Slovo.ru: Baltic accent

2018 Vol. 9 № 4

The paradox of the ‘semiotics of life’: Yuri Lotman’s later works

Abstract

In a series of interviews given in the early 1990s, Yuri Lotman contemplated the boundary between the human and the animal. Keenly interested in animals, the scholar stressed in his later work the need to include animal communication in the semiosphere. Lotman’s model holds that semiosis requires at least two languages between which instances of untranslatability occur. However, he did not extend this model to animal communication. This is the apparent paradox of Lotman’s later work. Lotman might not have had enough time to think these problems through, although these issues had been addressed earlier by other authors. The problem of the relationship between cyclicality and openness, the old and the new, repetitions and novelty, the algoritmicity and non-algoritmicity as aspects of semiosis and of each act of interpretations has not been sufficiently investigated. Therefore, Lotman’s later work deserves attention today.

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The problem of meaning in Social Semiotics: deep semiotics as a conceptual extension of Social Semiotics

Abstract

Semiotic systems are closely associated with social practices, within which the former record, store, and disseminate social experience. These systems affect the human consciousness to change the semantic picture of the world, behaviour, and the way one perceives reality. Almost all cultural artefacts perform the function of a sign. As a semiotic system develops special signs emerge to replace the artefacts by denoting them. Iconic signs are based upon resemblance, index signs upon a causal relationship, and symbols on social conventions. Language is the most important system of symbolisation. Indeed, language serves as a guide to the systems of rules, values, and socio-cultural practices. In this paper, I present a model of deep semiotics, which is interpreted as a semantic structure of social experience objectified into a sign. This structure includes the material form, the referential meaning, and the personal meaning (attitudes and experiences) of the sign. This model describes the levels and dynamics of the assimilation and subjectification (de-objectification, understanding) of social experience. At the same time, the model demonstrates the objectification of experience. The components of the semantic structure represent the levels of understanding – identification, referencing, interpretation, evaluation, and empathy.

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The problem of meaning in Social Semiotics: Max Weber today

Abstract

A human activity is based on the constant creation, transmission and transformation of meanings and texts. All the forms of representation of this activity (culture, history, literature, art, politics, law, etc.) can be considered as semantic ensembles consisted from meaningful actions. The concept of “meaning” is fundamental not only in linguistics amd semiotics, but also in M. Weber's theory: thesubject of sociology is the understanding of “the meaning of behavior”. Based on the Weber’s definitions and their possible modification, we suggest the transdisciplinary synthesis around the study of the problem of meanings and their manifestation. Meaning production is understood as a result of the conjunction of linguistic and extralinguistic systems in the process of social interaction and communication. This allows to convert actional meanings into linguistic meanings, and vice versa.

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Social media interfaces as a representation of cultural meanings

Abstract

A problem of the growing popularity of cross-cultural social media studies is the lack of discrimination between the effects of user characteristics and those of the architecture of a virtual platform interface. This makes the detected cultural differences unreliable. A way to solve this problem is a comparative study of social media interfaces only, seeking to identify the culturally constituted meanings embedded in the design of virtual platforms. These meanings are employed in the users’ virtual self-presentation. I analysed Facebook and VKontakte – two large social media platforms originating from the countries with different cultural values and social expectations. My focus was on the principal categories of identification and virtual self-presentation. These are gender, sexuality, marital status, attitudes, and personal preferences. The comparative analysis of interfaces was carried out from the perspective of a change in the linguistic projection (which happens when the user switches from Russian to English and vice versa). I detected significant differences in all the categories analysed. I conclude that the Vkontakte platform reflects traditional patriarchal values and the Facebook platform those of pluralism and subject-centricity.

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The symbolic complexes of mass culture and the semiosis of political discourse

Abstract

In this article, I address the influence of modern mass culture (MC), its symbolic system, narratives, and protagonists on the political discourse. I emphasise that an analysis of the images of mass culture protagonists can give a complete picture of the society that continuously reproduces these protagonists and seeks to resemble them. Therefore, the mode of the production of effective political discourse (PD) in modern society cannot ignore either the patterns of behaviour replicated in MC or the features of the unification of social institutions and roles. In terms of semiosis and its individual acts, the consumption of PD in society will necessarily correlate with the structural features of MC.

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The rhetoric and logic of the representations of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877–1878 in Russian public discourse

Abstract

The Balkan crisis of 1875—1876 and the ensuing Russo-Turkish war of 1877—1878 were the first major foreign policy challenges for the Russian Empire in the entirely new public sphere situation. The military reform of 1784, which replaced recruitment with conscription, translated in the involvement of the general public in the current events. The new public sphere, which had been developing from the 1850s, required new languages both to describe and to transform reality, as well as to produce a collective action. The tremendous public excitement, which spread across the most diverse strata of the Russian Empire in 1876—1877, was indicative of an effective mobilisation rhetoric. However, the disappointment, which quickly followed, and the devaluation of the events of those years by public opinion suggest that, although sanctioned by the authorities, the language of mobilisation was not effectively controlled by them. In this article, I analyse the structure of the public language of 1876— 1877, which was shaped by different actors who used it to express their attitudes to the current events. I identify a series of principal oppositions employed by most actors. I analyse these oppositions from the perspective of orientalism and demonstrate that an orientalist vision of the conflict was instrumental in ‘Westernising’ the image of the Russian Empire. The critics of this model placed both parties of the conflict in a common oriental framework but did not equate them. Self-orientalisation was viewed as a political challenge that required Westernisation, which did not apply to the other party to the conflict that represented the Orient proper. The political authorities of the Russian Empire could not retain control over the broad rhetorical framework that they created. The awareness of these problems was a factor of the qualitative changes in the official rhetoric of the regime that took place in the 1880s.

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‘The Word, an Ulcer…’: Aleksey Chicherin’s semiotic utopia

Abstract

In this article, we analyse the semiotic concept of art created by the constructivist poet Aleksey Chicherin, as presented in his treatise Kan-Fun. We establish the connection between Chicherin’s concept of the ‘sign of Poetry’, on the one hand, and the theoretical research of the early Russian avant-garde and the basic tenets of the semiotic description of the language, on the other. An analysis of Chicherin's theory shows that it rests on an attempt to overcome the linearity of linguistic signs and to build an iconic ‘sign of Poetry’, capable of almost a complete reflection of a constructivist poet’s artistic intentions. Against the background of the total logocentrism of the early 20th-century historical and cultural paradigm, Chicherin’s semiotic position looks like the proclamation of radical ‘anti-logocentrism’ that polemicises against any literary traditions and experiments, either synchronic or diachronic in relation to the author. At the same time, a textual analysis of Kan-Fun and a comparison of the key theses of Chicherin’s semiotic theory with the examples of his poetry (‘construemas’) show that his aesthetic project was of a utopian nature. Despite the outright rejection of the natural language as ‘non-constructive’ and the espousal of non-verbal semiotic means, Chicherin’s theory has internal inconsistency. Its artistic representations are incapable of overcoming the basic conventions of text generation and reception. The use of non-verbal (visual and auditory) signs entails both the semantic enrichment of the sign and an uncontrolled increase in its entropy. This way, the sign is deprived of the predictable interpretive frameworks and conventions.

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THE HISTORY OF SEMIOTICS AND POETICS

A. G. Baumgarten’s aesthetic-semiotic concept

Abstract

In this article, we consider the semiotic concept developed by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, a founder of modern aesthetics. We describe the principles of the semiotic theory, as expressed in Baumgarten's Metaphysica, particularly in the parts ‘Ontology’ and ‘Psychology’, in which he introduced the basic semiotic terminology. We pay special attention to the general context of Baumgarten’s Aesthetica. This context had determined the characteristics of the semiotic ideas that he developed later. In this work, semiotics is considered as part of aesthetics, as ‘denotative aesthetics’. Within Baumgarten’s concept, aesthetics and semiotics are closely interrelated. He described aesthetics as a science of essentially inseparable sensible cognition and expression. We analyse Baumgarten’s attitudes from a historical perspective and compare them with those of the ancient authors, John Locke, F. de Saussure, and R. Barthes. We emphasise the connection between the aesthetic and semiotic ideas, on the one hand, and the concept of fundus animae, on the other. We address the transition of the latter term from the theological realm of German mysticism to the aesthetics and gnosiology of the 18th century and examine its correlation with the 20th-century aesthetic and semiotic concepts. We stress the significance of Baumgarten’s ideas for the development of new aesthetic systems rejecting the traditional poetic and rhetorical systems. Baumgarten made an important contribution to the development of the idea of sensible cognition as the goal of aesthetics, which was formulated by F. Schiller in his Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man.

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REVIEWS AND CONFERENCES

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR