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A Sketch of Professor Youzheng Li, Vice President of IASS

Date:2012-04-02 09:15Author:Youzheng Li
A Sketch of Professor Youzheng Li, Vice President of International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS)






A Sketch of Professor Youzheng Li, Vice President of

International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS)

锛坱his sketch is published in Chinese SemioticStudies, Nanjing, Spring 2012锛



       Born in Peking in 1936, Youzheng Li is a completely self-taught scholar having engaged in theoretical research into comparative (both interdisciplinary and cross-cultural) human sciences over the past 50 years alternatively in China, USA, Germany and France. For the sake of attaining this life-long goal, Prof. Li has learnt 5 foreign languages by himself since 1959. Living in Fuyou Street (the very center in the capital city, Beijing) near the old Beijing National Library between 1955 and 1985, Prof. Li was able to luckily get access to the top academic library before the “Great Cultural Revolution” and therefore effectively reached the contemporary world thought during that special period. Before 1978 Prof. Li’s main efforts were concentrated on various theoretical problems emerging in China or elsewhere, in modern or ancient times. Since the early 1960’s Prof. Li’s main theoretical interests were mainly turned to analytical and phenomenological directions. Because of the 20-year-long continuous scholarly preparation Prof. Li became the first introducer of thoughts of Husserl, Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Ricouer, Foucault, Lacan, Metz, Rorty, Gadamer, and Le Goff to the Chinese reading public right after 1977. And from 1978 onward Prof. Li’s theoretical focuses have been constantly oriented towards the phenomenological, semiotic, structuralist and hermeneutic lines, especially those represented by Husserl, Barthes, Greimas and Ricoeur. But, following an ever-increasingly intensified engagement in the interdisciplinary practices Prof. Li has, since the early 1990’s, tended to become more and more critical of any philosophy-centralism in and the established conditions of human sciences. Instead, Prof. Li thinks that a thoroughly and multiply interdisciplinary-directed semiotic theory, understood as the new synthetic practice  made through interaction of all theoretical achievements in various disciplines, should replace any one-disciplinary-directed philosophical-central fundamentalism. Accordingly, the substance and function of semiotics should be readjusted as well, developing beyond its traditional sign-or-semiosis frame toward a pan-semantic institutional analysis. For this purpose, the humanities scholars should stick to the classical epistemological attitude towards reality of all kinds. That means overcoming the fashionable nut naive anti-referent nihilism and retrieving the scientific or rational character of the original semiotic practice. It is the semiotic, grasped in Prof. Li’s sense, which can help human thinking more deeply focus on both obvious and hidden aspects of all reality, including the historical, cultural, social and scholarly realities emerging in all traditions. However highly sophisticated and deeply complicated the intellectual achievements in the humanities could be, every one of them should be further and more roundly confronted with and examined by different types of reality, especially those with which the authors are not yet familiar.

       If so, the semiotic is far from being a mere fixed disciplinary pattern employed along professional channels; it should become in our new century the index of an operative tool for epistemological and methodological reformation with respect to global human sciences. The semiotician is taken as a being who tends to be a permanent learner (so he is modest and sincere) and is never restricted by the institutionalized games in the existing academic world (so he is also ambitious and courageous). In this sense all historical achievements in the academic field should be regarded as remaining in their initial stage during our long-standing human history (this reasonable view of point can help overcome any inclination for passively following the tracks of intellectual powers); accordingly all successful works finished until now are only the operative grounds and sources for further intellectual explosions in future. The same is the case with our global semiotic practice. In terms of this highly critical conception of the status of human sciences, it is natural that the upcoming Nanjing IASS Congress will provide the world academia with a systematical presentation of the existing theoretical problems, difficulties and challenges indicated in the contemporary human sciences. First of all, the humanities scholars should know more exactly about what are their true and significant questions. Human beings have suffered from false or irrelevant questions in their long history, and, according to Prof. Li, the meaning of semiotic thinking first of all lies in finding and fixing the really meaningful questions.

       A determinative reason, among other things, for the establishment of Prof. Li’s special theoretical position, in retrospect, could be traced back to the fact that Prof. Li has never received any intellectual or scholarly “training” from any other professional masters who tend to follow some traditionally fixed lines of thinking and studies. With this genuine independent way of life and thinking shaped during his formative period Prof. Li could get rid of the individualist motivation in and social habits for professional success; and he can therefore focus uniquely his intellectual interest on the multiple-realistic truth as such in his whole life. The major tasks of Prof. Li in near future can be summarized in the following: to inquire about a new humanist ethics based on semiotic and hermeneutic analysis; to promote the cross-cultural semiotics in China; to help develop the scholarly drive for “rereading Husserl” in China; and to explore a semiotic-hermeneutic-directed cross-cultural historical theory.

       The following is some basic information about Prof. Li’s career and works.

       A. Present Status:

       Independent scholar living in S. F. Bay Area, USA; the academic affiliations:Vice-president of International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS) (since 2004), the guest senior Research Fellow of the Center for World Civilizations Studies, ChineseAcademy of Social Sciences (CASS) (since 2000); the scientific adviser for different Societies, Centers and Editorships in several Chinese institutions about philosophy, history, semiotics, and cognitive science.

       B. Brief Career:

       Student at Department of Civil Engineering, Tianjin University (1956-1959), Department of mathematics, Beijing Normal University (1960-1961); Independent self-study in the Beijing National Library, as well as at home in Beijing and Ningpo (1959-1978); Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Philosophy, CASS (1978-1994); visiting scholar or guest fellow (1982-2000) at different philosophy departments of Princeton, Columbia, Munchen, Bochum, Taiwan University; Institute of Linguistics, Technical University of Berlin, as well as at the comparative centers in Fu Jen Cathoric University Taiwan and University of Virginia, Comparative Department, Stanford; also Directeur d’ Etudes, EHESS, (recommended by Christian Metz) Jan. 1991.

       C. Publications of books(1980-2012)

       Written works:

       The following 4 books about Chinese/comparative ethics and the humanities are published in English: The Structure of the Chinese Ethical Archetype (1997);The Constitution of Han-Academic Ideology(1997);Epistemological Problems of the Comparative Humanities (1997);The Formation of Chinese Humanist Ethics — from a hermeneutic-semiotic-historiographic point of view (2012).  

       All the following are published in Chinese: Current Western Film Aesthetics: A Semiotic-Ideological Study (1986, 1991);Introduction to Theoretical Semiotics (1993, 1998, 2008); Structure and Meaning (1994, 1996);Ethics and Metaphysics: A Critical Analysis of Contemporary German/French Ethical Logic (1997, 2000); Ethics of Desire: Freud and Lacan (1998);Metaphysical Logic and Ontological Nihilism: Contemporary French-German Ethical Epistemology (2000, 2004);A Semiotics of History (2003 );A Hermeneutics of Confucian Ethics (2004); History and Ethics (2008);An Intellectual Self-Memoir (2009); A Hermeneutic Study of Ru-Confucianist Scholarship: Historiography and Ethical Thoughts in Chinese History (2 volumes) (2009); Ren-Humanist Ethics and Semiotics: Towards the Reconstruction of Human Sciences ( 2011).

       Translations (from German, French, English, etc. to Chinese):

       *Husserl: Ideen zu Einer Reinen Phänomenologie und Phänomenologische Philosophie (Ideen I) (with “Nachwort” 1930; Introductions by Schuhmann & Ricoeur; the complete notes by Ricoeur; phenomenological terms in Chinese, German, English, French and the notes prepared by Youzheng. 1992, 1994, 2002, 2004); (the following will be published in 2012) Formale  und Transzendentale LogikPhänomenlogische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution(Ideen II), Die Phänomenologie und die Fundamente der Wissenschaften (Ideen III);

       *Bernet,Kern, Marbach: Edmund Husserl. Darstellung seines Denkens(2011);

       *Broekman: Structuralism (1980, 2004),

       *Levi-Strauss: La Pensée Sauvage(1987, 1989, 2006);

       *Rorty: Philosophy and Mirror of Nature (1987, 1989, 2003);

       *Ricouer: Main Trends of Philosophy (with Xu, 1988, 1991, 2004);

       *Barthes: Le Degree Zero de l’ecriture (1987, 2008); L’adventure Semiologique (2008); La Tour Effel (1987, 2008);Elements de Semiologie (1987, 2008);La Preparation du Roman (2010); Sade, Fourier, loyola (2011);

       *Metz, Eco & others:Structural and Semiotic Film Theories (1987, 1989, 2002);

       *Culler: Roland Barthes (with Fang, 1987, 1990).

       The books co-edited:(with Du Renzhi) Introduction to 50 Contemporary Western Famous Philosophers (1980); (with Du) Introduction to Another 50 Contemporary Western Famous Philosophers (1983), “The Special Issue of Hermeneutic Philosophy” of The Philosophy Translation (1985).