Tartu School: old and new
Kalevi Kull (email@example.com)
Peeter Torop (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lauri Linask (email@example.com)
Since the early 1960s, Juri Lotman and his colleagues from Tartu and Moscow developed an approach to the semiotic analysis of culture, with a focus on cultural sign systems as modelling systems. The group became known as the Tartu–Moscow School. In the 1980s, Lotman introduced the theory of semiosphere, and developed a general model of communication, emphasizing the necessary condition of a multitude of codes with partial non-translatability for any semiotic system. Since the 1990s, attempts have been made to develop a semiotic theory which could integrate Lotman’s and Uexküll’s approaches, thus covering the whole scope of the meaning-making processes. Simultaneously, a full-scale teaching program of semiotics was established in the University of Tartu.
In this session, we invite colleagues to discuss both the history and contemporary work as related to the Tartu School, including criticisms and ideas for further development.
The Semiotic Space of Media: Cultural Boundaries and Geopolitical Borders
The main concern of the present study comes from Yuri Lotman’s concepts of semiotic space and semiosphere emerged in the cultural process of communication. Taken as a whole, the work aims to improve meaningfull insights into the controversial relation between space and communication modelized by cultural codes of technological media. The question is: how space and communication generates each other? According to Lotman in communication context every space emerges as a modeling system of different sign systems living in boundaries, interactions, and conflicts, or simply in the semiotic space of the semiosphere, no longer a geographic space. Since geopolitics involves the whole geospace and its representational process, namely technological devices, sign systems, and cultural codes, the semiosphere carries also geopolitical concerns. In such a perspective, geopolitics becomes a key word to represent the dialectical interaction between inner and outer space, from atmosphere to semiosphere, where information become culture. Albeit the controversial perspective of territorial controlling and strategic assumptions, geopolitics deals with iconic modeling systems developed from the geo to the semeiotic space. By placing geopolitics in the realm of inner and outer space it is possible to achieve the domain of media communication in the semiotic space of media culture.
Key-words: Semiosphere, Boundary, Communication, Media, Modeling, Semiotic Space
Irene Machado is Full Professor of Semiotics and Communication in the School of Communications and Arts, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. She has research interests in Semiotics of Culture, particularly the theoretical thought of Mikhail Bakhtin, Boris Uspenky, Yuri Lotman and their discoveries about the relationship between space and communication in culture and visual arts. She has also introduced the semiotic approach applied to audiovisual systems analysis, particularly the S. Eisenstein cinema. In her current research examines the problem of semiotic space in relation to technological communication in order to understand diagrammatic perspective of thinking generated by audiovisual media culture systems.
2) George Rossolatos MSc, MBA, Dr.Phil.
Towards the cultural branding model of the brandosphere: From share-of-market to share-of-cultural representations
This paper seeks to outline the cultural branding model of the brandosphere by drawing on Lotmanian cultural semiotics and specifically on the concept of semiosphere. The model is intended as an applicable tool for managing dynamically the textual sources of a brand language as (inter)textual formation. The argumentation will grapple with the differential advantages that stem from assuming as groundwork whereupon the conceptual model of the brandosphere is edified Lotmanian semiotics versus existing models in the Consumer Culture Theory research stream (i.e., Douglas Holt’s cultural branding model), as well as with the contribution of this model to the consolidation of marketing semiotics as a standalone field of research in semiotics and marketing and the demonstration of the commercial applications of Tartu School semiotics.
Yuri Lotman is perhaps the most prominent figure in the cultural semiotic discipline whose work is largely under-explored in cultural studies (outside of semiotics), not to mention Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) and approaches to cultural branding that have been voiced therein. Outside of the semiotic discipline and beyond the geographical confines of Tartu that was his academic base, Lotman’s cultural semiotic heritage has been taught extensively in the field of literary analysis. Interest in the central Lotmanian concept of ‘semiosphere’ has been picking up steadily ever since the appearance in English of his last work (Culture and Explosion). However, the indubitably insightful concepts of ‘cultural explosion’ and ‘semiosphere’ constitute merely the tip of the iceberg in Lotman’s prolific writings.
The semiosphere constitutes an umbrella concept or metaconcept that designates a semiotic space that is made of various interlocking spheres with identifiable boundaries. “As a metaconcept, semiosphere is a ‘construct of semiotic method’ (Kull 2005, 184) that takes a holistic approach to culture, and as an object it refers to a given semiotic space” (Semenenko 2012: 120). “The semiosphere is heterogeneous space (or communicative medium), enabling qualitative diversity to emerge, to fuse, and to sustain” (Kull 2005: 185). “Lotman especially stresses that the semiosphere is not just the sum total of semiotic systems, but also a necessary condition for any communication act to take place and any language to appear” (Semenenko 2012: 112). Each sphere in a semiospheric space is in a constant dialogue (a point of intersection between Lotman and Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism; cf. Betea 1997) with every other sphere in varying degrees. “New information in the semiosphere can be produced only as a result of a dialogue between different codes, by which he [Lotman] understands not simply different human or artificial languages, but different ways of organizing reality into coherent cognitive structures, or different ways of making reality conform to our understanding” (Steiner 2003: 42). Furthermore, each semiotic sphere has its own language, from simpler to more complex, and from strictly formalized to more fluid. “These languages are not equivalent to one another, but at the same time are mutually interprojected and have various degrees of translatability” (Semenenko 2012: 113). According to Semenenko, meaning is generated in communicative acts precisely through the tension that exists among the various languages that make up the distinctive spheres of a semiospheric space. “This makes the semiosphere the universal mechanism of meaning generation” (Semenenko 2012: 113).
“The interrelation between all the elements of semiotic space is a real fact rather than a mere metaphor” (Zylko 2001: 400). Indeed, in an era that is marked by excessive connectivity among social actors on an international scale, enabled by increasingly rapid electronic communications, the rate at which texts and cultural units migrate from periphery to center, but also the scale on which such migrations are effected, could be characterized as being of unparalleled proportions compared to previous historical periods. “Cultural dynamics consists in this fact above others: that nucleus and periphery cab change places. What used to be central is now peripheral, and vice versa” (Zylko 2001: 402).
The accelerating interplay between cultural center and periphery mandates even more urgently the need for a model and a methodology of cultural branding whereby multidimensional dynamic changes may be mapped with view to enhancing the predictability of emergent cultural trends and the impact such trends may have on the semantic nucleus of a brand and its periphery. Lotman was particularly concerned with how distinctive cultural spheres and the texts that make them up are transformed in various modes of contextualization and in different historical epochs from the centre of a cultural semiosphere to the periphery and vice versa. Mapping out this dynamic interplay between cultural centre and periphery which is responsible for infusing ‘life’ into a culture is crucial for (i) understanding which currently peripheral cultural spheres in a brandosphere may assume central importance for consumers in a mid-to-long term horizon (ii) which textual sources and textual forms make up distinctive spheres (e.g., cinema, politics, popular press, leisure activities) and how their relative salience shifts over time (iii) what types of signs, in terms of concrete representations, as well as modalities make up each textual form and how their importance shifts over time. These three interlocking levels for addressing how a semiospheric environment, and, concomitantly, how a brandosphere mutates over time are suggestive of the all- encompassing character of Lotman’s semiotic conceptual model of culture that combined the macro-cultural with micro-cultural outlooks in a uniform perspective.
From a cultural semiotic point of view, and this is a key point of differentiation with regard to the consumer research vernacular, the focus is laid on mapping out the textual sources that make up a cultural reserve and how these sources are transformed, as above noted, in distinctive cultural spheres that make up a brandosphere. The ability of managing dynamically these sources, as will be shown, will essentially endow brand and advertising planners with a conceptual toolbox and a concrete methodology for predicting which aspects of a cultural/textual reserve are more likely to migrate from the periphery towards the center of a brandosphere and hence of maintaining relevance of their communications to their targets.
“Lotman (1970: 64-77; 1981: 34-48) bases his approach on the broad concept of text according to which every artifact with a function and a coded message can be regarded as a text; he notes, however, that every culture selects from the set of these texts a small subset which its members consider important for their cultural identity” (Posner 2004: 118). Lotman’s emphasis on the criteria for textual selection (and, furthermore, of particular signs from distinctive texts) is most pertinent for the cultural branding model of the brandosphere that is intent on managing dynamically sources of a brand’s textual formation, as will be shown in this research. “The function of a text is defined as its social role, its capacity to serve certain demands of the community which creates the text. Thus, function is the mutual relationship among the system, its realization, and the addresser-addressee of the text […] In this sense it may be said that culture is the totality of texts or one complexly constructed text” (Lotman et al.1978: 233). Hence, strictly speaking from a Lotmanian point of view, what we are primarily concerned with is not acts of ‘co-creation’, as has become common meta-linguistic currency in consumer research, but what may be called modes of (inter)textual co- conditioning between brands and consumers (insofar as a text is always another text’s inter-text; Orr 1987: 814). Cultural semiotics is particularly apt for mapping out these distinctive modes of textual co-conditioning, with a future orientation that allows for endorsing the unpredictable as rapturous moment in a cultural tissue. In the context of addressing these modes of textual co-conditioning particular emphasis will be laid not only on where the identified texts and their cultural units are situated in between the center and the periphery of a brandosphere from a synchronic point of view, that is based on a descriptive snapshot of their situatedness at a particular moment in the infinitely developing autonomous life of signs, but, even more, how the same cultural units are constantly desemiotized, in Lotman’s terms, and resemiotized in discrete communicative contexts or how they are continuously re-appropriated by distinctive agents of cultural production (brands and consumers).
3) Peng Jia, Jiang Shiping
Research on Tartu (and Moscow) semiotics in China: A review of past three decades
There are three western semiotic masters whose theories have exercised greatest impacts on Chinese semiotic studies, namely, Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, and Juri Lotman. The works of Juri Lotman and other members of Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics are introduced into China during the thaw of the early 1980s and receive enthusiastic welcome. Yet, Juri Lotman, Boris Uspenski, and Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov are taken as representatives of Russian Formalism, since the fate of semiotics in 1980s and early 1990s is tightly tangled with developments of Formalism studies. Till the mid-1990s, owing to the efforts of Zhou Qichao and some other scholars, Tartu-Moscow School is taken as an independent academic school, with Juri Lotman as its founder. Many semiotic works of Tartu-Moscow School are translated into Chinese, and studies on these works mainly focus on theories of literature and art by Tartu-Moscow semioticians. In the first decade of this century, there has appeared a shift from semiotics of literature to cultural semiotics, and the theory of semiosphere by Juri Lotman wins great popularity in China. However, the other semiotic forerunner of Tartu, Jakob von Uexküll, whose theory of umwelt is the cornerstone of contemporary semiotics, has not been introduced into China until 2012. Thanks to the 11th world congress of semiotics held in Nanjing in the same year, Chinese scholars get an opportunity to communicate with prominent semioticians from New Tartu School. Since then, studies on umwelt and ecosemiotics begin to emerge, and will possibly become a fast-developing field in China.
4) Timo Maran
Zoosemiotic modelling in nature writing: From Tartu-Moscow semiotics to ecocriticism
The presentation makes an attempt to synthesise ecocriticism, the semiotics of the Tartu-Moscow Semiotic School, and biosemiotics, in order to propose a methodology for analysing nature representations in relation to human connection to nature. The relationship between literature and environment will be described by employing the concept of modelling as developed by Juri Lotman and Thomas A. Sebeok. From this perspective, every piece of nature writing is essentially a model of human relationship with nature, both in its present state and as it is anticipated in the future (Maran 2013). In a literary work as well as in the human perception of the environment, three levels of modelling are distinguished: zoosemiotic modelling, linguistic modelling and artistic modelling. In this framework, special attention is paid to zoosemiotic modelling and for this the conceptualisations of various authors such as Thomas A. Sebeok, James J. Gibson, Michael Polanyi will be discussed. The presentation also discusses the specifics of modelling and modelling systems theory in Tartu-Moscow semiotics and possibilities to use these concepts in ecocritical analysis.
According to Thomas A. Sebeok (1991) preverbal “zoosemiotic modelling” is based on Umwelt structure, where signs distinguished by the organism’s sensory organs are aligned with its behavioural activities. On the level of zoosemiotic modelling, understanding of and affinity with other living beings can arise on the basis of the similarities developed in biological evolution on different taxonomic levels. Examples of such basic similarities include orientation on the vertical bottom-up axis, which is a connecting feature for most animals and plants; or group relations and hierarchies, which is a connecting feature for most mammals. The connection between nature representations and actual environmental structures can be studied by applying James J. Gibson’s (1986) concept of “affordances”, which describes such properties of the environment that make certain activities possible. Gibson’s affordances anchor environmental perception and representation in a particular environment through meanings and values. Michael Polanyi (1966) has developed an understanding of preverbal semiosis with the concept of “tacit knowledge”, which is a sign process that integrates preverbal and unconscious biosemiotic sign processes into cognised wholes.
In nature essays, we may find traces and fragments of zoosemiotic modelling in the form of representations of inarticulate sounds, the author’s bodily perceptions, multisensority, as well as expressions of vocalisations of other species. However, in an actual nature experience, zoosemiotic modelling is semiotically vastly more complex and nuanced than the possibilities of linguistic modelling allow for. There appears to be a qualitative gap between zoosemiotic modelling and linguistic modelling. In nature essays, it is rather the layer of artistic modelling that can effectively relate the text to environmental experience through different poetic means of expressions, combinations of codes and languages. Multilingual nature of an artistic text, as described by Juri Lotman (1967), makes it possible for nature essays to reflect diverse and often contradictory nature experiences and makes it understandable to readers in various contexts. Focusing on zoosemiotic modelling thus brings about the necessity of reconsidering the relationship between nature experience and nature essay as between two semiotically complex wholes. Rather than adequately representing nature experience, a nature essay can direct its reader to the immediate contact with nature and foster the processes of modelling nature. It is this contact within which the reader can develop his or her own zoosemiotic, multimodal and environmentally rooted environmental experiences.
Gibson, James J. 1986. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Lotman, Juri 1967 = Лотман, Юрий Михайлович. “Тезисы к проблеме “Искусство в ряду моделирующих систем”.” Труды по знаковым системам, т. 3 (1967), ст. 130–145.
Maran, Timo 2013. Biosemiootiline kriitika: keskkonna modelleerimine kirjanduses [Biosemiotic criticism: Modelling the environment in literature.]. Akadeemia 25(5): 824-847.
Polanyi, Michael 1966. Tacit Dimension. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Sebeok, Thomas A. 1991. In what sense is language a “primary modeling system”? – Thomas A. Sebeok. A Sign is Just a Sign. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 49–58.
5) Kalevi Kull, Silvi Salupere, Derpartment of Semiotics, University of Tartu
Learning from making a textbook in semiotics
During 2012–2014, the Department of Semiotics of the University of Tartu prepared a collectively written textbook in semiotics for bachelor students of semiotics. The book includes four parts: (i) history of semiotics (prehistory, semiotics and semiology, structuralism, Tartu–Moscow School); (ii) the 20th century classics (Peirce, Saussure, Uexküll, Morris, Jakobson, Greimas, Lotman, Eco, Sebeok); (iii) major fields (semiotics of culture, sociosemiotics, biosemiotics); (iv) branches and application fields of semiotics (semiotics of literature, semiotics of translation, semiotics of arts, semiotics of performance and theatre, semiotics of film, semiotics of music, semiotics of politics, legal semiotics, semiotics of city, semiotics of landscape, zoosemiotics); 13 additional branches are described very briefly, with some recommended literature provided. The book also includes a dictionary which provides brief definitions of about 200 semiotic terms.
We will share our experience on some points we’ve found interesting during the preparation of the volume (contemporary debates, interpretations and construction of history, relationships between branches, definition of concepts), and make some comparisons with earlier textbooks of semiotics.
6) Kati Lindström, PhD, Environmental Humanities Laboratory, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Semiotic study of landscapes between bodies and representations
The terminology of Juri Lotman’s semiotics is often spatial and even if it is not that often applied to spatial phenomena in its original context, it still offers wide possibilities for the analysis of landscapes and especially its cultural and social aspects. The concepts of boundary, text, semiosphere, explosion, memory, autocommunication – all of them have a great explanative value concerning the emergence and change, perception and representation of different landscapes on the cultural level, including the process of remembering past landscapes and using their representations for present purposes in the national discourse.
Jakob von Uexküll’s terminology, on the other hand, offers useful tools for understanding the species-specific landscapes of different non-human animals. Even if biosemiotical tradition might not be the most useful for describing how humans perceive landscapes, its tools are still indispensable for describing how different other animals can make sense of the world, what landscape structures are potentially present for them and which parts of the semiotic weave in the landscapes are non-existent for their species.
Yet the transition zone between the species-specific potentiality and culturally constructed and represented landscapes is yet to be described in Tartu semiotics. With the help of some case studies, the present paper attempts to figure out how (and whether) different concepts of old and new Tartu semiotics could be used in this analysis. How do individual people as living and perceptive bodies that meet the semiotic affordances of their surrounding landscapes generate meanings against the background of their cultural conceptions? And on the other hand, how this individual bodily existence gets treated in the cultural representations of landscapes, both historical and present?
7) Lauri Linask, Doctoral student, Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu (Lauri.Linask@ut.ee)
Applying Uexküll’s Concept of Umwelt on Human and Non-human Ontogeny in the Example of Martha Muchow’s Research
Although Uexküll’s model of the functional cycle is not especially designed for the developmental analysis of human beings, it is clear that in the same way different organisms have different meaning-relations with their environments, so does the organism’s umwelt change over the course of its ontogeny. Applications of the model to the development of children still remain scarce. Three stages of development can be outlined based on Uexküll’s Theory of Meaning (1982), according to the different types of meaning-making that they involve—the pre-representational umwelt stage of meaning-factors, which are related to the building-plan of the organism; the stage of umwelt of meaning-carriers or objects, which relate the subject to its environment; and finally, the stage of the observer with an umwelt of neutral objects, which are independent of subjective relations. These stages correlate to different, albeit inter-related levels of meaning-making in the biological human being. The developmental perspective on Uexküll’s concept of umwelt was taken up by the German psychologist Martha Muchow (Muchow; Muchow: in re-publication ) in the early 1930’s in Hamburg. Her observations of the various ways children of different ages perceive and act in their urban surroundings represent an application of Uexküll’s ideas on child behaviour and development, expanding and specifying Uexküll’s concept of umwelt on human ontogeny. Uexküll’s work remains as one of the theoretical pillars of semiotics of Tartu school as it continues to provide for its new applications on different fields of research. Application of the concept of umwelt on human development still remains a work to be done.
Keywords: umwelt, human ontogeny, Uexküll, Muchow
Muchow, M.; Muchow, H. (in re-publication ). The Life Space of the Urban Child. Perspectives on Martha Muchow’s Classic Study. Eds. Mey, G. & Günther, H. Brunswik: Transaction.
Uexküll, Jakob von (1982 ). Theory of meaning. Semiotica, 42(1), 25–82.
8) Peeter Torop, professor of cultural semiotics, University of Tartu
The Tartu-Moscow School made a programmatic entry into international science in 1973 when J. Lotman, V. Ivanov, V. Toporov, A. Pjatigorski, and B. Uspenskij collectively published their “Theses on the Semiotic Study of Cultures”. These theses laid the foundation for the semiotics of culture as a separate discipline, the primary aim of which was “...the study of the functional correlation of different sign systems. From this point of view particular importance is attached to questions of the hierarchical structure of the languages of culture...”. Every culture is characterized by a unique relationship between sign systems and therefore in discussing any culture it is important to understand its historical evolution.
The concept of “cultural semiotics” can be interpreted in three ways. Firstly, as referring to a methodological tool which can be recognised simultaneously in various disciplines of contemporary humanities and social sciences. It can also be considered as a concept representing the diversity of methods for analysing various aspects of culture as a research object in semiotic theory and applied semiotics; and finally, as one of the subdisciplines of semiotics and culture studies. In the last case cultural semiotics has a holistic view to culture and features of discipline.
The most universal feature of human cultures is the need for self-description. Every culture has its own specific means for doing this — its languages of description. The descriptive languages facilitate cultural communication, perpetuate cultural experience, and model cultural memory. The coherence of culture is based on exactly the repetition and interpretation of the same things. The more descriptive languages a culture has, the richer is that culture. Consequently, every culture is describable as a hierarchy of object languages and descriptive languages.
Same happens in semiotics. Semiotics needs self-description for developing own identity. And notion of school is one of the key concepts for this. School is conceptual and dialogic whole, sphere of inner dialogue of some group of scientists (visible or invisible college). School means conceptualisation of own sources – writing or constructing disciplinary or transdisciplinary history. School needs academic or pedagogical status – teaching is the best system of controll and feedback. School has dynamics of generations for sustainability not school only, but semiotics in general. Semiotics needs schools, also Tartu school.
9) Remo Gramigna, University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics (email@example.com)
Unsolved problems in St. Augustine’s definition of the lie
St. Augustine was a pioneer particularly on the question of the lie. With two works dealing exclusively with lying, it would seem to be an easy task to point out in St. Augustine a clear-cut definition of the lie, but rather the contrary is true. His first treatise devoted to this problem is in fact obscure, intricate and round-about and in certain passages leaves the reader puzzled and confused.
Whenever St. Augustine is quoted in a tract on lying, invariably there is repeated that section from De mendacio that is generally accepted as embodying his ‘definition’ of the lie: “No one doubts that he lies who willingly utters a falsehood for the purpose of deceiving: wherefore a false utterance put forward with the will to deceive is clearly a lie”. This paper seeks to trace back the abovementioned ‘definition’ to its original context in order to assess the validity of the above quotation as true, all-inclusive, essential definition. The first half of the paper will picture the purpose of speech and the difference between true and false signs according to St. Augustine. The core of the paper will focus on the distressingly confusing fourth chapter of De mendacio, where the Bishop of Hippo introduced two interesting new cases: (i) false speech in order not to deceive and (ii) truthful speech in order to deceive. The paper will seek to address the following questions: does the intention to deceive find a place in Augustine’s essential notion of the lie? Is there an implicit deceit in every lie?