Ecosemiotic readings

Farina, Almo and Andrea Belgrano 2006. The eco-field hypothesis: toward a cognitive landscape. Landscape Ecology 21: 5-17.

One of the most popular definitions of the landscape is the vision that people acquire by looking around. This definition seems, at a first sight, to trivial and oversimplified, but it is simple and immediate. When the landscape is not simply considered a fixed and structured entity, and perceived in the same way by every organism, but rather as a context for an organismic-centered-view, new paradigms to guide and to support this reasoning are required. (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 6)
The concursive implication of this is equally simple: landscape in literature is that which is described by the narrator or character; as that which can be seen in the "minds eye" of the ideal reader. It must be kept in mind that different organisms/characters may experience the environment/landscape/context differently.
Information has been defined by Stonier (1990, 1996) as a fundamental (physical) property of the universe and not simply a product of the human mind. Information reflects the level of organization of every living and not living system, and it is inversely correlated to thermodynamic probability. Information exists either as a structural information, as kinetic information, and in a form where information and energy are inter-convertible. (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 7)
Ah, the many varieties of information. Again, problematic, as always.
In the modern cognitive sciences the Umwelt concept can be found with a different vocabulary in the ‘‘affordance’’ hypothesis (Gibson 1979; Hirose 2002). This theory of meaning allows one to assign values to every object from an organismic perspective. It is although popular theory among semioticians (Sebeok and Umiker-Sebeok 1991; Sebeok 1995), only recently it has been seriously considered by biologists (Barbieri 2001; Nöth 2005). (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 7)
Allowances suits for an species/organismic approach; dispositions could do for societal/group approach; and possibly association for individual/subjective approach. Translating the Umwelt theory into other nomenclatures is viable but difficult.
The starting point of our reasoning is based on an hypothetical ‘cognitive matrix’ in which information (sensu Stonier 1990, 1996) is under a ‘compressed’ status. This means that a plurality of mechanisms has created the conditions for an informative world in which structures and energy are abundant and distributed in a stochastic fashion. Every living organism interacts with such ‘cognitive matrix’ extracting the information that form the basis of three specific cognitive landscapes: the neutrality-based landscape, the individual-based landscape and the observer-based landscape (sensu Farina et al. 2005) (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 8)
This is in fact very similar to Kalevi Kull's ecosemiotic model, only with the subjective position ("individual-based landscape") explicated; that is, "neutrality-based landscape" would be 0-nature and "observer-based landscape" would be the 3-nature. In Farina's model, the individual with its "cognitive matrix" mediates these natures. From this light it seems that Kull's model, although it was created on the basis of Uexküll's Funktionkreis, actually misplaced the organism, identifying 0-nature with a community of organisms (a synecological "subject").
The hypothesis of three ‘cognitive’ landscapes can be easily allied with other hypotheses of landscape perception. For instance, the prospect refuge theory (Appleton 1975: 73), by which environment affords a certain amount of prospect (open view) and refuge (concealment, protection), can be incorporated into the mechanisms that produce the observer-based landscape hypothesis. (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 9)
This has very little to do with ecosemiosis, but "refuge" is exactly the term I was looking for for discussing the sense of being constantly observed in dystopic fiction - there is no refuge (concealment, protection) from the Big Brother. On a grander scheme, the conjunction between the Umwelt theory and the prospect refuge theory is plainly obvious: prospect is an extension of perception and refuge is one effect the environment has on an organism.
To interpret the meaning of this functional signature the concept of cognitive niche, a niche created by cognitive processes like pattern recognition, memory and learning (Beecham 2001) can be used. And Hoffmeyer (1997) suggested that organisms not only have an ecological niche but also a semiotic niche, ‘i.e. they will have to master a set of signs of visual, acoustic, olfactory, tactile and chemical origin in order to survive.’ (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 11)
Wow. Cognitive niche? The authors conveniently identify this with Hoffmeyers semiotic niche, a dubious identification in my mind. Cognitive niche fits into the scheme of phenomena which I identify with the memory of "sensory gating" (after Elkind 1971). There are many such labels for, basically, individual differences in interpretation of signs, but it is too early to decide on the best one (a comparative/conceptual analysis is in order).

Nielsen, Soeren Nors 2007. Towards an ecosystem semiotics: Some basic aspects for a new research programme. Ecological Complexity 4: 93-101.

To begin with, many of our colleagues would probably find it easier and more acceptable to look at ecosystems as some sort of communication system, so let us take this as an entrance point to this treatment. In fact, in ecology, the use of equations derived from communication theory has found a widespread use in studying the phenomenological behaviour of ecosystems. Just think of the implementation of the Shannon–Weaver or similar information indices in studies of bio-diversity (Marques, 2001). The application of the measure of average mutual information as an index of the developmental state of an ecosystem network is another, to mention but a few, clear examples (e.g. Ulanowicz, 1986, 1997). So, in order to proceed and take these approaches a step further into the study of ecosystems, let us end this discussion for now by stating: at least nature and ecosystems communicate somehow. Having said this, in the rest of this paper, we put the focus on defining and understanding this communication and its importance to the emergence of complex behaviour. (Nielsen 2007: 94)
Here the author is implicitly following Sebeok's contention that semiotics is an "advanced science of communication." As a student of nonverbal communication I find the notion of communication system here problematic, as it it often difficult to make out whether it denotes the system of communication (a network of operating channels) or system for communication (e.g. language, code, sign-system). Paradoxically, in my mind, the notion of communication system is more vague than the semiosphere (and to make matters worse, they may just as well be the same thing).
In a simplified explanation according to the views of Uexküll, an organism will receive stimuli from the surroundings, Umwelt, by Patten called the world of perception or world as sensed. The organism would process the signals in its inner world, and make a proper, adequate response to the received stimuli. This would take place through an interaction with then surroundings, in this case called the world of action. The whole would have been a matter of a simple action and reaction scheme had it not been for the fact that von Uexkull added a possibility of an interaction between the two outer worlds. Thus the world of action may feed back and have an impact on the world of perception. This happens through what is called a function cycle. (Nielsen 2007: 96)
A pretty neat simplification. Patten's 1978. article is available as v078n4_206.pdf and Pattens translations are pretty straight-forward: World-as-sensed, World-of-action, and Function-circle. As a sidenote, it seems that Uexküll's name is difficult to spell: here it is Uexkiill, in Pattens article it is Eexküll.
Perception is not perception alone, but remembrance. Remembrance may again be influenced by experience. Proper action is a result of both and the ability to store this knowledge is what we usually refer to as learning. Thus, it could be speculated to split the Isemiotic into several cognitive components. For the time being, the hierarchical coupling between these processes is judged to be too unclear to presently evaluate and it is therefore left to the future. (Nielsen 2007: 99)
An interesting suggestion. The interaction between rememberance (memory) and perception is worth being looked into. The hint here is to explain this semiotic phenomena in cognitive terms.
The genotype level represents the possible (bio-)diversity of the system on the genome level, phenotypes perform with variability and adaptability and is the general level where selection in traditional Darwinian sense is thought to occur. Meanwhile, functionality of the whole comes into play at envirotype level and is ultimately fine polished at the semiotic level where communication and cognitive processes rules. Moving up in the hierarchy the degrees of freedom, the possibility to successfully exist is decreasing. (Nielsen 2007: 100)
Semiotype is the metaphysical layer of ecosystemic modeling; it acts as downward causation on the lower layers (envirotype, phenotype, genotype) and allows for modifications "that would not be possible without the existence of semiosis and cognitive processes" (93).

Nöth, Winfried 2001. Ecosemiotics and the semiotics of nature. Sign Systems Studies 29(1): 71-81.

Communication, defined as a sign process which involves a sender and a receiver, occurs not only among humans, but also between all other organisms throughout the whole biosphere. Not only cultural semiotics, but also bio- and zoosemiotics are hence concerned with processes of communication. Signification, by contrast, which concerns sign processes without a sender, predominates in ecosemiotics, where organisms interact with a natural environment that does not function as the intentional emitter of messages to the interpreting organism. (Nöth 2001: 72)
An absurdly simplistic and to-the-point distinction.
The structuralist tradition of 20th century semiotics restricted its field of research programmatically to arbitrary and conventional signs. Natural semiosis in the environment of humans was not an object of its study. The approach to signs was linguicentric, and Saussure 81916: 113) declared, that thought considered before language, "is only a shapeless and indistinct mass, [...] a vague uncharted nebula". (Nöth 2001: 72)
A more common word is logocentric. And I wouldn't blame the structuralists, as I don't believe their study to exclude natural signs so programmatically. To me it seems that it wasn't a priority but they nevertheless often remarked upon nonlinguistic sign processes.
In this tradition, nature enters the semiotic scene only as a referent (or content substance) of language. Structures of nature are investigated as content structures of texts, in particular of mythical texts. In this sense, Greimas developed his semiotics of the natural world. The natural world, according to his semiotics,is merely "a place for the elaboration and practice of multiple semiotic systems" (Greimas & Courtés 1979: 375). This semiotics of nature is not a theory of natural semiosis, but a theory of how human culture interprets nature. Ecosemiotics in this vein is hence the study of the culturalization of nature. Let us call this approach cultural ecosemiotics. (Nöth 2001: 73)
Again, I think Nöth is a bit off. Greimas didn't develop any "semiotics of the natural world". He merely differentiated that which is "natural" and that which is "constructed". The former sign systems "are called "natural" because they impose themselves upon human beings rather than being constructed by them - people are immersed in their mother tongue and are projected, from birth, into the world of "common sense." (Greimas & Courtes 1982: 278). I think this has nothing to do with "how human culture interprets nature," but merely accommodates the "givens" and the non-linguistic ("natural") in Greimas' scheme of semiotics.
The extension of ecosemiotics from the semiosphere to the biosphere in general has been criticized as an undue semiotic imperialism. Hartmut Böhme (1966: 20-21), e.g., finds it necessary to draw a clear line of division between intentional sign use, of which only humans are capable, and nonintentional semiosis, presemiotic, or even "material" processes in nature, such as perception and metabolism, respectively. (Nöth 2001: 74)
I'm not very sure about pansemiotics, but the "undue semiotic imperialism" is what I like to call semiophrenia. As the phrēn (φρήν) implies, it is sign-mindedness; or, to put it in a full sentence: Semiophrenia is the belief in the profusion of semiosis (in life-processes?). Perception is a good example. John Austin considered it an abuse of the word sign if one were to believe that "when the cheese is in front of our noses, we see signs of cheese." (Austin 1970: 15; footnote 1). A semiophrenic would indeed contend that recognizing or identifying a piece of yellow substance as cheese is a semiotic process.
In spite of their common foundation in teleology, there are, of course, also differences between anthroposemiosis and biosemiosis, but these differences are only a matter of degree: "Human acts of cognition differ from other self-referential and self-correcting processes by virtue of their greater degree of self-reference and self-correction. Human beings achieve this superiority through the creation of symbols, which represent and control our habits of action" (Oehler 1995: 269). (Nöth 2001: 75)
Hmm. I'm a big fan of self-communication yet I have yet to consider self-referentiality and self-correction in this regard. Understandably, referentiality is a murky topic in nonverbal terms but self-correction seems viable - perhaps what Scheflen calls self-censure and some call self-control can be grouped under self-correction; perhaps it could help explain acquisition of semiotic competence (e.g. trying different strategies until satiating with an efficient one).
The exclusion of nature from semiotic consideration is characteristic of the tradition of semiotic rationalism. It culminated in Saussure's dyadic sign model, which ignores the object of the sign and declares that the world beyond the system of arbitrary signs is unstructured. (Nöth 2001: 77)
Again, I am left doubtful. De Saussure's quote says that without language thought is a vague, uncharted nebula. Not the world, but thought. And Allan Paivio has written extensively about this issue, e.g. the dual (visual and verbal) coding theory.
Peirce also rejects the opposition between signs and nonsemiotic objects. According to his theory of semiosis, the environment of sign user is always meaningful, since "all objects are objects of signs" (Oehler 1993: 132). Furthermore, the object is not a mere referent beyond the sign, nor is it a mentally constructed object as the constructivists would have it. In his theory of the real or dynamical object, Peirce postulates an object actually existing in reality, but nevertheless ultimately inaccessible to our mind, or accessible only by a never ending asymptotic approximation. (Nöth 2001: 77)
At this point it is worthwhile to remember that both Peirce and Uexküll were kantians. Perhaps this may be why the contention about meaningfulness of environment here sounds the same for both; e.g. for Uexküll, there was nothing "neutral" in the environment. In a similar vain it seems that the restricted meaning of the word "context" includes only that which bears significance, not simply everything. This is problematic when a popular body language book suggests that one should "pay attention to context" and then fails to delimit this ubiquitous context.

Uexküll, Jakob von 1982. The Theory of Meaning. Semiotica 42(1): 25-79.

Pp. 25-33; & 52-59.
Behaviors are not mere movements or tropisms, but they consist of perception (Merken) and operation (Wirken); they are not mechanically regulated, but meaningfully organized. (Uexküll 1982: 26)
In modern parlance this would be "organized in a particular way by means of sign-systems" or something to that effect.
Even earth-bound animals, such as frogs, mice, snails, and worms, appear to move freely in nature.
This impression is deceptive. In truth, every free-moving animal is bound to a specific habitat and it remains the task of the ecologist to investigate its limits. (Uexküll 1982: 27)
Curiously, this is the case with people, too. We see crowds gliding through streets and crossing intersections, as if by random occurrence. Yet every person has a destination, or a routine. Perhaps the key to human Umwelt is the everyday life of a person? This suggestion comes dangerously close to the ecological psychology a la One Boy's Day (Barker & Wright 1951).
The stone lies in the objective observer's hand as a neutral object, but it is transformed into a meaning-carrier as soon as it enters into a relationship with a subject. Because no animal ever plays the role of an observer, one may assert that they never enter into relationships with neutral objects. (Uexküll 1982: 27)
Thus, the neutral object is that between which the subject has no significant relationship; and by significant relationship here is meant functional relationship, as the objective observer is holding the stone in his hand, but it is of no use to him. The grounds for dismissing animals being observers, though, is a week one. Certainly animals observe; they merely lack the faculty to report their observations. Here an observation is observation, again, only if it has a function - if it can be reported.
All of the small household effects, such as spoons, forks, matches, etc. do not exist for the dog because they are not meaning-carriers. (Uexküll 1982: 29)
The case is remarkably similar in many other fields. In the sphere of nonverbal communication, for example, the movements and positions of legs are not meaning-carriers for most people; only when trained in detailed knowledge about the informational knowledge about the meanings of leg movements and positions will bring them to the fore from the background of "neutral objects." Also, Mukařovský's foregrounding comes to mind.
Before we follow this thought further, a sentence from the Umwelt chapter of Sombart's book About the Human may be cited:
No 'forest' exists as an objectively prescribed environment. There exists only a forester-, hunter-, botanist-, walker-, nature-enthusiast-, wood gatherer-, berry-picker- and a fairytale-forest in which Hansel and Gretel lose their way.
The meaning of the forest is multiplied a thousandfold if its relationships are extended to animals, and not only limited to human beings:
There is, however, no point in becoming intoxicated with the enormous number of Umwelts (subjective universes) that exist in the forest. It is much more instructive to pick out a typical case in order to take a look into the relationship-network of the Umwelts. (Uexküll 1982: 29)
The quote originates from the eminent Germen sociologist Werner Sombart's book Vom Menschen (1938). By all accounts it seems that there is no English translation of this book available; most likely because Sombart embraced Nazism. As some reviewers explain it: "During his lifetime, Sombart was probably the most influential and prominent social scientist in Germany as well as in many other countries. Today he is among the least known social scientists." (Grundmann, Reiner and Nico Stehr 2001. Why Is Werner Sombart Not Part of theCore of Classical Sociology). Too bad, because a whole chapter on Umwelt in a rare book that J. von Uexküll was influenced by? The biosemioticians should have a field-day with this one.
Every action, therefore, that consists of perception and operation imprints its meaning on the meaningless object and thereby makes it into a subject-related meaning-carrier in the respective Umwelt (subjective universe)
Because every behavior begins by creating a perceptual cue and ends by printing an effector cue on the same meaning-carrier, one may speak of a functional circle that connects the meaning-carrier with the subject. (Uexküll 1982: 31)
Alas, the origin of the functional circle (Funktionkreis). Perception and operation sound so physiological, yet they are metaphorically very simple to comprehend: the organism/subject perceives a quality (a "tone") and acts towards it - does some work... At this point it would be handy to note that the meanings of Wirken (as a verb) are: (1) to function correctly, to work; (2) to be effective; (3) to take effect. Equally handy: the meanings of Merken (as a verb) are: (1) to mark; (2) to notice. Thus, to rephrase: noticing a quality coaxes the organism to take some effect towards it.
The most important functional circles found in most Umwelts are the circles of physical medium, food, enemy, and sex. (Uexküll 1982: 33)
This suggestion could probably be improved upon by (the now classic) Maslow's pyramid of motivations.
The organized body (Organismus) of the subject represents the meaning-utilizer or, at least, the meaning-receiver. If these two factors are joined by the same meaning, then they have been jointly composed by nature. The content of the theory of the composition of nature consists of the rules that govern such pairings. (Uexküll 1982: 52)
I am reminded of Marcel Mauss's contention that the body is mans first and foremost instrument.
In the case of the love-duet of animals and humans, two equal partners face each other, each of whom exists in its Umwelt as a subject and appears as a meaning-receiver, while the role of the meaning-carrier is assigned to the other.
Both the perceptual and the effector organs of both partners are allied to each other contrapuntally. (Uexküll 1982: 54)
Oh behave Jakob!
In our human Umwelt a mammal does not in itself appear as a vivid object, but as a mental abstraction, a concept to be used to classify not as an object we ever encounter.
The case of the tick is quite different. A vivid mammal exists in the tick's Umwelt that has a few properties capable of serving as counterpoints and exactly meeting the tick's needs. (Uexküll 1982: 57)
This is an interesting observation, as in nonverbal communication discourse is riddled with implicit assumptions of human being equally capable of abstract conceptual thought and "animalistic" search for signals which indicate at our deep-seated ("subconscious") needs. E.g. this is how it is explained why most women prefer tall men and other banalities. In any case it seems that man has not lost it's instincts but merely covered them with a layer of "culture."

Lindahl Elliot, Nils 2006. Mediating Nature. London; New York: Routledge.

Ch. 8, "The Nature of Environmentalism", Pp. 198-216.
In this context [...] narrativization worked in a manner that established a seemingly causal chain of events; as described by the semiologist Roland Barthes, post hoc ergo propter hoc. In the context of a risk politics increasingly driven by the dissolution of manifest responsibility, narrativization invited audiences to transmediate the genre of the whodunnit: in whodunnits, unlike 'real world' risk politics, there is always a 'good' and a 'bad' character, or at any rate somebody who can be blamed. Carson's choice of the genre of the fable therefore had the relatively explicit effect of establishing not just a strongly indexical frame but also a strongly moral one. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 199)
Ah, I should look into this aspect in R. Barthes, and U. Eco has written extensively on the whodunnits (this word itself has some phonoaesthetic qualities for me that are pleasurable).
Jim Bohlen's account of Greenpeace's actions emphasized the importance of 'bearing witness', a Quaker principle that suggested that, whatever an individual's disempowerment, s/he always had the option to express public but peaceful disapproval of bellicose action by making her/himself present at the scene of the action. Yet Greenpeace's campaign actually suggested a more complex dialectic, which probably underpinned the Quaker politics itself but acquired a new significance in the context of mass communication. The efficacy of 'bearing witness' in the globalized world of mass communication hinged not so much on 'bearing witness' as on 'being witnessed bearing witness'. In effect, Greenpeace constructed itself at once as icon and dicent of dissent via the media of mass communication, to and for distant publics. Conversely, by way of logic of mediated quasi-interaction, Greenpeace transformed itself into an icon and dicent of absent publics at the scenes of imminent environmental destruction and/or risk. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 204)
I think this is (at least one aspect of) the general nature of most modern protests - being witnessed bearing witness.
I have already discussed aspects of the nature of identification in film in the context of my analysis of the emergence of the IMR. The process may be further explained with reference to Gilles Deleuze, who, reflecting on the relation between affect and the close-up, suggests that the close-up 'facefies' ('visagéfiée') even those things that do not resemble a face (Deleuze 1986: 88). It is possible to suggest, in this sense, that on the visual level one fundamental strategy for the production of circuits of anthropomorphism in the genre was precisely to 'facefy' and thereby humanize the heads of animals by means of close-ups. With some species, this phenomenon arguably extended to the whole body in what might be described as the anthropomorphic practice of humanizing or animalizing 'bodyfication'. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 211)
Oh wow. It is true then - I won't be able to avoid Deleuze, Kristeva, Lyotard and other French philosophers because all of them have written something about nonverbal behavior.
One significant though problematic exception was the 'drug and tag' sub-genre, which later became what might be described as the 'cam and follow' genre, which entailed harpooning sharks and netting bird and other animals in order to place a miniatur evideo camera on them. This technique then allegedly provided, quite literally, a 'bird's eye view' (or a shark, eagle or other animal's eye view) of a certain geography; i.e. a kind of visual firstness, as transmediated from the animal. But, in addition to the fact that the 'crittercams' offered no more such a view than they might be similarly equipped humans, such practices constituted a flagrant reproduction of the discourse of the domination of nature. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 213)
This reminds me of the now-current discussion about new technologies such as the Google Glasses Project, which similarly records everything the wearer sees. This is considered a gross invasion of privacy for those whose life-activities might be captured with these glasses by accident.
No doubt much of the film's [March of the Penguins] box office success was a result of this factor alone: the popular semeiotics of penguins has a long history that might well be the subject of a book-lenght analysis in its own right. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 216)
So this was where that facebook status came from.

McIsaac, G. F. and M. 1999. Brün Natural Environment and Human Culture: Defining Terms and Understanding Worldviews. Journal of Environmental Quality 28(1): 1-10.

The terms nature and culture refer to broad conceptual categories that are subject to a variety of interpretations. The language frequently used to discuss environmental issues, however, seems to be heavily influenced by the view that portrays human culture as categorically distinct from nature. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 2)
A common problem.
Ideally, according to Johnson et al., a natural environment would be completely uninfluenced by humans, but they realize that such environments may no longer exist. They define natural environment as "one that is relatively unchanged or unaffected by human culture." Technology seems to represent culture for them. They state that urinating in the woords is natural, even if humans do it; but it is not natural to light forests with a match or chop them down with an ax. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 3)
I am reminded of hearing about one lecturer on semiotics talking about something related to peeing into the river Emajõgi. Could that argument originate from this text? A rhetorical question.
We agree with Johnson et al. that humna culture is unusual, and has often been a locus of rapid environmentla change. But because human culture has arisen from natural processes and because there are nonhuman agents of rapid and extensive environmental change, we think that it is debatable whether human culture and/or its environmental impacts should be classified as either unnatural or uniquely unnatural. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 5)
That's one way of looking at it. A very broad one.
Petr Kropotkin (1904) began the anthropological debate in his Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, with the assertion that much behavior supposedly representing culture could be found in nonhuman animals. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 7)
Funny, I just downloaded that book. Also, I believe this discussion is involved with what is known as altruism.
Conservationist Aldo Leopold (1949) had previously articulated a view that integrated humans within the natural world. He thought that conservation efforts would be ineffective unless humans saw themselves as members of the land community rather than as owners or masters of it. Leopold actively attempted to restore degraded ecosystems, and thus was a restoration ecologist before such a term was coined. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 7)
I vaguely recall Bookchin (1982/2005) upholding a similar view. Perhaps very simply explainable - Bookchin was, in my mind, very much acquainted with Leopold. At least this is the impression one may get while reading both, as Bookchin often uses rare out-of-use words in common with Leopold (i.e. usufruct and extirpate).

Stables, Andrew 1996. Reading the environment as text: Literary theory and environmental education. Environmental Education Research 2(2): 189-195.

THe use of the term 'text' to describe a wide range of social practices and artefacts is now accepted within the field of education and more broadly across the social sciences. Mass media products are now generally defined as texts... (Stables 1996: 189)
"Everyday Life as Text" comes to mind.
The concept of literacy is closely related to that of text. In certain areas, such as environmental education, it has become acceptable to define understanding in terms of literacy (Soetaert et al., 1996) without exploring the implication that the environment is therefore text. Hithero the tendency has been to describe the process by which we make sense of the environment in terms of text or discourse rather than the environment itself. (Stables 1996: 190)
Again a familiar theme: "reading body language" is a similar case. It is said to be "read," without considering the implication that the phenomena in question are therefore as if texts.
Modern literary criticism has failed to acknowledge any clear cut division between reading and interpretation. It has become acceptable to read a text from the perspective of the reader's ideological commitments; hence Marxist readings, feminist readings and so on (see, for example, Eagleton, 1967; Besley, 1985). indeed, it can be argued that all reading by all readers is inevitably done in this light. (Stables 1996: 192)
An interesting suggestion, but not much value - ideology is such a broad concept that it can be applied in many such ways; i.e. A. Randviir, in his dissertation, claimed that all sign systems can be used for ideological purposes.

Rueckert, William 1996. Literature and Ecology. An experiment in ecocriticism. In: Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold Fromm (eds.), The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 105-123.

Here are just some of the positions and battles which many of us have been into and through: formalism, neoformalism, and contextualism; biographical, historical, and textual criticism; mythic, archetypical, and psychological criticism; structuralism and phenomenology; spatial, ontological, and - well, and so forth, and so forth. Individually and collectively, we have been through so many great and original minds, that one wonders what could possibly be left for experimental criticism to experiment with just now - in 1976. (Rueckert 1996: 105)
Today these is an immeasurably larget set of positions to choose from; so much so that they seem to be intermeshed in all possible ways making clear differentiation impossible. At the same time it might be worthwhile to google all these positions and look up what exactly they contain.
The incredible storehouse of existing theories and methods, coupled with the rapid aging (almost pre-aging, it seems) of new critical theories and methods, has made for a somewhat curious critical environment. For those who are happy with it, a fabolously resourceful, seemingly limitless, pluralism is available: there is something for everybody and almost anything can be done with it. (Rueckert 1996: 106)
Well, I'm happy with it. At the same time I recognize that my own "concursive method" could have been thought up and written down decades ago; it is only by some dumb luck (or misfortune, rather?) that it hasn't.
I invoke here (to be spelled out in detail later) the first Law of Ecology: "Everything is connected to everything else." This is Commoner's phrasing, but the law is common to all ecologists and all ecological visions. This need to see even the smallest, most remote part in relation to a very large whole is the central intellectual action required by ecology and of an ecological vision. It is not mind-bending or mind-blowing or mind-boggling; it is mind-expanding. As absurd as this may sound, the paper is about literature and the biosphere. This is no more absurd, of cours,e than the idea that man does not have the right to do anything he wants with nature. The idea that nature should also be protected by human laws, that trees (dolphins and whales, hawks and whooping cranes) should have lawyers to articulate and defend their rights is one of the most marvelous and characteristic parts of the ecological vision. (Rueckert 1996: 108)
These themes sound very familiar, the relatedness from pop-existentialism and eco-lawyers from environmental philosophy.
A poem is stored energy, a formal turbulence, a living thing, a swirl in the flow. (Rueckert 1996: 108)
No, not energy but information. A poem - as a form of compressed information - can be energizing but it is not energy in itself. And by energizing I mean "giving vitality and enthusiasm" not "supplying energy, either kinetic or electrical." Why am I arguing with poetry?
In literature, all energy comes from the creative imgaination. It does not come from language, because language is only one (among many) vehicles for the storing of creative energy. (Rueckert 1996: 109)
This is why it is pointless to argue. The qualifier "creative" should have been stated beforehand, I think. Being thrown at once into the deep end of metaphorical thinking is not nice.
Kenneth Burke was right - as usual - to argue that drama should be our model or paradigm for literature because drama, enacted upon the stage, before a live audience, releases its energy into the human community assembled in the theater and raises all the energy levels. Burke did not want us to treat novels and poems as plays; he wanted us to become aware of what they were doing as creative verbal actions in the human community. He was one of our first critical ecologists.
Coming together in the classroom, in the lecture hall, in the seminar room (anywhere, really) to discuss or read or study literature, is to gather energy centers around a matrix of stored poetic/verbal energy. In some ways, this is the true interactive field because the energy flow is not just a two-way flow from poem to person as it would be reading; the flow is along many energy pathways from poem to person, from person to perso. The process is triangulated, quadrangulated, multiangulated; and there is, ideally, a raising of the energy levels which makes it possible for the highest motives of literature to accomplish themselves. These motives are not pleasure and truth, but creativity and community. (Rueckert 1996: 110-111)
I would frame this as the interaction of text and bodies (of the readers, communicants), rather than energies and persons (which is a very general - and seemingly disembodied - concept). Also, these passages give the impression that "a raising of the energy" is somehow good initself irregardless of how the energy is put to use. I'd rather prefer a low-energy-consuming high-efficiency-type of approach.
Bringing literature and ecology together is a lesson in the harshest, cruelest realities which permeate our profession: we live by the word, and act by the power of the word, but are increasingly powerless to act upon the word. Real power in out time is political, economic, and technological; real knowledge is increasingly scientific. (Rueckert 1996: 116)
Here Rueckert is hitting the nail on the head.
  • define:sensu - "Sensu is a Latin word meaning "in the sense of". It is used in a number of fields including biology, geology, linguistics, and law."
  • define:chorological - "Chorology (from Greek χῶρος, khōros, "place, space"; and -λογία, -logia) can mean the study of the causal relations between geographical phenomena occurring within a particular region or the study of the spatial distribution of organisms."
  • define:percolation - "In physics, chemistry and materials science, percolation (from Lat. percōlāre, to filter or trickle through) concerns the movement and filtering of fluids through porous materials."
  • define:asymptote - "A line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance."
  • define:terra incognita - "Unknown or unexplored territory."
  • define:integument - "A tough outer protective layer, esp. that of an animal or plant."
  • define:sleuth - "Carry out a search or investigation in the manner of a detective."
  • define:bellicose - "Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight."

The Semiotic Self

Sebeok, Thomas A. 1992. 'Tell Me, Where is Fancy Bred?': The Biosemiotic Self. In: Sebeok, Thomas A. and Jean Umiker-Sebeok (eds.), Biosemiotics: The Semiotic Web 1991. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 333-343.

Shifting sharply to a commonplace sphere of observation from the cascade of such lofty questions as Bassanio toyed with, note that the police officers in American cities, and perhaps elsewhere, when they arrest someone and invite him for a ride 'downtown' in the back seat of a police car, firmly press a palm on the handcuffed suspect's head when ushering him into the seat. This practice is so familiar that actors impersonating cops and robbers in a movie or a television show cooperatively simulate this very gesture, often, I hear, not knowingly or fully understanding why. Police officers explain their action as routine prevention procedure to make sure that the suspect doesn't contuse his head on the car frame while in custody and thereby later claim physical abuse.
To me, however, this ocmportment suggests an interesting and empirically quite accessible research problem: are human beings - or, for that matter, vertebrates in general (Hediger 1980: 44f.) - consistently aware of their body size, viz., their changing height? Given that we grow in stature at a relatively leisurely pace from childhood to adulthood, then tend to diminish somewhat as we become yet older, how are these reformations registered in consciousness and implemented so as to, for instance, know when to duck entering a car? (For that matter, how do drivers internalize their fairly accurate knowledge of the perimeters of their vehicles so as to avoid scraping surrounding objects?)
More generally, still, how are self-images established, maintained, and transmuted into performances? Sensory experiences may at times pose semiosic ambiguities, as in the following seemingly paltry example: A hole in one of my teeth, which feels mammoth when I poke my tongue into it, is a subjective symptom I may elect to complain about to my dentist. He lets me inspect it in a mirror, and I am surprised how trivially small the aperture - the objective sign - looks. The question is: which interpretation is 'true'? the one derived via the tactile modality or the one reported by the optical percept? (Cf. Sebeok 1986: 55.) (Sebeok 1992: 333-334)
In trying, since 1977, to come to terms with many more or less anomalous semiosic phenomena, only a sampling from which I can recount and illustrate here, I began to explore the notion of the semiotic self. Cited instances have to do with the somatic localization of such passions as love or such feelings as anxiety; the incorporation (as it were) of such faculties as one's own body-size; and the association of other private experiences, such as light-headedness, pains, twinges, nausea, hunger and thirst, 'funny feelings', or what Hungarians call, in a well-nigh untranslatable idiom, their közerzet (a generalized but amorphous state of good or ill health), with their respective outward manifestations of referents. The effects of wrongly parsed sign processes or their impairment, including long-persisting images of amputated extremities, constitute another profoundly enigmatic class of events, as in the eerie case of the one-armed Paul Wittgenstein's - Ludwig's brother's - amputated but lingering phantom right limb with its reportedly still virtuoso fingering technique for some new composition (Otten 1992: 45). (Sebeok 1992: 335-336)
Difficulties of this sort arise in part, I believe, from the fact that bodily sensations and the like, most saliently among them those connected with illness, are not amenable to verbal expression becaue they lack external referents; insistent intrusions though they may be into the routines of one's day or night, they can at best be denominated, for they resist unfolding into narratives, which are, by definition, always verbal. (Sebeok 1992: 336)
Where, then, is the 'semiotic self' located? Clearly, in the organism's milieu extérieur, on the level of an idiosyncratic phenomenal world, tantamount to J. von Uexküll's Umwelt (1973: 334-40) - a technical appelation I prefer to render as the 'model' of a species-specific segment of individual reality (Sebeok 1991a: chapter 5) - made up of exosemiosic processes of sign transmission. Miller, in a nice figure of speech, tells us that sensations happen 'in an isolated annexe called the self, and if that annexe is missing...the sensations float around in a sort of elsewhere' (1978: 20). This semiotic self, which of course enfolds and thus 'contains' in its milieu intérieur some body's immunocompetence, occupies, as it were, space/time in a sphere bounding the organism's integument, although the programs for the fabrication of subjective constructs of this sort are surely stored within the subjacent realms of its endosemiosic organs (semiotic aspects of pertinent boundary conditions were recently discussed in Hoffmeyer 1992). This semiotic self, furthermore, is composed of a repertoire of signs of a necessarily sequestered character; as J. von Uexküll - claiming that even a single cell has its Ich-Ton - remarked (1973: 68), 'bleiobt unser Ich notwnedig subjektiv'.
Peirce, in his canonical amplification of the classic definition of a representamen, wrote that a sign 'is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity' (c. 1897, CP 2.228). It is his addition precisely of the tag 'to somebody' which illuminates the semiotic self, and which doubtless engendered the Shakespearean notion of Peirce's 'glassy essence' (Singer 1984) that enswathes all living organisms within their private Umwelts in the manner of an impalpable, solid withal context-sensitively and environmentally supple (Sebeok 1989: 46) carapace, or, as I have previously dubbed it, a Hediger bubble (cf. Sebeok 1989: 45, 1991: 40). This invisible, malleable proxemic shell amounts to nothing less than what laymen call 'reality', to which all sign users and sign interpreters are knit by a formidable array of indexical representamina (Sebeok 1991a: chapter 13). (Sebeok 1992: 337-338)
Nature's indexicals are universally nonverbal, but in our glottocentric genus the former may increasingly, if always selectively, be enhanced - in a phylogenetic as well as in an ontogenetic sense - by verbal elements, including especially deictics, designators, reagents, metonyms, symptoms, clues, cues, synechdoches, and pars pro toto expressions. In Homo, nonverbal as well as verbal indexicals may be either vocal or nonvocal. Nonverbal vocal indexicals, such as groans and moans, are public signs of latent discomfort; and so are nonverbal nonvocal expressions, such as frowns or writhings. Signs of this kind are both promulgations of, for instance, pain, in contrast to exposures, usually out-of-self-control, such as yellow skin exhibited by a jaundiced person. (Sebeok 1992: 338-339)
The barriers which occlude and thereby separate each and every windowness monad from all the rest are such as to prevent any self from fully fathoming any other. Hurdles between Egos - unlike those between cells, minimal reproductive units that are surrounded by semipermeable membranes, allowing the passage of certain chemicals and thereby certain information - are insurmountable. We can of course, and regularly do, spin fantasies about, or 'image', the situation of an 'other', or even perhaps empathize with a fellow-human's or some pet's singular individuality; but our respectively impenetrable semiosic orbits must perpetually remain separated by a frigid intergalactic void: the self's perception of any other is composite, partial, and forever incomplete. We can approach the 'real' richness of the universe only by entertaining multiply contending, mutually complementary visions. I believe this is the quotidian implication of Niels Bohr's celebrated adage that it is 'wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature' (Pais 1991: 427). (Sebeok 1992: 339)
An act of interpretation is an act of as-sign-ment - that is, the elevation of an interpreted phenomenon to 'signhood'; indeed, this is what the word 'encoding' betokens. Interpretation is an autopoietic (i.e., actively self-maintaining) process, and one that operates, moreover, on the product of its own operations (Maturana and Varela 1987: 47-52, 253); that is, it is recursive, as both Peirce and the Uexkülls undeniably understood. Moreover, the elder of the latter family was the earliest to actually postulate a biological mechanism for the elucidation of the process (1973: chapter 5 and passim) - namely, the well-known 'functional cycle' (Funktionkreis), in the course of which a meaning is not merely con-sign-ed (Bedeutungerteilung), but also pragmatically verified (Bedeutungsverwertung). (Sebeok 1992: 340)
This paper reflects work in progress on the topic of the 'Semiotic Self'. Previous ponderings were reported on in two other papers, both now conveniently available in Sebeok 1991a [A Sign is Just a Sign]; especially chapters 3 and 4. (Sebeok 1992: 340)

Kull, Kalevi 1992. Evolution and Semiotics. In: Sebeok, Thomas A. and Jean Umiker-Sebeok (eds.), Biosemiotics: The Semiotic Web 1991. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 221-233.

Another paradigm means another language, with other values for the description of already known things. It means another world picture. If the semiotic paradigm were to be adopted in biology, then all biological phenomena would be viewed differently, from the semiotic viewpoint. (Kull 1992: 221)
The main mechanism of recognition according to some preexisting model is thus a consequence of the ability to reproduce. Recognition must proceed according to certian constraints in order to work properly; it is a result of development through selection and reproduction of the most suitable forms. Recognition seems to indicate selective retention of certain elements of experience, and extinction of other, irrelevant elements. Recognition is, to use Heschl's (1990) term, a result of cognitive gain. (Kull 1992: 222-223)
It has been noticed by many biologists that in the case of uniparental organisms - i.e., many prokaryotes, or those eukaryotes which have lost the capacity for sexual reproduction - clear typical species are usually absent (Grant 1985). These are the so-called 'difficult groups' for taxonomists, like Hieracium or Alchemilla among plants, in which huge numbers of microspecies have been described with no real hope for their identification by other investigators. When biparental reproduction is lost, the clear boundaries of the species will usually be lost as well. (Kull 1992: 226)
The same logical mechanisms that creates species in the world of organisms is also responsible for creating words in language. First, note that words are reproducible entities: every time we pronounce a word, we actually reproduce it. Physically, we are able to pronounce an almost continuous variety and unlimited number of different sound sequences, and the same is true for all speakers. But if some of these sound combinations have nay meaning to other speakers, they may be reused (= reproduced), whereas the sounds which are not recognized will be reused less frequently. In this way, only the utterances which can be understood (recognized) by other speakers are likely to be remembered and to take part in the development of speech. The almost continuous variability of sound sequences in a child's utterances is eventually split into words, each word having a certain variability in pronounciation but remaining compatible with the same words as pronounced by other people. Between the ranges of variability of similar words there are hiatuses - i.e., the intermediate forms which can be pronounced by the speaker, but which are not usually used because they would not be identified (recognized) by other people as specific words. Different people always pronounce the same words in slightly different ways, but the range of these differences is regulated by recognition capabilities and the closeness of similar words. The requirement to recognize the words limits their variability to a certain range; it keeps the pronounciation exact. This situation is exactly analogous to speciation and stabilizing selection. The intermediate forms should be as rare between the biological species as they are between the words of a language. (Kull 1992: 228-229)
Classification of Interaction
Let us summarize briefly the general conditions required in order for semiotic relations and qualities to arise. We will compare the relationships between systems dependent on their ability to reproduce. Dividing systems into reproducing (R) and non-reproducing (N), we get the following three types of fitting interactions:
- N-N: interaction between inorganic systems. This may lead to mechanical congregation of similar systems, if they fit to each other, as in the case of crystal growth. No semiosis.
- R-N: for example, the relationship between organism and abiotic environment. The organisms that fit to their environment better will reproduce more; as a result, the distribution of organisms changes toward better fitness. Using the equivalent expression, organisms are adapting; in other words, organisms recognize their environment. This leads to the primary semiotic relationships, in which the environment will hold meaning for the organisms.
- R-R: reciprocal recognition (= reciprocal adaption) between reproducing systems will create internally compatible groups of limited variability. This makes possible the origin and development of language.
The R-N interaction is the basic one in the mechanism of natural selection, investigated by the Darwinistic theory of evolution. The R-R interaction is considered to be the basic one by the recognition concept of species, which gives an alternative explanation of the origin of species. I believe that the adoption of a semiotic paradigm as the paradigm of general biology is a good basis for the systematization of theoretical biology. (Kull 1992: 230)

Csányi, Vilmos 1992. The Brain's Models and Communication. In: Sebeok, Thomas A. and Jean Umiker-Sebeok (eds.), Biosemiotics: The Semiotic Web 1991. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 27-43.

The definition of the term 'model' has changed considerably; nowadays, under strong ingluence from the systems sciences, we generally use the following one: a 'model' is always a simpler system in which the components and their interactions are isomorphic to the components of a more complex system, and some of their interactions. Model building, therefore, is always a simplification and a special identification between two different systems, one of which is the model and the other the system being modeled. We make use of the model by operating it, and based on its operations, we predict the behavior of the system being modeled (Csányi 1989). (Csányi 1992: 27)
Even the simplest of nervous systems is characterized by a triple partition. Separate receptor neurons interact with stimuli, motor neurons create or mediate behavioral instructions, and interneurons between receptors and motor neurons serve as a reference for the activity of the three as a whole. The actual state of the network of interneurons, or their past activity, influences the choice of the actual behavioral instruction and the extent of response, if response occurs at all. With the concept as the basic functional unit of the brain, the orgnaization of any kind of behavioral act can be described. The phenomena of sensitization and habituation in simpler animals are good examples. In the course of sensitization, the excited state of receptor cells (key), transmitted to the interneurons (referential structure), not only evokes an immediate reaction (action) within the nervous system, but also produces a lasting state of excitement in the interneurons, which is reflected in their referential role. These cells react to the reappearance of the stimulus with a more immediate, more direct, and more effective reactions. The mechanisms of habituation is essentially similar. These three functional components of behavior are retained even by higher nervous systems, but the complexity of the parts is increased enormously and functional overlaps are developed. (Csányi 1992: 28-29)
During the evolution of linguistic ability in humans, a fundamentally different mechanism of model-making emerged. In the act of naming something, a key (the word) arises which has only a very loose connection with percepts and actions. The 'word-referential structure-action' segmented units could be combined not only through grammatical and logical rules. This resulted in the very complex superstructures of conceptual thought. Human thinking is a rule-driven wandering on the surface of concept superstructures. A linguistic concept may be regarded as an utterance of human thought. It can also elicit actions, but primary experience is no longer a prerequisite for these actions, as it was in the case of other animals. Mental superstructures built up from linguistic concepts also reflect experiences, and therefore may also be regarded as models of the outer world.
The animal's brain, if it belongs to a long-living higher species, is able to construct complex concept-superstructures from individual experiences. However, because of the very nature of animal concept units (Key-Referential Structure-Action), these superstructures are bound, exclusively and finally, to outer reality. They are only the representations of the external environment, good or better, but nothing more.
In the evolution of man, the symbolic information content of the brain's models plays the most important role. Animals are capable of thinking in their own ways, but according to our knowledge, only man uses descriptions in thinking. Descriptions have a double function. First, they are representations, models of the outer reality. On the other hand, they are active entities in the human brain, and can interact with other concepts of the brain through logical and linguistic rules. Their 'meaning' is connected to this second function. Meaning is an active property of a description, and is tied to the whole conceptual system by which the description is made. Linguistic concepts can be detached from reality. If the perceptual keys are transformed into words, the referential structures may evoke actions that are themselves also words, words that may be spoken or written and might become keys again. This feature of linguistic concepts contributes to the creation of a self-generating system of concepts that are only occasionally influenced by reality.
The development of linguistic concepts - the ability to form conceptual thought in man - has led to the emergence of a genuinely new brain system. Abstract thinking creates a system of self-organizing concept-superstructures which are not only primitive models of reality but autonomous entities; their internal structure and dynamics pertain not only to the outer environment, but to the relation between the emerging new system and reality. Self, imagination, fantasy independent of experiences - their connections and the relations among them are the most important features of this self-created world that we call mind. With the help of his/her mind, not only is the individual able to react appropriately to changes in the immediate environment, but it can view itself as part of the environment or as acting object, analyze the relation between itself and reality in a wide range of the space/time continuum, and project its own position into the past or the future. The mind can create a world of fantazy wherein self plays a relatively subordinate role, but rigorous rules exist concerning the dynamics of other abstract entities, such as the world of mathematics. Religions are created worlds in which everything in which everything revolves around the self without reflecting any constraints of reality. (Csányi 1992: 29-31)
It is worthwhile comparing animal and human model building processes by way of an example. It is well known that in the cooperative groups of certain higher mammals such as the wolf, individuals use hunting tactics in which they are very attentive to each other's actions. Each pack member positions itself in such a way that the appearance of a fellow member at the right moment and the right place is clearly supposed. This significant form of cooperation can exist because of the high similarity of the brain's models in each wolf. Individuals can identify with fellow members and can predict pack members' next actions - that is, they have appropriate models of the behavior of others. This kind of cooperation occurs without the exchange of plans, intentions, or thoughts. Wolves are capable of informing each other only about certain parameters of their internal state, such as hunting or aggressive mood.
Not only can the members of a human hunting group predict the behavior of their fellow members, they can divide common tasks among themselves - they can make plans and then assign to each member a particular role by means of linguistic communication prior to the action (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1982). In this way, concepts existing in individual brains become parts of a higher collective structure, which then determines the goal and the precise ways of achieving it. We call this higher structure of individual an idea. Every idea is in itself a superstructure, a part of a social super-model - that is, a system built up from concepts that are, physically and organizationally, components of the brain models of individual members of a given human group.
The concepts that comprise an idea are not selected at random; rather, they form a functionally organized set that makes the performances purposeful and possible. It is not important for each member of the hunting group to know everything about the tasks or roles of the others. It is enough for the leader to know the main program, but even for him it is unnecessary to learn the finer details of the tasks assigned to particular individuals. Ideas can be organized hierarchically, and the whole is only available in the group as a whole. Individual concepts existing in the brains of the group members can be functionally combined only by a specific self-organization of ideas. Only the ideas that contain those and only those concepts suitable to achieve the given goal can act and accomplish something.
Besides linguistic competence, it is the 'rule-following behavior' of our species that makes ideas possible. Most of the concepts of an idea are simple behavioral rules, which are the elements of collective action. Language itself can be described by a series of elementary ryle-following behavior actions. (Csányi 1992: 31-32)
Man-made objects are always expressing ideas; that is, they can also be translated as systems of organized rules of behavior. For instance, consider how many rules are followed when we use an instrument as simple as a key. I have to take the key with me when I leave, and I must have it with me when I return. I have to hold it in a given way if I want to open the door. Different rules apply to whether or not I will leave the key in the lock. The notion of the key, ownership, the lock, the fitting together, etc. are also formulated in complex ideas. But the making of the object itself - for example, the key mentioned above - can be described as a series of fixed rules. In the course of preparing the casting mould and the metal, and during the casting and the rest of the work, the worker must obey well-defined rules; the object of use is a result of all these steps. Obeying the rules is the most essential biological feature of man. Our nearest relative, the chimpanzee, can be taught to do many things. With enough training, he may even be taught the maneuvers and operations used by people living a simple country life. But if a few hundred chimpanzees were taught in this way and placed in an empty village, the social life characteristic of human communities would never develop, as the colony of chimpanzees is unable to obey complex systems of rules. If hungry, individuals will acquire food at any price, and they also satisfy their sexual desire immediately and forcefully. A human may die of starvation without attempting to touch the food in the supermarket if he has no monmey to buy it; this cannot happen with an animal. For man, obedience to the rules is more important than anything else. Even if we do break a set of rules, we generally do it on the basis of a system of rules that we consider to be more important than the one we disobey. (Csányi 1992: 33)
Human-to-human communication is a very special case. In the transformation of referential information to description and then back to referential information, we see the exchange of components that are parts of the same shared super-model, and which are functional in both individual model systems. The correspondence will therefore be extremely high, due to the great similarity of the brain models of the individuals. This permits an effective exchange of nonreferential information which, because it is encoded into linguistic terms that are easily understood by the receiver, can immediately be transformed into referential information. (Csányi 1992: 37)
From the study of primates and apes we know that individuals in groups constantly observe the activity of other members and try to predict future actions of important individuals and use their social skills to manipulate others (Byrne and Whiten 1988). Since they are capable of only Type I communication, and since the correspondence among such brains is low, they can only predict certain parameters of the internal state (motivation, for example), occasionally intention (aggression, submission, etc.), and, in rare cases, changes in the environment (danger). (Csányi 1992: 38)

Silent Assumptions

Hall, Edward T. 2009 [1964]. Silent Assumptions in Social Communication. In: Gutman, Robert and Nathan Glazer (Eds.), People and Buildings. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 135-151.

The investigations reported briefly in this selection deal with proxemics, the study of ways in which man gains knowledge of the content of other men's minds through judgments of behavior patterns associated with varying degrees of proximity to him. These behavior patterns are learned, and thus they are not genetically determined. But because they are learned (and taught) largely outside of awareness, they are often treated as though they were innate. I have found this type of behavior to be highly stereotyped, less subject to distortion than consciously controlled behavior and important to individuals in the judgments they form as to what is taking place around them at any given moment in time. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 136)
Indeed there seems to be a "proxemic consciousness" which facilitates awareness of the immediate environment - especially of the social situation.
The insights and sensitive observations of Thoreau are helpful in pointing up certain consistencies in behavior in heretofore unsuspected areas, such as perception of body heat. They strenghten my original premise that man's behavior in space is neither meaningless nor haphazard. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 137)
E. T. Hall's masterly use of language is worthy of imitation. The first bold span could be used in discussion of concursivity: literary authors often refer to consistencies in behavior which are otherwise difficult to describe. It could even be said that to write about something, even in passing, in a novel, demands one to be well acquainted with what one is writing about. And the second bold span characterizes the whole proxemic project and follows essentially birdwhistellian premise that behavior is not meaningless unless proven otherwise.
Many of these utterances are virtually stream-of-consciousness. They are valuable because they provide clues to what specific events in other people's behavior stands out as significant. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 139)
Yet another point for concursivity - we don't talk and write about "insignificant gestures," it is the significant movements and postures which draw attention to themselves and make us aware of them.
The distinction that Hediger makes between "contact" and "non-contact" species can also be made for man or groups of men. Indeed, it seems to be the first and possibly the most basic distinction between groups. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 140)
This is incredible. The contact/non-contact culture distinction propounded by Jourard (if I'm not mistaken) originates from Heini Hediger's Studies of the Psychology and Behavior of Captive Animals in Zoos and Circuses. [utlib, Sebeok]
"Personal distance" (close phase: 18 to 30 inches; far phase: 30 to 48 inches) is the term originally used by Hediger to designate the distance consistently separating the members of non-contact species. It might be thought of as a small protective sphere that an organism maintains between itself and others. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 143-144)
The wording here is useful: "a protective sphere". Almost like Werkmelt.
At intimate distance (full contact to 18 inches), two subjects are deeply involved with each other. The presence of the other person is unmistakable and may at times be overwhelming because of the greatly stepped-up sensory inputs. Olfaction, heat from the other person's body, touch or the possibility of touch, not only by the hands but also by the lips and the breath, all combine to signal in unmistakable ways the close presence of another body. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 145)
"Overwhelming" because of "greatly stepped-up sensory inputs" are actually what's great about intimacy. In the right circumstances, it is extremely pleasurable.
Close Phase: Intimate Distance. This is the distance (full contact to 6 plus or minus 2 inches) of lovemaking and wrestling, comforting and protecting. Physical contact is featured. Use of the distance receptors is greatly reduced except for olfaction and sensitivity to radiant heat, both of which are stepped up. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 146)
Could this stepping up up heat-radiation be due to sexual arousal?
Vocalization at intimate distances plays a very minor part in the communication process, which is carried mainly by other channels. A whisper has the effect of expanding the distance. The moans, groans and grunts that escape involuntarily during fighting or sex are produced by the action. The two parties act as one as it were. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 146)
Yup, this is how an anthropologist talks about sex in the beginning of the 1960s.
At this distance [public, far] body stance and gestures are featured; facial expression becomes exaggerated as does the loudness of the voice. The tempo of the voice drops; words are enunciated more clearly. Joos' frozen style is characteristic: "Frozen style is for people who are to remain strangers." (Hall 2009 [1964]: 148)
This is the quote I found so useful from The Hidden Dimension. Apparently it originates from The Five Clocks (1962) by the German-American linguists Martin Joos. It is interesting that this book is not available in Estonia, because M. Joos might be one of the missing links in the picture of semiotics. Not only is Joos' intimate/casual/consultative/formal/frozen the basis for Hall's work, another part of Joos' work emanated to Ju. Lotman's cultural semiotics. This is something that should be studie further.
What significance do people attach to different distances? The very term "closeness" conjures up different images than "distance." "Getting next to" someone implies a number of things about your relationship. The expression, "I cna't get together with him on that," has a literal, in addition to a figurative, meaning. In the world of actions from which words take their meaning, a wife who sees another woman standing too close to her husband gets the message loud and clear. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 148-149)
The underlined sentence is extremely curious: it is in the first part meta-concursive and then concursive!
"Paracommunication" is the term suggested as an appropriate designation by Joos and George Trager to refer to communicative behavior which does not have its base in language but is often synchronized with linguistic and paralinguistic phenomena. (Hall 2009 [1964]: 150)
Damn, Joos, you even had something to do with paracommunication (of which Hall claims proxemics represents one of several systems).

Hall, Edward T. 1968. Proxemics. Current Anthropology 9(2/3): 83-95.

In the course of the development of proxemics, the work was spoken of as "social space as bio-communication," and "micro-space in interpersonal encounters." These were actually abbreviated technical descriptions in which the proper meanings of the terms of reference were known only to a few specialists. Further, the wide spread interest in activities connected with outer space provided an incentive to distinguish between my work and that of the outer-space scientists. I decided to invent a new term that would indicate, in general, what the field was about. Among the terms I considered were human topology, chaology, the study of empty space, oriology, the study of boundaries, chorology, the study of organized space. I finally chose "proxemics" as the most suitable for that audience most likely to encounter the topic in the near future. (Hall 1968: 83, footnote 3)
Awesome. I love technical jargon that known only to a few specialists. This will be my downfall, surely, but it is also fun. Chaology, oriology and chorology could actually suit for a "made up test" - as these terms are not used, they are presumably also unknown.
I first became aware of my own interest in man's use of space when I was training Americans for service overseas and discovered that the way in which both time and space were handled constituted a form of communication which was responded to as if it were built into people, and therefore, universally valid. (Hall 1968: 84)
Heh. Neat.
It is my thesis that the principles laid down by Whorf and his followers in relation to language apply to all culturally patterned behavior, but particularly to those aspects of culture which are most often taken for granted and operate as Sapir so aptly put it "...in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all." It is this elaborate and secret code that becomes confused with what is popularly conceived of as phenomenological experience. It has long been believed that experience is what men share and that it is possible to bypass language by referring back to experience in order to reach another human being. This implicit (and often explicit) belief concerning man's relation to experience is based on the assumption that when two human beings are subjected to the same "experience," virtually the same data is being fed to the two nervous systems and the two brains respond similarly. Proxemic research casts serious doubts on the validity of this assumption, particularly when the cultures are different. People from different cultures inhabit different sensory worlds (see Hall 1966: Chaps. 10, 11). They do not only structure spaces differently, but experience it differently, because the sensorioum is differently "programmed." There is a selective screening and filtering that admits some types of data while rejecting others. Sometimes this is accomplished by individuals "tuning out" one or more of the senses or a portion of perception. Otherwise, it is accomplished by screening, which is one of the many important functions performed by architecture. (Hall 1968: 84)
F*** is this good! Hall builds on Sapir's contention and argues against phenomenology. Because of his emphasis on intercultural differences, Hall disclaims shared experience between people and resorts to different sensoriums and filters, or what in this blog is often referred to as "sensory gating" e.g. selective attention.
If the spatial experience is different by virtue of different patterning of the senses and selective attention and inattention to specific aspects of the environment, it would follow what crowds one people does not necessarily crowd another. (Hall 1968: 84)
And this is of course backed by later empirical research.
The problem of self-awareness has been a stumbling-block for psychologists for years. We really do not know by what means the brain interprets the data fed to it by the senses. Recently there has been some progress in solving this problem. The solution appears to hinge on contrasts built into the receptors rather than simple stimulation leading to a specific response (McCulloch 1964) (Hall 1968: 84; footnote 5)
And self-awareness is still problematic today.
In 1953, Trager and I postulated a theory of culture based on a linguistic model. We maintained that with the model we were using, it must be possible ultimately to link major cultural systems (of which there were several) to the physiology of the organism; i.e., that there should be not only a prelinguistic base (Trager 1949) but a precultural base as well. In 1959, I suggested the term "infra-culture" be used to designate those behavioral manifestations "that preceded culture but later became elaborated into culture." It followed from this that it might be helpful in the analysis of a primary cultural system, such as proxemics, to examine its infra-cultural base. A look at the various manifestations of territoriality (and these are many) should help provide both a foundation and a perspective to be used in considering more complex human elaborations of space. (Hall 1968: 85)
More yummi terms. Also, "primary cultural system" sounds very much like "primary modeling system" (of culture) in the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics.
Much can be learned in this regard from the ethologists. It is difficult to consider man with other animals, yet, in the light of what is known of ethology, it may be appropriate to consider man as an organism that has elaborated and specialized his extensions to the point where they are rapidly replacing nature. In other words, man has created a new dimension, the cultural dimension, in relation to which he maintains a state of dynamic equilibrium. This process is one in which both man and his environment participate in molding each other. Man is now in the position of creating his own biotope. He is, therefore, in the position of determining what kind of organism he will be. This is a frightening thought in view of how little we know about man and his needs. It also means that in a very deep sense, man is creating different types of people in his slums, his mental hospitals, his cities, and his suburbs. What is more, the problems man is facing in trying to create one world are much more complex than was formerly assumed. Within the United States we have discovered that one group's slum is another's sensorily enriched environment. (Hall 1968: 85)
My g** is this brilliant! There's a footnote (#11) that is required for interpretation of this paragraph: "The term "extension" summarizes a process in which evolution accelerates when it occurs outside the body."
The findings of ethologists and animal psychologists suggest that: (a) each organism inhabits its own subjective world [17], which is a function of its perceptual apparatus and the arbitrary separation of the organism from the world alters context and in so doing distorts meaning; and (b) the dividing line between the organism's internal and external environment cannot be pinpointed exactly. The organism-biotope relationship can only be understood if it is seen as a delicately balanced series of cybernetic mechanisms in which positive and negative feedback exert subtle but continuous control over life. That is, the organism and its biotope constitute a single, cohesive system (within a series of larger systems). To consider one without reference to the other is meaningless. (Hall 1968: 86)
This is like Uexküll's Umweltforschung 101. Also, it makes me wonder if Birdwhistell could have gotten inspiration for his holistic attitude towards communication from here. This surely is a very suspicious article - it is weird to see so many familiar names among the reference: Ruesch, Goffman, Lorenz, Hinde, Goodenough, Goffman, McLuhan, Levi-Strauss, Halliday, Joos, Chomsky, Bateson, Argyle, etc (the list could go on and on, there's really a supreme selecton in the references). And, indeed, Uexküll's Theoretical biology (1926) is among them.
Lissman (1963) has the following to say on this subject: "Study of the ingenious adaptions displayed in the anatomy, physiology, and behavior of animals leads to the familiar conclusion that each has evolved to suit life in its particular corner of the world. Each animal also inhabits a private subjective world that is not accessible to direct observation. This world is made up of information communicated to the creature from the outside in the form of messages picked up by its sense organs." (Hall 1968: 86; footnote 17)
This is the Kantian Uexküll speaking. But the reference is to H. W. Lissman's 1963. article "Electric location by fishes" which is extremely interesting in itself, but I lack the time to dwell on it now (link).
Calhoun's experiments and observations are also noteworthy for thier behavioral data. he allowed wild Norway rats, which were amply fed, to breed freely in a quarter-acre pen. Their number stabilized at 150 and never exceeded 200 (Calhoun 1950). With a population of 150, fighting became so disruptive to normal maternal care that only a few of the young survived. The rats did not distribute themselves evenly throughout the pen, but organized into a dozen colonies averaging 12 rats each (apparently the maximum number of rats that can live harmoniously in a natural group). (Hall 1968: 87)
I am instantly reminded of recent social-psychological quip that a normal human being also "knows" (in a social network) about 150 people - that this is an average of people we could actually name if we were to write down all the people we remember communicating with, or something to that effect (I could be wrong here). And also I am instantly reminded of the 12 tribes of Israel which themselves consisted of 12 thousand people, or something like that.
Some of the research techniques, briefly described below, are: observation, experiment, interviews (structured and unstructured), analysis of the English lexicon, and the study of space as it is recreated in literature and in art. (Hall 1968: 87)
This is why a term like "concursive" is useful: Hall has to state "as it is recreated in literature and art" instead of naming it among other techniques. In my mind, this sentence could have been shorter: "...observation, experiment, interviews, lexical, and concursive."
By observing people over a long period of time as they use and react to space, one can begin to discern definite patterns of proxemics behavior. While photography is only a supplement to other forms of observation - an extension of visual memory, as it were - it is an absolutely indispensable aid in recording proxemic behavior. (Hall 1968: 88)
I have thought about acquiring a smartphone for exactly this purpose - to capture proxemic behavior in people in the city. Like this picture I took a while ago with my old phone (notice the equal spacing):
It freezes actions and allows the investigator to examine sequences over and over again. The difficulty is to photograph people without intruding or alterting their behavior. Practice in using a very small camera (Minox), which I carry with me at all times, has taught me how to photograph unobtrusively, and this has made it possible to use larger cameras as well. Several thousand photographs have thus far been taken of people interacting under natural conditions... (Hall 1968: 88)
Smartphones are quite unobtrusive; you can pretend to be calling. The bit about Minox is funny, because it is a notorious spy camera produced in Latvia. In this sense Hall was a nonverbal spy.
The artist is both a sensitive observer and a communicator. How well he succeeds depends in part on the degree to which he has been able to analyze and organize perceptual data in ways that are meaningful to his audience. The manner in which sense impressions are employed by the artist reveals data about both the artist and his audience. (Hall 1968: 90)
Well said.
An examination of the writer's sense impressions reveals much about his perceptual world. If a writer refers to vision to build his images it is possible to examine these images to determine what kind of vision he uses. Is it foveal, macular, or peripheral vision? Which of Gibson's numerous ways of seeing perspective does he employ? What is the role of olfaction and touch? (Hall 1968: 90)
I imagine the type of vision and perspective to be very difficult to study in a text.
Writers express what readers already know and would have expressed if they had possessed the requisitite analytic capability, training and skill. When the writer succeeds, there is a close register between his descriptions and his reader's own sensory pattern, since writers evoke spatial images in the reader. The question I asked myself was: "What clues does the writer provide the reader that enable him to construct a spatial image?" It seemed to me that an analysis of passages that are spatially evcative would be revealing. I asked subjects to mark such passages in a sample of over a hundred representative novels. The first text used were those which contained spatial images that subjects vividly recalled from past reading. This group of passages, elicited from those who had spontaneously commented on them, ultimately proved to be of the most value. (Hall 1968: 90)
In the first instance (the issue of "close register") is related to the question of adequate communication. In the second instance Hall devised "concursive interpretation" already in the 60s. I came very close to this, as I, too, marked and retyped such passages and the ones that remember most vividly are indeed the ones I will be analyzing in greater lenght.

Reviewer's Name 1968. Comments and Replies to Edward T. Hall's Proxemics. Current Anthropology 9(2/3): 95-108.

Part of the difficulty in circumscribing or criticizing the postulates, the methodology, or, even the subject matter of Hall's discussions lies in his concept of "infra-cultural." On the one hand, he uses the term in a diachronic sense, to refer to "those behavioral manifestations that preceded culture but later became elaborated into culture." ("Culture," incidentally, is seen by Hall as "basically a communicative process.") On the other hand, he seems to use "infraculture" in a synchronic sense, to refer to an underlying biological or physiological or psychological need system or raw-material (in Linton's sense) sub-stratum to cultural behavior. It is in this area of his theory that his dismissal or, perhaps, heuristic avoidance of the sociological implications of his subject or object matter becomes most critical. (Birdwhistell 1968: 96)
Ray L. Birdwhistel. The notion of infra-cultural is, in my mind, just as problematic as the notion of infra-communication.
Of equal import is Hall's statement that he uses a "communicational" emphasis. His report that he has been influenced by the writings of Whorf and Sapir and by at least certain aspects of those of Bateson does not make it clear what he means by "communication." Larger acquaintance with Hall's writings leaves the reader with the feeling that Hall's view of communication lies somewhere within a field demarcated by Harry Stack Sullivan's transactionalism, certain aspects of information theory, and George L. Trager's global incorporation of all culture as commuication. These are all perfectly valid positions, but an amalgam of these varisized assumption systems required a definitive and delineating lexicon for the reader who would follow Hall's discussion. (Birdwhistell 1968: 96)
This "global incorporation" is also what Ju. Lotman is known for. Especially in relation with auto-communication which he borrowed from V.V. Ivanov.
Halls's survey of proxemics calls attention to a number of problems of great importance for the sciences of man. Additional proxematic points of view might be:
1) "rhythms" of density (rush hours, night bours) incity life.
2) varying wishes (of Western individuals) for solitude, company, crowds.
3) the differences in atmosphere between a crowded and a poorly attended theatrical performance and the different proxematic attitudes of audiences at the cinema, the opera, a football game.
4) the effects of the geographical and the social environment on proxematic phenomena; changes of attitude on moving to a new place; changes of human adaptability.
5) alterations in proxematic patterns due to childhood neglect, puberty difficulties, on personal misfortune; the possibility that children, regardless of culture patterns, are more ready for social contacts or are in general better able to bear population density, than adults.
6) further problems of sociality: possible differences in proxematic development between only children and children with siblings; social class differences; rural-urban differences; the demand for company in cases of danger and distress; saluting habits from close up and from afar.
7) the contrast between formal patterns of attitude and the real feelings and possibly deviant behaviour of individuals and groups.
8) the "I-You" relation at various stages (acquaintance, friendship, love, kinship).
9) the quick and easy spread of culture, news, and propaganda in densely populated areas and, on the other hand, the far-reaching influence of radio and television, even in thinly populated areas.
10) proxematic differences among the senses:
  • near distance: touch and taste;
  • near or middle distances: smell; (cf. the German saying "I can't smell [ = stand] him.");
  • far distances: hearing and sight.
Mostly we shall find a combination and cross-checking of the senses, possiblity directed by reason, will, or cultural pattern.
11) proxematic aspects of games, dancing, parties, youth clubs, schools, sports.
12) proxematic problems of the group: the network of communications between members of a group, varying with degree of intimacy, and the possible solidarity of the group against strangers.
13) proxematic problems of acculturation.
14) symbolism of contact and fellowship: gestures, miming, pre-linguistic sounds, handshakes, kisses, embraces, partly combined with utterances.
15) deviations from the usual proxematic patterns of a group due to adaption to an altered environment. (Bock 1968: 96-97)
Bernard Bock has listed a very interesting glossary of things, to my knowledge, proxemics got around to study.
An abundant source of proxematic data will be educational and didactic literature of mankind, works and passages in poetry and prose, proverbs and parables, rules of conduct, and textbooks on interpersonal relations. (Bock 1968: 97)
Indeed so. Both Goffman and Ju. Lotman are known for looking into these types of sources.
For those who have an interest in (especially non-verbal) communicative behavior, one of the more striking obstacles to research in this area is itself one of communication, in this case with other specialists. Hopefully this paper by Hall will reach some of the scattered audience that is so engaged and help establish the interdisciplinary contacts which are vitally needed. (Diebold 1968: 97)
A. Richard Diebold, Jr. is correct here - it seems that this article truly did spark interdisciplinary cooperation (or at least acknowledgement).
If it is true that proxemic behavior (or kinesic, or paralinguistic, or however you divide up the pie) is just one of many categories of interactional behavior, what do we know of its functional independence of other communicative subsystems? I take it as foregone conclusion that the physical distance between an interacting dyad can "mean" quite different things depending, among other variables, upon (1) the wider temporal and spatial context in which the confrontation takes place and (2) the co-occurrence or non-occurrence of signal transmission in one or several of the channels which link the dyad (e.g., visual-gestural, audio-visual). Regrettably we know only too little about how these various signals might be mutually corroborative and summating in the information they transmit; when they conflict in the information which they convey; and how context-sensitive they are to the proxemic settings which most itnerest hall. (Diebold 1968: 98)
Issues to consider if interaction be viewed as a semiosphere.
The young man's looking behavior? It could well depend on how the girl is dressed; conceivably eyes are mutually averted if the girl is wearing a miniskirt which climbs gravity-defiant during the dance movements. If gaze he does, do the young man's simultaneous facial displays convey bemused camaraderie or lascivious scrutiny? Suppose now that the music permits slow movement and bodily contact. (Diebold 1968: 98)
Oh, behave! (says Austin powers)
And if it pleases both to do so and they dance with maximal body contact, why is it (let us concentrate on chest to breast) that this erogenous invasion is permitted or encouraged by the girl on the dance-floor and later rebuffed by her on the back-porch when reestablished by the young man manually - when, we note, although the girl's attraction to the young man has not diminished, there is a change of context for their physical distance, and eye-engagement has been restored? The questions are not so rhetorical as they might seem. (Diebold 1968: 98)
It is as if he is recounting a personal experience.
I sense a caretain vagueness of grasp throughout, which I believe follows from failure to differentiate appropriately between the factors in human similarity and the factors in cultural difference: between ethology and ethnology. This is related to the tactical eclecticism which has assembled for us a great deal of information on biosocial spacing but seems to me deficient in incisive conclusions - even preliminary or descriptive ones. (Edmonson 1968: 99)
Munro S. Edmonson points at a common problem in nvc studies.