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81. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 1
Claus Emmeche The chicken and the Orphean egg: On the function of meaning and the meaning of function
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A central aspect of the relation between biosemiotics and biology is investigated by asking: Is a biological concept of function intrinsically related to a biosemiotic concept of sign action, and vice versa? A biological notion of function (as some process or part that serves some purpose in the context of maintenance and reproduction of the whole organism) is discussed in the light of the attempt to provide an understanding of life processes as being of a semiotic nature, i.e., constituted by sign actions. Does signification and communication in biology (e.g., intracellular communication) always presuppose an organism with distinct semiotic or quasi-semiotic functions? And, symmetrically, is it the case that functional relations are simply not conceivable without living sign action? The present note is just an introduction to a project aiming at elucidating the relations between biofunction and biosemiosis.
82. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 1
Frederik Stjernfelt Tractatus Hoffmeyerensis: Biosemiotics as expressed in 22 basic hypotheses
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This paper briefly outlines the main ideas of biosemiotics in 22 hypotheses, with special regards to the version of it claimed by Jesper Hoffmeyer.
83. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 1
Edwina Taborsky Energy and evolutionary semiosis
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This paper sets up a thought-experiment that examines the transformation of energy into codified mass. This transformation is understood as a semiosic action of interpretation. The semiosic action is analyzed within five “predicate” or “verbal modes” which establish different processes of transformation or interpretation. These “predicate modes”, which are sign processes, take place in different areas of reality, the external realm and the internal realm. The external realm is composed of discrete objects and their interactions. Its processes are examined within classical mechanics and this paper posits a semiosic codification that is unique to these external processes. The internal realm is a holistic endoperspective with no recognition of discrete objects. Its processes are examined within quantum and field processes and this paper posits a semiosic codification that is unique to the internal processes. However, rather than promoting one or the other realm as a valid interpretation of reality, this paper suggests that both the external and internal energy-mass processes are necessary components of our universe.
84. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 1
Alexei A. Sharov Pragmatics and biosemiotics
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Pragmatics, i.e., a system of values (or goals) in agent behavior, marks the boundary between physics and semiotics. Agents are defined as systems that are able to control their behavior in order to increase their values. The freedom of actions in agents is based on the distinction between macrocharacters that describe the state or stage, and micro-characters that are interpreted as memory. Signs are arbitrarily established relations between micro- and macro-characters that are anticipated to be useful for agents. Three kinds of elementary signs (action, perception, and association) have been developed in agents via evolution and learning to support useful and flexible behaviors. The behavior of agents can be explained, predicted, and modified using the optimality principle, according to which agents select those actions that are expected to increase their value. However, agents may select actions based on their own model of the world, which have to be reconstructed in order to predict their behavior. Pragmatics in agents can be induced, learned from individual experience or natural selection, or adopted.
85. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 1
Stefan Artmann Three types of semiotic indeterminacy in Monod’s philosophy of modern biology
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Synthesizing important research traditions in information theory, structuralist semiotics, and generative linguistics, at least three main types of semiotic indeterminacy must be distinguished: Kolmogorov’s notion of randomness defined as sequential incompressibility, de Saussure’s principle of contingency of sign which ensures the possibility of translation between different sign systems, and Chomsky’s idea of indefiniteness in generative mechanisms as a requirement for the explanation of semiotic creativity. These types of semiotic indeterminacy form an abstract system useful for the description of concrete sign processes in their syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic dimension. In his philosophical reflections on modern biology, Jacques Monod used the conceptual opposition chance versus necessity to analyse several phenomena of indeterminacy (especially in molecular biology). The biosemiotic approach to life permits to apply the suggestedsystem of semiotic indeterminacy on these phenomena.
86. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Peeter Torop Translation as translating as culture
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The most common difficulty in translation studies has traditionally been the dilemma between the historical and synchronic approaches in the analysis and description of the culture of translation. On the one hand the culture of translation might be presented as the sum of various kinds of translated texts (repertoire of culture), on the other hand it might be described as the hierarchy of the various types of translations themselves. The first approach assumes plenty of languages for such description, in the latter one suggests only one language for the same representation. A cultural critic faces the same problems. In these perspectives the translation reveals important mechanisms of the performance of culture. First of all it is the semiotic interpretation of the theory of translation, introduced by the number of scientists beginning with R. Jakobson and including U. Eco who put together interlinguistic, intra-linguistic, and inter-semiotic translations, so crucial for the further understanding of culture. As a result, the general notion of culture might be described as the process of total translation. And secondly, the othervaluable contribution to the theory of translation has been made by both M. Bakhtin and J. Lotman in terms of the synthesis of two traditions in semiotics of culture resulted in juxtaposing such notions as dialogism and autonomy — creolization, polyphony, counterword, and translation.
87. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Marina Grishakova Towards the semiotics of the observer
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The problem of the observer and point of view is examined within the broad semiological and cognitive perspective. Structuralist narratology made an attempt of a formal-linguistic classification of points of view to avoid anthropomorphic-visual connotations inherent in narratological terminology. The alternative opportunity would be the usage of terms-metaphors as theoretical models. From the point of view of the observer, the process of text generation evolves in the double space of perception/conception and interpretation. Instead of comparing different media in terms of the privileged metalanguage, it would be more fruitful to base the comparison upon their immanent cognitive characteristics.
88. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Julia Kristeva Thinking about literary thought
89. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Marcello Barbieri Organic codes: Metaphors or realities?
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Coding characteristics have been discovered not only in protein synthesis, but also in various other natural processes, thus showing that the genetic code is not an isolated case in the organic world. Other examples are the sequence codes, the adhesion code, the signal transduction codes, the splicing codes, the sugar code, the histone code, and probably more. These discoveries however have not had a significant impact because of the widespread belief that organic codes are not real but metaphorical entities. They are supposed to lack arbitrariness and codemakers, the two qualifying features of real codes. Here it is shown that the arbitrariness issue can be solved on an experimental basis, while the codemaker issue is dependent on our theoretical description of the cell and can only be solved by a new concept. In order to appreciate the reality of the organic codes, in short, it is necessary to have not only a more critical evaluation of the experimental data but also a new theory of the living system.
90. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Kestutis Nastopka Two approaches to the myth of city foundations: Syntagmatic and paradigmatic
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The paper discusses the myth of the founding of Vilnius as an example of a myth of city foundation. The myth has received two independent semiotic interpretations. Narrative grammar procedures are applied to the analysis of the mythical story and the semantic code generating the story in the paper “Gediminas’ Dream (Lithuanian myth of city foundation: an attempt at analysis)” by Algirdas Julien Greimas (1971). The sovereignty ideology expressed in the myth, which describes religious and spiritual culture of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, is linked to the tri-functional model of the Indo-European social structure. The semantics of the Vilnius myth is seen as analogous with such Indo-European myths as king’s accession to the throne and creation of a city-state. The Lithuanian myth of Vilnius is linked paradigmatically to the Indo-European mythology in the study “Vilnius, Wilno, Vil’na: City and myth” by Vladimir Toporov (1980). At the level of the signifier, phonological equivalents of toponyms of Vilnius are traced. At the level of the signified, transformations of the “core” Indo-European myth are identified. The myth of the city foundation can be read both as a figurative form of cultural expression and as an ideology narrated as a plot of a story. In this view, the paradigmatic and syntagmatic approaches complement each other.
91. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Thomas G. Winner How did the ideas of Juri Lotman reach the West?
92. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Peet Lepik On universalism in connection with the interpretation of magic in the semiotics of Juri Lotman
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The article examines the first phase of the universalistic interpretations in Juri Lotman’s semiotics, which is characterized by holism and maximalism derived from the Saussurean cultural concept. There is an analysis of Juri Lotman’s 1967 lecture, previously unpublished, where universal status is accorded to text functions (including magic functions). Such an approach is a substantial revision of the Saussurean understandings of the relationship between language and speech. This interpretation of magic is compared with the examination of the same concept in Juri Lotman’s 1981 article “Contract and self-sacrifice as archetypical cultural models”, which substantially contradicts the concept developed in his 1967 lecture. Both these magic models produce a number of objections, and apparently seem to bear the deforming traces of their respective universalistic theoretical schema.
93. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Linnar Priimägi Pure visual metaphor: Juri Lotman’s concept of rhetoric in fine arts
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Salvador Dalí’s oilpainting Hallucination partielle. Six apparitions de Lénine sur un piano (1931) has been considered to be one of the most difficult works to interpret. O. Zaslavskii has analyzed it, using the sound of the words in title and the items depicted on the masterpiece, “the phonetic subtext”. Obviously, Zaslavskii’s interpretation is based on Osip Mandelstam’s poem “Grand piano” (1931), that in the context of Russian language associates the piano ( ) with the French Revolution. Nevertheless, Zaslavskii’s final conclusion of the connections between Dalí’s painting and the French Revolution turns to be accurate, because it is possible to find iconographic parallels between Dalí’s “Partial hallucination…” and Jacques-Louis David’s “The death of Marat” (1793). On at least four most significant oil paintings from the beginning of Dalí’s surreal period we can observe his “emblem of love and death” as the combination of fellatio and bleeding. Obviously, he understood in the same code also Marat’s murdering by the knife of a woman. This allows us to insist, that Dalí was inspired to paint“Partial hallucination…” by “The death of Marat”. The shadow of a grand piano on his painting “Diurnal illusion: the shadow of a grand piano approaching” (1931) directly bears the meaning of “terror” and “fear”. In such motif combination and graphic parallel, the complex cultural metaphoric relations of these two paintings can be viewed. This complex can be considered as rhetorical in the sense of Juri Lotman’s conception. But it is evidently a case of “pure visual metaphor”, not an illustration of verbal metaphors.
94. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Bruno Osimo On psychological aspects of translation
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Translation science is going through a preliminary stage of self-definition. Jakobson’s essay “On linguistic aspects of translation”, whose title is re-echoed in the title of this article, despite the linguistic approach suggested, opened, in 1959, the study of translation to disciplines other than linguistics, semiotics to start with. Many developments in the semiotics of translation — particularly Torop’s theory of total translation — take their cue from the celebrated category “intersemiotic translation or transmutation” outlined in that 1959 article. I intend to outline here the contributions that the science of translation — following a semiotic perspective opened by Peirce and continued by Torop — can gather from another discipline: psychology. The “totalistic” approach to translation provided by Torop can be more deeply enforced by applying to it the consequences deriving from the psychological insight offered by the concept of “interpretant” as mental sign; the perceptual interpretation of the prototext; reading and writing as intersemiotic translation processes; unlimited semiosis as interminable analysis; primary and secondary process in dreams and in other kinds of translation; metaphor and disambiguation as mental processes; the defenses activated when translation criticism (review) and self-criticism (revision) are made.
95. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Maija Könönen ‘Infernal’ subtexts in Brodsky’s poem The fifth anniversary
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This essay explores the intertextual relationships of Joseph Brodsky’s poem — an occasional verse dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the poet’s enforced emigration from the Soviet Union. As is common in Brodsky’s poetics, the text is imbued with allusions to other texts, not only from Russian, but from Western belles lettres, as well. Through reminiscences of La Divina Commedia the lost homeland together with the beloved native city of Leningrad is paralleled with Dante’s “lost and accursed” Florence as well as with the lost St.Petersburg of Mandelshtam and Akhmatova, among others. The Dantean undertones are exposed not only on the semantical level of the examined text but in the metrical and structural aspects of the poem, as well.
96. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Mihhail Lotman Atomistic versus holistic semiotics
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The paper is devoted on the foundations of semiotics. It examines the specific features of Peircean and Saussurean traditions and demonstrates that the basis of all the differences is the different conception of the nature of sign: Peirce proceeds from the substitutive concept, Saussure from the bilateral one. The substitutive construction is atomistic by its nature: it is based on a (single) sign which replaces a (single) object, while bilateral is holistic: it is based on the sign system which is divided into (single) signs. The differences of semiosis in atomistic and holistic approach will be pointed out.
97. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Irene Portis-Winner Eric Wolf: the crosser of boundaries
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The subject of this paper is an introduction to my assessment of the work of the late American anthropologist, Eric Wolf (1923–1999), whom I consider to be one of the greatest American anthropologist. I plan a monograph on his total work from a point of view, largely overlooked, emphasizing his sensitive, path-breaking, and poetic insights. I see Wolf’s work as having three interpenetrating periods, which I call (1) Eric Wolf, the poet, focusing primarily on his work on Mexico, (2) the study of peasantry world-wide, emphasizing history, context, power, etc. (from the very beginning Wolf demolished the idea of static isolated cultures that anthropologists so loved to study; and in this respect, Eric Wolf changed anthropology forever), and (3) the third period, reaching to his death and never really finished, was Wolf the philosopher and crosser of boundaries.
98. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Leonid Tchertov Spatial semiosis in culture
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Lotman’s conception of semiosphere opens the way to development of spatial semiotics as a special branch of sign theory. There are a lot of peculiarities in the spatial semiosis, which distinguish it from the temporal ones. These distinctions are connected with some special features of semiotized space, and they touch both upon the spatial texts and upon the spatial codes. The spatial syntax has its own specific structures, which can be reversed, non-linear and continual, created without discrete signs. The differentiation relates also to semantics of spatial signs and texts, which are mainly motivated by their denotates due to similarity or contiguity. There are some pragmatic peculiarities of the spatial semiosis: the greater connection with the praxis, on the one hand, and the greater ability for the preservation of the cultural memory, on the other hand. The mainly visual character of spatial texts in plane of expression can be also considered as its specific pragmatic property. These peculiarities give some special possibilities for the spatial semiosis and make necessary its participation in the various spheres of the culture, where diverse spatial codes interact in different ways between each other and with temporal codes as well.
99. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Andreas Schönle Lotman and cultural studies: The case for cross-fertilization
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This paper seeks to evaluate the extent to which Lotman’s theoretical works could provide a conceptual articulation to the project of British and American cultural studies (CS). Just as CS, Lotman operates with an extensive concept of culture, albeit one mostly limited to nobility culture and focused on the past. His late works can be seen to articulate a semiotic theory of power: his emphasis on the relationship between center and periphery recalls the infatuation with marginality that underpins CS. Lotman shares the (post) structuralist premise about the primary role of discourse in founding reality. Yet his emphasis on the natural striving of culture toward diversity mitigates the subject’s dependence upon discourse. Thus, subjects act on their striving toward autonomy by playing discourses against one another, recoding them in an act of autocommunication that generates novelty in the process. Even though it denies the grand narrative, Cultural Studies emphasizes class, gender, and race differences. Lotman’s concept of the semiosphere emphasizes the ad hoc foundation of group identities, their emergence out of an intrinsic recoding of extrinsic codes, and the circulation of texts and values among groups. Lotman doesn’t privilege any sort of group identity and therefore offers a flexible framework applicable to a broader range of groups. In that sense he offers an alternative to Gramsci’s notion of the rootedness of groups in class realities (which underlies early CS).
100. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 30 > Issue: 2
Elize Bisanz The abstract structure of the aesthetic sign
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Walter Benjamin foreshadowed many of the aesthetic theories, currently playing a fundamental role in the production and interpretation of art. By emphasising the role of the expressive character of art, or rather the category of expressivity itself, Benjamin defined art as a language. His aesthetics was characterised by the continuous interaction of two almost reciprocal projects: the theoretical critique of art which is based on an understanding of historical processes, and the understanding of historical processes which is formed by the critical experience of art. We find a fundamental similarity between Benjamin’s dialectical character of the aesthetic sign and Lotman’s double-sidedness of the artwork. In classifying the system of art as a language, both theoreticians space out the structure ofart and determine it as the intersection of the synchronic and the diachronic aesthetic discourse. The paper follows the traces of the transition of modern painting from its representational status to an autonomous signification, that is, from being a symbolic expression to a discourse in the grammatological meaning of écriture. Parallel to this transition which resulted into the process of abstraction in painting, there can be observed a shift in the cultural values of art which had its critical bearing upon the world secured not by connections of likeness, but by virtue of the very independence of its values. The abstract form of the modern painting has been the declaration of the language of art as an exemplary realm. What must be expressed and experienced within this realm was (1) the critical reflection on the human condition, and (2) representing the society in so far as art maintained a moral independence from those conditions. This dialectic between the autonomous and social character of art has left deep impacts on the language of painting, a complexity, which has been made transparent through the various semiotic analytic approaches of the aesthetic sign. The paper discusses the processual character of the modern painting and demonstrates briefly the deficiency in the structural analysis of the painting language, encouraging its synthesis with the dynamical character of cultural products as we find it in the Lotmanian culture theory.