open new perspectives to the Semiotics of Terror.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.