Spring 2008

Know what I mean? [extract]

This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics

By Sean Hall
Lawrence King, £16.95

. . . Semiotics is the core theory underpinning all visual communication, so why is it dismissed and feared in equal measure? Probably because it has taken this long for someone to write a decent book on the subject. At last we have a book on theory that manages to interest both expert and casual readers alike, and could even hook the latter – what I tend to call ‘dumbing up’, though I doubt the term will catch on.

I’d like to say This Means This, This Means That is ‘unputdownable’ (now there is a word I hope we bury) but it isn’t – and that is really the whole point. Written in short sections, each one poses a question that is then discussed (if not always answered) on the turn of a page. It is designed to be put down. Then picked up again. Ideal for dipping into and pondering over, it is a clever approach to a subject that has been traditionally covered in long, discursive texts that may be informative but are often very dull. You can bet I’ll be borrowing ideas from this for my own teaching . . .

. . . It is time semiotics became fashionable again and Sean Hall’s imaginative and thoughtful book may be just what it takes.

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