Istituzione e Differenza – Attualità di Ferdinand de Saussure
One hundred years after the death of Ferdinand de Saussure (22 February 1913), from March to May, Institution and Difference is a cycle of five events on Saussure and his thought, parallel to the commemorations that will take place in Geneva and Paris in the coming months.
The themes of the program have guided the choice of the venues: the encounters will take place at the University of Calabria (14-15 March), the Swiss Institute in Rome (12 April and 17 May), and in places that represent “informal” institutions, or ones of a new nature, like Teatro Valle Occupato (19 April) and Atelier Autogestito Esc (3 May). Institution and Difference updates the perspective on the thinking of Saussure in Italy, offering a chance for an unusual combination of formal institutions and new laboratories of thought, experimenting with forms of research capable of going beyond the traditional contexts of education.
To deploy the potential of art in the area of social and philosophical research: with Institution and Difference the Swiss Institute in Rome attempts to deeply explore the practices of cultural, artistic and scientific production.
The participants include many scholars and researchers operating on an international level: Jean-Paul Bronckart (Université de Genève), Felice Cimatti (Università della Calabria), Rossana De Angelis (Università della Calabria), Marina De Palo (Università di Salerno), Emanuele Fadda (Università della Calabria), Claire Forel (Université de Genève), Daniele Gambarara (Università della Calabria), Federica Giardini (Università di Roma3), Daniela Ielasi (director of “Fatti al cubo”, the weekly publication of Università della Calabria), Kenneth Liberman (University of Oregon), Maria Pia Marchese (Università di Firenze), Marco Mazzeo (Università della Calabria), Marina Montanelli (Università di Firenze), Francesca Murano (Università di Firenze), Monica Pasquino (Associazione S.CO.S.S.E.), Massimo Prampolini (Università di Salerno), Christian Puech (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3), Francesco Raparelli (Libera Università Metropolitana – Rome), Gianni Rigamonti (Università di Palermo), Thomas Robert (Université de Genève), Paolo Virno (Università di Roma3).
Saussure, before and better than all others, perceives the radically arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign and its complementarity to the principle of difference. In the Cours, Saussure says: «In the language there are only differences, without positive terms». Furthermore, the value of every linguistic sign is such only stemming from the differential relationship that inscribes it in the historical-natural tongue as form or system. Pure institution made of differences, and differences of differences. This definition can suffice to grasp the practical potency and timeliness of the thought of Saussure, which lay the groundwork for a theory of institutions. In the crisis of state sovereignty and of the law of value-labour, in the epoch in which language becomes the primary productive resource while financial values lose any type of conventional relationship with the nature of goods (include that particular good with is the workforce), again thinking, with Ferdinand de Saussure, of language as a pure institution and system of differences means reflecting on the present in a radical way.
An existence so reserved as to border on mystery, marked by solitary, daring thinking capable of producing disruptive innovations: this, in extreme brevity, sums up the life of Ferdinand de Saussure, a native of Geneva, a brilliant student of linguistics in Leipzig and Berlin. At the age of 21 he published what was considered «the finest book of historical linguistics ever written», the Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes. After returning to Geneva in 1891, and following an important lecture delivered at the Congress of Orientalists (1894), Saussure nearly vanishes from the annals of history. In Geneva he teaches, after having done so for ten years in Paris, and develops his research in a feverish manner; but for the international scientific community his contributions are but a distant memory. From 1907 to 1911 he teaches the general linguistics courses he would have liked to teach twenty years earlier: these lectures – published posthumously by his students Albert Bally and Charles Sechehaye – not only lay out the original features of his theoretical output, but also have great influence on the human sciences of the 20th century. He dies, forgotten and alone, in 1913.
The Cours, first published in 1916, goes on to be reprinted and translated like few other scientific texts. After World War II, thanks to the efforts of Hjelmslev and Benveniste, and the works of Godel and then Engler and De Mauro, the Cours is appropriately translated, clarified and annotated.
For the Institution and Difference project, the Swiss Institute in Rome has created the website www.differenzadesaussure.istitutosvizzero.it to gather documents, contributions, interviews and videos of all the talks at the five encounters, which will remain available in the archives on the site. The Institute’s headquarters, Villa Maraini, will become a true open laboratory where it is possible to freely examine the materials, to work and discuss in order to approach the study of the timeliness of Saussure beyond the common perspective, beyond specializations.
Istituto Svizzero di Roma – luoghi vari
March – May, 2013