Thank you for your understanding. More information. Our investigation reveals how the biosemiotic undercurrents in Lotmanian thought enable the emergence of a cyclical, homeostatic model of culture that counterbalances a Modernist vision of art as a force working for unquestioned linear progress. Juri Lotman was a nature lover.
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Thank you for your understanding. More information. Our investigation reveals how the biosemiotic undercurrents in Lotmanian thought enable the emergence of a cyclical, homeostatic model of culture that counterbalances a Modernist vision of art as a force working for unquestioned linear progress. Juri Lotman was a nature lover. During the last decades of the 20th century, while most Western scholars are progressively abandoning the structural paradigm for its alleged excessive rigidity , Lotman, with an unshaken scientific rigor, continues to expand it, articulating the fundamental questions of our attachment to art and literature from within the broader context of our existence as organisms living in a physical and biological world.
In the twenty-some years separating The Structure of the Artistic Text from Universe of the Mind and Culture and Explosion , this tendency, inherited from the avant-garde Russian Formalists, and more generally from Modernism, is tempered by an ecological perspective interested in stabilization and cultivation and not only in growth and expansion. On this specific point, we can consider that Lotman anticipated contemporary ecocriticism and environmental humanities. This essay begins by briefly retracing the intellectual genealogy of the semiosphere, mapping its source in geological and biological theories.
This notional history will delineate the terrain from which we will study particular aspects of the semiosphere such as its asymmetrical structure with its center and periphery, a structure obeying the rhythmical cycle of ingestion causing growth and self-description through auto-communication leading to stabilization.
Language does not have the same characteristics as natural organisms and thus cannot be explained in reference to them. Nonetheless Saussure is compelled to admit that language is at least partially determined by biology, as we can see in his frequent references to bodily mechanisms for example, in his sections devoted to the operations of the vocal tract and the processes of articulation, pp.
This is not the place to attempt a generous interpretation, nor a revisionist account of Saussurean linguistics. Suffice it to say that from the very outset, structuralism could be seen as already struggling against itself, and with the fact that the body had to be reckoned with. A superficial reading of his work might erroneously confirm this suspicion.
But a close reading of his work will trace its biological and ecological roots. In fact, Lotman appears to us as a clear example of a structuralist going beyond disembodied formalism in his inclination towards biological and ecological phenomena.
He saw that such regulation comes about in both cases through semiotic activity the exchange of information through specific codes, from alphabetical writing to the electrochemical signaling of neurons. The qualification here borders on the reprimand. It is important to note that Lotman is stating two things.
First, natural and cultural processes are analogous in that they display similar arrangements and movements. Second, natural and cultural processes actually influence each other. For example, work-related obligations can generate insomnia or digestive disorders, and regular physical activity can help us concentrate and accomplish work-related tasks. So even if Universe of the Mind is a key text in cultural history, we are told, right from the beginning by Lotman himself, that its course can only be plotted if we take into account the organisation of the natural world, here appearing in its neurophysiological aspect.
The lithosphere names the solid shell of rocky planets consisting of, in the case of Earth, the crust and the upper mantle ; the atmosphere names the envelope of gases of those planets; the hydrosphere is used to designate the combined mass of water found in the ground, on the surface, and in the air.
In his three-volume Das Antlitz der Erde The Face of the Earth , Suess outlines the most recent theories concerning geological morphology. One thing seems to be foreign on this large celestial body consisting of spheres, namely, organic life. But this life is limited to a determined zone at the surface of the lithosphere.
The plant, whose deep roots plunge into the soil to feed, and which at the same time rises into the air to breathe, is a good illustration of organic life in the region of interaction between the upper sphere [atmosphere] and the lithosphere, and on the surface of the continents it is possible to single out an independent biosphere. Suess was a geologist who wrote more than a century ago.
This could explain why he excluded from his definition the abundance of oceanic life forms and those that thrive in the atmosphere.
Nevertheless, Suess had cast a new idea in the encyclopaedia of human knowledge, an idea that effectively bridged the life and earth sciences. Yet Suess would not elaborate on the biosphere, and it was to remain relatively ignored until its reintroduction by Vladimir Vernadsky, the Russian mineralogist and geochemist.
Not only was Vernadsky a distinguished scientist, but he was also attuned to cosmic and mystical theories. First came the age of the geosphere , comprised of inanimate mineral matter, followed by the age of the biosphere , organic matter, life. The final period corresponds to the age of the noosphere from the Greek nous , mind , the age of human cognition. In this worldview, plate tectonics, organisms and their interactions, and human intelligence are presented as forces of equivalent strength that transform and reshape the Earth and the cosmic space beyond.
If Lotman does not explicitly subscribe to such an optimistic view, he nonetheless presents the constant development of innovative artistic languages, the production and renewal of semiotic codes, as a force for necessary progress and development.
In other words, if Lotman uses the semiosphere — the interactive sphere of sign process, meaning and interpretation — in analyses mainly devoted to cultural phenomena, it only makes sense when we understand how deeply related it is to the natural world. However, looking at it more carefully, we find that the biological part, a biologicity in the sense of biological holism, is nevertheless surprisingly important, it exists in considerable amounts notably from the s and, although the texts in which he expresses his views on more biological issues were mostly initiated by other people […], they may have been quite necessary for Lotman himself.
In any case, he was open toward the biological direction of semiotics. As we will now see, this biological holism is already present in the environmental and informational conception of art that is at the core of The Structure of the Artistic Text. The life of every creature involves a complex interaction with its surroundings. An organism incapable of responding and adjusting to external influence would inevitably perish. But these signals will remain unheard, the information will not be understood, and significant opportunities in the struggle for survival neglected, if man fails to cope with the growing need to decipher this flow of signals and convert them into signs that have the power to communicate in human society.
Under these circumstances, it becomes necessary not only to increase the number of diverse messages in the already available languages natural languages, the languages of the different sciences , but to constantly increase the number of languages into which it is possible to translate the flow of surrounding information, making it accessible.
Thus, art enables any expression and, concurrently, it enables us to express ourselves in any manner. But of course, it would be rash if not ingenuous to embrace such an optimistic take on art and its supposedly infinite possibilities, as art has moved elsewhere since then. The prevalence of quotation, recycling and remix in the last decades of the 20th century, the return to canonical forms of narrative realism, epics in the early 21st century signals a suspicion of pure innovation and a questioning of the need for the invention of new artistic languages, characteristic of modern avant-gardes.
In the passage quoted above, it is the need to make sense of a complex life-world that makes art a universal necessity. In this sense, the languages of art as a means of self-understanding should be understood as part of a cyclical process of maintenance and cultivation and not as the teleological, linear force of progress promoted by avant-gardes such as the Futurists, Suprematists, Constructivists… during the early 20th century.
A system of sense receptors or a biochemical mechanism may be represented as organizations of code which decode information. The whole process of digestion can be divided into stages of interaction between nerve receptors, acids and enzymes. On every level some portion of what was not assimilated on the previous level, that is, which did not carry information, which was extra-systemic and neutral, joins in the active process of metabolism, becomes systemic and yields the information contained within itself.
To become systemic, to be integrated by the organism or to pass through the boundaries of the semiosphere , an element needs to be decoded.
Indeed, by linking a speaker and receptor, a code also defines a specific cultural milieu. When a culture communicates with itself through a text, it encodes and decodes it in a shared language, in a shared set of conventions, in habits and expressive choices. Although denizens of a culture possess most of these codes, and master their native tongue, it would be more accurate to say that they are possessed by these codes, and mastered by their language and conventions.
Language is not inside an individual but around it. Analogous to basic biological processes such as cellular phagocytosis, semiotic absorption appears essential to the homeostatic nature of the semiosphere, to its cycles of growth and self-description.
It is toward these cycles that regulate the life of the semiosphere that we will now turn our attention. In most of his texts concerning the semiosphere, Lotman establishes as a principle of cultural identity the dialectic between centers of cultural hegemony and the porous frontier of their peripheries. It seems symptomatic that approximately one third of the 25 papers presented at Integration and Explosion , a Lotman conference held in Konstanz in , were concerned with the relationship between cultural centers and peripheries, offering critical perspectives on colonial and postcolonial dynamics, on specific situations of hegemony, and on discursive and political negotiations between powerful centers and their excluded or exploited margins.
It is not surprising that the semiosphere inspires such political interpretations, as the notion explicitly links the creation and circulation of meaning with the existence of cultural milieux. Indeed, according to Lotman, any culture functions as a semiosphere, a complex, bounded, and evolving system that is organized around specific semiotic activities, values, languages and texts.
This is the space we term the semiosphere. As such, the semiosphere is the site of power struggles and political coups where we discern a marked tendency by an elite to appropriate a selection of creations and turn them into norms and epitomes of culture.
This is the result of countless articles, broadcasts, conversations, marketing strategies, pamphlets, etc. But how did Lotman end up according so much importance to auto-communication in his model of the semiosphere?
Lotman thus begins his discussion of the artistic text by evoking its communicational nature, a nature that brings him to consider, without naming it explicitly yet, the possibility of auto-communication. Containing the seeds that will grow into the notion of the semiosphere, this premise is developed a few paragraphs later. Here information is transmitted not in space, but in time, and serves as a means for the auto-organization of the individual. Then auto-communication will become at least within the limits of historically real experience the sole scheme of communication.
Art as auto-communication appears as a technique of maintaining a cultural system through time, and thus, in this sense, as a homeostatic mechanism that allows a culture to react and adjust to its environment. Indeed, the concept of global auto-communication allow us to develop hypotheses on the unfurling of human culture in a postnational world, and to better understand the recursivity at the core of the maintenance and stability through time of ecosystems and of cultural systems.
In the recursive process of auto-communication, a distinction is drawn between a culture and its surroundings. What is ours, what we value, is placed in the middle of our world; what is not ours, what we do not consider meaningful, is relegated to the outskirts.
This is a widespread phenomenon, occurring at microscopic and macroscopic levels. At a cellular level, the coding information regulating the function and identity of a cell is set in a protective envelope at the center of the cytoplasm, while the cellular membrane separates it from its surroundings, allowing the absorption and expulsion of various nutriments, molecules and metabolic residue.
Cities also function in this way, from the antique polis, to the medieval, fortified burg, to the contemporary Western financial districts. Reciprocally, we discourage poor and homeless individuals, or marginalized social groups from being present in the prosperous districts, physically dislocating them if need be. And yet, precisely because they are so protected, the centers risk stagnation.
In the center of the cultural space, sections of the semiosphere aspiring to the level of self-description become rigidly organized and self-regulating.
But at the same time they lose dynamism and having once exhausted their reserve of indeterminacy they become inflexible and incapable of further development.
We can find a similar idea in The Structure of the Artistic Text , where the relationship between self-description and codification is underlined. Indeed, self-description allows for the establishment of a consensual semiotic space organized around standard texts that become norms defining future possibilities of meaning. In a good work of art everything is perceived as having been created ad hoc. But after the work has entered into the artistic experience of mankind, it increasingly becomes the language for future aesthetic communication, and that which was a fortuity of content becomes a code for subsequent messages.
This phenomenon appears especially important in Modern culture, where the quality of art stands in direct relation to its innovative capacity. Not every wild artistic text, however, is tamed. In consecrating a few elements from the margins of a culture, some, if not most of their creations are rejected. The rejects, mingling with the outsiders, participate in another radically different semio-cultural dynamic.
On the periphery — and the further one goes from the centre, the more noticeable this becomes — the relationship between the semiotic practice and the norms imposed on it becomes ever more strained.
Texts generated in accordance with these norms hang in the air, without any real semiotic context; while organic creations, born of the actual semiotic milieu, come into conflict with the artificial norms. This is the area of semiotic dynamism. This is the field of tension where new languages come into being. The centre is crystalized and predictable, the outskirts are in motion, they are the source of semiotic growth and progress. When Lotman transfers this model to an understanding of art and culture, he inevitably emphasizes the informative value of unexpected messages, of foreign languages and innovative creations, and celebrates the semiotic progress and growth associated with newness.
Although we could ask ourselves who exactly would wish to live in a house where things unexpectedly appear and disappear, where entropy is high and informational flows are intense.
In contrast, the conventional center of the semiosphere, concerned with self-description and stabilization, appears as a habitable space.
Exploring the interrelationship of signs that operate like thinking structures, the masterclass will explore how the semiotic space of genres intersect the semiotic space of the cultural sphere to make-meaning. In particular, the focus will be on how post horror films and television series address global pandemics and critique the political and social crises that followed the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, These examples create a critical dialogue with audiences about themes of paranoia, devastation, terrorism, survivalism, and global politics and ideology. In considering this approach, the focus will also turn to an examination of recent cultural anthropological studies about the significance of the senses as a distinctive form of cultural intelligence that has its own semiotic logic.
Yuri Lotman, the Semiosphere and Genre Analysis: a Semiotics of Culture and the Senses
In the framework of the theory of the semiosphere elaborated by Juri Lotman in the s, the notion of translation acquires a new, broadened meaning and is used to describe a general mechanism of cultural dynamics. The article focuses on the different places of translation within the semiosphere as a system of systems and its relations to the notion of border. Andrews, Edna. Conversations with Lotman: Cultural semiotics in language, literature, and cognition.
And as we can speak of polyglotism as one of the main features of culture, we should speak of polychronism as well. In each state of culture, in fact, we find many temporal codes, and the internal dialogue is not only based on codes coming from different spaces in the normal sense of polyglotism , but also as coming from different times in the sense of a sort of polychronism. In a society where immigration and mobility are increasingly prevalent, the experience of polyglotism is becoming more and more widespread. We live in cities where people hail from very different backgrounds, where we are surrounded by shops selling products belonging to cultures so far from our own, with the effect that we grow accustomed to names that were once exotic Indian saris , pseudo-Palestinian keffiyeh , Chinese woks , Arabic kebabs. However, there is not only an ethnic and geographic polyglotism, linked to the different backgrounds of the members of our society.
Semiosphere is the sphere of semiosis in which sign processes operate in the set of all interconnected Umwelten. The concept was coined by Yuri Lotman in and is now applied to many fields, including cultural semiotics generally, biosemiotics , zoosemiotics, geosemiotics, etc. The concept is treated more fully in the collection of Lotman's writings published in English under the title "Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture" Yuri Lotman, a semiotician at Tartu University , Estonia, was inspired by Vladimir Vernadsky 's terms biosphere and noosphere to propose that a semiosphere comes into being when any two Umwelten are communicating. This implies that the semiosphere may be partially independent of the Umwelten. Kalevi Kull argues that this suggestion is not consistent with the nature of semiosis which can only be a product of the behaviour of the organisms in the environment.