Linguistico-Literary Reflections on the Science of Light: Sensory Emergence in Goethe's Theory of Colors, and Jakob von Uexküll's Metaphoricity of Semiosic Scaffolding


  • Winfried Kudszus University of California



optic semiosis, postlinguistics, extracategorical perception, biological metaphoricity, semiosic scaffolding, sensory emergence, color theory.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Theory of Colors (Zur Farbenlehre, 1810) and Jakob von Uexküll's publications, such as Theoretical Biology (Theoretische Biologie, 1920) and his A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans (Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen, Uexküll and Kriszat, 1934, tr. 2010), undertake key semiosic explorations avant la lettre. Research into these scientific writings, which significantly also draw on the Humanities, has paid little or no attention to questions of semiosic saliency and linguistic involutions. In contradistinction to received research particularly on Uexküll, the present considerations draw on literarilly and artistically inflected vantage points and methods rather than on merely scientifically defined analyses. In its concerns with transmissions and metamorphoses of light, optic semiosis in Goethe and Uexküll –— with some reference to the emblematic modernist Georg Trakl and the Beat postmodernist Lawrence Ferlinghetti — occurs at and beyond limits of language and involves extracategorical perception as well as metaphoric elaboration. In the course of Uexküll's considerations on the semiosic workings of light, such as in Theoretical Biology (1920, tr. 1926), the concept of scaffolding ("Gerüst") appears. In particular, the present article reflects on semiosic turns from sunlight to organismic perception, namely the zone of emergence in which senses begin to come alive before coordinates of scaffolding are in place.