The reinvention of meaning: Cultural imaginaries and the life of the sign

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael J. C. Echeruo


Meaning, Sign, Imagination

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America


My dissertation explores the role of memory and identity in the reinvention of meaning in three cultural-ideological zones: Africa and the Caribbean, Europe, and the Americas. Focusing on the sign as the axis of meaning and on the grounding of signs in distinctive cultural-ideological imaginaries, I argue that while the sign acquires its first life within specific cultures or ideologies, its added life is realized within a larger semiosphere or meaning-spectrum. The locus of meaning shifts through a process of reinvention in which the elastic nature of the sign is stretched or reconfigured via multiple cultural-ideological intersections in the motion of what I call the traveling sign. The idea of the traveling sign pivots on the fact that signs travel, both in their home societies and beyond, along the lines of difference often rooted in historical relations. In this motion, the market or economic relations is especially important because signs usually follow the market route. But the mobility of the sign, while suggestive of infinity or the infinitude of new meanings, is often limited or shaped by cultural-ideological perceptions. My study is thus hinged on how meaning is reinvented through 'global' contact and how it is restructured in the sphere of the imagination. My case studies are the works of Christopher Okigbo, Derek Walcott, James Joyce, Federico Garçia Lorca, William Faulkner, and Isabel Allende.

My methodology is especially informed by the recognition of the importance of historical and socioeconomic relations in the motion of the traveling sign. In traversing the three cultural-ideological zones, primarily via literary examples, my exploration examines the historical structure of meaning behind and within selected literary examples; the associative links among these structures within approximate semiospheres mapped, differently, according to history or geography; the relation between these structures across semiospheres; and the correlation of past and present structures as historical antecedents and contemporary manifestations.


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