40 years after the Theses

Randviir, Anti 2013. Autocommunication in semiotic systems: 40 years after the Theses on the Semiotic Study of Cultures (Tartu Summer School in Semiotics 2013). Sign Systems Studies 41(2): 378-382.

Bridging cultural semiotics, biosemiotics, and sociosemiotics, new perspectives can be envisaged for a qualitatively new Tartu semiotics, offering the general semiotic paradigm a holistic theoretical ground on which to build a coherent methodological toolkit for the study of man in his diverse environment. (Randviir 2013: 379)
This is the New Tartu Semiotics, a qualitatively new trend beginning from the second half of the 1990s (with the re-establishing of the Sign Systems Studies journal) and gaining momentum in the 2010s.
On the object-level, man's communication with his surroundings leads to further autocommunication and reconceptualization of himself as a semiotic subject. (Randviir 2013: 379)
As far as I can tell this is only one possible "channels". The first would be man's communication with himself directly; the second a curious case of communicating with oneself through the mediation of some Other; and the third one involving either man's (physical) surroundings or the wider social reality (some grander Other).
Practical holistic study of culture and semiotic subjects in their self-descriptive, autocommunicative, and communicative functioning leads to simultaneous holistic tendencies also on the metalevel. From here we must follow an apparent clue: self-description brings together the generation, maintenance, and transmission of information - again, both on the object-level and on the metalevel. (Randviir 2013: 379)
It appears to me that the problem of self-description is comparable to that of self-awareness. In the new movie Transcendence (2014), the question of self-awareness was answered rhetorically (How can any one of us be sure of our self-awareness?) but a pragmatic answer would rely on self-descriptions. If a "thinking machine" has the ability to creatively describe itself, it can be said to have self-awareness.
As it has been a uniting feature of most congregations in semiotics, this Summer School did not escape the topic of the semiotic treshold. This, however, could not be surprising, as if not the whole paradigm of semiotics of culutre, then at least most of its main research topics and basic assumptions have always been whirling around issues connected with the notion of the boundary - be the latter concerned with relations between culture and nature, cultural and non-cultural, textual and extratextual, the inside and outside of the semiosphere. Thus, discussions in presentations and at round table sessions often inspected the topic of the beginning of semiosis as having to do with the emergence of consciousness that leads to the intpreretation of narratives and the creation of textual phenomeno, texts, and finally sociocultural systems (presentations by C. Hernandez, P. Cobley, B. v. Heusden). Simultaneously with the object level, the subject of distinguishing the semiotic matter from the non-semiotic realm was recognized on the metalevel in connection with the frontier of cultural semiotics, as well as the future developments of it as a paradigm (presentations by M. Lotman, P. Torop). (Randviir 2013: 382)
These four oppositions constitute four different levels of semiospheric modelling. Fifth level would be semiotic and non-semiotic.
Yet, inasmuch as autocommunication so clearly indicates the spatial and temporal dimensions of semiotic phenomena and until now, in connection with the research of the Tartu-Moscow School, it is mostly spatial issues that have been cast light on, the participants agreed upon the necessity to start bridging the temporal dimension of semiosis and semiotic phenomena onto the table as well. Therefore, our next gathering will try to centre on temporality in the culturo-semiotic treatment of semiosis up to the manifold mattern concerning with cultural dynamism, regarding also metalinguistic developments in metacultures. (Randviir 2013: 382)
Yup, leaving the Summer School, I was pumped to start re-reading Culture and Explosion and formulating a temporal semiotics. Now I think that the best way to go about it would be through Jakobson's notion of permanent dynamic synchrony, which is also at the core of Lotman's temporal semiotics.


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