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1. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Thomas-Andreas Pöder, Matthew L. Kalkman Introduction: Religion in the semiosphere
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semiotic spatiality
2. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Thomas-Andreas Pöder Reflections on religion and the status of ‘the outside’ in the Lotmanian understanding of culture
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The article explores the question whether the way in which Juri Lotman uses the categories of semiotic explosion and unpredictability enables and necessitates the need to give space not only to different descriptions, but also to various self-descriptions (auto-communications) of religion in culture. In other words, the question is posed whether his concept of the semiosphere aids in making sense of the synchronic and diachronic contradictions and controversies in religion – both within what is perceived as a religion and between what are understood to be religions. The focus lies especially on whether Lotman’s semiotic theory of culture has a potential of advancing mutual recognition and supportive respect, that is – solidaristic tolerance between different religious and non-religious ways of being human. The claim is made that this is indeed the case as he models the human situation so that the ‘outside of the system’ is not understood only as a continuation of reality, but visualizes and includes within the system a space for a radical intrusion of possibility – for the truly unpredictable – on the level of culture, humanity, as well as the individual. Therefore, Lotman’s theory of culture could be developed further, in the direction of a translation device between different cultures (of religion), opening up new perspectives for dealing with the challenging semiotic situation in which we all find ourselves living in today.
3. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Laura Gherlone On binary opposition and binarism: A long-distance dialogue between decolonial critique and the Lotmanian semiotics
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While addressing the decolonial critique of Eurocentric modernity and the call for alternative cosmo-visions, this article retraces Juri Lotman’s culturological exploration towards the concept of ternarity [тернарность]: the scrutiny of the so-called binarism is what connects – without overlapping – the two perspectives. This long-distance dialogue will be built starting with the key notion of binary opposition, which will be analysed as a decolonial problem (Part I) and as a culturological problem (Part II). The analysis will focus on two central issues that stem from the either-or logic: the “othering mindset”, and the culture–nature dualism.
4. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Magdalena Maria Kubas The spatial representation of the Blessed Mary in Italian poetry at the time of the Second Vatican Council
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The representation of the Holy Virgin has long constituted one of the most important thematic lines in Italian poetry, both sacred and profane. In terms of the representation of space, the Blessed Mary was traditionally placed in faraway, celestial hierarchies. In more recent periods, this figure is often placed in the space of earthly life, with which the lyrical subject (the enunciator) is more familiar. Juri Lotman’s perspective on the space of the typological description of culture shows that divinities belong mainly to the exterior (E) space of culture. Building on these considerations, the purpose of this article is to analyse recent Marian representations – both poetic and theological – in Italian culture. I will demonstrate that, during the 20th century in Italy, Marian sacrum was moved closer to or even inside interior space (I), as the Blessed Virgin started to appear mostly in scenes of daily life and her divine traits gradually lost importance. This kind of spatiality is also found in the ecumenical dialogue. The Second Vatican Council normalized both Marian theology and the faithful’s practices, which influenced textual production and brought about further changes in the spatial placement of Mary. While the general social trend towards secularization has been increasing the distance between the human and the divine, Mary’s sanctity was transferred to the interior space (I) of everyday life – and this could be one of the factors that relaunched Marian poetry.
5. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Jason Van Boom, Alin Olteanu “Have you not heard, my soul [...]?”: The Great Kanon of St Andrew of Crete as a multimodal autocommunicative text
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This paper examines the Great Kanon (also Great Canon; in the original Greek, Ὁ Μέγας Κανών) of St Andrew of Crete (ca. 660–740) as a case study in how religious ritual texts deploy autocommunicative processes. To study this complex liturgical hymn that occupies a key role in the ritual practice of Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Christians we employ a theoretical framework rooted primarily in Juri Lotman’s theory of autocommunication, as complemented by more recent developments in social and cognitive semiotics, particularly ideas of multimodality and viewpoint. We find that the Great Kanon performs a variety of autocommunicative functions, primarily through its provision of a rhetorical metalanguage for the interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. This is a metalanguage which is multimodally enacted in ritual performance. The process makes the believer’s experience of reading the Bible an open and unfolding dialogue, in which the viewpoints of biblical characters become models for (re)interpreting one’s life experiences and reshaping one’s sense of self. The paper ultimately highlights that analyses of ritual texts, which deploy methods from cultural and cognitive semiotics, can deepen our understanding of autocommunication.
6. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Jenny Ponzo Considerations about the ‘right to a biography’: Saints and intellectuals in contemporary culture
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Taking its cue from Juri Lotman’s essay “Pravo na biografiyu”, this paper re-formulates the categories proposed by Lotman in relation to the two models of the saint and the modern intellectual, the former exemplifying the perfect realization of the norm and the latter the rejection of the norm in the name of an individual rule. These two models are considered with reference to two case studies from contemporary culture, respectively provided by the Catholic saints and by intellectuals – especially semioticians. The argument in the former case, which also takes into consideration other fundamental essays by Lotman, shows that contemporary Catholic culture challenges the identification of sanctity with the ideal of perfect adhesion to the norm. This notion is apparently applicable only to hagiographies seen as part of a mechanism of stabilization by which the dominating religious culture tames the explosive potential of the saintly figure. In the latter case, reflection on the theoretical and autobiographical production of several authors related to the field of semiotics shows that a third model can be added to the two identified by Lotman. This third model consists in acquiring the right to biography and carrying out autobiography not in contrast with the norm, as the modern writers studied by Lotman did, nor by dissolving oneself into the norm, but rather by dissolving oneself into the Other, that is, by opening one’s mind so as to allow the Other to become an integral part of oneself. This model is exemplified by the work by Julia Kristeva, in particular Teresa, My Love (2008), in that it overcomes the distinction between biography and autobiography and describes an intellectual and a saint who become “roommates”.
meaning generation
7. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Małgorzata Jankowska Meaning-generating mechanisms and the semiosphere: Towards the semiotics of modern apocrypha
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Both ancient and modern apocrypha have already been widely discussed in various fields of academic research, for example in religious, biblical or literary studies. Although such analyses say much about the historical and religious background of apocryphal writings and enable us to discover the depth of the symbolic resources used in such texts, they do not fully reveal the cultural impact of the canon. That is why a broader cultural analysis of both the canon and the apocrypha should be based on different methods of research, such as those that are offered by cultural semiotics. From the standpoint of Lotmanian semiotics modern apocrypha may be viewed as examples of the working of culture. They can be regarded as e.g. creative translation of the canon, tools of cultural autocommunication, memory devices, and meaning-generating mechanisms which dynamize the semiosphere. Semiotic analysis underlines the cultural impact of the canon not only as a set of sacred writings but also as a kind of a “cultural code”. The canon as a paradigmatic cultural text (in Aleida Assmann’s sense) is a powerful meaning-generating mechanism in which a huge number of texts intertextually relate to one another. In such relations hypertexts point out the symbolic (often archaic) nucleus of culture (thus they illustrate the statics of the semiosphere), at the same time describing and/or provoking some cultural changes (due to which they correspond with the dynamic nature of the semiosphere).
8. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Ivo Iv. Velinov Bulgarian culture and space in the religious context
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In this contribution I apply the semiotic method of Juri Lotman to a specific physical location – a significant Bulgarian religious monastery, in order to elucidate the Bulgarian metahistorical tradition. Any process of communication with a religious text involves a complex relationship with the reader. A readership image hidden in the Bulgarian religious text has played a central role for many generations; therefore, in addition to analysing a physical location, the method of communication in the area of “cultural centrality” has also been examined. The discussion focuses on a specific metahistorical text, the Testament of John of Rila, and the ways in which it interacts with important geographical and cultural areas and their hidden dimensions of “semiotic spheres”. The Testament is a part of Bulgarian cultural legacy and its role in the area of the “extra-cultural” and “cultural periphery” is remarkable.
9. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Francesco Galofaro Beneath Thy Protection: Portrait of the Holy Virgin as a semantic operator
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Starting from the third century, many songs, prayers, and icons testify to the way the Virgin Mary – Mother of God – has been attributed the role of protecting the community. Examples include the Akhathist hymn traditionally dated to the siege of Constantinople (626), the Polish anthem “Bogurodzica”, associated with the battle of Grunwald (1410), the icon of Częstochowa that protected Poland from the Swedish invasion (1655), and numerous others. The role of menace is embodied by different enemies: infidels, heretics, or atheists. The Virgin watches over the frontier between two cultural spaces: the inside and the outside of the semiosphere. A case study will provide insight into the function played by the Madonna at the border: the Madonna of the Rocciamelone, the highest sanctuary in Europe, founded by the crusader knight Rotharius (1358). A bronze statue of the Virgin was placed in the sanctuary in 1899. A small corpus of pastoral letters written by blessed Edoardo Rosaz, bishop of Susa (Piedmont), expresses the hope that the Virgin will protect Catholics from liberal heresy. Plastic oppositions such as top/bottom, resulting from the relationship between the Virgin and the landscape, are used to manifest abstract oppositions such as reason/passion, order/disorder, and Church/revolution. This homologation helps us understand how the Virgin, placed in upper space, embodies knowledge and cognition: she becomes a lookout, allowing a transfer of values from the semantic field of war to the religious one. The Virgin guards the border of the semiosphere, the border dividing the self from the other. Her function is the semiotization of incoming materials, transforming external non-communication into information and meaning. This article thus considers the Virgin as a semantic operator inverting the values of liberal discourse into information stored in Catholic cultural space. A mathematical model of the function played by the Virgin will be presented in the terms of quantum computing.
10. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 2
Matthew L. Kalkman Theosemiosis: An essay on consilience and the perennial philosophy
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Can the divide between science and religion be bridged? The current article will present the case for semiotics – and specifically the process of theosemiosis – as that platform of connection. In order to present this argument a key issue that must be tackled is whether there is one underlying function within the category of religion that can be extracted and held accountable in its knowledge claims: what has generally been termed the perennial philosophy. This extracted principle must then be capable of conforming to a broader model of consilience that can contain the knowledge captured in both science and religion. A model that can equally explain the work of Aristotle, Bacon, Galilee, and Einstein as it does Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Krishna, both in an ontological and epistemological sense; and thus a modification and extension of Enlightenment principles in such a way that they can capture the western and eastern notions of that light. In this regard, seeing truly is ‘knowing’.
11. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Merit Rickberg From avoiding uncertainty to accepting it: Semiotic modelling of history education at the limits of knowledge
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This article explicates how different approaches to teaching history can enforce diverse strategies for dealing with uncertainty. Descriptions of three types of historical pedagogy are analysed as three kinds of modelling systems derived from Juri Lotman’s theory of semiotics of culture: myth-type modelling, scientific modelling, and play-type modelling. The paper argues that the connection between pedagogical approaches and uncertainty, as an experience that occurs at the limits of knowledge, can be modelled as the relation between a semiotic system and its boundary. The nature of this relation can differ depending on how the division between the internal and external space of the semiotic entity is perceived. Different types of modelling systems establish distinct patterns in order to deal with the indeterminacy of the borderland area. In the process of learning, these patterns can be viewed as semiotic strategies that various pedagogical approaches enforce when arriving at the limits of knowledge and facing the situation of indeterminacy that can cause students to experience uncertainty. Three different strategies are discussed in the context of history education: avoiding uncertainty in the case of the collective memory approach, addressing uncertainty in the case of the disciplinary approach, and accepting uncertainty in the case of the post-modern approach to teaching history.
12. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Katarina Damčević “Ready for the Homeland” in Croatian media: Commemorations, victory, and foundation
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This article analyses the media discourse surrounding the WWII fascist salute Za dom spremni (ZDS) in the aftermath of two national commemorations that took place in Croatia in spring 2020: Jasenovac and Operation Flash (Bljesak). In spring 2020 Zoran Milanović, the newly elected President of Croatia, adamantly criticized the presence of the salute, associated with the collaborationist Ustaša regime, at the two commemorations, calling for its removal and ban. This led to heated reactions from war veterans and politicians who considered Milanović’s actions unacceptable and offensive towards the memory and legacy of the 1990s war, which triggered a wider debate regarding Croatia’s post-war national identity. The object of the analysis is the discourse surrounding the salute as it emerges in opinion pieces published in weekly and daily newspapers in April, May, and June 2020. With the salute becoming an increasingly prominent part of negotiating national identity and tailoring political agendas, investigating how it is justified, disapproved or otherwise challenged in the media is an aspect that deserves more attention. Relying on insights from discourse studies, the article sheds light on various statements that (de)legitimize the salute and consequently particular actors and actions associated with it. With the help of semiotics of culture wider signification tendencies and dominant discourse(s) upon which the national self-description has been built are identified. The article contributes to scholarship on hate speech and contested symbols in the post-Yugoslav space and their (mis)uses in societies struggling with traumatic legacies.
13. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Alec Kozicki Umwelt in an umwelt: Co-developing within immersive virtual environments and the paradoxical nature of reality and hyperreality
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This paper examines how to model immersive virtual environments using Kalevi Kull’s ecosemiotic model of four degrees of nature. Using this theoretical model allows for an investigation into the paradoxical nature of reality and hyperreality, which is a novel approach to understanding how a user co-develops with both their physical and immersive virtual environments. Analysis for the four degrees of nature within the virtual space reveals that an immersive virtual environment emerges from an imaginative void, contains milieu that users can recognize and interact with, offers the action-potentiality (affordances) for altering and changing materials within the virtual space, and the reproductive nature which converges the boundaries of reality and hyperreality during the meaning-making process for users. Additionally, this paper elaborates how technological household goods in the past century have integrated texts into the cultural construct of a home. The paper identifies how immersive virtual environments alter an inhabitant’s perception and interactions within the home and explains how to model immersion, which is important for future research of user behaviour in the digital age of new media.
14. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Silver Rattasepp The ontological primacy of umwelt
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Where do the basic composite parts of an umwelt – the organism and the environment – come from? Customarily, in umwelt theory, the emphasis is on their mutual co-construction or constitution through functional cycles. But another question could be added to this inquiry: what is the origin, the genesis of organisms and their environments which are now to be indivisibly united once again? On the basis of the transactional conception of relations proposed by John Dewey, the concept of schismogenesis as described by Gregory Bateson, and the process of individuation as explicated by Gilbert Simondon, it is proposed that it is the umwelt which is ontologically primary, and that it is its internal division, separation and individuation, which results in the appearance of organisms with their environments.
15. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Pauline Delahaye Exploring the nature and strength of the semiotic relation: A case study about liminal species in Tartu
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The case study described in this paper is part of an emerging cultural context in both its scientific as well as societal aspects, where animals are seen more and more as social and ethical subjects and their presence in the vicinity of humans is seen less and less as a nuisance to be eradicated. It aims to understand the different aspects (material inconveniences, emotional relationships, symbolic value, biodiversity perception, etc.) that hold sway in the relationship between humans and other species in an environment still symbolically seen as separate from any natural process, containing very little biodiversity, and belonging exclusively to humans. This study aims to map out the shared urban ecosystem and show that many of the relationships, coexistence issues, and failures in urban management are connected to semiotic processes that can be transformed. One of the major results of this case study is the emergence of the concept of ‘resistance of the semiotic relation’: the fact that some semiotic relationships, especially symbolic ones, seem to resist any element or piece of evidence that could be proposed to contradict them. This concept postulates that not all semiotic relations have the same strength or the same resistance to exterior attempts to modify them, and that potential semiotic solutions proposed to improve semiotic relationships, for example in cohabitation situations, need to address this reality and the variety of resistance – or resilience – of different semiotic relations.
16. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Muzayin Nazaruddin, Riin Magnus The post-disaster transformation of interspecies dependencies: From talkative buffalo to desemiotized cows on the slope of Mt. Merapi
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This paper suggests how natural disasters may serve as the final propulsion for changes already taking place within a society. While focusing on shifts in human–non-human animal relations, this text also discusses their embedding in broader transformations of human–environment relations and the underlying economic and cultural change. It carves out interspecific dependencies that constitute an agro-ecosystem and follows their demise as the agricultural species are switched to market economic production in a post-disaster context. It thereby suggests that the human-facilitated semiotic fitting of the agricultural species is replaced by human-imposed fitting in which the species composition is largely determined by the market prices. At the same time, the paper draws attention to the cessation and transformation of human–non-human communication as a marker, but also an experiential corollary, of modernization and market economy. As a case study, it focuses on the 2010 Mt. Merapi eruption in Indonesia and its aftermath in the villages on its slope. The study analyses how the shift from using plough buffalo to utilizing market economic cattle farming reflects not just an economic, but also an affective and semiotic change stemming from a shift in the intensity and kind of human–animal relations.
17. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Timo Maran Meanings for the degrowth society: From the Great Acceleration to the semiosis of the living
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The global ecological crisis has often been related to the so-called Great Acceleration, i.e. the rapid growth of many social metrics (population size, gross domestic product, energy usage, etc.) from the mid-20th century onwards. The degrowth movement has opposed the great economic expansion by advocating for a simplified society and decreased human use of energy and natural resources. In this paper, I will analyse the semiotic aspects of this process as a semiotic acceleration, and argue that transformation into the degrowth society can be supported by the restructuration of human semiotic systems towards more coherence and better connectivity with ecological processes. The semiotic acceleration manifests as a massive multiplication and spread of abstract signs and information content that is detached from ecological and material processes, and lacks value-based organization. To support the degrowth transformation, I propose the semiosis of the living as an understanding that significance arises first and foremost from semiotic participation in specific lived ecologies (cultural, ecological, and material), placement and rootedness of the given act of semiosis in the particular semiotic fabric and the unfolding of the world. The semiosis of the living re-grounds the human semiotic processes in the patterns of iconic and indexical relations shared by humans and non-human species alike.
18. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Kalevi Kull Further considerations on semiosis in evolution: Arbitrarity plus semiotic fitting, and/or mutability plus natural selection
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This essay attempts to combine some recent theoretical results in (bio)semiotics on arbitrariness, semiotic fitting, umwelt, choice, and extended theory of evolution into a more coherent whole. The proposed model describes a living being through its subjectivity and the ability to create meaning, which are often overlooked in models based on replicability. The concept of the umwelt is divided into two – the synchronic umwelt and the distributed or diachronic umwelt. For the latter, a new term ‘umweb’ is introduced. A mechanism of evolution is described in which arbitrary relating followed by semiotic fitting is somewhat analogous to the neo-Darwinian mechanism of random mutations followed by natural selection. The paper proceeds to discuss the alternativity and coexistence of these two radically different ways of evolution and learning.
19. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 51 > Issue: 1
Kalevi Kull, Ekaterina Velmezova How to develop semiotics: Paul Cobley
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20. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 50 > Issue: 4
Ott Puumeister, Kalevi Kull Editors’ preface: Lotmaniana and semiotic publications from Tartu
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