Shifting eyes : self-representation in words and images, re-reading Freud through the semiotics of C.S. Peirce, with particular reference to the work of poet H.D. and artist Claude Cahun.
Shifting Eyes, presents a re-reading of Freud's structural theories of the self, through the
semiotics of C.S. Peirce. In place of the self split between unconscious representations and the
syntax of speech, Peirce's general sign theory provides an evolutionary account of symbol
development within a trichotomy of sign-object relations, icon, index and symbol, as opposed
to interpretations of Freud using the linguistic sign which reify the split subject and assimilate
unconscious processes to the tropes of language.
Peirce's sign-interpretant relation, is used to re-describe Freud's account of the shift
from narcissism to object relations, from the primary iconic dyad to the subject constructed
through the symbol of sexual difference. One class of icons, the hypoicon, is evaluated as a
representation of the subject, since the hypoicon, unlike the symbol, does not uphold
contradiction. Metaphor, as hypoiconic Third, is compared with Freud's account of the
structure of identification, both in terms of ego development and dream formation.
The second part of the thesis uses these concepts to interpret the work of author HD.
and artist-writer Claude Cahun. H.D. 's uvre - poetry, novels, memoirs and autobiography -
lay bare the structure of the subject through the semiotics of the text, in particular transference
and the act of naming. The poetry demonstrates the boundary between ego and world, myth and
ideals of the ego, as the semiotics of identification.
Cahun's photographic self-portraits raise questions of the relation between body-image
and narcissism, ideals and the subject of sexual difference. The last chapter concentrates on
Aveux non avenus, (1930a) a work which integrates text and image using the principles of
collage, juxtaposing photomontages with fragments of dream, fantasy, polemic and fiction as an
extension of self-representation. In conclusion, the signifying self, as hypoiconic Third, is
related to the body, re-posing the question of desire.