The Text within the Text

Lotman, Juri M. 1994 [1981]. The Text within the Text. Translated by Jerry Leo and Amy Mandelker. PMLA 109(3): 377-384.

A text is a mechanism constituting a system of heterogeneous semiotic spaces, in whose continuum the message [associated with the first textual function] circulates. We do not perceive this message to be the manifestation of a single language: a minimum of two languages is required to create it. No text of the type I am interested in considering here can be adequately described from the perspective of a single language. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 377)
This system of heterogeneous semiotic spaces later becomes the semiosphere (this paper was first published in 1981; the semiosphere was borne in 1984, if I'm not mistaken). Here it is apparent why the text is a "sign system" - while the commonsense understanding of text involves realization of a single language, in Lotman's theory dual coding is implicated in text construction.
...we may note the combination of general codifications, beginning with a dominant code and continuing with local coding at the second, the third, and further degrees. Under the latter conditions basic processes of codifications that are usually unconscious and, as a result, imperceptible emerge in the sphere of structural consciousness and become significant at the conscious level. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 378)
It seems as if Lotman is acknowledging that every texts contains something that was not intended to be written into it but nevertheless was. That is, the "general intention of the text" may be one (lets say it's the "dominant") but the "level of major semantic blocks" may contain other stuff, e.g. "local coding".
The play with meaning that arises in the text, the slippage between the various kinds of structural regularities, endows the text with greater semantic potential than have texts codified by means of a single, separate language. Therefore, in its second function the text is not a passive contained, a mere receptacle for content introduced into it from the outside, but has itself become a generator of further texts. The process of generation not only expands structures but also stimulates their interaction. The interaction of the structures in the closed world of the text extends to become an effective mechanism in the semiotics of a culture. A text of this kind is always richer than any individual language and is not automatically deducible from a single language. This type of text is a semiotic space within which languages interact, interfere with one another, and organize themselves hierarchically. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 378)
For sake of example let's take the case of a scientific text that is interspersed with literary quotes, just like Lotman himself remarked upon Tolstoy in the same paragraph. That is, he mixed semiotic theorizing with a metaphor from fiction, thus enlarging this text's semantic potential - presumably, readers familiar with Tolstoy's imagery will find something new from his expose. The text here is not a passive carrier of information but an active "generator of further texts". The organicism is almost palpable: texts live, they interact, interfere, and propagate. Characteristically, languages interact within a text. In Jakobsons nomenclature we could say that codes interact within a message, which is also true, even in the elementary metalinguistic sense that code is constantly acting upon code. Jakobsonian tint can be felt here in the contention that language "organize themselves hierarchically". Why this should be so, I do not know. To bring an example closer to home, languages, or rather parts of languages - the so-called sub-codes - do interact when, for example, "action is put into language" (or what I call concourse). In this case, verbal signs interact with nonverbal signs, producing something intermediary, concursive signs (which act as interpretants for verbal representamina in relation with nonverbal objects, in Peirce's sense).
If Propp's method is oriented toward the elaboration of a single text-code underlying a plurality of texts - which are presented as a bundle of variants of a single text - then Bakhtin's method, beginning with Marxism and the Philosophy of Language is the opposite: not only is a single text composed of various subtexts but, more to the point, the subtexts are mutually untranslatable. The text is thus revealed to be internally in conflict. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 378)
Yeah, but we must keep in mind that Propps life work was to study the common core of all Russian folk tales, while Bakhtin was interested in the variety or plurality of themes or motives in novels.
When a text interacts with a heterogeneous consciousness, new meanings are generated, and as a result the text's immanent structure is reorganized. There are a finite number of possibilities for such restructurations, and this condition limits the life of any text over the centuries and also delimits the restructuration of a monument when cultural contexts change, as well as restricting the arbitrary imposition of meanings that lack formal means of expression. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 378)
I would have thought that the possibilities for restructuring a text are infinite. This is exemplified in internet memes which do replicate themselves (as genes do), but mutate in unpredictable ways. Anything can become anything. And, of course, rule 34.
As a generator of meaning, as a thinking mechanism capable of working, the text needs an interlocutor. This requirement reveals the profoundly dialogic nature of consciousness. To function, a consciousness requires another consciousness - the text within the text, the culture within the culture. The introduction of an external text into the immanent world of another text has far-reaching consequences. The external text is transformed in the structural field of the other text's meaning, and a new message is created. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 378)
"The text needs an interlocutor" just like a sign needs an interpreter. Lotman has identified a text with consciousness. This may be the consequence of his early cybernetic theorizing. Text is consciousness in so far as it is a kind of artificial intelligence. It is a system of signs in the sense of a living and open system. The transformation of the external text brought to mind a concrete example. In Olev Remsu's Kurbmäng Paabelis, the main character muses over his childhood and how in Paabel it is forbidden to know how the Paabel came to be, but every year there is a writing competition that decides a new creation story for the year. The main character recites some of the most memorable creation stories, among them his own, and these are mostly re-tellings of some known stories (e.g. Kalevipoeg). Lotman is right on the money, the external text (Kalevipoeg or the New Testament), when inserted into a novel such as Kurbmäng Paabelis and framed as something else than what it originally was, it restructures the original text and creates a new message.
The introduction fo an untranslatable, alien semiosis excites the "mother" text: attention shifts from the message to the language as such and discovers the manifest nonhomogeneous codification of the mother text. In these conditions, the various subtexts that constitute the mother text begin to differentiate and transform themselves according to the new, alien laws, producing new information. Removed from semiotic equilibrium, a text becomes capable of self-development. The powerful external textual eruptions in a culture conceived of as a huge text not only lead the culture to adapt outside messages and to introduce them into its memory but also stimulate the culture's self-development, with unpredictable results. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 379)
Lotman is already using thermodynamics! "Culture conceived of as a huge text" calls to mind the notion of isology. Culture, text, personality, semiosphere, self, etc. are not isomorphic because there is no one-to-one correspondence between them - the levels of complexity vary. There is isology in so far as we understand all these to be essentially sign-phenomena, which enables us to approach them via semiotic metalanguage.
Let us consider two examples of this process. The well-being of a child's intellectual apparatus in its initial state of development does not guarantee that the child's consciousness will function normally. The child must meet others and be exposed to outside texts that stimulate its intellectual development. A related example is the "accelerated development" of a culture (Gachev). A well-established, archaic culture is capable of remaining in a state of cyclical enclosure and balanced immobility for an extraordinarily long time. The irruption of external texts into the sphere of such a culture activates the mechanisms of self-development. The greater the rupture and the more difficult it is to decipher the intruding texts by recourse to the codes of the mother text, the more dynamic will be the ultimate condition of the culture. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 379)
Here we should ask ourselves: is it correct to compare the child's intellectual development with the self-development of culture? Not only is this organicist, it is also anthropomorphic. Even more, a "well-established, archaic culture" is not an adult or, being stable for an extraordinary long time, an elder, it is compared to a child - it must "grow up", come into contact with the texts of "more developed" cultures and "develop". That is, there is also a vague hint of ethnocentrism in this account. On the other hand it is well-known that much of Lotmans thought is metaphorical, and viewing culture as an individual does enable a freedom of theorizing incomparable in culture theory elsewhere. It is even possible, that whatever good sense I make of autocommunication on the individual level can also be viewed on the level of culture (or text, or whatever).
From these points of view, world cultures in all their diversity can be reduced either to different stages in the evolution of a single universal reign of culture or to "errors" that lead the mind into wilderness. In the light of this observation, it seems natural that "advanced" cultures should view "backward" cultures as somewhat deficient, and the "backward" culture's aspiration to catch up with the "advanced" culture and assimilate into it is also comprehensible. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 379)
This is exactly the "grand narrative" approach that Western culture theory has long since dismissed. Lotman dismisses it as well, on the basis that this hypothesis is not confirmed empirically and actual cultural processes are much more dynamic and unpredictable.
The dynamic conditions of semiotic systems presents a curious particularity. While a system is developing gradually, it incorporates neighboring texts that are easily translatable into its language. In moments of cultural (or, in general, semiotic) explosion, the texts incorporated are more distant and are untranslatable (or incomprehensible) from the point of view of the system. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 379)
Applied on the individual level, this precept makes sense insofar as "normally" people don't read very difficult texts but resort to entertaining literature or fiction. But in the university, one is forced into a "semiotic explosion" by reading seminar texts that may be well beyond comprehension, and produce more misunderstanding than understanding, but it is still a development.
Culture is not a chaotic collocation of texts but a complex, hierarchical functioning system. Every text inevitably appears in at least two perspectives, two types of contexts, opposed on the axis homogeneity-nonhomogeneity. Seen in relation to other texts, the text seems homogeneous with them, while from the other viewpoint, outside the system, it appears alien and incomprehensible. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 380)
I see no reason why a culture should be a hierarchical system. Rather, I would deny the existence of an "objective" culture and, like Ruesch in relation with social reality, propose that every person has his own "subjective" or idiosyncratic view of the culture he inhabits.
Including the pedestal or frame in the text intensifies the ludic moment because the conventionality of these elements also keeps them excluded, distinct from what is inherent in the basic text. When the figures of a baroque sculpture climb on the pedestal or descend from it or when figures in a painting leap down from the frame, the effect is to emphasize rather than to obscure the fact that one element belongs to material reality while the other belongs to artistic reality. A similar play with observer's perceptions of alternative realities occurs when theatrical action descends from the stage into the real, everyday space of the auditorium. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 380)
Olev Remsu has intensified the ludic moment in his surreal baroque novel by writing himself into the text as the author of the text - one who is often seen observing the events around the main character and scribbling in a notebook.
Play between the real and the conventional is an integral part of any occurrence of a text within a text. In the simplest occurrence the included section is encoded in the same way as the remaining text and thus is doubly coded. Examples are a painting within a painting, a play within a play, a film within a film, and a novel within a novel. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 380-381)
Why does it have to be the same type of item? Why not a film within a novel or any other combination? It almost seems as if the determining factor in this theory is paronomasia.
A literary equivalent of the mirror motif is the theme of the double. Just as the world through the looking glass is an estranged model of the ordinary world, the double is an estranged reflection of a person. An image of someone altered according to the rules of specular reflection (enantiomorphism), the double appears as a combination of features that preserve an invariant identity while having been rearranged. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 381)
In Kurbmäng Arthur Bannister transforms into his own double, Johannes Maron, and there is a lore of mysticism around the theme of twins, but they are not the same person but qualitatively different. I think there is something like "self-estrangement" in play.
Culture in its entirety may be considered a text - a complexly structured text, divided into a hierarchy of intricately interconnected texts within texts. To the extent that the word text is etymologicall linked to weaving, the term's original sense has been restored. (Lotman 1994 [1981]: 384)
I reject the notion of hierarchy on... probably ideological reasons. Rather, I would concur that culture is a network or web of "intricately interconnected texts within texts". I think "network" or "web" is closer to the texture sense of "text" than "hierarchy". To put it in another way, culture can be viewed as a metatextual conglomeration.


Post a Comment