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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2018, Issue 222


Necrosemiosis: The CSI effect

Matthew Gumpert
Published Online: 2018-04-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0053


One might have thought a television genre featuring the human body as the clue to a crime, a sign to be interpreted, was an opportunity to dramatize the struggle of the human intellect in its battle with the unknown. But on CSI this human struggle is supplanted by various prosthetic mechanisms: all-seeing, all-knowing technologies for which there are no mysteries. CSI’s technologies of truth render the human struggle obsolete, and turn forensics as an essentially semiotic labor – the reading of recalcitrant signs – into a charade, a placebo, a perfunctory performance designed to distract us from the real and more sordid work being done. This is the work of necrosemiosis, the displaying and disposing of dead signs – signs with nothing left to signify. Criticism inspired by the CSI effect attempts to debunk CSI’s scientific credentials, or its appeal to jurisprudence. Science (or the law), these studies suggest, is the screen CSI hides behind in order to engage in other, less savory practices (sadism, voyeurism, pornography, etc.). Left unexamined is the possibility that these same practices are also screens in their own right, obscuring the very signifying practices that make them possible: the life and death of signs and sign-systems. This article argues that the body whose death CSI so sanctimoniously mourns, whose dissection it so languorously dwells upon is, finally, that of the sign itself. It is because CSI deals in the signs of carcasses – in human bodies – that we can see them as the carcasses of signs. CSI is not interested in signs as signifying entities; it traffics in the remnants of signs, signs post mortem. This is the essence of necrosemiosis on CSI, which offers not the semiotics of death, but the death of semiotics.

Keywords: necrosemiosis; autopsy; forensics; pornography; technology; hermeneutics


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Published Online: 2018-04-25

Published in Print: 2018-04-25

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2018, Issue 222, Pages 241–285, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2015-0053.

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