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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 49, Issue 1/2, 2021

Katre Parn
Pages 108-131

Towards the semiotics of the future
From anticipation to premediation

The paper aims to make a contribution to semiotic research on the future by bringing together various approaches that deal with the relationship humans have with the future. More specifically, the paper concentrates on anticipation viewed as an activity that is based on modelling the (un)desired future as suggested by Nikolai Bernstein. The model-based approach to anticipation allows drawing connections between the psychophysiological and semiotically mediated forms of anticipation on the one hand, and between individual and collective forms of anticipation on the other hand. With these aims in mind, the paper offers a sketch of a semiotic approach to the future that is based on the framework of semiotic modelling systems, i.e. views the future in terms of models of it and the semiotic resources and processes involved in the model-building. As the semiotically mediated models of the future circulating in a culture can become collectively shared means of cognizing and anticipating some futures, it is possible to talk about a collective anticipation, analogous to Juri Lotman’s cultural semiotic notion of collective memory. Accordingly, premediation, a future-oriented media practice outlined by Richard Grusin, is viewed as an example of collective anticipation. In addition to tracing the mechanisms of anticipation from its individual organismic to semiotically mediated collective forms, the paper foregrounds also the two fundamental problems that run across the diverse theoretical perspectives brought together within the approach: the individual and collective agency in future-making and the affective dimension of anticipation.

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