Fontanille, Jacques

Short Entry

Jacques Fontanille (born: 1948) is a French semiotician who is one of the main exponents of the Paris School of Semiotics. He has authored or co-authored ten books and a number of articles or book chapters whose topics span theoretical semiotics, literary semiotics, and semiotics of the visual. A former student and collaborator of the founder of the Paris School of Semiotics, Algirdas Julien Greimas (1917 - 1992), Fontanille can be considered to be one of the main continuators of Greimas’ research program as he collaborated with him in his last published works, and assisted him in the administering and organizing of the Inter-Semiotic seminar at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. After Greimas’ death, the course continued under Fontanille’s mantle until it became his own seminar at the Institut Universitaire de France.

Fontanille is Professor and Président (2005-2010) at the Université de Limoges in France, where he teaches courses in Linguistics, Semiotics, Stylistics, and Rhetoric. He is a Senior Member of the Institut Universitaire de France. With Greimas, Fontanille elaborated a semiotics of the passions. With Claude Zilberberg, he developed a tensive semiotics. His most recent books include Sémiotique du discours (2003) translated into English as The Semiotics of Discourse in the Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics Series (2006), and Soma et séma (2004).

Long Entry

In his book The Semiotics of Discourse, Fontanille writes:

“[I]t is futile to wonder ‘how things began’: we swim in a world that is already meaningful, we are ourselves party to it, and our perceptions of it also have a semiotic form. But, each time we ‘take position’ in this world, each time we submit it to a point of view, we again perform the act starting from which signification takes shape.” (13)

This description appears within a discussion of what Fontanille calls “macro-semiotics.” It reveals Fontanille’s persistent focus on the importance of perception in meaning. The act of enunciation, or “enunciative praxis,” is what sets meaning into motion. On this topic, Fontanille writes: “no one ever pronounces the ‘first’ discourse: discursive activity is always taken up in a chain, or even a thickness of other discourses to which it ceaselessly makes reference” (The Semiotics of Discourse 65).

We always begin in a place where perceptions are already ongoing. In that spirit, this article begins by acknowledging that Fontanille is still writing and that his work continues to evolve. Therefore, no attempt will be made here to provide a comprehensive point of view on his work. Rather, this article focuses on key themes in Fontanille’s work, primarily through discussing his principal books. First, however, it will be useful to provide some context through a general presentation of French semiotics and an overview of Fontanille’s research.

Overview of French Semiotics

Algirdas Julien Greimas (1917-1992) was the initiator of a semiotic theory of meaning. The wide-ranging and dynamic body of research that has grown in the wake of his thought is known as the Paris School of Semiotics, French semiotics, or Greimassian semiotics. The semioticians who relate to this school of thought are also influenced by the Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev (1899-1965) and the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). Greimas founded a textual semiotics, which he conceived as a scientific endeavor, at the juncture of linguistics, anthropology and formal logic. In contrast with other semiotic systems that focus on signs, Greimassian semiotics examines signification more broadly defined. Jacques Fontanille’s own work bears the imprint of this influence.

The Greimassian approach uses a generative semiotic model of the constitution of meaning in discourse. According to this model, discourse production unfolds in various stages, beginning with fundamental elementary structures and moving toward surface manifestations. Greimas’s theory incorporates different levels of analysis: an immanent level, a sort of deep structure, and a manifest level, that which we perceive in a given semiotic object, such as a narrative text.

This theoretical model was inspired by the study of folktales, including Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale. Greimas initially developed an actantial, or action-based, model to describe the various actants, or roles, in narrative, such as those of hero, sought-after “object”, helper and opponent. Following the development of the actantial model, Greimas and his colleagues realized that every action presupposes an ability to act. This realization led to the elaboration, beginning in the 1970s, of a semiotic theory of modalities, using common modal verbs such as knowing (savoir), being-able (pouvoir), wanting (vouloir) and having-to (devoir). Modalities have been described as being concerned with the manipulating and sanctioning subject. A further innovation was a theory of aspectualities, dealing with the modulations of processes in both time and space. The aspectualities were part of a gradual shift away from structures and toward operations or acts, away from discrete oppositions and toward gradual differences.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Greimas and Fontanille collaborated to create a semiotics of the passions. Going beyond traditional lexical approaches to the passions, they describe passions as moods that permeate entire discourses, whose presence is signaled by ruptures and marks of emotion. Recently, Fontanille has argued that the theory of the passions encompasses the semiotics of actions.

In addition to the passions, later Greimassian semiotics attended to perception and its role in signification. Fontanille is generally considered the main proponent in this area of French semiotic research. In this sense, French semiotics developed strong theoretical links with phenomenology, thus showing the influence of thinkers such as Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961). In this approach, the act of enunciation, including the role of the subject of enunciation, is foregrounded.

The main reference source for the study of French semiotics is the two volumes of Sémiotique: Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. The first volume by A. J. Greimas and J. Courtés was published in 1979, and translated into English in 1982 by L. Crist et al. under the title Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary. The second volume appeared in 1986. Greimassian semioticians often refer to these two volumes simply as Sémiotique I and Sémiotique II. Fontanille’s own contributions may be found in Sémiotique II. This second volume, especially, demonstrates the collective nature of French semiotics. It includes entries written by some forty contributors. These articles, many of which contain several sections by various authors, extend, modify or even contest earlier facets of the theory.

French semiotics attends to signification in a broad sense, in light of the human world and its social contexts. Over the past several years, French semiotics has been interested in “substance, the continuous, the subject, and perception.” Parallel to this, there has been new research on the passional dimension of discourse (Sémiotique du visible 2). Fontanille sees these developments as indicators not of a “new” semiotics, but rather of an effort to “broaden the methodological possibilities of the theory” (2).

Overview of Fontanille’s Work

All of Jacques Fontanille’s work is best understood within the general framework laid out above. Fontanille came to semiotics as a way to link his two interests and fields of prior training: literature and linguistics. Soon after passing the agrégation exam to teach at the high-school level, he came upon Greimas’s books Sémantique structurale and Maupassant. It was precisely at this moment that he was in search of a new intellectual direction. Fontanille began attending Greimas’s seminars and discovered that the “structural semantics” developed by Greimas since the 1960s was actually a general theory of meaning. He became part of a group of Greimas’s students who would go on to establish themselves as researchers in their own right: Joseph Courtés, Jean-Claude Coquet, Claude Zilberberg, Eric Landowski, Ivan Darrault-Harris, Jean-François Bordron, and François Rastier. Fontanille and Denis Bertrand were the youngest members of this group.

Two features of Fontanille’s approach to semiotics set him apart from the others. First, he endeavors to articulate the richest, widest synthesis of semiotics as possible, both with respect to the different currents within Paris semiotics and within semiotics more widely understood. For example, he engages Peircean semiotics in The Semiotics of Discourse. This trans-disciplinary openness is important intellectually and also institutionally. It shows that Fontanille continues to view Paris semiotics as a collective research project. In this sense, he follows the tone set by Greimas and his collaborators in the 1970s and 80s, remaining as open as possible to other paradigms. Second, he is engaged in an ongoing process of developing new models while integrating them coherently into and alongside the existing ones: on principle, his semiotics is very dynamic, but without renouncing established past models. This approach contrasts with the direction taken by other post-greimassian semioticians such as Jean-Claude Coquet, Jean Petitot, Per Aage Brandt, and Ivan Darrault.

Fontanille situates himself as a part of the overall, wide-ranging discipline of semiotics, founded some 100 years ago. In response to a question about the basic texts that any aspiring student of semiotics should read, he lists the following authors: Ferdinand de Saussure, Charles Sanders Peirce, Louis Hjelmslev, Émile Benveniste, and Umberto Eco, along with his own teacher and colleague, A.J. Greimas.

Fontanille has focused his own research on the actant, which can be understood as a function in discourse. His mentions of the “subject,” actually refer to an effect of the actantial structure. Fontanille’s work has evinced a continuing emphasis on point of view (the actant’s particular vantage in grasping the object). He is interested in perception, which includes the role of the perceiving subject on actants’ perceptual and cognitive schemas. His study of perception represents the development of schemas inspired by Merleau-Ponty and Benveniste. Fontanille emphasizes enunciation and the perspective of “discourse in action,” maintaining Greimas’s utterance-oriented structures and procedures while emphasizing enunciation. Fontanille has maintained and reaffirmed the standard Paris semiotic method of developing formal models and taxonomies.

A hallmark of Fontanille’s approach is the blending of theoretical discussion with illustrative examples. Fontanille is deeply cognizant of his role in a larger movement of scholars engaged in a common theoretical and methodological project. As such, his books often begin with a helpful framing summary in which he summarizes fundamental methodological issues, the various contributions that have been made to these discussions, and the relevance of the book to the broader picture.

Major Works

Le Savoir partagé: Sémiotique et théorie de la connaissance chez Marcel Proust (1987)

With Les Espaces subjectifs (1989), this book had its origin in Fontanille’s thesis under the direction of Greimas for the Doctorat d’État degree. Its premise is that the study of “shared knowledge” shows that we should recognize the cognitive dimension of semiotics alongside the pragmatic and passional dimensions. Fontanille addresses four key themes, which have appeared in all of his subsequent works to varying degrees: narratology, cognition, intersubjectivity, and passion. The book offers a typology of points of view as well as an elaboration of the concepts of identification, models of inference, and what he calls “hyper-knowing.” Along with Marcel Proust, whose work is the focus of the book, literary examples include Jorge Luis Borges, Guy de Maupassant, William Faulkner, and Albert Camus..

Les Espaces subjectifs: introduction à la sémiotique de l’observateur (discours-peinture-cinéma) (1989)

This book follows naturally from Le Savoir partagé, it also having begun as part of Fontanille’s doctoral thesis. The two books’ close link is apparent in the footnotes here, which sometimes refer the reader to Le Savoir partagé for explanations. This book is much more widely cited than its companion volume. It is more methodological, offering less pure theory and more applications. The term “subjective spaces” in the book’s title could have been, instead, “intersubjective spaces” because Fontanille argues that both subjectivity and enunciation in discourse result from the interaction between subjects. The “semiotics of the observer” to which the subtitle refers actually designates in the book two separate understandings of subjectivity: on the one hand, the “observer” and on the other hand, the “informer.” It is the focus on the observer that allows Fontanille to emphasize the cognitive dimension of discourse, which he argues is too often overlooked in theories of narrative, including that elaborated by Gérard Genette. As this book’s subtitle suggests, it is divided into three parts that focus, respectively, on language, painting, and film. Picking up where Le Savoir partagé left off in its analysis of literary authors (Proust as well as Borges, Maupassant, Faulkner, and Camus). Les Espaces subjectifs translates some of those findings into more general concepts. Fontanille aims at a “comparative semiotics.” Here, as in his subsequent works, Fontanille emphasizes cultural specificity and variation. He describes subjectivity as laid out through the interaction among three dimensions: cognitive, pragmatic, and thymic (from the Greek thumos = ). The “thymic” dimension refers to the role of the body. Fontanille also distinguishes between various types of observers, including actantial, thematic, and figural.

In the second section of Les Espaces subjectifs, devoted to painting, Fontanille analyzes works by Van Gogh, Lotto, Bruegel, and Mantegna in order to suggest how perspective has a tendency to create the illusion of a single, monolithic observer. Against this idea, he affirms that there is a multiplicity of observers. Van Gogh’s painting The Sower becomes a case study for demonstrating the interactions between figurative and figural space.

In the book’s third and final section, on cinema, Fontanille first examines the concept of enunciation as it applies to cinema, as well as the cognitive modalization of space and point of view. The primary example here is Luchino Visconti’s film version (1971) of the Thomas Mann story Death in Venice. Fontanille describes what he calls the “enunciative contract” specific to cinema. This contract includes the film’s own implicit construction of, and reliance upon the observer or viewer, as well as the viewer’s construction of a fluid image and thus narrative coherence out of innumerable successive frames. Through analysis of not just verbal texts but also painting and cinema, Fontanille illustrates the analytical flexibility of the semiotic tools he proposes. If these various genres lose something of their specificity in his treatment of them, he nevertheless makes a convincing case for similarities among the wide variety of signifying systems in the human world. Many of the topics treated in this book, particularly in the first section on verbal texts, appear again, quite explicitly and in more elaborated forms, in Sémiotique des passions.

Sémiotique des passions: des états de choses aux états d’âme (1991); The Semiotics of Passions: From States of Affairs to States of Feelings (1993)

This book, co-authored with A.J. Greimas, could be called Fontanille’s first major work. The book originated in two years of notes from Greimas’s seminar. Fontanille wrote most of the manuscript and then presented it to Greimas, who authored some of the Introduction and Conclusion. The book represents a culmination of several years of research as well as a turning point, leading to new directions of inquiry. Scholars in semiotics have been unpacking what was found there and continuing the project.

This book develops systematically what had first been discovered in the 1980s: that semiotic subjects are cognitive beings with a certain interiority—both character and temperament. They are, put briefly, passional subjects. In some sense, the semiotics of the passions helps to nuance the hard edges of the older idea of a polemico-contractual model. It opens out onto possibilities for fruitful cross-disciplinary investigation. The Semiotics of Passions divides into two parts. First is the theoretical elaboration (chapter 1, “The Epistemology of Passions”) and second is the application (chapters 2, “On Avarice” and 3, “Jealousy”). Unlike more traditional philosophical explanations of avarice, which describe it as a solitary subject’s passion for an object, Greimas and Fontanille’s analysis of avarice reveals the phenomenon to be an intersubjective passion. The subsequent example of jealousy makes explicit the intersubjective weaving of several roles. Literary examples invoked here include Shakespeare’s Othello, a fable by Jean de La Fontaine, and Robbe-Grillet’s novel Jealousy.

Why the passions? The semiotics of action only grasped transformations, leaving states of affairs undetermined. The introduction of the notion of competence filled this void, by accounting for the subject’s capabilities prior to acting. Competence is described using the language of modalizations, starting from the four basic modalities of knowing (savoir), being-able (pouvoir), wanting (vouloir), and having-to (devoir). Passions result from correlations and tensions that arise between modalizations. The semiotic theory of the passions reflects Greimas’s ongoing engagement not only with linguistics but also with philosophy. The semiotic theory of passions sets itself off from traditional theories of the passions that focus on the lexical level.

In The Semiotics of Passions, the role of the body, the thymic dimension, is highlighted. Closely linked to the theory of modalities, the subject’s relation to the object is mediated by the body. The body is at the same time part of the world and part of the subject. The Semiotics of Passions remains the clearest and most ambitious articulation of Greimassian semiotics after the turn toward the body. The stakes are of three varieties: epistemological (with articulations of tensivity), anthopological (with the intervention of enunciative praxis in the building of cultures) and metholodological (with a relation forged between perception and signification). The epistemological stance of The Semiotics of Passions grows out of a fundamental perspective of the world as continuous.

The development of the semiotic theory of passions marked a shift away from the study of object-centered states of affairs toward subject-centered states of feelings. If modalities subtend action, the passions underlie both modalities and actions. While theactantial model described subjects solely in terms of actions, the semiotics of passions characterizes subjects as endowed with an inner dimension. At the same time, one of the fundamental insights subtending the theory is that passions aren’t solitary, but derive from actantial dispositions, modalities, and social structures. Greimas and Fontanille describe the passions as “a fragrance” that “emanate[s] from discursive structures” (1). This strangely beautiful image suggests that passions and the values that condition them do not belong to individual actors, but rather to the level of discourse as a whole.

This theory of the passions has triggered controversies. In 1989, A.J. Greimas and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur engaged in a public debate. A transcription of this debate is available as an appendix to Anne Hénault’s book Le Pouvoir comme passion. As preparation to this debate, Greimas had given Ricoeur a text which, in modified form, would later become the Introduction to The Semiotics of Passions. This debate centered on the passions in semiotics. When asked: why the semiotics of the passions? Greimas responded that the semiotics of action only grasps transformations, leaving states of things undetermined. Talking about these states of things means introducing the notion of competence, and thus of modalities, which arise from a “thymic mass.” Through the states of things, one hopes to pass to a description of states of mind, that is, of passions. But in discourse, there are forces that cannot be entirely explained through modalities. Elsewhere, Greimas calls these forces “troubles” [disturbances]. Thus, the passions account for these “troubles” in discourse. Ricoeur takes a different point of view. He says that the passion of which Greimas speaks is the passion of the actant that he himself is, as a theorist. It is, according to Ricoeur, the semiotician who is seized by passion. Ricoeur speculated that the passions were inside the semiotician himself.

Out of this work on The Semiotics of Passions would grow a new paradigm, tensive semiotics, which Fontanille subsequently elaborated, in part through collaboration with Claude Zilberberg.

Sémiotique du visible : Des mondes de lumière (1995)

In this book, Fontanille admits that the addition of “feeling” [sentir] to the theory risks a return to an impressionistic way of analyzing things. However, he affirms that semiotics must take this risk, because the body is inevitably implicated in the apprehension of languages’ plane of expression. This implication inevitably has consequences for the structuring of content. A preoccupation with the body characterizes all of Fontanille’s recent work, especially in evidence in Soma et séma (2004), which will be discussd below.

In Sémiotique du visible, Fontanille undertook an ambitious semiotic analysis of light in part to test the theory in a domain outside of the linguistic, strictly speaking. The analysis approaches light as a “configuration.” He chose a multi-cultural and multi-modal corpus of works for his analysis, seeking the passional dimension in texts where one may not expect to find it. So, the analysis here shows the heuristic value of articulations of “tensive space” independently of lexical manifestations of the passions.

The epistemological stakes consist in discovering how meaning-effects can emerge from “states of things” as they are apprehended by perception. The analysis remains a semiotic one, strictly speaking, in that Fontanille attends to developing a common method for the whole corpus, across cultures and genres.

The functioning of passions in discourse requires us to acknowledge that semiotic existence has a basis in perception. He argues that signification emerges through a process leading from sensation to perception to interpretation.

From the broad point of view of enunciative praxis, semiotics aims ambitiously to take into account the whole variety of imaginable schematizations, whether they are those of passional dispositions, articulations of tensivity, or the various ‘forms of life’ (a concept borrowed from Wittgenstein) that give meaning to human behavior. Fontanille’s book Semiotics of the Visible thus focuses on what he identifies as a dominant configuration, that of light. The book traces this configuration’s aesthetic, passional, and axiological avatars across disparate types of discourse (poetry, essay, painting, film) and across different cultures (French, Lithuanian, Japanese).

He discusses four meaning-effects that are constitutive of the configuration of light: brightness [éclat], lighting, [éclairage], color [couleur], and matter [matière]. He notes that the question of light, notably in analyses of images, has often been reduced to the question of lighting. However, lighting is only one of the dimensions of light, the one that discusses the relationship between a source and a target, controlled by the intensity of the source, relying upon the vector properties of space. Throughout these four meaning-effects, he identifies three general semantic properties: quantity, spatiality, and intensity.

After laying out all of this groundwork in the Introduction and Chapter I, Fontanille devotes Chapter II to the poetry collection Capital of Pain by Paul Eluard. There, he endeavors to show how the figurative structure of light gives rise to an axiology and a passional universe. Specifically, the axiology and passional universe of Eluard’s collection center on love.

Chapter III is a study of paintings, known collectively as “Painted Sonatas” (1907-08), by the Lithuanian composer and painter M.K. Čiurliones. Two of these works, Allegro and Andante from the series Stars [Zvaigzdziu sonata], are reproduced in full-color plates in Fontanille’s book. Fontanille was drawn to these works not only because they suggest a bridge across different forms of art but also because they offer a configuration of light suggesting a “polyscopy,” permitting different apprehensions of the same pictorial motifs (99).

Chapter IV focuses on Jean-Luc Godard’s film Passion (1980). This is a revised version of Fontanille’s essay “Le couloir, la strate, le labyrinthe et le tableau,” published in 1992. Fontanille endeavors to show that Passion accords a preeminent place to light. He reads the film as a reflection on pictorial and cinematographic aesthetics. By “aesthetics,” Fontanille means a distinct level of discursive syntax, into which enter distinctive values, operations, and actants. Invoking the work of Christian Metz and referring also to the cinematography of Orson Welles, Fontanille establishes a typology of types of depth in Godard’s film. Throughout the chapter, Fontanille affirms the importance of enunciative praxis in leading from figuration to refiguration.

Chapter V takes up a literary essay by Junichiro Tanizaki entitled “In Praise of Shadow” [In’ei raisan], first published in 1933. The chapter is a shorter version of a study by the same title originally published in Nouveaux Actes sémiotiques in 1993. Tanizaki’s essay is a meditation on Japanese culture and Asian cultures more broadly, in a comparative vein through contrast with Western cultures. Tanizaki argues that both types of cultures cohabitate within Japanese culture; he examines the sensibility of everyday life in order to uncover both of these types. Tanizaki’s text focuses on the theme of light and shadow, suggesting the predilection for shadow in Japanese culture and everyday life, and drawing out the effects of this emphasis.

Tension et signification (1998)

Jacques Fontanille co-authored this book with Claude Zilberberg. To their collaboration we owe the development of a tensive semiotics. The collaboration seems to have been born in the wake of Zilberberg’s 1981 book Essai sur les modalités tensives and following Greimas and Fontanille’s elaboration of the Sémiotique des passions (1991). So the original impetus was not only to link Zilberberg’s work with the semiotics of the passions, but also to take into account the later developments in “tensive” semiotics.

This book, Tension et signification, is unique in its form. Zilberberg and Fontanille first envisioned it as a dictionary, and, in fact, it has been called by some the third volume of Sémiotique: dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. It evolved into the elaboration of a theoretical position. All of the chapters retain a neat organizational structure somewhat reminiscent of a dictionary. Indeed, even the staccato chapter titles are reminiscent of a dictionary. The two authors began with a list of concepts that they wished to treat, laying out a template for the form and elements of each chapter. The chapters are devoted, respectively, to the following twelve topics: Valence, Value, The Semiotic Square, Schema, Presence, Becoming, Enunciative praxis, Form of life, Modality, Fiducia, Emotion, and Passion. Each chapter contains the following sections:

1. overview

2. definitions

3. comparisons

4. bibliographical notes and references

The succinct foreword is like a user’s manual explaining each of these parts. In each chapter, the overview section explains which theorists have contributed to the semiotic theory of the concept in question. The definitions section offers two types of definitions: syntagmatic and paradigmatic. The comparisons section explains that concept’s relation to other concepts. The entire book focuses, as the authors state near the beginning of their foreword, on complexity, tensivity, affectivity, and perception.

Fontanille has explained that after he and Zilberberg had drafted the entire manuscript, the publisher asked them to reduce the page count by nearly half. Out of those pages which had to be cut grew two other works: Zilberberg’s Précis de grammaire tensive (2002) and Fontanille’s Sémiotique du discours (1998/2003).

There are a wide variety of domains invoked here: poetic discourse, scientific discourse, mythic discourse, politics, linguistics, anthropology, and rhetoric. Fontanille and Zilberberg explain in the foreword that semiotics is finding its way back to its own trans-disciplinary origins.

Sémiotique et littérature : Essais de méthode (1999)

Sémiotique et littérature is designed around examples drawn from French literary texts. The examples invoked here are texts that Fontanille had been reading and studying for a number of years. The book offers a pedagogically useful structure. Following a general introduction to the semiotic study of literature, it contains eight chapters, each organized around a specific theoretical point that is illustrated through analysis of a different literary work. Chapter I treats isotopy and a short text by Maurice Scève. Chapter II, on Point of View, analyzes Louis Aragon’s historical novel La Semaine sainte. Chapter III, devoted to Passions and Emotions, treats Marie Madeleine de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves. Chapter IV, entitled “Enunciation, Rhetoric, and Figurativity,” focuses on Apollinaire’s poetry collection Alcools. Chapter V, on Intertextuality, analyses the work of Presocratic philosophers along with works by René Char. One of these works by Char is also analyzed in the following two chapters, one on Genre and the other on Style. The last chapter, which focuses on Phenomenology, analyzes Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s novel Voyage au bout de la nuit.

Sémiotique et littérature begins with a succinct overview, some fifteen pages long. Fontanille starts with the basics of Greimassian semiotics. He explains that meaning emerges through various levels of signification, from the most abstract to the most concrete: elementary semantic structures, followed by actantial and modal structures, then narrative and thematic structures, and finally figurative structures. Fontanille suggests that, thanks to its focus on signifying wholes rather than on individual signs, Paris semiotics has been naturally drawn to the analysis of literary texts. This introduction offers a succinct overview of each of the chapters to come, even including a subsection called “The Method in Perspective,” which lays out the impetus behind the analysis and the stakes. Fontanille is not interested in developing yet another semiotic theory of the literary text, but rather asks what semiotics can bring to each type of question asked: about isotopy, emotions, phenomenology, and so on.

Chapter I, “Isotopy: Coherence, Cohesion, Congruence,” analyzes a blason entitled “La gorge” [“The throat” or “The bosom”] by the sixteenth-century poet Maurice Scève. The chapter carefully explains that the blason is a text typical of sixteenth-century court society, in which a poet would praise or criticize. A sub-genre of these blasons included works devoted to describing a specific part of a woman’s body—hence, here, the neck. It makes sense to begin with isotopy, because, as Fontanille explains, any reading and interpretation of a text presupposes some internal coherence in the text, which means that it forms a whole, endowed with meaning. The standard definition of isotopy is “the redundancy of a semantic category in a discourse,” although Fontanille seeks to make this definition more complex through recourse to the idea of discourse in action. He thus argues for a distinction between “text” and “discourse,” the latter qualified as the act and product of a particular, realized enunciation. Fontanille treats Scève’s text methodically, proceeding by fragmentation, segmentation (particularly emphasizing metaphors), and thematic analysis. Basically, the isotopic analysis shows the inner workings of a text, the multiple levels upon which a text has meaning, and explains how disparate parts hang together in a coherent whole. The chapter ends not with a conclusion, but with a short section called “Ouvertures,” where Fontanille proposes the theory he has just laid out as a way out of certain theoretical impasses which oppose two different understandings of isotopy: one broad and the other more restricted. He argues that his distinction between the levels of cohesion, coherence, and congruence, coupled with the distinction between the corresponding forms of series, agglomerates, and families, allows us to match a specific strategy with each level of organization.

Chapter II, “Point of View: Perception and Signification,” treats passages from Aragon’s novel La Semaine sainte. This chapter is extremely useful in that it quickly identifies a fundamental difficulty in talking about “point of view”: the proliferation of theories that deal with this topic. He considers linguistics and narratology as well as the study of painting. He also is careful to explain that “point of view” is an everyday term, and thus carries a misleading layer of intuitive understanding. To bring “point of view” back strictly within the purview of semiotics, Fontanille focuses on the two basic dimensions of intensity and extent. In the analysis of Aragon’s novel, Fontanille focuses on a scene where the character Jacques-Étienne MacDonald is fleeing Paris during Holy Week in 1815. Fontanille’s analysis of MacDonald’s point of view plays out over a semiotic square that he established, the four points of which are: the elective strategy, the encompassing strategy, the particularizing strategy, and the cumulative strategy.

Chapter III, “Passions and Emotions,” takes up Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves. Fontanille starts the chapter with an amusing question: “Is it serious to be interested in ‘sentiments’ and ‘passions’?” (63). He spends the first few pages explaining that these concepts do not belong just to the realm of psychology but are well and truly semiotic concepts. He echoes his previous work with Greimas in Semiotics of the Passions by distinguishing his task from the traditional, lexical approach to the passions. The lexical approach remains mired in what each individual language and culture demarcates as a separate passion, whereas semiotics strives to arrive at a description of the structures of meaning that goes beyond the specific and the local. Fontanille offers a quick overview of the “modal arrangements”, drawing upon the modal verbs, as well as aspectual and rhythmic schemas. He emphasizes the importance of the body and notes that the passional subject “speaks with his/her body” (72). He then moves to the canonical passional schema. This schema involves, first, the “affective awakening,” when the tensive elements are put into place, when an actor first experiences a certain type of affect. Next is the “arrangement,” when the actor becomes endowed with a modal identity, or competence. What follows is the “passional pivot,” the moment when the actor understands the meaning of the affects she or he has been experiencing. The “emotion” stage occurs when the feeling and sensing body manifests an observable reaction to passion. Finally, in the “moralization” stage, the passion is evaluated from the collective point of view of the witness or interpreter. To illustrate this semiotic approach, Fontanille analyzes La Princesse de Clèves, which is sometimes referred to as the first modern novel. Despite being the work of a woman, it has been a canonical text since the era of its initial publication. While Fontanille, in keeping with a long-entrenched French tradition, tends to focus his various literary analyses exclusively on male authors, it is refreshing here to find an elegant and persuasive analysis of the famous seventeenth-century writer. Fontanille’s analysis of the novel focuses on the passional effects that result from tensions between individual desire and social duty in the married Princesse de Clèves’s forbidden love for the Duc de Nemours. Especially given the interest aroused by the semiotic approach to the passions as well as the canonical status of the novel treated here, this chapter would work well as a stand-alone reading assignment in a classroom setting.

Chapter IV, entitled “Enunciation, Rhetoric, and Figurativity,” focuses on Apollinaire’s poetry collection Alcools. Fontanille starts this chapter with some historical perspective on the field of rhetoric in France, especially its resurgence during the 1970s under the inspiration of structural semantics, particularly through the work of Groupe Mu. He teases out some of the threads that connect the semiotics of passions to classical rhetoric. The chapter discusses positional actants, then moves on to the canonical rhetorical schema, which consists of three phases: confrontation, domination, and resolution. He then moves on to a discussion of rhetoric and figurativity, noting that beneath figures and tropes, one finds sensibility and perception. Illustrating the cumulative element of the analysis offered in this book, he returns to the basic idea of intensity and extent, this time discussing the “rhetorical modulations” of these two fundamental dimensions. Fontanille specifies that discourse is not just the putting into play of a system, but rather a perceptive and sensible field of presence. Fontanille’s analysis of Apollinaire’s poetry is entitled “the mental scenes of Apollinaire.” Its central thesis is that the collection Alcools is entirely organized, from the point of view of enunciation, around the person being spoken to rather than around the person speaking; in other words, the collection offers a unique point of view on the interaction between the You and the I.

Chapter V, “Intertextuality,” analyses the work of Presocratic philosophers along with René Char’s Partage formel and Feuillets d’Hypnos. Fontanille opens the chapter by tracing semiotic interest in intertextuality to the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Julia Kristeva. He notes that there is a strong link between intertextuality and enunciation. He describes intertextuality as interaction among discourses, in particular axiological interaction. One text is defined as the source and the other text as the target; intertextuality results in a “coherent deformation” of the one by the other. Turning to his examples, Fontanille reads Char as a reader of the Presocratics (especially Heraclitus, Anaximander, and Anaxagoras by way of Heidegger), particularly as concerns the natural world. In this context, the natural world is constituted semiotically around the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Then Fontanille turns to specific excerpts from Partage formel and Feuillets d’Hypnos. Chapters VI and VII continue with an analysis of Char’s Feuillets d’Hypnos in order to take up the more general topics of “Genre” (Chapter VI) and “Style” (Chapter VII).

The book’s final chapter, Chapter VIII, called “Phenomenology,” analyzes Céline’s novel Voyage au bout de la nuit. This is a text to which Fontanille has returned several times in his work, notably in Sémiotique du discours. Here, he begins with a very general meditation on “The Phenomenology of the Literary Text.” Once again proving adept at voicing what is on the reader’s mind, he notes that a phenomenological approach to literature seems to break with formal approaches, and even to give free reign to a reader’s impressions. He notes that the phenomenological approach is based upon binaries, but he goes on to inquire after what underlies the textual expression, meaning apprehended in its becoming, exemplified by Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Proust. Fontanille notes that any semiotics, whether philosophical or semio-linguistic, implies a phenomenological dimension, according to how much of a role they accord to perception and to sensibility (228). The link between phenomenology and semiotics becomes clearer when he specifies that “presence” is the minimal characteristic of the instance of discourse. He then maps presence onto the two dimensions of apprehension and intent. He draws upon Greimas’s book De L’Imperfection and includes short analyses of Paul Eluard and Marcel Proust before arriving at Céline. Here, he focuses on phobia, anguish, and abjection as characteristic of the phenomenological universe of Céline’s novel.

Sémiotique du discours (2nd ed 2003); The Semiotics of Discourse (2006)

Anyone seeking a clear, comprehensive overview of narrative semiotics should begin with this book. It could be described as a manual or handbook or even a textbook. Among all of Fontanille’s books described in this article, The Semiotics of Discourse is the most accessible to students. It blends a historical perspective with an emphasis on recent research. The book offers a clear, thorough exposition; numerous examples drawn from sports, cooking, and literature; a balance of introductory overview and detailed analysis; figures that graphically represent the ideas expressed; and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter. In the book’s foreword, Fontanille reminds us that “the structuralist period is over” (xvii); the focus now is on a semiotics of the continuous, that is, signification in process. The book has gone into a second edition in France; it has appeared in Spanish and English translation; a Brazilian translation is due out in 2007. As a textbook of sorts, this book synthesizes the work of several theorists rather than offering one single linear argument.

In Chapter I, “From the Sign to Discourse,” Fontanille begins by affirming that semiotics takes discourse, rather than the sign, as its basic unit of analysis. He quickly affirms the centrality of the body and of perception in the signifying process, explaining that there are two planes of language—an interior plane, which belongs to the order of content, and an exterior plane, which belongs to the order of expression—united by the perceiving body that takes position in the world of meaning. This arrangement gives us interoception (the interior plane), exteroception (the exterior plane), and proprioception (the role of the body). Fontanille writes that “semiosis is proprioceptive.” Therefore, signification is just as affective, emotive, and passional as it is conceptual or cognitive. (17)

In Chapter II, “The Elementary Structures,” Fontanille explains the tensive structure, a key elementary structure, which is based upon the two planes of language:

1. intensity characterizes the internal, interoceptive domain, which will become the plane of content. Semiotics describes this dimension in terms of “intent.”

2. extent characterizes the external, exteroceptive domain, which will become the plane of expression. Semiotics describes this dimension in terms of “apprehension.”

3. the correlation between the two domains results from proprioception, the taking of position of a body proper. Here, again, Fontanille affirms that the body participates in both domains, in both planes of language.

Chapter III, “Discourse,” describes discourse as “an enunciation in action.” At the center of discourse is what is called “the instance of discourse,” “a human presence, a sensing body that expresses itself” (45). In case there were any remaining doubt, this chapter makes perfectly clear why the book is entitled “the semiotics of discourse.” Fontanille describes discourse as a field, a topological form organized through discursive schemas. Schemas of tension combine to form canonical schemas. One prime example of the latter is the prototypical quest schema. Put another way, discourse schematizes experiences and representations, making them meaningful and enabling us to share them with others.

Chapter IV is entitled “Actants, Actors, and Modalities.” In this chapter, Fontanille provides a brief history of the actantial model of semiotics, and how it morphed into a theory of modalities. He reminds us that every action presupposes an ability to act, and that this realization led to the development of the semiotic theory of modalities, based upon the common modal verbs “knowing” (savoir), “being-able” (pouvoir), “wanting” (vouloir) and “having-to” (devoir). Here, Fontanille points out that a certain modal identity can even be what is at stake in a narrative quest— or, in other words, a quest for identity.

Chapter V is devoted to “Action, Passion, and Cognition.” Fontanille explains that the three basic dimensions of our language activity, which we use to organize our experience in discourse, are action, passion, and cognition. The corresponding logics are: pragmatic, passional (or tensive), and cognitive. They should not be understood as separate entities; rather, they function together, as three points of view on the same faculty of language. This chapter hearkens back to the passional schema that Greimas and Fontanille laid out in The Semiotics of Passions.

The book’s final chapter, Chapter VI, is entitled “Enunciation.” The Semiotics of Discourse concludes by affirming the importance of perception and its role in signification. Fontanille reminds us here of the influence of phenomenology. The act of enunciation is the motor driving discourse. It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the subject of enunciation.

Soma & séma: Figures du corps (2004)

The title of this book differs noticeably from Fontanille’s other titles—the abbreviated words recall French popular usage. The abbreviations of somatique [somatic] and sémantique [semantic] emphasize the perhaps unexpected linkages between these two terms, echoing the Ancient Greek soma (the body) and sèma (the tomb, the monument, but also the sign or the sense = what the monument makes you think of). The book is divided into an introduction, three major parts, and a conclusion. Within each of these major parts, the book is divided into a large number of sections and subsections, each only one or two pages in length.

The introduction, entitled “Body, Sign, Meaning,” begins by noting that across the human sciences, the body has made a comeback. Fontanille remarks that the body came to prominence in French semiotic theory in the 1980s with the advent of the theory of the passions. The task in the wake of this development is to determine the relationship between the semiotic theory of action and the semiotics of passions. Fontanille disagrees with the point of view that the semiotic theory of action was rational and well-formed, while the semiotics of passions was all about ruptures and dysfunction. If this were the case, then the semiotics of action would suffice. We wouldn’t really need the body, just a complexification of the theory of action. Fontanille argues, on the contrary, that it is the semiotics of passions that gives access to the more general model. From this point of view, the semiotics of action is just one particular perspective within the broader theory of passions. Thus we are called to completely rethink the organization of semiotic theory, and in particular to rethink the place of the body in semiosis. The body is truly at the center of semiosis, because the body is indispensable to the operation that unites the two planes of language. Fontanille acknowledges that there is a recurrent ambivalence surrounding the semiotic approach to the body. On the one hand, the body functions as substratum of semiosis, and on the other hand, the body functions as a semiotic figure. Fontanille cautions us not to adopt a simplistic dichotomy of underlying structure versus surface form, but rather to remember that these two dimensions are tightly interconnected.

Part I is entitled “The Actant’s Body.” It centers on recognizing that the actant is, or has, a body. It looks at the effects of this body on semiosis and on the instances of discourse that take it up, as well as on the theory of the act and of action, of which it is the operator. Fontanille focuses here on the phenomenon of lapsus, or lapse. A semiotics of action that is centered on the actant’s body, and no longer simply on the logical and canonical progression of ordeals, will accord importance to the failed act, to blunders and vicissitudes, phenomena that tend to be effaced in the retrospective reconstruction of the logic of action. In other words, this is a semiotics that recovers the meaning of lapses and errors. The chapter starts with a question: “Are lapses errors?” (43). Fontanille asserts that lapses escape discursive programming. It’s rather a shock to readers who know his work that he invokes Sigmund Freud approvingly, pointing out that Freud taught us that lapses, like any “failed” act, are nevertheless “successful” enunciations. Despite being unpredictable, lapses still arise from preconditions of signification susceptible to being described. Lapses, thus, are not errors, but rather “figures of discourse that are not planned or codified” (43). Thus, Fontanille concludes, we can use the same interpretive tools to describe lapses as we use to describe other facets of the production of discourse. The lapse is particularly interesting because it offers us ways to reexamine the theory of the instance of enunciation. In a classical Greimassian move, Fontanille affirms the limits of traditional approaches to the phenomenon in question (here, the lapse) in order to set up his own analysis. He summarizes by saying that “the mechanisms that produce lapses do not differ from those that produce more conformist enunciations” (43-44).

The key example in Part I is Godard’s film Passion (which also was analyzed in Sémiotique du visible). Fontanille notes that Godard is known for his cinematic meta-reflections on pictorial aesthetics and cinematography. Fontanille’s focus in this film is specifically an instance of an apparent lapse, when the camera focuses on a woman’s moving lips while the sound we hear is the voice of a man from off camera. This lapse, which occurs in a scene in which fellow-workers are gathered in the home of Isabelle, the factory worker threatened with being fired, often, according to Fontanille, causes laughter on the part of the spectators. Fontanille argues that this film shows that the actors’ bodies express themselves “compulsively,” or outside of the control of a strict logic. Sound and image do not correlate. At times they even contradict one another. Fontanille calls all of this Godard’s “discreet perversity” (70). Basically, Fontanille is interested here in all sorts of configurations that fall outside of canonical discourse, ranging from the lapse or slip to mumbling or even to delirium. Fontanille classes the lapse as one of several types of corporeal accidents. These accidents, according to him, reveal another form of life, another semiotic universe and another system of values. They arise from a “reason” which is the body’s own.

Part II is entitled “Modes of the Sensible and Figurative Syntax.” Here, Fontanille shows that examining the different modes of the sensible also means exploring the various sensible fields, and constructing the first elements of a syntax of the corporeal figures of discourse. This part begins with a chapter entitled “Modes and Fields of the Sensible.” A footnote indicates that the point of departure of this chapter was the Inter-Semiotic Seminar of 1997-98, entitled “Modes of the Sensible and Semiotic Forms.” There are two key examples invoked in this part: what Fontanille terms the “post-modern body” in the work of Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp and selected writings by the literary author Paul Claudel.

Fontanille establishes a typology of the sensible body, based upon the contrast between the body proper (Soi, Corps propre) and the flesh (Moi, Chair). He shows that it is no longer simply a question of integrating the body into semiotic theory, but rather of asking how bodies themselves can function as signs, how they can become figures, texts, images, objects of meaning. Duchamp interests him here for being a provocateur with respect to the traditional conception of the work of art and of the artist’s function, and more precisely the displacement that he undertakes in shifting the value, or what Fontanille calls the “axiological weight,” of the work of art away from the product and toward the artistic act. In choosing and assembling ordinary objects, the artist constitutes them as artistic objects, and constitutes himself or herself as an artist through this very act. This type of art is referred to as readymade; Fontanille remarks that it is often called “conceptual,” but that he would call it “performative” (162). In this same section, Fontanille’s analysis of Paul Claudel’s work centers on the model of the clock and on the body-machine. The basic argument is that Claudel takes up the metaphor of the clock and transforms it into a meta-semiotic model, that of the body-machine.

Part III is entitled “Figures of the Body and Discursive Memories.” Here, the hypothesis of a figurative syntax resting upon the figures of the body leads to a typology of these figures, which appear at the same time as semiotic forms of poly-sensoriality and as the supports of the memory of discourse. Fontanille lays out four different modalities for reading the body: decrypting [décryptage], un-burying [désenfouissement], representation [représentation], and locating [repérage]. In this part, there are two key examples. One is Lars Von Trier’s film Element of Crime, about which Fontanille’s analysis focuses on the translucid membrane. The other, a perennial example to which Fontanille returns time and again, is the work of Proust. Noting that Proust is an indefatigable explorer of semiotic forms that emerge from sensorial associations, Fontanille takes up examples of synesthesia. One of these examples concerns a fountain in Sodom and Gomorrah. Fontanille analyzes how this fountain is transformed into a body. A key idea that Fontanille introduces here deals with the patina. By “patina,” he means a process that confers upon things an “envelope,” giving them a body-like form.

Fontanille concludes Soma et séma by offering what he calls a “semiotics of the imprint,” which he describes as a kind of epistemology. He explains that this epistemological point of view defines the angles from which the phenomenon must be observed in order to be pertinent. Because the phenomenon that interests him is signification, the “imprint” provides the principle of pertinence for a semiotics that attends to the body.

Fontanille also notes that semiotics possesses two criteria for validation. One is the internal coherence of the theoretical models themselves. The other is the adequacy of the model for the objects of study. The relation between these two criteria deals with how to convert examples of semiotic analysis into a larger, coherent meta-semiotics. Fontanille notes that the semiotics of the body offers three essential contributions. First, it accounts for all of the forms of action and enunciation, beyond the planned, canonical forms. Second, it entails simple propositions which are able to be generalized, in order to work toward building a figurative syntax. Third, it invokes a hypothesis for treating discursive memory. Basically, Fontanille shows here that he is interested in theory-building, that the individual analyses he performs are always in the service of a larger theoretical and methodological project. He reiterates that he views the “logic of action” as a particular case within the semiotics of passions, which is the broader theoretical model.

The end of his conclusion provides some markers as a jumping-off point toward future research. Notably, Fontanille asks about the inscription of signifying forms in a material substratum. He suggests that signification is only observable if bodies retain traces of interactions with other bodies. He also notes the upsurge of interest in “multi-modal” signifying forms, that is, forms of writing or inscription that combine writing with visual images. The imprint assures the sensible presence of signifying systems. This presence entails four variables: the material structure of the support; the type of event, gesture, or technique; the intensity and extent of these variables; and the density and quantity of the correspondence. In sum, the imprint allows us to apprehend how the world becomes semiosis through the work of bodies.

Concluding Remarks

The topic of the Inter-Semiotic Seminar in 2005–06 was “Semiotic Practices and Strategies II: Syntactic Forms.” During the closing session of that year, Fontanille delivered a talk entitled “Practice and Ethics.” That presentation led naturally into the topic for 2006−07, namely: “Ethical Meaning and Figures of Ethos.” These topics reveal the ethical turn under way in Paris School semiotics.

Fontanille has suggested that too many semioticians are engaged in writing derivative works, “vulgarizations,” and textbooks. He notes that there are few semioticians writing today who are actually engaged in doing the theoretical work that will provide the foundation for the continued growth of the discipline, and for nurturing a new generation of students and scholars. He therefore has issued a call to action to produce new, original research.


Jacques Fontanille was born in 1948 in the city of Limoges, in the Limousin region of central France. He entered the university in 1968, at the moment of the great student revolts and the re-structuring of French universities. His background is primarily in the study of literature. He earned a Doctorat de troisième cycle in 1979 at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), completing a thesis on the cognitive dimension in Aragon, and a Doctorat d’État in 1984 at the Université de Paris III—Sorbonne, writing on point of view in discourse, both under the direction of A.J. Greimas. He passed the Agrégation in Lettres Modernes in 1972.

Fontanille has taught at all levels, from grade school to graduate students. He is Professor of Linguistics and Semiotics and is currently President of the University of Limoges. He also holds the Chair in Linguistics and Semiotics at the Institut Universitaire de France.

Fontanille has presented over sixty invited seminars abroad, in countries including Denmark, Belgium, Italy, England, Spain, Cuba, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, the U.S., Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Turkey, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Rwanda, Iran, and Korea.

He served as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Nouveaux actes sémiotiques and is a member of the Editorial Board of several other journals. Between 1979 and 2006, Fontanille produced 208 publications, including eight single-authored books, one book co-authored with A.J.Greimas, one book co-authored with Claude Zilberberg, nine edited books, five special issues of journals, and 52 articles or book chapters.


Works by Jacques Fontanille

Fontanille, Jacques (1987). Le Savoir Partagé. Paris: Hadès-Benjamins.

Fontanille, Jacques (1989). Les espaces subjectifs. Paris: Hachette.

Fontanille, Jacques, ed. (1991). Le discours aspectualisé. Limoges: Pulim/Benjamins.

Greimas, A.J. and Jacques Fontanille (1991). Sémiotique des passions. Des états de choses aux

états d'âme. Paris : Le Seuil. Trans. Paul Perron and Frank Collins as The Semiotics of Passions: From States of Affairs to States of Feelings (1993). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Fontanille, Jacques, ed. (1992). La quantité et ses modulations qualitatives. Limoges: PULIM/ Benjamins.

Fontanille, Jacques. (1992) “Le couloir, la strate, le labyrinthe et le tableau. L’espace et l’observateur dans Passion, de Jean-Luc Godard » Cahiers de l’Institut des langues et des sciences du langage 1.

Fontanille, Jacques. (1993). “Le Ralentissement et le rêve. À propos de L’Éloge de l’ombre de Tanizaki » Nouveaux Actes sémiotiques 26-27.

Fontanille, Jacques (1995). Semiotica de las pasiones. El seminario. Puebla, Mexico : Morphée.

Fontanille, Jacques (1995). Sémiotique du visible. Des mondes de lumière. Paris : Presses universitaires de France.

Fontanille, Jacques, ed. (1995). Le devenir. Limoges: PULIM.

Fontanille, Jacques and Claude Zilberberg (1998). Tension et signification. Liège: Mardaga.

Fontanille, Jacques (1999). Sémiotique et littérature: essais de méthode. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Fontanille, Jacques (2003). Sémiotique du discours, 2nd ed. Limoges: PULIM. Trans. Heidi Bostic as The Semiotics of Discourse (2006) New York: Peter Lang.

Fontanille, Jacques and Guy Barrier, eds. Les métiers de la sémiotique. Limoges: PULIM, coll. Tekhné (conference proceedings).

Fontanille, Jacques and J.-F. Bordron, eds. Sémiotique du discours et tensions rhétoriques. Special issue of Langages, 137.

Fontanille, Jacques (2002). Des théories aux problématiques. Sémio 2001, ed. and intro. Jacques Fontanille. Proceedings of the AFS conference « Sémio2001 », Limoges : PULIM. CD ROM produced in collaboration with Marie Renoue.

Fontanille, Jacques (2002). Le Montage au cinéma, ed. and intro. with Sylvie Périneau, special issue of the journal Visio.

Fontanille, Jacques (2003). Modélisations sémiotiques, ed. with Anne Beyaert, in the journal Modèles linguistiques 24.1.

Fontanille, Jacques (2004). Soma & Sema, Figures du corps. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose.

Fontanille, Jacques (2005). Significação e visualidade: exercícios práticos, Trans (into Portuguese) Elizabeth Duarte & Maria Lilia Castro. Porto Alegre: Unisinos. Coleção Estudos sobre o Audiovisual.

Fontanille, Jacques (2005). Les objets au quotidien, ed. with Alessandro Zinna. Limoges: PULIM.

Fontanille, Jacques (2005). Les Régimes temporels dans les Illusions perdus ou l’emploi du temps selon Balzac. Limoges : PULIM.

Fontanille, Jacques (2005). “Lettre à Claude Zilberberg (29 juin 2005).” Available at: Accessed 28 November 2006.

Works by Other Authors

Ablali, Driss. “Sémiotique et phénoménologie” Semiotica 151 1/4 (2004) 219–40.

Bostic, Heidi. « Gender and the Subject of Narrative Semiotics. » Semiotics 2001. Ed. Scott Simpkins and John Deely. New York: Legas Press, 2002. 82–91.

Bostic, Heidi. “Formalism Meets Feminism: The Semiotics of Passions as a Tool for Literary Analysis.” Semiotics 2000: Sebeok’s Century. Ed. Scott Simpkins and John Deely. New York: Legas Press, 2001. 79–93.

Greimas, A.J. and Joseph Courtés, eds. Sémiotique: dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. Vol. 1, 1979; as Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary, translated by Larry Crist et al, 1982.

Greimas, A.J. and Joseph Courtés, eds. Sémiotique: dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du language. Vol. 2, 1986.

Hébert, Louis. (2006) « The Tensive Model » in Signo [online], ed. Louis Hébert. Rimouski: Québec. Accessed 17 November 2006.

Hébert, Louis. “Trois problèmes de sémiotique théorique et appliquée: Cohérence, genre, intertextualité et structure ontologique. À propos et autour de Sémiotique et littérature de Jacques Fontanille » Semiotica 146 1 /4 (2003) 473-498

Hénault, Anne. Le Pouvoir comme passion. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1994.

Marks, Larry. Review of Fontanile, Les Espaces subjectifs: Introduction à la sémiotique de l’observateur. In Style 25.2 (1991) 324−29.

Portela, Jean Cristtus. « Conversations avec Jacques Fontanille. » Unpublished ms. 2005.

Ravaux, Françoise. Review of Fontanille, Le Savoir partagé. In The American Journal of Semiotics. 15-16:1-4 (2000) 327-29.


Heidi Bostic is Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Gender Studies in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University. She studied semiotics with Jacques Fontanille at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, where she earned a Diplôme d’Études Approfondies in Sciences du langage in 1996. She also studied semiotics with Thomas F. Broden at Purdue University, where she completed her Ph.D. in French in 2000. Bostic is the English-language translator of Fontanille’s book The Semiotics of Discourse (Peter Lang, 2006). Her areas of research also include eighteenth-century French literature and feminist theory. Her website may be found at the following address:

The author would like to thank Thomas F. Broden for his suggestions and support. All English translations are by the author, except in the case of citations from The Semiotics of Passions.