Deixis and Indexicality

RELATED TERMS: Metalepsis; Ontological metalepsis; Tangled Hierarchy and Strange Loop; Theatre

Narrative environments, as a cultural practice, involve cascades of deixis, similar to those found in theatre. In theatre, as Brandt (2016) explains, the first instance is the framing deixis of theatricality: “I am now acting, and not behaving naturally”. The second instance is the narrative deixis: “I am now playing the role of a character in the story X”. The third instance is the aesthetic deixis: “I am shaping this role in a certain way and signing this version as “this way” of playing it here now”.

The discussion of deixis is valuable for the design of narrative environments if it is tied into the discussion of levels of narration (diegetic levels) in relation to the implied modes of existence (or levels of existence), especially if the focus is upon the potential transgressions, or metalepses, in the narratological sense, that may be effected through the design: the appearance of a character or an entity from one level of narration, and implied existence, in another level of narration, and implied existence.

If the notion of levels is used, it should become clear fairly soon that any kind of hierarchy implied by the notion of level (higher or lower) will itself become problematic in the design of narrative environments, as such designs form strange loops or tangled hierarchies in which the top of the hierarchy becomes the bottom and vice versa, through the reflexive consciousness that the design provokes and engenders.

Such transgressions and strangenesses necessarily take place against a deictic centre, for example, a norm or an accepted reality, whose grounding, orientations and horizons and in whose person deixis ‘you’ are ‘now’ situated ‘here’, are overturned, so that ‘you’ are ‘now’ situated ‘there’, on other ‘grounds’. The participant in the narrative envionment experiences both the deictic grounding and the transgressive overturning, as a passage and a disturbance which provokes the learning processes, in the form of the questions raised for the participant, implied in the design of narrative environments, by ‘now’ situating ‘you’ both ‘here’ and ‘there’ (or possibly situating ‘you’, ‘you’ and ‘you’, ‘here’, ‘here’ and ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘there’ and ‘there’, and so on).

This highlights the complexity of the temporality, with (at least) three ‘nows’, and the spatiality, as a proliferation of ‘heres’ and ‘theres’, of the narrative environment achieved through the practices of deictic and indexical grounding and transgressing.


Brandt, P. A. (2016) ‘Deixis – a semiotic mystery: Enunciation and reference’, Cognitive Semiotics, 9(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1515/cogsem-2016-0001