Organicist Theory

Mandelker, Amy 1994. Semiotizing the Sphere: Organicist Theory in Lotman, Bakhtin, and Vernadsky. PMLA 109(3): 385-396.

Semiotics of the Moscow-Tartu school evolved from a theory rooted in Saussurean linguistics and in mathematical procedures to a biological, organismic approach. In a series of largely untranslated articles from the 1980s, Yuri Lotman, the leading figure of the Moscow-Tartu school, proposed the model of the semiosphere, a metaphor based on principles of cell biology, organic chemistry, and brain science, to map cultural dynamics. (Mandelker 1994: 385)
The "brain science" aspect was dissappointingly outdated, though. In 1986 Lotman said scarcely anything about the two hemispheres of the human brain that had not been said by Ruesch and Kees in 1956.
Attributing a biological or living energy to events in consciousness, Bakhtin similarly argues that developments in self-awareness, the production of thought - like the production of beings - can only take place through contact with an other. Comparing the emergence of conscious thought in the individual mind to the birth of the noosphere, he observes:
Something absolutely new appears here: the supraperson, the supra-I, that is, the witness and the judge of the whole human being, of the whole I, and consequently, someone who is no longer the person, no longer the I, but the other. [That is, the development of individual consciousness allown the self to know the self, as if it were an observing other.] The reflection of the self in the empirical other through whom one must pass in order to reach I-for-myself (can this I-for-myself be solitary?). The absolute freedom of this I. But this freedom cannot change existence, so to speak, materially ... - it can change only the sense of existence. ... ("From Notes" 137)
Bakhtin's conclusion here implicitly interrogates Vernadsky's theory: how do shifts in consciousness (the plane of the noosphere) affect material reality (the plane of the biosphere)? Bakhtin rejects Vernadsky's view of an active noosphere cultivating the biosphere and instead adopts an almost Husserlian subjectivity where the inner dialogic relation between existence and consciousness functions only to alter perception. (Mandelker 1994: 388)
This sounds strangely meadian, but with a distinct tint of the ancient "know thyself."
The Semiosphere: Breaking with Semiotic Totalitarianism
Lotman explores the dialogic relations between existence and ronsciousness by narrowing the focus of his work to the biochemical processes of the mind - that is, to the communication between the functionally asymmetrical hemispheres of the brain. The dialogic relations Lotman describes at the intracranial level he then interprets as microcosmic models for large events in life and in the universe of meaning. In this passage he traces his commitment to resolving these questions:
The biologist V. I. Vernadsky [found] it more productive to study the interrelationship of structures of the brain, asymmetrical, and at the same time, unitary. This is the approach we [in current semiotic theory] will be adopting. (Universe 3)
Lotman builds on the biosphere and logosphere theories by developing his own bioecological, neurocultural theory of the semiosphere in articles from the 1980s: "Asymmetry and Dialogue," "Culture and the Organism," "The Brain, the Text, Culture, and Artificial Intelligence," and "On the Semiosphere." (Mandelker 1994: 388)
This may very well be the source for Randviir's claim that the semiosphere is a totalitarian concept.
Bakhtin's statement that we have not experienced an event until we re-present it to ourselves in words (through inner speech) is reiterated in Lotman's model, where the left brain cognizes and interprets the impulses received by the right. (Mandelker 1994: 389)
A gleaming example of "linguistic/textualist imperialism" - that behaviour needs to be concursivized in order for it to be understood. I contend that although verbal descriptions may greatly aid "experience," what is really needed is, following Mead, some prior experience with similar phenomena.
Organicism, the philosophical strategy of attributing organic status to inorganic objects, is predicated on a vision of a polyphonic and harmonized totality of life that is isomorphic at its every level - from the microcosm to the human brain and its manifest behaviors and beyond to the macrocosm of the universe. (Mandelker 1994: X)
Finally a definition of organicism! It reminds me of animism in the sense of conceiving inanimate objects like stones or mountains as alive (Abram 1997: 57), and vitalism in the sense of conceiving of the universe in biological terms (Bookchin 2005: 427). Mandelker notes [11]: "I use the term organicim comprehensively to include a common theory within philosophy, biology, and aestetics. See discussions in Abrams; Orsini; Phillips; and Terras." (ibid. 394). The citations are as follows:
  • Abrams, M. H. 1953. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Condition. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Orsini, G. N. G. 1969. The Organic Concept in Aesthetics. Comparative Literature 21: 1-30.
  • Phillps, D. G. 1970. Organicism in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. Journal of the History of Ideas 31: 413-432.
  • Terras, Victor 1974. Belinskij and Russian Literary Criticism: The Heritage of Organic Aesthetics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
The organicist metaphor is both liberating and confining. The model of the sphere organicizes as it organizes. It operates positively as a figure of autonomous enclosure in geological theories of oscillation and as a figure of the dynamic equilibrium of homeostatic systems. It also functions discriminatively as a figure of definition - distinguishing between the external and the internal, demarcating what is alien to the enclosure and what is native. In its culturological function it becomes a mechanism for delimitation or, alternatively, translation. (Mandelker 1994: 390)
I once tried explaining semiospheric modelling of (sub)cultural processes to foreign students by drawing a circle and some arrown in Inkscape. It ended up looking like a biological cell. Why I had not come to recognize this before I do not know - even the word "membrane" in the definition of the biosphere should give a very clear hint. The matter becomes more interesting when one considers that "Vernadsky derived his theory of the paired structure of life-forms from the work of Louis Pasteur and Pierre Curie..." (ibid. 388).
Like the female body, the enclosing sphere evokes the creation of life and of meaning, a mystery that must be penetrated and acquired. In "On the Semiosphere," Lotman uses terms of reproductive biology when he discusses how meaning is generated and transmitted. For example, he contrasts the stasis of a barren, isolate semiosphere with the productivity of a semiosphere in dialogue. Thus semiosis - the process by which signs of one semiosphere are made intelligible to another - gains a sacral-sexual character: intercourse is required for something new and meaningful to be created. The sphere may be compared to the circle of necromancy, which distinguishes what is enclosed and what is excluded and thus privileges the necromancer, who communicates with both. The necromancer must own a special language and ritual to bridge the uncrossable line. In modern idiom, the necromancer is the scientist, who intellectually dominates and manipulates the vegetative body and its inarticulate mysteries (as the noosphere cultivates the biosphere). (Mandelker 1994: 391)
Haha, in this sense the "generation of meaning" in Lotman's parlance could very well be replaced with "the birth of meaning" and the interaction of heterogeneous codes with, very robustly, "the sexual interaction of codes." Thus, when Bookchin remarks in relation with Fourier's law of passionate attraction that "A vibrant vitalism so completely replaces the despiritized matter of conventional physics that even the idea of planets copulating is not implausible" (Bookchin 2005: 427), then one could possibly in a simila manner perform a "vitalist" interpretation of Lotman's mature work with the aim of showing that "even the idea of cultures copulating is not implausible."
But perhaps silence need not be the result of oppression. Bakhtin considers the "I-for-myself" 'я-для-себя' to be without words until its thought is structured responsively by the "I-for-others" 'я-для-других' ("From Notes" 138; "Из записей" 342). In Bakhtin's version, silence is gestational, free, and productive, while the verbalization of experience is secondary and enculturated. Lotman does not allocate the same values to these two modalities. Rather, he exalts the creative free play of signification that can occur only when semiotic activity is liberated from experience. (Mandelker 1994: 392)
I don't believe that he relationship of verbal and nonverbal codifications to the notions of private and public self could be so concrete. The I-for-others cannot be merely verbal, because that would effectively deny the very existence of nonverbal communication.
The enforced silence that has traditionally been the part of the feminine in all semiosexual transactions is perpetuated in Lotman's model. In demarcating the actions of the two hemispheres, Lotman privileges the masculinized left hemisphere, with its freedom from extrasemiotic reality and capacity for the free play of signs, and secures the right to its somatic impulses, tying down semiosis to reality from that side. (Mandelker 1994: 392)
Dafuq? ...semiofuq :D - Äkki peaksin kohmeti termini "semiotic adjectivism" asemel (kena tihtipeale pole üldse tegu omadussõnadega, vaid pigem tegusõnadega) kasutama sellise metakeele sildistamiseks sõna "märgikepp?" Esmakordsel kohtumisel sellise sõnaga võib labane konnotatsioon isegi minna kaduma ja tekkida hoopis denotatiivne nüanss: et "märgikepp" on semiootilise sõnavara kasutamine viisil mis justkui seob mingi ebamäärase märgiteooria toki etsa, et sellega siis erinevaid mitte-nii-väga-semiootilisi nähtusi torkida... Näiteks kui Dworkin (2001: 103) väidab, et Acconci tegi oma tükke "in a climate of radical semiotic interrogation," siis ta: 1) märgikepib performance kunsti diskursust ja/või 2) torgib performance kunsti semiootilise sõnavaraga (mida ta ju tegelikelt teebki, väga kummalisel ja arusaamatul viisil). Minul pole aimugi mis on "radical semiotic interrogation," aga äkki Dworkin ise, märgikeppimise hoos, mõistis seda väljendit täiuslikult; kahju vaid, et selgitust ei antud.
I make a distinction here between semiotic theory - that enterprise which explores the parameters of a theory of semiosis - and semiotic practice, or the analysis of texts to reveal their semiosic structures. (Mandelker 1994: 393)
Seems commonsensical and easily acceptable, yet there is a nagging voice in the back of my mind that this may not fit Charles Morris's idea of "applied semiotics," maybe even for the sole reason that Peircean semiotics seems more bent on "semiosis in everyday life" rather than "semiotic analysis performed in academic contexts."

Mead, George H. 1915. Natural Rights and the Theory of the Political Institutions. The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 12(6): 141-155.

The timorous Hobbes facing the disturbances of the Puritan revolution and the worse conditions which were likely to ensue defined the individual in terms of those hostile impulses which must lead to a bellum omnium contra omnes. It was this human being, lifted through Hobbes's fear out of all human relationships, whose rights, recognized only in a state of nature, must be entirely surrendered to an autocratic sovereign, who is defined entirely in terms of what he must surrender to be safely admitted within a human society. (Mead 1915: 144)
And now I know the Latin expression for kõigi sõda kõigi vastu.
In general no man is free who has not the means of expressing himself, but just what is necessary to that self-expression can not be made clear. It is probable that Epictetus was far freer than was his master, and at the present time millions of men are expressing their freedom in exposing their bodies to torture and death. I do not say that we can not formulate a fairly comprehensive statement of what has come to be the stature and measure of what the citizen should be in our minds at the present moment. We would give him undoubtedly economic freedom, an education, an association with his fellow citizens and fellow workmen that would ensure him the means of control over situations affecting his physical, social, and intellectual well-being. (Mead 1915: 147)
The freedom to be tortured and put to death does not sound very good, aga igale oma.
Had Locke had the acquaintance of our anthropologists with primitive groups he would have recognized that his precontract men would have possessed an organized group of social habits out of which indeed governmental institutions were to arise, but which already performed the functions of government as definitely as the later institutions were destined to do. Rousseau of course is subject to the same error of supposing that his socially endowed men with their recognition of each other's personalities could have existed without some form of social organization that must have fulfilled the function in some way of social control. (Mead 1915: 148)
This is the quintessential anarchist standpoint: that groups do perfectly fine without governmental institutions and it is the usurpation of the people that these institutions must be gotten rid of.

Barsky, Robert F. 1998. Bakhtin as Anarchist? Language, Law, and Creative Impulses in the Worx of Mikhail Bakhtin and Rudolf Rocker. The South Atlantic Quarterly 97(3): 623-642.

The various directions toward which Bakhtin studies are presently moving suggests that whatever the differences from one scholar to another, there remains a naggingi question in much Bakhtinian work: What else can be done with Bakhtin? This is not, or should not be, a purely academic concern; indeed, it may be because Bakhtin's work is so obviously applicable to concerns beyond tenure-article production that it is so frequently asked. (Barsky 1998: 623)
I had not realized this, but there does seem to exist a need for scholars to publish inane material merely for the sake of getting published and "promoted" in academia. And it is no surprise to see Bakhtin related to this: his thought is indeed wide and can be applied to a lot of triviality merely for reiterating the terminological register of Bakhtinian dialogism.
It is true that Bakunin and Rocker (like most anarchists) are against the arbitrary or self-serving use of his writing to the relationship between culture and structures of authority. The most powerful articulation of his view on culture is to be found in Nationalism and Culture, which is virtually contemporaneous with Bakhtin's "Discourse in the Novel." Here, Rocker relates the dongers of power to the suppression of cultural production, the parallel arising from the simple reason that "power is never creative. It uses the creative force of a given culture to clothe its nakedness and to increase its dignity. Power is always a negative element in history." But even though anarchy in almost all of its forms is against power and authority, it does not follow that it "rejoices in the undoing of rules, in centrifugal energy for its own sake," or even "in clowning," as Morson and Emerson suggest. (Barsky 1998: 626-627)
I don't believe that the relationship of culture and power is so simple. This is evaluative and calls for examples.
Rocker goes on to nate that in some cases the foreign expression for a particular idea is not adapted even when the idea is (or what he calls "loan-translation"). Then,
we translate the newly acquired concept into our language by creating from the material at hand a word structure not previously used. Here the stranger confronts us, so to speak, in the mask of our own language...
[Rocker, Nationalism and Culture, 282.](Barsky 1998: 632)
Täpselt sama mõtet väljendasin ma hiljuti kodukootud mõistega "võõrmeelsus" (as opposed to võõrkeelsus).

Mead, George H. 1900. Suggestions Toward a Theory of the Philosophical Disciplines. The Philosophical Review 9(1): 1-17.

In the Psychological Review (Vol. III, pp. 375-70), Professor Dewey maintains in his discussion of the Reflex Arc that the sensation appears always in consciousness as a problem ; that attention could not be centered upon a so-called element of consciousness unless the individual were abstracting from the former meaning of the object, and in his effort to reach a new meaning has fixed this feature of the former object as a problem to be solved. (Mead 1900: 1)
Man as a problem-solving creature; that only "problematic" stimuli breach the sensory treshold to produce "a more developed sign."
One finds in attention not only concentration, but that which concentration implies, control, and control can exist only where there is something definite to be done which is consciously involved in the whole doing of it. This does not take place through a statemeth of what the ultimate meaning of the act is to be. (Mead 1900: 8-9)
Thus concentration is the control of attention. Another obvious but noteworthy remark: control is present only when there is a choice, whet there is "something definite to be done." May become useful for theorizing self-control of nonverbal behaviour.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1968. The Role of Games in Rabelais. Yale French Studies 41: 124-132.

* Reprinted from RABELAIS AND HIS WORL by Bakhtin, translated by Helene Iswolsky, by permission of the MIT Press. Cambridge, Mass. just published. PP. 484. $15. The following text is extracted from chapter three, entitled "Popular festive forms and images in Rabelais". [footnote]
No wonder that Bakhtin was so well received in the West: passages from his books were reprinted in journals just after his books were published.
Rabelais' own "Pantagruelesque Prognotic" is written in a similar spirit. In this short text we find material bodily images: "During Lent, lard will avoid peas," "the belly will go forward," "the bottom will sit down first." (Bakhtin 1968: 128)
And indeed Bakhtin too has noted on concursivity, calling it a "material bodily image."
The genre of travestied prophecies are essentially related to time, to the new year, to the guessing of riddles, to marriage, birth, and procreative force. This is why food, drink, the material bodily life and the images of games play in this genre such an important part. (Bakhtin 1968: 128)
Could it be that "the material bodily life" is Bakhtin's signifier for nonverbal behaviour or embodiment?
The images of games were seen as a condensed formula of life and of the historic process: fortune, misfortune, gain and loss, crowning and uncrowning. Life was presented as a miniature play (translated into the language of traditional symbols), a play without footlights. (Bakhtin 1968: 129)
The author who compared Bakhtin and Goffman apparently missed this little quip, which comes dangerously close to an alternative statement of dramaturgical sociology: treating a social interaction as "a play without footlights;" that is, without the "theater light at the front of a stage that illuminate the set and actors". This actually draws a significant distinction between a theatrical play and - for the sake of convenience lets call it - a social play. There is a marked difference in the structure of the setting - in the lighting. The implication is that a play put forth on the stage is meant to be seen in its totality (yes, even the legs are meant to be seen), while in ordinary social interaction it is only the upper parts of the body (mainly hands and the face) which is to be seen up close.

Mead, George H. 1908. The Philosophical Basis of Ethics. International Journal of Ethics 18(3): 311-323.

It is true that occasionally a scientist such as Poincare recognizes that even the number system, as well as Euclidian space, is but a construct which has arisen and maintained itself because of its practical advantages, though we can draw no conclusion from these practical advantages to their metaphysical reality. (Mead 1908: 312)
A similar case could be made for the concept of sign.
We are familiar with three ethical standpoints, that which finds in conscious control over action only the further development of conduct which has already unconsciously been determined by ends, that which finds conduct only where reflective thought is able to present a transcendental end, and that which recognizes conduct only where the individual and the environment - the situation - mutually determine each other. In the first case, moral necessity of conduct, for the conscious individual, is quite relative. It depends upon the degree of recognition which he reaches of the forces operating through him. Furthermore, the motive to act with reference to the end of the fullest life of the species is one which is primarily quite narrowly individualistic, and depends for a social interpretation upon the community of which the individual is a member. Moral necessity is conduct from this point of view is quite independent of the activity itself. So far from being the most fundamental reality it is a derivative by which, through what is hard not to call a hocus pocus, the individual acts, for what is only indirectly his own - a distant end, through a social dressur. It is, of course, natural that this point of view should mediate the process of training by which men are to be led unwittingly to socially worthy action, rather than the immediate conduct of the individual who finds himself face to face with a moral problem. It is the standpount of the publucust and the reformer of social institutions. (Mead 1908: 315-316)
I am quite sure that this lengthy passage contains much of value, but the immediate takeaway from it is close to zero; hopefully I will understand this betterr under more favorable circumstances.

Renfrew, Alastair 2006. A Word about Material (Bakhtin and Tynianov). The Slavonic and East European Review 84(3): 419-445.

Valashinov in fact follows very closely the argument of Bukharin, asthough, as we shall see, with a very different purpose:
You can isolate any phenomenon of social life, any fragment or series, but [...] if you do not see its function in life, if you do not regard it as an organic component of a social whole, [...] you will never understand these phenomena.
Bukharin essentially argues that the base-superstructure model requires a high degree of sophistication in its application to ideological and cultural phenomena, which will consist, more or less, in a refusal to perform the kind of specific isolation Voloshinov later mocks... (Renfrew 2006: 423)
I wonder if it is wise to isolate nonverbal behaviour from the rest of human (social) life.
This expulsion of content consists in two related operations: first, the 'material' of the literary work is associated with fabula, the range of ethical, political, historical and 'real-life' events and phenomena which in various ways precede it; these are artistically organized to form its siuzhet, sometimes referred to as 'plot', but better understood as the immanent, literary organization of the events and phenomena which constitute fabula, transformed in a range of processes that would became the technical focus of Formalist theory. (Renfrew 2006: 424)
Et süžee võib põhineda päriselulistel sündmustel mis eelnevad sellele.
Thus the 'content' of the literary work is not directly significant in itself, but rather for the way in which it enables various transformative techniques, specifically, various compositional devices ('braking' [tormozenie [pidurdamine]], 'making difficult' [zatrudnenie [raskendamine]], 'repetition' [povtorenie [kordamine]], etc., all of which are related to the 'master' device of 'alienation' or 'making strange' [ostranenie]). (Renfrew 2006: 425)
An elaboration of the "master" concept of "defamiliarization."
Voloshinov does not offer the 'sociological method' as a straightforward alternative to the immanent, asocial specification of contemporary poetics (Formalism), but seeks instead to transform the sociological method into a sociological poetics, which will reject the methodological distinction between 'immanent' and 'causal' just as it rejects the separation of material into verbal and non-verbal. (Renfrew 2006: 434)
I wish there were more on this topic. As far as I can dig, the distinction between the verbal and nonverbal reaches back to the 1920s (at least in America), and mainly in the field of aesthetics and symbolism, e.g. talk of "the non-verbal arts."
Voloshinov finally defines art as ''immanently socialagical' ('immanentno-sotsiologichno') and, in what is an alternative description of the dynamics of our new conception of material,
the extra-artistic social environment, which influences [art] from without, finds in it a direct internal response. It is not a case of one alien entity influencing another, but rather of one social construction influencing another.
(Renfrew 2006: 435)
From Voloshinov's "Discourse in Life and Discourse in Poetry" p. 62 and p. 7. For my purposes this makes sense insofar as both literature and "body language" are social constructions. Thus, it makes sense to study their interrelationships (or their mutual "influence").
For Voloshinov, the material of the literary work is indeed language, but language understood as a:
particular form of social interaction, which is realized and fixed in the material of the artistic work.
Voloshinov thus gestures towards the possibility of a new 'poetics', towards the literary strand of a new "material aesthetics', which will be founded on the inseparability of real-life phenomena and speech or, in other words, on the indivisibility of material. (Renfrew 2006: 435)
Something similar could be discussed in terms of concursivity, given that "language" can be replaced by "behaviour" (is nonverbal behaviour not itself a "particular form of social interaction"?).
...poetry itself (and by extension all literary production) must be understood not as a hermetically-sealed domain for conveniently abstract linguistic analysis, but as a type of concrete utterance, cognate with a limitless range of other types of utterance associated with the various non-literary locations of linguistic performance. (Renfrew 2006: 436)
More useful phraseology: concourse is "a type of concrete utterance" in which the verbal and the nonverbal "come together."
[Tynianov's] The Problem of Verse Language, hawever, is not just a clear acknowledgement of the growing influence of teh association of material and language in his thinking; it also, and crucially, signals the beginnings of a problematization of the relationship between verbal and 'non-verbal' material, and indeed a questioning of the fundamental tenability of such a distinction. (Renfrew 2006: 438-439)
Ah, yes, problematization... Neat... But how exactly? In what does this consist?
What is initially astonishing and yet ultimately crucial in Novikov's summary is not the particular terms in which he chooses to characterize the first three, apparently 'non- or extra-verbal' components of 'the entire pre-creative reality of the artistic work', but rather what is implied about the relationship between these categories and thi final one, 'language in its linguistic specificity'. Language is freed from abstraction and 'inertness' in the act of being forced to chabit with or, better, to inhabit, to bring into being what was previously mistaken for 'non-linguistic' content: just as material cannot be 'formless', neither can it be emptied of content (which itself, in turn, cannot be conceived in isolation from language). (Renfrew 2006: 441)
I feel as if there are answers here but I am simply unable to comprehend them.
Medvedev's criticism is that Tynianov's second conception of material, as well as its problematic associaton with the abstractions of linguisticcs, also fatally undermines the idea of a distinctively and definitively literary language. This is essentially a repetition of the global Bakhtinian criticism of Formalism, to the effect that the Formalists have been consistently unable, even in their own terms, to conceptualize the distinction between the literary ath what is verbal/textual but non-literarp. (Renfrew 2006: 442)
Similar critique could be raised against the TMS: although the Theses states that not every verbal text or utterance in a given language functions as a cultural text of that culture, it remains somewhat ambiguous what the exact distinction consists of. Maybe a clera statement of the distinction exists but has simply eluded me?


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