Why do often the same ideas appear in different historical epochs and far apart places? For example, the common occurrence of the Cinderella story around the world. These types of reoccurring, and independently delivered ideas in cultural histories are not easy to explain. Yuri Lotman’s semiotic theory of culture is groundbreaking in the examination of the diachronic connectionism between the different real, possible, and imaginary cultural spaces and worlds.
This paper focuses on the dynamism between nature, culture, and history explained in the view of cultural organicistic theory. A new philosophical insight on the concept of the semiosphere is analyzed.
The semiosphere is the whole, the mind as the universe, all cultures, historical epochs, individuals, and all life-forms. Lotmans sees the semiosphere as a new “time machine” in which present, past (history), and future are complexly accessible through the diachronic connections and associations. The semiosphere is perceived as the coded matrix of humanity similar to a “hive” mind. The human condition alters the natural environment through perception, reasoning, and behavioral patterns.
Besides the major epistemological and theoretical frameworks of the semiopshere this text will examine the application of Yuri Lotman’s concepts of binarism and asymmetry by using the ethical and aesthetical examples that underline the diachronic connectionism and explain a new epistemological substrate for understanding the culture, nature, and humanity’s history.
To access the whole text click bellow, Rajka Rush copyright, 2006, revised 2011, last revisions 2012:
Highlights from the text with the interpretation of the art work presented in the article:
III. Alternative Communication Styles and the Semiosphere Concept
(pg. 16 -17)
“The friend and contemporary of Parmiganino, Jacopo da Pontormo, expressed, in his work, the same sensibility of a revolutionary challenge to the classical composition. His picture Taking Jesus from the Cross (1518) underlies the point of the lost center. Instead of Jesus in the middle and the concentration of other participants around his body, we find an empty center where the dead hand of Jesus hangs lifelessly, while the hands of other participants in sorrow serve to potentate the round space and dynamics of the composition. This empty space is not only a tactic to enforce the round composition, but is a metaphor of “emptiness and soulless.” Every participant of this imaged event faces in a different direction away from Jesus. Has this Pantormo’s painting already anticipated the Nietzschean idea of the death of God where the “whole horizon” is wiped out and the whole culture faces the loss of meaning? The avant-garde model had already begun its development in the Renaissance period, but as a “rebellious fringe” as Lotman describes.”
III. Alternative Communication Styles and the Semiosphere Concept
quote (pg. 17 – 18)
“One of the best examples given in Hocke’s book is the analysis of Il Parmigianino’s self portrait (Fancesco Mazzola from Parma) with the image in a convex mirror. The hand of Parmiganino appears as a giant object in comparison to his enigmatic smile and distant face.
The inverted hierarchy of presentation is applied in his painting. Instead of a classical presentation where the face is the focus of the portrait, Parmiganino inverted the classical image and shocked the public with the new perspective. This small insertion into the dominant style of the Renaissance, inverting the expected hierarchy within the common presentation represents the alternative style of communication and is the announcement of the upcoming change.
The dominant style of the Renaissance in painting was all about achieving the perfectionism in proportions, giving the sense of the perfect harmony, rest, and focus on the middle. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa reaches the perfection of harmony and rest, while the middle radiates her enigmatic smile. Parmiganino’s self portrait opposes and demolishes traditional proportions between the parts and the whole, seeking for the shock and wonder from the viewer. Also, he leaves the picture without a clear center, expressing the pressure of vertigo empowered by the convex deformation.”
V. Semiosphere and Symbolic Meta-Structures
Quote: (pg. 36-37)
“Robinson is able to recover his lost meaning by slowly recovering his former world and transforming it into the new world. There is no doubt that his true faith emerges from fear and loneliness, but it makes him work every day to overcome a deep existential crisis and results in the happiness of reproducing the artifacts and changing the island into the humanized place.
Everything is a challenge on the island. At one point, Robinson sees the native cannibals, which he at first plans to kill them, but then he thinks that this act would not be righteous, because they didn’t harm him. At one occasion, he is able to free a prisoner from the cannibal tribesmen, and he names the native man Friday, who converts to Christianity, becoming his long life companion. By modeling another person, he feels satisfied, and fulfilled in the mission to “civilize” Friday. His former culture is fully re-created now, and the semiosphere is finally reconstructed when Robinson is able to transfer the meaning and the system of existence from his former life into the new one. Robinson marks the geography of the island giving the significance to every place he relates to.
The message of the story is, of course, that the adventure denotes discovery of the self and underlying meaning of the life. Reconstructing the meaning of life means the growth of the self and circling in one point everything that one knows. The center of the self is open when mirroring the whole semiosphere.
Lotman’s main idea is that the cultural semiotic systems emerge from the collective memory, going back to the roots from which one understands him/her self. Culture is the pre-structured modeling system which exists along within the person. It is also the encoded system that grows along within the person’s organism, which can be understood only through the interplay between the language and memory. Lotman summarizes how he understands the collective memory in the following way:
‘The individual human intellect does not have a monopoly in the work of thinking. Semiotic systems, both separately and together as the integrated unity of the semiosphere, both synchronically and in all the depths of historical memory, carry out intellectual operations, preserve, and work to increase the store of information. Thought is within us, but we are within thought just as language is something engendered by our minds and directly dependent on the mechanisms of the brain, and we are with language.’ (Juri Lotman, Semiosfera, St. Petersburg: Iskusstvo, 2000, p. 273.)”
Robinson Crusoe Luis Buñuel 1954
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The Semiosphere: Integrating Real, Possible, and Imaginary Spaces
- Semiosphere as the Analogical Concept to the Biosphere and the Gaia Principle
A man denotes whatever is the object of his attention at the moment; he connotes whatever he knows or feels of this object—his interpretant is the future memory of this cognition, his future self, or another person he addresses. Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers 7.591
The semiosphere can be defined as a conceptual umbrella for all cultures which resembles a continuous thought and ideation process by generating the experiences of individual lives of people in connection to a communication environment which process finally results in the semiotic and semantic meta-linguistic spaces. The reality that exists in one’s culture is not static and is in a continuous flux of testing and redefining its own borders. Cultural semiotic spaces, with their borderlines, resemble more membranes, than a definite line of divisions.
Yuri Lotman has developed the concept of the semiosphere in his motivating study on the semiotics theory of culture. Here, Lotman investigates not only the functioning of the human mind in the cultural dynamic make-up of continuous changes along with the epistemological input of the basic mind’s conceptions, but takes it a step farther and concentrates on outlining the genuine human mind that can be defined as the matrix of all possible cultural and epistemological conceptions as a response to the environment in order to better explain cultural dynamism and changes.
Usually the cultural, epochal, or historical changes tend to be explained through separate categories that entail the analyses of the historical time, worldview of the epoch, national cultural history, religious relevancies, social stratification, ethical normativism, and aesthetical style or poetics, rather than to be explained as changes of a larger thought process that transcends the relevant categories in a system which then results in a specific “event of change.” To Lotman a mind is a universe which expresses the matrix of all humanity.
A recognized semiotician and philosopher, Umberto Eco, has written an inspiriting introduction to Lotman’s study, explaining the development of his semiotics from the structuralist orientation of de Saussare, Levi-Strauss, Prop, Shlovski, and Tomashevsky to Lotman’s later acceptance of general semiotics stimulated by C.S. Peirce and C. Morris.1 The central concept of the semiosphere in Lotman’s study, Eco indicates, is now developed in accordance to the ideas of general semiotics and it has become crucial for explaining the functioning of all the different cultures of humanity as well as the great epochal changes within each culture. Umberto Eco sees general semiotics as a new philosophical attempt to grasp connectionism between culture, nature, and human history.
Yuri Lotman’s study of the semiotic theory of culture discusses these subtle changes related to the problem of the religious and the secular in a way to show the dynamism of interconnections between the archaic, symbolic, and mythological forms with the revolutionary, innovative, and avant-garde challenges. Lotman insists that the line between these two forms is interwoven, and that the concept of the semiospehre can explain in a better way the formation and necessary existence of the two competing worldviews—the secular and the religious. Lotman doesn’t see this change as sudden or new, but rather a slow redefinition of society that goes through lines of smaller changes that are not noticed by the mainstream of society.
To introduce the concept of the semiosphere, Lotman was enthused with the concept of the biosphere in biology. As Vladimir I. Verdansky has defined, the biosphere, it is the necessary universal ecological system of the Earth, which functions in a way to support smaller ecosystems to develop and live as autonomous biotic (living organisms) and abiotic (a specific inorganic environment) unity.2
The biosphere is understood as a condition for the development of all living beings on Earth whether they are the simplest or the most advanced biological organisms, but also the biosphere means that all life is interconnected on Earth. Inspired by V. I. Verdansky’s holistic approach, Lotman has tried to find a holistic answer for the existence of different cultural forms. He invents the semiosphere, defining it as the cluster relevant for all different cultures on the Earth. To him, the semiosopehre is the universal system of basic codes and modeling subsystems that express the human condition, which are then crucial for every living human being; his/her language, and all social or cultural forms. In explaining what the biosphere is V. Verdansky also uses an idea of cluster (the atmosphere) under which all life is developed, but also, he stresses that created life forms effect equally the biosphere and its ecosystems. The changes in the biosphere are indicated by evolutionary changes. For example, from the right combination of the atmospheric chemical substances were developed proteins and acids which in combination led to the revolutionary replication of the genetic code. From the first simple form of life, genetic recapitulation and replication continued initiating the emergence of the new system of living forms among which the photosynthetic processes positively affected the biosphere and triggered further development of complex life forms as species. Finally, the humanization of nature represents the last great change and challenge to the biosphere ecosystems, changing and transforming them through the cultural and technological development.3
New millennium environmental ethics is concerned more than ever with the future of Earth. Many ecosystems are coming into a serious crisis because of the influence of the contemporary globalized, economically biased world, which endlessly uses the natural resources in a sense of instrumental rationality. This new ecological consciousness that regards nature not only as the pure resource or an object of knowledge, but also as the meaningful essence (nurture) to which every human being is part of and every culture necessarily depends on has proposed serious actions on the political levels (national or international) to solve the problems caused by human actions and harming the environment. Today there is instigated the open discussion on the scientific and political levels about climate change, protection of endangered species, and saving the endangered ecosystems of the rain forests or desserts, where the dessert spreads and shrinks the living area of survival for many species including human societies in Africa and the American continent.
Taking into consideration the environmental crises of the contemporary era, it is obvious that the human being and human societies acting on the base of their cultural ideas and principles affect the whole planet. Lotman’s idea of the semiosphere is similar to the integral Gaia principle discussed and established as the theory in the mid nineteen seventies, but fully progressed as a respectable new worldview with the fresh scientific criticism of the traditional mechanistic physics at the dawn of the new millennium. The Gaia principle was first proposed by the British scientists James Lovelock. He defines planet Earth’s conditions as a new “cybernetic system” which engages the autonomous entities such as the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil in a specific environment that produces and maintains the life. Accordingly, the whole planet is alive, because the inorganic autonomous subsystems of the planet are just the lower level of the functioning of the higher organic ecosystems.4
Perhaps, the most developed concept of the Gaia principle has been offered in the works of the modern physicist, environmentalist, and philosopher Frijof Capra. He explains new physics (inspired by quantum physics and the theory of relativity) as opposed to mechanicist-deductive modern Newtonian physics, which concentrates on objects as defined through material properties. The method of investigation in traditional physics was inspired by Descartian methodology, which suggested to take apart every single thing that appears as complex in order to become evident and then to arrange those evident particles of res extensa from simple categorized entities into a larger system, which then appear as a general order of reality to which the particles can conform to it.5
According to Capra the universe is conceivable as a great thought, where the particles cannot be separated (taken apart) in the traditional Descartian sense, because the matter (something solid, impenetrable, and indivisible) cannot be separated from energy or movement, and therefore particles are not indestructible matter defined as particles or the solid objects. Capra says in his book, commenting on Rutherford’s experiment, The Tao of Physics:
The subatomic units of matter are very abstract entities which have a dual aspect. Depending on how we look at them, they appear sometimes as particles, sometimes as waves; and this dual nature is also exhibited by light which can take the form of electromagnetic waves or particles. This property of matter and of light is very strange. It seems impossible to accept that something can be, at the same, a particle—i.e. an entity confined to a very small volume—and a wave, which is spread out over a large region of space.6
Capra’s main idea of the new physics is that in this interconnected universe anything can influence everything or anything else. The behavior of light and atoms in quantum mechanics cannot be explained or accessed by the scientific hypotheses or methodology.The subatomic reality shows that what we call particle or matter is engaged in the continuous process of changes and redefinitions. This fact of the subatomic inconsistency and probability is used often as a possible gateway from strict science into intentional interpretations that the universe acts as a mind that thinks everything as a unity of parts and the whole, where the parts and the whole are engaged in the continuous process of changes. Capra has definitely expanded his discovery in physics into a new philosophy. He holds a position that the Eastern mysticism of the Upanishads along with a complex understanding of Brahman as supreme, ultimate reality, and Greek presocratic philosophy of many and one, discussed by Parmenides intuitively understood and defined that the Universe acts in a sense of a being (a particular being, entity) and Thought (the presence of thought as light of knowledge) be one and the same. Capra definitely supports the idea of the universe and Earth as interconnected organisms, which in its core represents the underlying ecological principle.
The quantum Physics investigation of the holographic nature of the universe pushes the bubble of reality so far that the physicists in this field question are we real or only fuzzy holographic projections of the edgy universe puzzle interrupted with the nothingness of the black holes. The new research associated with the mathematical universe theory of everything frames the argument for the existence of the multi-universe theory, where by which neither mathematical nor physics applications can truly differentiate what is the original and the copy when the two or more parallel universes do exist by virtue of mathematical probable theory.1
According to the neuropsychologist Karl Pribram, physicist David Bohm, and Michael C. Talbot the holographic nature of the universe and brain explains the way how is the whole imprinted in the parts. These scientists worked on the theoretical model that would better explain experiences that we usually define as extra sensory perceptions (ESP) such as premonitions, déjà vu, lucid dreams, telepathic, and various kinds of mystic experiences. The psychologists still tend to logically explain these mental processes as isolated, extraordinary, even if repetitive, an anomalous functioning of the brain. Pribram and Bohm oppose the idea that these experiences are anomalous per se, and they exhibit the same as the brain employed on a quantum level, where the brain functions as the “access mundi” to all time frames—past, present, and future. Following their new scientific explanations the brain functions as a hologram and can access on quantum level information that is embedded in the past or is a matter of the future.2
If this reasoning seems surprising, it is enough to remember the consequences of the double-slit experiment in quantum physics, where the photons are beamed from a coherent laser light source, and can also single out electrons and reflect their movements during the experiment. The interference pattern of the electron shows that each electron, at one point, interferes with itself, and then acts as one particle present in two different places at the same time–the electron appears as going through two slits. The consequence of this experiment is that the electrons never appear on the other side in any predicable order, which leaves room for theoretical probable modeling about the riddle of space-time, where the matter identified in physics as particle is actually not an absolute constant, but can act as the energy or wave.3
Also, one can imagine semiosphere as a new conceptual “time machine” in which present and past (history) are not any longer separate and distant spheres. A cultural concept of time is perceived as synchronic co-existence of past, present, and future where past continuously revitalize a present or direct a future. Time is an interlocking order of self-generating cultural memory. The semiosphere is perceived as the coded matrix of humanity. The human condition alters the natural environment through perception, reasoning, and behavioral patterns.
The semiosphere appears as the coded memory of humanity. In this sense there can be an enormous amounts of authentic cultural identities, but they all are interconnected in the semiosphere and accordingly resembles to new scientific theories relevant to quantum physics.
Imagine a museum hall where exhibits from different periods are on display, along with inscriptions in known and unknown languages, and instructions for decoding them; there are also the explanations composed by the museum staff, plans for tours and rules for the behavior of the visitors. Imagine also in this hall a tour-leaders and visitor and imagine all this as a single mechanism. This is an image of the semiosphere. Then we have to remember that all elements of the semiosphere are in dynamic, not static, correlations whose terms are constantly changing. We notice this especially at traditional moments that which have come down to us from the past. (Lotman, 1990, pp. 126-127)
Lotman insists that one of the proofs for the semiosphere can be found in the ability of translating one language into another. There is no language of any culture that cannot be translated into others. This translatability shows that the main human concepts, ideas, relationships, perceptions, and reasoning are universaly-culturally domesticated.
Lotman’s concept takes into consideration the semiotic concept of the umwelt, which is defined as the “subjective universe” emerged through one’s perception, but also relies on the limits imposed by the environment. Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok uses the umwelt as the signification process, where the human stands in the middle of the world that is consciously constructed through communication with the environment, self, perception, social relationships, and other culturally imposed structural elements of society. The basis of one’s umwelt is socio-biological input which is able to open uniqueness of the single organism. When this single organism communicates and realizes itself through interactions, it creates a semiosphere through which is possible the development and projection of the future acts.7
From the structuralist point of view, language is perceived as a primary modeling system, while symbols, myth, cultural patterns, religion, art, literature, or science represent the secondary modeling systems, but both are equally important. Lotman stays on the structuralist side, accepting the idea of modeling systems in one culture as crucial for his semiotics.8 For him, culture appears as a code-system which can be changed through the communication processes. Accordingly, everything that builds a cultural code and system of rules can be understood as a pre-fixed make-up in which different types of communication can initiate inventions, which effects can go so far as to modify the state of consciousness or, even sometimes, social codes, and religious beliefs.
- The Epochal Paradigm Changes and Semiosphere
In his introduction, Umberto Eco gives the example of the great paradigmatic epochal changes that have affected Western Culture, changing radically the theocentric Middle Age paradigm into the secular Enlightenment period. The great medieval culture that represents an unified epoch from the 4th to late 16th centuries can be defined, as Eco puts it, from the semiotic point of view in the following way: “Everything (not merely words but also things) signifies a higher reality and objects themselves are important not for their physical nature or their function, but rather in so much as they signify something else.”9 The best example of the Middle Age semiotic modeling typology can be found in the onto-theological argument for the existence of God developed by Anselm (1033–1109).
He philosophizes that from the essence of God one can conclude to its existence. The essence of God Anselm defines as that, than which no-greater-can-be-thought, so, if anyone would say that this thought does not imply the existence of such thing would fall into an absurd contradiction by the reference to the meaning of the notion “greater” in the statement that, than which no greater can be thought. The greatest thing one can think implies perfections similar to the one that faith implies to the God, such as omnipotence (to be the cause of all things as absolute creator) and omniscience (to embrace everything in its knowledge as providence). If “no grater can be thought” is only in the mind, and is not as well in the reality, then, is not greater than a pure thought or a finite mind, which implies that the statement “that, than which no greater can be thought” by the logical implication involves resolution by which such a thing is greater than a thought because it exists, but at the same time in reality does not.10
Anselm’s point was the following: although, the human mind cannot transparently grasp the existence of God because it is believed that God transcends a finite being’s abilities, its existence can be derived from the analogy to all other beings by which it is a logical necessity that every being or entity has existence as its evident modus. Accordingly, the greatest thing, which contains in itself the cause of everything and embraces everything with its knowledge, logically has to have its existence, but this existence is not evident to humans. In this sense then, in every being or entity their properties are in the function of building the great chain of beings or a metaphysical system that will in its final account express the great existence of God, as it is presented in the improved argument for the existence of God from design (the argument from the governance of the world) by Thomas Aquinas. The finite being lacks in knowledge, that this being would achieve its end and meaning is governed toward it by the higher intelligence that he believed is God.11
Unlike the medieval analogia entis, the Enlightenment period appears with a rationalistic philosophy, scientific reasoning, and secularism as it is a different cultural system than that of the Middle Ages. Eco describes the Enlightenment semiotic system in the following way: “we have a cultural system where the world of objects is real, while words and signs in general are conventional constructions and vehicles of falsehood, and where only the “noble savage,” who is not aware of the constructions of culture, can understand reality.”12
The best expression of the Enlightenment spirit one can find in Immanuel Kant’s antinomies of reason presented in his famous Critique of Pure Reason. Kant’s antinomies of reason can be understood as there is the irreconcilable difference between the statements of metaphysics and science. It is a very narrow line between skepticism and dogmatism when we are talking about the world beyond our limits of experience. As Kant states, any knowledge that goes beyond the experiential discourse depends on the ideas, assumptions, or hypotheses, but not facts. Even if the facts are used to prove the hypothesis, assumption, or idea, it is questionable if that would be the only satisfying conceptual model that would explain general questions about the world.
Kant points out on four different questions as those which over and over appear in the main scientific and metaphysical discourses: Is it (1) the world limited in time and space or is it infinite?; (2) what is the substance of the world—is it one, as Spinoza thought, is it dualistic in a sense of being res extensa and res cogitans as it is suggested by Descartes, or is it, perhaps pluralistic, made of many particles, as suggested in Leibnitz’ philosophy?; (3) does freedom exist, because humans experience their actions as independent of any force or it doesn’t, because everything acts in accordance with the natural laws?; (4) and finally, does there exist an absolutely necessary being, which cause is in itself and by this acts as the cause of the world, or such being (God) doesn’t exist?
According to Kant there is no final answer to these antinomies. Any final answer about the antinomies can be understood as the dogmatic, because humans have no ability to experience what really the world is or is not. Though, he thinks that freedom can be experienced, because humans have an ability to act according to their own decisions that are independent of any natural laws, but are in accordance to the highest moral demand, i.e., categorical imperative. Finally, although Kant thinks that an atheist cannot ever accept an idea of an absolute being (God) as the cause of the world, the atheists are not deprived of an attempt to find unified knowledge which outlines the wholeness of the world. There are two different basic world-views that answer differently on the question of the fourth antinomy: the atheistic world-view tries to describe the world in terms of time and space physicality, while theism tries to give the advantage to the noumenal world. In the impossibility to resolve the antinomies, Kant accepts God, human freedom, and the idea of the immortality of the soul as the regulative ideas (they act as if they are) important for the practical and moral actions in the world.
- Alternative Communication Styles and the Semiosphere Concept
Through these two examples it can be seen that the semiotic codes of two different epochs have been radically changed. Lotman’s semiotics of culture concentrates on the alternative communication styles that stand often as altering examples of code changes and usually are not recognized within the culture as turning points, while they are actually salient for the change from one epoch to the other. We can all easily notice that the Renaissance codex in art, philosophy, and literature is different than the Baroque style or later Classicism which was dominant through the age of Reason and the Enlightenment period. The question is how is it noticed that the shift or change has taken place? One of the exemplary works about the “silent” changes from one epoch to the other can be found in Gustav René Hocke’s book Der welt als Labyrinth (1957). 13 Hocke investigates the period in European art between 1520–1650, for which he believes is bursting with changes that can be already interpreted in terms of modernity.
Hocke was a student of Ernst Robert Curtius who made a breakthrough in the research of Latin Antiquity correlating it to European literature as its main source-book.14 His very point was that the European highest literature achievements such as works of Shakespeare in England, Dante in Italy, or Goethe in Germany, understood as the classical code from the modern point of view, were basically the ingenious stylistic recapitulations and innovations to what had already existed in the works of the Late Antiquity. Analyzing through the works of the Greek and Roman classics and comparing them with the Latin literature, Curtius focuses on the power of mannerism in Late Antiquity as the constant which should be analyzed more specifically. He sees that every classical period is challenged with new mannerism; its main purpose is to invert, criticize, or have ironical implications to the dominant classical style. In this approach, every mannerism is an expression of the departure from the dominant or classical style and it represents something new that is an innovative move from the former point.
The way in which Curtius and Hocke have analyzed mannerism can be defined as a, sort of, “deconstruction” of the classical or dominant style. For instance, Hocke stresses that in 1639 was published Tractate of the Rhetoric Figures, where Peregrini defined concetto as a very fashionable modern figure, which is used to express “impossible, ambiguous, contradictory, and which implies the usage of allusions, dark metaphors, extravagance, sophism, and shrewd observations.”15 This use of the stylistic forms like concetto obviously was meant to challenge or invert the primer message. Concetto can be understood as one of the alternative, hidden styles of communication at that time, and finally it has become the strong fulcrum of change.
One of the best examples given in Hocke’s book is the analysis of Il Parmigianino’s self portrait (Fancesco Mazzola from Parma) with the image as though in a convex mirror. The hand of Parmiganino appears as a giant object in comparison to his enigmatic smile and distant face. The inverted hierarchy of presentation is applied in his painting. Instead of a classical presentation where the face is the focus of the portrait, Parmiganino inverted the classical image and shocked the public with the new perspective. This small insertion into the dominant style of the Renaissance, inverting the expected hierarchy within the common presentation represents the alternative style of communication and is the announcement of the upcoming change. The dominant style of the Renaissance in painting was all about achieving the perfectionism in proportions, giving the sense of the perfect harmony, rest, and focus on the middle. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa reaches the perfection of harmony and rest, while the middle radiates her enigmatic smile. Parmiganino’s self portrait opposes and demolishes traditional proportions between the parts and the whole, seeking for the shock and wonder from the viewer. Also, he leaves the picture without a clear center, expressing the pressure of vertigo empowered by the convex deformation.
The friend and contemporary of Parmiganino, Jacopo da Pontormo, expressed, in his work, the same sensibility of a revolutionary challenge to the classical composition. His picture Taking Jesus from the Cross (1518) underlies the point of the lost center. Instead of Jesus in the middle and the concentration of other participants around his body, we find an empty center where the dead hand of Jesus hangs lifelessly, while the hands of other participants in sorrow serve to potentate the round space and dynamics of the composition. This empty space is not only a tactic to enforce the round composition, but is a metaphor of “emptiness and soulless.”16 Every participant of this imaged event faces in a different direction away from Jesus. Has this Pantormo’s painting already anticipated the Nietzschean idea of the death of God where the “whole horizon” is wiped out and the whole culture faces the loss of meaning? The avant-garde model had already begun its development in the Renaissance period, but as a “rebellious fringe” as Lotman describes.17
When the avant-garde achieved its prime in the first half of the 20th century, it became “a phenomenon of the centre,” changing the semiosphere in the direction of secularism, experimentalism, and free critical thought where it built the “metacultural” level in “intense theorizing.”18 This “intense theorizing,” as Lotman calls it, put the whole of art as one of the most important Western modeling systems into the dynamic self-questioning. The avant-garde finally put into question the validity of an artistic code where the artistic artifact appears as the object and has challenged the semiospheric code of all socio-economic, political, and religious power-relationships.
The whole prefix of one epochal cultural code is changed when one historical epoch or style is replaced with another, but this change happens slowly and comes usually unknowingly to its prime. Lotman thinks that besides the synchronic analysis (the historical knowledge that led toward the great changes), also the diachronic analysis (the study of alternative communication styles) should be applied in this research. The research of alternative types of communication can bring some clues why and how have changes occurred, and bring some new information about a web type of connections that influenced and modeled a new approach.
- Semiosphere and Semiotic Space
One of the most dramatic examples given in Lotman’s book was an analysis of The Kievan Chronicles written during the conversion time of indigenous Slavs and other tribes to Christianity in Russia in the 10th century. At that time the process of conversion from native beliefs to Christianity was brutally enforced and many tribal religious authorities were tortured and publicly executed as heretics. Their ideas and beliefs were pronounced as heresy and sacrilege. Their style of life was interpreted as wild, barbaric, and savagery. Slavic tribes that were still not Christianized usually were called “devil worshipers,” “savages,” and “animals,” and were deprived of their human status.19 With this degradation they experienced the loss of their own semiotic space and the ability to maintain their cultural identity.
Lotman says, that a simple logic is applied to ensure the semiotic space: the Christian semiotic space was presented as “ours, my own, cultured, safe, harmoniously organized,” while the space of native peoples became “their space, hostile, dangerous, chaotic, evil, barbaric.” Lotman calls this, the logic of ensuring the semiotic space and making clear the semiotic boundaries, bynarism.20 Every culture demands the formation of its strong identity by making sure that it is distinct from the other competing cultures. Multiplying its linguistic reality through the secondary modeling systems which pillars are beliefs, religious system, literature, art, and the way of life. In this way the semiosphere is becoming outlined and defined. If the way of life and the multiplying of linguistic reality is challenged with a strong counter-culture that offers as a solution the different system of values, then binarism grows to the possibilities of destroying the “other” side.
For example, the U.S., mid and late 19th century was marked by the terrible crisis between the U.S. government and Native Americans. In November, 1864 one of the most gruesome crimes against humanity was committed against the Native Americans. It is known as the Sand Creek massacre where Cheyenne and Arapahos people were attacked by a 700-man and 5-battalion army group. Colonel John Chivington was in charge for this atrocity, and Theodore Roosevelt commanded the action.21
After the massacre was done, a government investigation was ordered. Collecting the evidence for the case against colonel Chivington and his action the following was recorded by the soldiers engaged in the battle: “Women and children were mutilated in the most horrible manner. All cut to pieces. Nearly all, men, women, and children were scalped.” In March 1863, before the Sand Creek massacre took place, the Rocky Mountain News editorial published: “They [natives] are a dissolute, vagabondish, brutal, and ungrateful race ought to be wiped from the face of the earth.” This local newspaper definitely played an important role in promoting the negative emotions toward Native Americans. After the official investigation was ordered, again published in the Rocky Mountain News, colonel Chivington, who, in the mean time, became also the Colorado Governor, reacted angrily to the accusations before the Colorado senate. Finally, to prove his point he asked people of Denver to support him. In the senate he asked the invited public: “Would it be best henceforward, to try to “civilize” the Indians or simply exterminate them?” according to the newspaper report, the mass responded “Exterminate them! Exterminate them!” The congressional investigation didn’t accomplish anything and Chivington was never charged with any crime.22
Four years later, after the Sand Creek massacre took place, a new investigation was ordered by the Congress involving the U.S. Army officials. They reported on the action by Chivington and they stated: “It scarcely has its parallel in the records of Indian barbarity—men, women and infants were tortured and mutilated in a way which would put to shame the savages of interior Africa.” Although officially condemned, Theodore Roosevelt spoke on the Sand Creek massacre, saying “a righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier.,” and later, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe 9 out of 10 are, and shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tents.”23 In more recent research Hans Koning noted in his text:
From the beginning, the Spaniards saw the Native Americans as natural slaves, beasts of burden, part of the loot. When working them to death was more economical than treating them somewhat humanely, they did work them to death. The English, on the other hand, had no use for native peoples. They saw them as devil worshippers, savages who were beyond salvation by the church, and exterminating them increasingly became accepted policy. (Hans Koning, “The conquest of America: How the Indian nations lost their Continent,” Monthly Review Press, 1993)
The story behind the conquest of Northern American lands gives an astonishing example of how Western civilization supremacy in an economic and military sense utilized among the pious Christian population of the U.S. a myth by which American Indians were not defined as humans, but savages whose only chance to become truly human was in accepting Christianity and the Western cultural life-style. The Native American boarding schools invented by different Christian denominations in the 18th century expressed this attitude very openly in their known slogan “Kill the Indian, save the man.” This myth about Native Americans as savages lasted successfully for three centuries under the cover of utilized Christianity. The purpose of this “bad mythology” was in taking away more and more of the original American Indian cultural space.
It is interesting that Lotman defines myth as “a central text-forming mechanism” which purpose is “to create a picture of the world and establish identity between distant spheres.” Also, he identifies myths as text-mechanisms necessary to develop whenever one semiotic space faces the critical moments that could endanger the survival of the cultural identity. For Lotman, myths are not only archaisms derived from the historical past like the symbols, which he defines, are necessary archaics because they are derived from the “mnemonic programmes” preserved in the community’s oral memory.24 Myths are similar to symbols in a sense that both are the diachronic devices of the semiosphere, always coming from the past but linger to the future. Accordingly, myths can form the new text as a response to the new reality, but will always reflect the system of symbols that substantiate the cultural identity.
The Native American life-style was definitely substantially different than the new settlers’ prudishness and their complex social, educational, and political bourgeois stratification, and the obsession with the hierarchy, so important for 18th century Western culture. The American Indians enjoyed their innocence and simplicity in worshiping Mother Earth and the veneration of natural forces. The diversity of belief-frameworks expressing the awe toward the God of the high (the Creator, or Great Spirit) was confusing to Westerners. The plurality of ritual practices such as magic, healing, divination ceremonies, and simplicity in understanding death as a natural fact, and a change of different worlds, appeared scary and confusing. The most troubling fact Westerners found in the existence of so many different Native tribes where each of them had had the “natural” sovereignty over the lands. All these factors appeared to the young American nation, the majority of which were Christian believers, and the American government as challenging “distant spheres” that were seriously endangering the preservation of the cultural identity of the West.
In order to preserve their identity, the new world of the West found itself fighting these “distant spheres.” The American Indian cultures appeared to the Western system as a chaotic world in a political, religious, social, and ethical sense. The American Indian cultures had no notion of the unity of the one semiotic space between themselves, and their single tribal territory was much smaller than the unity of all American territory perceived from the West. To organize and put in order the territory perceived, the new American government had to make distant spheres marginalized, thus diminishing their true and powerful significance.
The marginalization of Native Americans was finally realized by the strong political action of the U.S. government creating a new map for America and putting American Indians into the reservation lands, where their sovereignty was minimal and supervised by the government. To each tribe was ascribed a small, very often, not substantial for existence, land in remote areas. Often parts of the tribes were removed far from the original lands and were placed in much smaller territories where one tribe had to adjust to living with another American Indian tribe. These lands were placed often in wilderness where agriculture or business could not be successfully developed. All better parts of the Indian lands were taken by the Westerners, so the economic integration with the New American mainland could not happen even over a long period of time.
The other aspect of the marginalizing strategy was to convert American Indians to the Western life-style and Christian religion. As briefly noted earlier in the text, at the late 18th and the beginning of 19th century boarding schools were organized by different Christian denominations. In these schools Native American children were forced to forget their language, culture, and identity because they were told in the schools that their native culture was shameful along with their traditional heritage and that it was not worth preserving.
From the Western point of view, the purpose of these schools was to teach boys how to become farmers and girls housewives. Female students were taught how to sew, clean, cook, nurse, and childcare. The school curriculum consisted of the religious classes covering the Christian Catechism, study of the Bible, and Christian morality, but also a few general education classes were offered such as arithmetic, history, and geography.25
Of course, not all American Indian children were recruited to these schools forcefully. Some children, whose families had already adjusted to modern living in the single family houses, sometimes chose to attend the boarding schools. There is an interesting example of the first Cherokee convert to Christianity, Catherine Brown voluntarily signed up for the attendance at the Brainerd boarding school organized by New England Protestants. The story tells us that even when her parents decided to move to the West lands, Catherine didn’t want to leave the Brainerd boarding school. She was very determined to convert to the Western style of life and Christianity. When eighteen years old Catherine arrived in the recruiting center for the school, the minister C. Kingsbury thought that this girl which expressed such self-confidence in her cultural background and was attached to the self-made beautiful jewelry consisted of earrings, pins, rings, a large necklace, and a stunning traditional colorful design on her dress, would never experience a true Christian conversion. He was wrong.
Surprisingly, after two weeks of the school attendance, Catherine decided to give up her traditional jewelry and she touched the hearts of her host family and missionaries by giving each a piece of her valuable belongings. She was willing to talk and share her dreams with other missionary women, and they seemed to respect and care about Catherine’s dreams, of which one had even triggered the experience of conversion. Soon, after the altering dream occurred, Catherine amazed the school officials by acknowledging publicly before her host family that she was a sinner. In 1818 Catherine was baptized and in 1820 she organized her own school for the Cherokee girls that followed the principle of children and parents voluntarily deciding to sign up for the school. Although Catherine’s school was known by the excellence in treatment of the young American Indian children, unfortunately, the school didn’t last too long because of Catherine’s early death caused by tuberculosis in 1823.26
On the contrary to the carrying and gentle experiences associated with Catherine Brown’s school, the boarding school project was often harsh and highly supported by the U.S. government. Often, the government agents were involved in recruiting the American Indian children to such programs, and in the majority of cases this was done against the wishes of the children’s parents. Joel W. Martin in his book The Land Look After Us (2001) documented a case from 1879. The federal agent took Sioux boys and girls from South Dakota and sent them to the Indian school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Upon the arrival to the school, the government officials stripped off the children’s Native clothes, cut their hair, and forbade them to speak in their mother tongue. Soon these children found themselves in Western clothes, alienated from their culture, family and their life-style. If these children would speak in their Native language, they would be severely punished and beaten.27 Martin also quotes the words of a Navajo writer Luci Tapanhonso, who remembered at one occasion an experience from boarding school:
Sometimes late at night or toward morning when the sun hadn’t come up completely, everything was quiet and the room filled with the soft, even breathing of the children; one of them might stand at the window facing east and think of home far away, tears streaming down her face. Late in the night, someone always cried, and if the others heard her, they pretended not to notice. They understood how it was with all of them–if only they could go to public school and eat at home everyday. Joel W. Martin, A History of Native American Religion, (Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2001), p. 81.
Today the words of L. Tapanhonso haunt, weigh upon, and fill the modern person with great sorrow. These words also challenge our society to critically think about what was done in the past that should not be repeated any longer in the future. The boarding schools hurt the hearts of Native peoples and made young people of that time “culturally sick,” teaching them to feel guilty and humiliated, often worthless just because their tradition appears to Westerners as ignorant and distant.
The interesting point here is that the globalization tendencies in Western civilization are associated with the experience of domination over the smaller cultures and is deeply rooted in the interpretation of the righteousness of the Christian faith. From the moment when Christianity becomes a dominant religion in a large region, one can soon witness the decay and break up of the native and basic cultures. What Lotman has found in reading the Kievan Chronicles about the behavior and attitude of the Christian authorities toward the Slavic tribes, it was repeated almost in a same manner centuries later during the conquest of the Northern American lands. This mistreatment of the smaller and self-sufficient cultures is rooted in the absoluteness of the Christian faith. The most important demand of Christians is in the understanding of the creator God through the profession of the Christian faith: there is only one true God, and worshiping spirits of nature or even the Great Spirit or Creator that is named differently or associated with different cultural ideals appears to Christians as an anathema. This Christian attitude is monopolistic and imperialistic, where everything what is different appears as too exclusive, distant, and unacceptable to the Christian concepts.
Following this path, Native Americans soon became “the boundary” of the predominantly Christian, Western culture. As Lotman defined, in the semiosophere “the boundary is a mechanism for translating texts of an alien semiotics into our language, it is the place where what is external is transformed into what is internal.”28
The struggle for the United States as a nation and as a territory was finally achieved, defined and then stabilized with putting the Native Americans into the position of minority that lives on the outskirts of the mainstream culture, but also alienating them from their own tradition. According to the statistical data’s from 1990, taken among the high school senior year population, 46.4 percent of American Indians perceive themselves as Protestant Christians and 21.4 as Catholic Christians.29 Alienation from their own tradition has a great impact on American Indians and their vital survival. In his study on modern ethical challenges in the U.S. James P. Sterba has discussed the long-term effect of the atrocities against the Native Americans. According to his analysis based on the sources provided by Sharon O’Brien and David Stannard, given compensations from the U.S. Government (from 1934 up to present time) to American Indians still didn’t open enough opportunities for them to successfully integrate with American society.30 Sterba writes:
Currently, the poverty rate on American Indian reservations in the United States is almost four times the national average, and on some reservations, such as Pine Ridge in South Dakota and Tohomo O’Odham in Arizona (where more than 60 percent of homes are without adequate plumbing, compared with 2 percent for the nation at large), the poverty rate is nearly five times the national average. As late as 1969, the average life expectancy for an Indian was forty-four years, compared to sixty-five for a non-Indian. The suicide rate among young Indians aged fifteen to twenty-four years is also around 200 percent above the national average for the same age group, and the rate for alcohol-caused mortality is more than 900 percent higher than the national average. The destitution and ill health that prevails on many reservations today is similar to conditions in the third world. American Indians today suffer not only from alienation by from extreme social and economic injustice as well. James Sterba, Three Challenges to Ethics: Environmentalism, Feminism, and Multiculturalism, (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
The bynarism and asymmetry are only two aspects of the semiosphere through which is ensured for one culture its domination to maintain its identity. Bynarim can be defined as the necessary understanding of one semiosphere as unique semiotic structure through an idea of what is ours and familiar in opposition to what is theirs and distant. The asymmetry means the creation of the semiotic space through the language of culture that reflects its boundaries on the time and space levels. If two different cultures, or more, are involved in the interaction and are substantially different in their practices, beliefs, and socio-economic structures, the side that is stronger in use of technology, mobile ability, and social dynamism will probably establish the domination over the other. Besides the bynarism and asymmetry as two important mechanisms of connecting culture and space in the semiosphere, Lotman finds amazing the importance of the geographical symbolism—establishing the connection between the symbolic, utopian, or spiritual places with the real geographical sites.
For instance, to Native Americans who are greatly associated with their natural surroundings every mountain, river, lake, or any landscape’s significance represents the sacred space. Through these sacred spaces people are in connection with the great spirits and powers. The “codes” (meaning) of the powers is preserved in myths, which purpose is to re-in-act the sacred time of creation with the present time. The spirits are great symbols of formidable powers relevant for nature and humans; they exist to explain this curious connection. The purpose of myths preserved in oral traditions, as Lotman stresses, is to transform the world of “anomalies and surprises” to “norm and orderliness.”31
According to Lotman, myths always function in circling life insisting on points of radical natural changes and expressing the sense of the cyclical time. The symbolic expression of the cyclical time can bi found in the stories that explain the existence of days and nights, deaths and births, natural exchange of the seasons. Myths ensure “the continuity of the flow of cyclical processes in nature itself.” The characteristics of the mythical stories maintained in the oral tradition are usually told from any point. Myths are texts without the certain beginning and end. Myths are structured through sequences in which the hero enters in the closed space and exit from it, and this pattern can be “endlessly multiplied.” In all traditional and basic societies myths also give significance to the surroundings.
Lotman thinks that each culture develops a certain “symbolic spaces or cultural geography,” by giving to specific spaces access to the sacred or supernatural. Describing the spaces in the medieval times, Lotman points to known symbolic spaces such as paradise, hell, or purgatory that are derived from the Christian distinction between the earthly and heavenly realms. Hell and paradise are just two main corner stones of the medieval geography. It was a common thing for the medieval mind to divide countries on pagan and Christian, while pagan were perceived as sinful and earthly. Now, this distinction is interesting because the earthly, pagan, and sinful is unified in opposition to Christian, heavenly, and moral. Association of the geographical space with the moral significance was the base of the medieval geography that functioned in support to Christian ideology. In support to his topic of the geographical moral spaces in the Middle Ages, Lotman has analyzed interesting theological discussions in Russia in which was argued that the Garden of Eden really exists in a true geographical sense and is placed East of India. To a true geographical place was added the association with the mild climate, abundance of fresh waters, and everlasting spring. The theological discussion and presentations can be found not only in the Orthodox Christianity of Russia, but also these concepts were discussed in the West, of which the most known is the obsession with the distant country of Prester John, several times described as a real geographical place close to the Garden of Eden where one can find along with the normal animal world the mythical creatures. In opposition to the places close to Eden, hell was usually presented as a place that involves fire and ice and unpleasant surrounding for living.32
In the Renaissance time the idealistic and utopist geography became a common reference for free thinkers who dreamed about the radical and true reforms of the medieval feudal society. Lotman points out that we can see a continuous inspiration with the intellectually created ideal political spaces such as a city, state, or more just, socially engineered reality, as we can find in T. Campanello’s City of Sun, C. Stiblin’s Island of the Land of the Blessed, F. Bacon’s New Atlantis, or T. Moore’s Utopia.33
V. Semiosphere and Symbolic Meta-Structures
All of these non-existent, but symbolically important places of which some of them are associated even with the real geographical places by which they became culturally significant, Lotman says, are semiotic meta-structures. These meta-structures are created as the fusion between the experiential world that is realized through the knowledge derived from categorized objects and imagination that has a significance of the collective unconsciousness. The significance of religion and art is to “replicate reality” and to transform “the world of objects into the world of signs.”
One of the best examples, which can be used to describe how the semiosphere can be recreated, is found in Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is concentrated on the main character’s ability to re-create his lost world by isolating objects and projecting them into a general modeling system. The story of Robinson Crusoe can be interpreted in a way that the main character recreates from the memories, artifacts, and personal tenacity his lost semiosphere.
Here is a hint how this works in Defoe’s adventure novel. After the second shipwreck, Robinson finds himself in a position similar to biblical Noah—the lost island appears to him as the new world and the things that have survived the shipwreck on his destroyed ship are substantial for starting and rebuilding a new life. But one slight difference between Noah and Robinson is present from the beginning. To Noah, the new world emerged as the result of the new hope and new covenant, which God had given to humankind. Noah was aware from the beginning that he was chosen by God, and that he was the one who represented the rope between the humanity and God, beginning the new world from scratch from the old one. He knew that he was going to strengthen the covenant between God and the humanity. The new land has a meaning from the beginning of the story.
The purposive actions and faith in providence are not the main characteristics of Robinson’s character. At first, to Robinson, a new world appears as the result of the meaningless adventure. The island appears as the new reality that is created by misfortune and the absurd. Robinson faces a place that is not even marked on the geographical map, so it is a symbol of no-place or being nowhere. This little island is the place of a geographical insignificance and mistake and to Robinson it appears to be a place of misfortune and contingency. This insignificant place becomes now a place of a great existential challenge, because Robinson is eager to struggle for life and feels every day greater and greater reverence to God, because he is the only survivor of the shipwreck. As the place is becoming more and more familiar and livable, it is becoming more and more morally significant to Robinson. Finally, it becomes the place of the test of true Robinson’s faith and humanity.
How did Defoe transform the island from the symbol of absurd to the symbol of faith and God’s providence? Robinson’s faith in which he was brought up is not only a simple Christian faith based on piety, obedience to the Bible, reverence in worship and love of God. It is a faith that reflects the social hierarchy, excludes any radical challenges, change of place and status, and settles within the person when one achieves the happiness of the middle bourgeois class. At the beginning, the father proposes to him a “nice and calm life” possible to be achieved in the middle class British society. The father opposes to Robinson’s wish to become a sailor telling him that “the calamities of life were shared among the upper and lower part of mankind, but that the middle station had the fewest disasters, and was not exposed to so many vicissitudes as the higher or lower part of mankind” and that “the middle station of life was calculated for all kinds of virtues and all kinds of enjoyments where peace and plenty were the handmaids of a middle fortune.”34 It is a faith that supports the 18th century British structured bourgeois society in which the position on the social scale denotes the worth of a person in the ethical or moral sense, whether the person’s autonomous norms are morally significant or not.
Robinson’s story begins with the escape from this ordered hierarchical society that is empty in its content. It is better to have a pure adventure and insecurity of contingency than to live a predestined life that is socially engineered by the family, church, schools, and social status. Immediately after escaping, Robinson faces the wilderness of adventure on the lost island. Similar to Noah, the remains of the boat maintain enough artifacts for Robinson that he can begin reconstructing the lost life. First, Robinson gives objective significance to every new day by continuing the calendar, than he gives some deeper meaning to his misfortune deciding that God’s will in the form of providence acted upon him, so he was saved. He finally turns his long search into the play between being homo faber—changing the world of natural objects into the humanized world, and homo religiosus, writing every day a journal of what was done, giving to the world he created, a general order, perspective, and seeking for a higher meaning by reading the Bible and being religiously dedicated to God. At one point Robinson is happy because he interprets his two built shelters as a home and a vacation house –so in an ironical sense, the ideal of the British high bourgeois class to have two homes is now realized in a new form, and although there is no other being who can acknowledge this progress, Robinson feels as he were back home.
Robinson is able to recover his lost meaning by slowly recovering his former world and transforming it into the new world. There is no doubt that his true faith emerges from fear and loneliness, but it makes him work every day to overcome a deep existential crisis and results in the happiness of reproducing the artifacts and changing the island into the humanized place. Everything is a challenge on the island. At one point, Robinson sees the native cannibals, which he at first plans to kill them, but than he thinks that this act would not be righteous, because they didn’t harm him. At one occasion, he is able to free a prisoner from the cannibal tribesmen, and he names the native man Friday, who converts to Christianity, becoming his long life companion. By modeling another person, he feels satisfied, and fulfilled in the mission to “civilize” Friday. His former culture is fully re-created now, and the semiosphere is finally reconstructed when Robinson is able to transfer the meaning and the system of existence from his former life into the new one. Robinson marks the geography of the island giving the significance to every place he relates to. The message of the story is, of course, that the adventure denotes discovery of the self and underlying meaning of the life. Reconstructing the meaning of life means the growth of the self and circling in one point everything that one knows. The center of the self is open when mirroring the whole semiosphere.
Lotman’s main idea is that the cultural semiotic systems emerge from the collective memory, going back to the roots from which one understands him/her self. Culture is the pre-structured modeling system which exists along within the person. It is also the encoded system that grows along within the person’s organism, which can be understood only through the interplay between the language and memory. Lotman summarizes how he understands the collective memory in the following way:
The individual human intellect does not have a monopoly in the work of thinking. Semiotic systems, both separately and together as the integrated unity of the semiosphere, both synchronically and in all the depths of historical memory, carry out intellectual operations, preserve, and work to increase the store of information. Thought is within us, but we are within thought just as language is something engendered by our minds and directly dependent on the mechanisms of the brain, and we are with language. (Juri Lotman, Semiosfera, St. Petersburg: Iskusstvo, 2000, p. 273.)
Lotman understands the semiosphere as the semiotic space that is necessary for the existence of language, but also the generator of information. Every language has to secure its space, thinks Lotman, so the boundary (граница) of the semiotic space provides the communication potential and possibility of building a new information system, which changes with the generation and generational challenges.35 The most interesting part of Lotman’s semiotics is the explanation of cultural dynamics, which shows that the culture is at the same time very propulsive, taking other influences into the system, but also very stiffly, trying to preserve the cultural code as the multifaceted continuum. Culture is heterogenetic in its attempt to preserve its boundaries in which the code is translatable into the surrounding space, but is also asymmetric.
This asymmetry comes from internal structure where sometimes the center redefines the periphery or reverse, but also it comes from the diversity of metalinguistic structures coming into contact with diverse semiotic spaces. Also, the semiotic boundaries creates the individuation of one semiotic space, through which is defined the essence of the semiotic process, which includes the binarism of the culture as the distinction between the internal semiotic vs. external space.36
This text takes Lotman’s concept of the semiosphere as a very important for the comparative study of religion. The concept of the semiospehre is definitely applicable on the diverse diachronic processes in the mainstream religions. The religious syncretism, appearance of new Gods and Goddesses within the mainstream religion, new religious movements that try to expand through the audience interest for new spiritual ideas that are reconstructed from the past such as the Wicca movement, the blending of the native traditions with the mainstream religions, which one can see in the tantric Vajrayana Buddhism.
The semiosphere describes the cultural space as the changing organism that functions so comprehensively in a cognitive, political, and aesthetical sense that is similar to the brain. The connection between language and meta-language, between the cultural code and external spaces that might even appear within the culture are of amazing importance to understand diachronical and synchronic or continuous and discontinuous processes in religion.
7http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem-gloss.html#U (accessed June 2, 2006). See Jakob von Uexküll and Thomas A. Sebeok.
10 “Hence, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an irreconcilable contradiction.” S.N. Deane (ed. and translator), La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 1962. Proslogium 3.
11 “We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrows directed by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.” Anton C. Pegis, Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, (London: Random House, Inc, 1957), p.67.
16 Umberto Eco (ed.), History of Beauty (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2004), p. 220: “By apparently imitating the models of Classical Beauty, the Mannerists dissolved its rules. Classical Beauty is perceived as empty, soulless.”
18 Ibid. p. 134: “The avant-garde started life as a “rebellious fringe”, then It became a phenomenon of the centre, dictating its laws to the period and trying to impose its colours on the whole semiosphere, and then, when it in fact had become set in its ways, it became the object of intense theorizing on the metacultural level.”
19 Ibid., p. 13 “There is an amazing similarity, even between civilizations which have no contact with each other, in the expressions they use to describe the world beyond the boundary. The eleventh-century Kievan chronicler-monk, describing the life of other eastern Slav tribes who were still pagan, wrote: ‘The Drevlyans lived like animals, like cattle; they killed each other, ate unclean foods, had no marriage, but abducted girls at the waterside. While the Radimichi, Vyatichi, and northern tribes shared the same custom: they lived in the forest like wild beasts, ate unclean food and used foul language in front of fathers and female relatives, and they had no marriages, but held games between villages and gathered at these games for dancing and all kinds of devilish songs.’
22Wisdom and Freedom produced by World Newsstand Copyright © 1999. “The Annihilation of Native Americans: Media Weapon”, http://www.wealth4freedom.com/truth/1/indian4.htm (accessed April 4, 2005).
26 The whole story about Catharine Brown was thoroughly presented in Joel W. Martin’s book The Land Looks After Us: A History of Native American Religion, (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). See in the chapter Native and Christian, pp. 68-76.
30 Sources given for Sterba’s research are substantiated from: Sharon O’Brien, American Tribal Governments (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), David Stannard, American Holocaust (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), and Lenore Stiffarm with Phil Lane Jr., “The Demography of Native North America,” in The State of Native America, ed. , Annette Jaimes, (Boston: south End Press, 1992).
1 (2007) Bernard Carr, ed. Universe or Multiunverse. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. 2007. Max Tegmark, The inflationary universe, pg. 99-127.
2 Talbot, Michael. The Holographic Universe. HarperPerennial: New York, USA, 1991. Pg. 20-31.
3 Greene, Brian. The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Space Time and the Texture of Reality. Vintage, USA, 2004. Pg. 203-213.