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Chapter

Abstract

In the Western semiotic tradition, the materials of which things are made have generally been regarded as not-yet-meaningful, as the ‘tohuwabohu’, the unformed matter about which we read in the book of Genesis: ‘In the beginning the earth was without form.’ In order to create order out of this chaos and to be able to conceive of the nature of actual recognizable material objects (including signs), an immaterial abstract principle had to be conjured up, form. Form was the ‘design’ that could bring objects (including, again, signs) into being and define their nature. Or that is at least one (and for our present purposes the most relevant) conception of form, because there are others. For Aristotle, for example, form (eidos) was appearance, ‘that what changes’ about an object as time goes by; form and matter together (hyle) made up the actual object; and substance (ousia) was the invisible and unchanging essence of the object.

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© Theo van Leeuwen 1999

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