Culture and Explosion

AutorLotman, Juri, 1922-1993
PealkiriCulture and explosion / by Juri Lotman ; edited by Marina Grishakova ; translated by Wilma Clark
IlmunudBerlin ; New York : Mouton de Gruyter, c2009
ViideLotman, Juri 2009. Culture and explosion. Edited by Marina Grishakova; translated by Wilma Clark. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Subsequently, atypical behaviour is introduced into consciousness as a possible destructor of norms: abnormality, crime, heroism. At this stage, a division between individual (abnormal) and collective ("normal") behaviour occurs. It is only in the subsequent stages that the possibility of individual behaviour becoming an example and norm of collective behaviour, and for collective behaviour to act as an evaluative parameter for the individual, occurs: in this way, a unique system arises, in which these two possibilities are rendered as indivisible aspects of a unitary whole. (Lotman 2009: 3)
Idiosyncratic is abnormal.
THe word "reality" denotes two different phenomena. On the one hand, this relaity is phenomena, in the Kantian sense, i.e. it is that reality which correlates to culture, either resisting it, or merging with it. On the other, there is the noumenal sense (in Kantian terminology) in which we may refer to reality as a space which is forever beyond the limits of culture. However, the whole structure of these definitions and terms changes, if at the centre of our world we place not one isolated "I" but a more complex organised space of the many mutually dependent correlative "I"s. In this way, according to the ideas of Kant, external relaity would be transcendental only if the layer of culture possessed just one single language. But the relationship between the translatable and the untranslatable are so complex that possibilities for a breakthrough into the space beyond the limits are created. Thus, the world of semiosis is not fatally locked in on itself: it forms a complex structure, which always "plays" with the space external to it, first drawing it into itself, then throwing into it those elements of its own which have already been used and which have lost their semiotic activity. (Lotman 2009: 24)
One aspect of cultural dynamics.
In animals significant forms of behaviour - the purpose and object of learning - oppose insignificant ones. Significant behaviour possesses a ritualised character: hunting, the competitivity of the male, the identification of a leader and other significant behavioural moments are formulated in a complex system of "correctness", i.e. poses and gestures which are considered to have equal value and meaning both for the actor and for his partner. All significant forms of behaviour have the character of dialogue. An encounter between two competing predators (such an encounter is possible, as a rule, if one of them, due to extraordinary circumstances, most frequently the interference of man but occasionally due to hunger or spontaneous catastrophe, is forced out of "its" space and turned into a "vagrant") despite man-made legends about the "disorganisation" and "disorderly" behaviour of animals generates a complex system of animal rituals which facilitate the exchange of information. (Lotman 2009: 27)
Ritual-ness of animal behaviour.
In "normal" situations animals strive to avoid contact with humans, and even from the goal of eating them: they distance themselves from man and at the same time man as hunter and trapper has from the very beginning sought to make contact with them. The relationship or animals to man could be called one of elimination; a tendency to avoid contact. If we were to assign human psychology to animals, we might call this fastidiousness. More realistically, this tendency to instinctively avoid unpredictable situations is similar to that experience by the man who encounters a madman. (Lotman 2009: 29)
Avoidance between humans and animals.
We reported that moments of extreme conflict in the behaviour of animals are tied to ritual and instictive action. A unique characteristic of man is his ability to use his individual initiative, i.e. man has the ability to switch from those actions, gestures, and predictable behaviours deemed to be most effective into a completely new sphere of unpredictable activity. A participant in a battle, a competition or any conflicting situation, can abide 'by the rules' following traditional norms. In such a case victory will be achieved by the skilful application of the rules. A hero of this type, in order to remain always victorious, must be skilful in the most common type of activity but in hypertrophied form. This, then, requires a hero of tremendous stature and strenght. The fantasy directs us towards the world of giants. Thus, the victory of a hero of this type, and more especially, his triumph over others is determined by his physical superiority. (Lotman 2009: 38)
Unpredictable activity is an advantage.
The reasons, which impel culture to recreate its own past, are complex and varied. For now, we will examine just one of them, which, until now has possibly attracted less attention. We are referring, here, to the psychological need to alter the past, to introduce corrections and, moreover, to treat this corrective process as genuine reality. Thus, we are talking about the transformation of memory. Many and varied are the anecdotal stories about liars and dreamers who fooled their audience. If we consider a similar behaviour from the point of view of cultural-psychological motivation, then it may be interpreted as a duplication of the account and its translation into the language of memory not, however, with the aim of fixing it in reality but rather for the purpose of recreating reality in a more acceptable form. A similar tendency is inseparable from the very concept of memory and, as a rule, from that which is incorrectly referred to as a subjective selection of the fact. However, in some cases, this area of memory may suffer hypertophy. (Lotman 2009: 127)
Lotman's account of lying and transformation of memory.
As has been said elsewhere, the intrusion into the sphere of culture from without is accomplished through naming. External events, however active they might be in the extra-cultural sphere (for example, in the field of physics, or physiology, in the material sphere, etc.), do not influence the consciousness of man until they themselves become "human", i.e., acquire semiotic meaning. For human thought all that exists is that which falls into any of its languages. Thus, for instance, purely physiological processes such as sexual contact or the impact of alcohol on the organism represents physical and physiological realities. But it is precisely these examples which manifest an essential law: the more distant by its very nature this or that domain is from the sphere of culture, the more effort is applied to introduce it into this sphere. Here it would be possible to highlight form - poetry, to the semiotics of wine and love. Poetry, foe example, transforms the consumption of wine (and, for other cultures - the use of narcotic drugs) from a physio-chemical and physiological fact into a fact of culture. This phenomenon is so universal and is surrounded by so many prohibitions and prescriptions, by poetic and religious interpretations, and it is so tightly engolded in the semiotic space of culture that man cannot separate his perception of the effects of alcohol from the psycho-cultural domain. (Lotman 2009: 134)
A valuable discussion for semiotics of nonverbal communication: culturalizing physiological processes.
Entering into the world of dreams, ancient man, who had not yet not developed a written language, found himself confronted by a space which was similar to real space but which, simultaneously, was not real. It was natural for him to assume that this world had a meaning, but its meaning was unknown. These were signs of who knew what, i.e., signs in their pure form. Their meaning was indeterminate and it was necessary to establish a meaning for them. Consequently, in the beginning there was a semiotic experiment. Apparently, it is in this same sense that we should understand the biblical assertion: in the beginning was the word. The word preceded its meaning, i.e., man knew that this was a word; that it had a meaning, but he did not know what that meaning was. He, as it were, spoke in the language incomprehensible to himself. (Lotman 2009: 143)
A similar case could be made for nonverbal communication.
The action of the novel or drama belongs to a past time in relation to the moment in which it is read. But the reader cries or laughts, i.e., he lives out the emotions which, outside of art, belong to the present. In equal measure, conventional emotions are transforming the conventional into the real and the past into the present. Furthermore, herein lies the difference between the time of the development of the worl and the time of its completion. The former exists in time; the latter is converted into the past which, in general terms, simultaneously represents a withdrawal from time. This fundamental difference in the spaces between the work and its completion makes it pointless to reflect on what happens to the characters at the end of the work. If similar reflections appear, what they testify to is the inartistic pereption of the artistic text and are but the results of the inexperience of the reader. (Lotman 2009: 152)
The relation of a work of art to time.
The myth of the absence of individual differences in the archaic person is analogous to the myth of the initial chaos of sexual relations in the first stage of human development. The latter is a result of the uncritical transference by European travellers of the ecstatic rites, which it occured to them to observe in the everyday behaviour of "savages". Meanwhile, the ritual gestures and the laws of everyday behaviour, in particular in relation to sexually imbued dances, represent the rituals of magic in everyday life and, consequently, and by definition must be distinguished from it. They must render permissible all that is prohibited. Consequently, in order to transform ritual behaviour into everyday behaviour, it is necessary to subject them to some form of decoding transformation. (Lotman 2009: 156)
Lotman arguing towards the importance of individual differences.
The behaviour of man is meaningful. This means that human activity implies some purpose. However, the concept of purpose unavoidably includes the notion of the end of an event. The human tendency to ascribe to actions and events an element of sense and purpose implies a division of a continuous reality into specific conditional segments. This is inevitably tied to humanity's desire to understand the object of its observations. (Lotman 2009: 161)
A note on the teleology of action.


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