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regional and international contexts. the editorial board encourages the submission of ... Nic Gianan, University of the Philippines Los Baños, Philippines. Prof. dr. .... deal with ancient civilizations and contemporary societies, ways of think- ing and ..... Within the context of the art of navigation, the verb tekmaíresthai meant.


CULTURA International journal of philosophy of culture and axiology


2012 2


Vol IX

No 2

International journal of philosophy of culture and axiology

Founded in 2004, Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology is a semiannual peer-reviewed journal devoted to philosophy of culture and the study of value. It aims to promote the exploration of different values and cultural phenomena in regional and international contexts. The editorial board encourages the submission of manuscripts based on original research that are judged to make a novel and important contribution to understanding the values and cultural phenomena in the contempo­r ary world.

ISBN 978-3-631-62905-5

Peter Lang


CULTURA International journal of philosophy of culture and axiology


2012 2


Vol IX

No 2

International journal of philosophy of culture and axiology

Founded in 2004, Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology is a semiannual peer-reviewed journal devoted to philosophy of culture and the study of value. It aims to promote the exploration of different values and cultural phenomena in regional and international contexts. The editorial board encourages the submission of manuscripts based on original research that are judged to make a novel and important contribution to understanding the values and cultural phenomena in the contempo­r ary world.

ISBN 978-3-631-62905-5

Peter Lang


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology E-ISSN (Online): 2065-5002 ISSN (Print): 1584-1057 Advisory Board Prof. dr. Mario Perniola, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Italy Prof. dr. Paul Cruysberghs, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium Prof. dr. Michael Jennings, Princeton University, USA Prof. Emeritus dr. Horst Baier, University of Konstanz, Germany Prof. dr. José María Paz Gago, University of Coruña, Spain Prof. dr. Maximiliano E. Korstanje, John F. Kennedy University, Buenos Aires, Argentina Prof. dr. Nic Gianan, University of the Philippines Los Baños, Philippines Prof. dr. Alexandru Boboc, Correspondent member of the Romanian Academy, Romania Prof. dr. Teresa Castelao-Lawless, Grand Valley State University, USA Prof. dr. Richard L. Lanigan, Southern Illinois University, USA Prof. dr. Fernando Cipriani, G.d’Annunzio University Chieti-Pescara, Italy Prof. dr. Elif Cirakman, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey Prof. dr. David Cornberg, University Ming Chuan, Taiwan Prof. dr. Carmen Cozma, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University Iassy, Romania Prof. dr. Nancy Billias, Department of Philosophy, Saint Joseph College, Hartford, USA Prof. dr. Christian Möckel, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany Prof. dr. Leszek S. Pyra, Pedagogical University of Cracow, Poland Prof. dr. A. L. Samian, National University of Malaysia Prof. dr. Dimitar Sashev, University of Sofia, Bulgaria Prof. dr. Kiymet Selvi, Anadolu University, Istanbul, Turkey Prof. dr. Traian D. Stănciulescu, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University Iassy, Romania Prof. dr. Gloria Vergara, University of Colima, Mexico Prof. dr. Devendra Nath Tiwari, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India Prof. dr. Massimo Leone, University of Torino, Italy Prof. dr. Christian Lazzeri, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, France Prof. dr. Asunción López-Varela Azcárate, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain Editorial Board Editor-in-Chief: Prof. dr. Nicolae Râmbu Faculty of Philosophy and Social- Political Sciences Alexandru Ioan Cuza University B-dul Carol I, nr. 11, 700506 Iasi, Romania [email protected]

Co-Editors: Prof. dr. Aldo Marroni Facoltà di Scienze Sociali Università degli Studi G. d’Annunzio Via dei Vestini, 31, 66100 Chieti Scalo, Italy [email protected]

Executive Editor: Dr. Simona Mitroiu Human Sciences Research Department Alexandru Ioan Cuza University Lascar Catargi, nr. 54, 700107 Iasi, Romania [email protected]

PD Dr. Till Kinzel Englisches Seminar Technische Universität Braunschweig, Bienroder Weg 80, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany [email protected]

Editorial Assistant: Dr. Marius Sidoriuc Designer: Aritia Poenaru

Cultura International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology Vol. 9, No. 2 (2012) Editor-in-Chief Nicolae Râmbu Guest Editor: Asunción López-Várela Azcaráte


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CONTENTS SEMIOTICS OF WORLD CULTURES Asunción LÓPEZ-VARELA Introduction to Semiotics of World Cultures


Wenceslao CASTAÑARES Lines of Development in Greek Semiotics


Oana COGEANU In the Beginning Was the Triangle: A Semiological Essay


Qingben LI & Jinghua GUO 45 Rethinking the Relationship between China and the West: A MultiDimensional Model of Cross-Cultural Research focusing on Literary Adaptations Ömer Naci SOYKAN On the Relationships between Syntax and Semantics with regard to the Turkish Language


Dan LUNGU Translation and Dissemination in PostCommunist Romanian Literature


Yi CHEN Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry


Lars ELLESTRÖM The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type


Benson O. IGBOIN The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture


Ulani YUNUS & Dominiq TULASI Batik Semiotics as a Media of Communication in Java


Nadezhda NIKOLENKO Semiosis and Nomadic Art in Eurasia


Susi FERRARELLO Husserl’s Theory of Intersubjectivity


Dennis IOFFE The Cultural ‘Text of Behaviour’: The Moscow-Tartu School and the Religious Philosophy of Language


Nicolito A. GIANAN Philosophy and Dealienation of Culture: Instantiating the Filipino Experience


Diego BUSIOL The Many Names of Hong Kong: Mapping Language, Silence and Culture in China


I-Chun WANG The Semiosis of Imperialism: Boadicea or the 17th-Century Iconography of a Barbarous Queen


237 Massimo LEONE The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures: On Traveling, Toilets, and Belonging

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 7–12

Introduction to Semiotics of World Cultures Asunción LÓPEZ-VARELA

Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain [email protected]

Etymologically derived from the Greek word semeion which means ‘sign,’ semiotics can be defined as the study of signs and of the systems, rules and conventions that allow signs to have meaning. This thematic issue of Cultura Journal seeks to provide an overview of different theories on the study of sign systems and their impact upon social practices across the world. In order to achieve this goal, the volume incorporates papers that deal with ancient civilizations and contemporary societies, ways of thinking and experiences from a broad spectrum of world cultures. Interestingly, the impact of Western semiotics is strongly felt upon the nonWestern analyses that form part of this issue. Many studies take as starting point the work of the North-American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce; others focus on the ideas developed by European linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards, or Roland Barthes. Undoubtedly, this shows the impact of critical theory on knowledge development and dissemination. But even more importantly, it illustrates the uneven distribution, and unfair location of knowledge production in certain economic clusters and regions of the world, disclosing the mechanisms that enable the empowerment of certain cultures at the expense of others. Globalization is not just a fashionable word. In recent years digitalization has caused sign systems, in an interconnected world, to multiply at an unprecedented speed. This situation prompts important questions regarding the impact of material formats (from clay tablets and papyrus to new media) on the creation, dissemination and reception of knowledge. More than ever, it is ethically necessary to incorporate the very diverse forms and systems used in the reproduction of cultural memory and ‘glocal’ (both global and local) heritage in distinct world cultures. Attention to changing semiotic patterns and their supporting formats shows how they come to influence the economies of culture. For instance, the emergence of photography in the second half of the 19th century, moving-pictures (cinema) in early 20th century, the expan-


Asun López-Varela / Introduction to Semiotics of World Cultures

sion of forms of tele-transmission of images (television) in mid century and, more recently, the unprecedented speed of digitalization of analogue formats of sign storage, have enabled a greater dissemination of images, previously much more costly to reproduce. From the point of view of theory, this growth has encouraged a parallel interest in the study of visual sign systems (icons if we use Peirce’s classification of signs) in competition with the emphasis on human discursive modes (i.e. early Formalist and Structuralist research on phonetics, morphology and syntax). Digitalization enables the coexistence of several sign systems within the same document. A page on the World Wide Web, whether a blog, a personal page on a social-network site such as Facebook, or the profile pages enabled by search engines and portals such as Google, allow the incorporation of various types of information: text in various formats (word, pdf, excel, etc), jpeg images, pm3 audio, and pm4 video. Clearly, text is no longer the privileged space of communication. Linguistic signs now work in a dialogue with other modes, and not just human language but also machine code. It is necessary to study how these modes ‘operate’ (machine code is self-reflexive and follows algorithmic operations) in isolation and in conjunction. The aim of this thematic issue is to show the relationship between sign systems (semiotics), changes in supporting materials, and their impact upon cultural practices across the world. This relationship is not just one-directional. For instance, while some forms of cultural memory preservation persist even if continuously evolving (clothing for instance; see the paper on Indonesia Batik), others disappear because they are no longer used or because cheaper ones appear in their place (magnetic tapes for audio-video storage were replaced by compact disks CDs and DVDs with a higher memory capacity). In other words, cultural values, changing fashion preferences, and power structures (national/institutional but also transnational in a global context enabled by tele-communications) also affect the conditions for the exchange of signs and their material formats. The issue opens with a paper by Wenceslao Castañares (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) who examines the three discursive lines that provide evidence for semiotic thought in Greek culture: namely logic, dialectic, and rhetoric. Oana Cogeanu (Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi) demonstrates how this Western semiotic tradition represents an on-going reflection on three correlated themes: existence, knowledge, and communication,


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 7–12

which would correspond to the fundamental areas in which Greek thought develops: when something exists, it can be known and, thus, communicated (logos, epistemos and ontos). The resulting triangular structure asserts itself in argumentative self-reflective, narcissistic movements that take the form of a semiotic pyramid in the shape of a clepsydra. The need for a complex multi-dimensional model for cross-cultural and semiotic research is also the topic in Qingben Li (Beijing Language and Culture University) and Jinghua Guo (Inner Mongolia University of Technology). Their model focuses on the study of literary adaptations and shows that cross-cultural exchanges, in the form of misappropriation, transplantation, transfer and transformation of cultural representations between different regions of the world, are not clear-cut bidirectional operations. Contemplated across historical time-spans, these exchanges are shown in all their complexity by means of a study on the reception of Ji Junxiang’s drama The Orphan of Zhao. The paper by Ömer Naci Soykan (Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts University, Istanbul, Turkey) inquiries into the cognitive basis of value in grammatical form in the Turkish language in order to show that semantics is not defined by syntax alone. In some languages, such as English and German, order might determine meaning in a given sentence. Turkish, however, argues Soykan, has a quasi-mathematical structure that enables multiple syntax variations semantically understood in the same way by Turkish speakers. Such a possibility allows important considerations on the influence of cultural values and preferences upon a given language. Just as important as the context of production, disseminating structures play a fundamental role in constructing and maintaining a certain cultural framework within world knowledge dynamics. Translation is one of such structures that allow knowledge transfer and help situate its conditions of production across a variety of locations. The paper by Dan Lungu (Al.I. Cuza University of Iasi, Romania) focuses on the study of translation in post-communist Romania, and brings into the discussion of the intercultural barriers that might enable or reduce the promotion of literature abroad. (王维,699−759) and Paul Celan Using works by Wáng Wéi (1920−1970), Yi Chen (University of Toronto, Canada) shows the importance of translation for reception abroad and the need for a


Asun López-Varela / Introduction to Semiotics of World Cultures

complex framework in cross-cultural comparison, such as the one proposed by Qingben Li and Jinghua Guo earlier in this volume. The contribution by Lars Elleström (Lineaus University, Sweden) on the paradoxes of Mail Art (art distributed via the international postal system) contributes to show the importance of cultural dissemination, and it also makes visible the impact of medium specificity upon a particular cultural form of representation. For centuries, much work within the humanities has been devoted to setting the limits between artistic media types. Here Mail Art is meant to be an example of the ambiguous ways in which media types in general are delimited and defined. Several papers other in the volume study other types of semiotic systems alongside linguistic signs. Interpreted on the basis of their physical manifestations, through the perceptual modes of sight, hearing, touch, taste and scent, such systems would respond to Peirce’s trichotomous view of signs: whether icons (images), indexes (metonymical pointers, such as gestures) and symbols (abstract consensual signs found primarily in human verbal language). Thus, Benson O. Igboin (Adekunle Ajasin University, Nigeria), studies greeting gestures in a particular African environment and shows the important cultural dimension of these indexical structures in African day to day communication. This volume also shows that, in practice, sign categories merge in different proportions, and although some, such as icons and indexes, are as similar as possible to the objects they signify, this function, grounded on physical phenomenology, is also achieved by cultural consensus, imposed by habits, and approved by tradition and convention materialized in usages or collective representational customs. For instance, Ulani Yunus and Dominiq Tulasi (Bina Nusantara University, Jakarta- Indonesia) present the case of Batik industry, Indonesia's traditional practice of dying cloth through wax resist methods, as another case study of the culturalization of the natural in ‘motivated signs.’ The convergence between motivation (in icons and indexes) and arbitrariness (symbols) can be observed in the diversity of Batik patterns and motifs and in the connotative implications of Batik’s cultural significations that pass on from older to younger generations revealing the importance of visuality and touch in constructing meaning within certain cultures. Interestingly, the symbolic dimension of certain ornamental objects is explored by Nadezhda Nikolenko (Kazakh National Pedagogical University, Kazakhstan) in the context of nomadic cultures in Eurasia. During


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 7–12

the processes of ancient exchanges between nomadic and settled ethnic groups, the symbolic structure of these ornaments has acted as a fundamental element for intercultural relations, marking the ordering of meanings, whether denotative/referential/informative or connotative/emotive/ suggestive, characteristic of human activities. The coexistence of both functions is evident in Eurasian ornaments. The last part of the volume takes on a more philosophical and psychological turn in order to explore the dynamics of semiotic thought within particular cultural communities. The starting point is the paper by Susi Ferrarello (Loyola University and Florence University of the Arts) on perception, intersubjectivity and internationality in Husserl’s work. The exploration of the constitution of ego, otherness, and life in Husserl confronts assumptions on the individuality of cognitive and semiotic process and sheds some light on the socio-constructivist foundations of culture. The paper by Dennis Ioffe (Ghent University, Belgium) presents the contributions of the two main schools of semiotic thought in Russia during the 20th century, stressing their interrelations and suggesting a revision of the traditional ontology of perception. However, the differences in methodology and research goals of the two main schools of Russian semiotic thought epitomize the complicated intellectual trajectory in the intellectual history of Russia. Nicolito A. Gianan (University of the Philippines) offers a discussion of philosophy and the dealination of culture from the Filipino perspective and Asian philosophy. This paper asserts that philosophizing is not the monopoly of Western cultures and that the dealienation of Asian culture, for instance, warrants the emergence and subsistence of Asian philosophy. Diego Busiol (Hong Kong City University) suggests that the focus should shift onto the ‘process’ of how knowledge is produced (cultivated) instead of measuring culture by what is transmitted, perpetuated and achieved. Hong Kong represents an interesting case, not because it might be a place where East and West meet, but rather because it is a location where different discourses coexist without necessarily meeting. By discussing Bonduca (1611) a Jacobean tragi-comedy by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, the paper by I-Chun Wang (National Sun Yat Sen University, Taiwan) looks into this tragic story rewritten in fiction, and to the cultural and semiotic codes that Bonduca represents in the context of imperialism. The paper explores the conflict between the


Asun López-Varela / Introduction to Semiotics of World Cultures

Romans and the colonized Iceni tribe and discusses the legitimization of colonization in the light of historical records alongside fictional accounts. The study serves as an example of the need for a complex multidimensional framework for the comparative study of literatures and cultures as proposed by Qingben Li and Jinghua Guo in this thematic issue of Cultura. Finally, the volume ends with a contribution by Massimo Leone (University of Turin) who advocates a shift in the observation and analysis of cultures and their axiologies. Civilizations, the paper argues, should not be apprehended through the conquering and domesticating eye of the triumphant explorer, but rather semiotically guessed from the resistance that objects, relics and sediments of such civilizations, oppose to the traveler’s endeavors. As a case study of this epistemological reversal, the paper delves into the scabrous matter of corporal waste, attempting a typology of ‘excrementitious practices,’ and showing how cultures and their axiologies of values condition even the most recondite recesses of the human behavior. From this apparent ludic inquiry emerges an impressionistic fresco of how power and its disparities molds the human relation to corporal waste, and the ability of cultures and societies to conceal it and expel it as a reminder of finitude and death.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 13–32

Lines of Development in Greek Semiotics Wenceslao CASTAÑARES

Department of Periodismo III, Complutense University of Madrid Facultad de Ciencias de la Información, Ciudad Universitaria, 28040, Madrid [email protected] Translated from Spanish by Montserrat Martínez García

Abstract. Three lines of semiotic thought were developed by Greek culture: that of Medicine, that of the Arts of discourse (Logic, Dialectic and Rhetoric), and finally, that of Language, strictly speaking. Even though these three branches evolved in quite parallel terms, they only slightly influenced one another, which hindered the existence of a general Semiotics. However, this fact does not play down the reflection on Semiosis carried out by the Greeks. Keywords: Semiotics, sign, symbol, Semiosis, sign inference, history of Semiotics, history of Medicine

Semiotics, as we understand it today, is a disciplinary field that started to gain muscle and autonomy at the end of the 19th century. Two men with very different intellectual origins and concerns came to urgently convey, also through divergent paths, the need to elaborate a general theory on meaning construction processes. The names of these two men were Charles S. Peirce (1839−1914) and Ferdinand de Saussure (1857−1913). The discipline to be in charge of meeting such deficiency was called Semiotics by the former and Semiology by the latter. But in science, as in any other biological or cultural process, nothing occurs without a precedent. The interest in signs and in what they are able to do is, probably, as old as the hills. This concern had at first, as it has happened many times, a practical nature. It was part of the knowledge of hunters, sailors, seers, strategists, poets and physicians. Nonetheless, at a certain moment, it became more pervasive and the knowledge about what signs can do tried to acquire a generality no longer reminiscent of a practical knowledge, but of an expert one with claims of changing into episteme. Even if, from the dawn of time, other cultures have shown an involvement in signification systems, whether language or other representation systems (think about the Sanskrit Grammar of Panini), in our culture, any attempt to trace it leads us to Greek civilization. From it, we have firstly inherited a terminology, and secondly, a series of more or less transformed problems gathered by modern Semiotics. In our endeavor to describe those 13

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lines of development, we will address, therefore, these two issues: that of a terminology configuration, and that of the unfolding of a reflection on the dissimilar modes through which signs perform their action. SEMIOTIC TERMINOLOGY Words and things exist before expert knowledge and science. If it is true that science, in some sense, builds up its object, it is not less true that science would not be without the ground of things and expressions that name them. Our case is not an exception. Before poets, physicians and philosophers raised any question around the powerful action of signs, there were phenomena considered “significant” by men, and those words designating them. Among the terms used by the Greeks since ancient times that, just to be clear, constituted “the tribe of sêmas,” two outstood particularly, and in some way or another, became part of modern semiotic terminology. These two terms were semeîon and sýmbolon. Each one of them had its own history and grew, to a great extent, concurrently, without having many opportunities of crossing and of contrasting their kinship. But as we shall see, they were not the only ones. What happened was that although some of them were worthy enough to go down in history, they did not enjoy the luck of winners. Despite its acquired protagonism, the term semeîon is not the oldest member in the sem- family, since the noun sêma together with the verb referring to its activity, semaínein, predated it. We encounter both sêma and semaínein in relative profusion in Homer, where the two senses of sêma are almost equally descried: “tomb,” or better, “burial mound,” and (natural or conventional) “signal.” Semaínein is also frequently used in the sense of “to give an order” and, consequently, the person who gives orders (chief, charioteer, etc) is named sêmántor (Il., VIII, 127; Od., XVII, 21). Hesiod utilizes sêma very similarly. We still do not identify neither in Homer nor in Hesiod, the term semeîon that from the 6th century BC on will start to be commonly applied. Thus, it appears in Aeschylus, Aesop, Hecataeus of Miletus, Anaxagoras, Cleostratus, etc. In these authors´ writings, it is also possible to detect sêma, but with assumed meanings not seen in previous authors. In this way, Aeschylus puts into use this term to refer to the emblems warriors wore engraved on their shields (Seven against Thebes, 397-398, 591, 643, etc). He handles semeîon in several senses. In some cases, he employs it with a sense closer to what has been de-


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nominated “symbol” in more modern times, as when he calls Neptune’s trident the “sign of a god” (Suppl., 218). But, on other occasions, we could understand it as an “indication” (Agam., 1355), even as a “proof” (Prom. Bound, 842). In Sophocles, something similar happens: semeîon is used in the sense of “indication” (Antig., 257, 998) or “proof” (Oed. Tyr., 710). With the sem- family coexists the tekm- one, with which it is in kinship. As we will see later, tékmar (or tékmor), tekmérion and tekmaíno are expressions that, together with semeîon and semaíno, are to acquire quite accurate senses. The term tékmor is found in The Iliad with the meaning of “proof” (Il., I, 526), but more regularly it denotes “termination,” “end” or “goal” (VII, 30; IX, 48; IX, 418; IX, 685; XIII, 20). As a consequence, tekmaíretai is used in the sense of “to set a limit” or “to limit” (Il., VII, 70). This acceptation lives together with another one found both in The Iliad (XVI, 472) and in The Odyssey (IV, 373, IV, 466): that of a “solution” to, or a “remedy” for a problem. Moreover, in The Odyssey, the verb tekmaíromai is found in the sense of “to announce” (VII, 317), “to predict” an evil (XI, 112, XII, 139), “to indicate” the way (X, 563). However, with the passing of time, tékmar would end up meaning “sign,” “signal” or “indication.” Detienne and Vernant (1988: 141) have demonstrated that tékmor was a term belonging to the vocabulary of fortune telling, astronomy and navigation, albeit it was also used to refer to those signs coming from gods. Within the context of the art of navigation, the verb tekmaíresthai meant “to conjecture,” “to recognize signs.” Tekmaíresthai is, therefore, “to make one’s way through,” “to foretell”; it alludes to a hypothetical knowledge about what is probable, associated with the goddess Metis – and this is a subject matter widely developed by Detienne-Vernant (1988). Those cunning and skilful men, when it comes to setting traps, finding a way or a solution to a problem that nobody seems to see, are the ones having metis. This type of men gifted with metis is matched with the holders of some of the arts: the naval carpenter, the hunter, the fisherman, the pilot, the strategist, the physician, the sophist. It is this connection what justifies, as Detienne and Vernant (1988: 168−169) remind us, the denomination of those traps or ruses used by gods, men or even some animals, as sophísmata. As we will see later, the sense that tékmar (in the shape of tekmérion, a term found in authors from the 6th century BC such as Aeschylus or Aesop, although more frequently, in subsequent authors and, more specifi-


Wenceslao Castañares / Lines of Development in Greek Semiotic

cally, in the Corpus Hippocraticum) will acquire in the context of Medicine has a special relevance to us, a precise sense through which physicians will try to differentiate their art (techné) from other arts like fortune telling or, even, philosophical episteme. As noted above, the other term, sýmbolon, which will make a subsequent fortune, does not belong to any of these semantic fields. Symbállein is a verb that kept, among others, the sense of “to assemble,” “to join” or “to bring together,” but as time wore on, it assimilated many other connected senses such as “to throw something at something,” “to engage in combat,” “to change,” “to converse,” “to agree,” “to assent with,” “to interpret.” From the old sense of “to bring together” the most primitive sense ascribed to its derived term sýmbolon seems to stem, which was used to designate each of the corresponding parts or halves of an object that two guests, friends or contracting parties break, each one of them keeping a piece as a token of their built (friendly, mercantile, etc) relationship. Hence it came to be also employed as a sign of identity, and in the course of time, as a secret sign. But the truth is that Greek authors retain it likewise in other senses. Writers of the late sixth and the early fifth centuries BC, like Aeschylus, already resort to it in the sense of a conventional sign. Thereby, for instance, it is found in his tragedy Agamemnon, pointing to the light from torches, which is interpreted as a sign that somebody arrives with news (Agam., 8), or as an agreed sign serving to transmit quickly the piece of news that Troy has been conquered (Agam., 315). In Euripides (Med., 614), we can find it as a sign of recognition. Additionally we spot it in the same author as a secretly agreed sign (Helen, 291), acceptation that, very much later, already in our era, will be found in Plutarch (Cons. ad uxor., 611D 8, Goodwin, 1874: 10), suggesting the mystic symbols of the orgiastic Dionysian rites. The abovementioned sense of conventional sign is maintained in the classical age. The way in which Plato uses it in The Symposium is particularly significant when narrating the myth according to which men were originally spherical (189d ff.). In Aristotle, the traditionally acquired sense is already found: that of a conventional, cultural sign whose paradigm is the word. This will be the sense handed down to the Western tradition, not without being reinterpreted by the Christian tradition that saw in the Apostle’s Creed formulation the Symbol of Faith, namely, a sign of Christian identity.


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Curiously enough, a variation of sýmbolon, sýmbolos (frequently in plural, symboloi) will thrive in the fortune telling domain, elaborating its own semiotic terminology. However, it would fail to be exceedingly relevant since it remained confined to its own field. In that context, terms like teras appear, alluding to extraordinary, marvelous, terrifying events or incidents of a monstrous nature, caused by gods to warn men. To refer to those not prodigious signs but that are construed as divine signals, Philochorus (c. 340−267/261 BC) uses, somehow ambiguously, the term sýmboloi. Nonetheless, both Aristophanes and Xenophon apply it more accurately to mention those chance encounters that are interpreted as signs sent by the gods. Occasionally, they are, likewise, considered sýmboloi, words said without meaning to, what Romans would call omina. More precisely, the Greeks distinguish between kledón, whose sense adjusts to the one of Roman omina, and sýmbolos. Thus, cleidomancy would be one of the fundamental parts of the Mantic discipline (Bouché-Leclecq, 1879−1882: I), however much of it was based on arbitrary and poorly systematized rules. In a known text, Xenophon (Mem., I, 1, 3) discriminates among the three sorts of fortuitous signs characteristic of inductive or conjectural divination: birds (oionoi), chance events (sýmboloi) and entrails of sacrificed animals (thysíai). Neither of these terms has been subsumed into specifically semiotic contexts. MEDICINE Despite the fact that, as we were saying, the Greeks carry through, in different moments, a reflection that we could consider semiotic, no Greek author succeeded in elaborating a semiotic general theory accounting for the action of any sign. In fact, as inferred from the lexical description just made, they did not even have a global category encompassing the dissimilar species of signs. This may be one of the reasons why the reflection was developed following parallel lines that never ended up converging, something that undoubtedly surprises the modern mind. From our point of view, three are the contexts, to a large extent autonomous (although not in an absolute form), where these lines evolve: Medicine, Logic and Discursive Arts, and grammatically oriented language theories. Greek Medicine reached two climaxes that had a great influence afterwards. The first one takes place in the 5th century BC and revolves around the figure of Hippocrates, although actually it becomes specific


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in a range of writings, the Corpus Hippocraticum, not only by Hippocrates but also by his disciples. The second one would occur much later, in the 2nd century of our era, and it is under Galen´s leadership, an author whose immense work, of enormous interest to us, we are acquainted with. The constitution of Medicine as a specific, scholarly and socially recognized knowledge is a process that begins relatively soon. A proof of this is that already in Homer we find clear indications of the separation between the function of the physician and the priest (Il., XI, 514−515; for a wider explanation, see M. Vegetti, 1976: 24s). It seems quite consolidated at the end of the fifth and beginning of the 4th century BC, when the chief treatises of the Corpus Hippocraticum were written. The constitution of this expert knowledge has to do, of course, with a long tradition made up of a wide repertory of observations and experiences from physicians, gymnastic teachers and athletic trainers (Vegetti, 1976: 25, García Gual, 1983: 43). But with the passing of time, this practical tradition is completed with a series of theoretical principles similar to those maintained by philosophers of physis, although safeguarding a particular identity. Hippocratic physicians were very much interested in detaching themselves from, on the one hand, practices such as divination with which their modus operandi might be mistaken, and on the other, from a Philosophy that operated with very different principles and forms of reasoning. The distinction with respect to divination is clearly established in a famous assertion that we can find at the beginning of Prorrhetics II: As far as I am concerned, I will not make any divinations (manteúsomai) of that kind, but I describe the signs (semeîa dè grapho) through which one has to conjecture (tekmaíresthai), among individuals, those who will get well or die and who will die and get well in the short or in the long run. (Pror. II, 1)

As it can be read, this specificity in Medicine is linked precisely to the capacity to identify a type of characteristic signs, tekmeria, and to the inferences that can be drawn from them so as to diagnose well and, later, prognosticate the illness evolution. This train of reasoning discerns Medicine not only from divination, but also from Philosophy. As appreciated in On Ancient Medicine (20), one of the foremost treatises of the Corpus, Medicine coincides with Philosophy in the search of overall fundamentals on nature and man. However, the former differs from the latter both in the fashion through which it arrives at those ten18

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ets, and in the manner of applying them. In contrast to philosophers´ analogical procedure, what physicians put forward is a method based on observation and proof. The principle of analogy rests on the conception of the phýsis as a cosmos, a finished reality arranged by laws that impose a cyclical necessity, guiding us to an arché or origin that explains everything. Singular things that can be observed own in themselves the principle from which they proceed, so, by analogy, the “Physiologue” can manage to know wholeness. From a perspective like this, it may be argued, as Empedocles does, that man is a “microcosm,” a phýsis in miniature. On the contrary, Hippocratic physicians, in the wake of the poet and philosopher Alcmaeon of Croton (6th century BC), are driven by observation, and in conclusion, by indications, conjectures and proofs. In the treatise On Ancient Medicine, the Hippocratic physician defines himself as a téchne holder (it is telling that the author compares the practice of Medicine with that of steering a ship: bad physicians are like bad pilots), a knowledge which consists in being acquainted with a battery of rules allowing to conciliate the observation of the human body with argumentation (logismós). Thus, he can reduce the random field (týché) and formulate regularities. The logismós which the author of the treatise On Ancient Medicine talks about is the logical form or structure acquired by that act of “conjecturing” or “operating through signs” (tekmaíresthai), already mentioned by the author of Prorrhetics II, something we can deem as a revolutionary methodological procedure: instead of departing from principles that function analogically or deductively, it is a question of examining the symptoms presented by the patient and of deciphering them in accordance with the rules that experience has enabled to collect. It is in Hippocratic Medicine where, for the first time, we find described this inferential process in semiotic terms. Basically, it consists in the following: the event whose relationship with the rest of the system turns out to be problematic is a hékaston, an event whatsoever, a “piece of information separately viewed” about which it is still unknown whether it must be introduced in the diagnosis chart of a disease, because it is ignored whether it has a causal tie with what produces it. Only some of the observable events (still belonging to the hékaston category) become semeîa, that is, indications, something visible that guides us to another thing which cannot be seen (tà adêla), but with which, hypothetically, it might be connected. However, semeîon can gain the sense of proof (tekmérion), so the inference stops being a mere conjecture to become an inference as


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safe as a deduction is. This distinction between the sign that behaves as an indication (semeîon) and that one susceptible of being considered as a proof (tekmérion) will be fundamental in the semiotic treatment accomplished by Aristotle in Prior Analytics and in the Rhetoric, and it will condition the long discussion carried out by the Stoics and the Epicureans throughout Hellenistic times. But furthermore, it is a crucial element in Galen´s conception of Medicine, the other inescapable point of reference for old Medicine. Although Greek, Claudius Galen practiced Medicine in the Roman society, in Marcus Aurelius’ court and later with his descendants. His work, which largely has been passed down to us, is huge and is not restricted to Medicine. His concerns comprehend Philosophy, Rhetoric and Language. Hence four key elements can be distinguished in his medical theories: the Hippocratic tradition; the philosophical thought of Plato, Aristotle and Posidonius; the medical knowledge he progressively gathered from various sources during his formative years, and his own findings in his research and practice of Medicine. In effect, for Galen, as the title of one of his treatises reads, “the best physician is also a philosopher.” Not in few places Galen appears to define the nature of Medicine such as Aristotle does in his Metaphysics (981a); that is, as the particular knowledge of art. At other moments, however, he does not hesitate to baptize it as episteme. Galen was perfectly aware of the fact that to obtain the statute of scientific knowledge, Medicine had to balance theoretical items with data from empirical observation. He was always convinced that he might reach knowledge worthy to be branded as scientific, with a solid scientific base on human nature, the proper use of logic and a firm anchorage in the observation of patients and their maladies. In broad terms, it might be said that the form in which Galen conceives diagnosis, a key moment in the practice of Medicine, does not differ essentially from the Hippocratic one. However, on a closer look, it has to be admitted that, on the one hand, Galen benefited from anatomical, physiological and pathological advances conquered by Medicine after Hippocrates, while on the other he came to know a quite refined theory about the inferential process, typical of diagnosis. But, beyond the details in which specialists in the history of Medicine might be interested, our concern has to focus on what, as it happened in Hippocratic Medicine, he can furnish the history of Semiotics with. In his treatises, we will find the strengthening of an inherited terminology that gradually crystallizes and


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assumes a more and more specific sense, and that will be transmitted to posterity, helping to the ever increasing spread of its usage. However, no matter its importance, this was not his unique contribution. In his treatises, Galen included new terms that, sooner or later, were incorporated not only into the lexis of Medicine, but also into that of other disciplines. Terms such as semainein, semeîon, tekmérion, sýmptoma, semeiosis, endeíxis, etc. would be among the former, and among the latter, the same name of the field of study, semiotikón, and other related words as semeiotikoû theorématos, tékmarsis or silogistikón semeîon. We find for the first time in the work of a famous author, namely in Galen’s, the term semiotiké (actually an alternative for semiotikón). In the third book of his treatise In Hippocratis librum de officina medici commentarii, he says the following, concerning the required knowledge about the dissimilar parts of the art of Medicine: We do not learn or teach or listen to all other things referred to Art for the sake of themselves, but because, eventually, each one of them turns out to be useful. And to start with, it is necessary for those who are going to practice good Medicine, to be trained enough in the diagnostic part of the Art (diagnostikón meros tes technes), called Semiotics (semeiotikón) by the youngest ones (neóteroi), in order to exactly discover, before undertaking Therapeutics, the differences among the diseases in those who suffer from them. (XVIII2 633 K)

The term is not encountered very often. Just on another occasion, he will use the expression “semiotic observation” (semeiotikoû theorématos), that, as we shall see, contributes to the consolidation of a term that will be fully defined in other treatises of his epoch. The same goes for other terms having a clearly semiotic nature. As we mentioned above, the procedure through which Galen carries out his diagnosis is not very much different from the Hippocratic one. The illness manifests itself through symptoms (symptómata) which must be evaluated as signs (semeîa), that is, allowing the knowledge through the observable, either other unobservable phenomena or the very cause of the sickness (Laín Entralgo, 1982b: 27 remarks that in Galen a fundamental synonymy between symptom and sign can be observed, generalized both in medical language as in daily life). Like in the Hippocratic tradition, Galen regularly alludes to the differentiation between semeîa and tekméria. This terminological discrepancy acquires in Galen, however, a peculiarity never found before, and that has great relevance for us. To refer to the behavior of a sign, Galen


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frequently employs the term semeíosis (that as we shall notice is a term already present in the context of Logic), an expression that if sometimes can be translated as diagnosis or diagnosing, at other times its more accurate sense is that of signification. To distinguish signification, in its wide sense (semeiosis), from the characteristic signification of tekméria, Galen occasionally utilizes another term: tékmarsis. In his comment to his first book, In Hippocratis de acutorum morborum victu I, Galen says: “Tékmarsis is the knowledge by means of the necessary sign (tekmeriou gnosis). The ancients called the syllogistic sign tekmérion” (XV 419−420 K). This excerpt is meaningful not only due to the use of tékmarsis to denote the peculiar mode of signifying of tekmérion, but also because it defines such term as a sillogistikón semeîon, a required sign whose proving ability bears resemblance with that of the syllogism. And the thing is that only tekméria enable to make truly conclusive inferences. This is the reason why we can translate tékmarsis as a “true inference” or “necessary inference.” Galen is conscious that, on most occasions, the physician’s diagnosis has not moved beyond being a technical conjecture, but he insists on aspiring to change it into a scientific inference. Some treatises falsely attributed to Galen, but that must have been composed in an age close to that of the Galenic one, prove the overall usage of a quite consolidated semiotic terminology in medical texts. Two of them are especially relevant: Introductio sive Medicus and Definitiones medicae. The writing of the former is dated between the first and the second century of our era, although we cannot be very sure. In this text, Semiotics appears side by side with Physiology, Etiology, Pathology, Dieting and Therapeutics, as one of the principal parts of Medicine. The author of the treatise remarks that Semiotics is essential both to know whether the sick man is going to recover or not (Galen, XIV 689 K). The treatise Definitiones medicae also raises difficulties when fixing its composition date. There are those who think it comes from the third century, whereas others opt for a date prior to Galen himself. We do not meet any definition of Semiotics in this author, but we do find other described terms belonging to this branch of Medicine, such as ‘sign’ and ‘semiosis.’ The sign is defined as that which, once apprehended, permits to know something previously unknown. It is said that ‘semiosis’ (semeíosis) is the form or appearance (eídos) of the sign and yet, that it is the grasping or knowledge (katálepsis) obtained through the sign, what the sign makes visible (delotikón) from something invisible (ádelou) (Galen, XIX 394, 16 K). It is


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not always easy to interpret these definitions, but there is no doubt that they were subsumed by the Medicine from the first centuries of our era into its technical vocabulary. LOGIC, DIALECTIC AND RHETORIC Aristotle´s contribution to what we consider today the domain of Semiotics was so conspicuous that, for centuries, it determined, to a great extent, the reflection in two out of the three lines of development in Greek Semiotics: Logic and Linguistics. Nevertheless, Aristotle was not a semiologist strictly speaking, since, however surprising this may seem to us, he was unable to unify those lines of development and to give way to a comprehensive theory on semiosis, when, apparently, he could have done it without great efforts. There are two likely reasons why this unification did not take place: the lexical diversity described in the first section, and the fact that the interest in the signification problem was always indirect, deriving from other issues. Simplifying matters very much, for Aristotle as for the majority of the Greeks, the signification problem was attached to the problem of truth, namely, to Logic, Dialectic and Rhetoric. It is true that the linguistic signification problem had its own peculiarity, and also, that there are other questions semiotically regarded nowadays, already appearing in Poetics, such as mimesis and metaphor. But these are details that do not contradict essentially our assertion. From a lexical viewpoint, Aristotle was not a great innovator. Although occasionally his terminology is ambiguous, at other moments he will use accurately those three capital terms from semiotic vocabulary that were semeîon, tekmérion and sýmbolon. Likewise, he contributed notably to define the linguistic vocabulary that grammarians would refine afterwards. The first and most developed Aristotelian deliberation on Semiotics has to be set in the context of the Rhetoric, although, since it has to do with the proving capacity of arguments, we encounter parallel texts in Prior Analytics. The issue raised is that not all lines of reasoning can be demonstrative, as those used by science. Nonetheless, Dialectic and Rhetoric can resort to arguments that, although not demonstrative, are, on the contrary, useful in convincing somebody of the truth or verisimilitude about what we talk. In the Rhetoric, Aristotle holds that the orator can make use of two types of arguments: the enthymeme and the ex-


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ample, the former deductive and the latter (at least for Aristotle) inductive. In Prior Analytics (II 27, 70 a 10), the enthymeme is defined as “a syllogism starting from probabilities (eikóton) or signs (sémeia)”. Probability and sign have something in common: they spring from what is probable or plausible (éndoxos). However, Aristotle adds, “a probability and a sign are not identical.” The first one is “what men know to happen or not to happen, to be or not to be”, like detesting the envious or loving those who love us. In opposition, Aristotle defines the sign in the following terms A sign is meant to be a demonstrative proposition either necessary or reputable (éndoxos) for anything such that when it is another thing is, or when it has come into being the other has come into being before or after, is a sign of the other’s being or having come into being. (Pr. Anl., II 27, 70 a 6−10)

In the Rhetoric (I, 2, 1357 a 34 ff.), the distinction between probability and sign is conveyed similarly, but adding some other details clarifying the difference. Probability, Aristotle says, is what usually happens, although not always, as universal with respect to particular. On the contrary, signs can be of two sorts: the first one lacks a specific name (anónimon), whereas the second is called tekmérion (proof) by Aristotle. Thus, for instance, the fact that Socrates was wise and just is a sign (anonymous) that wise men are just (1357 b 11−13). This type of inference is plainly refutable. However, fever is a sign (tekmérion) of sickness, or, in a woman, having milk is a sign that she has lately borne a child. Regardless of the Aristotelian explanation leaving some loose ends, we would like to highlight two rather evident aspects. The first one of them is the clear connection of the Aristotelian theory with the Hippocratic theories exposed in the previous section. The terminology is the same and the examples do nothing but confirm their connection. Maybe, it would not be pointless to remind that Aristotle´s father, Nicomachus, was a physician. However, there is a notable difference: both semeîon and tekmérion are not mere phenomena linked by causality relations, but statements constituting the premises of a syllogism. To conceive the sign as attached to inferences will be decisive in the approach subsequently adopted both by Hellenistic philosophers and Latin Rhetoricians. Given that Semiotics was understood in the wide terms we perceive it today, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers dealt with semiotic questions when referring to those problems pertaining to the knowledge, the lan24

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guage and the truth of what we know and speak. It is nothing whatsoever surprising if we admit that they viewed Philosophy as an integrated whole whose parts could not be separated. However, if we understand Semiotics in a restricted sense – as a theory about the sign –, then , the Semiotics of Epicureans and Stoics is a theory of sign inference, helping to prolong the tradition of Hippocratic physicians and of Aristotle. Yet, owing to reasons we will see later, it can hardly be denied that semioticlinguistic ideas of great interest were elaborated by the Stoics. Contrary to what happened with the philosophers of the classical period, the work by Hellenistic philosophers has been almost totally lost, and the sources allowing us to reconstruct their thought, chiefly through Sextus Empiricus and Diogenes Laertius, date from the second and third century of our era, which largely prevents this reconstruction. The happy finding of the library in the Papyrus Villa at Herculaneum has provided us, however, with a valuable testimony enabling us to specify and complete what we know, thanks to the authors formerly mentioned. Among the preserved papyrus, a treatise by the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus of Gadara, who lived in the 1st century BC, is found, known by its abbreviated title, De Signis. We will stick to the gist of it in order to explain the logical semiotic controversy kept alive by Epicureans and Stoics. Although we have had some difficulty in determining it accurately, Philodemus’ treatise was probably entitled Perì semeîon kai semeióseon (On Signs and Sign Inferences). In spite of the challenges, we know that the term semeióseos (from which C.S. Peirce would derive semiosis) appears there, which is doubly eloquent: it is the oldest testimony permitting to record its usage and, moreover, to define it meticulously. Before being utilized by physicians, as we saw in the previous section, the term referred with precision to sign inference, the problem addressed by Philodemus’ treatise. As said, the preserved fragments of Philodemus’ work make it possible for us to reconstruct the details of the polemic exchange between Epicureans and Stoics around the problem of validity of sign inference. There are two agreements in principle. The first is a sign conception basically coincident with that of Aristotle (and indeed with tradition) making of it a known and perceptible phenomenon that leads to another one which is not. However, it should be noted that, strictly speaking, the sign is not so much the phenomenon as it is the statement in which its appearance and perception is formulated. The other agreement consists in the differentiation already seen in Aristotle between semeîon and tekmérion,


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except that this distinction has eventually been terminologically reinterpreted. According to Hellenistic philosophers, two sorts of signs exist: the common sign (koinón) and the particular sign (ídion). As with Aristotle, common signs cannot be accepted as premises of a valid inference, as in the case of “This man is good because he is rich.” On the contrary, the particular sign is a necessary sign (anankastikón) that can give way to valid inferences of the kind “If (or “since”) there is smoke, there is fire,” or “If there is movement, there is void.” The controversy emerges thereby from the type of proof we make to determine whether we are truly faced with a valid inference, in other words, with a “particular sign.” Without going deeper into this matter, we would say that for the Stoics this proof is the elimination or anaskeué, whereas for the Epicureans, that criterion instead is the inconceivability or adianoesía (De Signis, XXI, 29 [De Lacy 36]). An example of the former would be, “If there is movement, there is void,” because if we eliminate the void, movement could not exist. An example of the latter would be, “If Plato is a man, Socrates is also a man” (De Signis, XI, 27−XII, 36 [De Lacy 17]). If we consider valid this second inference is not so much because the refutation of the second proposition implies the refutation of the first one, as because it is impossible to conceive that Plato is a man and Socrates is not a man. But beyond these details, what ultimately places the Stoics in opposition to the Epicureans is their epistemological foundations: whereas the Stoics support the deductive inference from principles that can be established a priori, the latter advocate for an inductive and empirical procedure. THEORIES OF LANGUAGE The concern of the Greeks for language enjoys a long tradition that, definitely, has to do not only with the birth of Philosophy, but also with that of Dialectic, Rhetoric and Poetics. But, this concern becomes much more evident from the sophists on, and, of course, from Plato and Aristotle’s contributions. A detailed description of Plato’s contributions to the linguistic and semiotic reflection would show, firstly, the terminological richness and the conceptual precision that were gradually institutionalized throughout time, and whose basics were found in Homeric poems. In his dialogues, we can detect the differentiated use of semêion and tekmérion, and of semaí-


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nein (understood as the signifying way, particular of signs or gestures) and delóo (the “unveiling” or “making visible,” characteristic of words). Similarly, we can identify not very accurate definitions of terms like déloma (expression), ónoma (name), rhêma (locution) and lógos (discourse) (see Sophist, 261e 5–262b 3; Cratylus, 431b−c), that will be progressively refined afterwards. One has to bear in mind that grammar had then no consistent formulations (Pfeiffer, 1981: 127). In spite of this, Plato´s fundamental contribution will be found in those dialogues in which the linguistic problems having a great impact later on are tackled, both directly (Cratylus) and circumstancially (Euthydemus, Theaetetus, Sophist, Philebus, Seventh Letter). The ‘linguistic’ dialogue par excellence is, undoubtedly, Cratylus. But it is something more. As Gadamer said (2004: 406), we are before “the fundamental statement of Greek thought on language,” because we will hardly meet, in subsequent Greek Philosophy, another deliberation that may be equated with the Platonic one. However, the conversation Socrates keeps with his two interlocutors, Hermogenes and Cratylus, is not focused on the nature of language or on language functions in general, neither on its origin; not even on the naturalness or conventionality of names, but on the accuracy or “correctness of names” to designate that which they represent. This is about a question that, when put in a different cultural background may seem trifling to us, but that acquires its fullness of meaning in a context where, as Wilamowitz pointed out (Plato, I: 287 ff.; see Guthrie, 1992, V: 16; Gadamer, 2004) it was assumed that there existed an intimate unity among names – proper names included – and things, so the name was part of its bearer. In semiotic terms, we would say nowadays that the name is more an index than a symbol (in Peirce’s terms). And it is only from this perspective that the etymological discussion extending over a great part of the dialogue gains sense. But there is an underlying and, if anything, a more radical problem: if the access to truth through the word is possible. The examination of Platonic texts drives us to the conclusion that the answer to this question is negative. Thinking is logos, discourse. This is the reason why if natural languages or, as twentieth-century philosophers say, the “ordinary language,” is not the adequate instrument for the expression of truth, the target becomes “another language,” an ideal system of signs able to overcome the contingency of historical languages and to disclose reality in itself more minutely. And if this is so, is not then the possibility of a


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characteristica universalis being implicitly enunciated, a system of univocally defined artificial symbols capable of exceeding the imperfection of natural languages? This likelihood, scarcely glimpsed in Platonic writings, will gather momentum through the development of those Platonic ideas fostered by the diverse schools of Neoplatonism. At any rate, this does not end there, since it would finally lead to the enlightened ideals of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Despite the praises for Plato’s work just cited, the semiotico-linguistic text most subsequently commented will correspond with Aristotle´s De Interpretatione. As it is known, this treatise became a key point of reference for the evolution of logic in the Middle Ages. The treatise is mainly devoted to statements and, as such, it is an introduction to Analytics, consecrated to the study of argumentation. However, the first chapters address the elements compounding the statements, the name and the verb, as well as the affirmation and denial, basic constituents around which Aristotle will cultivate his theory on relationships of logical opposition among statements. It is, apart from that, the first explicit exposition about the breaking of the link between words and things (the lógos and the ón), that, as we remarked above, had not yet taken place in Platonic Philosophy. We have hardly begun the treatise when Aristotle astonishes us with the first dissertation of what, with the passage of time, would become a famous “triangle” in whose vertexes three elements appear, considered necessary in the processes of linguistic semiosis by a long tradition: the word, the meaning (generally a concept) and the thing referred to Aristotle’s text says the following: Now spoken sounds (ta en têi phonêi) are symbols (sýmbola) of affections (pathématon) in the soul, and written marks (ta graphómena) symbols of spoken sounds. And just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds. But what these are in the first place signs (semeîa prótos) of – affections of the soul – are the same for all; and what these affections are likenesses (omoiómata) of – actual things (prágmata) – are also the same. (DeInt., 16a 3−8)

Many comments have been generated by this fragment. First of all, we point out how Aristotle finishes off the polemic around naturalness or conventionality: both orally released and written words are symbols, conventional signs directly related to the soul’s “affections,” whereas the latter naturally refer to things. On the other hand, attention should be


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called to certain ambiguities preventing us from a faithful interpretation of some of the used terms. This is the case of the expression ta en têi phonêi, which seems to refer to the articulated sounds of human speech, but which could also be interpreted as that applicable to animal sounds. The same should be said about the import of pathématon that might acquire a more or less broad sense. Or about omoiómata that should be translated in a flexible manner. The usage of semeîon and sýmbolon in this text is likewise absolutely relevant, since, as abovementioned, they have very diverse senses in Greek, even though they appear to be synonyms here. Whatever it might be, we have to deem this passage as a true foundational text of semiotic reflection. Apart from that, both in this treatise and in the Poetics (1456b 20−21), Aristotle undertakes an extraordinary work of definition of linguistic terms such as elocution (lexis), element (stoicheîon), syllable (syllabé), conjunction (sýndesmos), name (ónoma), verb (rhêma), article (árthron), case (ptosis), statement (logos), etc. Another primary contribution in the history of Semiotics and Linguistics would come from the Stoics. In spite of our difficulties with the sources, we have succeeded in rebuilding, at least partially, the principal keys to the conception of the Stoics’ linguistic signification, as well as other more specifically grammatical aspects. As in the case of Aristotle, for the Stoics, the problem of linguistic signification was interconnected with that of truth. As a matter of fact, according to tradition, the Stoics divided Dialectic into two parts: the study of things that signify and the things that are signified (D. Laertius, VII, 62). This distinction allows us to understand better another of the foundational texts on Semiotics and Linguistics, handed down by Sextus Empiricus. The excerpt reads like this: … but there was also another controversy, and in this some placed truth and falsity in the thing signified (semainómenon), other in the sound (phoné), others in the motion of intellect. The champions of the first opinion were the Stoics who said that “Three things are linked together, the thing signified (semainómenon) and the thing signifying (semaínon) and the thing existing (to tynchánon)”; and of these the thing signifying is the sound (‘Dion,’ for instance); and the thing signified is the actual thing indicated thereby, and which we apprehend as existing in dependence on our intellect, whereas the barbarians although hearing the sound do not understand it; and the thing existing is the external real object, such Dion himself. And of these, two are bodies – that is, the sound and the existing thing- and one is incorporeal, namely, the sign signified and expressible (lektón), and this too is true or false. (Adv. Math., VIII, 11−12)


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This text has triggered, as could not be otherwise, extensive comments and discussions. However, much as concepts like “signifier” (semaínon) or “signified” (semainómenon) may be innovative, not only do they continue to pose problems for us (of a logical and semiotic nature), but also they were a source of complications for the ancients, as evidenced in the discussion that Sextus Empiricus himself keeps with the Stoics. Despite of what the text appears to suggest when proposing the term ‘Dión’ as an example, the identification of meaning with lektón leads us to understand it, not so much as the meaning of a term, but as the meaning of an statement, which would justify the fact that the true problem of debate is that of truth and falseness. Inevitably, the reading of the text raises again the question above made: Why were not the Greeks able to devise a semiotic theory covering those problems referred to language and to other signs, today regarded as indicial and iconic? In spite of the terminology used in this passage, for the Stoics, semeîon kept on being the antecedent statement of a conditional that drives only to the probable or plausible, but never to a true inference. As for the rest, the Stoics carried on with their linguistic research, already initiated by the sophists, Plato and Aristotle. However, it is to be noted that they were the first ones to grant these studies a definite place in their philosophical system (Pfeiffer, 1981: 430). We do not know many of the details of their contribution, but it is a common opinion that these advances remained codified in Dionysius Thrax´s Art of Grammar (170−90 BC), an epigone of Alexandrian “philologists” and “grammarians.” The Stoics’ influence on these first philologists was, most of all, exerted in the technical aspect of grammar, and not so much in the issues today recognized as more philological (Pfeiffer, 1981: 473−474). Thereby, the Stoic ascendency would last up to Varro and Latin grammarians. Their ideas on linguistic signification (neither do we have many details about it) probably reached Augustine of Hippo and had a decisive influence in his conception of a unified Semiotics (for a broader discussion, see Castañares, 2012). But that is another history. References Aeschylus. Aeschylus I-II. Ed. H. W. Smyth. 2 vols. Cambridge (Mass.)/London: Harvard University Press/William Heinemann, 1926. Aristotle. The Works of Aristotle. Vol. 1. Categoriae, De interpretatione, Analytica priora, Analytica posteriora, Topica and de Sophisticis elenchis. Tran. W.D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 13–32 Bouché-Leclercq, Auguste. Histoire de la Divination dans l'Antiquité. Paris: E. Leroux, 1879−82. Castañares, Wenceslao. Historia del Pensamiento Semiótico I. La antigüedad Greco-latina. Madrid: Trotta, forthcoming. Detienne, Marcel, and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Las Artimañas de la Inteligencia. Madrid: Taurus, 1988. Euripides. Euripidis Fabulae. Ed. Gilbert Murray. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913. Gadamer, Hans Georg. Truth and Method. London: Continuum, 2004. Galen, Claudius. Opera Omnia. Ed. C.G. Künh. 20 vols. Leipzig: Cnoblochii, 1821−33. García Gual, Carlos. “Introducción General.” Tratados Hipocráticos. Hipócrates. Madrid: Gredos, 1983. 9−61. Guthrie, W.K.C. A History of Greek Philosophy. 6 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Hippocrates. Ancient Medicine. Tran. W.H.S. Jones. Vol. I. London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972. Hippocrates. Prognostic. Tran. W.H.S. Jones. Vol. II. London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967. Hippocrates. Prorrhetics. Tran. P. Potter. Vol VIII. London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. Homer. The Odyssey. Tran. A.T. Murray. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1919. Homer. The Iliad. Tran. A.T. Murray. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1924. Laertius, Diogenes. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972. Laín Entralgo, Pedro. El Diagnóstico Médico. Barcelona: Salvat, 1982. Manetti, Giovanni. Theories of the Sign in Classical Antiquity. Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993. Pfeiffer, Rudolph. Historia de la Filología Clásica. Desde los Comienzos hasta el Final de la Época Helenística. Madrid: Gredos, 1985. Philodemus of Gadara. De signis [On Methods of Inference]. Eds. Phillip H. De Lacy, and Estelle A. De Lacy. Nápoles: Bibliopolis, 1978. Plato. Platonis Opera. Ed. J. Burnet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903. Plutarch. Consolatio ad uxorem. Plutarch’s Morals, 5. Corrected and revised by William W. Goodwin, Cambridge: Press of John Wilson and son. 1874. Sexto Empírico. Sextus Empiricus in Four Volumes. Vol. 2. Against the Logicians. Tran. R.G. Bury. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1983. Sófocles. Antigone. Ed. R. Jebb. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891. Sófocles. Oedipus Tyrannus. Ed. R. Jebb. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1887.


Wenceslao Castañares / Lines of Development in Greek Semiotic Vegetti, Mario. “Il Pensiero Ippocratico.” Hipócrates. Opere. Turín: Unione Tipocrafico – Editrice Torinese, 1976. 21−71. Wilamowitz - Moellendorf, Ulrich von. Platon: sein Leben und seine Werke. 2 vols. Berlin: Weidmannsche Verlagscubhhandlung. 1920. Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes. E. C. Marchant. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923.


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In the Beginning Was the Triangle: A Semiological Essay Oana COGEANU

Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi Blvd. Carol I no. 11, 700506, Iasi, Romania [email protected] Abstract. In the beginning was the triangle, the apostles of semiology say. In arguing for a semiological approach to literature, this paper highlights first that the consecrated semiotic triangle seen in perspective proves to be a pyramid, with its faces consisting of minimal semiotic triads; it then suggests that the pyramidal semiotic constructs within a given context project the figure of infinite semiosis; finally, it proposes an illustration of the literary process of signification using the alchemical image of the clepsydra. Keywords: literature, semiological approach, triangle, pyramid, clepsydra

INTRODUCTION: A SEMIOLOGICAL ARGUMENT In its paradigmatic shifts and turns, the tradition of Western thought is said to provide an on-going reflection on three correlated themes: existence, knowledge, and communication (Codoban, 2001: 5). This brings to one’s mind the sophist Gorgias’s trilemma decidedly advancing that: nothing exists; even if existence exists, it cannot be known; and, finally, even if it could be known, it cannot be communicated. The Western mind seems to oscillate between the sophistic antithesis above and the more light-hearted thesis that: something exists; what exists can be known; and what is known can be communicated. The self-assertive negotiation of thought between the positive and the negative thus establishes existence, knowledge and communication as the three steps of (non)being, with the mind gliding up and down the ladder of logos, epistemos and ontos in search of reasonable satisfaction. Irrespective of one’s inclination towards the positive or the negative, what appears to count most is, as usual, the journey: the progress of thought cannot stop and disintegrate itself into a static abyss of absolute affirmation or denial; it must continuously assert itself in argument, as Western philosophy’s love of wisdom is the mind’s narcissistic love of itself. This narcissistic progress underlies what has been identified as three historical stages of Western philosophy, each affording prevalence to one


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of the correlated themes of existence, knowledge or communication and correspondingly promoting a sovereign concept: ancient philosophy and the object; modern philosophy and the idea; contemporary philosophy and the sign (Codoban, 2001: 5). Irrespective of whether the turning points on the way were brought about by a dead end or a side-step, the itineraries of Western thought have proposed so far three philosophical horizons, each of which prioritises either logos, epistemos or ontos and offers ontology, epistemology, and, respectively, semiology as its golden path. For the first philosophical thematisation, which is primarily ontological, the sign is an object among objects and logos is the articulating source of being. For the second, mainly epistemological thematisation, reality is the product of knowledge, signs are more or less arbitrary names for things, and logos is the logic articulating the world. The third philosophical thematisation brings a new, semiological mutation: the world is given by signification through communication, and the object is a mere sign among signs. Thus, the sign becomes central because knowledge is circumscribed to communication and the world only exists to the extent it is created in language. The progress of Western thought could seem circular at this point, for the semiological thematisation may suggest a return to the syncretic conceptualisation of the world as sign; but nowadays it is the sign which is the world, and objects have the bare consistency of signs. Within the current, semiological paradigm, the world is conceptualised as a signifying surface in which “the data of the real are simultaneously essence and appearance, all is both original and copy, substance and surface” (Codoban, 2001: 15). Having acknowledged the unfixity of signifiers, the semiological thematisation releases them into an entropic play the freedom of which could seem constricting to some, but may prove liberating to others. The contemporary semiological paradigm presented above affords the diachronic coordinate on which this paper is situated. Nevertheless, if one were to ignore this semiological horizon and focus solely on literature as a textual type, a semiological approach appears to be most advantageous. It should be noted that the project of semiology, which can be roughly defined as the study of sign systems, is not only able to take as its material anything from words to objects to culture itself, but also manages to set off the signifying relations thereof, thus becoming, as initially proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure, the study of the role of signs as part of social life. Since signification occurs when the association


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between a sign and a meaning is culturally recognized and systematically encoded (Eco, 1976: 1830), any thing may be seen as a sign as long as there is a cultural convention which allows that a thing be used instead of something else. This means that any cultural phenomenon such as a word or an object can be studied in its signifying function or, in other words, that literature can be looked at from a semiological perspective. The semiological project as introduced by Ferdinand de Saussure makes transcontinental room for semiotics presented by Charles Sanders Peirce as the most adequate discipline for analyzing the nature and varieties of the semiosis of cultural phenomena, especially language. Semiotics as the discipline “concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign” (Eco, 1976: 7) is understood as the instrumental study of signs and signification for the purpose of examining the possibilities of knowledge and existence thus mediated – with reference to the human capacity both to know and to model the world through signs, especially the signs of language. In this sense, semiotics provides a ground for the investigation of language and may be particularly suited for the study of its literary product. A semiotic investigation of literature therefore pledges a method dominated by the awareness and perspective of the all-powerful sign. As seen above, a sign is anything that can be considered a signifying substitute of something else (Eco, 1982: 18). Interestingly, this latter something need not necessarily exist, nor does it need to subsist when the sign replaces it. One should acknowledge from the beginning that a sign is not a physical unit, such as the visual image of a word or of a landscape, which is only the concrete ocurrance of the element of expression; also, a sign cannot contain an immobile signified element of content, but rather represents the meeting site of mutually independent elements coming from two different systems and associated by an encoding correlation (Eco, 1976: 1866), hence the infinite (mis)readings of linguistic texts. Rightfully speaking, there are no signs, but only signfunctions, as L. Hjelmslev and later on U. Eco observed, which means that signs are not fixed, but relational. A sign-function appears when an expression is correlated by convention with a content, and both elements become functives of the correlation (Eco, 1976: 1855), gaining meaning only through their relation within a given sign system such as language or literature. One should be aware that to signify signification interferes


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with and influences signification; but this is exactly the meta-semiotic effect of literature, which a semiological approach will highlight. Thus, without claiming for semiology a privileged position amongst the number of possible methods for the investigation of literature, yet entertaining the hope that it can shed new light upon them, the semiological approach to literature proposed here will bring the questions of signs and signification to the foreground. REFERENTIALITY AND LITERARINESS: THE PYRAMID AND THE CLEPSYDRA The theoretical discussion of literature as a signifying practice is oftentimes encumbered by the issue of referentiality. Whereas in the general semiotic investigation of literature questions of reference have been quenched through the answer of self-referentiality, equated to some extent to literariness, literary categories like travel literature or autobiography claim closer ties with the empirical world than literature is usually presumed to have; moreover, while literature in general is defined by textual self-referentiality, it also presents a varying degree of outerreferentiality, meaning its relation to empirical objects, people and events. This outer-referentiality of literature in general and of certain literary categories such as travel writing or autobiography in particular engenders the critical question of authenticity and is of significance both at an aesthetic level, because it affects the canonisation of such literary categories, and at an ethical level, since it frequently prompts an assessment of texts based on criteria other than literary, such as truthfulness. To explore this issue, let us appeal to those semioticians for whom reference proves to be a tripping stone. Should one search for reference in Ferdinand de Saussure’s model of the sign, he or she will find that the linguist’s representation involves no direct connection to a reality outside the sign, focusing on the arbitrariness of the relationship between the signifier and the signified: the entire linguistic system, Saussure claims, “is founded upon the irrational principle that the sign is arbitrary” (Saussure, 1974: 133). Critics have chorally deplored the model’s complete detachment from social context in fear that, as Saussure himself acknowledged, the principle of arbitrariness “applied without restriction (…) would lead to utter chaos” (Saussure, 1974: 133); by “bracketing the referent,” some argue, this dyadic repre-


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sentation severs text from history (Stam, 2000: 122). In contrast with the Saussurean dyadic model, Charles Sanders Peirce’s representation of the sign does feature a third instance, the object, as something beyond the sign to which the sign vehicle refers; however, the model also features the interpretant which leads to an “infinite series” of signs, so at the same time Peirce’s triad seems to suggest the relative independence of representamens (signs) from referents. In fact, Peirce maintains that “the meaning of a representation can be nothing but a representation”; in the philosopher’s intuition of semiotic deferral, “the interpretant is nothing but another representation to which the torch of truth is handed along; and as representation, it has its interpretant again, leading to another infinite series” (Peirce, 1931: 58). Consequently, semiotics as founded by Peirce and/or Saussure can be said to provide theories of the differential semiosis between the signifier and the signified or, respectively, of the dynamic semiosis between the representamen and its interpretant(s); objects are not at all taken into consideration by Saussure, and in Peirce’s theoretical perspective objects only count when particular types of signs like indices and icons are involved. Nevertheless, in Aristotelian aftermath, variants of Peirce’s representamen-interpretant-referent triad are often presented as “the semiotic triangle,” which provides an enduring geometrical representation of the issue of referentiality beyond the change of name and authors. Through a pragmatic shift, the semiotic triangle, also known as the triangle of reference in the form popularized by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards in The Meaning of Meaning (1923), was presented as a model of how linguistic symbols are related to the empirical objects they represent. Nevertheless, the referential stakes of Ogden and Richards’ semiotic geometry consists not in accommodating the object, but in declaredly doing away with the idea that words and things are related by any other magic bond than their co-occurrence. This is suggested through a famous diagram in which the three entities of symbol, thought and thing involved in the process of signification are placed at the corners of a triangle and the relations that hold between them are represented by the sides, with the observation that the base of the triangle is quite different from either of its sides: while causal relations hold between thought and symbol, and a more or less direct relation stands between thought and referent, between symbol and referent, as Ogden and Richards maintain, there is no relevant relation other than the indirect one, which consists in its being used by


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someone to stand for a referent: “Symbol and Referent, that is to say, are not connected directly (…) but only indirectly, round the two sides of the triangle” (Ogden and Richards, 1923: 12). As shall be demonstrated below, this triangular representation, under any of its terminological guises, bears high relevance to the larger aspects of signification, including the referentiality of literature. When introducing the problem of the referent, consisting, as Umberto Eco explains, in those states of the world which are supposed to correspond to the content of the sign (Eco, 1982: 78), Ogden and Richards already had a semiological solution in mind. The referent may be a necessary condition for the projection of this model of signification, but it is not a necessary condition for its semiotic functioning, and this holds for any act of signification, including literary acts. As the two scholars argue, knowledge takes the form of signs, and those signs are interpreted as signifying the unknown relations of things in the external world; then, signs are arbitrary symbols of reality: A sign need have no kind of similarity whatever with what it signifies. The relation consists simply in the fact that the same object acting under similar circumstances arouses the same sign, so that different signs correspond always to different sensations. (Ogden and Richards, 1923:79)

function of contextual occurrences This eventually means that, whatever the effort, one cannot go beyond semiosis in the way of knowledge: “This is all we can do. By no manner of make-believe can we discover the what of referents. We can only discover the how,” conclude Ogden and Richards (Ogden and Richards, 1923: 82; emphasis added). Moreover, as shown by Eco, any attempt to establish the actualized or potential referent of a sign can only approximate it in terms of abstract references which, too, function as signs that represent a cultural convention (Eco, 1982: 90), that is, something defined by a particular culture as a meaningful unit, for instance a person (author), an object (book), an action (writing). The attempt to explain the referent of such signs circumscribes, by succesive approximations, the respective cultural units through a series of signifiers explaining the signified of preceding signifiers, in a potentially limitless movement back and forth, composing the infinite chain of what Peirce called interpretants. Even if the referent may occasionally be the object named and designated through a sign in those instances when language is used to express actual states of the 38

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world, it must, however, be admitted that, in principle, an expression does not directly designate an object but negotiates a cultural content (Eco, 1982: 81). By extension, such codes as literature, being accepted by society, construct a cultural world which does not exist in terms of traditional ontology; its existence is of a semiological order. This, indeed, does away with the myth of any relation between signs and things, since things or referents become, eventually, unreachable. In gliding from sign to sign, from signifier to signifier, semiosis is, indeed, the site of Derridian différance: it differs from and defers the real. Consequently, what the semiotic triangle equilaterally unites are cultural representations, each liable to occupy any of the three positions within a semiotic unit, while also functional in any other potential triad, in a geometrical projection of what Eco called unlimited semiosis. This necessarily requires a reconsideration of the semiotic triangle. Firstly, its edges should be all equal and alike: the relation between symbol and thought/reference is no different from that between symbol and thing/referent, as the mind seems to glide simultaneously on the two edges of the triangle, from referent to reference and to symbol; for a child often correlates objects with names in order to form concepts, and failures of the triadic semiosis occur both between reference and symbol, and between referent and symbol, with the occasional slip of the tongue and, respectively, slip of mind. Thus, firstly, the edges of the triangle are of the same nature: all three are extrinsically arbitrary and intrinsically motivated. Secondly, the triangular tops should be left nameless. That is because the symbol in one triangular equation of semiosis may very well operate homographically/homophonously in the same position in a different triadic unit (for instance, “bow” as the graphic/sonorous signifier that designates a momentary inclination of the body in salute and “bow” denoting the instrument used to throw arrows); the same symbol may also stand as a referent when a meta-statement is made (“Bow is spelled b-o-w”) or could function as reference in, for instance, a translation like “plecăciune is bow in English.” Thus a new triangle is potentially projected in dynamic semiosis. Likewise, the reference usually placed at the very top of the triangular representation can often be represented by other symbols as well and usually refers to a variety of referents; take, for example, the comprehensive reference expressed through, and formed by, such diverse symbols as journey, travel, itinerary, excursion, trip or


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voyage, each proposing a corresponding series of referents informed by the idea of physical or spiritual movement from one point to another, projecting the bidimensional triangle into a pyramidal construction of countless dimensions. Last but not least, the referent proposed in the semiotic triad is, too, liable to permutations: a direct question like “What is this?” that one could ask pointing at a table may elicit references and symbols as diverse as the minds of senders and receivers: an object or an illusion, a table or ein Tisch, the Round Table or the Last Supper, dinner coming soon, etc. Thus, from whatever point semiosis departs, be it symbol, reference or referent, Peircean semiotic triads can be dynamically constructed through the differential projection of Saussurian dyads. The triangle hence transforms into an illustration of the inherent mobility of semiosis by revolving around its axes and duplicating itself into multi-dimensionality. Seen in this dynamic perspective, any semiotic triangle is a (triangular) semiotic pyramid; from whichever top, another differential relation is always already dynamically projected. That is because semiosis does not dwell in the stasis of identity: it continuously produces and is produced in texts. Let us apply, for instance, this pyramidal projection to the symbol/reference/referent of “literature.” In the basic semiotic unit represented by the anonymous triangle, the symbol ideally plots its reference and projects its possible referent into the three-dimensional space of the speakerly mind. But only in theory does semiosis stop at this individual, abstracted instance and, the more it develops in(to) a text, the more the symbol, in this case literature, simultaneously projects other dyads of references and referents, the referents bring forth other pairs of symbols and references, and the references materialize in other symbols and referents, forming together the comprehensive text signifying literature (a text ranging from a word to a sentence or a full-length story, through aliterary corpus, to the potential entirety of literature). Thus the semiotic pyramid illustrates how signs come together limitlessly into distinguishable texts, forming the crystalline structures of a given context, which, brought to a sum total, construct in infinite semiosis an abstract, self-supporting sign system signifying literature. The second semiological issue that emerges in the discussion of literature in correlation with referentiality and for the very same reasons is literariness. Just like semiotics has illuminated to some extent the problem of referentiality by pyramidally projecting the permanent différance of


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the referent, so might it be able to bring some light on the aesthetic peculiarity of literature. In the literary text, semioticians have shown, the individual features of concrete signifiers which are usually unmarked in ordinary semiosis gain special significance, as the form remoulds the substance and the expression reforms the content (Eco, 1982: 337); in other words, in literature the sign, more specifically the signifier, becomes semiotically relevant in itself. Rendering pertinent the matter of the signifier means rendering pertinent all the aspects of signification that are usually considered a “hyposemiotic material” (Eco, 1982: 340) and thus, implicitly, foregrounding the process of signification itself. The literary reader’s intuition of a surplus of expression, which is never fully analysable, prompts the vague perception of a surplus of meaning (Eco, 1982: 341−342); this surplus at the levels of expression and content produces an excess of information, with the resulting impression of impermeability and ambiguity, as the message calls for an attentive interpretation that makes it self-reflexive. Semiosis itself as a process usually taken for granted is revealed in all its extrinsic arbitrariness and intrinsic motivation in the literary text. This is the moment of semiotic self-awareness when writing becomes literature. Thus, the literary text presents itself as a structure on multiple levels, made of labyrinthic connections where denotations turn into connotations and no element stops at its immediate interpretant but generates what Umberto Eco described as a “semiotic fugue” (1982: 347); it is in this semiotic fugue that the rewards and frustrations of literary interpretation are found since, in stimulating the reconsideration of signs and sign systems, the literary text maintains signification under continuous strain by setting it into motion and placing it into perspective. The literary work thus becomes, as Eco has established, open to interpretation; it communicates more and at the same time less than itself and it generates a multiplicity of senses precisely because of setting off the mechanisms of semiosis. Naturally this causes literature to possess the feature of self-reflexivity in the highest degree and thus to become, one could say, meta-semiotic. In a more applied sense, if the literary text is conceived as a sign presenting the pyramidal semiotic structure described above, then a semiotic analysis of literature shall deal, instead of themes and general meaning, with the way in which signification is produced through the relations of


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textually interdependent sign-functions. Like all signs, the literary text, too, involves a representamen, an interpretant and an object (e.g. a text on writing signifies and communicates a writing experience, irrespective of its actual occurrence). Moreover, any semiotic study of the literary text should consider the fact that texts, and literary texts the more so, represent themselves in a self-reflective semiosis (the same text on writing signifies and communicates a textualized account) and cannot ignore the idea that the mental act, too, that is involved in the production of textual meaning belongs to the sphere of semiotic processes and results in a projected representation, that is, a new sign of the universe built into and through the text (the text signifies and communicates a representation of textual accounts of writing). Furthermore, the literary text, as a laboratory model of verbal texts, is a multifaceted sign placing into abyss the processes of its semiosis: it focalizes its exterior semiotic material in a process of pretextual signification and communication, it reflects itself as a text in metatextual signification and communication, and it projects a subsequent representation in a diffusion of transtextual signification and communication. This does not necessarily mean the inclusion of the pretextual in the material substance of the text-sign, but the explicit recognition of the relational character of the sign, which carries through its texture a series of relations to the prior and the posterior (material and/or ideal) signification contained within its meaning. Since one cannot escape representations, the semiosis of literary texts could be represented in the shape of a clepsydra. The clepsydra rests its lower base on the pretextual content, narrows upon itself to the selfreflexive textual middle, then opens up to the upper base into transtextual meaning. One element supporting the clepsydra metaphor is that any such device is made of two mirrored triangles (or pyramids) united at the top – and such geometrical representations can be here nothing but semiotic, with their reflection suggesting the meta-semiosis of literary texts. A second fortunate suggestion of the clepsydra metaphor is that the device needs to be periodically turned in order to function. It is while turning the (textual) instrument upside down that one sees how the top can always replace the bottom and the transtextual projection becomes the new represented pretextual content. This is how texts process exteriority by means of their linguistic filtering mechanism and generate an outer


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product that is never final but always liable to being processed within the same alchemy. CONCLUSION: THE ALCHEMY OF SIGNS In the end, it is alchemy that explains the mechanism of the literary text: like the clepsydra in which sand/water runs for time, the text magically casts the worlds into words and moulds the words into worlds, separating and joining together, ever able to transmute the essence of its (verbal) material while preserving it unchanged.To this alchemical aim, the literary text takes as its material the organization of prior pretextual content and, through its textual processing, arouses the doubt that the known organization of the world might not be fixed and final. When this alchemical process has generated only one text and has been produced by one sender only, representing a sort of innovative semiotic pyramid within the cultural context, it forms an aesthetic idiolect (Eco, 1982: 344), the identification of which is based on establishing the generative rule that governs all the signifying projections of the text, the rhetoric that informs them all. To the extent that an author may apply the same rule to several works, the resulting related pyramids produce, through critical or statistical abstraction, a corpus idiolect that reflects an author’s style. Whereas a given idiolect, having been accepted by a cultural community, produces influence and imitation, it can generate the historical idiolect of a given period. Thus, the aesthetic idiolect produced through the alchemy of the textual clepsydra may function at its most as a metasemiotic process that, by highlighting the possibility of change itself, can eventually produce, as semioticians have indicated, a change of code (Eco, 1982: 344) and ultimately influences the way in which a culture reads/writes the world. In order to identify the generative rule or the rhetoric supporting one given idiolect, a semiotic investigation should include syntax as an analysis of the relationships among signs, semantics for approaching the relationships between signs and the objects signified, and pragmatics to approach the relationships between signs and their interpreters. Nevertheless, the critical identification of a corpus idiolect is not as easy as its theoretical postulate and seems more feasible in the case of strongly standardized works, whose rhetoric is apparent. Not to mention that, even if a critic succeeds in isolating one semiotic pattern underlying


Oana Cogeanu / In the Beginning was the Triangle: A Semiological Essay

the idiolect of a given text, numerous alternative patterns and nuances remain unsolved, and s/he can never claim to possess the generative rule of the literary work; moreover, in the case of both corpus and historical idiolects only very general and, therefore, irrelevant schemes might emerge. Nevertheless, the promises of such a study are too alluring not to venture in the process, even when acutely aware that critical interpretation is ever a process of infinite re-signification. References Codoban, Aurel. Semn şi interpetare. O introducere postmodernă în semiologie şi hermeneutică. Cluj-Napoca: Editura Dacia, 2001. Gorgias. On the Nonexistent or On Nature. Trans. R. G. Bury. “Gorgias of Leontinoi” on Facebook. ‹›, 2010. Eco, Umberto. A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1976. Eco, Umberto. Tratat de semiotică generală. Trans. Anca Giurescu and Cezar Radu. Bucureşti: Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică, 1982. Ogden, Charles K., and Ivor A. Richards. The Meaning of Meaning. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1923. Peirce, Charles Sanders. Collected Writings. Eds. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss, and Arthur W Burks. 8 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931−1958. Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. Trans. Wade Baskin. London: Fontana/Collins, 1974. Stam, Robert. Film Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.


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Rethinking the Relationship between China and the West: A Multi-Dimensional Model of Cross-Cultural Research focusing on Literary Adaptations1 Qingben LI Institute for World literature and Cultural Studies Beijing Language and Culture University Haidian District, Beijing, China [email protected]

Jinghua GUO

The College of Foreign Languages Inner Mongolia University of Technology Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China [email protected] Abstract. In the age of Globalization, cultural identity is a pointed and hotly debated question in academia. Cultural identity involves a core of traditional values and the recognition of several developing layers: the individual, the community and the nation. China has two dominant cultural tendencies: conservatism and protectionism. This has resulted in rejecting Western discourse to preserve a supposedly unchangeable Chinese identity. Comparative models that study cultural and literary exchanges between China and the West were based on dualist perceptions of spatio-temporal orientation. The multi-dimensional model of cross-cultural research espoused in this paper re-examines the relationships between Chinese and Western cultures and their literature. It also examines the misappropriation, transplantation, transfer and transformation of cultural representations and theories across diverse historical periods. As opposed to the dualist model of traditional comparators approaches, where relations are simplified to A influences B. the multi-dimensional model operates complex mapping, between ancient Chinese culture and Western culture, and then back to modern Chinese culture. This paper offers a case study of the complexity of cross-cultural exchanges over time, with the example of Ji Junxiang’s The Orphan of Zhao, its sources, (mis)adaptations and critical interpretations. Keywords: China, East West cross-cultural exchanges, The Orphan of Zhao, Wang Guowei.

INTRODUCTION Viewed as diachronic processes, Modernization and Globalization have been interpretively derived from the concept of Westernization in the


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eyes of many scholars, both Eastern and Western. In the postcolonial milieu, Edward Said marked “Orientalism” a product of Western culture and a projection of Western subjectivity and power (Said, 1979: 12). As Liu Kang and Jin Hengshan argue in “Post-colonial Criticism: from the West to China,” (1998), much postcolonial criticism, while grounded in the Orient, are not real oriental discourse given the multicultural multiethnic background of scholars who, like Said, formulate them. Their academic upbringing is still clearly positioned in the West, signalling the location of knowledge in Western publishing houses. Once defined as “a pattern of thinking and behaviour manifested through the activities of a nation (…) that distinguishes it from other nations” (Benedict, 1988: 45−46), nations are no longer mono-cultural. Among the “Effects of Globalization on Literary Study” (1997), J. Hillis Miller noted the impact of new technologies and modes of production and consumption, as well as the socio-cultural re-organization of local communities as well as nation states. The awareness of the importance of cultural policies for nation consolidation led first to protective and conservative positions in many countries, promoting local knowledge production and preserving the idea of national identity and culture. During the 1990s, many countries, including China, were concerned about the possibility of loosing one’s traditional culture with the influx of cultural products particularly addressed to the younger generations (television, music, the Internet). Protective efforts came to reject all influence from the outside world. In the closing years of the 20th century, rapid changes in transportation infrastructures (faster and cheaper means of transportation – lowcost airlines) accompanied by greater mobility (people looking for better working conditions), as well as the wider circulation of ideas beyond national borders enabled by the Internet revolution, have led to a generalized hybridism (interracial marriages, multicultural patterns of belief, world economic exchange by means of media-tools such as E-bay) have complicated what was once considered ‘identity.’ Cultural characteristics such as ethnicity, language, gender, region, age, class and religion, which once formed the core structure of national identity, are no longer fixed realities. And anyone with a computer and internet connection can buy original Chinese products directly from Chinese suppliers with a click of the mouse. However, Edward Said points out that culture means


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 45−60 all those practices, like the arts of description, communication, and representation, that have relative autonomy from the economic, social and political realms and that often exist in aesthetic forms, one of whose principal aims is pleasure. (Said, 1993: xii)

That is to say, despite the fact that culture is under the influence of politics and the economy, it also has its own special features which is different from the economic, social and political realms. Like fashion, politics and economy operate on the superficial layers of culture, while the deeper core, less exposed to rapid change, is formed by value, beliefs and patterns of behaviour, firmly rooted in the history of territories. Thus, Arif Dirlik’s Post-revolutionary Atmosphere contemplates China’s economic success as originating from a mixture of a strong sense of national cultural identity deeply grounded on Confucianism as an important foundation (Dirlik, 1999: 259). The following lines illustrate the importance of situating cultural development within a wider historical field. CHINA’S PLACE IN THE WORLD Ever since the Opium War of the 1840s, writes Liang Qichao(梁启超) in “An overview of China’s evolution in the past 50 years,” China has undergone three stages of Westernization: economic, political and cultural, each corresponding to local movements: the Qing Restoration, the Reform Movement of 1898 (including the Constitutional Reform of 1905, the Revolution of 1911) and the May 4th New Culture Movement. (Liang Qichao, 1984:833-834) In his article “May 4th Style Anti-traditional Thinking and the Crisis of Chinese Consciousness” (1988) Lin Yusheng distinguishes between two different concepts in the relationship between May 4th and Chinese tradition. In his view, the May 4th Movement is anti-tradition at the level of “thinking content,” but not at the level of “thought mode,” where it follows Chinese tradition. In this perspective, learning from the West would not necessarily cause the break-up of Chinese cultural tradition. The level of “thought mode” is displayed in the following two points. First, in the “practical rationality” of Chinese tradition, which consists in “the organic relation with transcendence and connotation of reality” (Lin Yusheng, 1988: 158). This view does not seek to surpass the nature of true phenomena, because the meaning of transcendence is connoted in real life. Inherited from representative characters of May 4th Movement, this mode


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of thinking owes much to Confucius, as illustrated in his saying “while you don’t know life, how can you know about death?”(Confucius, 2011: 241). The second point is the fact that although the spirit of May 4th Movement contains a kind of special sense of mission for Chinese intellectuals, this responsibility is directly linked to traditional Confucianism, where intellectuals were supposed to be “the first to bear hardships, and the last to enjoy comforts,” (先天下之忧而有,后天下之乐而乐) and “not only concern themselves with personal affairs but the affairs of the state and the world” (家事、国事、天下事,事事关心). Finally, in the 21st century the global scenario of Western economic crisis, people’s disillusion with politics, and the decline of the power of nationstates, global economies are more and more dependent on communication systems, and economic attention is now set on the relocation of powerstructures. The Beijing Olympic Games of 2008 marked the entrance of China into the global system. Entering in the new era of Reform and Opening to the outside world, the majority of Chinese people are more concerned with economic issues and their living standards, than with politics and political reform, and many begin to see that the incorporation of some foreign cultural elements as beneficial for China’s development. In an effort to situate China in this global panorama, the multidimensional model of cross-cultural research put forward in this paper reexamines the relationships between Chinese and Western cultures and literatures. The following lines offer a case study with the example of The Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang (纪君祥). The journey of this drama, from its original sources to its Western and Eastern (mis)adaptations and critical interpretations, shows the complexity of cross-cultural exchanges which are never merely one-directional and which include temporal mappings, in this case, for instance, from ancient Chinese culture to Western culture, and then back to modern Chinese culture. THE CROSS-CULTURAL ROUND JOURNEY OF THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO The drama The Orphan of Zhao is an influential literary piece which in turn has undergone numerous adaptations. For instance, according to statistics from Southern Weekly Dec. 13, 2003, only in 2003 seven different versions of the drama were performed on different occasions. One of them was di-


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rected by Lin Zhaohua(林兆华)and performed by Beijing People’s Art Theatre (Xia, Yu, and Zhang Ying, n.p.). The original story by Ji Junxiang was based on Historical Records of the Zhao Family (《史记·赵世家》)by Sima Qian(司马迁), a revenge plot between two families, that of the minister Zhao Dun and that of his general Tu Angu. Tu Angu exterminated Zhao Dun’s entire family, whose son, Zhao Shuo, was emperor’s son-in-law and was also forced to commit suicide. Zhao Shuo’s wife got imprisoned and gave birth to the orphan. Guard Han Jue found Zhao Shuo’s hanger-on, Chen Ying trying to take the orphan out of the palace, instead of handing over the orphan to the higher authorities, he let them go and then committed suicide himself. In order to prevent divulgence, Tu Angu ordered to kill all babies at the age of one month to a half year old in the whole kingdom. After plotting with Gongsun Chujiu, Zhao Dun’s friend, Chen Ying made his own son pretend to be the orphan, and then exposed that Gongsun Chujiu sheltered him. In this way, Gongsun Chujiu and the false orphan were murdered and the true orphan survived. The Orphan of Zhao grew up and came to know of the deadly feud with Tu Angu, and finally took revenge. Set in the Spring and Autumn between B.C.770 and B.C.476, the original scripts have two editions: Yuan Dynasty (1206−1368) edition and Ming Dynasty (1368−1644) edition. The former consisted only from lyrics, with no actions or spoken parts. It included a prologue and four acts. The Ming Edition had actions and spoken parts and a fifth act. In The Orphan of Zhao in the Yuan edition, the fourth chapter tells about how the Orphan of Zhao grew up, endowed with civil and martial virtues. It also narrated how Cheng Ying drew Tu Angu’s murder of the Zhao Family into hand scrolls, and explained the details to the Orphan of Zhao, who then came to know about the deadly feud with Tu Angu, and finally took revenge. The fifth chapter in the Ming edition tells that the Orphan of Zhao took Tu Angu and brought him to Jin Kingdom’s officials for justice. Finally, the King of Jin gave orders so that the Orphan of Zhao would recover his own family name, and also the name of Zhao Wu, a bureaucrat of Jin. All other fallen victims from the Zhao Family were given appropriate praise. The Ming edition emphasized this transition from suffering into happiness, but the difference is only the degree of emotion, since the Yuan edition already accounted for revenge: “Without taking


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revenge, the feud can hardly be removed […] Scoop out his eyes, gap his belly, remove his hearts, liver, hands and feet, and break off his bones” (Xu Qinjun, 1980: 323). The Orphan of Zhao can be used as an example of the multidimensional model of cross-cultural research presented in this paper in order to rethink the relationship between China and the West. The Jesuit Joseph Henri Marie de Prémare had introduced The Orphan of Zhao in France in 1731. The French translation of the drama was published in Description de la Chine (Annals of China), vol. II in 1735. The drama had a profound impact on Voltaire, who adapted it in a significant way into L’Orphelin de la Chine (The Orphan of China), which in turn served as model for the adaptation of Lin Zhaohua back into the original The Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang. This circular journey from ancient Chinese culture to Western culture, and back to contemporary China illustrates the complexities of the circulation of cultural patterns and contributes to the re-examination of the interactions between Chinese and Western, ancient and modern cultural forms. In his fundamental study Drama History of Song and Yuan Dynasties (first published in 1912), Wang Guowei points out that After the Ming Dynasty, legend is nothing more than comedy. However, in the Yuan Dynasty tragedy also existed, with examples such as Autumn in the Han Palace, Rain of Phoenix Tree, The Two Entering the Dream of Liubei, Burning of Jiezitui, and Zhang Qian’s Murder of the Landlord’s Wife. These works are about separation and getting together, initial suffering and finally enjoyment. Guan Hanqing’s The Injustice to Dou E and Ji Junxiang’s The Orphan of Zhao are the ones bearing a more tragic content. Although there are villains in the story, those who go through fire and water obey the hero’s will and are worthy of being listed among the greatest tragedies in the world. (Wang Guowei, 1983: 640−641; translated by Qingben and Jinghua)

This happy ending of a tragedy was also the object of criticism by Wang Guowei. In his Comments on A Dream of Red Mansions (first published in 1904), he satirized Chinese people’s optimistic spirit of initial sadness and subsequent happiness, separation and reuniting, suffering and enjoyment (Wang Guowei, 1997: 10). Wang Guowei believed that this was the main reason for China’s lack of a worldwide tragedy, so that the outcome of The Orphan of Zhao was not of much value to him. He only called The Orphan of Zhao a worldwide tragedy because it stressed the


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hero’s efforts in the symbol of going through fire and water, which means that the hero will overcome all the difficulties with great courage. Voltaire’s adapted The Orphan of Zhao according to the aesthetic principles in French neoclassicism. He found some of the values and events too complicated for the French public. They took too long to be performed and violated the convention of the three classic unities. Thus, he reduced the time setting from Spring and Autumn across several years in the Yuan Dynasty, to a single day and night. This forced him to remove certain historical events from the play. For example, in the original, Gengis Kan led his troops attacking Yanjing and killed the emperor. He then sent troops chasing after the orphan when he discovered the he was missing. Zamti, the retired official of the Chinese monarch hid the orphan inside the imperial mausoleum, and sacrificed his own son to safe the royal orphan. His wife Idamé could not bear that her son had died in his place and came to tell Gengis Kan, begging for her husband’s life and expressing her willingness to die in the place of the royal orphan. Years ago, Gengis Kan had been stranded in Yanjing and had proposed to Idamé, although being rejected, he never stopped loving her, so he asked Idamé to marry him in order to forgive her husband and the royal orphan. Idamé remained faithful to her husband and Gengis Kan, moved by her virtue and loyalty to her husband, remitted the death penalty for all three and asked the couple to care and raise the royal orphan. The theme of Voltaire’s L’Orphelin de la Chine is entirely different to the traditional Chinese work The Orphan of Zhao. The later one is about revenge, whilst the former one is about forgiveness. The traditional work The Orphan of Zhao is derived from Zaju genre (a kind of drama in the Yuan Dynasty), focusing on loyalty and filial piety, which obstructs social development. The theme of Voltaire’s L’Orphelin de la Chine is to forgive the past enmity from the perspective of humanity. (Xia Yu & Zhang Ying, n.p, translated by Qingben and Jinghua)

Lin Zhaohua, director of The Orphan of Zhao in 2003 performed at the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, expressed in an interview to Southern Weekend that he revered Voltaire’s L’Orphelin de la Chine, and that he had revised the original Chinese revenge theme in his own play. Lin Zhaohua’s play comes to place its focus on the close adoptive relationship between the grown-up orphan and Tu Angu, abandoning the fight for revenge.


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Looking at the phenomenon described above under the significance of May 4th Movement shows how Chinese culture under the Movement isolated itself from Chinese tradition, becoming obliterated under Western influence. Subsequently, a much debated topic in academic field was raised, with some scholars defending May 4th westernization, while others, such as the sinologist of Canadian origin, Milena DolezelovaVelingerova, searching for the roots of modern Chinese culture in The Chinese Novel at the Turn of the Century. According to Yue Daiyun, Milena’s intention was to seek the continuity from tradition to modern times and to explore ways so that the May 4th Movemnet would not be taken as an event separated from the Chinese tradition. (Yue Daiyun, 1991: 1) From this perspective, the cross-cultural round journey of The Orphan of Zhao touches indeed on the profound theme of cultural exchange and collision between China and the West. Thus, it would be a mistake to emphasize the separation of The Orphan of Zhao Voltaire’s L’Orphelin de la Chine, and to enforce the view that Lin Zhaohua was able to accept the theme of this last version more readily because of hypothetical sympathies with Western cultural views. In fact, as shown above, the theme of giving up revenge is, after all, consistent with the traditional value orientation in Chinese culture, just as presented in the Confucian Analects. The Confucian doctrine is “to be true to the principles of our nature and the benevolent exercise of them to others, this and nothing more”(夫子之道,忠恕而已) (Confucius, 2011: 170), so that cultural variation should be traced in each stop of the text journey beyond the mere dualistic comparison. THE EASTERN TRAVEL OF SCHOPENHAUER’S TRAGEDY THEORY In order to show the circular journey of cultural influences between East and West, we now turn to show how Wang Guowei’s theories on drama were heavily influenced by Schopenhauer’s views on tragedy in The World as Will and Representation. The German scholar Schopenhauer argued that tragedy can be classified with regards to three typical characteristics: the first one is that “it can be done through the extraordinary wickedness of a character, touching the extreme bounds of possibility, which becomes the author of the misfortune.” The second one is that misfortune “can happen


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through blind fate, i.e., chance or error.” Finally, “the misfortune can be brought about also by mere attitude of the persons to one another through their relations” (Schopenhauer, 1999: 254). In this work, Schopenhauer proposed the three models of tragedy mentioned above using examples from Shakespeare’s Richard III, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice, Schiller’s The Robbers, Euripides’ Phaedra, and Sophocles’ Antigone for the first type of tragedy, the Sophocles (Oedipus the King and Trachiniae), Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet), Voltaire (Tancred), and Schiller (The Bride of Messina) for the second type, and Goethe (Clavigo and Faust), Schiller (Wallenstein), Shakespeare (Hamlet), and Corneille (Le Cid), for the third category (Schopenhauer, 1999: 254−255). According to Schopenhauer, the third kind of tragedy is far preferable to the other two, because “it shows us the greatest misfortune not as an exception, not as something brought about by rare circumstances or by monstrous character, but as something that arises easily and spontaneously out of the actions and characters of men, as something almost essential to them, and in this way it is brought terribly near to us” (Schopenhauer, 1999: 254). All the views of Schopenhauer on tragedy were accepted by Wang Guowei. His theories used to comment on A Dream of Red Mansions in Chinese, were obviously an adapted translation of the English version of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation. His translation can be taken as the first trans-lingual cross-cultural encounter with Schopenhauer’s theory of tragedy. However, in comparing his translated version to the original, attention needs to be paid to the following issues. First, Wang Guowei did not translate Schopenhauer’s original work word by word. Instead, he chose only some parts to translate, perhaps because he was not familiar with some of the works mentioned by Schopenhauer, or perhaps because some of the literary works mentioned by Schopenhauer were of no special significance to Wang Guowei, whose real intent was to explain the tragedy of A Dream of Red Mansions. Second, Wang Guowei translated the original by means of free translation, for example, he translated the abstract word “wickedness” into “蛇 蝎” (snake and scorpion) a Chinese word full of concrete meanings, while another Chinese translator Shi Chongbai translated it into “恶毒” a Chinese word that means evil. In fact, though “蛇蝎” does not closely correspond to “wickedness,” “恶毒” conveys in a clearer way the rich


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connotations of the English word, and at the same time it is more in line with the ideographic function of Chinese. Third, the omission of works within Schopenhauer’s theory of tragedy in the Western context causes the separation of sign-signifiers from the signified, rendering the original a “gliding signifier,” pointing directly to the Chinese text A Dream of Red Mansions as, in Wang Guowei’s words, “the third kind of tragedies” (Wang Guowei, 1997: 12). Looking at the original context in Schopenhauer’s theory, the third kind of tragedy refers to a series of Western tragedies such as Goethe (Clavigo and Faust), Schiller (Wallenstein), Shakespeare (Hamlet), and Corneille (Le Cid). In Wang Guowei’s view, however, Faust is not a typical model of the third kind of tragedy. For him, A Dream of Red Mansions can best represent the summit of the third category as Faust’s pain is the pain of genius, while Jia Baoyu’s pain is the pain of everybody. Particularly, the pain that roots deeply in the bottom of heart hurts the most, so he earnestly expects to be saved. The author picked up every piece of such information to make it into full play. (Wang Guowei, 1997: 9)

In this respect, there is a kind of meaningful inter-textual play between the tragedy theory of Schopenhauer and A Dream of Red Mansions. The examination of the tragedies mentioned by Schopenhauer shows that the “happy ending” element was not taken as a crucial sign of tragedy. For instance, Richard III and Le Cid ended with bad guys getting punished and lovers getting married. Schopenhauer pointed out that though Le Cid did not have a sad ending, it still could be taken as the representative work of the third kind of tragedy, showing his lack of concern with happy endings (Schopenhauer, 1999: 255). In contrast, Wang Guowei attaches great importance to the tragic ending of A Dream of Red Mansions, and promotes it to the high degree of compliance with the “Spirit of the Chinese people.” Furthermore, this theoretical basis becomes for Wang Guowei the basis of the literary value of A Dream of Red Mansions, which he considers as one of the greatest works in the world. Wang Guowei explained that the drama might fall under the third kind of tragedy, according to Schopenhauer’s classification in view of what happens between Jia Baoyu (贾宝玉) and Lin Daiyu (林黛玉), two major characters in A Dream of Red Mansions.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 45−60 Baoyu’s grandmother (贾母) is fond of Xue Baochai’s (薛宝钗) gentleness and kindness and warns Daiyu not to be unsocial; she on the one hand believes the fallacy of the love between holders of the gold necklace and the jade pendant, and thinks over the way to cure Baoyu’s lovesickniss on the other. Ms. Wang (王夫人) wants to cement old ties by marriage to the Xue family; Wang Xifeng (王熙凤), the controller of the family affairs, fears Daiyu’s talent and worries that Daiyu might be not working with her; Xiren (袭人), Baoyu’s personal maidservant, heard Daiyu’s comments that either the east wind overwhelms the west or the west overwhelms the east when she punished You Erjie (尤二姐) and Xiangling (香菱), so she fears the coming misfortune and it becomes natural for her to take identical positions with Wang Xifeng. Jia Baoyu promised Lin Daiyu, but he could not tell his dearest grandmother about his love for Daiyu, needless to say the girl Daiyu can also not tell Baoyu’s grandmother about her love for Baoyu this all because of common moral traditions. Therefore, A Dream of Red Mansions can be considered as the tragedy of tragedies. (Wang Guowei, 1997:12, translated by Qingben and Jinghua)

In the eyes of Wang Guowei, the love tragedy of Baoyu and Daiyu is not the result of the bad guys getting in the way, or the outcome of twists of fate. The tragedy is entirely due to the difference in social status of the dramatis personae and the interpersonal relations between them. The doings of these characters are not contrary to common moral traditions, nor are they forms of inconformity with the usual relationships. The third tragic type feeds on normal occurrences and happens to ordinary people making it even more fearful and dreadful. It is in this respect that Wang Guowei asserts that A Dream of Red Mansions is the tragedy of tragedies. Mr. Qian Zhongshu (钱钟书) has his own understanding of this conclusion. In On the Art of Poetry, the scholar pointed out in that Mr. Wang always holds Schopenhauer’s works in high esteem and discuses them. In Comments on a Dream of Red Mansions, Mr. Wang repeatedly stated that A Dream of Red Mansions is asserted as the tragedy of tragedies in line with Schopenhauer’s theory. Baoyu’s grandmother on the one hand warns Daiyu not to be unsocial and believes the heresy of the gold and jade; Ms. Wang is more close to Mrs. Xue; Wang Xifeng is jealous of Daiyu’s capability and intelligence; Xiren worries about the intolerance of Baoyu’s wife; Baoyu is afraid that Daiyu may not be loved by his grandmother; for such various reasons, Baoyu and Daiyu have to leave each other. Actually, such opinion has sufficient grounds. However, it is quite like Schopenhauer that the methodology has not been exhausted and the truth has not been made clear. If the methodology has been exhausted and the truth has been made clear, it should be known that even Baoyu succeeded in marrying Daiyu , such a joyful event would turn to be


Qingben Li & Jinghua Guo / Rethinking the Relationship between China and the West a concern because a harmonious couple may end up with an inharmonious pair. When voices are heard from far away, yearning and longing come into being. When they come to know each other’s habits, they become estranged and fed up with each other. Flowers only last for several days in full blossom, and the full moon could not even hold for another night. A happy event ends for nothing, and a candy might taste bitter. (Qian Zhongshu, 1984: 349, translated by Qingben and Jinghua)

In Qian Zhongshu’s opinion, although Wang Guowei has sufficient grounds to conclude that A Dream of Red Mansions is the tragedy of tragedies based on the the ordinary relationship among the characters, this is not in conformity with the original intention of Schopenhauer. For the German theorist, Baoyu and Daiyu should have been married, so that “the perfect spouses gradually become enemies, and ‘happy foes’ end up in non-harmonious couple. That is ‘the tragedy of tragedies’” (Qian Zhongshu, 1984: 351). In this respect, Qian Zhongshu considers that Wang Guowei (mis)enforced Schopenhauer’s theory upon A Dream of Red Mansions, and that “better guidance would have brought out the best in each other while forced conformity is detrimental” (Qian Zhongshu, 1984: 351). In our view, Qian Zhongshu’s criticism is too harsh. Many of the tragedies referenced by Schopenhauer fail to meet the requirement of the perfect spouses who become enemies. Even if Wang Guowei’s transformation could be considered a misunderstanding of the original work, it is a kind of positive and significant one in the sense conveyed by Said in his famous article Traveling Theory. In this essay, Said compares Lukacs and Goldmann, their thoughts and theories, but refuses to admit that Goldmann, disciple of Lukacs, had misunderstood Lukacs’s theories. He points out that, We have become so accustomed to hearing that all borrowings, readings and interpretations are misunderstandings and misinterpretations, so that we are likely to consider the Lukacs-Goldmann episode as just another bit of evidence that everyone, even Maxists, misunderstands and misinterprets. I find such a conclusion completely unsatisfying. It implies, first of all, that the only possible alternative to slavish copying is creative misreading and that no intermediate possibility exists. (Said, 1983: 168)

The decisive role played by history in the process of Lukacs’s ideas transforming into Goldmann’s in Said’s discussion was noted by scholarship. As Said claimed, misunderstandings are “part of a historical trans-


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fer of ideas and theories from one setting to another” (Said, 1983: 168). Tragedy is “the antagonism of the will with itself which is here most completely unfolded at the highest grade of its objectivity, and which comes into fearful prominence,” (Schopenhauer, 1999: 253; emphasis added), with Goethe’s early work Clavigo as the “perfect model” even though the play “in other respects is far surpassed by several others of the same great master” (Schopenhauer, 1999: 255). Written in only eight days and published in May 1774, Clavigo’s plot unveils around the supposedly true story recalled in February 1774 in the memoirs of a French writer, Beaumarchais, after a trip to Spain set in the past in 1764. The story tells of a broken marriage promise to one of his sisters made by Don Joseph Clavigo, curator and archivist of the Spanish royal family, who attempts to break the engagement. The story is not just about the indecision and hesitation of the Spanish courtesan, which might appear as part of human nature. As Clavigo gains the King’s favor through his knowledge and motivation, he is promoted and sets his ambitions into marrying an aristocratic lady of greater fortune, breaking his promise to Mary Beaumarchais. However, his desire and love for Mary remains, as she had supported him in his way up the social scales, and he suffers from great psychological pressure as well as social reproach from Mary’s brother. Thus, Clavigo exemplifies this antagonism of the will that results from human nature. This is the reason why Schopenhauer takes this tragedy as the perfect model of the third kind of tragedies. Goethe does not make Clavigo and Mary “enemies and estranged couple” after marriage, as in the formula claimed by Qian Zhongshu. Instead, the drama ends with Mary relapsing into grief and dying after hearing that Clavigo has escaped the marriage. Remorseful Clavigo, after asking for forgiveness and reconciliation, lets himself be stabbed by a furious Beaumarchais while kneeling before her coffin. We can conclude that Qian Zhongshu also misreads Schopenhauer’s tragedy theory. Nevertheless it still stands as an effective interpretation, since the same text yields different ways of understanding across diverse time periods, in distinct places and contexts. This is the kind of openness that makes Said’s ‘travelling theory’ possible. Schopenhauer’s original meanings are not of unchallengeable authority. They tolerate borrowing and transformation by Wang Guowei and also Qian Zhongshu’s interpretation, even if he understands tragedies differently from Schopenhauer’s original intention.


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Furthermore, the study of the influence of Eastern philosophy upon Schopenhauer’s theory after his trip to Asia, bring us one step further in the intricate journey of readings. Qian Zhongshu had remarked about certain elements of Buddhism present in Schopenhauer’s ideas (Qian Zhongshu, 1984: 350). Schopenhauer himself also said in The World as Will and Representation: “I confess that, next to the impression of the world of perception, I owe what is best in my own development to the impression made by Kant’s work, the sacred writings of Hindus, and Plato” (Schopenhauer, 1999: 417). This reminds us that beside Kant and Plato, the eastern thought and culture really had a significant influence on Schopenhauer. This might have also been one of the reasons behind Wang Guowei’s acceptance (‘reception horizon’) of Schopenhauer’s theory. In the Author’s Preface to Jing’an Collections, Wang Guowei wrote that when reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason by Kant he almost had to abandon the book because he did not understand it. On the other hand, he was fascinated by Schopenhauer. Behind this fascination, there might have been a greater affinity to Schopenhauer’s philosophy. In Wang Guowei’s Literature and Literary Criticism, Jiang Yinghao also pointed out this fact, as Wang Guowei tries to analyze A Dream of Red Mansions along Schopenhauer’s theories, which are full of echoes from Buddhist classics (Jiang Yinghao, 1974: 93). CONCLUSIONS As this paper has demonstrated, binary opposition such as East and West cannot explain and present the rich cross-cultural exchanges across civilizations that have been taking places over centuries. The comparative and oppositional study of Chinese and Western literatures, for example, as representing two isolated, independent and different world cultures leave out mutual influences, as well as mis-readings and transformations, whether intentional or unconscious. Influence study only focuses on the study of sources, replacing ontology by theories of origin. These approaches believe naively that if they find solid evidence to explain the source of influences, everything will be settled, preferring to ignore all variations that can occur during the process. The multi-dimensional model of cross-cultural research pushes the influence of binary model studies to a four-dimensional structure that includes the three dimensions of space alongside the dimension of time. It


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traces not just the source of influence, and the origin of source; it also attempts to explains some of the multiple and complex variations in order to demonstrate their rationality. Furthermore, it seeks to highlight the equal relations among different cultures beyond the binary oppositions that set one culture as superior to another. The multi-dimensional mode of cross-cultural study replaces the comparatist model by a theory of diversity of world cultures. Acknowledgements. The authors would like to thank the Government of China for support for this research at the Collaborative Innovation Center of BLCU and for Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities 12ZDJ01. References Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture. Trans. Wang Wei. Hangzhou: Zhejiang People’s Press, 1988. Confucius(孔子), Confucian Analects (论语). Trans. James Legge. The Chinese Classics. Vol.1. Shanghai: East China Normal University Press, 2011. Dirlik, Arif. Post-revolutionary Atmosphere. Trans. Wang Ning. Beijing: China Social Sciences Publishing House, 1999. Jiang Yinghao (蒋英豪). Wang Guowei Literature and Literary Criticism (王国维文学及 文学批评). Hong Kong: Huaguo Institute of Chung Chi College of Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1974. Liang Qichao (梁启超). “An overview of China’s evolution in the past 50 years” (五十年中国进化之概论). Collected Works of Liang Qichao (《梁启超选集》). Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1984. 833−834. Lin Yusheng (林毓生). “May 4th Style Anti-tradition Thinking and the Crisis of Chinese Consciousness” (五四式反传统思想与中国意识的危机).The Creative Transformation of Traditional Chinese (《中国传统的创造性转化》). Shanghai: Joint Publishing Press, 1988. Liu Kang and Jin Hengshan (刘康、金衡山). “Post-colonial Criticism: from the West to China” (后殖民主义批评:从西方到中国). Literature Review (文学评 论) 1 (1998): 150−160. Miller, J. Hillis. “Effects of Globalization on Literary Study.” Trans. Wang Fengzhen. Literature Review. 4 (1997): 74−80. Qian Zhongshu (钱钟书). On the Art of Poetry (谈艺录). Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 1984. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Double-day Books, 1979. Said, Edward. The World, the Text and the Critic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: A Division of Random House, Inc., 1993.


Qingben Li & Jinghua Guo / Rethinking the Relationship between China and the West Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation. Beijing: China Social Sciences Publishing House, 1999. Wang Guowei (王国维). “Drama History of Song and Yuan Dynasties” (宋元戏曲 考). Wang Guowei’s Suicide Note (王国维遗书). Vol. 9. Shanghai: Classics Publishing House, 1983. Wang Guowei (王国维). “Comments on A Dream of Red Mansions” (红楼梦评 论). Collected Works of Wang Guowei (王国维文集).Vol. 1. Beijing: Chinese Literature and History Press, 1997. Xia Yu and Zhang Ying (夏榆,张英). “The Orphan of Zhao No Revenge for Big Wrong” (“ 赵 氏 孤 儿 ” 不 报 大 仇 ). ( 南 方 网 ). . 13 Nov. 2003. Xu Qinjun (徐沁君). The Newly Revised Thirty Kinds of Poetic Dramas of Yuan Edition (新校元刊杂剧三十种). Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 1980. Yue Daiyun (乐黛云). “Foreword: From the Tradition to the Modern Times.” From the Tradition to the Modern Times: the Chinese Novel at the Turn of the Century. Ed. Milena Dolezelava-Velingerova. Trans. Wu Xiaoming. Beijing: Peking University Press, 1991.                                                              1  Li Qingben and Guo Jinghua co-write this paper and Guo Jinghua is the Corre-

sponding Author (通讯作者) of the paper.  


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On the Relationships between Syntax and Semantics with regard to the Turkish Language Ömer Naci SOYKAN

Faculty of Science and Letters, “Mimar Sinan Fine Arts” University, Istanbul, Turkey [email protected]

Abstract. A belief commonly held in linguistics and philosophy is that semantics is defined by syntax. In this article, I will demonstrate that this does not hold true for Turkish. A fundamental syntactical rule builds around the successive order of words or speech units in a sentence. The order determines the meaning of the sentence, which in turn is rendered meaningless if the rule is not observed. In a given language, if a sentence retains meaning without this rule being applied, then the rule cannot be said to determine meaning. Turkish, with its mathematical structure, is one such language. In effect, the degree to which semantics is determined by syntax varies considerably from one language to the other. If meaning is constructed through dissimilar means in different languages, then it is not possible to talk about a single theory of meaningfulness valid for all languages. Each language is uniquely determined, and is a reflection of its proper cultural background. A theory of language must take into account this cultural framework. In this paper, I shall deal with a different way of constructing meaning whereby syntax does not determine semantics, and present the linguistic possibilities it gives rise to. Keywords: Language, syntax, semantics, Turkish, meaning (reference) and sense.

INTRODUCTION We convey our thoughts and feelings either by expressing ourselves verbally or through certain behavioral patterns, which in turn implies that linguistic and cultural semiotics should be studied hand in hand. There is a close relationship of mutual determination between the linguistic structure of a language and its underlying cultural background. Thus, when a person speaks an unfamiliar language, we also fail to understand her gestures and mimics. Syntax and semantics, two main branches of semiotics, are therefore interrelated. However the nature of this interrelation shows variations from one language to the other. In this article which deals with the issue from the standpoint of philosophy of language, I offer some new suggestions regarding the question of meaning determination through a review of the nature of this interrelation in Turkish.


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Some studies on language (i.e. Morris 1964: 23, Chomsky, 1976: 75, and Chomsky, 1957: 108) are built on the assumption that semantics depends on syntax, and that it is syntax that determines meaning. A fundamental syntactical rule for language is the successive order of words or speech units in the sentence. This order determines the meaning of a sentence, and the sentence is rendered meaningless if this rule is not obeyed. In any language, if a sentence retains meaning without the use of this rule, it means that in the language concerned this rule does not determine meaning. Turkish, being agglutinative in nature, is one such language. The determination of semantics by syntax exhibits major differences in various languages, and if there are differing constructions of meaning in various languages, it is not possible to talk about a single theory of meaningfulness valid for all. In this paper a different construction of meaning whereby syntax does not determine semantics is presented, and certain linguistic possibilities born of this are shown. WORDS, MEANING AND GRAMMAR One may speak of the reference and sense of a word or sentence. When words and sentences are taken as the hearing of voices and writings on paper and other material surfaces, their references and senses are outside of themselves. Reference and sense are in human intellect. More precisely, when a word is recalled or uttered, its reference and sense come out as a connotation in the intellect. When a word refers to an object or a form, it is said that this is its reference. If a sentence causes the drawing of a picture in the mind, this reference is at the same time its sense, and this is the image drawn in the intellect. But, if the sentence is still considered meaningful although it does not cause the drawing of an image, then where will its sense be? The answer to this question will be sought in grammar. If words on their own have references, phrases and sentences, which come together according to grammatical rules, have senses. This means that sense is created by the rules of aggregation, namely grammar. When I talk about the “sense of a sentence,” I mean the sense of the sentence which does not have a reference as a whole, even though some of the individual words it contains have references. The first question that needs to be answered here is “How and with respect to what were the rules of grammar that make up the sense of a sentence established?” They are the measure themselves, not the meas-


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ured. Therefore, the explanation that “it is wrong to say they exist with respect to something and then to ask what that thing is” is not satisfactory. We cannot simply say that this is the rule and stop there. The problem needs deeper examination. Although a few grammatical rules, such as the subject of a sentence being in nominative form or a sentence being composed of at least a subject and a verb, are the same in every language, many of them differ from language to language. Here, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s differentiation of depth grammar and surface grammar may work (1997: 664), although Wittgenstein did not sufficiently explain this differentiation, and these concepts need further clarification. To this purpose, we can, for instance, look at the distinction made by Jeff Coulter between these two types of grammar: Wittgenstein makes the distinction between ‘surface’ and ‘depth’ grammar precisely in order to alert us to the difference between aspects of the use of words which can be easily grasped and aspects which are not so readily available. (1999: 169)

There seem to be no difficulty understanding Wittgenstein’s words on “surface grammar.” Other analysts make similar comments. For example, Gordon P. Baker defines surface grammar as the immediate impression we have of the use of a word (2001: 306). This statement is not different from what Wittgenstein himself said about surface grammar (Wittgenstein, 1997: 664). However, Wittgenstein’s remarks on “depth grammar” are not so clear. He says that surface grammar is not sufficient for the depth grammar of the word “to mean.” One cannot grasp the meaning of the word via its direct impression on us. A deeper grammatical investigation is needed for this purpose. While investigating how the human mind relates to social construction, Coulter quotes Gordon C. F. Bearn in that “grammatical investigations are investigations of the uses of words in various situations. Hence these investigations are not concerned with language in a narrow sense; they include or touch upon every aspect of our life with words. For instance, Wittgenstein says, “it is part of the grammar of the word ‘chair’ that this is what we call ‘to sit on a chair’” (1999: 170). The word sedes, meaning ‘chair’ in Latin, originates from sedere, ‘to sit.’ Similar examples can be found in other languages, so that grammatical investigations are not only about the use of words in varying situations, being also concerned with language in a narrow sense.


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The fact that the human mind develops as a social construction does not exclude its close relation to language and grammar. As Baker pointed out (2001: 305), what Rudolf Carnap meant with “the logical syntax of language” and Ryle meant with “logical geography” relate to the logical dimension of sentence structure. The following remark by Wittgenstein supports this argument: “Whether a proposition entails another proposition must be clear from the grammar of the proposition” (1990: 256). If a sentence originates from another sentence, this means there is a logical connection between them. Other remarks by Wittgenstein in support of this are the following: “Essence is expressed by grammar. (…) Grammar tells what kind of object anything is” (1997: 371, 373). What Wittgenstein meant here is depth grammar of course. In fact, in his abovementioned paper, Baker depicts the first sentence as “Essence is expressed by ‘depth grammar’” (2001: 303). This type of grammar should not only be German grammar but also the grammar of every language. What is meant by grammar in the assertion that “something is expressed in the grammar of every language” is clearly nothing but the logical structure, which is universal. I understand depth grammar as the logical aspect of logic or grammar. Since logic is universal, it is clear that its rules will not change from language to language. However, since rules of surface grammar change and affect identification of the sense of a sentence, the idea that a universal theory of meaning is not possible gains more support. THE CASE OF THE TURKISH LANGUAGE It might be accepted that, like logic, mind and reason are common to all people. Accordingly, it might be said that while the rules of depth grammar stem from the mind, the rules of surface grammar depend on linguistic agreement. These rules define the syntactic structure of language, and surface grammar contains this syntactic structure. Since the ordering of words in a phrase or sentence depends on agreement, it means it is not a logical ordering. Take, for example, the phrase “a friend of Ali’s” in English. In Turkish, the word that corresponds to ‘a friend’ takes second place in the phrase. In other words while the determinant comes before the determinatum in English, the ordering in Turkish is just the opposite. One cannot ask why this is so, since this is simply linguistic agreement and hence there is no logical connection in the ordering. In other words, one cannot say that English is more logical than Turkish, or vice versa.


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This shows that rules of surface grammar have no logical connection and therefore are not universal. I do not wish to say that these rules are not logical. The conditions under which each language has developed, and the lifestyles of people speaking them vary. For example, while men wear pants in one society, they wear skirts in another. It would be absurd to categorize these two modes of dress as logical-illogical. Differences in surface grammar rules in different languages are analogous. Let us continue our investigation by forming a short sentence from our token phrase. “A friend of Ali’s married” (“Ali’nin bir arkadaşı evlendi”). This sentence is uttered in the same form in Turkish, except for the places of the elements of the noun phrase. If the verb at the end of the sentence appeared instead at the beginning, there would be no change in meaning. In English, we are not allowed to apply this transposition which is casual in Turkish. We cannot say: “Married a friend of Ali’s.” We can say: “Did a friend of Ali’s marry?” However, the meaning of the sentence changes, and becomes an interrogative sentence. The verb ‘married’ or any other word, cannot appear anywhere between “a friend of Ali’s,” which, as in English, is also a noun phrase in Turkish. The noun phrase is a linguistic unit and cannot be divided. In sentences such as: “Every alteration must have a cause” the verb itself may appear at the beginning of the sentence, “Must every alteration have a cause,” turning the sentence into a question. Since non-universal surface grammar rules fall under syntax, and since syntax determines meaning, this situation serves as an example for my claim that there cannot be a universally valid rule about meaningfulness. A regular Turkish sentence is composed of these five elements: Subject, adverb, complement, object and verb. Although they might be composed of more than one word or have suffixes, the elements should be taken as a unit. In other words, they cannot be divided and no word can be inserted between them. Let us give an example for each of these elements in the same order: Ali, |“geçen yıl” (“last year”)|“New York’ta” (“in New York”|“birev” (“a house”)|“kiraladı” (“rented”) (Ali|rented|a house|in New York|last year). In Turkish, the sentence would usually appear in the order given above. However, in Turkish these five elements could be ordered arbitrarily and each new sentence thus obtained would nevertheless be yield the same sense. Mathematically, there are 120 (5! = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 = 120) possible Turkish orderings, all of them with the same meaning. Let us just offer three examples: Geçen yıl bir ev


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kiraladı Ali New York’ta/Kiraladı New York’ta Ali geçen yıl bir ev/New York’ta bir ev kiraladı Ali geçen yıl. In Turkish, since the suffix is inseparable from the word stem, suffixed words constitute units and appear as single words. Hence, such a word can be permutated within the sentence without the latter’s meaning suffering any changes. Again, let’s take the example of a sentence composed of five units: Dün gece|İstanbul’da|bir eve|hırsız|girdi (“Yesternight|in Istanbul|to a house|thief|entered” = Last night, a thief entered a house in Istanbul). All 120 permutations of this sentence bear the same meaning. Now, let’s consider the example of a sentence composed of four units: “Yarın|hava|yağmurlu|olacak” (“Tomorrow|weather|rainy |will be” = It will rain tomorrow). All 24 possible permutations of this sentence (4! = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 = 24) will have the exact same meaning. Whereas the permutability of words within a sentence validly applies to the examples given above, it would not be true to say that in every Turkish sentence word order can be shuffled. Here, it should only be noted that Turkish is capable of providing such a possibility. To a certain degree, the same may be achieved in English. Most native speakers of English will understand this syntactically ill-formed sentence “Rented in New York a house last year Ali,” although it would not be clear if this is a question or an affirmation, since the verb at the beginning indicates the first possibility. Besides, with semantics not being determined by syntax, this re-ordering of speech units in the sentence is not possible in any other European language outside the Turkish language group. SEMANTIC AND REFERENTIAL VALUES OF THE LINGUISTIC SIGN How is then sense determined in Turkish? Independently of whether every, some or none of the speech units of a sentence have sense, if one of them does not affect the others syntactically, then their ordering has no role in the sense of the sentence. A more or less unordered sentence does not equate with a loss of sense. Such a sentence may be called a modular sentence. To use an analogy, if the positions of individual pieces of a modular furniture set in a room are interchanged, their function will not be lost even if its appearance changes. In this analogy, the furniture set corresponds to a sentence, the pieces of furniture to linguistic units,


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and the appearance and function of the furniture within the room in a house, to the appearance and sense of the sentence. Furthermore, the verb “to rent” names an action, but this action has no image that can be simulated in the mind. However, although the unit “he rented” (“kiraladı”) has no specific meaning due to the same ineffectuality, the mind identifies the object as connected to ‘a house’ or some type of lodgings and the sentence is understood. One question arises at this point: What is it that allows the interchange of speech units in our mind, or how does this condition take place? We will return to this question again below. For now, I want briefly to say: Since speech units do not affect each other in terms of meaning and there is no connection between them to complement or distort the meaning, the mind will have no difficulty changing their places in the sentence although it may not sound pleasant. Due to this lack of connection, if a relation between sentence and ‘being’ exists, that is, when sentence designates something that exists, then this connection can be established between units of sentence and that ‘being’ in a similar way as the connection between the whole sentence and that ‘being’. This also allows the formation of a sentence as a whole in line with the order of the occurrence of Being. We will return to this problem again below. Thinking is the formation of a language in the human mind. In Plato’s words, thought and speech are the same, only the former, which is a silent inner conversation of the soul with itself, has been given the special name of thought. (…) But the stream that flows from the soul in vocal utterance through the mouth has the name of speech. (1961: 441)

Similar considerations are to be found in Aristotle, who affirms that Spoken sounds are symbols of affections in the soul, and written marks symbols of spoken sounds. And just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds. But what these are in the first place signs of – affections of the soul – are the same for all; and what these affections are likenesses of – actual things – are also the same. (Aristotle, 1991: 16a 4−8)

Similarly, for Sextus Empiricus, There was another disagreement among them; some placed the true and false in the region of the thing signified, others in that of utterance, others in that of the motion


Ömer Naci Soykan / On the Relationships between Syntax and Semantics of thought. And the Stoics stood for the first opinion, saying that three things were connected with one another, the thing signified and the signifier and the object. Of these the signifier is the utterance (for example, the utterance “Dion”); the thing signified is the actual state of affairs revealed by it, and which we apprehend as it subsists in our thought, and which foreigners do not understand even though they hear the utterance; and the object is the externally existing thing (for example, Dion himself). And of these, two are bodies, namely the utterance and the object, while one is incorporeal, namely the state of affairs signified and sayable, which is true or false. (Sextus Empiricus, 2005: 11−12)

This means that language is needed in order to think, and words must be stored in mind in order to form a language. Thinking takes place when the mind makes connections between words stored in memory. Accumulation and storage of ideas in human memory goes hand in hand with language acquisition. In recollection, human memory brings back a re-presentation (re-localization in space and time) of an object named by a sign. However, sometimes the object might be recalled as a mental image, without necessarily recalling the linguistic sign (word) associated to it. This phenomenon may be described with the expression “it is on the tip of my tongue.” Conversely, thinking can occur with words that have no specific representations outside language under de re/de dicto distinction made by Robert B. Brandom. (2002: 94−95) In de dicto, “conceptual content is understood as a role in reasoning”, that is, what I explain as “reference/sense” distinction, which includes understanding words with and without reference. The understanding of the sentence “It rained and the roads got wet,” that describes the condition of an object, is possible by imagining the described situation. More abstract forms of reasoning such as the following statement by Immanuel Kant do not describe any object condition: “Judgements of experience, as such, are all synthetic” (2000: 142). In order to understand this sentence one needs to learn expressions such as “judgments of experience” and “synthetic” whose definitions are not sentences that describe object conditions. This is how philosophical discourse is created. Understanding here takes place by means of such exercises. However well-educated one may be, one cannot be expected to understand the sample sentence if one is not familiar with Kantian philosophy. The difference in understanding is not just between philosophers and non-philosophers, but also among philosophers themselves. For example, some philosophers claim they do not understand Martin


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Heidegger. This shows that they are alien to Heidegger’s language, like the art history professor who was alien to philosophical discourse.1 Signs (whether linguistic or not; i.e. Charles Sanders Peirce’s distinction between icon/index/symbol) with an ‘informative’ or ‘referential’ function convey knowledge concerning objects of the real world. But there are also signs (including beings that do not exist in reality – giants, unicorns, etc.) that do not have an informative-referential function, that is, without a referent. These establish nevertheless, an abstract quasireferential relationship with a ‘mental representation’ (purely cognitive category, which does not require the existence of the ‘real’ object). In the distinction between linguistic signs with a reference and those words with no reference but which are meaningful, it might be useful to turn to Gottlob Frege’s differentiation between the expressions “evening star” and “morning star.” He claims that although they have the same reference they do not have the same sense (1966: 41). For Frege a phrase such as “the celestial body which stands furthest from earth” (1966: 42) has no reference but sense and takes place in language not in the external world. A similar distinction is made by David J. Chalmers while he discusses the two dimensions of semantics: “Typically, one semantic value is associated with reference and ordinary truth-conditions, while the other is associated with the way that reference and truth-conditions depend on the external world” (2006: 574). This means that linguistic signs (words) are retained in memory whether they have specific representations or not, a difference signaled by Augustine between signs “which have a meaning in a natural manner” and, on the other hand, signs established by “usage and convention” (Augustine, 163). Words with no object image associated to them can be recalled. It is the use of verbal language that allows the higher levels of conceptual thought (for an extended discussion see Soykan 2009). In the case of artistic sign, the ‘poetic’ function takes precedence over the ‘referential’ function (Jakobson, 1960: 371), and the artist tends to convey ambiguous and suggestive psychomental representations rather than attempt to offer ‘true-value’ (objective) perceptions. Here, semantic values may overshadow the referential values associated to the sign. The distinction between the function of a sign in a system (langue in the case of linguistic signs) and the function of that the same sign possesses in the concrete act of its usage (parole in the case of linguistic signs) allows for their inclusion in a certain discursive


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isotopy supports a (mode of) signification, for instance, philosophical or artistic. While representation is function of language, denotative reference is a function of the message. Setting aside the fact the relationship the mind establishes with the world by means of signs, we are faced with the difficulty of the relation between language and existence, or rather, non-existence. The linguistic expression of ‘non-Being’ (meon) has a correspondence in reality so that the “non-existent exists” (Plato, 1961: 236e ff.) or in Heidegger’s words, “Language is the house of Being” (1971: 65). But language should be able to mention the non-existent without assigning a Being to it and this should not cause a contradiction. Turkish clearly propounds this by using both the existent and non-existent in plural form. If plurality can be assigned to the non-existent too, then it is not simply an ontic feature. In Turkish, the plural suffix is grammatical, not ontic. However, in English and many other languages, there is a differentiation of countable and uncountable. Such a differentiation requires the placement of words in one of these two classes, taking into account the objects to which the words refer, showing a binding consent between language and the external world. If there is no such distinction in a language, if every name can be pluralized, then such a bond cannot be said to exist. Turkish is such a language and states explicitly that non-existent things are available in language only. This shows that seeking a correspondence between language and reality is irrelevant in Turkish. MODULARITY IN TURKISH LANGUAGE There is yet another example that illustrates the aforementioned distinction between the domain of language and being in Turkish language and culture. Every Turkish tale begins with the stereotypical saying “once there was, once there wasn’t,” so that the permission to state those that vanish without leaving a trace of existence is given at the outset, alongside those that exist. There are many such absurd sayings with pleasant and poetic effect in Turkish folk songs and nursery rhymes; for instance “Camels become town criers, fleas become barbers,” “I rock my mother’s cradle tıngır mıngır.” Such usage shows how impact of a particular culture upon language. Here, not ambiguity, but absurdity is at stake. In turn, absurdity should be regarded as possessing a poetic function. The following verses from Yunus Emre illustrate this point: “Çıktım erik


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dalına/anda yedim üzümü” (I climbed up unto the branch of a plum-tree/I ate the grape thereupon). In order to attain the absurd, reason, as it seeks a correspondence between the utterance and its reference, is decoyed into a pitfall: I rock my mother’s cradle tıngır, I eat a grape on a plum branch, etc. In the case of the German language, Heidegger’s statement “Das Nichts selbst nichtet”; 1981: 34) translated from Was ist Metaphysik by David Farrell Krell as “The Nothing itself nihilates” (1978: 105) is uncommon in German as it is in English. This duplication of subject and verb “Nihilo nihilates” or similar phrases such as “The rain rains” (“Das Regnen regnet”) are not used in those languages (the normal use would be “It rains/Es regnet”). However, this kind of use is very common in Turkish, for example in “Yağmur yağar” “El eller” “Uzun uzar” and similar expressions. The phrase “The nothing itself nihilates” (In Turkish: “Hiç kendi hiçler”) has a linguistic potential in Turkish, and since, there is no one-toone correspondence between language and reality in Turkish, one cannot infer from this phrase that something relating to Being is said, since it can include the existent and non-existent. If speech were only possible about Being, then one would not be able to speak about mistakes or dreams. Turning back to the discussion on the connection between Being and language or rather the connection between language and what it articulates, left unconcluded above, let us take a sentence where each speech unit has a meaning: “After work, I bought 1 kg of fish from the fish market” (“İş dönüşü balıkçıdan bir kilo balık aldım”). In Turkish, the ordering of speech units in the sentence matches exactly the order of their occurrence in time: after work/I bought from the fish market/1 Kg of fish. A Turkish speaker there would see a slight mismatch in English due to syntax constraints in that language. As stated above, in Turkish, the ordering of speech units does not define the sense of the sentence nor determine meaning. Nevertheless, the sentence is understood in both languages independently of the order of speech units. However, this does not apply in longer stretches of text, made up of a number of sentences or functional units whose order may alter the relationship among propositions, that is, context-dependency (on this, see Cappelen and Lepore, 2005). The examples discussed above are not context-dependent, so that meaning is there even when it is not in a context. For example, the


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meaning of Kant’s statement “Judgements of experience, as such, are all synthetic” quoted above, does not change from one context to another. One either understands this sentence or one does not. Although the necessity to know the definitions of the concepts which constitute the sentence in order to understand it may be conceived as an example of contextualism, this by no means contradicts the kind of understanding that I mention, since there are not different forms of understanding that vary from context to context. The claim that “those definitions could have been made differently, thus changing the meaning of the sentence” simply does not make sense because the sentence would then be another sentence. In another example from Kant, “Every alteration must have a cause.” The Turkish of this sentence has three elements: “Every alteration” (“her değişmenin”)|“a cause” (“bir nedeni”)|“must have” (“olmalıdır”). All possible orderings of these three elements give us six sentences: Her değişmenin bir nedeni olmalıdır/Bir nedeni olmalıdır her değişmenin/Her değişmenin olmalıdır bir nedeni/Bir nedeni her değişmenin olmalıdır/Olmalıdır her değişmenin bir nedeni/Olmalıdır bir nedeni her değişmenin. Each one of these six sentences offers the same sense. Each element is meaningful in itself. The meaning of one does not affect the others. For this reason, none of them needs to precede or come after another. In sentences where speech units have no representation, meaning obtained by the replacement of speech units is even more stable than in other kinds of sentences. This independence of sense from syntax in Turkish or, in other words, the modular structure of the language, brings us to the conclusion that Turkish is a mathematical language. Interestingly, Johannes Lohmann’s characterization of Turkish as a “language without history” (210) can be explained from this perspective, since mathematical structures such as 2+3=5 are the same today as they were five hundred years ago. Furthermore, in Turkish, the body of nouns and the roots of verbs do not change. The meanings given to words that suffixes are specified. For example, the suffix -cik is a diminutive that regularly conveys affection. If I address a certain Ali as Alicik, this means that I consider him to be midget and cute. In the same way, a small hill, tepe in Turkish, can be called tepecik. In case a word takes more than one suffix, the suffixes are lined up according to a definite order that leaves no room for confusion. E. g., in Turkish the sentence “you must do” is translated with a single word: yapmalısın. The order of suffixes attached to the word stem


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is stable at all times: yap-me-a-lı-sın. The regularity of suffix order confers simplicity, clarity and ease to the Turkish language. When one of the words in the sentence becomes obsolete, it can be substituted with a new word that conveys the same meaning, in much the same way as we do “cut and paste,” yet the sentence preserves its original meaning notwithstanding. E.g., a verse by Yunus Emre reads: Yunus eydür bu sözü “Yunus utters these words.” The word eydür used here has become obsolete today. We replace it with söyler, and the same meaning is preserved even if we leave the rest of the sentence unmodified. This is a further result of the fact that the meaning of this word is independent from its syntactical position. Due to this anachronism, the poetry of Yunus Emre, a Turkish language poet from seven hundred years ago, can be easily understood and read with pleasure today. The equal sign in an arithmetical sentence corresponds to a copula in a verbal sentence. If the places of numbers on the left of the sign are changed, the equality is preserved, but if the place of the equal sign is changed, equality is abolished. In Turkish, the word to which the copula is affixed does not change the meaning of the word, no matter where it is placed because the copula is not separate but affixed to a word. In Turkish, the copula is not a separate word but a suffix. Since this suffix is always affixed to a verb, the verb, like other words, can also change its place in the sentence; therefore the meaning of the sentence remains the same. When you take this characteristic of Turkish together with its modular structure mentioned above, Turkish can conveniently be described as not only an arithmetical but also a mathematical language. Permutability of word order seems to be tantamount to “self-reflexivity of language.” Marie-Laure Ryan says: “Self-reflexivity is also found in all the representational arts, as well as in computer languages and mathematical systems” (Ryan, 2012). The properties of Turkish I presented in this paper make it a strong candidate, I believe, for being used in machine translation. The text to be translated is written in Turkish first, and then translated operationally into the desired language. In order to convince those who do not speak Turkish as to the validity of what I have explained about the modular structure of Turkish and my philosophical reflections on this, let us consider a hypothetical situation. Consider a language whose only grammatical rules are these: Each word is always in the same form. For each tense and case, there are separate


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words for suffixes and prefixes. Each of them is used together with the relevant word, without another word in between. Humans communicate by using such words, and the ordering of words, or more precisely the speech units, is not important because, in the framework of the abovementioned rules, they would necessarily not affect the senses of each other. The senses of sentences derived from all possible orderings will remain the same. Someone expresses his intention, then stops and adds nothing. But after a while, he expresses a second intention. Is this possible? Why not? Since an intention can be expressed by a speech unit, someone can mean something by such a use of speech units. Since meaning something is internal speech, if someone means something with the words he uses, there is no reason that his interlocutor would not understand what he means, given that both of them have minds. The mind will combine words that do not affect each other regardless of their place in the sentence in a way that will be understood by those who use this language. Of course, Turkish has grammatical rules, but even when the same syntactical rules are not applied in the way I mentioned in this article, the sentence retains its sense. This was what I wanted to express when referring to the non-determination of semantics by syntax, and that the order of speech units is not a condition for understanding the sentence. It is generally said that the fewer the number of rules in any field, the more such minimalism will be preferred, based on the principle of economy. That principle is valid in language too, and Turkish has the privilege of being such a language. CONCLUSIONS In Turkish, conservation of the meaning of a sentence resides in its possible permutations. This shows that, unlike in English, in Turkish, syntax only defines semantics loosely. English syntax is much more restrictive, as shown in the examples above. A few changes in the positions of words in an English sentence changes an enunciation into a question. This does not happen in Turkish, hereby showing that grammatical rules, or at least some of them, are not universal. Furthermore, the paper has shown that when rules prevent a violation of logic, they are universal. If not, they are only conventional, and differ from language to language.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 61−76 References Aristotle. De Interpretatione. The Complete Works of Aristotle. Ed. Johnathan Barnes.Vol. 1. Bollingen Series LXXI 2. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. Baker, Gordon Park. “Wittgenstein’s ‘depth grammar’.” Language & Communication 21 (2001): 303−319. Brandom, Robert Boyce.Tales of the Mighty Dead.Harvard University Press, 2002. Cappelen, Herman, and Ernest Lepore. Insensitive Semantics: A Defense of Semantic Minimalism and Speech Act Pluralism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2005. Chalmers, David J. “Two-Dimensional Semantics.” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Eds Ernest Lepore and Barry C. Smith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006. 574−606. Chomsky, Noam. Syntactic Structures. Hague: Mouton & Co. ‘S-Gravenhage, 1957. Chomsky, Noam. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1976. Coulter, Jeff. “Discourse and Mind.”Human Studies 22 (1999): 163−181. Freeman, Kathleen. Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952. Frege,Gottlob. Funktion, Begriff, Bedeutung. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966. Heidegger, Martin. On The Way To Language. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971. Heidegger, Martin. “What is Metaphysics?” Martin Heidegger Basic Writings. Ed. David Farrell Krell. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978. 91−112. Heidegger, Martin. Was istMetaphysik? Frankfurt a.M: Vittorio Klostermann, 1981. Jakobson, Roman. Style in Language. Ed. Thomas Albert Sebeok. New York: Wiley, 1960. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Lohmann, Johannes. Philosophie und Sprachwissenschaft. Berlin: Dunker & Humblot, 1965. Morris, Charles William. Foundations of the Theory of Signs. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1964. Plato. Sophist. London: William Heinemann Ltd. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1961. Ryan, Marie-Laure. “ Dysfunctionality and Self-Reflexivity.” Between Page and Screen. Ed. Kiene Brillenburg Wurth. Oxford University Press Publication, Forthcoming. Sextus Empiricus. Against the Logicians. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Soykan, ÖmerNaci. “Arts and Languages: A Comparative Study.”Art Criticism 24. 1 (2009): 113−121. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Grammar. Ed. Rush Rhees. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1990. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1997.


Ömer Naci Soykan / On the Relationships between Syntax and Semantics Notes I do not think this distinction I make has any equivalent in the literature. For this reason, if you allow me, I would like to recount something I heard from a German art history professor. He said “I attended a philosophy meeting as a member of the audience. I understood nothing of what was being said, although everyone spoke German.”



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Translation and Dissemination in PostCommunist Romanian Literature Dan LUNGU

Faculty of Philosophy and Social-Political Sciences, “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iasi B-dul Carol I, 11, Iasi 700506, Romania [email protected] Abstract. Translation is a fundamental part of cultural dissemination. Based on an empirical qualitative research, the first part of this article presents the effects that the wave of translations after 2005, the first of utmost importance in the Romanian cultural environment, engaged in the local literary field, and in the second part there are brought into discussion some important intercultural barriers in translation and promotion of literature abroad, such as defining literature in a different way, new forms of censorship or problematic semiotic codes of literature of revolt. Keywords: cultural differences, aesthetic canon, translation, the writer’s condition, east-west

INTRODUCTION Among the many ways of intercultural communication and mutual understanding of cultural environments, the translation of literary works is one that cannot be eluded. My aim in this article is to discuss the issue of translation and promotion of Romanian literature abroad, mainly through the problematization of the effects that this type of cultural communication entails on the system of literary values and of the obstacles that arise because of cultural differences Invariably – and not only in the Romanian literary environment, but in all those in which creation is not in a world language – the number of translations from other languages overwhelmingly exceeds that of translations into other languages or, in Valérie Ganne’s terms and Marc Minon’s (1992), intraductions prevail over extraductions. Therefore, in such literary environments, if a truly intercultural communication is desired, and not a unidirectional flux of language, then special measures need to be taken regarding translations and promotion. In Romania, the policy of stimulating foreign translations has a very poor history. In the interwar period there wasn’t a particular interest from the state or professional/cultural associations for the promotion of literature abroad; during the 77

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totalitarian regime, although there was a relatively large number of translations, they were made especially for propaganda or political-clientele (except for writers in exile), and in the first fifteen years after the Collapse of Communism there were registered rather small successes, based on personal relationships. Never till 2005, the Romanian Cultural Institute started developing a set of programs for the promotion of culture abroad and to train translators, and Romanian publishers, especially Polirom, started taking action1 in promoting their own authors on the international book market. Therefore, the period after 2005 is characterized by the largest number of translations in the entire cultural history of Romania, with a faster increase in its first years and a slowdown after 2010, when the effects of the economic crisis are felt. Most of the empirical data underlying this study are based on the results of the qualitative participant-observation research. During 2004−2011, I attended many workshops, book fairs, translation workshops, meetings with editors and I myself exchanged letters with translators, in various languages. Thus, in the effort of theorizing the subject investigated, starting from empirical data, in the spirit of the Chicago School, we analyzed fieldnotes, observations from the researcher journal, many informal conversations with writers, translators, cultural managers, booksellers, librarians, email dialogues or interviews published in magazines and newspapers. INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION AND THE (RE) NEGOTIATION OF LITERARY VALUES The translation of a large number of literary works, most of them belonging to contemporary authors, in a relatively short period of time, is a first in the Romanian cultural environment. The reactions in the press were very powerful and a number of consequences have begun to be felt in the literary field, which we will mention below. One of the most important consequences is the establishment of a European dimension of the Romanian writer’s condition. Although there are a few authors that have been translated into several languages so far, they rather were seen as exceptions; nowadays, having your work published in another country begins to be felt as something normal, as a legitimate aspiration, even for a beginner. Having in view that during the totalitarian regime the entire literary career was nationally conceived, the current


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state of affairs is a real change in mentality. Meanwhile, the presence of Romanian literary works in the international cultural environment has increased considerably, and I mean not only the number of books translated into various languages, but also magazines dedicated to Romanian literature, anthologies or the fact that Romania is a country invited to various book fairs or literary festivals. Also, Romanian writers have begun to realize that what they write reaches a foreign audience and literary critics with diffrent cultural background, unfamiliar with Romanian aesthetic canon. That the new wave of translations does not come from a sudden illumination of foreign publishers in front of the Romanian literary values, but from a promotion policy (of the Romanian Cultural Institute/The National Books Centre, and various publishing houses), from a political context (Romania accession to the EU) or from a broader cultural context (the success of the new wave of Romanian cinema) is likely to problematize the dominant definition of literature, an aesthetic-escapist one. Subsidiarily, the resources of the literary values or of the aesthetic canon are being surveyed. By making the Romanian literature known to the world, a new instance of national consecration at national level is legitimated, on the background of a crisis of recognition instances after the fall of dictatorship in 1989 (see Gheorghiu, 2007: 287−306 and Lungu, 2004: 94−103). Not a few of the young writers, especially of those from the province, think that they can be more easily validated in their country after they register an international success. One’s recognition abroad is seen as an important resource in building a literary career at national level, a resource that can also annihilate the “handicap” of living in the province, far from the mechanisms of power. Subsidiarily, one can “read” the belief that Western literary world is more democratic and corect in the legitimacy process than the Romanian one. Also, being translated is considered an important asset to the local reader, a consumer of foreign literature mainly, and less Romanian. Facilitating a European statute for the Romanian writer comes in a moment when he has already lost its importance in front of his own readers,2 and the European extension can help them regain, within certain limits, the esteem they once had. The European/international visibility or success, as a new instance of acquiring consecration, not only multiplies the mechanisms of creating a literary value, but it also encounters the classic quasi-monopolistic in-


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stance during the dictatorship, the literary criticism, that fought against the political power with the weapon of pure aesthetics, of art for art’s sake. Literary criticism is itself in a period of redefining its status, and the new instance of consecration is not always appreciated.3 Those writers who are translated abroad are sometimes perceived as being out of their critical jurisdiction, and the preferences of local critics, built to a large extent on the national aesthetic canon, are not always in line with the appreciations Romanian writers receive abroad, creating conflicts of interpretation. Finally, we can say that the new wave of translations contributes to a redefinition and repositioning of the critical assessment in the Romanian literary field. As a conclusion, the significant wave of translations of Romanian literature abroad began in 2005, having the consequences listed above, and it represents a new challenge for the Romanian literary field, having an important role in the (re)construction of literary values. This adds to other phenomena with similar effects, after the fall of the dictatorship: the abolition of censorship, a literary canon revised, recovery of literature written while in exile, the apparition of a new contestatory generation of writers, intense translation of foreign literature (that provided new aesthetic models for the Romanian writers and new assessing criteria for the local ones), the rediscovery of the general public, the opening of writers’ secret police files. In the literary field, so disturbed after 1989, the national aesthetic canon is reconsidered, creating great tensions. LITERARY TRANSLATION AND THE MANAGEMENT OF CULTURAL DIFFERENCES There is not a novelty that the translation of a literary text from one language to another, the transfer from one cultural environment to another, raises the most various problems, from the vocabulary or style, to the comprehension of attitudes, behaviour, mentality or measurability of the system of values the text subtends. Translation studies are full of dilemmas, examples and disputes. In the the following paragraphs, I will only systematize some personal observations made during the field research between 2005−2011 regarding the intercultural barriers encountered in translating and promoting Romanian literature abroad. I will certainly not exhaust the number of such obstacles, but I think the few divisions brought into attention outline the relationship between the Romanian


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literary environment and the Western one, and to some extent to the east-west one. 3.1. What we are talking about when we talk about literature The reluctance of major Western publishers to the Romanian literature, Bulgarian, Serbian and other small countries’ in the region4 is a fact that everyone resposible of copyright issues admits, and many explanations revolve around the bad image of those countries or lack of Western public interest in the literature that comes from this area. Beyond these macrosocial explanations that have their degree of relevance, I’ve always tried to understand what is going on looking at this mattere from inside the literary field. A completely fortuitous conversation with one of the most active young translators from Romania helped me clarify an issue that seems crucial to me now. There’s no secret that the translators, especially those translating from small languages also play the role of literary agents, and so they assiduously make contacts in the publishing industry. The young translator had just returned from a meeting with an important editor and was upset because her third translation proposal was categorically rejected. She was more upset because the representative of the publishing house seemed very open, even friendly, eager to publish a Romanian writer, therefore a rara avis, but always reproaching the same thing: that brings “experimental texts.” It seemed strange because she suggested books which in Romania are labeled as good novels, that received favourable literary critics and that have been a success, in no way extreme innovations. Corroborating this information with my previous research on the Romanian literary field,5 I realized that when talking about literature, Romanian writers/editors and literary critics, and Western editors talk about rather different things, and have different dominant definitions of literature, because literary fields have evolved differently in the former communist countries and the West. In Romania the definition of literature as art for art’s sake is still very strong, forged under the dictatorship from tactical reasons, the autonomy of the literary field being continuously threatened by censorship and political power. The exacerbation of the aesthetic definition of literature was absolutely necessary at first, to limit the propaganda function of literature, and later, when the political power wanted to annihilate the subversive capacity of literature rather than use it for political education, the aestheticism became


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a mere form of escapism or tolerance of the regime opression. In a literary field dominated by such a definition, the general public is deprived of almost any contribution in the construction of literary value, and literary criticism – studying par excellence the history of national literary forms, of the mechanisms through which literature gives birth to literature, without vulgare adhesions to the environment – becomes the supreme judge in matters of literature. Authors literary socializing under the influence of this definition of literature have acquired a natural tendency towards innovation and a fundamental lack of qualified communication with the public. Their literature is addressed rather to the “narrow field” in terms of Pierre Bourdieu, it leads toward the avant-garde expression, that is exactly the narrow space where literary revolutions are born. Each is prepared and willing to reinvent literature, being convinced that a perfect grasp of literary means is enough for this. Of course, here we have designed an ideal pattern, from which the real writers deviate more or less. The fact is that this type of author is not exactly what a big Western publisher is looking for, and I do not refer to the bestsellers manufacturers here, but the editors with cultivated taste, fond of literature in the best sense of the word. The evolution of Western literary field evolved rather to a relative autonomy of the aesthetic value, which is preserved in the continuous battle with merchantability and economic constraints. That is why the public, even in case of “good” literature, has an active role in the construction of aesthetic value, and the editorial system tends to publish books that meet success from both the literary critics and the public. Following the same theoretical line, inevitably when you design typologies, I would say that the author from the former communist countries, familiar with the aesthetic definition of literature, rather seeks to make a literary revolution, while the Western author, socialized in the spirit of aesthetic heteronomy, aims to gain both artistic performance and success. This does not mean we will not find aesthetes in Western countries, and in former communist countries reader-oriented writers, but we refer to dominant trends and mechanisms of legitimacy in their artistic fields. That’s how I explained myself the editor’s reaction to the proposals of the young translator.


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3.2. Censorship is dead, long live censorship! I will continue the above mentioned ideas, in order to study an interesting cultural difference regarding the interaction between Romanian writers and the Western editorial system. For an author who embraces the aesthetic definition of literature, his text, once completed, becomes intangible. It’s a jewelry polished to the last watermark, a mechanism thought to the smallest wheel or even the result of divine inspiration. To change a comma or suppress a phrase is an impiety. To this representation on the literary work – unique, inspired and intangible – the writer from the former communist countries adds the experience, sometimes traumatic, of political censorship, often made even by the book editor. This double conditioning makes him very careful, almost obsessed with the integrity of his own text. In this context, the contact with Western publishers, for whom the text is often an object of discussion and negotiation with the editor, is a surprising and often unpleasant experience. The more important the publisher is, the more unavoidable these negotiations seem to be. Romanian well-known writers have finally agreed to have chapters of their books suppressed from different reasons, more or less commercial, and a young writer confessed that a prestigious American publisher rearranged chapters of his novel to give linearity to the action, betraying his intention to make action more sophisticated according to the readers taste. Such editorial practices are perceived as abusive and hardly acceptable, some kind of price paid to escape the anonymity of a small country and enter the international literary stage. Following this experience, the great disillusionment of the authors is that literature, indeed, in the West is strongly desacralized and the freedom the authors who escaped dictatorship dreamed of deal with a new „censorship”, which is rarely subject of discussion. 3.3. Problematic codes of post-communist literature The abolition of political censorship in the literary field, after the collapse of the dictatorship, made possible the free expression of various forms of artistic expression, the new generations taking advantage of it. Words, languages, attitudes or themes that had been tightly controlled by the political power, after 1989, have been integrated quickly into the writers’ concerns. Sexuality, homoerotism, deconstruction of nationalism and patriotism of the parade, the misery of everyday life under com-


Dan Lungu / Translation and Dissemination in PostComunist Romanian Literature

munism, childhood during dictatorship, throes of transition to democracy and market economy are some of the favorite themes. Concerning attitude, the new generation explores anger, sarcasm, disgust, bitter laughter, dark humor, despair, brutality, cruelty and, last but not least, insolence, exertion and blase. As far as language is concerned, the means of expression until recently forbidden are recovered: the juvenile or prison jargon, imprecations and grotesque, aggressive oral verbosity or slum, sexuality, etc. To the socialist realism in the first years of dictatorship, and the civil and politicaly sterilized realism, in its last years, to the escapist aestheticism it opposes a black literature, grotesque, angry, brutal, inspired by the moral and social ruins of the former regime, a posttraumatic literature. The translation of such literature raises a lot of difficulties. First, most Romanian translators, most often educated during the political opening of dictatorship, the late ’60s and ’70s, have a certain age and most of them prefer classic authors, of incontestable value, and less the new authors of contestatory literature. It took nearly fifteen years, since the fall of the old regime, to appear a new generation of translators who share a taste for the new literature and to promote it with enthusiasm. Secondly, Western publishers are very concerned with the taste and idiosyncrasies of the readers they address to. Although Western literary language and limited literary field accept the codes of contestatory literature without any reserve, the general public may show reticence regarding, for example, the degree of vulgarity and violence of expression, even if they are used for aesthetic purpose. Also, the ideological reading templates can offer new negotiation issues on the text. For example, a scene of cruelty to animals, although in the novel it captures well the barbarism of a social environment, can be considered as problematic for the Western reader. Hence, the dominant definition of literature that a generation of translators operates with, when this is homogeneous, the sensitivity of Western reader concerning ethical issues and manners and its ideological options are sources of problematization of translation and promotion of post-communist literature that we identified in the field research. Aknowledgments. This work was supported by the strategic grant POSDRU/89/1.5/S/62259, Project Applied social, human and political sciences. Postdoctoral training and postdoctoral fellowships in social, human and political


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 77−86 sciences” cofinanced by the European Social Fund within the Sectorial Operational Program Human Resources Development 2007−2013 References Bourdieu, Pierre. Les Règles de l’art : genèse et structure du champ littéraire. Paris: Editions Seuil, 1992. Casanova, Pascale. Republica mondială a literelor. Bucureşti: Editura Curtea Veche, 2007. Ganne, Valérie, and Marc Minon. “Géographie de la traduction.” Ed. Françoise Barett-Ducrocq. Traduire l’Europe. Paris: Payot, 1992. 55−95. Gheorghiu, Mihai Dinu. Intelectualii în câmpul puterii. Morfologie şi traiectorii sociale. Iaşi: Editura Polirom, 2007. Lungu, Dan. Construcţia identităţii într-o societate totalitară. O cercetare sociologică asupra scriitorilor. Iaşi: Editura Junimea, 2003. Lungu, Dan. Incursiuni în sociologia artelor. Iaşi: Editura Universităţii “Alexandru Ioan Cuza”, 2004. Obiceiurile de lectură ale românilor, raport de cercetare al Institutului Român pentru Evaluare şi Strategie (IRES), 2011. Notes That is, for example, publishing catalogs in English for various book fairs, creating a specialized website, presenting excerpts, translated into English, to the foreign publishers, giving support for attending lectures and workshops abroad, etc. 2 From Reading Habits of Romanians, report IRES 2011, we find out that 79% of book readers do not have a favourite contemporary Romanian author. 3 For example, besides the classical critical verdict, the chronicles started to contain accusations or insinuations that it's just a book “written for export” or “to have success abroad.” Sometimes, Romanian critics feel threatened by the prestige of reviews from abroad, published in major European publications, that are cited more often on the fourth cover of the Romanian reprints. One must know that having opinions citied on the back cover is a very important source of professional prestige for a critic, especially in Romania, where under the quoted fragment it is written not (only) the title of the publication, but mainly or only the name of the critic. 4 In fact, it is not just the problem of the countries in the region, but also of all “small” countries, whose language is not internationally/widely spoken and literary tradition having mainly national relevance. But some former communist countries share a few common features, different from other small countries. In Republica mondială a literelor (2007), Pascale Casanova notes: “Though universalist literary belief agrees that “in art there are no foreigners,” in reality national attachment is one of the most burdensome constraints felt by writers; indeed, the more dominated the country, the more constraining it is” (Casanova, 2007: 228). Or: “the smallness, poverty, “backwardness,” and remoteness of these literary worlds render the writers who live in them – imperceptible in the strict sense – to international literary author1


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ities. This invisibility and remoteness appear clearly to those writers on the periphery who are “internationally recognized” and therefore able to evaluate precisely the position in the hierarchy of world literature” (Casanova, 2007: 230). 5 Especially in Construcţia identităţii într-o societate totalitară. O cercetare sociologică asupra scriitorilor. Iaşi: Junimea, 2003.


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Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry Yi CHEN

Center Comparative Literature, University of Toronto, Isabel Bader Theatre, 3rd Floor 93 Charles Street West Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K9 Canada [email protected] Abstract. Traditionally, comparative literature has focused on the study of influences between texts and it is only recent work that has explored the analogies and affinities of historically independent cultures. In this spirit, this paper develops methods for a structured poetic analysis and applies them to a systematic comparison of the poem “Niǎo Mǐng Jiàn” from the 8th-century Chinese poet Wáng Wéi and the program piece of Paul Celan’s Atemwende: “Du Darfst,” based upon a detailed analysis of their poetics. The analysis and translation reveals how both poems employ words and images as signs without reference, and create dialogical gaps through ambiguity and impersonality. Thus, despite their cultural and historical separation, both poetic texts become “hermetic,” and both poets apply the “hermetic” as a method of inquiry into truth, a truth that cannot be simply pronounced, but needs to be cowitnessed, or heard in silence. It is through this meaningful “silence” that their poetry invites readers and translators all the more perceptively to engage in meaningful conversations. These results entail encouraging perspectives for the question of the limits of translation, especially with regard to east-western studies and for crosscultural comparative literature. Thus, the paper supports Prof. Li Qingben’s and Prof. Guo Jinghua’s claim for a multi-dimensional framework in the study of EastWest cultural influences. Keywords: Multi-dimensional cross-cultural research, Hermetic Poetry, Paul Celan, Wáng Wéi, Translation Studies

INTRODUCTION Ever since the earliest days, when Comparative Literature established itself as a discipline in the 19th century, a key notion in this scholarly endeavour was “influence,” as described by Philarète Chasles in his 1835 inaugural lecture “Foreign Literature Compared” (Littérature étrangére comparée): … the attraction, the sympathies, the constant vibration of all these living, loving, exalted, melancholy and reflected thoughts (…) all submitting to influences which


Yi Chen / Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry they accept like gifts and all in turn emitting new unforeseeable influences in the future!” (Schulz, 1973: 21)

Indeed, this emphasis on “influence,” i.e. the historical, cultural or genetic relationship has shaped the foundation of what we consider “productive” comparisons in the field of Comparative Literature for more than one and a half centuries. This premise, however, has been challenged in more recent times: fields such as post-colonial studies, gender and feminist studies, cultural studies, and translation studies emphasized the contextual elements and the broader circumstances of social and political influences that merit our attentions. Despite this criticism, these fields supplied Comparative Literature with the rigor of “a radical reassessment of Western cultural models” (Bassnett, 1993: 47). One of the most productive results of these approaches is a conscious awareness that the very foreignness, the strange and the impossible are necessary components of the Self. Acknowledging the equality and co-existence of one and “the Other,” Comparative Literature has in recent years emerged from a crossroad, where choices related to its Eurocentric legacy had to be made. It has emerged, not dead, but alive and vigorous. It focuses more on the dialogues across cultural boundaries, and on relationships between texts that are not necessarily based upon “influence,” as Zhang Long Xi proposed for the foundations of East-West studies: But comparative literature by now should have outgrown the search for actual contacts between writers of different nations and the influence of one upon the other…If direct contacts and relations no longer constitute the only legitimate ground for comparison, it is then possible to see that comparative poetics…may yield much more interesting and valuable results than the traditional kind of influence study. (Zhang, 1992: xi)

In his more recent studies, Zhang grounded the comparability of Chinese and Western texts in their thematic affinities (or similarities) that transcend the alleged “incommensurabilities” (Zhang, 2007: 3−23) between Eastern and Western mindsets, and his hermeneutic approach provides a foundation for comparisons of texts that were independently developed in their own cultural contexts. However, a systematic methodology of such comparison, as well as the possibility of translation, is yet to be explored.


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HERMETIC POETRY IN THE WEST Take, for example, poets as disparate as Wáng Wéi (王维, 699−759) and Paul Celan (1920−1970). Wáng Wéi is one of the three most highly regarded poets of the Táng (唐) dynasty, when classical Chinese poetry flourished to its peak, as well as one of the most famous artists in ancient China; Paul Celan is the foremost poet of post-war Europe. However, despite the obvious historical, cultural and linguistic distance between their texts, both can be read as “hermetic poetry” whose deep philosophical meanings are established far beyond the boundaries of literal interpretation and the approach to which requires a kind of attentive “silence,” an awareness beyond verbalization. Analysing and translating this particular type of “hermetic poetry,” which has been widely considered as the most “difficult” and “untranslatable,” tests the possibilities and limitations of cross-cultural literary dialogues that are established purely at the level of the reader’s interpretation, and present no tangible influence between the authors. We must dwell on our terminology for a moment, on the notions of silence and hermetism. In his delightful book Wer bin Ich und wer bist Du (1973), dedicated to Celan’s poetic cycle Atemkristall, Hans-Georg Gadamer holds that the poet increasingly moves toward a breathless silence “in the cryptic Word” (im kryptisch gewordenen Wort), particularly in his later works, and defends that the entire poetic cycle Atemwende is therefore “hermetically encrypted” (hermetisch verschlüsselt) (Gadamer, 1973: 9). Gadamer’s use of the attribute ‘hermetic’ is established upon a self evident notion of hermetism: that which is sealed and inaccessible, a notion that is based on the common use of the word in German, which emphasizes the functional “airtight” (luftdichten verschlusz[sic]) aspect (See Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm). He further explains that “the hermetic” in Celan’s poems is an art of Sinnverhüllung by quoting Heraklit, “Die Harmonie, die nicht offenkudig ist, ist stärker als die offenkudige” (Colin, 1987: 68), and further articulates the essence of the hermeneutic approach: meaningful dialogue between reader and text can only be established upon an inquiry into hidden harmony by means of listening to “silence.” However, we must be somewhat cautious since “hermetic” has a different emphasis in other European languages. In English, the term “hermetic” is more associated with its occult or alchemical origin, which


Yi Chen / Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry

emphasizes its mysterious nature (See Oxford English Dictionary). Moreover, when the Italian critic Francesco Flora first coined the term “hermetic poetry” (La poesia ermetica), he specifically referred to a literary movement in Italy, modeled after French symbolism, complex in composition and difficult to understand, with a political mission to oppose fascist propaganda. As such, the term evokes a degree of criticism of its obscurity and sterility, due to its characteristic “secret” and “private” domain (Ceallacháin, 2007: 153). Intriguingly, Theodor Adorno also explores “the hermetic” in Celan’s work and arrives at a discussion of “silence” as well, but with a very different tone: emphasizing Celan’s experience as a holocaust survivor, in line with Adorno’s provocative claim of the inevitable “barbarian” nature of art and culture after Auschwitz, “the hermetic” of Celan’s poetry is an expression of “the shame of art in the face of suffering” (Adorno, 1997: 322). For both Gadamer and Adorno therefore, silence is a powerful gesture towards the unspeakable truth. In this convergence, both Gadamer and Adorno show that a criticism of the “inaccessible,” “obscure” or “impenetrable” nature of the hermetic may in fact be misplaced; the hermetic need not result in a struggle with ambiguous vocabulary and syntax, but a reader’s attentive listening in “silence” is a path to a meaning far beyond the surface of the text. This, however, is not really new. HERMETIC POETRY IN THE EAST: WÁNG WÉI’S WORKS Eastern philosophical thoughts, especially the canonical Daoist and Buddhist works have been proposing such a philosophy of silence for more than two thousand years. According to Vimalakirti, the enlightened lay scholar and chief exponent of the Vimalakirti Sutra, the distinctions of all beings are in fact caused by “names,” and in this sense, they are not real; only emptiness is real. Yet, emptiness itself is also a name, thus, is empty. By pointing to “silence,” which symbolizes the highest wisdom, and which is contrasted with a mere indication (or gesture) of speechlessness, the Vimalakirti Sutra demonstrates an authentic approach to the truth of “emptiness”, i.e. the possibility of non-dualistic thinking. According to this tradition, hermeticism has been in use as a method for metaphysical inquiry. For example, an important part of Zen Buddhism is the Koan literature, which contains dialogues, stories and statements that are not to be “understood” through any rational thinking. The Zen


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masters create “a-semantic” contexts, in order to stimulate “sudden enlightenment.” However, it would be far-fetched to claim that such enlightenment would be a goal of Paul Celan, and Wáng Wéi’s poetry is also not conventionally perceived as “hermetic.” Let us thus look more closely by stepping back from the historical contingencies in interpretations, and explore Celan’s first poem in Atemkristall “DU DARFST,” in contrast with Wáng Wéi’ s poem 《鸟鸣涧》 (Niǎo Mǐng Jiàn, Bird Song Dale). The theme of silence and Wáng Wéi’s Chan Buddhist approach to nature is fully represented in his famous quatrain 《鸟鸣涧》: 鸟鸣涧 人闲桂花落 夜静春山空 月出惊山鸟 时鸣春涧中 Bird Song Dale

One rests, at ease, a cassia flower drops, a quiet night, spring spreads to empty mountain tops. Moonlight breaks out, alarms a mountain bird, whose song from time to time among the spring filled dale is heard.

Chinese is a tonal language and the poetics of quatrains emphasizes tonal counterpoint and syntactic parallelism. The poem follows a pentasyllabic scheme of tonal alternation between level and deflected tones which start with a level tone: – – – / / / / / – – / / – – / – –/ / – A first approach to the poem is obtained from glossing the Chinese characters: 鸟 鸣 涧 bird to sing valley 人 闲 桂 花 落 person(s) at ease cassia flower(s) to drop 夜 静 春 山 空 night silent spring mountain(s) empty


Yi Chen / Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry 月 出 moon to rise 时 鸣 time to time

惊 山 to startle 春 涧 to sing spring

鸟 mountain bird(s) 中 valley middle

For each line, the caesura comes after the first two syllables: before the caesura, there are two syllables with the same tone; in the three syllables after the caesura, two share the same tone, in contrast with the other. The rhyme falls on the even lines with a plain and long level tone. On the syntactic level of the first couplet, there is a parallel in the pattern of noun/verb/verb/noun/verb with all “full words.” “Full words” are “the substantives and the two types of verbs: verbs of action and verbs of quality”; “empty words” are “the collection of tool words: personal pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, words of comparison, particles, etc” (See Cheng, 1977: 23). The dynamics between two types of verbs: “verbs of quality” (adjectives) such as 閒, 靜, and “verbs of action” such as 落, 空 are vividly shown in these two lines. These verbs modify the substantive nouns 人, 桂花, 夜, 春山 “in an absolutely symmetrical pattern” (Cheng, 1982: 54), which introduces a painting-like visual and imaginative serene beauty. In contrast, this rhythmic and syntactic pattern is slightly broken in the second couplet where Wáng Wéi applies “empty words” such as 时 and 中as noticeable variations, to show the effect of the startled bird and the unexpected sound in a seemingly peaceful spring night. Tang poems are carefully composed, and this one is no exception, but it is not the symmetry, but rather the breaking of symmetry that most pointedly carries the meaning. In contrast to Lǐ Shāng Yǐng (李商隐, 813−858), a late Táng poet whose “hermetic poems” are considered as “gestures toward concealed meaning while simultaneously keeping the latter hidden,” for which the “biographical true” may reveal certain clues to decipher (Owen, 2006: 357). Wáng Wéi’s poetry has achieved a high transparency with a seemingly effortless unification of man and nature, language and silence. For most scholars, Wáng Wéi’s quatrains are such “a poetic universe where subject and object, emotion and scene are mutually implicated


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and fused, and where apparent contradictions in attitudes, themes, or imagery are ultimately resolved” (Yu, 1980: 1). In which way therefore can we claim this poem to be “hermetic?” In her analysis of this poem, Marsha Wagner points out how the contrast between silence and sound intensifies the inner tension beneath the superficial stillness. In her view, the natural sound defines “the silence of the night,” and “the sounds which punctuate the silence make the silence even more evident” (Wagner, 1975: 37). Indeed, the hermetic feature of this poem is based upon this peculiar soundsilence pattern and the philosophical implications that it carries. The “void” is the central theme of this poem, which is metaphorically reflected in the phrase “empty mountain” (空山) and refers to a spiritual space. Consequentially, it is in fact not the “bird’s song” that is meant to be heard, but the very silence and emptiness, which symbolizes the Buddhist idea of transcendence. Wáng Wéi’s intentional selection of the poly-semantic images of natural scenes, such as “cassia flower,” “mountain in spring,” “moon” and “valley,” as well as the acoustic effect of “birdsong,” suggest multiple interpretations beyond lexical information. There are images of flowers and mountains and the voice of the birdsong, but they are just “the pointing finger” of the old Zen saying “the purpose of pointing at the moon (…) is not to see the finger” 《大慧语录》卷20. They are therefore meant to emphasize the “true nature” (真性,zhēn xìng), of that which cannot be expressed in words. In addition, the ellipsis of personal pronouns in this poem, a common feature of Wén Yán (文言, classical Chinese), harmoniously unifies subject-object relationships of nature and human beings, and in this sense, Wáng Wéi’s poem does show how “poetry and Chan reach the same level and there is no distinction between them” (Yu, 1980: 18). This further intensifies the “hermetic.” By removing the counterpart of dialogue, the personal voice and message of the author are “sealed” behind the description of the natural images. The seemingly transparent description of the nature is therefore impenetrable to any interpretation. In the translation presented above, we strive to preserve the hermetic aspects of the poem, while recreating the symmetric pattern and the original fluidity. We choose the English archaic word “dale” 93

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to translate 涧 (valley), instead of “torrent” or “ravine,” to evoke the original’s sense of classical serenity. In dealing with the ambiguous number of “flower” and “bird,” we choose the singular rather than the plural to convey a Buddhist spirit of silence, while, at the same time, preserving the ambiguity of the references of these nouns. In the first two verses, we structure the poem with meter and rhyme, to reflect the patterning of the Chinese original, and finally, in the last two verses, the emphasis is placed on the interruption of the previous symmetry and a visible contrast to the first two verses. The effect of these decisions becomes apparent in comparison to previously published translations of “Niǎo Mǐng Jiàn” such as François Chéng and Jerome P. Seaton’s version: Birdsong Torrent Man in repose: the cassia flowers falling. Night calm: spring mountains empty. Moon surges: startles mountain birds. Sometimes their cries, within spring’s torrent. (Chéng 1982: 102)

or the translation of Tony Barnstone, Willis Barnstone and Xu Haixin: Birds Sing in the Ravine Few people see the acacia blossoms fall, Night is quiet, the spring mountain empty. The sudden moon alarms mountain birds, Long moment of song in the spring ravine. (Barnstone, 1991: 39)

PAUL CELAN’S HERMETIC POETRY Let us now turn to Celan’s poem “DU DARFST,” which is the program piece of the entire poetic cycle Atemwende, and as Celan wrote to his wife Gisèle Celan-Lestrange: “[Atemwende] ist wirklich das Dichteste, was ich bisher geschrieben habe, auch das Umfassendste…” (Wiedemann, 2003: 718), ([Atemwende] is truly the most dense among all I have written up to now, also the most comprehensive.). DU DARFST mich getrost mit Schnee bewirten: sooft ich Schulter an Schulter 94

mit dem Maulbeerbaum schritt durch den Sommer, schrie sein jüngstes Blatt.

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 87−102 with the mulberry tree through summer days, its youngest leaf screamed.

Feel free, for all I care, to welcome me with snow: whenever pacing side by side

The poem’s gloss in English is: DU DARFST mich getrost You may me confidently mit Schnee bewirten: with snow to host: sooft ich Schulter an Schulter whenever I shoulder by shoulder mit dem Maulbeerbaum schritt durch den Sommer, with the mulberry tree paced through the summer, schrie sein jüngstes screamed its youngest Blatt. leaf.

Looking first at rhyme and meter, we see how Celan battles with any poetic “form.” This is however not the absence of meter, but its active denial. We can establish an underlying structure of a six-line pentasyllabic pattern or, after the colon, a quatrain like composition which becomes apparent after rearranging thus: DU DARFST mich ge-trost mit Schnee be-wir-ten: so-oft ich Schul-ter mit dem Maul-beer-baum durch den Somm-er schritt, schrie sein jüng-stes Blatt.

[an Schulter]

A meter is established in the first two lines with the alternation of iamb + anapest and iamb + amphibrach, the third line escapes conventional meter with three unstressed syllables followed by a trochee, and the final three lines move forward with two trochees and a stressed monosyllable each. However, Celan takes every opportunity to break this underlying symmetry by duplication, rearrangement and fragmentation. In the third line, the meter is extended beyond the pattern through the repetition of the noun “Schulter”; in the fourth line, two metric units have been fused into a single line. In the fifth 95

Yi Chen / Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry

line, the symmetry is broken by inverting the expected grammatical structure and moving the verb schritt to the beginning, and the sixth line is fractured by dropping its final noun into a line of its own. Each line of the underlying scheme is therefore removed from the scheme by a specific and unique transformation. This is free verse, not arbitrary, but carefully constructed. Where Wáng Wéi merely bends the symmetry, Celan refracts it almost beyond recognition. Finally, the rearrangements create a sequence of progressively shorter nouns that terminate the lines–if we consider the last two lines as one unit–thus bringing the end of the poem into ever sharper focus.

Figure: a sequence of progressively shorter nouns, in the poem’s last four lines.

In addition, we may notice that Celan’s poem rejects the conformity to any regular rhyme. Christoph Perels’ review on Atemwende soon after its publication already noticed that only a single poem in Atemwende is rhymed and it stands in parentheses1 (Perels, 1968: 169). Yet, the repetitions in Celan’s language are prominent in (alliterations), such as Schnee, Schulter, schritt, schrie, and (consonances) such as mit, dem, Maulbeerbaum; schritt, Blatt; Celan rather follows a musical pattern that is determined by the poetic Textlandschaft, than any conventional scheme of rhyming. According to Hamacher, Celan’s attitude toward rhymes manifests the French maxim that he cherished: “la poésie ne s’impose plus, elle s’expose”2 (Hamacher, 1996: 379). By this activity of “not-rhyming” and by breaking and fragmentizing the lines with the repetitious sounds, Celan paradoxically creates a unique poetic musicality that manifests “how the poem comes home even if it does not come back to itself” (Tobias 2006: 9). These stylistic features are not only formal aspects of Celan’s language, but reflect a quintessential questioning-mode (“Fragemodus”)3 of Celan’s poetics and his fundamental attitude toward art and poetry. In his Meridian Speech, Celan applies the metaphor of Atemwende to describe artistic endeavours: “Dichtung: das kann eine Atemwende bedeuten. 96

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Wer weiß, vielleicht legt die Dichtung den Weg – auch den Weg der Kunst – um einer solchen Atemwende willen zurück?”4 (Celan, 1983, vol. 3: 195), which, as Gerhard Buhr rightly interprets, is an attitude of “eine radikale InFrage-Stellung der Kunst” (radical putting-into-question of art). In addition, the essence of art is related to the essence of questioning and how question itself is formulated: “Das Wesen der Kunst ist vielmehr im Zusammenhang mit dem Wesen der Frage selbst zu erörtern und zu erläutern”5 (Buhr, 1988: 171). Celan’s hermetic poetics is rooted in this “Fragmodus” of his approach to art and poetry: we can see how his poem questions the “meanings” of the words, bends the structure of the grammar, and breaks the boundary of the texts, in order that the reality of poetry could be heard in silence. Similar to Wáng Wéi, Celan's hermetic poetics primarily manifests itself through ambiguity and impersonality. In addition to the phonetic and syntactic obstruction of what we anticipate in “poetic” language, the images and the implications of the words in “Du Darfst” are multi-layered and profoundly ambiguous. For example, in the first verse, a German reader might anticipate “bewerfen” instead of “bewirten.” The “wrong word” startles, and the effect is the same as with Wáng Wéi’s bird: it emphasizes the surrounding stillness, the emptiness of language, which at this moment becomes a-semantic, and therefore silent. Or, consider the “Maulbeerbaum” and its screaming leaf. Here, Celan’s poetics conveys multivalent messages by violating the literal meaning of the images. The “Maulbeerbaum” has no canonically associated referent, not even to “Maul” (mouth), as Gadamer points out, and the very action of shouting suggests to him the noise of abundance in the summer, which contains a strong contrast and deep tension with the silence of the snow in the winter (Gadamer, 1973: 15). Indeed, the tree contradicts even its tree-nature: how is it possible that the “Maulbeerbaum” is walking with “me” side by side? How can a part of the tree – the youngest leaf – obtain its separate individuality and scream? None of the multifaceted implications actuate any consistent interpretations, they are made to be, and remain “hermetic.” What then do these images signify? In his commentaries on the “Bilderflucht” (a series of images) of Celan’s poems in Atemwende, Thomas Sparr points out that Celan’s poetic images of nature reject the notion of mimesis, and his natural scenes do not refer to any particular site. Any “clarity” of meanings is deliberately removed by Ce97

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lan: “Solche Deutlichkeit ist dem Gedicht thematisch, doch auch seiner Textstruktur nach fremd”6 (Sparr, 1989: 66). In this sense, Celan, similar to Wáng Wéi, achieves an integration of theme and structure of poetry by reducing particular references of signs (words) and therefore establishes a multi-layered polysemy of the language. In other words, the snow, the mulberry trees, and the leaf in this poem, like Wáng Wéi’s mountain, flower and bird, do not intent to shape any natural “landscape,” but, as Christiaan Hart-Nibbrig suggests, formulate a certain “Textlandschaft” (Hart-Nibbrig, 1981: 230), for the sake of “poetische Realisation” (Sparr, 1989: 62). As Sparr points out: “Das Zeichen aber erscheint hier nicht mehr als verweisendes, sondern in seiner Selbstbezüglichkeit”7(65); Words here are in fact “not-words”8 and as signs they are reduced to represent the absence of the signified, void, and silence. Translating the ambiguity of poetic texts, in Celan as well as in Wáng Wéi, therefore, means to preserve the “gaps” of these signs, and to invite readers to engage in this infinitely enriching silence. As well, Celan and Wáng Wéi share impersonality. This may not be obvious in Celan’s poem, since the personal pronouns “I” and “You” are not absent. However, the referents of these pronouns and their implications are profoundly uncertain – the recurring theme of Gadamer’s analysis: “who am I and who are you?” He concludes that this “I” does not simply stand for the poet’s selfhood, rather, it refers to the self in general, to “that individual who is each of us” (»jener Einzelne« [...] der ein jeder von uns ist) (Gadamer, 1973: 11), and “the You is so much and so little I as the I is I” (Das Du ist so sehr und so wenig Ich, wie das Ich Ich ist) (12). By removing the identifiability of the addressees and the distinction between “I” and “You,” Celan’s poetry blocks the possibility of conventional dialogues. However, the effect on the readers is an invitation to insert themselves into the nondialogic gap, to achieve a personal perspective on the text, and through such pregnant silence, they encounter all the more perceptively the meaning beyond the boundaries of the text. In our translation, we strive to preserve the structural elements and the musicality of Celan’s German original. In order to recreate the rhythmic flow of the German original, we render the beginning in the imperative voice. The result is an ambiguous “you” implied by the first two lines of the translation: either singular or plural; for the same rhythmic reason, we translate “schritt” as “pacing” instead of “I strode,” thus, the personal pronoun (Ich) is once again omitted. This 98

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rendering, though causing the apparent dialogue between Ich and Du to become only implicit, makes explicit the impersonality of Celan’s poetics. In addition, we recreate Celan’s sound repetitions in English by using words such as “feel,” “free,” “for,” “welcome,” “with,” “whenever,” “snow,” “pacing,” “side,” “days,” “youngest,” “screamed,” in order to maintain the unique musicality of this poem. Once again, the effect becomes most apparent in comparison. For example, John Felstiner ‘s version reads: You may safely regale me with snow: Whenever shoulder to shoulder I strode through summer with the mulberry, its youngest leaf schrieked. (Celan, 2001: 223)

or, as Pierre Joris’s translates as: You may confidently regale me with snow: as often as I strode through summer shoulder to shoulder with the mulberry tree, its youngest leaf shrieked. (Celan 2006: 67)

Similar to translating Wáng Wéi’s “Niǎo Mǐng Jiàn,” Celan’s hermetic poetics in “Du Darfst” require a translation that is aware of the poetic devices that he applies in his Textlandschaft, and a recreation in the target language that preserves the original semiotic features. CONCLUSIONS The above analysis and translation, as well as the comparison between Wáng Wéi and Celan’ s poetics in “Du Darfst” and “Niǎo Mǐng Jiàn” reveal how they both convey a sense of spiritual silence through natural scenes, and both emphasize the effect of silence in skilfully constructed language through an intense contrast with particular sounds. Both are “hermetic” in the sense that they both manifest, particularly through the poetics of ambiguity and impersonality, how “meaning” is not constructed on the sematic level, but through an “a-semantic” voice, through silence. For Wáng Wéi, “the voice” 99

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may be heard through a silent listening to nature with an inspiring enlightenment; for Celan, “the voice” is revealed by a radical departure from his own “mother tongue.” Yet, through this silent voice they both tell of a truth far beyond words. “Hermetic poetry” in this sense calls for the transcendence of historical contingencies and any attachment to the interpretative “understanding.” Hermetic poetry is a silent voice, or a gesture, which points to the very existence of the experience, and is testimony not meant to be understood, but to be co-witnessed. It is this voice itself that counts, not the content of the speech. Both Wáng Wéi’s Zen enlightenment as a “Poet Buddha” and Celan’s personal suffering as a “holocaust author” is determined by their particular historical circumstances, yet through comparison, we realize how much the idea of silence is the place where they truly converge. This compatibility, however, ultimately points to the inner “translatability” that we are seeking in the field of East-West studies and Comparative Literature. Translation, in this sense, as Walter Benjamin emphasizes, is not the transmission of “information” from one language to the other, but, more essentially, an expansion and growth of the target language,9 through encountering the “foreign,” the “strange,” even “the hermetic.” A further investigation of a systematic methodology of comparative studies and translations of the hermetic poetry of Paul Celan and Wáng Wéi will intensify deeper cultural and literary dialogues, which transcends any boundaries passed down from the beginnings of Comparative Literature through “influence” studies. References Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Bassnett, Susan. Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993. Allemann, Beda, and Stefan Reichert. Eds. Paul Celan. Gesammelte Werke in Fünf Bänden. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1983. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt, Brace World Inc, 1968. Boase-Beier, Jean. “Translating Celan’s poetics of silence.” Target 23.2 (2011): 165−177. Buhr, Gerhard. “Von der radikalen In-Frage-Stellung der Kunst in Celans Rede ‘Der Meridian’.” Celan Jahrbuch 2 (1988): 169−208.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 87−102 Ceallacháin, Ó Éanna. Ed. Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry: A Critical Anthology (1900 to the Neo-Avantgarde). Leicester, U.K: Troubador Publishing Ltd., 2007. Celan, Paul. Breathturn. Trans. Pierre Joris. København: Green Integer, 2006. Celan, Paul. Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan. Trans. John Felstiner. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001. Chasles, Philarète. “Foreign Literature Compared.” Comparative Literature: The Early Years. Hans-Joachim Schulz and Phillip H. Rhein. Eds, 1973. 13−37. Chéng, François. Chinese Poetic Writing: with an Anthology of T’ang Poetry. Trans. Donald A. Riggs and Jerome P. Seaton. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982. Colin, Amy Diana. Ed. Argumentum e Silentio: International Paul Celan Symposium. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1987. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Wer bin Ich und werbist Du? Ein Kommentarzu Paul CelansGedichtfolge “Atemkristall”. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1973. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. “Celan’s Schlußgedicht.” Argumentum e Silentio: International Paul Celan Symposium. Amy Diana Colin. Ed. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1987. 58−71. Hamacher, Werner. Premises: Essays on Philosophy and Literature from Kant to Celan. Trans. Peter Fenves. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996. Hart-Nibbrig, Christiaan. Rhetoric des Schweigens. Frankfurt am Main: SuhrkampVerlag, 1981. Owen, Stephen. The Late Tang: Chinese Poetry of the Mid-Ninth Century (827-860). Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2006. Perels, Christoph. “Das GedichtimExil.” EvangelischeKommentare (Stuttgart) 1.3 (1968): 168−169. Schulz, Hans-Joachim, and Phillip H. Rhein. Eds. Comparative Literature: The Early Years, An Anthology of Essays. Chapel Hill, N.C: The University of North Carolina Press, 1973. Sparr, Thomas. Celans Poetik des hermetischen Gedichts. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag. 1989. Tobias, Rochelle. The Discourse of Nature in the Poetry of Paul Celan: The Unnatural World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Wagner, Marsha. The Art of Wang Wei’s Poetry. PhD dissertation. Berkeley: University of California, 1975. Wang, Wei. Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei. Trans. Tony Barnstone. Willis Barnstone, XuHaixin. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1991. Wiedemann, Barbara. Ed. Paul Celan Die Gedichte: Kommentierte Gesamtausgabe in einem Band. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2003. Yú, Pauline. The Poetry of Wang Wei: New Translations and Commentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. Zhāng, LóngXī. The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics, East and West. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1992.


Yi Chen / Semiosis of Translation in Wang Wei’s and Paul Celan’s Hermetic Poetry Zhāng, LóngXī. Unexpected Affinities: Reading across Cultures. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007. 《大慧普觉禅师语录》三十卷,蕴闻集 (The Sayings of Zen Master DàHuìPǔJué, 30 Volumes, collected by Yùn Wén. 11. To 12. Century CE.) “In ‘Atemwende’ wurde nur eine gereimte Strophe[sic] aufgenommen. Sie steht in Klammern.” This refers to the poem: “ICH KENNE DICH.” 2 “Poetry no longer imposes itself, it exposes itself.” 3 I borrow this term from Sparr (1989: 63). 4 “Poetry: this can mean a breath-turn. Who knows, perhaps poetry proceeds along the path – also the path of art – for the sake of such a breath-turn?” 5 “The essence of art rather is to be considered and elucidated in reference to the essence of [the concept of] question itself.” 6 “Such clarity is foreign to the theme of the poem as well as to its textual structure.” 7 “The sign however no longer appear as being a reference, but becomes selfreferential.” 8 I borrow this term from Celan’s fellow Czernowitz poet Rose Ausländer, see Boase-Beier, 2011: 176. 9 The idea is expressed in his essay “The Task of the Translator,” see Walter Benjamin, 1968: 69−82. 1


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The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type Lars ELLESTRÖM

School of Language and Literature Linnaeus University, 351 95 Växjö, Sweden [email protected] Abstract. This article aims to show that so-called Mail Art (art distributed via the international postal system) is based on five paradoxes. These paradoxes, which correlate to how Mail Art is distributed and exhibited by means of changing technologies, its aesthetics, its democratic ideals, and its transnational character, explain how Mail Art has emerged and been constructed as an artistic medium on the stage of world cultures. While the paradoxes of Mail Art are specific for this particular medium, I argue that all media types are more or less marked by inherent paradoxes. The fact that Mail Art includes all kinds of material, sensorial, spatiotemporal, and semiotic modes makes it an unusual art form, but here it is primarily meant to be an example of the ambiguous ways in which media types in general are delimited and defined. Keywords: Mail Art, intermediality, paradox, network, aesthetics, democracy, transnationality

A MEDIA TYPE EMERGES Most art galleries are run commercially; that is they need to make money in order to survive. Artists may be the producers of fine art, but if their work is to be exhibited at galleries they must sell their work and produce economic capital for both gallery owners and themselves. At the same time, galleries help artists get attention and earn cultural capital. Traditionally, the number of solo exhibitions an artist holds at renowned galleries has been a way of measuring the artist’s success. Consequently, there is good reason for artists to make useful contacts and maintain a positive reputation within the world of art galleries. While the advantages of galleries are clear to see, they are part of the big business of art and their number is not unlimited. They may also be exclusive in terms of aesthetics or ideology – gallery owners are free to exhibit only those works that suit their taste and interests. In short, there are limited possibilities to exhibit at art galleries. As an alternative, in the 1960s, an increasing number of artists started to use postal services to


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

distribute works of art. By sending art to fellow artists and other people who might send new material (or the same material in a reworked form) back to the original sender or to new receivers, international networks for what became known as Mail Art were created and grew quickly. This enabled artists to avoid the gallery system while still reaching an initiated and interested audience of people who were already artists or who became artists by participating in the networks. Mail Art activities had in fact started on a small scale in the United States in the 1950s, but they soon spread over large parts of the world, including countries with totalitarian regimes. More recently, Mail Art activities have moved to the Internet. In principle, anything that can be distributed via mail can be considered as Mail Art. As thousands of artists were and still are involved in Mail Art activity, it is impossible to discern an unambiguous ideology and clear-cut propelling forces behind the phenomenon. Nonetheless, Mail Art must be seen as an alternative to the traditional system of galleries that are limited to certain physical premises and guided by strong economic forces, sensitivity to aesthetic trends, and (subjective) quality checks. Franziska Dittert sees Mail Art as part of the avant-garde (Dittert, 2010), while Michael Lumb argues that by ignoring the galleries, mail-artists “criticised both the avant-garde and the traditionalists” (Lumb, 1997: 69–70). In short, the gallery system was replaced by international networks, making the gatekeepers who dictate exhibition conditions redundant. Art was sent around the world and the journey in itself became part of the Mail Artwork (Vigo, 1984: 349). In a way, this was something of a revolution in the world of art. One could say that Mail Art is both more collective and more individual than art that is distributed through conventional exhibitions. It is more collective because it is distributed on more or less the same conditions within a community, and it is more individual because it is received and experienced in its physical palpability by a single person in her or his own home as a personal message from another human being. However, there is another aspect to Mail Art. As soon as the concept started to spread, Mail Art exhibitions were arranged. Thus, in the 1970s, postal art that was supposed to be opened, touched, and beheld in private – the art of networks, the anti-gallery art – was placed on the walls of public buildings. It is fair to say that visitors to a Mail Art exhibition see and experience something quite different from what Mail Art once


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was or even perhaps should be. Nevertheless, exhibitions are an accepted and central part of this kind of postal art activity. This is a fundamental paradox of Mail Art. The aim of this article is to throw some light upon this and four other paradoxes of the Mail Art phenomenon. It is not my purpose to criticize the practicians, the ideologists, the defenders, or the slanderers of Mail Art, nor its researchers. I do not intend to claim that it is strange, unwanted, or unusual that an artistic media type is marked by paradoxes. My aim is analytical rather than normative: I want to elucidate how Mail Art has arisen and become defined as an artistic genre; or, in more technical terms, how Mail Art is qualified as a specific media type. In order to reach such a goal, we must pay attention to the context of Mail Art: its historical development, its endeavor to form a worldwide culture, and the set of social values that frames it. Mail Art must also be discussed within an aesthetic and communicative framework that is marked by changing technologies. While Mail Art is, in a way, a rather unusual form of art, considering its wide acceptance of all kinds of material, sensorial, spatiotemporal, and semiotic modes, I want to make it plausible that the paradoxes of Mail Art are representative of how most media types, artistic or not, are construed and distinguished. Each media type has its own paradoxes and is ambiguous, both in how it relates to other media types and in the understanding of its substance. Hence, the following examination of Mail Art should be seen as an illustrative case study. These are the five paradoxes that I believe are prominent in the type of artistic medium known generally as Mail Art: (1) Networks – exhibitions. Mail Art is said to be constituted by the entire process (creating, sending, and receiving works of art), but the final product, the result, is also emphasized through exhibitions, exhibition catalogues, Mail Art journals, and the like. (2) “Snail mail” – email. Mail Art is said to be characterized by the multitude of material and sensorial traits of snail mail, but the very limited material and sensorial traits of email are also accepted. (3) Multiformal aesthetics – uniformal aesthetics. While Mail Art is said to include all kinds of aesthetic expression, a certain kind of avant-garde aesthetics is actually fostered. (4) Democracy – timocracy. Mail Art is said to be an inclusive democratic art form that allows all people to be active, but in reality the networks


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

are often guided by an exclusive principle that locks out many potential participants. (5) Transnational boundlessness – national boundaries. Mail Art is said to be a global, transnational, and transcultural limitless art form, yet the networks are dominated by the English language and, due to factors such as political repression and poverty, they are limited geographically and socially. One could say that these paradoxes create the dynamics of Mail Art, or, to put it another way, its odd inconsistencies. A MEDIUM WITHOUT BORDERS? Before scrutinizing the paradoxes of Mail Art, I should say something about its more basic characteristics as a medium. While most media types are seen as specific media types, partly because of their basic material, sensorial, spatiotemporal, and semiotic modes (Elleström, 2010), Mail Art has never been limited by those traits. This makes Mail Art somewhat different from most other media types. For instance, few people would accept putting the label of “music” on a media product that cannot be heard and is not extended in time. Likewise, if we describe something as a news article, we generally expect it to be seen on some sort of flat surface, to have spatial extension, and to be formed mainly by conventional language signs. Yet most media types are also defined by borders that are set by habits and conventions that are rather flexible. For instance, if the behavior of musicians generates meaning, it is not unreasonable to say that vision is important for the experience of music; we generally accept that music bursting with conventional signs (sung language) is certainly music. Similarly, we are used to news articles containing iconic elements (images), even if conventional language signs define the basic characteristics of the news article. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that news articles are generally non-temporal (their material appearance is static and the temporal aspect is added only when the article is decoded), most people probably think that a news article in teletext, the “pages” of which may be turned automatically, is still a news article. Furthermore, media products are constantly transmediated, meaning that the media content is transferred to other media types, which adds to our readiness to conceive of media types as flexible. Strictly speaking, however, it must be noted that when


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the news article is read out loud it is actually transformed into something partly different, even though the language content is roughly transferred. A skilled reader may even make us perceive the transmediated news article as music. The basic media characteristics of music, news articles, and most other media types are flexible. The basic media characteristics of Mail Art, however, are not only elastic but in principle all-embracing, simply because there is a social and cultural understanding within certain circles that everything that someone may consider art and can be distributed with the international mailing system, may be seen as Mail Art. Hence, media products that could be categorized as visual art, music, and poetry, or mixed forms of these are distributed as Mail Art, as are many other artefacts. In principle, one might send away a complete symphony orchestra in an airplane, packed in a suitable manner, and refer to its performance on the other side of the planet as Mail Art. Generally, however, there is an expectation that Mail Art can be placed into a mailbox or at least accepted for delivery at a post office. This implies certain practical restrictions. It is difficult to post a complete theater performance, but it is perfectly possible to send stored transmediations of a theater performance in the form of photographs, drawings, DVD records, and other material objects. The physical limits of what can be put in an envelope or a parcel are obvious, but if one settles for transmediated versions of bulky art products, the basic characteristics of Mail Art are hardly restricted at all. In reality, however, Mail Art is primarily associated with various kinds of art that can be seen and poetry characterized by visual iconicity. Consequently, there is good reason to define Mail Art as an artistic media type that includes other media types that are conventionally demarcated, and hence makes the transgression of borders into a norm; all kinds of materiality and all sensory types are allowed, both spatial and temporal art are included, and different sorts of signs are equally welcome. However, that does not mean that Mail Art is transgressive in every way; it has clearly distinctive characteristics, even if they must be sought elsewhere. The defining characteristics of Mail Art are part of its qualifying traits; how it emerges and is defined in a certain historical, social, and cultural context, and how it is delimited in certain aesthetic and communicative frameworks. As Eric Vos states, it is more profitable to “investigate the structure of the process that makes something a ‘work of


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

Mail Art,’” than to look for “manifest properties of Mail Art works” (Vos, 1997: 329). I will now take a closer look at the process of how Mail Art arises and is established as a specific cultural practice. This is a two-step process: as Mail Art is differentiated from other media types, it is simultaneously adapted to the conditions of society and its mediascape. MAIL ART AROUND THE GLOBE No media types arise completely ex nihilo. Mail Art has roots in the past and as long as mail has been delivered, the mail system has probably been used for some kind of artistic purpose. Elizabeth Heuer’s dissertation on French Surrealism from the 1930s to the 1950s is perhaps the most ambitious effort to anchor Mail Art in history (Heuer, 2008). The Surrealists produced of lot of work in the format of postcards, for instance, and also strived to act outside the established art scene. It may be questioned whether they really preceded Mail Art – considering that they did not use the mailing system systematically, that they were a rather exclusive group of artists, and that their aesthetics and political ideology were anything but wide open for alternative artistic expression forms – but there do seem to be some connections. Most scholars agree that Mail Art, in a more qualified sense, originally arose in New York, initiated by the artist Ray Johnson’s peculiar habit of sending letters to his friends and to celebrities inviting them to, for instance, add something to the letters and then return or forward them. The outside of the letters as well as their content were artistically formed in some way or another. Johnson started his correspondence in the 1940s, but most researchers and critics agree that it was in the 1950s that the letters were given their original touch. This was the birth of Mail Art. Thomas Cassidy asserts that “mail became mail art when a few people decided that the postal system’s built-in communicative potentials were part of an art medium” (Cassidy, 1977/1984: 65). This statement should perhaps be adjusted slightly: it was at the time that the “decision” of these few people started to gain general recognition that Mail Art qualified as an artistic medium in its own right. The term “Mail Art” seems to have come into use during the 1960s, and some scholars even argue that there is no record of the term before 1971, when it appeared in a booklet by Jean-Marc Poinsot (Dittert, 2010: 87). The phenomenon obviously


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preceded the term, and Mail Art is occasionally also called Correspondence Art. Mail Art reached its peak during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, when it was developed to an alternative artistic media type within the frame of a worldwide cultural movement. It was Ray Johnson’s so-called New York Correspondence School (often spelled “correspondance”) that established the activity of freely exchanging artistic mail between artists or between artists and the audience (Sava, 1999). The New York Correspondance School Show, organized in 1970 by Johnson and Marcia Tucker at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, is generally considered the first important Mail Art exhibition. All of the 106 participants who exhibited their work had followed Johnson’s request to “SEND LETTERS, POST CARDS, DRAWINGS AND OBJECTS TO MARCIA TUCKER, NEW YORK CORRESPONDANCE SCHOOL EXHIBITION” (Sava, 1999: 122). Most of the Mail Art exhibitions of the following years were quite traditional affairs, focusing on Mail Art products as physical objects, and sometimes with individual artists in the limelight. After 1972, the exhibitions became documentations of Mail Art projects and the number of exhibitions exploded in many parts of the world (Lumb, 1997: 75). A Mail Art project is somewhat different from the more spontaneous exchange of artistic mail. A project is designed to bring artists together in a collective action that is supposed to be documented – usually as an exhibition and in some sort of catalogue. John Held Jr. states that an international network was definitely established in 1976. By the end of the 1970s, the exhibition and publication activities were so extensive that they were destined to surpass the individual and more spontaneous Mail Art activity (Held, 2005: 101). Geographically, Mail Art spread across large parts of the US and Europe from the late 1950s to the 1960s and it was also established in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South America around 1970. In the mid ‘70s, the movement had spread to all continents around the globe (Crane, 1984c). To a certain extent, it even reached more isolated countries such as South Africa, Ghana, China, Taiwan, and Cuba. Some mail artists, who fabricated so-called artistamps, even expanded their networks to fictitious countries by inventing new languages and the names of non-existent nations (Lumb, 1997: 59). Early on, Mail Art turned out to have great potential in countries where a free flow of ideas and artistic expression was hampered by cen-


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

sorship. It helped artists from Eastern Europe who were behind the communistic Iron Curtain to establish contact with colleagues from the West (Dittert, 2010). It was more difficult for artists from the Soviet Union, where the mail was censored even more closely. Nevertheless, Ry Nikonova’s and Sergej Sigej’s successful cooperation with the English Fluxus artist Robin Crozier was initiated as early as the first half of the 1980s, prior to perestroika. This network cooperation has attracted much attention since it proves that Mail Art had a remarkable ability to establish itself transnationally in spite of censorship (Röder, 2006; Greve, 2006). As Mail Art has been globalized, it has also expanded from analogue to digital distribution of mail. Many, if not most Mail Art activities, now take place via the Internet. Email and websites are effective tools for communication between artists and for documentation of projects. The new technique may seem to be tailor-made for Mail Art and the different types of social networks that are made possible by Internet were partly forestalled by interactive mail artists from the ’70s and ’80s. Seeta Peña Gangadharan claims that this exemplifies that “Art can presage technosocial change, moving in a direction that technology will, in time, enable” (Gangadharan, 2009: 284). Therefore, Mail Art does not belong to those media types that crop up after the invention of new technology (such as Video Art); instead, it has used old and well-tried technology in a new way. Whether one wishes to see Mail Art as prophetic activity or not, it is a vital phenomenon that connects thousands of practitioners from around the globe. It is inclusive in terms of geography and in terms of basic media properties; virtually anything that can be sent by mail is accepted as Mail Art if it is part of some of the constantly changing networks that acknowledge Mail Art as a specific artistic medium. THE PARADOXES OF MAIL ART This brief sketch of the historic, cultural, and social circumstances of Mail Art provides a rudimentary picture of how the movement has been delimited and established as a particular kind of artistic medium, as well as how it has been qualified in relation to other media that it is related to or even incorporates. While these contextual factors – historic development, cultural situation, and political and social ideals – are important for


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drawing up the boundaries of Mail Art, it is also important to consider what I call the operational qualifying aspects; specifically, what are the criteria for the medium’s communication and aesthetics? (Elleström, 2010: 24–7). In this respect, Mail Art is qualified rather unambiguously. The normative discourse surrounding Mail Art claims that it is created within a framework for communication in the form of unlimited networks that allow objects of various sorts to be distributed and possibly modified and exchanged. In terms of aesthetics, however, no frames are supposed to set limits. If these operational criteria are not fulfilled, it is likely that few people will accept the phenomenon in question as Mail Art. Still, it is in the nature of things that communicative and aesthetic criteria for qualified media change as time passes, and these changes might eventually cause such large displacements within the historical and cultural context that the media type no longer is recognizable as was it once was (Müller, 2008). Ultimately, it is an open question as to how the exact limits of Mail Art can be drawn. The fact that Mail Art is fraught with paradoxes is perfectly normal. All qualified media types have somewhat fuzzy borders with other media types, and the wider the perspective – historically, geographically, and culturally – the more difficult it is to set clear limits. This is particularly striking in the case of Mail Art, since its basic media modes – materially, sensorially, spatiotemporally, and semiotically – are so inclusive. Therefore, the following discussion of Mail Art paradoxes is to be understood as an illustration of the general conditions for how media types are born and delimited, how they change, and yet remain to be particular media types; in other words, how they are qualified as media types that differ from other media types. PARADOX 1: NETWORKS – EXHIBITIONS The first paradox is that Mail Art is often defined via the entire process of creating, sending, and receiving artistic artefacts, while the final product is simultaneously highlighted through exhibitions, catalogues, magazines, and other means of freezing (both spatially and temporally) art that is created to travel and to be transformed. This is an aspect of how Mail Art is qualified operationally and, more precisely, how it works communicatively. On one hand, it is often said that Mail Art communicates in a more genuine way than other art since it consists of a true ex-


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

change of expressions between individuals who are in direct contact (not necessarily in a physical way, but by way of a personal exchange of mail items). On the other hand, there is a nearly total acceptance of this genuine communicative exchange being reduced to the standard one-way communication of exhibitions: the artist’s expression is fixed as a product that anyone in an anonymous audience can take part in without contributing actively to the communication. By the mid ’80s, the accumulated number of Mail Art exhibitions and projects in the world could be counted in the thousands (Held, 1986). Mail Art has been exhibited not only at private premises and in various sorts of communal building, but also in museums and galleries. It has also been exposed in numerous exhibition catalogues, magazines, and journals (Crane, 1984d: 314–333). All of this, and in particular the connection to traditional exhibition forums, certainly contrasts with the discourse claiming that resistance to the repressive mechanisms of galleries is imperative for Mail Art, although Mail Art exhibitions are normally arranged in a different way than traditional exhibitions. (This point is discussed further below.) What should be made manifest here is the conflict between emphasis on process and the resulting exhibition. This conflict does not seem to bother the majority of mail artists, although some have protested: A piece of mailart does not stand alone as a ‘finished product,’ mailart is interchange and this is not possible to represent in an exhibition, not least because it is not possible to gain the experience of mailart second hand. (Lumb, 1997: 85)

PARADOX 2: “SNAIL MAIL” – EMAIL The second paradox of Mail Art is that two entirely different kinds of postal systems are accepted. On one hand, the art form has been established with the means of, and had its initial traits defined by snail mail’s plenitude of material and sensorial characteristics. On the other hand, the limited material and sensorial characteristics of email are more accepted nowadays. Email and Internet are great disseminators and can distribute a lot, and it can certainly be argued that new technologies offer possibilities that widen the territory of Mail Art. However, electronic communication still excludes direct contact with physical art products that need to be experienced by means of touching, smelling, and tasting them. Nor can three-dimensional objects be seen and heard in the same 112

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way if they are posted in a transmediated form (as two-dimensional images) by email. Nonetheless, email and the Internet offer a quick and efficient exchange of artistic expressions within their specific frames. This paradox relates to how Mail Art is qualified operationally and includes both communicative and aesthetic aspects: both mailing systems can realize genuine two-way communication, but in different ways. However, it is primarily email that confines the possibilities of aesthetic expression. Aesthetics involves all sorts of sensory perception, and electronic communication is so far only capable of mediating a few kinds of sense data. Nevertheless, communication by means of fax and computers, introduced in the 1980s, was quickly embraced by the Mail Art community, which, according to Held, “was fixated not on the postal exchange, but rather on the aesthetics and distribution of communication” (Held, 2005: 93). While people clearly disagree about the true essence of Mail Art and how its aesthetics should be framed, this artistic media type has largely migrated to the Internet during the last two or three decades. Mail artists have their own websites and blogs and are active in social media, and email has become an established communication form. Many Mail Art projects are carried out online, either completely or partially, and they are routinely documented on the web rather than in print. However, this development should not be understood as meaning that Mail Art was initially “without technology,” as indicated by Gangadharan (Gangadharan, 2009). The old technology is different, and perhaps less sophisticated, but it is still technology: analogue and mechanical rather than digital and electronic forms are used in both media of production and storage and in media of distribution. For example, pens, brushes, and typewriters produce media content; colors, ink, paper, cardboard, and other materials store it and make it perceptible for the receiver; and distribution is done on foot and by other means such as bicycles, airplanes, and so forth. However, even if it can be asserted that Mail Art is founded on technology; whether it is mediated by snail mail or email, there is tension between the former’s ability to mediate a plenitude of sensorial expressions and the latter’s narrower sensorial register. Some claim that email is simply not an acceptable alternative to snail mail because the essence of Mail Art is lost. Lumb has argued eloquently for this more conservative point of view:


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

Further, electronic mail lacks the physical appeal of snail mail. Much of the aesthetic is missed and, most obviously, it misses any three dimensional qualities and all those of weight, texture and subtleties of appearance. More important though is the ‘presence’ through handling, of the sender, in the form of traces of smell, secretions and residues, that can be experienced by the recipient. Again, this is evidence, proof, a further signature, a mark left, like an animal leaving its scent. (Lumb, 148: 1997)

Others prefer to delimit Mail Art less strictly and welcome the new technique, with its relative inexpensiveness and unquestionable swiftness and efficiency. Held, who does not seem to be bothered by the limited sensorial register of electronic communication, has dismissed those who defend themselves against the new technique as “Mail Art purists” (Held, 2005: 109). Held argues that Mail Art “has always thrived in an environment of economical frugality, and the Internet has replaced the postal service as the cheapest form of interpersonal communication” (Held, 2005: 109). PARADOX 3: MULTIFORMAL AESTHETICS – UNIFORMAL AESTHETICS The third paradox also concerns how Mail Art is qualified operationally as an artistic medium: through aesthetic criteria, or rather a lack of aesthetic criteria. On one hand, Mail Art is said to include all kinds of aesthetic expression: as long as something can be distributed by mail, it is potentially Mail Art. On the other hand, Mail Art mechanisms are quite selective: a certain kind of avant-garde aesthetics is privileged. The radical aesthetic openness is an active force in the shaping of what has become understood as Mail Art, but this openness is sometimes a chimera; not even art forms that strive to break loose from aesthetic conventions seem able to wholly avoid attaching to, or creating anew, some sort of aesthetic frame. When Mail Art expanded, a range of different techniques and distinctive features for this particular qualified medium quickly developed. Envelopes or parcels were and continue to be at least as essential as the content, and much Mail Art simply consists of postcards. As a rule, every detail on these articles is important, including the way that the receiver’s name and address are formed. Everything can be modified until the point at which the piece of art simply cannot be delivered. A lot of Mail


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Art is self-reflective; the words “Mail Art” are sometimes written or printed on the item to be sent, and visual details that change the functional elements of conventional mail items are often included. Rubber stamps are used as personal signatures or to articulate compressed messages (Friedman and Gugelberger, 1984). Stamp-like decals of various sorts (so-called artistamps) are popular (Frank, 1981/1984). Rubber stamps and artistamps both have rather narrow aesthetic frames since their references to the postal system would otherwise be lost. Like other innovative media types, Mail Art can partly be described in terms of aesthetics and how it relates to other art movements (Crane, 1984b). Researchers are prone to compare it to Futurism and Pop Art, but most references are made to Dada (Crane, 1984a: 36). Obviously, there are no sharp dividing lines between Mail Art and other art forms. From the early days of this artistic medium, many mail artists were also active within the frames of other art forms, and other contemporary aesthetic ideals were inevitably spread to Mail Art. Notwithstanding the aim of keeping Mail Art aesthetically open, certain aesthetic trends can be clearly discerned – even if they are heterogeneous. One could also say that it became a norm to attach primarily to aesthetic forms that are recognized as norm-challenging: “The works rarely include strictly poetic or artistic approaches, but rather include a range of approaches from what is now characterized as visual poetry, concrete poetry, conceptualism, body art, actionist art, environments, collage, photography, and music” (Greve, 2006: 460). Stylistic features from these many different artistic media types often gained their specific hues through the use of photocopying machines; this added an unsophisticated touch to the works, at least during the ’70s and ’80s. In spite of declared intentions to develop an art form without restricting aesthetic norms, it is clear that Mail Art has developed some distinct stylistic features that distinguish many of its works from other artistic media products. Charlotte Greve argues that it is important for mail artists to establish “signs of identity” that clearly relate to historical and contemporary forms of expression – and to other members of the Mail Art network: “a participating artist must be able to quote and repeat recognizable signatures” (Greve, 2006: 460). This is a prerequisite for communicating successfully among mail artists, Greve states. I agree, and would only add that these signatures also inevitably gain aesthetic functions.


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

According to Greve, these mechanisms explain why Ry Nikonova and Sergej Sigej became successfully established as mail artists, while other Soviet artists failed: Nikonova and Sigej simply followed the aesthetic rules (Greve, 2006). At a time when Soviet art was dominated by ideology, these two artists used the modernistic art language developed by the Russian avant-garde more than half a century earlier (Röder, 2006). This situation can be put bluntly by saying that a radically open and allowing aesthetics is simply not fostered by all mail artists; not so few seem to believe that it is necessary to embrace some sort of value hierarchies. Anna Banana quotes her fellow artist Gary Lee-Novas’s explanation of why he eventually decided to delimit his Mail Art activities: “I got a lot of garbage and threw out most of it … just dog shit, at the visual level. It was so shallow and poorly put together that I just couldn’t take it seriously” (Banana, 1984: 250). Perhaps it is unavoidable that all art forms, as media types in general, work centripetally, meaning that they gravitate towards some kind of aesthetic kernel that attracts various sorts of valuations – whether these valuations fall upon poorly performed work (and then perhaps one does not wish to be associated with Mail Art, for instance) or upon exclusive aesthetics (which may result in an attachment to the specific conditions of production and distribution that characterize Mail Art). Clearly, the whole point of marking something off is to state a difference, and it may be impossible to mark something off that is supposed to include everything, even if communication via the postal system is postulated as a non-negotiable condition for Mail Art. At any rate, Mail Art cannot completely escape mechanisms of exclusions, whether these are based on aesthetic ideals of style or on aesthetic valuations of quality. Mail Art is both inclusive and exclusive; it is built on aesthetics that are both multiformal and uniformal. PARADOX 4: DEMOCRACY – TIMOCRACY The fourth paradox of Mail Art concerns how this particular media type is qualified contextually. Therefore, it is not primarily a question of the communicative and aesthetic traits of Mail Art, but of how it has arisen and been delimited and understood in specific historical, social, and cultural contexts. What I want to emphasize here is the tension between the strongly articulated ideal that Mail Art should be an inclusive democratic art form that invites all people to take part, and the fact that, in reality,


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Mail Art networks are often governed by an exclusive principle that generates certain hierarchies. In principle, the inclusive ideal implies that all people should be able to be artists and that the border between active producer and passive consumer should be removed; having said that, many mail artists seem to be more inclined to exchange art products with experienced artists only. I have already been able to conclude that aesthetics seems to be an important factor in these “mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion” (Greve, 2006: 446) that, are ultimately just manifestations of power relations – not economic or political power, but power based on artistic competence and social skill. Nevertheless, the idea that Mail Art should be an inclusive art form that flattens hierarchies and escapes the established concentration of power in the cultural sector is fundamental for Mail Art as a specific artistic medium. Together with the operative criterion that Mail Art is to be communicated with the aid of the postal system, the social criterion that it should promote some sort of artistic egalitarianism has probably most contributed to the qualification of Mail Art as a particular media type. In 1971, Poinsot stated that Power is in the hands of those who possess exchange and communications systems. It is partially for this reason that by refusing the intermediary role of galleries or museums, some artists undertake to diffuse their work and relevant information themselves. (Poinsot, 1971/1984: 54)

Poinsot, the arranger of one of the earliest Mail Art exhibitions, is more opposed to the control issue than to the exhibition form as such. It also turned out to be entirely possible to join the idea of equality to the practice of exhibiting works of art. Written and unwritten rules for Mail Art projects – most often organized exhibitions – were developed during the early 1970s when such activities developed rapidly. Normally, these rules would say that there should be no jury and that the contributions must not be censored, that all works should be exhibited, that there should be no entrance fee, and that all art works go to the organizers while participants receive a catalogue. A Mail Art exhibition in Omaha arranged by Ken Friedman in 1973 was important for the establishment of these norms. Another aspect of this exhibition that added weight to the principle of inclusion was that the invitation to participate was not only sent to established Mail Art networks, but announced in public media (Lumb, 1997: 76–77). 117

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Therefore, it is not without reason that mail artist Klaus Groh claims that “Mail productions or creativities by mail are more open, more democratic than all artistic productions ever before” (Groh, 1984: 75). Michael Crane, a prolific researcher of Mail Art, asserts that the art form is dominated by three political ideas: “democratization, a constant search for alternative systems, and a rejection of capitalist economics” (Crane, 1984a: 12). Considering that the idea that everyone should be able to participate, and hence also have influence, is part of the very basis of Mail Art, it is justified to say that the ethical system upon which Mail Art is founded closely resembles democracy. As I have already noted, however, there are also excluding, hierarchic tendencies within the social and cultural framework for artistic production and reception that constitutes Mail Art. This more hidden system might be called (to borrow another political term) a timocracy. According to Plato’s definition, a timocracy is a society governed by respected people, while Aristotle used the term to refer to a society governed by wealthy people. With regard to Mail Art, it could be suggested that timocracy means that it is largely, and in paradoxical opposition to the democratic principle, governed by people with cultural capital or social driving force. This paradox is perhaps not very surprising considering that all groups, no matter how they are delimited, consist of individuals, and considering that it seems absurd that every single individual should have the same interest in collaborating equally with all other individuals in all thinkable groups. From an historical point of view, the excluding principle actually precedes the radically inclusive principle. At a time when Mail Art was becoming established as the most democratic of art forms, artist Richard Craven pointed out that the movement’s founder, Ray Johnson, did not initially have a very democratic mind when it came to participation in his New York Correspondence School: “it is not open to all interested parties. ‘Official membership’ requires some sort of acknowledgement from Ray Johnson” (Craven 1973/1984: 118). It can be stated further that even if there are some completely open invitations to Mail Art projects, such as in the form of Friedman’s open announcements in the mass media before the Omaha exhibition in 1973, it is certainly common for information about new projects to only reach limited networks, and for artists who send out art works to simply not receive feedback or ever manage to enter the networks that they want to become part of. To put it bluntly, many mail artists believe that it is a


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waste of time and energy to participate in large networks and prefer to delimit their correspondence to smaller groups of artists (Banana, 1984: 250); being smaller means, in some form, that they are exclusive. PARADOX 5: TRANSNATIONAL BOUNDLESSNESS – NATIONAL BOUNDARIES The fifth paradox is also connected to how Mail Art has been qualified contextually. Like other media types, Mail Art has its history, which includes dissemination across cultural, social, political, and geographical borders. What makes Mail Art special is that the dissemination is not only an appendix to the history of this media type, but an essential part of what Mail Art is. Without this contextual qualification, the criteria of Mail Art, as acknowledged by mail artists and in leading cultural quarters, are not fulfilled. Mail Art that does not in some way cross borders is simply not Mail Art. This principle can be seen as an extension of the democratic principle. The paradox is that while Mail Art is generally understood as a global, transnational, and transcultural art form that is boundless, it is actually dominated by only a few languages (mainly English) and its networks are severely restricted by geographical and social boundaries. As Greve emphasizes, “On a practical level, an artist’s participation in the network is determined by such matters as economy, postal system, access to means of duplication, politics (censorship and restrictions in travel possibilities, restricted access to information and to art history)” (Greve, 2006: 459). The spread of Mail Art is probably also delimited by a lack of interest due to cultural differences. Nevertheless, Mail Art has undoubtedly reached many parts of the world. It is widespread in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Japan, and Russia, and has been scattered sporadically in many other countries. However, several economic and political borders have remained hard to cross. The general poverty in large parts of Africa has precluded the extensive spread of Mail Art on this continent. As far as I can ascertain, there is no research concerning the weak position of Mail Art in major parts of Asia, but it is reasonable to assume that politics, economy, and a lack of infrastructure have been determining factors. On the other hand, some examples show that Mail Art has actually succeeded in tearing down fortified walls and gaining political impact. I have already mentioned the collaboration between Western mail artists and Ry Nikonova and Sergej


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type

Sigej in the USSR and several other artists behind the Iron Curtain, and I should add that there has been a lot of Mail Art activities in South American nations plagued by dictatorship. The South American mail artists were tormented by political censorship, resulting in confiscated exhibitions, artists being sentenced to jail, and “disappearances” (Vigo, 1984; Cook, 1984). National borders only partly coincide with linguistic, political, economic, social, and cultural borders, so the discussion here regarding transnational boundlessness versus national boundaries must be understood as providing only elementary examples. One final example of an almost impassable barrier is limited economy. Obviously, it is impossible to realize the ideal of transnational boundlessness for Mail Art without first realizing the ideals of both artistic and political democracy. National democracy is not enough; a much more radical and transnational democracy and equality is required if all people are supposed to afford buying stamps for their mail. The new technology is often mentioned as a means of further democratizing Mail Art (it is cheap to send emails with attachments), but it is then forgotten that the computers themselves and the Internet connections are hardly free of charge; Internet Mail Art may exclude the noncomputerized majority of the earth’s population to an even greater degree than traditional snail mail. Thus, Mail Art is far from a truly transnational art form. Nevertheless, it has traveled a considerable distance. CONCLUSION This article has sought to shed light on five Mail Art paradoxes in order to understand how Mail Art has arisen and is defined as an artistic media type. I have also aimed to suggest that the paradoxes of Mail Art are not exceptional, but in fact representative of how most media types are qualified – whether they are seen as artistic or not. For centuries, much work within the humanities has been devoted, more or less in vain, to setting the limits between artistic media types. To my knowledge, there are no working art or media taxonomies built on the idea that media types are unambiguously defined and clearly demarcated. The specific combination of criteria and paradoxes that have been discussed in this article are unique for Mail Art, of course, but as far as I can tell, there is nothing to indicate that other media types are not fraught with comparable paradoxes. In another article, I have tried to demonstrate the complexity of the paradox-


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burdened notion of photography – a media type that has been qualified as both artistic and as documentary (Elleström, forthcoming). It is beyond the scope of the present article to explicitly compare the Mail Art paradoxes to those in other media definitions. Instead, the launched idea that all qualified media types are marked by inherent paradoxes must be left as an only partly substantiated hypothesis. However, I think that I have clearly demonstrated that the notion of Mail Art is full of inner tensions. References Banana, Anna. “Mail Art Canada.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 233–263. Cassidy, Thomas. “Mail Art.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 65–67. Cook, Geoffrey. “The Padin/Caraballo Project.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 369–373. Crane, Michael. “A Definition of Correspondence Art.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984a. 3–37. Crane, Michael. “The Origins of Correspondence Art.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984b. 83–116. Crane, Michael. “The Spread of Correspondence Art.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984c. 133–97. Crane, Michael. “Exhibitions and Publications.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984d. 301–347. Craven, Richard. “The New York Correspondence School: Alternatives in the Making.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 117–121. Dittert, Franziska. Mail Art in der DDR: Eine intermediale Subkultur im Kontext der Avantgarde. Berlin: Logos, 2010. Elleström, Lars. “The Modalities of Media: A Model for Understanding Intermedial Relations.” Media Borders, Multimodality and Intermediality. Ed. Lars Elleström. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 11–48. Elleström, Lars. “Photography and Intermediality: Analytical Perspectives on Notions Referred to by the Term ‘Photography.’” Semiotica (forthcoming).


Lars Elleström / The Paradoxes of Mail Art: How to Build an Artistic Media Type Frank, Peter. “Postal Modernism: Artists’ Stamps and Stamp Images.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 425–449. Friedman, Ken and Georg M. Gugelberger. “The Stamp and Stamp Art.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 397–419. Gangadharan, Seeta Peña. “Mail Art: Networking without Technology.” New Media & Society 11.1–2 (2009): 279–298. Greve, Charlotte. “Zaumland: Serge Segay and Rea Nikonova in the International Mail Art Network.” Russian Literature 59.2–4 (2006): 445–467. Groh, Klaus. “Mail Art and the New Dada.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 75. Held, John, Jr. International Artist Cooperation: Mail Art Shows 1970–1985. Dallas: Public Library, 1986. Held, John, Jr. “The Mail Art Exhibition: Personal Worlds to Cultural Strategies.” At a Distance: Precursors to Art and Activism on the Internet. Eds Annmarie Chandler, and Norie Neumark. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. 88–114. Heuer, Elizabeth B. “Going Postal: Surrealism and the Discourses of Mail Art.” Doctor of Philosophy Thesis, Florida State University, Department of Art History, 2008. . 1 Aug. 2012. Lumb, Michael. “Mailart 1955 to 1995: Democratic Art as Social Sculpture.” Master of Philosophy Thesis, University of East Anglia, School of World Art Studies and Museology, 1997. . 1 Aug. 2012. Müller, Jürgen E. “Perspectives for an Intermedia History of the Social Functions of Television.” Media Encounters and Media Theories. Ed. Jürgen E. Müller. Münster: Nodus Publikationen, 2008). 201–15. Poinsot, Jean-Marc. “Utilizations of Postal Institutions and Long-Distance Communication.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Ed. Michael Crane and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 53–63. Röder, Kornelia. “Internationale Kooperationen von Rea Nikonova und Serge Segay mit Robin Crozier.” Russian Literature 59.2–4 (2006): 429–444. Sava, Sharla. “Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence School: The Fine Art of Communication.” Ray Johnson: Correspondences. Ed. Donna De Salvo and Catherine Gudis. Paris: Flammarion, 1999. 121–131. Vigo, Edgardo-Antonio. “The State of Mail Art in South America.” Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. Eds Michael Crane, and Mary Stofflet. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984. 349–367. Vos, Eric. “The Eternal Network: Mail Art, Intermedia Semiotics, Interarts Studies.” Interart Poetics: Essays on the Interrelations of the Arts and Media. Eds Ulla-Britta Lagerroth, Hans Lund, and Erik Hedling. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997. 325–336.


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The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture Benson O. IGBOIN

Department of Religion & African Culture Faculty of Arts, Adekunle Ajasin University PMB 001, Akungba-Akoko Ondo State, Nigeria [email protected]

Abstract. In most societies, greetings are the expression of emotions such as friendliness or rejection, and form the basis of social and moral order. The symbolic dimension of greetings is frequently entwined in the cultural and metaphysical reality of a community. In African societies this ethical and religious dimension carries its own peculiarities. It is interesting to see how much of the content-meaning of greetings depends on cultural traditions. This paper presents an analysis of greetings in the Yoruba culture in Nigeria. Keywords: Communitarian, social, moral, spiritual, metaphysical, anamnestic solidarity, socialisation, religion.

INTRODUCTION Let us begin with a story narrated by Mr. D. O. Ehimiyien, my former secondary school teacher. Back in 1987, Mr. Ehimiyien entered his literature class and the students stood up to greet him as it was the custom: “Good morning, Sir.” At times, he had a way of looking at us that left us wondering in awe about his next move. Such was the situation that Friday morning. His penetrating look added suspense and chill. He began to tell the story of a child killed by a witch. In her confession in front of the court, the witch told the audience how one rainy morning she was coming back from the market and, when the boy did not greet her, as she expected, she killed him in anger. Sometime in June 2004, I was returning from church late in the evening around 10 p.m. when I bumped into a woman who was walking in the dark. The moon had not come out yet. I greeted her warmly as I had known her for over a year. Surprisingly however, she did not respond nor looked back even though I repeated the greeting several times. About a week later, while in the company of Mr. Pa. Odedeyin (a retired civil servant, at No. 14, Joseph Kuteyi Street, Iwaro-Oka), the same woman passed by. It was again evening. After I had narrated my earlier experience, Mr Odedeyin exclaimed and gave thanks to God: “do you


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture

know that He has saved you? he said. That woman was carrying a deadly charm: if she had responded to your greeting, the charm would have been neutralized. But why you were not affected baffles me.” According to Mr Odedeyin, the charm was meant to transfer the fate of her dying younger brother. His ailment was believed to have gone beyond the orthodox treatment, and was advised to try traditional means. If his sister succeeded in transferring his death, he would get healed. According to the custom, the first person greeted her without her responding would die in place of the sick person. In order to avert being the scapegoat, one must force the bearer of such a charm to respond, otherwise one should throw some dust or refuse on the bearer immediately, or better still shout to arouse people’s attention. But how would one have known that she was carrying a deadly charm? This spontaneous question further elicits the importance of greetings among the Yoruba as I shall demonstrate shortly. The Yoruba people greet every time of the day. However, it is at night, between 9 p. m. and 5 a. m. that devilish people carry out their devious acts. So it is dangerous not to respond to greetings during these odd hours because it is an indication of an omen (personal interview with Pa Ologunagba (a retired civil servant, Iwaro-Oka) on 12 September, 2004) UNDERSTANDING THE YORUBA CONCEPT OF GREETINGS In Africa, as in elsewhere, greetings are important aspects of socialization. Parents and elders inculcate in children and young people the significance and implications of greetings. With well above 800 languages spoken in Africa, it is impossible here to deal with all the different forms of greetings in the diverse communities. This paper will broadly examine the case of the Yoruba people in Nigeria, providing occasional references to other African cultures where appropriate. Geographically, the majority of the Yoruba people are found in SouthWestern part of Nigeria, covering Ogun, Ondo, Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and parts Kwara and Kogi States (see Ayantayo, 2010). The Yoruba community is a deeply religious society, and faith permeates all aspects of people’s life (see Mbiti, 1969, and Idowu, 1996). Traditional autochthonous beliefs coexist with missionary religions such as Christianity and Islam. In many parts of Nigeria, greetings are a customary duty, and frequently embedded in ritualistic forms related to religious beliefs. The Yo-


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ruba people are known as the “greeting people” because greetings figure in many aspects of their life. The study of greetings in this context is important because their physical gestures and verbal forms may bring to the fore interesting cultural aspects of communities. The distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize societal groups are represented in the way people greet (Falola, 2004). In their apparent simplicity the internal structure of greetings hold complex codes of cultural expressions such as hierarchy roles. For example, E pele for older generations, or pele for one’s mates and juniors has been roughly translated as “hello” in English. Each pele is usually responded to with thanks or another pele It is a fluid form that does not specify the time of the day nor the season: You have to say pele to me if I sneeze, cough, hit my toes against a rock, or get bitten by an insect, to sympathize. You have to say pele when I am sad, angry, moody, depressed, lonely, and dealing with my mind in ways that I am unable to reveal. When I am happy… when you do see me, pele is an appropriate sign of friendliness. If you think you are talking to me and I am not paying sufficient attention, say pele, which is far more polite and friendly than “Excuse me.” (Falola, 2004: 20)

The Oyo people are historically identified with E ku, a general greeting which has come to define a collective identity of the people: the E ku people. E ku is a prefix to the act, time, season, etc. for which one is being greeted. E ku ise, translated as “well done” in English, is not a commendation as “well done” implies. It celebrates the act of work and the absence of idleness; a desire to reject poverty, and the morality of choosing to engage in profitable enterprise rather than stealing (Falola, 2004: 24). In another sense, E ku ise can be used to bring attention to the work process itself; signal that laziness has overcome somebody, or that the results are not good, etc. It is also used to call someone to attention, indicating that the person is not doing the right thing. This form of greeting expresses “courteous indignation, impatience, sarcasm, hatred and other sentiments” (Oumarou, 1997: 34) purposely to avoid direct insult. The difference is conveyed by means of intonation and sometimes gesticulation. E ku and pele provide two examples of a generic form of greetings for series of activities e.g. E ku tita (happy sales), etc. It is to be noted the E generally stands for plural such that we can use it to address more than one person. But more significantly, it is used in greetings as a honorific


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture

pronoun to address an elder or a group of people. Otherwise O is used to greet one’s age-mates or younger people. Yoruba have greetings for almost all human events. The following chart presents some of the events that form the basis for expressing greeting. I am grateful to Mr. O. O. Alabi of the Department of Linguistics & Languages, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, whom I drew this chart March 4th, 2011. Time indicators are not strictly observed in the chart because time reckoning does not depend on mathematical calculation. They largely depend on weather or season. S/N MORNING 1 E ku daji (good morning): This greeting is said very early in the morning (before 6 a, m.), especially when the person being greeted is still in bed. It is not yet daybreak. Generally, it implies that there is an important and urgent issue to discuss with the person. 2 E ku Ojumo (good morning): This takes place during day break.



E kaaro (good morning): This is said before after-

AFTERNOON E kaasan (good afternoon): This is said between 12 noon and 4 p. m.

EVENING E ku irole (good evening): This is said between 4 p. m. and 7 p. m. when the sun sets

NIGHT O daaro (good night): It literally means till morning (in case of a visitor or when two or more people are parting in the night).

E kale (good evening): This is said as from 7:00pm, when the day is dark.

Ka sununre (good night): This means “may we sleep well” or Layo la ji (may we wake up well) usually said when people are sure they might not see one another till the following morning.

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noon, or between morning and afternoon. E ku iyaleta (good morning): This is said when the sun is just rising, especially in the tropical areas.

For seasonal greetings, the Yoruba, during the dry season will say: E ku Ogbele (dry ground); E ku Oye (harmattan); E ku Ojo, E ku Oririn, E ku Oginitin or E ku Otutu (all express cold weather or rainy season); E ku ipajuba (clearing in preparation for new farming season); E ku ikore (harvest); E ku Odun (different traditional seasonal festivals, now including Christian and Muslim festivals, and national public holidays, e. g. Christmas, Id Fitr, Independence Anniversary). Necessarily, all greetings should be responded to warmly and appropriately. Different occupations have their specific greeting codes. For the farmer (agbe), the Yoruba will say: Aroko bodunde o (May you be healthy to till the land always). The palm wine tappers (Akope) are greeted in the following way: Igba a ro o (may climbing rope be supple for you); hunters (Ode) arinpa ogun o (May Ogun provide games for you). For a priest: Aboru boye o or Ebo a fin o (may your sacrifice be acceptable) for which he responds: Aboye bo sise (may the result be favourable). All these greetings, offered at every time of the day and seasons provide important insights into Yoruba concept of time, more of cyclical than linear. Time and season, and the events that depict them are believed to be re-enacted time in, time out. They do not give exact mathematical time. Time is meaningful at the point of the event and not at the mathematical moment. The rising of the sun is an event which is recognized by the whole community. It does not matter, therefore, whether the sun rises at 5 a. m. or 7 a. m., so long as it rises. When a person says that he will meet another at sunrise, it does not matter whether the meeting place takes (sic) at 5 a. m. or 7 a. m., so long as it is during the general period of sunrise. Likewise, it does not matter whether people go to bed at 9 p. m. or at 12 midnight: the important thing is the event of going to bed, and it is immaterial whether in one night this takes place at 10 p. m. while in another it is at midnight. (Mbiti, 1969: 19)


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture

For instance, when one expresses thanks in greetings, E seun ana, (literally thanks for favour received yesterday); yesterday does not actually reckon the past 24-hour period in mathematical exactness but rather, it is conceived, often beyond the mathematical yesterday. As long as one has not come across the person who did the favour after the event, or if one wants to appreciate the favour again, E seun ana, is appropriate but E seun O jo is believed to be best if the day of the event is far beyond the literal yesterday. (Personal interview with Mr. Charles Adedoyin, head teacher, 50+, on 16th September, 2007) SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF GREETING American social psychologist and anthropologist George Herbert Mead studied the close interconnection between individual and community. In his book Mind, self, and society (1934) Mead provides insight into the role of gestures in communicative situations and interpersonal relationships. This linguistic data is conveyed in what he calls “conversations of gestures” (xv). He defines gestures as “stages in the co-operative activities which mediate the whole process” (Mead, 1934: 188). Thus, gestures are a fundamental part of communication and set in motion the co-operative principle as defined by Grice (1975) in relation to verbal language. The recognition of some kind of essential link between perceptual intentionality and embodiment by means of gestures can be traced back to work by Heidegger, Husserl, Mead Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Interpersonal exchange is based on a flow of shared information in search of a consensual point. This facilitates the rising of inferential-based situations where one can anticipate the reactions of the conversational partner(s) (see the notion of ‘implicature’ in Sperber and Wilson, 1995, 2004). In oral discourse, this frequently takes place by means of gestures. Recent research on intentional action distinguishes between agency and action, indicating that agent of an action must have a twofold knowledge, namely knowledge of his/her intention and knowledge of her own bodily acts, and this knowledge is divorced from the notion of conscious decision because we often perform actions which are automatic and nondeliberate. There is the patent or latent conative experience of getting the activity going and directing it towards an intended completion. Secondly, there is the bodily activity that, phenomenologically speaking, is constituted as a continuous projection or pro-


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 123−142 tention of the next-coming phases of the activity as well as the continuous fulfilment of the projection of the preceding phase. (…) Thus, the intentional bodily activity has a complex intentional structure involving both ‘empty’ intentions (the protentions or expectations) and fulfilling intentions, in this case kinaesthetic sensations and perception (visual, tactile, etc.). From this description it follows that the experience of performing a willed activity involves the experience of agency but is not identical to it. (…) The experience of agency was described above as an awareness of the activity or movement as initiated and possibly inhibited by the I. But the experience of will in action involves more than this; it involves being directed towards the completion of the activity in question. An intended practical completion that does not lie at the end of each single movement, but on the contrary unites the movements, makes them into phases of a whole in which they are given a certain internal structure and role. (…) More formally put, we can say that the experience of action entails the experience of agency, whereas the experience of agency does not entail an experience of action. (Overgaard and Grünbaum, 2007: 27−28)

Agency is understood as an implicit awareness of what one’s body is doing in functional relation to who is doing it so that there is a tight link between the sense of agency and kinaesthesia, that is the ability to initiate self-movement, and which serves as a precondition for experiencing perception in a complete intersubjective and intentional way (for further information, see Lars Andreassen, Line Brandt, and Jes Vang Overgaard, Journal of Cognitive Semiotics, 2007). As kinaesthetic actions, gestures are basic in initiating communication. Within the category of institutionalized gestures, greetings take on an important role within a particular cultural community. The study of greetings can, thus, offer interesting information about interpersonal relations within a group, as “one is continually affecting society by his own attitude because he does bring up the attitude of the group toward himself, responds to it, and through that response changes the attitude of the group” (Mead, 1934: 180). Greetings oil the engine of social solidarity and community. Traditional societies, such as the Yoruba people in Nigeria, continue to be structured hierarchically. The king is believed to be God’s representative on earth and highly revered because of this status. The ancestors are members of particular families who have ‘departed to great beyond,’ and believed to be spiritually present within family groups in order to ensure that morality and social hierarchy are observed, punishing bad acts and praising good ones. Community order is ensured by the power of the ancestors, followed by the elders – king, chief, clan head, father


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture

and mother. It is within the context of this interrelationship that the ancestors, also called “the living-dead” (Mbiti, 1969: 9), can “participate in the fullness of life” (Bujo, 1998: 197). In greeting the king, one must recognise his royal status and affirm these shared cultural values. Among the Yoruba, citizens who have the opportunity to meet him, prostrate before the king chanting Oriki (praises), as one would do in worship. The Omo N’Oba Nedo Uku Apolopolo, the ancestral title of the Oba of Benin, for instance, is a praise name for him. About the Akan people of Ghana, K. Gyekye observes that “the king is the people. To respect the king is to respect oneself. He who despises our king despises us. He who praises our king praises us” (Gyekye, 1996: 110). The act of kneeling down by women and prostrating by men to greet the king, chiefs or elders is not just to recognise and affirm their social status, but also demonstrates an expression of perpetual loyalty. Not to kneel or prostrate (if ever possible) would challenge social hierarchy. Interpersonal relations within the Yoruba community, and in many other African communities, take on a dimension that includes living and deceased members of the community, and any acts of good and evil affect not just the actor but the community at large, since it is believed that such act increases or decreases the vital energy or force of the whole community (Bujo, 1998: 197.) The ancestors, to be sure, hold a great influence in the community they depart from. This influence is believed to derive from the stronger vital force they possess, having lived worthy lives and being endowed with supernatural powers after death. Their major task is to keep social harmony, which is the basis for the continuous flow of vital force (Magesa, 1997: 70). As Bujo punctiliously puts it, “whoever despises the ancestors and elders and rejects the community laws and statutes established by them, chooses death instead of life” (Bujo, 1998: 198). Death or life is a community concern; not the individual alone. But the community usually insists that individual members must choose and generate rather than diminish life for themselves and the community as a whole. The anamnestic solidarity in the community is anchored on the relationship between the ancestors, the elders and the king, which forms the basis for the latter’s authority. Because of their experience, the elderly can shape the history of their community and pass it on to younger generation. “From the point of view of anamnestic gratitude and solidarity, it is an unheard-of evil, yes a sin crying towards heaven, to deny old peo-


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ple human warmth” (Bujo, 1998: 203). Contrary to the modern society, “whoever forgets old people forgets the history that preceded him or her and which made everything available on which one thrives today” (Bujo, 1998: 203). This respect toward the elderly is preserved through socialisation: the younger ones are taught the revered position of the elders, the values of the community, its taboos, etc. Parents and community elders basically are first in receiving due respect. This respect, however, is not those who are older and are called “elder brother” or “elder sister,” whatever their origin. Every human being, including the stranger who does not belong to the clan community, is always “property of the Other” i.e. God’s creature; he has his own dignity and merits respect and love. (Bujo, 1998: 199)

Interestingly enough, the socialisation or anamnestic solidarity involves the whole members of the community rather than the immediate biological parents of a child. This is because the child’s personality and development are greatly influenced by the quality of the contents of socio-cultural value curricula he/she is exposed to. Since no one is a reservoir of the community’s values, every elder is expected to function as a good teacher to the child, by his or her behaviour and words. This act, among others, includes teaching and reminding the child of the need to greet everyone. The act of greeting, when imbibed, has been shown to function in such a way that it bonds the parents, grand-parents, siblings, elders of the family and community in a web of relationships (Ezekwonna, 2005: 31). This web of relationships, oiled by observance of community’s values e.g. greetings, becomes ‘ontological’ or organic as it preserves the common ancestry, shared values, purposes, and experiences of the people. This ancestry must be maintained by the community because therein the individual realises him/herself. The community alone constitutes the context, the social and cultural space, in which the actualization of the possibilities of the individual person can take place, providing the individual person the opportunity to express his individuality, to acquire and develop his personality and fully becomes the kind of person he wants to be, i.e., to attain the status, goals, expectations to be, etc. (Gyekye cited in Ezekwonna, 2005: 33)

This community ontology in the Yoruba cultural value system defines the meaning and purpose of life of the individual in the context of the


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture

whole, his/her duty duties or rights to and from the whole community, and their moral implications. MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF GREETINGS In Ilsup Ahn’s opinion, one should act in such a way that “the positional action should not only responsibly meet the standard of law but also anticipatorily receive the approval of all affected” (Ahn, 2009: 11). The point Ahn seeks to elucidate is that everyone occupies a position that demands a moral evaluation in the dispensation of the duties of such a position. And the action done by the person must be such that it does not only befit his/her status but also meets the expectation of all the members of the community judged from the prism of shared norms. The “positional self” must ensure that it seeks the common benefit or good for all who meet the standard of the moral self (Ahn, 2009: 11). In the context of our discourse, and considering the ‘social self’ of the individual person and the community in the Yoruba cultural value system, the act of greeting has moral implications on the person as well as the community. The person who greets and the other being greeted have moral responsibilities that go beyond them. They stretch, as it were, to the context of communal morality, which approves or disapproves of one’s action. For example, the communal morality among Africans (the Yoruba) entails that a younger person, as a demonstration of respect, must necessarily greet the elder. The elder being greeted is duly-bound to consciously respond appropriately. Otherwise, a disharmony is believed to have ensued, not only in the social order but also the moral order impugning on the conscience of those involved. The communitarian morality of the Yoruba in particular and Africa in general, functions in solidarity with the ancestors. Thus, community taboos, prohibitions or commandments are believed to have a backing beyond the human community itself. The ancestors become the grundnorm speaking through the elders of the community. It is in this sense that elders are highly esteemed insofar as they represent the life experiences and wisdom of the whole community. Not to greet an elder, therefore, implies that the person has also refused to greet the ancestors. As Bujo puts it, “blessings, luck and a harmonious life depend on true love and respect, which one has to show to parents and elders” (Bujo, 1998:


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199). On the other hand, “to be greeted in the morning and not respond is a sign of conflict” (Falola, 2004: 19). Early morning greetings are taken so seriously that, if neglected or ignored, signal a volume of evil thoughts and reactions. Not only do they have negative implications on the parties involved for not observing the ethos of ‘we-feeling’; they also diminish the vital energy of the community. Response and intonation of response go a long way in determining whether or not one has fulfilled one’s moral obligation, in anamnestic socialisation, to greet on every occasion. If the intonation does not sound normal, the speaker, for instance, might just feel that his/her day has been ‘spoiled.’ Such behaviour calls for immediate intervention. Falola argues that it is only the immature that would ignore the moral responsibility of greeting and responding. That one greets and the other does not respond does not mean in any way that the conflict is over. To greet and to respond in a situation like this, therefore, may indicate, however superficially, that all is well. It is also, and more importantly, a way to escape from being accused of not fulfilling the communal moral demand; “Afterall, I greeted you this morning” (Falola, 2004: 19). This type of greeting is metaphorically referred to as a ‘male’ greeting, since it is bereft of the general norms and expectation of the community. In other words, it is not a fruitful one. The moral demand that two people should greet each other also extends to a third party, because “for someone to notice that two people did not exchange greetings and keep quiet is considered immoral” (Falola, 2004: 23). The third party is morally obligated to instantly delve into the reasons for their not greeting each other. If he/she is unable to reconcile them genuinely, it is incumbent on him/her to report to the elders immediately. His/her failure to report to the elders is tantamount to withdrawing the vital energy of the community, of course, with consequences. As Falola, again avers, “the person who noticed that the two people did not greet and failed to report it has done more damage than the two parties” (Falola, 2004: 23). The intervention of the third party or the elders as the case may be, is to nib in the bud family or community disharmony because “ignoring the early signals of the avoidance of greetings or the use of a negative tone to communicate them may lead to more conflicts” (Falola, 2004: 23). Falola drives this point home when he shares his personal experience in this regard:


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture Because I did not greet him, he became even more furious and agitated. In a moment, you will discover for yourself the basis of his anger. He abandoned his task, dashed to the office of the chairman just behind the desk, opened the door without knocking, a sign of a great emergency resembling an earthquake, and complained that I had walked past him without greeting him (…) the chairman was angry. (Falola, 2004: 13)

On the more positive side, the Yoruba concept of Omoluwabi can be implied in greetings. Omoluwabi encapsulates the whole issue of morality: respect, integrity, justice, forthrightness, honesty, etc (Fadahunsi, 2004: 129). According to Bolaji Idowu, moral values are very important in Yoruba society. Morality in Yoruba can be instantly observed in one’s character, which is “the stuff which makes life a joy because it is pleasing to God” (Idowu, 1996: 161). The good character is the distinguishing factor between moral and immoral persons such that the one who behaves well is called Omoluwabi: “One who behaves as a well-born” (Idowu, 1996: 161). Adedoyin informed that one can refer to a child who greets as often as he/she comes across his/her elders as Omoluwabi. Such a child is believed to have been well socialised and morally virtuous. His/her good character becomes a guard against physical or spiritual attacks because he/she will always have defenders (Personal interview with Mr. Charles Adedoyin). Idowu puts it crisply when he said that “it is good character that is man’s guard” (Idowu, 1996: 161). Augustine Atiba claims that, as moral values, greetings serve as reference to children or people in general (Personal interview with Mr. A. O. Atiba, 50+, retired Deputy Registrar, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, on 17th April, 2007). According to him, when a child greets his/her elders well and as often as they meet, for instance during marriage or any other social function, such a child is always ‘given a pass mark.’ Through greetings, I received my first lessons in geography, the brilliant use of space, time, weather, and events to teach. Greetings were my first lesson in values, the appropriateness of each to denote respect and social hierarchies: the child who is not afraid of anyone will develop bad manners, the manners that can endure for long and follow on to the grave. With the corpse and bad manners wrapped together, the soul is in trouble. (Falola, 2004: 26)


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METAPHYSICAL IMPLICATIONS OF GREETINGS The importance of greetings cannot be over-emphasised. In fact, “greetings are important as well as frequent in everyday social interactions all over the world” (Wei, 2010: 56). Because greetings are critical to the “establishment and maintenance of interpersonal relationships” (Wei, 2010: 57), they have attracted variegated intellectual attention in such fields as Sociology, Anthropology, Religion, Sociolinguistics, with no metaphysical focus. Examining the functions and use of greetings from Austin’s Speech Act Theory, Wei recognises the illocutionary implications of greetings. For instance, Wei adopts Firth’s position that greetings are “a system of signs that convey other overt messages” (Wei, 2010: 58). Beyond the overt pragmatics, greetings have covert messages, that is, “the intention or goodwill of the speaker” (Ibid.). In Austin’s theory they would fall into the realm of expressive illocutionary acts, and, according to Wei, should not just be “taken literally” as a “spontaneously emotional reaction to the coming together of people” (Ibid.). This means that greetings have a meaning beyond the widely believed act of politeness in social interaction, and that their implications do not just stop here. That greetings should not be “taken literally” means that there are more important aspects to greetings than their literal interpretation may convey. In spite of the fact that Wei believes that greetings are beyond the socio-sphere, his study does not imply any metaphysical consequences derived from the act of greeting. For the traditional African community, not to take greetings literally would mean that there are serious social, moral and metaphysical effects to the act of greeting as summarized in the following lines. The Yoruba community, as well as most societies in Africa, believes that the existential and metaphysical dimensions of existence interact. The pivot of this constant interaction is morality and its ontological, immanent and intrinsic values. An act, as in greeting for instance, is not an arbitrary creation of the gods or society, but rather as illocutionary praxis demanded by the very nature of things. It is within this province of thought that we can say that performance or non-performance of a piece of action does not just derive from the gods and the community, the actor exercises his/her freewill, thus making the actor responsible. This accounts for the reason that moral breach rubs negatively on society generally apart from the actor. This is why the Yoruba believe that it is there-


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture

fore necessary, because of the fear of the gods, that one behaves well and also for the sake of the harmonious social nexus that binds the cohering people in a communal setting. One of the core areas of metaphysical contemplation is the philosophical examination of the nature of being and reality as well as the ultimate categories of things that are real. Within this metaphysical line of thought, whether philosophical or religious, abstract objects which are not in human spatial or temporal space are believed to exist and influence spatial realities (see Moreland and Craig, 2003: 174). Witchcraft and ancestors worship also fall within this realm. In African (Yoruba) society, witchcraft is the employment of mystical powers to achieve a goal, mostly of evil consequences. Oluwole argues that it is the force or power used by a person who possesses it to affect another person or make him/her to do what the witch wants (Oluwole, 2000: 3). In a society thoroughly believed to be influenced by religious values, like traditional Africa, social space is characterised by different spiritual forces that ensure harmony or otherwise, depending on their nature and motives. The reality of these forces and the pervasive belief in their efficacious influence upon society calls for the observance of positive moral values. However, it seems that when the human mind is suffused with the fear of poignant forces ubiquitously present to monitor one’s actions, obedience is induced rather than earned. In a society where social harmony is a priority which relies on blessings from divine forces, induced or earned obedience cannot be neatly separated insofar as obedience is warranted. In demanding obedience, there appears to be no distinguishing factor between the enforcing agents – the erratic malignant forces, e.g. witchcraft, or the ancestors’ influence, based on wisdom and justice. This brings us back to the story narrated in the introduction to this paper: a witch killed a child because the latter refused to greet her. Here, obedience to the social-moral value of greeting an elder was demanded, but not given. Even though the child erred in not greeting her, killing the child is a greater irreparable evil, for which she also paid the ultimate price by the employment of the greater mystical force of the community. The latter judgement is hinged on the belief that witches are not endowed with the authority to enforce morality in society. Hence there are anti-witch shrines to counter their influences (Quarcoopome, 1987: 153−155).


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The ancestors, however, are regarded as the repository of morality. They are immediately represented in the society by the elders. Magesa drives home the point thus: “disrespect for elders implies disrespect for the ancestors as well, for the elders are their visible “representatives” on earth” (Magesa, 1997: 154). Greeting as a moral act, therefore, means that when done, it is a demonstration of respect, which in turn brings blessings and prayers to the actor. In its anamnestic solidarity, refusal to greet parents incurs a potent curse from them: “May your own children do to you what you have done to me” (Magesa, 1997: 155). Such refusal also earns curse from others because “an individual with the evil eye harms others because he or she is evil” (Magesa, 1997: 157). This is achieved by means of certain words, certain gestures, certain objects, man believes that he can acquire a larger share of the power that permeates the universe and can use it for his own ends. These words, gestures and objects are effective because they are charged with power. (Oduyoye, 1985: 203−233)

What this implies is that in Yoruba (African) metaphysics, there is strictly no dichotomy between being and acting. The being of a person is defined by his/her acts; conversely, the acts of a person are defined by his/her being (Bujo, 1998: 99). As Magesa puts it, “Being and doing cannot be divorced in the African understanding of thing” (Magesa, 1997: 157). In passing judgement, therefore, the person is defined by his/her doing, which is believed represents or “results intrinsically or radically from being” (Ibid.) the very essence of the person. The significance of being-doing interaction with regard to greetings is that when a child deliberately perpetually refuses to greet his/her elders, and does not feel guilt, his/her personality can be gleaned, which in turn enables the community to put him/her under social and metaphysical surveillance. The reason for doing so is to ensure social harmony and smooth relationships with the ancestors, the guardians of morality. It is in this sense that African (Yoruba) morality is widely believed to have supernatural foundation (Izibili and Enegho, 2003: 52). It is also generally claimed that greeting and responding to greeting brings good luck when the reverse is also true. More often than not, when people wake up in the morning and greet a particular person and the latter refuses to respond, it is seen as an omen. Bad luck is believed to await the former person that day. Although some may tend to justify 137

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this as mere coincidence, in African communities the metaphysical attachment is so compelling that the latter who refused to respond would be deemed responsible for the bad day. In order to avoid such ‘labelling’ people are cautious to respond to greetings. The same fear is also attached to hugging an enemy or having a handshake with him/her. This is because of the belief that one may be afflicted through such interaction, just as anyone to whom an elder deliberately prostrate to greet. This is usually done when there is serious rift between the parties. Although it might be argued that these instances may not be too scientific, the truth is that it is not only the scientific but also the quasi-scientific corpus of cultural knowledge that adds to people’s way of life. Greeting one another stimulates the sense of personal security as personal experience in the introduction to this paper demonstrates. Here, whether or not fear underlies the act of greeting, it is clear that in a society where one’s own acts are forces that generate vital energy or diminish it, and where life is believed to be better than death – even when believing in rites of passage, people would act in such a way as to generate life rather than to give it away. If greeting at all times guarantees abundant life, the conscious individual must be careful and perform these acts. MODERN CHALLENGES Traditional African cultures place high importance on greetings because of their social, moral and metaphysical implications. However, modern society seems to vitrify this belief. The reason is clear: Moral values are radically being replaced by Western influences, especially ‘rugged individualism.’ This reality is questioning the very essence of the communal life of the Yoruba in particular and Africa in general. The elders know by the very essence of modernity that ‘community life’ and its moral values have given way to ‘society life’ with the projection of individual rights. Herein, the citizens of modern society can “escape greeting one another” and “disobeying the rules of age and genealogy, without an elder to enforce authority, without sanction to punish miscreants” (Falola, 2004: 20). In modern society, time spent in greeting one another does no longer reckon the value of friendliness, ‘we-’ or ‘fellow-feeling,’ longing for, morality and social harmony in tandem with the religious sphere, but valued in quantitative economic terms, in which “elaborate greetings become a nuisance” and “the amount of time that was wasted on greeting as a


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form of inefficiency” (Falola, 2004: 19). As Oumarou observed, the urban dwellers only keep long time greeting just “to keep the conversations going” (Oumarou, 1997: 37). Oumarou added that “greeting occurring in rural areas tend to take a longer time than they normally do in urban cities” (Oumarou, 1997: 37). The truth is that industrialisation or materialism has overthrown the cherished value of greetings. One can but imagine the nostalgic feeling for the elaborate greetings that exuded in cognomens and personal, family or even community’s panegyrics that are being eroded in our very presence. It is the same way other values are being systematically destroyed: languages and dialects, respect and friendliness, dressing and mannerisms that define individual and community identity, social space and the environment of the composite existence of the Yoruba, and Africa. As Ologunagba feels it: When you visit me and greet me, I feel honoured; I feel fulfilled as an elder. I wish you could visit and greet me more often than you do at present. Your visit calls to mind the glory of yester-years, the comfort that greets the fellowship among community brothers and sisters. Adjustment is not possible, not so easily. Old age is now a sickness imposed on us by the society. The children are now like birds; once they grow wings they fly away from the nest, never to return to greet their mother. Our tradition and missionary schools thought of it, that is, the value of greetings. They enforced it. But our government believed they were wiser; but they destroyed the moral values from the curriculum. As Achebe recalls, ‘things have fallen apart. (Personal interview with Pa Ologunagba)

One may not be done with this nostalgia. Every true believer in the traditional value of greetings must be serious about their restoration. This is that task put before the people as expressed by Reinhold Niebuhr in the following submission. If the factory robs men of personal values it must be changed until it builds character and creates happiness. If the city imperils virtue it may have to be destroyed, providing it cannot be reformed. If the nation outrages the diviner qualities of human life and sacrifices eternal values for petty ends, it must be reformed until it becomes a true servant of human personality. (qtd. in Ahn, 2009: 161)

The ancestors, once believed to be the “moral paragons” (Gyekye, 162) of the African tradition, whose belief “supplies sanction for public morality” as “the guardians of traditional morality” (Awolalu and Dopamu, 1979: 276) have been radically abandoned by most of their followers


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in favour of foreign gods. In fact, as Awoonor laments: “the gods are crying, my father’s gods are crying for burial (…) but they that should build the fallen shrines have joined the dawn marchers singing their way towards Gethsemane” (Awoonor, qtd. in Kalu, 2003: 312); the elders in traditional religions no longer “enjoy such powerful position and influence”(Alamu 2006: 49). However, others claim that since “the post colonial problems of African clearly show that the ancestors cannot be helpful. The greatest reverence we, the descendants of the ancestors, can show to them is to let them rest in peace” (Gyekye, 168). The preservation of anamnestic solidarity by means of greetings is just an example of the diversity of cultural values in Africa, and the problems they face in the age of globalisation. In order to preserve these values, a deliberate programme should be instituted. Here lies the challenge for the traditional Yoruba elders, representatives of the ancestors. Nowadays the elite and their descendants prefer to respond in English even when greeted in Yoruba. These changes in community habits and customs erode the values that greetings had for their progenitors, and which were handed down generation after generation. Unless deliberate efforts are taken to enforce them, for instance in the form of curricular development, practice at home and in public places, etc., these values will be lost in no distant time. (Igboin, 2011 n.p.) CONCLUDING REMARKS This paper has argued the place of greetings in the social, moral and metaphysical conception of the African with particular reference to the Yoruba of South-western Nigeria. In addition to the social and moral implications of greetings, the metaphysical fear of the consequence of greeting or not greeting determines how social and personal interactions are conducted in a community which integrates both the living and the dead, determined to demonstrate positive warmth and living energy among its members, thus oiling the machinery of social harmony. Deliberate efforts are needed to preserve these customs for posterity in face of the global challenges that affect local cultural values. References Ahn, Ilsup. Position and Responsibility: Jurgen Habermas, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the CoReconstruction of the Positional Imperative. Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2009.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 123−142 Alamu, Akiti Glory. “The Place of African Ancestors in the Age of Modernity.” JORAC: Journal of Religion and African Culture 2.1/2 (2006): 49−57. Awolalu, Joseph Ọmọṣade, and P. Adelumo Dopamu. West African Traditional Religion. Ibadan: Onibonoje Press, 1979. Ayantayo, Jacob Kehinde. “The Phenomenon of Change of Name and Identity in Yoruba Community in the Light of Social Change.” ORITA: Ibadan Journal of Religious Studies 42.1 (2010): 1−16. Berger, Peter Ludwig. A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in the Age of Credulity. New York: Free Press, 1993. Bujo, Bénézet. The Ethical Dimension of Community: The African Model and the Dialogue between North and South. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1998. Ezekwonna, Ferdinand Chukwuagozie. African Communitarian Ethic: The Basis for the Moral Conscience and Autonomy of the Individual. Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, New York, Wien: Peter Lang, 2005. Fadahunsi, Ayo. “Late Professor John Olubi Sodipo: A Philosopher in the Service of a Nation.” Philosophy and the African Prospect: Selected Essays of Professor J. Olubi Sodipo on Philosophy, Culture & Society. Ayo Fadahunsi, and Olusegun Oladipo. Eds. Ibadan: Hope Publications, 2004. Falola, Toyin Omoyeni. A Mouth Sweeter than Salt: An African Memoir. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2004. Grice, Herbert Paul. “Logic and conversation.” Syntax and Semantics, 3: Speech Acts. Peter Cole and Jerry Morgan. Eds. New York: Academic Press, 1975. Reprinted in Studies in the Way of Words. Herbert Paul Grice. Ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989. 22–40. Idowu, E. Bọlaji. Olódùmarè: God in Yoruba Belief, revised and enlarged. Ikeja: Longman Nigeria PLC, 1996. Igboin, Benson Ohihon. “Colonialism and African Cultural Value.” African Journal of History and Culture 3.6 (2011). Izibili, Matthew A., and Felix Ehimare Enegho. “Supernaturalism in Ethics.” EPHA: Ekpoma Journal of Religious Studies 5.1/2 (2003): 47−55. Kalu, O. U. “After the Former Rains: Paradigm Shift in the Study of the Cultural Identity and Christianity in Nigeria.” Religion, Science and Culture. P. Adelumo Dopamu and E. Ade Olumuyiwa. Eds. Ikenne-Remo: Olarotayo & Co, 2003. Magesa, Laurenti. African Religion: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life. Nairobi: Paulines, 1997. Mbiti, John Samuel. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann, 1969. Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972. Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Illinois: IVP Academic, 2003. Oduyoye, Modupe. “Potent Speech.” Traditional Religion in West Africa. E. A. Ade Adegbola. Ed. Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1985. 203−233. Ogungbemi, Segun. “A Philosophical Reflection on the religiosity of the Traditional Yoruba.” ORITA: Ibadan Journal of Religious Studies 18.2 (1986): 61−67.


Benson O. Igboin / The Semiotic of Greetings in Yoruba Culture Oluwole, S. “Smothering Practice Called Witchcraft.” The Guardian, September 24, 2000. Onimhawo, J. A., Matthew A. Izibili, and Benson Ohihon Igboin. Theistic, Atheistic Arguments: Issues and Problems. Accra: Deocraftghana, 2006. Onuegbu, M. C. “Types of Igbo Greeting.” New Findings in the Study of Nigerian Languages and Literatures: A Festchrift in Honour of Oladele Awobuluyi. Francis Olugbenga Oyebade and Tèmítọ́pẹ́ Olúmúyìwá. Eds. Akure: Montem, 2010. Oumarou, Chaibou Elhadji. “Context and Meaning: a Semiotic Interpretation of Greetings in Hausa.” Folklore Forum 28.2 (1997): 31−40. Overgaard, Søren, and Thor Grünbaum. “What Do Weather Watchers See? Perceptual intentionality and agency.” Lars Andreassen, Line Brandt & Jes Vang. Eds. Cognitive Semiotics: Agency 0 (2007): 8−32. Quarcoopome, T. N. O. West African Traditional Religion. Ibadan: African Universities Press, 1987. Sperber, Dan, and Deirdre Wilson. Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Second Edition. Oxford/Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1995. Sperber, Dan, and Deirdre Wilson. “Relevance Theory.” Handbook of Pragmatics. Gergory Ward and Laurence Horn. Eds. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. 607−632. Wei, Li. “The Functions and Use of Greetings.” Canadian Social Science 6.4 (2010): 56−62. African Greetings.


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Batik Semiotics as a Media of Communication in Java Ulani YUNUS & Dominiq TULASI

Study Program of Marketing Communication Bina Nusantara University, Jakarta, Indonesia [email protected]; [email protected] Abstract. Batik industry, Indonesia’s traditional practice of dying cloth through wax resist methods, is considered an important source of intangible cultural heritage and protected under UNESCO. The industry is very diverse and many different colors and motives are used. Research in this article focuses on Batik in Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Lasem, Tuban and Garut regions. This paper studies the connotative implications of Batik’s cultural significations that pass on from older to younger generations revealing the importance of visuality and touch in constructing meaning within certain cultures. Keywords: Semiotics, Batik, High Context Culture, Java

INTRODUCTION Messages in human relations can be expressed by means of semiotic signs in various material formats. Alongside these material and operative conditions, conventions, community and institutional practices are also often related to technological change, so that the materiality of media is already culturally encoded in diverse intermedial cultural practices (LópezVarela, 2011). The study Batik is an important source for research on cultural heritage in Indonesia, where it has been used to pass on knowledge across generations and remains one of the less known products of the country’s cultural wealth (Dahles, 2001). The study of Batik also reveals important aspects regarding Javanese communicative practices, strongly influenced by social status and power relations (Gittinger, 1989; Adams and Dickey, 2000) and closely related to the spread of the Islamic Majapahit Empire in those territories. Although Batik art is very ancient, its greater expansion beyond Indonesian territories can be traced back to colonial situation and industrial development in the 18th century. Indonesian cultures are collectivist and based on group harmony and consensus, rather than on individual achievement. The rationalism is much less effective in such cultures, governed by emotional and affective persuasion. The speaker’s tone of voice, his or her facial expressions, 143

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gestures, postures, as well as the person’s family history and status, are determinant in communicative situations which rely strongly on assessing the value of truth from the speaker’s credibility. Flowery language, politeness and elaborate apologies are also typical in Indonesian cultures (Chaturvedi and Chaturvedi, 2004). In such a ceremonial culture, Batik motifs continue to determine class structure in public events. For instance, in Yogyakarta and Solo, the king uses a type of Batik pattern called Parang Rusak that invites onlookers to recognize him as the person of highest rank. The largest and widest archipelago in the world, and a maritime country with tropical climate, Indonesia has various shades of Batik in accordance with the natural and cultural conditions of its production. Styles vary from region to region in accordance with their affiliated culture, and nowadays they all hold registered copyrights. Batik colors and motifs also reflect the places of origin where Batik is produced. Historical traces as well as the local values are inherited and reflected in Batik manufacturing processes (Damas Mulyono, personal communication, March 14, 2012). Initially crafted in royal palaces to dress family, relatives and the court; Batik is more than a piece of artistic clothing. Extending outside the realm of high culture to daily folk life, Batik is both the cloth that wraps Indonesian people from birth to death, and witness to a rich artistic heritage stretching beyond the boundaries of high art to contemporary ethnic fashion. Batik motifs were, and continue to be, taken from a variety of plants, mountains, animals, rice paddies, rivers, oceans, and ancient symbols of life. Its fabrics continue to be woven within cultural circles close to the family environment and daily life. Their meaning stretches beyond the perceived design, a unique pattern of colors, lines, surfaces, volumes, light and shade, which expresses certain intrinsic and singular qualities. (Tendi Naim, personal communication, March 3, 2012). In 2006, the number of Batik units produced reached a peak of 48.287, with the industry employing 792.300 people and exporting over 110 million U.S. dollars. Batik is mainly produced in 17 provinces in Indonesia. The most important ones are Jambi, Palembang, Bengkulu, Jakarta, Banten, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, Bali, West Sumatra, Lampung, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, and Papua. A fundamental element in national economy, Batik is also an important element of women’s empowerment, with more and more contracts being negotiated with the help of international NGOs and fashion wear labels interested in ethnic products (on this see Souza, 2005).


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BATIK AND SEMIOSIS Etymologically derived from the Greek word meaning semeion “sign,” semiotics can be defined as the science of signs and the study of the systems, rules and conventions that allow these signs to have meaning. Western modern semiotics evolved differently in the work of two pioneers, the North-American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce and European linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Signs, whether icons (images), indexes (metonymical pointers, like gestures) and symbols (abstract consensual signs such as those found in human verbal language) in C. S. Peirce’s terms, consist on a series of interrelated elements that make up a communicative system, interpreted on the basis of its physical manifestations (through the perceptual modes of sight, hearing, touch, taste and scent). Saussure’s semiology came to be concerned primarily with the linguistic sign (symbol in Peirce’s trichotomous view of signs). It is important to mention that the Peircean categories of signs – icon, index, symbol – are pure solely in their theoretical existence. In practice, their features merge in different proportions. That signs should be, as much as possible, similar to the objects they signify is known as “relative motivation.” But, things can be similar to one another in various ways, and such signs achieve meaning in consensus (“motivated convention”). Motivation may represents a natural connection between the signifier and the signified in Saussure’s semiology, and a relation of similarity between representatum and representamen in Peirce’s semiotics. Motivation represents a ‘natural connection’ between the signifier and the signified in Saussure’s semiology, and ‘similarity’ between representatum and representamen in Peirce’s semiotics. Motivation can be imposed by ‘custom’ (habit, in Peirce’s terms), or approved by ‘convention’ (Saussure), and ‘consensus’ is materialized in usages or collective representational customs. For example, in the case of Batik, although it has characteristics of imitative-iconic representation and indexical pointers, it also entails symbolic qualities derived from its embedding in particular cultural codes, thus enabling a process specific to human semiosis: the culturalization of the natural in ‘motivated signs.’ This convergence between motivation (in icons and indexes) and arbitrariness (symbols) can be observed in Batik. Diverse contributions, such as those by Roland Barthes and Ernst Cassirer, came to study sign as distinct orders of meanings and characteristic marks of human activity embodied in diverse cultural fields


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such as language, art, myth, ritual, history, and even science and technology. These studies brought attention to the way signs are experienced in a given culture. For instance, Barthes distinguishes between two orders of signification, a first level or denotative/literal meaning, and a second level of connotative/culturally associative meaning that he terms ‘myth’ or ‘metalanguage’ and which serves to reveal and provide justification for the dominant values prevailing in a given period (Barthes, 1990). Connotative meanings refer to particular cultures and traditions and they are often reproduced in a ritualistic way. In ancient cultures, ritualistic sign-reproduction provided the foundation for religious systems. The idol, generally an iconic sign or image, in Peircean terms, became the representation of divinity. Special garments were used by priests, kings and heroes/saints, evoking the archetype (Eliade, 1989). Linguistic signs in prayers were the foundation of veneration. In some religions signs were sacred and their reproduction reserved for religious powers, as possession of the sign entailed power over the original (Lévy-Bruhl, 1910). Frequently, signs have a double value: informative or referential and suggestive or emotive, close to their denotative and connotative roles (Eco, 1982). Signs with an informative function convey knowledge concerning objects of the real world. Artistic signs are usually connotative, with ambiguity, an intrinsic and inherent property of the poetic message (Jakobson, 1963) that, nevertheless, does not lose its referential function. The coexistence of both functions is evident in Batik designs. Certain non-figural configurations might not have a referent in the real world, but signify by means of a ‘mental representation,’ which does not require the existence of the ‘real’ object (Reboul and Moeschler, 1998). An artist always attempts to change the empirical nature of phenomena and does not offer perceived but represented images (Hoffmann, 1966). The semiotic study of Batik helps demonstrates the complex and nuanced nature of quotidian practices, and the historical changes that have invested the high/low culture divide with new meanings. The plurality of Batik design, both denotative and connotative, points to interesting convergences between previous high and low distinctions of culture (Cobley, 2009). The research shows how, in a particular context, any actualized semantic value may overshadow others associated to the same sign without suppressing them. Connotative references remain virtual values within the sign system, and may be activated at any given moment.


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BATIK VALUES There are at more than 400 Batik motifs in Yogyakarta. Some are classical, and some are modern. Among them: dagger (parang), latticework, creeping plants, water plants, flowers, animals, Sido Asih, Sido Mukti, Sido Luhur, Cement Mentul, Sapit Urang, Harjuna Manah, Semen Kuncoro, Sekar Asem, Lung Kangkung, Sekar Keben, Sekar Polo, Grageh Waluh, Tumurun, Naga Gini, Truntum, Tambal, Grompol, Mdau Broto, Semen Gedhang, Jalu Mampang (Herusatoto, 2003). Each motif has its own cultural values and meanings. For instance, Sido Asih signifies that the life of the person who wears is full of affection. Sido Mukti is frequently used by brides to express adequacy and happiness. Sido Mulyo signifies that the life of the person who wears will always be glorious. Sido Luhur means that the wearer is a virtuous and noble character. Mdau Bronto shows sweet romance in the form of honey comb. Semen Gedhang embodies a bride’s desire of fertility (Djoemena, 1990). “Defective Dagger” (Parang Rusak) is a motif used Batik from Yogyakarta. It is a lined motif that resembles the letter S, forming a diagonal line with a slope of 45 degrees. Although apparently a simple pattern, the connotative meaning of “Defective Dagger” is “unyielding spirit full of hope,” and emulates the persistent movement of waves. This pattern is created in coastal areas, and the fabric composition points to an unbroken and persistent design that symbolizes the spirit of selfimprovement and historical family ties. “Defective Dagger” is frequently used to express hope in child-bearing, and the parents’ capacity to continue the struggle that their ancestors have pioneered (Fig. 1). Classic Batik motif in Java (Surakarta) comes in a variety of shapes that, nevertheless, convey traditional beliefs and symbols common to these cultures. As mentioned above, Batik is more than a piece of clothing or an aesthetic object. It also embodies forms of collective thought in their complex symbolism. Many motifs in Surakarta Batik are related to the natural world. One of such motifs is the Garuda, a bird deity who acts as carrier of god Vishnu, and whose story is narrated in the Ramayana, a myth that carries values of greatness, power, virtue, wisdom and loyalty (on this see Pujianto, 2003). Used in Batik design, Garuda conveys the meanings of virtue and nobility associated to Surakarta culture (Fig. 2). Batik manufacturers in the Java region of Lasem used to employ Chinese laborers. This cultural influence is evident in unique and lasting


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motifs such as the Hong Bird, latticework, chrysanthemums, and liongs, created by the first Batik maker in Lasem, Li Na Ni (Sears, 1996). Interestingly, not only Chinese culture is visible upon Lasem Batik; the influence is reciprocal (Liong and Hadi 2010). Lasem Batik’s most prominent characteristic rarely found in other regions is its bright colors, mostly red but also yellow, blue, and green. Red stands for the color of blood, and the dragon, an important Chinese symbol, symbolizes in Lasem Batik the capacity of the region to open up to outside world (Fig. 3).

Figure1. Defective Dagger Batik

Figure 4. Gedog Batik

Figure2. Garuda Batik

Figure 3. Liong Batik

Figure 5. Garut Batik

In addition to Li Na Ni motifs, there are other famous Lasem Batik motifs based on nature, such as Watu Pecah (broken stone), Terang Bulan (moon shining), and others like Naga Kricak, Ceplok Piring, Sekar Jagat, Kawung Lerek, Sekar Paksi (Elliot and Brake, 2004). In early 20th century, Lasem Batik motifs began to incorporate flowers (buketan), bearing the influence of the colonial expansion of the Netherlands in these territories (Djoemena, 1990). Batik patterns in Tuban and Parahyangan (Sundanese settlement) have been studied by Yusuf Affendi (2000). Tuban Batik is located in the northern coastal areas, while the Garut Parahyangan communities live in the mountains. Affendi’s study provides an overview of some of the characteristics of works of Batik art-craft from these two diverse cultural backgrounds. Tuban produces Batik weaving Gedog which echoes the sound made by the spinners and weavers, ‘Gedog ... Gedog ... Gedog ...’ (Fig. 148

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4). Motifs incorporate variations of marine fauna and flora. Supplementary decorations such as Guntingan, Kapasan, Campursari, Kembang Waluh, Ganggeng, recall names of natural objects in Tuban coasts. Garut Parahyangan Batik uses color tones like pink (kayas) which symbolizes youth naïveté and tenderness. Kayas, Kasumba, and Gandaria are also expressed in Sundanese rhymes and songs that offer melancholic sounds accompanied by flutes and encourage gentleness upon the natural world; “save the world” is their message. Flowers and birds embody the sweetness of living things (Fig. 5). The Garut Parahyangan Batik tradition carries this ancestral message of patience and tenderness towards nature and life, its plants, flowers and animals. The message is passed on from generation to generation and encourages joy in its images of chirping birds (Hastings and Selbie, 2003). CONCLUSIONS Batik motifs are not just physical realities and objects of clothing; they are also signs that embody ways of thinking and collectivism in Indonesian cultures. There are still many hundreds of splendid Batik motifs, witness to the rich cultural heritage of this geographical area. This paper has only presented a glimpse of the possibilities that semiotic research on Batik motifs can offer to Cultural Studies. The authors hope that their work will inspire other people to explore the noble values Indonesian cultures, and contribute to enrich and preserve its historical heritage. References Adams, Kathleen, and Sara Ann Dickey. Home and Hegemony: Domestic Service and Identity Politics in South and Southeast Asia. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2000. Affendi, Yusuf. “Seni Kriya Batik Dalam Tradisi Baru Menghadapi Arus Budaya.” Global Journal Seni Rupa dan Desain. 2000: 1−10. . Bühler, Karl. Theory of Language. The Representational Function of Language. Trans. Donald Fraser Goodwin. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1990. Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Los Angeles: University of California, 1990. Batik Gajah Mada. History of Batik Tulungagung. 2010. . Sedamukti Melati Merah. 2012. . Batik Garut. 2012. . Batik Parang Rusak, 2010. . Chaturvedi, P. D, and Mukesh Chaturvedi. Business Communication: Concept, Cases and


Ulani Yunus & Dominiq Tulasi / Batik Semiotics as a Media of Communication in Java Application. New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley, 2011. Cobley, Paul. Understanding Cultural Differences. London: Routledge, 2001. Dahles, Heidi. Tourism, Heritage and National Culture in Java: Dilemmas of a Local Community. London: Routledge Curzon, 2001. Damas Mulyono. Personal Comunication, 14 March, 2012. Djoemena, S. Nian. Ungkapan Sehelai Batik Its Mystery and Meaning. Jakarta: Djambatan, 1990. Eco, Umberto. Opera aperta. Milano: Bompiani, 1982. Eliade, Mircea. Le Mythe de l'Eternel Retour. Archétypes et répétitions. Paris: Gallimard, 1989. Gittinger, Mattiebelle. Ed. To Speak with Cloth: Studies in Indonesian Textiles. Los Angeles: University of California, 1989. Hastings, James, and John Selbie. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 19. Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2003. Herusatoto, Budiono. Simbolisme dalam Budaya Jawa. Yogyakarta: Hanindita, 2003. Javanese Batik Motif. Batik is Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, 2012. . Hoffmann, Werner. Grundlagen der modernen Kunst. Eine Einführung in ihre symbolischen Formen. Stuttgart: Kröner, 1966. Jakobson, Roman. Essais de linguistique générale. Paris: Minuit, 1963. Kain Batik. Tuban dan Pesona batik Gedog. 2012. . Kementrian Perdagangan Republik Indonesia. Batik sebagai Motor Penggerak Ekonomi. 2012. . Kitab Batik. Story of Lasem Batik. 2010. . 2012. . Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Mythologiques, I: Le Cru et le cuit. Paris: Plon, 1964.

López-Varela, Asunción Azcárate. “Intertextuality and Intermediality as Cross-cultural Comunication Tools: A Critical Inquiry.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 8(2)/2011: 7–22. Motif Batik Indonesia. Motif Batik Gurda. 2012. . Peirce, Charles Sanders. Écrits sur le signe. Rassemblés, traduits et commentés par G. Deledalle. Paris: Seuil, 1978. Pujianto. “Mitologi Jawa dalam Motif Batik.” Unsur Alam, Jurnal Bahasa & Seni. 31.1 (2003):128-142. . Reboul, Anne, and Jacques Moeschler. Pragmatique du discours. De l’interprétation de l’ énoncé à l’interprétation du discours. Paris: Armand Colin, 1998. Batik Gedog Tuban. Memang Beda. 2012. . Sears, J. Laurie. Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales. Washington: Duke University Press, 1996. Souza, Rebecca de. “NGOs in India’s Elite Newspapers: a Framing Analysis.” Asian Journal of Communication. 20.4 (2010): 477−493. Tendi Naim. Personal Communication. 3 March 2012.


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Semiosis and Nomadic Art in Eurasia Nadezhda NIKOLENKO

Department of Political Science and Social-Philosophical Studies Kazakh National Pedagogical University 25 Zhambyla Almaty 050010 Kazakhstan [email protected] Abstract. Despite, or perhaps as a form of resistance to contemporary globalization tendencies, the Central Asia region has chosen a way of life that combines modern conditions with deeply ingrained ancient customs and traditions. The gap between the by-gone glorious nomadic past in the communities of the Great Steppe and the socio-cultural and economic setup of the independent countries in this region, for instance Russia and Kazakhstan, is huge, and without access to modern structures of knowledge dissemination, the cultural heritage of these ancient nomadic communities remains largely unexplored. This paper seeks to present some of the hidden cultural treasures of these peoples. In order to do so, the study focuses on the semiotic implications of ornaments as intercultural signs amidst the nomadic cultures of Eurasia. Keywords: Nomadic ornament, symbol, sign, traditional, world-view, intercultural communication

INTRODUCTION: THE SIGN STRUCTURE OF ORNAMENTS In nomadic societies, with no room for art forms, such as sculpture or architecture, dedicated to establish historical memory by means of locating large physical structures in a situated urban environment, ornaments remain one of the most important forms of artistic creation. Deeply related to nomad’s cultural identification as expressed in a concrete iconic form, these decorative elements created by folk craftsmen according to their personal taste and fancy, frequently mask a symbolic dimension that functions in close association to the adaptability of the nomadic experience. Ornaments are constant companions to nomad peoples, travelers and migrants. These objects may carry personal memories that remain a source of companionship when a foreign environment, as well as incarnate the cultural values of a given community, recalled by means of the object. In the case of nomadic communities, they may embody a perfect synthesis of the nomad worldview, combining the Peircean view


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of signs, where the iconic sign and ornamental object, becomes a motivated sign yielding a meaningful connection with a referent, either a real natural object of recollection, or a cultural idea, agreed upon and materialized in usages, habits or collective representational customs. In this way, nomadic ornaments have characteristics of imitative-iconic representation and indexical memory pointers, while entailing symbolic meanings such as the social and sacral values embedded in particular cultural community. The study of sign systems, as we understand it today, conforms an interdisciplinary body of research fundamentally forged in the second half of the 19th century. Many aspects contributed to this development, but possibly a fundamental one may have been the recognition of the impact printed texts on public opinion, and their greater availability by means of cheaper publishing systems, such as serialized books in journals and magazines. Knowledge of the functioning of signs remains the most important area in the study of communication systems. In Europe, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857−1913) founded the area known as ‘semiology,’ concern primarily with the study of verbal signs (linguistics) and their structural patterns. The Harvard philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839−1914) developed the field known as ‘semiotics,’ which had a phenomenological emphasis and included a more in-depth study of non-verbal signs. For Peirce, A representation is that character of a thing by virtue of which, for the production of a certain mental effect, it may stand in place of another thing. The thing having this character I term a representamen, the mental effect, or thought, its interpretant, the thing for which it stands, its object. (Peirce, 1932: 564)

Peirce’s division of signs into icons (images), indexes (metonymical pointers), and symbols (abstract and arbitrary) is particularly useful in the case of ornaments. Images are normally held as mimetic representations of a real object/thing. However, Peirce indicates that the icon or image signifies even if its object does not exist in reality (Peirce, 1978: 139). All signs can inform about the natural/objective world or about the virtual/subjective one; in other words, they can have a real referent or a psychic-mental one. Signs can have both a real referent and a psychomental one. Artistic images are a special case because they combine both aesthetic and informative value. Roman Jakobson also assures the permanence of 152

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reference/denotation in the case of poetic signs despite their aesthetic ambiguity (Jakobson, 1963: 238). As creators, artists do not only offer perceived images (referential function) but represented ones, so that the multiple associations of artistic representations account for their ambiguous nature. The value of signs, whether informative/referential or emotive/associative, is subject not just to creation processes, such as the desire of the author or material and institutional constraints. Selection and interpretation depends also on the community of reception. In Peirce’s words: A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object. It stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea, which I have sometimes called the ground of the representamen. (Peirce, 1991: 228)

For Peirce, the fole of an interpreting consciousness (intelligent consciousness) is crucial for the engendering of signification and to what Maurice Merlau-Ponty as called ‘kinetic thinking,’ so that by means of selection, simplication, and interpretation, the sign reveals its object. This process generates more complex forms of abstract signs or symbols, a notion that fixes an ability of material things, events, sensual images to express (in social-cultural and axiological scales context) the ideal contents which differ from their ingenuous sensual-corporal existence. (Radionova, 2003: 899)

The philosopher of Marburg school Ernst Cassirer considers a symbol a universal emanation of human creative spirit that assumes object’s integration into sense and existence exclusively via human consciousness. Cassirer introduced a model based on evolutionism, through which he discussed ritual mimetism in myth, and its movement towards symbolization. In ritual mimetism, images were consubstantial with their originals so that its mythical value was correlated with power structures, whether political or religious. The possession of the image (icon) entailed control over the original (Lévy-Bruhl, 1910: 18), for instance, a religious sculpture which represented a particular divinity, embodied the power of that divinity for those who owned it. This was also so of nomadic ornaments, frequently held as talismans or good-luck charms.


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Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875−1961) introduced the concept of archetype into analytical psychology, to name the ancient images which, he theorized, existed in the collective unconscious mind of a given community (Jung, 2001). For Jung, a symbol is a kind of mental image that oversteps the bounds of the consciousness while remaining incomprehensible. Likewise, for Sigmund Freud (1856−1939), a symbol is a way of representation of conflicting motives and unconscious desires of an individual, his impulses expressed directly by means of a symbolization act. Freud sees plenty of symbols in any unconscious and creative activity of an individual – in dreams, in myths, legends, religious beliefs, jokes and even in delirious conditions (Freud, 1989). The semantic area of symbolization is always limited by biological constraints (human perceptual and cognitive apparatus), and also by social events (childhood experiences, family and community events, cultural values, taboos, and so on). From the perspective of structuralist anthropology, Claude LéviStrauss (1908−2009), who sees culture as a structure of symbolical systems of various levels, contemplates symbols as a form of language where the signifier predominates over the signified: “as well as a language, the social is an independent reality (but however, the same); symbols are more real, than what they symbolize, the signifier precedes the signified and defines it” (Lévi-Strauss, 1968: 32). The founder of French sociology Emil Durkheim (1858−1917) also sees symbols as intermediaries expressing collective conceptions, generated by a society (Durkheim, 1998: 174−231). Moreover, it is the symbolizing capacity what, in Durkheim’s view, confirms existence to a given society by allowing communication within its members. Alibek Kazhgali uly Malayev, an authoritative researcher on Kazakh traditional ornaments, notes that these are signs bearing systematic interrelations, so that they can be considered a special language through which ancient man put on an artistic plane his considerations about Time and Space, Life and Death, the Universe and his own place in it (Malayev, 2003: 6−7). Ornament may be a sort of versatile “World Model” expressed in an accessible form (Sultanova, Mikailova, 2010: 4). For Aleksey Losev, one of the first Russian philosophers to develop a theory of semiotics based on religious concerns, signs are philosophical categories that almost always have symbolic meaning, so that “every sign can have an endless quantity of senses, i.e. to be symbolic” (Losev, 1976:


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130). In fact, he adds that “the difference between sign and symbol is defined by a grade of importance of an object that is being identified and symbolized” (Losev, 1976: 134). In other words, the importance of a particular sign, in this case nomadic ornaments, depends on how much it is filled with sense. Losev’s contribution to the study of signs focuses on the names of words, providing a structure for the incarnation of the essence of a name, with an external agent defining this encoded essence. This model is rooted in the general meaning of the visual entity springing from the verbal semantics of seeing and assuming a special type of cognitive vision (myslitel’noi zritel’nosti). Nevertheless, the philosopher failed to leave a coherent theory of image that could be applied to the study of nomadic ornaments (for an in-depth study of Russian semiotic philosophy, see Ioffe’s paper in the present volume). The Moscow-Tartu school, which developed in the 1960s under the leadership of Juri Lotman, dealt not only with textual objects (novels, short stories, memoirs, epic poetry). It also studied other forms adopted by narrative accounts in theatrical form, music, dance and performance, or film. These objects of analysis were considered ‘secondary modelling systems’ with respect to verbal language. In the obvious spirit of the linguistic turn prevalent in those days, verbal (natural) language was perceived as a “primary modelling” system, thereby marking art, literature, cinema, myth & religion, music or dance as “secondary.” The methodological basis for these analyses was grounded on behaviourism, that is, the study of individual behaviour or cultural biography as a means to come to terms with a given historical period. Personal characteristics, such as codes of conduct, reputation, and personal images of artists, were considered alongside their artistic masked behaviour (see Lotman, and Piatigorsky, 1968). The juxtaposition of myth or metalanguage and narrative or metatext was the object of study of Lotman and Uspensky collaborative work “Myth-name-culture” (1975). According to them, that mythological description is fundamentally monolinguistic, a unique type of semiosis which coincides with the process of “nomination” (giving names to things) dealing with the same ranks of objects. The non-mythological description is polylinguistic, with several “classes” of sign-consciousness. Described in such nominalistic terms, myth evidently recalls the philosophical issues of deeply rooted within the Russian religious tradition and exemplied in the writings of Alexei Losev (see Ioffe’s paper in the present volume).


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Ornaments can be viewed as concrete objects (denotative reference in Barthes’ terms) that take on distinctive symbolic features in a given community (connotative associative meaning), much like visual archetypes which serve to reveal and provide justification for the dominant values prevailing in a given culture (Barthes, 1990) Connotative meanings are often reproduced in a ritualistic way, frequently related to religious systems in ancient communities. Garments and ornaments evoke the original icon/image/archetype of the divinity. Alibek Kazhgali uly Malayev defined nomadic ornaments as symbols where “the visual archetype is a graphic formula expressing parities of ornament’s existential categories in a uniform (independent) system” (Malayev, 2003: 22), emphasizing that “ornament is possible only being in system” (Malayev, 2003: 6). This definition presents several problems in relation of to the concept of nomadic ornament that I would like to present here. First it perceives ornament exclusively as a graphic sign, and leaves out other kinds of visual forms and possible symbolism associated to them. This, in turn, prompts some questions: Why ornaments, a tradition present in almost all the cultures in the world, have different degrees of importance in diverse epochs? Why in the contemporary world, ornaments have lost much of their symbolism to become decorative elements and a graphic patterns. Finally, Malayev speaks of “uniform” and “independent” systems of ornament’s existential categories. Against Khazanov, who holds that “the concrete cultural artifacts invented by nomads are less important than the fact that mobile cattlemen and nomads were one of the main agents of cultural diffusion and crosscultural contacts in Europe” (Khazanov, 2008: 14), I argue that nomadic ornaments embody a fundamental intercultural function. INTERMEDIALITY, INTERCULTURALISM AND NOMADISM Intercultural communication is about generating dialogical positions across cultural barriers. In order to do so, participants in the communicative situation need to be able to construct meaning across diverse sign systems. These may involve verbal communication or speech and non-verbal registers, such as eye-contact and gestures. In most cases, the first step for communication to take place is to capture attention and share it. Deictic markers such as eye-contact or pointing (on this see López-Varela 2010, 2011, 2012) play a fundamental role in basic


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exchanges prior to language acquisition. Naturally, they are also very important in contexts where participants do not share a common language and culture. As López-Varela has noted, the production, distribution and reception of culture has always been dependent on changing material formats and technologies, from manuscripts to printed books, from mural painting to photography, or from architecture to virtual recreations in a computer screen. The contemporary situation makes evident that culture is not just about textuality, but about the use of semiotic forms that employ simultaneously several material-semiotic resources (multimodality). Signs are used to represent cultural values and, in turn, these representations affect their further emotional interiorization by means of their socialization. Because of their iconic/mimetic nature, images (ornaments, engraving, sculpture painting, and photography) convey information which is more easily processed than more abstract forms of communication such as verbal language. However, the symbolization process described in the previous section takes place even in the case of iconic signs; in other words, once the human being has acquired a certain linguistic/cognitive competence, the interpretation of images becomes inevitable (both human thought and language develop together and are based a deictic/associative capacity that functions in space and time following functioned-oriented cause-effect narrative-like patterns proper of human working memory). As mentioned above, in primitive illiterate societies the icon had a fundamental mythical role. The expansion of the printing press and other text technologies placed verbal language, particularly in its written form, in a position of power over the image. The abstract quality and higher cognitive processing implicit in the decoding of linguistic units (symbols in Peirce’s terms) came to privilege text over image. Even today, the fact that we live in an image culture facilitated by cheaper ways of image reproduction (television, digital formats, etc.; in the days of engraving and daguerreotype, image reproduction was extremely costly) is perceived in a negative way. For years, nomadism has connoted negative associations. Nomad groups, such as the Roman people, derogatorily termed gypsies, have epitomized backwardness in a world that places a strong emphasis on possession of objects and commodities associated with urban ways of life. Migratory movements have always existed and have had a


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fundamental role in supporting economic passageways and cultural exchanges. For instance, the international trade that prospered along the Great Silk Way was under the oversight of nomads during all historical epochs of its functioning. One only needs to look at today’s migratory movements to realize the enormous impact that nomadic ways of life have not just on national and international economies, but also on cultural values. “As a result of nomadic conquests and creation of nomadic empires the world became more open, the remote countries and lands became more accessible, and the knowledge about them increased” (Khazanov, 2008: 14). This openness of the world is a direct consequence of successful intercultural communicative processes that take place by means of one of the most peculiar meta-cultural phenomena: nomadism. Nomads represent open systems, capable to perceive external stimulus and to render them toward the others. If we make the diagram of efficiency of such ability, nomadic cultures will be placed at the top by criterion of openness. (Shinkevich, 2008: 22) Besides, it is necessary to underline a multicultural character of nomadic societies expressed in multilingualism promotion. This feature held them ready to any attempt of communications’ exchange with partners from an unusual culture. (Shinkevich, 2008: 23)

One of such ‘languages’ for intercultural communication of nomadic communities are ornaments, considered in ancient times a kind of nomadic culture’s visual archetypes. SOME EXAMPLES OF NOMADIC ORNAMENTS AND THEIR SYMBOLISM Raised in the spirit of freedom, of boundless space and infinite time, nomads perceive their surrounding reality and nature as an integral part of their lives (Sultanova, Mikailova, 2010: 6). In their close relation to the natural world, “the activity of nomads is manifested in a special way in fauna, so mobile, as well as they are” (Orynbekov, 1994: 318). Their ornaments, compact signs, whose symbolism expresses the world-view of these communities, are rich in the so-called ‘animal style,’ filled with vibrating sacral symbols which are spiritually rich and organically translated the axiological and aesthetical world-view of nomadic cultures.


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Scythian craftsman. Golden deer. VI a.c. Scythian craftsman. Panther like The Hermitage Museum. Saintgolden shield plate. VII – VI a.c. The Petersburg. Hermitage Museum. Saint Petersburg.

Unlike contemporary diaporic communities, who prefer integration in multicultural pluralist societies (rather than assimilation in melting-pot situations), syncretism is a predominant feature of the nomadic framework, and, thus, a defining principle of the creative realizations of folks in the Great Steppe. In nomadic art, ornament acts as an independent philosophical and artistic system, uniting time and space under a spiritual basis. Central Asian nomads “closely connected ornament with the aspiration to embody plant and animal worlds surrounding them not only from the point of their ‘watching,’ but generally from the point of ‘seeing’” (Sultanova, 2009: 80). This ornament is penetrated with smells and images of the steppe nature, transformed by a creative thought into visual forms. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise that for a definition of the artistic process of ornament’s creation Kazakh nomads have an extremely capacious expression “oyu-oy” that can be directly translated as “pattern-thought.” According Malayev, one more meaning of the word “oyu” is significant, because it means also an action – “to cut out, to hollow out”; it means that the formula of “oyu-oy” assumes the meaning “to embody thoughts,” a possibility to mark them by notches and signs (Malayev, 2004: 116). Reconsideration of the Kazakh oyu, which embodies the most ancient spiritual concepts of Central Asian nomads, helps to mark out key features that form the concept of this ornament. Here we can define spiral as a basis of all the Kazakh oyu’s patterns, and it is possible to assert that the entire artistic concept of oyu is based on combinations of motives 159

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Uly Ana (Great Mother), which symbolizes female energy and essence and Ul (Son), male essence respectively. The above named motives are united by the central image of Uly Tau (World Mountain). An artistically elaborated image of a sheep is one of the most characteristic structural elements of nomadic ornamental system. It represents a symbol of vital energy and bliss and is widespread among different Eurasian cultures, as nomadic as well as settled ones. For instance, Kazakhs considered a sheep the most pure animal which possessed solar, holly and divine nature. Whereas such an occurrence of signs of horns and spiral and considerable similarities of their interpretation in various regions of Eurasian nomadic world, it seems rather possible to consider that in Turkic, and later, in Kazakh art a sign of a horn and of a spiral meant close ideas. Thus, a spiral element represented by artistically elaborated image of pair sheep horns (koshkar muyiz) has the sense of vital force and symbolizes happiness, bliss, imperial glory and prosperity.

Koshkar muyiz

Uly Ana

Combination of basic symbolic ornamental elements in the decoration of Kazakh national carpet “Syrmak”,


It turns out that such a little quantity of ornamental signs generates a language of unlimited possibilities, capable of expressing all depth of nomadic world-view. According to Malayev, “ornament is not a treasury of forms, but of interrelations expressed by “pure” (signs-symbols) or not absolutely pure (signs-indexes) forms” (Malayev, 2004: 245). Nomads have chosen a carpet’s plane – a plane without perspective which is formed as a result of harmonious combination of co-balanced parts – as the most


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perfect basis for the embodiment of the above-mentioned artistic principles. If ornament is a language, it should have a certain system and exist in system, like music or poetry, as “ornament is the art of system relations of visually perceived signs” (Malayev, 2003: 6). One of the most important and peculiar its inherent qualities is the rhythm, the same as it is in “temporal arts,” music or poetry, although ornament itself has a spatial character. Thus, nomadic ornament possesses dual essence that harmoniously unites time and space (Sultanova, Mikailova, 2010: 20). The uniqueness of ornament as of a concrete sign embodiment does not depend on the way it is presented – in the form of an integral plane or as a separate fragment; in each case we see an integral myth, “pressed and concentrated in one capacious symbol” (Malayev, 2003: 48). On the example of oriental carpets it is possible to illustrate that it is possible “to enter” the space of an ornamental composition in any place, just as in a myth which this composition embodies. Ornament as a symbol also embodies a characteristic for one given ethnos destiny. In comparison with western settled cultures’ ornamental compositions formed by plant motives attached to a concrete place, the basis of nomadic ornament is formed by animal images and is embodied in a special sign system identifying the destiny of a free in space microcosm. A specific character of this freedom can be perfectly observed on the example of Kazakh folklore, “where time acts as a whole, as a synthesis of the past and the present” (Tursunov, 2001: 12). Nomads did not need cathedrals and temples as their function was fulfilled by the space surrounding them. This space was the original cause of everything; nomads have embodied it forever in vibrating symbols – in music and word, and also in a visible image – in ornament (Sultanova, and Mikailova, 2010: 23). CONCLUSIONS This paper has presented the study of nomadic ornaments as important intercultural signs. Focusing on the nomadic cultures of Eurasia, the study opens the way for semiotic research on the symbolism of these objects and on the cultural world-view associated to them. References Cassirer, Ernst. Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Hamburg: Meiner Felix Verlag Gmbh, 2010.


Nadezhda Nikolenko / Semiosis and Nomadic Art in Eurasia Eliade, Mircea. Le Mythe de l'Eternel Retour. Archétypes et répétitions. Paris: Gallimard, 1989. Freud, Sigmund. Die Traumdeutung. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer S. Verlag GmbH, 1989. Jakobson, Roman. Essais de linguistique générale. Paris: Minuit, 1963. Jung, Carl Gustav. Archetypen. München: DTV Deutscher Taschenbuch, 2001. Khazanov, A. “Kochevniki i mirovoy istoricheskiy protsess.” (“Nomads and the World’s Historical Process.”) Materials of International Scientific Conference “The Nomads’ Contribution to the World Civilization Development” Alamaty, 21 – 23 November 2007). Eds L. Masanova, B. Zhanayeva. Almaty: Daik-Press, 2008: 10−18. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. “Introduction à l’œuvre de Marcel Mauss.” Mauss Marcel. Sociologie et anthropologie. Paris: PUF, 1968.  López-Varela, Asunción Azcárate. “Exploring Intercultural Relations from the Intersubjective Perspectives offered through Creative Art in Multimodal Formats.” M. Leone. Ed. Analisi delle culture; culture dell’Analisi. Universitá degli studi di Torino, Lexia 5-6 (2010): 125−147. López-Varela, Asunción Azcárate. “Intertextuality and Intermediality as Crosscultural Comunication Tools: A Critical Inquiry.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 8.2 (2011): 7–22. López-Varela, Asunción Azcárate. “Cognition & Cooperation in Online Communication: Visual & Sonic Cueing.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking: Special Issue on social media as a research environment. Eds Michael Macy, and Scott A. Golder. Mary Ann Liebert Inc. Publishers, 2012. Losev, Aleksei Fedorovich. Problema simvola i realisticheskoye iskusstvo. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1976. Lotman, Yuri. Statiyi po semiotike kultury i iskusstva. Moscow: Akademicheskiy proyekt, 2002. Malayev, A. Organon ornamenta. Almaty, 2003. Malayev, A. Oyu i Oy Almaty, 2004. Orynbekov, M. Predfilosofiya kazakhov . Almaty: Olke, 1994. Peirce, Charles Sanders. “Division of Signs.” Eds Hartshorne and Weiss. Collected Papers of C.S. Peirce Vol II. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1932. Peirce, Charles Sanders. “On the Nature of Signs.” Ed. Hoopes. Peirce on Signs. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Radionova, S. “Simvol.” Noveyshiy filosofskiy slovar. Ed. Gritsanov A. Minsk. Knizhniy dom, 2003. 899−900. Shinkevich, S. “Shto takoye vklad v tsivilizatsiyu i pochemu issledovateli obkhodyat molchaniyem Srednyuyu Aziyu?” Materials of International Scientific Conference “The Nomads’ Contribution to the World Civilization Development” (Alamaty, 21 – 23 November 2007). Eds L. Masanova, B. Zhanayeva. Almaty: Daik-Press, 2008: 19−23. Sultanova, M. “Unikalnost kulturi nomadov.” Misl. Respublikanskiy obshestvenno politicheskiy zhurnal. Vol. 7. Almaty, 2009. 77−82. Sultanova, M. and S. Mikailova. Ornament – yazik vechnosti (na materiale traditsionnogo ornamentalnogo iskusstva kazakhov). Almaty: Tau-Samal, 2010. Tursunov, Edyge. Drevneturkskiy folklor: Istoki i stanovleniye. Almaty: Daik-Press, 2001.


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Husserl’s Theory of Intersubjectivity Susi FERRARELLO

Loyola University and Florence University of the Arts Via s. Quasimodo 7 / 00063 Campagnano Di Roma / RM / Italy [email protected]; [email protected] Abstract. I am looking at a bird flying above my head and I barely see it; in the meantime I am talking to a friend of mine about my job. All these things: the bird, my friend, my job, even the ground beneath my feet, are outside of me. Yet, while I am living these objects, they are here, in my head. How can one explain this relationship, where something that is completely different from my being becomes a part of me? If something transcends my own nature, how can it be immanent, within my lived experience? How can I relate to something that is completely other than me? How can it ‘in-exist’ in my mind? Is there an original ‘me’ or am I always the result of my social life? Is the world in which I am living objective, or is it just mine? In this paper I would like to answer all these questions, focusing on the theory of intersubjectivity as it has been displayed by Husserl’s phenomenological method. In several instances, this method was defined by Husserl himself as a “‘sociological’ transcendental philosophy” (Husserl, 1968: 539), or even as a “transcendental sociology” (Husserl, 1966: 220), for it looks into the lived experience of the subject as if the subject were a transcendental intersubjective unit. The Husserliana volumes we refer to throughout this work are: the Fifth Cartesian Meditation (Husserl, 1982), which implicitly sends us to volume 8 (First Philosophy, second part & other important additions), and volumes 13 to 15 of the Husserliana (Husserl, 1973), which are dedicated especially to the issue of intersubjectivity. In what follows, I will focus firstly on the notion of intentionality, secondly on the constitution of the otherness and its objectivity, thirdly on the idea of ego and its life-world. Keywords: apprehension, Brentano, empathy, harmonious synthesis, intersubjectivity, intentionality, Husserl, pairing, Stein, values.

INTRODUCTION In this paper I would like to answer the questions posed in the abstract by focusing on the theory of intersubjectivity as it has been displayed by Husserl’s phenomenological method. In several instances, this method was defined by Husserl himself as a “‘sociological’ transcendental philosophy” (Husserl, 1968: 539), or even as a “transcendental sociology” (Husserl, 1966: 220), for it looks into the lived experience of the subject as if


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the subject were a transcendental intersubjective unit. The aim of this paper will be exactly the clarification of this ‘cursive’ expression. The Husserliana volumes we can refer to throughout this work are: the Fifth Cartesian Meditation (Husserl, 1982), which implicitly sends us to volume 8 (First Philosophy, second part, and other important additions) and volumes 13 to 15 of the Husserliana (Husserl, 1973a-c), which are dedicated especially to the issue of intersubjectivity. The sources Husserl used to work out his theory come from Brentano and Stein. From Brentano he borrowed the theory of intentionality to explain the subject-object relationship, and from Stein he took the notion of empathy to clarify the feeling by which we perceive the otherness. In what follows, I will focus firstly on the notion of intentionality, secondly on the constitution of the otherness and its objectivity, thirdly on the idea of ego and its lifeworld. MEANING OF INTENTIONALITY FROM BRENTANO TO HUSSERL Intersubjectivity might be largely described as a relationship between me and the other where the other is not alien to me and does not transcend my own nature, but rather is inside me. Accordingly, the other’s structure can be investigated starting from my ego. Differently from any transcendence, the other is to me a transcendental unit because it does not go beyond (trans-ire in lat.) my lived experience, but remains exactly there as a pure and spiritual essence. Its structure turns into a transcendental one, as it exists in my subjectivity as a pure essence. Its nature can be inquired starting from my inner world. For example, I am thinking about my friend Anna, and concurrently she is somehow present in my mind. This means that Anna does not completely transcend my body, but is inside my thoughts as a transcendental unit, and I can look into ‘her’ essence via a phenomenological method. Going through this essence, I might find out that my thinking about her is deeply affected by the judgments others have about her or by the education I received. For my lived experience will be not just mine, but will be intersubjective because it will be fulfilled with her presence and the entire social and mundane network I share with my surrounding world. In that sense, the phenomenological method has access to the otherness from the inside; it digs into the lived experience of the subject in order to de-


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scribe how the transcendent world appears to us. Nevertheless, to explain the intimate structure of this lived experience, first we have to explore what a lived experience is and how it relates to transcendent objects. As mentioned in the introduction, Husserl partly borrows his notion of intentionality from Brentano in order to give an account of the subjectobject relationship. Brentano was Husserl’s master. Husserl decided to attend Brentano’s courses for two years from 1884 to 1886. During these courses the phenomenologist became quite intimate with Brentano, spending three months with him on holiday near St. Gilgen at the Wolfgangsee. Together they read empiricists – particularly Hume. He remained deeply attracted to Brentano’s personality, especially for his way of construing logic. According to Husserl, “Brentano’s pre-eminent and admirable strength was in logical theory” (Husserl, 1987: 309). Brentano’s efforts to reform Aristotelian logic and its comparison with ethics will be crucial for Husserl’s subsequent research, particularly his lecture course “Elementary Logic and its Necessary Reform” of 1884–1885. As a matter of fact, these two years provided Husserl both with a method to make philosophy an objective and strict discipline, and with a scientific method able to handle ethical research, particularly that dedicated to intersubjective analysis. Concerning intentionality, Brentano took this term from the scholasticism of St. Anselm to denote the difference between the objects that exist in human understanding, and those that actually exist in reality. Etymologically intendere, from Latin, means in English ‘to point to’ or ‘aim at.’ Brentano took this term and adapted it for his psychology to illustrate the difference of mental phenomena and physical objects. In fact, he considered intentionality the hallmark of psychological phenomena. For this reason, both Brentano and Husserl used this notion to explicate the structure of mental phenomena and pure subjectivity, though they construed it differently. To Brentano, intentionality indicates the main property of every mental phenomenon in reference to content. Two classic critical interpretations of Brentano’s theory of intentionality are those by Quine and Field. Quine remarks that within Brentano’s thesis of mental intentionality “there is no breaking out of the intentional vocabulary by explaining its members in other terms” (Quine, 1960: 220) and Field claims that Brentano thought it impossible to give a “materialistically adequate” account of the relation between a person and a proposition (Field, 1978: 78). Both Field and Quine link Brentano’s thesis of intentional inexistence of mental phenomena to the emphasis on physicality that was prominent in early 20th centu-


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ry. According to it, all mental activity refers to a physical object. In Brentano’s Psychology from Empirical Standpoint the author explains his viewpoint with the following words: Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. Every mental phenomenon includes something as object within itself, although they do not do so in the same way. In presentation, something is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on. (Brentano, 1973: 101)

The overall claim of the book was to establish the intellectual foundations of psychology as a science. Psychology represents a science whose data come from experience and introspection – hence it defines psychology from an empirical viewpoint. Brentano thought that if psychology was to be established as a science, there had to be a criterion that distinguishes its subject-matter from that of physical or natural science. Therefore the intentional relationship was the main feature of any psychological experience, and it was the main instrument to explain how the object could be intended by the psychological subject. Albeit, Brentano did not himself deal with the issue of intersubjective intentional experience; his theory is however useful for explaining that kind of relationship. Husserl construes Brentano’s theory of intentionality from a subjectdirected perspective. To Husserl, intentionality is not the intentional inexistence of the object within the subject, but is the property of the subject in reference to its objects. Despite the similarities in viewpoint between Husserl and Brentano concerning the role played by intentional essence as a key for explaining the general structure of the subjective lived experience, Husserl partly moves away from the definition of intentionality provided by his master. While Brentano considers intentionality as a mark of the psychological object, Husserl defines it as a characteristic of the subject to mean or intend its objectivity. He does not relate to the empirical experience but, so to speak, to a ‘purified’ one, and does not share the supposed immanentism of Brentano. To clarify this point, we can use the following example given by Husserl himself in his Logical Investigations: “I can live the war of 1866 and that of 1870 in two different ways” (Husserl, 1970: 209). By this, he means that lived experiences can


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be tied to an external event, or consist in the reflection upon the lived experience itself by means of memory, or by looking at it in its structure following the complex of perceptions, evaluations and acts that it consists of. That is, acts can be lived again in a reflexive or phenomenological way, as a kind of ‘second life’ where the essence of intentional life of consciousness lays. In the given example, the intentional act ‘translates’ the empirical content of the war lived in 1866 and 1870, into a pure network of acts. Thereby the sheer structure of subjectivity consists of a flow of acts where the contents of psychological experience are purified essences: The conscious intentional relation of the ego to its objects means for me simply that intentional experiences whose intentional objects are the ego-body, the personal egomind and therefore the entire empirical ego-subject or human person, are included in the total phenomenological being of a unity of consciousness, and that such intentional experiences also constitutes an essential phenomenological kernel in the phenomenal ego. (Husserl, 1970: 362)

Thus, two kinds of acts can be distinguished respectively: psychological or empirical and phenomenological or pure acts. While Brentano considers intentionality as a mark of the psychological object, Husserl defines it as a characteristic of pure subjectivity, for it represents the movement of consciousness to mean or intend its objectivity. Nevertheless both philosophers stress in the same way the role played by representation in every intentional act. In fact, Husserl claims that the “intentional essence is made up of the two aspects of matter and quality” (Husserl, 1970: 251). Quality is the way that content is given, and matter corresponds to content of the act. Quality (...) has guided us since we formed the Idea of matter – while the same object remains differently present to consciousness. One may think, e.g., of equivalent positing presentations, which point by way of differing matters to the same object. (Husserl, 1970: 52)

Indeed we might evaluate, love or just perceive the same matter once it is given to us by a representation. The subject’s pure life is intentional: the way by which it lives corresponds to the quality of its acts and what it lives corresponds to the matter of what it intends. Its intentional acts are called also by Husserl ‘objectifying’ acts, because they are able to present objects to consciousness. “Objectifying acts,” Husserl writes, “are signitive and


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intuitive acts – and, under the latter rubric, acts of perception and imagination” (Husserl, 1970: 314). Every intuitive act is objectifying because it can make an object present to the subject by its sensing it. Intentionality is mainly a ‘being of’ or ‘about’ something, thanks to the device of representation. The content or matter of the act is what makes the act intentional, since it is the basis to which the act refers and it can be given to consciousness via Vorstellung (representation). Consequently the representation looks to be the mainstay of any intentional objectifying activity. Similarly to Brentano, and also to Husserl’s definition of intentionality, a mental representation is a required step in making possible any process of objectification. In summary, Husserl defines intentionality as a characteristic of the subject to mean or intend its objects. Intentional acts are also called objectifying acts because they are able to make their objects present, thanks to the device of the representation. The way by which the object intentionally inexists in the subject’s act is marked out by the intentional essence. Every intentional essence is made up of quality and matter. The former explains how the subject intends its object and the latter stands for the content that it lives. As Husserl stated, within intersubjective intentionality the other is lived in the form of empathy. The quality that makes me able to perform the representation of otherness in my mind is empathy, e. g. the feeling (páschein, Gr.) by which I can be ‘in the shoes’ of the other (én). In the next section I will explain how empathy works. EMPATHY AND THE EXPERIENCE OF THE OTHERNESS While intentionality explains how the subject relates to its objects, empathy helps us to understand – roughly speaking - how I can put myself in the shoes of anyone else. In particular, in Stein’s PhD thesis on empathy that was supervised by Husserl (Stein, 1989), a key term has been labeled: iterated empathy by which I can justify the self-imaging of the other as my own. This iterated empathy lets me ascribe the intentional acts of the others to me as if I were to live their intentional life. How is this possible? According to Husserl, the steps to live the otherness are the following: I live the world according to a natural attitude. In this attitude I do not recognize myself as a solipsistic unit, but rather as a part of a community where the others affect my own way of living. In this practice, I set in motion a process that Husserl calls communarization (Vergemeinschaftung) where


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the second ego appears to my first primordial ego to be similar to mine. In the process of communarization I realize that I am a community of persons though I am just me along with my own lived experiences (Erlebnisse). To put in act this process I use an analogical apprehension where the other, that is pairing (Paarung) to my lived experience, is mirrored in my experience, which means that I can represent the other because it is similar and dissimilar to me. Besides, I realize the truthfulness of the image I represented thanks to its changes and possibilities. In fact, Husserl speaks of the harmonious synthesis (Einstimmigkeitssynthese), that is, a synthesis by which I can confirm or deny the always changing presentations I can have of the other. Now, let us explain all these steps in more detail. Husserl writes: “the other man is constitutionally the intrinsically first man” (Husserl, 1982: § 55, 124). In fact, the other man can be genetically constituted in my own experience in a natural attitude, which means that it is not posited before or after my lived experience, but blossoms as a natural experience. I just live it and in my living the other appears as a natural part of me. This very first experience is called by Husserl “communarization” to indicate this original form of living where no ego (not even myself) remains absolutely singular. In this monadological intersubjectivity “the second ego [the other] is not simply there, and strictly given to himself; rather is he constituted as ‘alter ego’ – the ego indicated as one moment by this expression being I myself in my owness” (Husserl, 1982: § 44, 94). The other appears via a pairing (Paarung), that is, via its external presence of an animate organism (Leib) similar to me. When I perceive this organism analogous to me, I live an analogical apprehension that makes me recognize myself as a human being analogous with others. “The analogy is not in full force and effect (voll); it is an indication, not an anticipation (Vorgriff) that could become a seizure of the self (Selbstgriff)” (Husserl, 1972: 87). In this analogical apprehension “the other lives within my lived experience as a ‘mirroring’ (Spiegelung) of my own self and yet not a mirroring proper, an analogue of my own self and yet again not an analogue in the usual sense” (Husserl, 1982: § 44, 94). Therefore the ego and the alter ego are always – and necessarily – given in a primal “pairing,” as the (transcendental) condition of any analogical apprehension and any later mirroring of the other. The experienced animate organism (Leib) of another continues to prove itself as actually (wirklich) an animate organism, solely in its changing but incessantly harmonious “behavior” (Gebaren). Such harmonious behavior


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(as having a physical side that indicates something psychic appresentatively) must present (auftreten) itself fulfillingly in original experience, and do so throughout the continuous change in behavior from phase to phase. (Husserl, 1982: § 52, 114 sq.) Another key phrase related to the intersubjective life of the animate organism is ‘harmonious synthesis.’ This concept, borrowed from Brentanian inner perception, describes the intersubjective constitution of the otherness as a feeling of consistency. In this synthesis I can be sure that there is a consistency between the two sides of my apprehension because the synthesis combines together every phase of my perception along with all the changes of my acts and other’s movements. For example, if I am looking at my dog as it is crossing the street in its characteristic manner, and suddenly while I am apprehending this image, my dog mews, my synthesis is probably saying to me that I misunderstood the shape of the animal I am looking at. It is maybe not my dog. As Husserl writes Everything alien (as long as it remains within the apprehended horizon of concreteness that necessarily goes with it). centers in an apprehended Ego who is not I myself but, relative to me, a modificatum: another Ego. (Husserl, 1982: § 52, 115−116)

I can live the otherness only when I “appresent” it to my ego, that is when I intend it by an epistemological intentional act. The identity-sense of ‘my’ primordial Nature and the presented other primordial Nature is necessarily produced by the appresentation and the unity that it, as appresentation, necessarily has with the presentation cofunctioning for it this appresentation by virtue of which an Other and, consequently, his concrete ego are there for me in the first place. Quite rightly, therefore, we speak of perceiving someone else arid then of perceiving the Objective world, perceiving that the other Ego and I are looking at the same world, and so forth though this perceiving goes on exclusively within the sphere of my ownness (Husserl, 1982: § 55, 123−124). Therefore the objective world and mutual existence of the others can be attained by virtue of this harmonious confirmation of the apperceptive constitution. I intend the other and represent it to me according to a specific horizon of functionings and peculiarities that are to be continuously confirmed or corrected by my new intersubjective experience of them. Harmoniousness is exactly preserved also by virtue of “a recasting of apper170

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ceptions through distinguishing between normality and abnormalities (as modifications thereof), or by virtue of the constitution of new unities throughout the changes involved in abnormalities” (Husserl, 1982: § 55, 125 sq.). The mutual relations characterizing each member of the monadological community involve an “objectivating equalization” (Gleichstellung) (Husserl, 1982: § 56, 129) of the existence of the ego and the others: I, the ego, have the world starting from a performance (Leistung), in which […] constitute myself, as well as my horizon of others and, at the same time (in eins damit), the homogeneous community of ‘us’ (Wir-Gemeinschaft).

This constitution is not a constitution of the world, but an actualization which could be designated as “monadization of the ‘ego’ – as actualization of personal monadization, of monadical pluralization” (Husserl, 1976: 417). INTERSUBJECTIVE REDUCTION AND LIFEWORLD At the end of text no. 4 of the Husserliana XV Husserl writes starting from intersubjectivity, it is possible to establish the intersubjective reduction by placing between brackets the world in itself and thus achieving the reduction to the universe of the intersubjective that includes in itself all that is individually subjective. (Husserl, 1973c: 69; Husserl 1972: 188 sq., 272)

The very first beginning of a phenomenological intersubjective analysis is given by reduction. The reduction describes the passage from a natural attitude, where the subject naively lives the world, to a phenomenological attitude, where the subject looks into what he already lived to figure out the intimate essence of the lived experience. In § 44 of the Fifth Cartesian Meditation, Husserl explains reduction as a ‘primordial’ act of putting out of play any constitutive function of intentionality, not as reported to another subjectivity, but as referred to the “primordial sphere” of the ego in its irreducible immanence, that is, to the intentional sphere – actual and potential – where the ego is constituted in his “peculiar ownness” (Eigenheit). This reduction is different from the classical phenomenological reduction. While the latter brings us back to the constitutive transcendental subjectivity, the former (which implies the latter) should be understood as a “dismantling reduction” (Abbaureduktion), beyond which the frame of a purely descriptive phenomenology aims to gather the original sense of the ego.


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In fact, the ego resulting from this reduction is an Ur-ich, a primordial ego (Husserliana VI, 188). In my spiritual owness, I am nevertheless the identical Ego-pole of my manifold ‘pure’ subjective processes, those of my passive and active intentionality, and the pole of all the habitualities instituted or to be instituted by those processes. (Husserl, 1982: § 44, 98)

According to Husserl’s phenomenological theory, every ego seems to live many lives at once; as we propose here, the ego lives at least three lives at the same time: an immanent (or empirical, naive life), transcendental and intersubjective life. In the first one, the ego lives according to a natural attitude thanks to which it acquires all the sensitive data. Though reduction, it puts in brackets all that do not belong to its own intentional life to recover habitualities and sedimentations constituted as “abiding convictions” (bleibende Überzeugungen), which distinguish precisely the Self as a concrete egoic pole from the other “transcendent objects” (given either actually or potentially). Finally, for the intersubjective life the ‘reduced’ ego discovers itself not as a solipsistic unit or a monad, but as an original intersubjective unit. All that belonging to its lived experience is mingled with other lived experiences. Thus, the second transcendental ego is only a restraining aspect of the third transcendental intersubjective ego, but at the same time the former grounds (fundiert) the latter. The relation between the transcendental ego and the other egos is also strengthened by the apperception of the world (Weltapperzeption). In fact, transcendental ego constitutes the world as a phenomenon thanks to its intentional activity. Since the transcendental ego is one with the intersubjective and immanent ego, the constitution of the world would be an intersubjective constitution where the world comes to be a lifeworld (Lebenswelt) shared by an intersubjective community. It itself is a part of the explication of the intentional components (Bestände) implicit in the fact of the experiential world that exists for us (Husserl, 1982: § 49, 108). In the first volume of Ideas Husserl had already introduced this concept under the heading of Umwelt to mean a surrounding natural world but it is only after the Cartesian Meditation and mostly in the Crisis that Husserl elaborates a proper “Umweltanalyse” to explicate the idea of an objective world shared by the intersubjective life of a living community (Husserl, 1976: 222). To explain the layers of this lifeworld, Husserl gives this example:


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 163−174 I see coal as heating material; I recognize it and recognize it as useful and as used for heating, as appropriate for and as destined to produce warmth. [...] I can use [a combustible object] as fuel; it has value for me as a possible source of heat. That is, it has value for me with respect to the fact that with it I can produce the heating of a room and thereby pleasant sensations of warmth for myself and others. [...] Others also apprehend it in the same way, and it acquires an intersubjective use-value and in a social context is appreciated and is valuable as serving such and such a purpose, as useful to man, etc. (Husserl, 1976: 186f)

Our world is a “subjective-relative life-world.” We cannot even conceive of something that transcends us, otherwise we could not intend it, or more simply we might not speak of it. Our intended world is a “grounding soil” on which the intersubjective world of community can thrive (Husserl, 1976: 134). This is the only soil where we build up our multitiered and intersubjective life. CONCLUSIONS This analysis should have given us the answers to the questions I raised in the first paragraph. As it concerns the otherness, I might say that it can be ‘embodied’ in my own life by empathy, e. g. by an intentional act where I apprehend the other as a pairing (Paarung) similar to me. In this act I recreate its immanence according to a transcendental structure that perfectly fits my ego. Thereof, the consistency resulting from this synthesis is so ‘harmonious’, that my original ego has to perform a primordial reduction in order to find its own core and distinguish it from the otherness. By this reduction the ego discovers itself as a transcendental unit that lives an intersubjective life within a shared intersubjective lifeworld. Even its core seems to be intersubjectively constituted. In fact, whenever the ego tries to single out its own nature, it finds it to be the transcendental basis on which an intersubjective life is built. References Brentano, Franz. Psychology from the Empirical Standpoint. Trans. Terrell Rancurello, and McAlister. London: Routledge, 1973. Brentano, Franz. The Foundation and Construction of Ethics. Ed. E. Hughes Schneewind. London: Routledge London, 1973. Husserl, Edmund. Logical investigations. 2 vols. Trans. John Niemeyer Findlay. New York: Routledge, 1970.


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Husserl, Edmund. Analysen zur passiven Synthesis. Aus Vorlesungs- und Forschungsmanuskripten, 1918-1926. Ed. Margot Fleischer. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966. Husserl, Edmund. Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy, third book: phenomenology and the foundations of the sciences. Trans. F. Kersten. The Hague/Boston/Lancaster: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983. Husserl, Edmund. Phänomenologische Psychologie. Vorlesungen Sommersemester. 1925. Ed. Walter Biemel. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. Husserl, Edmund. Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie. Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie.  1936. Ed. Walter Biemel. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976. Husserl, Edmund. Aufsätze und Vorträge. 1911-21. Ed. Thomas Nenon und Hans Rainer Sepp, 1987. Husserl, Edmund. Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texte aus dem Nachlass. Erster Teil. 1905-1920. Ed. Iso Kern. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973a. Husserl, Edmund. Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texteaus dem Nachlass. Zweiter Teil. 1921-28. Ed. Iso Kern. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973b. Husserl, Edmund. Zur Phänomenologie der Intersubjektivität. Texte aus dem Nachlass. Dritter Teil. 1929-35. Ed. Iso Kern. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973c. Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations. An Introduction to Phenomenology. Trans. Dorion Cairns. Seventh impression. The Hague/Boston/London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982. Stein, Edith. On the Problem of Empathy. Washington: ICS Publications, 1989.  


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The Cultural ‘Text of Behaviour’: The Moscow-Tartu School and the Religious Philosophy of Language Dennis IOFFE

Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University, Belgium [email protected] Abstract. This paper is focused on the major contributions of the two main schools of semiotic thought in Russia during the 20th century. It considers cultural mythologies of behaviour as the focal point of the Moscow-Tartu school and then proceeds to the pre-semiotic school of Russian thought, which dealt with the philosophy of the (divine) Name(s). Both traditions are linked by a common preoccupation with the human sign-vehicles-cultural, artistic, literary and religious. Russian semiotics of culture (the author’s life & biography considered as a peculiar kind of a signtext) and Russian religious philosophy of language (philosophy of the Name) are the most unique scholarly offerings to have originated within the Eastern-European tradition of semiotics. Keywords: Russian semiotics, Lotman, semiotics of behaviour, religious philosophy of language, Losev, Florensky, Bulgakov.

INTRODUCTION The Moscow-Tartu School of semiotics emerged in the 1960s with Yuri Lotman as one of its main leaders. (See Lotman, Yuri/Juri: 1974, 1975, 1984, 1990, 1994, 1997, 2009). Other prominent members were Viacheslav Vs. Ivanov, Boris A. Uspensky, Vladimir N. Toporov, Mikhail L. Gasparov, and Alexander M. Piatigorsky (See: Uspenskij et al., 1973; Waldstein, 2008; Nekliudov, 1998; Ivanov, 1976; Halle, 1984). The group followed the tradition of Russian Formalism, later combined with Czech Structuralism, and focused their efforts on the (broadly understood) semiotics of culture, striving to develop an all-inclusive synthetic method of cultural analysis. Their objects of analysis were the various possible historical languages of culture as “secondary modelling systems” with regard to verbal language. According to Lotman, ‘secondary modelling systems’ constitute all cultural systems with exception of natural language. In the obvious spirit of the linguistic turn prevalent in those days, verbal (natural) language was perceived as a “primary modelling” system, thereby marking art, literature, cinema, myth & religion, music or dance as “secondary.” Since the early ’60s and through the ’70s the Moscow-


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Tartu school remained more or less within the strategic limits of the traditional Structuralist approach (including intensive contacts with some of the Western colleagues, notably Roman Jakobson). The Moscow-Tartu school, in a way, was integrated into what is known today as the “Narratology of Culture,” a scholarly practice encompassing the entire spectrum of narrative theory, from Russian Formalism to French Structuralism, and from Mikhail Bakhtin to contemporary poststructuralists. It deals with traditional forms of narrative, such as literature (novels, short stories, memoirs, epic poetry), but also with its new forms (film, music and theatre), studying any cultural ‘text’ that functions as a narrative message between sender and receiver. The ‘Lotmanian’ approach to the analysis of Russian cultural history endeavours to study personal behaviour and its semiotic ambiance (Andrews, 2003; Nöth, 2006; Ioffe, 2007). Analysis of cultural sign systems explicates creative patterns of personal conduct pragmatics, exemplified by various cultural icons of a given epoch. Accordingly, culture is analyzed as a unique type of text, embracing the secondary modelling systems of non-verbal nature. Moreover, Lotman suggests dealing with a person’s ‘cultural biography’ as if it were a common sign-system, a sui generis codified ‘text.’ By coming to terms with this historical phenomenon, certain, specific considerations can be formulated with regard to unique cultural types, such as ‘codes of conduct,’ ‘reputation,’ and a ‘writer’s biography.’ All these characteristics are unified by their direct relation to the way the creative construction of an author’s personal image is being accomplished (self-built). These various creative ‘literary masks’ were very popular with various groups of Russian writers and artists. In her short pioneering work The Concept of the Text and Symbolist Aesthetics, Zara G. Mintz expressed her belief that within the Russian Symbolist movement, reality itself was endowed with qualities of the literary text per se. The Universal Text, according to her, is embodied in the “texts of life” and in the “artistic texts” of the Symbolist authors. The Unity of Text is juxtaposed to the infinity of its particular manifestations, a phenomenon that has much to do with the symbolist worldview as a whole. The Symbolist picture of the world proceeds from two dialectically divergent tendencies. One of them establishes a system of antitheses organizing the world in terms of space, value etc. The other is directed to reconcile opposites and establish a universal isomorphism between all the manifestations of life or “the world is full of correlations” (Alexander


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Blok quoted in Mintz, 2004: 98−104). It is this very concept of the world as an “art-like” textuality what explains the origin of the symbolist idea of “life-building.” (Mintz 2004: 98-104.) The semiotics of peculiar forms of artistic ‘masked behaviour’ may frame this discussion of the Moscow-Tartu school. One theoretical text by Lotman and Piatigorsky, devoted to the “Signs of culture” (“Tekst i funkcija” 1968) describes the primary semiotic rules that manage paradigmatic cultural fashions and correspond to behavioural multifunctions. The expanse of operational semiosis may vary considerably among self-conscious individuals engaged in the aesthetic creation of their specific ‘life-texts.’ The Moscow-Tartu scholars believe that the semiotics of behaviour must involve some way of creating a “behavioural text,” that on the one hand functions as a meaningful sign in relation to any other text, and on the other, provides astute recognition of certain empirical phenomena as sign constructions. According to Lotman and Piatigorsky, there are two models of semiotic behaviour, pro-creational and analytical, which allow the semiotics of behaviour to vary considerably among different cultural personalities (Lotman and Piatigorsky, 1968). The semiotic nature of one’s behaviour depends therefore on the culturally suggestive way in which a certain type of ‘text’ is perceived by most of the potential audience regarding a particular cultural hero. In the ‘real time’ of this ongoing behaviour, the ‘reception’ and ‘perception’ turn out to be as meaningful as the ‘action’ itself. The way the mask is received by the audience is as important as the author’s original intention. The main question therefore is whether the ‘mask’ and its creator can be received adequately and correctly (Lotman and Piatigorsky, 1968). These methodological and theoretical considerations caused the Tartu semioticians to deal more closely with the complex types of aesthetic and social functions characteristic of authorial biographies of major Russian authors. In his seminal paper on literary biography in cultural context, “Typology of Interrelations between Text and the Author’s Identity” (1992), Lotman emphasized Pushkin’s important role in creating the highly influential type of author’s biography foreshadows a vast number of topics in Russian cultural history. According to Lotman who studied Pushkin’s personal behaviour and biography from the viewpoint of its sign foundation, a poet’s part in setting the example for a ‘new’ way of life in cultural communication, is highly important. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the influence of Pushkin who went on to create his


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biography with the same kind of a constant focused effort that he put in his literary work. Lotman dealt with the writer’s right to biography that, according to him, was earned by Pushkin and accepted by early 19th century readers. He meant, first of all, a common recognition of the ‘word as act,’ and also the idea that a meaningful thing in literature is not necessarily the verbal stratum of an author’s work, but rather his biography (Lotman, 1992). This idea forced Pushkin to abide by what he preached through his art, while simultaneously placing him in the context of the deeply-rooted national tradition. This especial semiotic condition set the writer apart from all other artists, and granted him to the right to possess a biography that he conceived equivalent to hagiography, a conception prompted the post-Petrine view that writers were in a privileged position, reserved for saints, preachers, holy men, and martyrs. In the same essay, Lotman stresses the primary importance of the author’s biography for a coherent understanding of the literary artefact and all its possible manifestations. This critical tradition of studying ‘biography’ alongside ‘literary every-day life’ appears to be quite significant. Based on the early 19th century material, Soviet semiology provides definitive observations on behaviour patterns and on the complex nature of the author’s strategic manoeuvring on the arena of his public and private life alike. The figure of Pushkin appears most substantial for this purpose since, according to Lotman, the poet was paying as much attention to working out his public biography as to his literary writing. DISCURSIVE STUDY OF BEHAVIOURAL TEXTS Arguably, the first contemporary Western scholar to address the problem of discursive interaction between the ‘verbal text’ and the ‘events in life’ was Paul Ricoeur. In his essay “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as Text” (1973), Ricoeur examines general scholarship on viewing the text as a full-fledged ‘event’ occurring in physical life. In this sense, the French philosopher comes quite close to the tradition of Russian semiotics. Ricoeur points out that “an event” is inevitably “an act of vocal expression” and even an act of speech in the way John Austin or John Searle would see it, which seems coherent with some of the ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, whose work, at the time, was not known to Ricoeur (Bakhtin’s work was not translated until the late ’60s).


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Ricoeur proposes considering a statement or an act of speech a “living meaning” or, as Bakhtin would put it, as a valid event. It is important to stress that according to Ricoeur, any event shares the properties of a text in so far as it is discursive. Setting aside the old structural genre division into narratives and myths Ricoeur, as an underground pioneer of narratology, announces the unitary character of narrative: the cyclical form of a myth is not any less ‘narrative’ than the classical construction of literature with identifiable authors. In this regard, Ricoeur’s views seem to correspond to Yuri Lotman’s, which establish the connection between the conceptual apparatus of an object of culture, culture as an object, and virtual constructs associated with the latter, such as ‘text,’ ‘memory,’ and ‘behaviour.’ Ricoeur makes the claim that an act of speech fully assumes the status of actual life - in other words, the verbal-aesthetic becomes an integral component of the living, systematic world order, suitable for historical description. Ricoeur claims that by speech-act meaning, it is necessary to understand not just the sentence in the narrow sense of the propositional act, but also the illocutionary force and even the perlcutionary action, in the measure that these three are codified in the speechact, gathered into paradigms, and consequently, identified and reidentified as having the same meaning. Here Ricoeur imbues the word meaning with a wide scope of acceptation which covers all the aspects and levels of the intentional exteriorization that “makes the inscription of discourse possible” (Ricoeur 1973). In a way different from Ricoeur, the Moscow-Tartu scholars were probing the semiotic limits of what was labelled ‘mythological conscience’ that in turn structures the world-picture of their hermeneutic interest. In the early ’70s, cultural texts and the juxtaposition of myth and narrative attracted the attention of Yuri Lotman and Boris Uspensky. In their collaborative work “Myth – name – culture” (1975), they defined this opposition as “descriptive vs. mythological narrative.” In the first case (descriptive narrative) the scholars speak of metalanguage (a category or element of metalanguage). In the second (mythological description), they refer to metatext, i.e., a text serving a metalinguistic function for the subject at hand, where the object being described and the text that describes it belong to one and the same language. According to them, that mythological description is fundamentally monolinguistic, dealing with the same ranks of objects. Whereas, at the same time, non-mythological description is definitely polylinguistic: the reference to metalanguage is


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particularly important as a recognition of a different idiom (be it a language of abstract constructs or a foreign language, what is really important here is the actual process of translation and interpretation). Lotman and Uspensky arrived at a ‘motivated’ understanding of signworld as purely nominal, with unusual types of logical dependencies and subject-definitions. They described the structure of non-mythological thinking postulating the existence of several “classes” of signconsciousness. In mythological world there exists a unique type of semiosis which coincides with the process of “nomination” (giving names to things). A sign in the mythological conscience is similar to its own ‘name,’ and the overall meaning of a personal name in its outmost abstraction comes down to myth per se. The ‘imagological’ concern of the scholars that can be deduced from this theoretical point is deeply rooted within the Russian religious tradition, and outside the scope of this paper. Once described in such nominalistic terms, myth evidently recalls the philosophical issues of ‘onomatodoxy’ and ‘sophiology’ (associated with the writings of Pavel Florensky, Alexei Losev and Sergius Bulgakov). In what will follow I shall show how the ‘divine name’ polemics actualises the historical debate on the essence of any name, whether it is ‘built in’ the ‘thing’ or arbitrarily attained by the creative cognition within human language. The name of God here functions as a sort of semiological black hole, something that escapes scientific analysis (if to keep the onomatodox intention and perceive full energetic identity between God and His ‘name’). The sign-cover of that Name is therefore not arbitrary and moreover, not really human-given and thereupon contradicts the main foundations of semiotic theory from Ferdinand de Saussure to Charles W. Morris and Charles Sanders Peirce. Lotman and Uspensky (1975) formulate the somewhat similar issue of mythological names and naming process by stipulating that a mythological conscience can be in fact perceived as non-semiotic in its essence. In the sphere of personal names, according to these scholars, there occurs an amalgamation of word and what it denotes. This particular feature is quite characteristic of the majority of mythological views that propagate assemblage of the name and what is being named. It might be justly observed that this mythological view is at odds with the standard science of semiology.


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One of the founding members of the Moscow-Tartu school of semiotics, a UCLA professor Viacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, related the semiotic tradition of his age to the preceding intellectual epoch, namely to the work of Pavel Florensky (Ivanov, 1976). The Moscow semiotician pointed out that even in the early days of Russian philology, when the work of Ferdinand de Saussure was not yet available in Russia, Florensky was the first to explicate the groundbreaking idea that special relationship exists between what is being symbolized and the form of symbolization. Florensky was then working on implementation of a unique scholarly program that aimed to create a dictionary of universal symbols: so called Symbolarium. This venture anticipated some major semiotic studies of the 1960s and 1970s exercised by the Moscow-Tartu school. Florensky was also one of the first to correlate between the notions of form, number and sign, in particular in his treatise “Number as a form” (on this see especially Loren, and Kantor, 2009). Following Nikita Struve Thomas Seifrid has stressed a certain paradox within Florensky’s protean thought that insists on indeterminate, antinomian nature of language and reality. This paradox is the product of Florensky’s “psychological fragility and divided worldview which hesitates between scientism and mysticism” (Seifrid, 2005: 102). According to Seifrid, Florensky treats language as a reification of the order underlying the cosmos that is capable of providing proto-realizations of transcendence. Florensky’s theory of word would correspond to the hidden tradition of Russian idealism that views the word as “a sort of unperplexed realization of the self” (Seifrid, 2005: 103). This Florenskyan identification of human sign-vehicle with, so to say in Moscow-Tartu fashion, the primary sign-system, brings it closer to Lotmanian semiotics of culture which championed author’s behaviour as a common public sign of primary importance. As Seifrid maintains, Florensky’s thought resembles that of Roman Jakobson, whose understanding of language is “subtended by the vision of a non-arbitrary quasi-mathematical or geometrical order underlying life’s phenomena or at the very least the products human culture” (Seifrid, 2005: 103). As Charles Lock once noted, Florensky’s views on the nature of being are “remarkably close to Peirce’s denial of intuition” (and, therefore, to the ideas on representation of materiality) (Lock, 1993). What is common for both thinkers according to Lock is the “insistence that ideas occur and change only when signs move into material contiguity.” In gen-


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eral, Florensky perceived the symbol as “a being that is greater than itself”; a symbol is “something that manifests in itself that which is not itself, that which is greater than itself and is nevertheless essentially manifested through itself.” Therefore, “a symbol is an essence the energy of which is joined, or commingled, with the energy of another essence” (Bychkov, 1993: 70). RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE -SUB SPECIE SEMIOTICAE As well as for Florensky, the medieval Byzantine hesychast doctrine was crucially important for the theoretical interests of Aleksei Losev and Sergius Bulgakov, who devoted many pages of their works to elaborating their philosophical attitudes toward language and its basic unit – the word (on this see Ioffe, 2008). By doing so, they entered into a fierce argument that evolved in Russia during the first 15 years of the 20th century, and which was centred on the controversy of imiaslavie, a term that might be translated into the scholarly lingua franca as ‘onomatodoxy.’ Actively interfering on behalf of the persecuted imiaslavtsy, Losev, Bulgakov, and Florensky strove to lay down a solid conceptual foundation that would prove the overall validity of onomatodoxy and describe the elemental language units (i.e. words and names) in the light of this religious current. It is obvious that the “dialectics of name,” mentioned so frequently and so ambiguously by Losev, constitutes the epicentre of his entire philosophy of language, taken in its broadest possible sense. According to Losev, ‘name’ is life, for example, an absolute imperative: the complete modality of human existence. The name of a thing represents the very essence of the communication between man and material reality. Losev writes at length about the fundamental existential solitude of the man who has no name. From Losev’s perspective, the resulting deafness – the blind inability to distinguish between linguistic signs – is equivalent to losing an intrinsically human mental capacity or even going completely out of one’s mind. Making a concession to his contemporaries, the philosopher claims that he is practically the first, if not the first Russian author to start a serious analysis that is neither merely linguistic (probably referring to scholars such as Baudouin de Courteney and Leo Scherba), nor phenomenological (possibly referring to Gustav Shpet and the neoHumboldtian school; on this see Ioffe, 2008-a; also Plotnikov, 2006).


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Rather, he took what he referred to as a fully dialectical approach, the purpose of which was to describe word and name as an instrument of social interaction while revealing its public domain. Jacques Derrida, had he been able to read Russian, would have certainly regarded Aleksei Losev and his works on the theory of name as an example of Western logocentrism. Indeed, the infinite spirit of the wordas-name permeates Losev’s works; the word is self-sufficient and meaningful in and of itself, and, naturally, no profound thinking, from Losev’s perspective, can be possible without the use of words. According to Losev, wordless thinking is almost an oxymoron – a pitiful, impossible enterprise, dooming one to be deaf and blind, estranged from the outside world. To the disappointment of contemporary anthropologists, this question by no means concerns neurological operations with cognitive perception of the image-icon mechanics of sense creation. Losev, despite selflessly devoting nearly eighty years to the creation of multi-faceted and rather obscure contributions to many areas of the humanities, nevertheless left no coherent theory of “image,” not even in his multi-volume speculations on the aesthetics of antiquity (Kusse, 2004). Returning to the theme of Derrida, it is worth mentioning Losev’s approach to sound (phoneme). While admitting that sound is exoteric to man at all times and that names are understood in combination with their phonic manifestation, Losev tries to demonstrate that in its essence, name has nothing to do with sound. This is an obvious example of the traditional and familiar tendency of the cultural, historical, and linguistic valorisation of speech elevating it above and beyond writing, which Derrida, as a fervent champion of writing, would not have favoured. According to Losev, the name’s sound-form represents only its outermost rigid layer. That is, of course, the phoneme: the phonic representation of a distinct, intentional, and recognizable unit of speech. A phoneme may be grasped just as an empty form, a membrane consisting of exterior covering and nothing more. For Losev a word consists of elements that affect hearing. The phoneme of a name is a combination of spoken sounds grouped into concrete qualitative categories of meaning. But the phoneme, as Losev reiterates throughout his text, does not represent the actual essence of a name (podlinnaia sushchnost’ imeni). It cloaks another concept – that of sememe. According to Losev, the full structure of the significance of a name is considerably more important than the phoneme. He finds it necessary to point out that a name is not a random


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combination of mechanical sounds but something incomparably more substantial. This context emphasizes the role of a verbal etymon which in Losev’s writing represents a kind of primal, primordial seed of a word. The etymon constitutes the word’s elemental phonetic substance which acquires its initial sense in a process of crystallization that is not dependent upon phonic differentiation. The actual life of a name-word begins when this elemental substance starts to gain new denotations, connotations, and other semantic accretions. The etymon, according to Losev, is something formally shared in all the destinies of a given word. The analysis of a word outside the traditional linguistic connection with its phoneme represents the main goal of his philosophy of the name. Dictionaries, from Losev’s perspective, give a list of the main sememe variants – concrete ways of understanding various meanings, all of which can be boiled down to a multi-faceted semantic foundation of the word, contained in the symbolon, that is, its symbolic sememe. The resulting eidos simultaneously represents an external appearance, form, face, or logical appearance. All of the above are, in a certain sense, rooted in the general meaning of the visual entity, springing from the verbal semantics of seeing, and assuming a special type of cognitive vision (myslitel’noi zritel’nosti) and inductive intuition. According to Losev, anything that can be regarded as a common nucleus for all of the various significations of a word should be considered its symbolic sememe. At the same time, the pure noema of a word is nothing other than its additional cognitive weight. Losev’s idea of noema is based on his reading of Husserl and his critical response to the German philosopher’s understanding of the concept. According to Losev, the noema of a word depends neither on sounds, nor on the experience of some psychic perceptions, but instead flows directly from human thought: from the capacity for understanding (Losev, 1997: 61). It is worth pointing out that Losev’s system does not seem to apply to modernist lexicon, for instance the radical language of zaum’ (transreason) of Futurism and Dadaism, or the creation of poetic neologisms, puns, and Joycean portmanteau-words, since the associativephonetic response to these experiments is only possible through careful attention to the glossolalic phoneme, uttered in a sensuous and artistic manner. This, in turn, correlates with and guides the recipient’s mental process, powerfully giving shape to the resulting noema. Losev’s reflections on the subject of noema seem to make sense in the context of Real-


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ism, which he valued so highly, and poses problems for the interpretation of modernist and avant-garde literature, including that of his contemporaries. Despite all objections to the contrary, Losev is interested in formulating a general foundation for interpreting various connotations of any given name. The stability of the semantic field and the constancy of its significance, as described in Filosofiia imeni, can be a key to grasping his basic linguistic standpoints. In order to understand the milieu which prompted the creation of the above work, it is important to consider the question of ‘inner muteness,’ a tragic loneliness and primitive antireligious ideology which creates a conscious need for a philosophy of the name. According to Losev, the noema of a word, its condensed message, should indicate that which can be easily derived from the word’s core semantic root. In a certain sense, the existence of a valid and functional name implies a real communicational (socio-practical) context for discernment, decipherment, and subsequent establishment of meaning. The idea of a name depends, according to Losev, on the one who actually uses the name, that is, whoever applies this discursive idea in practice. Losev identifies this moment as one of the causal nodes of the materialization of a word, which is a fundamentally functional element of human life. This structure of the incarnation of the essence of a name, with an external agent defining this essence, appears rather encoded and presents a model of semiotic behaviour and semiosis in its simplest and most obvious form. Losev’s overall view of positivism and Structuralist semiotics was negative. It is, for example, widely known that Losev’s engaged in an active polemic against Lotman’s ideas. Losev disagreed with the persistent use of the term structure by the followers of the Tartu School in the general spirit of the scholarly developments in France at the time in response to Levi-Strauss’ work. Losev provided his own detailed interpretation of the term in order to point out the contradictory usage of the Moscow-Tartu School. Losev, most curiously, shared a general antagonism for Yuri Lotman’s philology with another prominent thinker of his generation: Mikhail Bakhtin. The latter allegedly gave the following response to the question of whether or not he would participate in a certain public debate in the role of Lotman’s opponent: “Of course I will. I am no structuralist, to say the least” (Bakhtin qtd in Reid, 1990: 325−338).


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Yuri Lotman’s son Mikhail observes that when Lectures on Structural Poetics, which laid the foundation for the Moscow-Tartu School, came out in 1964 followed by the regular issues of Studies in Sign Systems, it became immediately clear that they had provoked a hostile response not only from the functionaries of officious philology, but also from many serious authors (M. Lotman, 1995). Both Losev and Bakhtin regarded the ideas of the Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotics with mistrust, not to say hostility, so that the reigning political climate was far from being the only problem. In his polemics with the Moscow-Tartu school followers (and semioticians in general), Losev wrote, among other things, that each sign can have an infinite number of meanings, that is, be a symbol. This was written in the context of the fact that, from what he could tell, Charles Sanders Peirce had identified seventy-six types of signs. Losev responds to this claim with a question that, although asked with obvious irony, is still far from superfluous: “Would it not be better to talk about ‘studies in symbolic systems’ instead of ‘studies in sign systems?’”(Losev, 1982: 237). As Haci-Halil Uslucan has recently noted (2004) the dialogical, communicative principle is nothing but a core element of the Peircean semiotics, which has deep implications to meaning-construction, subjectivity and the self, as well as communication. The scholar notes that Peirce’s conception of sign is related to the idea of the human being as a sign, where the self is both an interpreting subject and an interpreted object. Losev insists that a thing is not exactly what is denoted by a name, not identical to the name. Equating the idea of a thing and its noema with its name, the Soviet philosopher wonders, what is then the difference between the noema and the idea of a word? What is the difference between the name as noema and the name as idea? We now may have come closer than ever before to a clarification of this distinction. Noema implies the metaphysical existence of a thing, and the idea implies the metaphysical existence of a thing. But the idea of a thing implies only the pure otherness of the thing as such and nothing more. The idea of a thing is the very thing itself, only transposed into the metaphysical realm. The thing here is not altered in any way and none of its features are lost. The entire object, down to its subtlest characteristics, is transposed into the metaphysical realm. The idea is nothing but the other of a thing, something different from a thing. This is not a case of complete and absolute oneness and resemblance but of equality with its metaphysical manifestation.


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According to Losev, the name of a thing/object is a clearly understood, recognized entity, revealed in the mind, so to speak. Delving more deeply into the complex worlds of the so-called energems, Losev continues to elaborate on the new postulates of his language philosophy. For example, he intriguingly describes the conception of a name in the consciousness of an individual. A word appears as an independent, separate element, a kind of ‘thing’ within a ‘thing’: a word-self distinct from the human-self. Elaborating upon the idea of ‘stimulus,’ Losev connects it with the initial potential of any-thing (and with the name as its unique derivative), brought to life by the energetic abilities of thought. Losev seems to treat the concept of the name as central to his philosophy of language. The term idea gives way to the term eidos – a quintessential parameter used to determine the modifications of any-thing that has a name. The expression and representation of the eidos follows from the thing named. Always inseparable from the object (the thing it denotes), the name (in the metaphysical realm), according to this conception, can be compared to a projection of the physical thing. Nearly every stage in the life of a name is given its own designation in the form of a convenient Greek term, such as phoneme, sememe, noema, eidos, whose meaning serves to further clarify the nuance of the aspect being represented. This progressive path inexorably leads Losev to the protagonist of the language philosophy he is constructing – the Logos. It is possible that the purpose of the Logos theme is to indicate some dialectical synthesis, in which a number of independent and contradictory elements, denoted by the above Greek terms, are joined together to create a unity based on the universal physical/chemical/biological principle of the unity and struggle of opposites (edinstvo i bor’ba protivopolozhnostei), upon which Dialectical Materialism is based. According to Losev, the work of signification can be also understood as being related to this very principle, moving from the simplest forms to the more complex. This leads to a more harmonic understanding of any given whole as a complex and divided system containing some struggling elements that may be directly strictly incompatible. We may note that this attitude was widely explored by Marxist and post-Marxist philosophers of all sorts. Throughout Filosofiia imeni, Losev repeatedly and in various ways asserts that a word, is unchangeably and absolutely ‘the thing understood,’ that is, a distinct substantive object, correctly perceived by the mind through the decipherment of its semiotic message. Needless to say, some


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questions arise in connection with modern literature, where far from all given names-words-symbols representing things are always automatically understood by the audience or reader. It is interesting to consider how Losev would have defended the main postulates of his philosophy of the name in the face of many bright works of modern and avant-garde art, especially those of his contemporaries. It appears, however, that Losev was remarkably indifferent to what a notable semiotician Roman Jakobson called ‘the newest Russian poetry.’ SERGIUS BULGAKOV AND HIS THEORY OF THE NAME-ASWORD Father Sergius Bulgakov, another eminent Russian philosopher writing in in post-revolutionary Yalta in 1919−20, arrived at the subject of the Name-as-Word in a manner similar to that of his younger contemporary Alexei Losev. Both thinkers became preoccupied with the theory of signification through their participation in the onomatodoxy movement, which was condemned by the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Bulgakov was deeply involved with the debates surrounding onomatodoxy as its semi-official defender. At first sight, Bulgakov’s work is much different from Losev’s in terms of both terminology and the arguments presented. One can say that Bulgakov’s reasoning follows a more characteristically “European” philosophical style, to use a broad aphoristic statement (Evtuhov, 1997). It also employs various impressionistic maxims, associated with the progressive shift in the humanities happening at the time. Father Sergius opens his book with a broad discussion on how, from his perspective, one should conceptualize the idea of “word.” Bulgakov is concerned here not with genesis, but with substance – a sort of foundation shared by all living language systems at nearly any stage of their historical development. Bulgakov is concerned with the “sound per unit” (udel’no-zvukovaia massa), the intrinsic meaning of a word, and its essential denotations, independent of the iconic grapheme or gesture. In this regard, the philosopher is especially interested in the idea of the “word as object.” How can one talk about the conceptual substrate of a “word form?” What is “essential and constant” (glavnoe i neizmennoe) here? Bulgakov approaches Losev’s perspective (we can be quite certain that the two Russian authors


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had no familiarity with each other’s texts) by claiming that a verbal sign falls under the communication principle and is in one way or another connected with the imperative of understanding and ‘reading.’ Based on the communicative, dialogically-active (echoing Bakhtin) nature of a word, it cannot be examined and understood solely in the context of the discourse on signs. In other words, initially, the purely semiotic analysis of Charles S. Peirce, Charles W. Morris, and Ferdinand de Saussure satisfies neither Losev nor Bulgakov, although Losev would finally turn to Peirce’s ideas on the nature of sign. And since the word is not simply a sign, it can be regarded as sui generis of energy (or a cluster of energy like energema). In accordance with this principle, even a word that has not yet been uttered and, therefore, has not yet been understood – in other words, a word still ‘unheard’ and ‘unrecognized’ – nevertheless retains its intrinsic energetics without turning into a lifeless template of a sign, preserving its energetic charge in a kinetic form, which cannot be depleted as long as the communicational cosmos within which it continues to exist. The full-fledged existence of a word is made up, according to Bulgakov, of the “sound images of individual letters as such, outside of the unity of form” (Filosofiia imeni, 29−30). The conditions necessary for the life of a word require not as much the letter form, but rather, the immanent meaning content, endowed with universally accepted external characteristics. From this standpoint, the word ‘water’ is a valid word, while, say, ‘wtaer’ is not, or at least not until this latter spelling for some reason gains conventional semantic acceptance in some living language system. Father Sergius is ready to admit that one and the same word can have dozens of different semasiological connotations (including literary, metaphorical and subjective ones), not always reflected in the formal dictionary form. In this way, one and the same thing (a term important not only to Immanuel Kant, but also to Losev) can have dozens of different descriptive designations, each representing a different way of understanding it. Bulgakov very accurately notes here that the process of word formation is a true art and according to him words are not to be invented, they are born by themselves out of the irrational abyss from which the most needful and enduring words flow (Filosofiia imeni, 29−30). At the same time, Father Sergius denies the existence of a word consisting on the root alone (which does not clarify his position on the concept of ‘inner form’), as well as the existence of an absolutely isolated dictionary word, never used in everyday speech. Bulgakov talks about the


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sum of factors that lead to the original birth of a word, presenting and analyzing various specific theories. One of the interesting questions to be asked here is: How can thought be rendered without the use of language? Much like Losev, Bulgakov claims that mental thoughts cannot exist without words, just as words cannot exist without specific meanings. From the perspective of Bulgakov’s system of thought, the obvious absurdity of trying to prove the opposite can be demonstrated with the well-known statements “God does not exist” or “God is dead.” The very mentioning of the “God” concept – the introduction and the use of this term – already suggests an implicit, a priori, set of assumptions about Him, as well as about which qualities are pertinent to him and which are not. To make the statement possible, the formula in this modality should be expanded: “God is not God, and he does not exist,” while the opposite is true: “If God exists always, He is eternal and ineffable.” Into the same category falls the absurdity of the statement “the dead person has risen to life,” since the dead cannot become alive. In order for the dead to become alive, the following should be true: “The dead person is not dead,” and only then will the “dead” rise and walk. In the context of his general philological metaphysics, Father Sergius links the nature of the word with universal symbolism. In his discussion of the role of the word within the philosophy of symbolism, the name represents a repository for universal energy – a type of multidimensional cosmic-divine Symbol. In connection with this, Bulgakov identifies the problem of metaphor, the infinite multiplication of the word, the merging of different denotations, and the word’s nuclear fragmentation. Thus, Bulgakov, unlike Losev, in some way admits and accepts the word’s polysemy, as well as its potential fluidity, and the evolution of connotative meaning depending on each individual usage. The decisive factor in the manifestation of the word is the birth of phonic symbols of meaning, that is, the process whereby a particular sound combination comes to be endowed with a specific semantic significance. Bulgakov reiterates his belief that ideas or thoughts are not possible without words. In fact, nothing at all exists without them. If something is, there is a word for it. All speech inherently depends on the assumption of definite sense, inevitably involving mental activity – a capacity that animals do not fully possess. This leads directly to the problem of consciousness, another major anthropocentric concept, addressed by


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contemporary philosophers such as Merab Mamardashvili and Aleksandr Piatigorsky. According to Bulgakov, the germinal word is definitely antigrammatical, lacking the precision of an established part of speech, and “as the Symbol of the Universe, is not invented by man but manifests itself within him” (Filosofiia imeni, 57). Curiously, the essence of the noun, for Bulgakov, is the pronoun. Fr. Sergius believes that the pronoun represents “the silent mystical gesture that is ever-present in a name: the original A.” It is precisely the object’s natural genus, with its variable phonic guise, which constitutes the main axis of word formation. He offers a characteristic argument that “the name always represents a hidden proposition, an undeveloped sentence.” The philosopher suggests that a name always poses a question about itself, as a thing of substance, and answers it affirmatively. In Bulgakov’s view, the name is intrinsically predicative – active in the same way that a verb is – and predication is prior to naming. Much like in quantum mechanics, an object signifies a kind of condensed inner essence of an action, where the nature of a phenomenon precedes its name. Just as the ‘quality of being wooden’ comes before ‘tree,’ ‘being a snake’ precedes ‘snake¡ and ‘being human’ precedes ‘human.’ Bulgakov speaks often and with conviction about the impossibility of a phenomenological distinction between a proper noun and a common noun, since at root there is always the energy of the idea of the predicate’s action – the concrete potential of the sign. As we can see, Bulgakov’s vision here approaches that of Losev, with his discussion of the energy dynamics of the name. The philosopher offers an intriguing explanation as to the illusiveness of material existence when it is severed from man, its namer. Thing can be named only through human and inside human, as there are hidden names for all things. A man is a microcosmic being that gives birth to all words and names (Filosofiia imeni, 59). According to Bulgakov, the existence of objects in any physical environment, in space, and in other worlds is not entirely real and, in some way, secondary, conditional, and dependent upon the existence of man; that is, the man-signifier of all things’ names. Unlike Losev, who generally tends to use the term thing, Fr. Sergius prefers object. It is worth mentioning that Bulgakov regards the noun as arguably the most fundamental form of language and speech. In this context, his thoughts on the initial nature of nouns – their formation and the validity of their definitions in relation to other parts of


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the sentence – are noteworthy. Bulgakov criticizes Kant for neglecting linguistics and for failing to give proper attention to the concept of langue. From his point of view, this lack of sign-language study in the Critique of Pure Reason represents a weak link or “systemic aporia” in the general worldview of the great German thinker. He attempts to demonstrate that nearly all of Kant’s achievements and the ‘signature’ discoveries expressed in his categories, were, in fact, foreseen and pioneered by language itself, and that the entire structure of Kant’s argument follows the basic grammatical structure of a language. In summarizing Bulgakov’s position, it should be noted that he is unable to fully transcend a strictly modal perception of the linguistic universe. For example, he offers the phrase “fried ice is hot,” insisting that it can only conditionally be considered a sentence, as a genuine sentence would require not only a bare form, but also definite, meaningful content. Not without some disappointment, one may be compelled to observe the obvious fact that Bulgakov does not take into consideration the aesthetic dimension, in which the establishment of meaning takes place through unconventional and non-traditional grammar. Much like Losev, Bulgakov, it seems, is not quite ready to include the artistic domain in his study. It appears that both philosophers’ theories on the nature of the name of a thing could be applicable only within the pragmatic, empirical, as well as in strictly religious dogmatic spheres. When it comes to arts and metaphorical writing, their main postulates are of little use, and, what is more, not always entirely clear and logical. This is because the very modus operandi of the aesthetic universe is in many ways distinctly different than the empirical-phenomenological axioms that Bulgakov and Losev embrace as their worldview. CONCLUSIONS It is apparent that both Russian schools of semiotic thought were preoccupied with the idea of human sign vehicles, be it cultural, artistic, literary or religious. One may assume that both schools of Russian signtheory championed cultural communication as a valuable process. Both the Moscow-Tartu school and the lingual-religious movement were profoundly interested in grasping various human perceptual modes, which suggests a certain revision of the traditional ontology of perception that occurs in human mind.


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The recognizable differences in methodology and research goals of the two main schools of Russian semiotic thought epitomize the complicated intellectual trajectory in the intellectual history of Russia. Though a reputable scion of the strictly scientist legacy of Russian Formalism, it is equally rooted in an alternative Russian tradition of sign/word analysis: the religious philosophy of language. References Andrews, Edna. Conversations with Lotman: Cultural Semiotics in Language. Literature, and Cognition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Bulgakov, Sergii. Filosofia imeni. Sankt Petersburg: Nauka, 1998. Bychkov, Victor. The Aesthetic Face of Being: Art in the Theology of Pavel Florensky. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993. Evtuhov, Catherine. The Cross and the Sickle: Sergei Bulgakov and the Fate of Russian Religious Philosophy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. Ioffe, Dennis. “Lotman v segodniashnem kontekste izucheniia kul’tury.” [Lotman’s cultural analysis] Russian Journal. Moscow, November 2007. Review of: Lotman and Cultural Studies Encounters and Extensions. Andreas Schönle. Ed. University of Wisconsin, Madison. Ioffe, Dennis. “Passivnoe protivostoianie diamatu. Imiaslavie i kriticheskoe neogumboldtianstvo” [Russian Onomathodoxy and the Neo-Humboldtian Philosophy of Language]. Elsevier Science BV, Amsterdam. Philology under Stalin. Special Journal Issue (triple) of Russian Literature 63.2-4 (2008): 293−367. Ioffe, Dennis. “Religion et probleme du signe chez Gustave Chpet.” Gustave Chpet et Son Heritageaux. Sources Russes du Structuralisme et de la Semiotique, Creuset d’influences et interiorisation des marges. Slavica Occitania 26−27 (2008):123−139. Ivanov, Viacheslav Vs. Ocherki po istorii semiotiki v SSSR. Moscow: Nauka, 1976. Loren, Graham, and Jean-Michel Kantor. Naming Infinity. A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009. Halle, Morris. Ed. Semiosis: Semiotics and the History of Culture. In Honorem Georgi Lotman. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1984. Kusse, Holger. Metadiskursive Argumentation: linguistische Untersuchungen zum russischen philosophischen Diskurs von Lomonosov bis Losev. München: Sagner, 2004. Lock, Charles. “Peirce Unbound.”Semiotic Review of Books 4.3 (1993): 2−3. Losev, Alexei. Znak. Simvol. Mif. Moskva: MGU, 1982. Losev, Alexei. “Filosofia imeni.” Imia: izbrannye raboty. Sankt-Petersburg: Aleteia, 1997. Lotman Yuri. “The sign mechanism of culture.” Semiotica 12.4 (1974): 301−305. Lotman Yuri. “On the mythological code of plotted texts.”Soviet Studies in Literature 10.4 (1974): 82−87.


Dennis Ioffe / The Cultural ‘Text of Behaviour’ Lotman Yuri. “The individual creative career and the typology of culture codes.” Soviet Studies in Literature 10.4 (1974): 88−90. Lotman Yuri. “On the metalanguage of a typological description of culture.” Semiotica 14.2 (1975): 97−123. Lotman, Juri. “On the semiosphere.” Sign Systems Studies 33.1 (1984): 205–229. Lotman, Juri. “The poetics of everyday behaviour in Russian eighteenth-century culture.” The Semiotics of Russian Culture. Ann Shukman. Ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. 231−265. Lotman, Juri. Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. Tran. Ann Shukman. Introd. Umberto Eco. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 1990. Lotman, Juri. “Dekabrist v povsednevnoj zhizni. Bytovoe povedenie kak istorikopsihologicheskaja kategorija.” Izbranye stat’i v 3-h tomakh. Tallinn: Aleksandra, 1992. 296−336. Lotman Juri. “Theses towards a semiotics of Russian culture.” Elementa 1.3 (1994): 219−227. Lotman Juri. “Culture as a subject and an object in itself.” Trames 1.1 (1997): 7−16. Lotman, Juri. Culture and Explosion. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009. Lotman, Juri, and Piatigorsky A.M. “Tekst i funkcija.” 3-ja letnjaja shkola po vtorichnym modelirujuschim sistemam: Tezisy. Doklady. University of Tartu, 1968. 48-50. Lotman, Jurii, and Uspensky, Boris. “Myth - name – culture.” Semiotica 22.3−4 (1978): 211–234. Lotman, Mikhail. “Za tekstom: zametki o filosofskom fone tartuskoi semiotiki.” Lotmanovskii sbornik 1. Moskva: OGI, 1995. 214−223. Nekliudov, Sergei. Moskovsko-tartuskaia semioticheskaia shkola: istoriia, vospominaniia, razmyshleniia. Moskva; IaRK, 1998. Nöth, Winfried. “Yuri Lotman on metaphors and culture as self-referential semiospheres.” Semiotica 161.1−4 (2006): 249–263. Plotnikov, Nikolai. “Name – Sinn – Person. Zur hermeneutischen Dimension der Sprachphilosophie bei P. Florenskij und Gustav Shpet.” H. Kuss. Ed. Name und Person. Beiträge zur russischen Philosophie des Namens. München: Sagner, 2006. Reid, Allan. “Who is Lotman and Why is Bakhtin Saying Those Nasty Things About Him.” Discours social/Social Discourse, Bakhtin and Otherness 3.1−2 (1990): 325−338. Ricoeur, Paul. “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text.” Special issue: ‘What Is Literature?’ New Literary History 5.1 (1973): 91−117. Seifrid, Thomas. The Word Made Self: Russian Writings on Language, 1860−1930. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2005. Uslucan, Haci-Halil. “Charles Sanders Peirce and the semiotic foundation of self and reason.” Mind, Culture and Activity 11 (2004): 96−108. Uspenskij, Boris, Ivanov Viacheslav, Toporov V. N., Pjatigorskij A. M., Lotman Ju. M. “Theses on the semiotic study of cultures (as applied to Slavic texts).” Jan van der Eng, and Mojmir Grygar. Eds. Structure of Texts and Semiotics of Culture. The Hague: Mouton, 1973: 1−28. Waldstein, Maxim. The Soviet Empire of Signs: a History of the Tartu School of Semiotics. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2008.


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Philosophy and Dealienation of Culture: Instantiating the Filipino Experience Nicolito A. GIANAN

Department of Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences University of the Philippines – Los Baños College, Laguna Philippines 4031 [email protected] Abstract. The article aims to elucidate on the notion of philosophy of culture, particularly in non-Western societies. This is exemplified by the promotion of philosophy, with its advocates and approaches, in Filipino culture. In addition, it gives an account of a type of alienation that has had a profound influence upon the Filipino experience, philosophical thought and practice; the so-called dealienation of culture. Keywords: dealienation of culture, Filipino, philosophy of culture

INTRODUCTION Philosophy or philosophizing is undeniably developed from the ways of thinking and lived experiences of human beings in their respective epistemic communities. These epistemic communities also refer to the cultures where we can find the Homo significans or the meaning-makers (Chandler, 2008) across the world. It is from this perspective that “we make meanings through our creation and interpretation of ‘signs’” (Chandler, 2008). Agreeably, as Chandler quotes Peirce, ‘we think only in signs’ (Chandler 2008; Peirce 1931-58, 2: 302). Moreover, Peirce’s statement that ‘Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign’ (Chandler, 2008; Peirce, 1931−58, 2: 172) may be considered to be an integral part of the semiotics of world cultures. Filipino philosophy, in the context above, is viewed as a sign that other philosophies exist outside of the traditional and Western conceptions of Philosophy. This paper then claims that Filipino philosophy is a sign, not a symbol, of an emerging philosophy of a certain culture. It is commonly understood that a smoke is a sign, which naturally indicates that there is fire; a national flag is a symbol, which represents a certain country; that is, a sign is indicative; a symbol is representative. This means further that, as a sign, any discourse on Filipino philosophy is simply indicative of a philosophical field known as the philosophy of culture. It is not a symbol in the sense that it is not an exclusive representative of the philosophy


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of culture. Hence, in this light, a discussion on the Filipino philosophy only signifies an instantiation of the existence of an Asian philosophy, specifically in non-Western societies. In particular, this paper offers a reinterpretation of the principle that philosophy emerges from culture, as it exemplifies the encounter of Filipino philosophy with cultural alienation. This encounter has somehow positively articulated the dealienation of culture in philosophical thought and the Filipino experience. REINTERPRETING PHILOSOPHY AS EMERGING FROM CULTURE Reinterpreting philosophy as emerging from culture reaffirms the reality that the human capacity to philosophize is based on the cognitive potential of the human species and as old as the evolution of the homosapiens (literally, the man who knows and understands). In this setting, philosophizing is contemplated as a therapeutic (in Wittgenstein’s view) as well as a dealienating experience (in the Hegelian sense, according to Blackburn in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy). The natural human tendency to question past and future, and desire of human beings to know is not a unique capacity reserved for certain cultures, “nor is the sense of wonder reserved only for a select group of men” (Timbreza, 2000, 2008: xii). Regardless of physical traits, such as race and sex, and socio-cultural differences, such as religious beliefs, political views or ethical values, the human capacity to wonder is a conditio sine qua non in philosophizing, which transcends space (nations and regions) and time (history). To think about and indeed question the common past in order to set priorities for future action has enabled humans not only to survive and evolve, but also to transcend their being-in-theworld by means of their musings and imagination. Despite the etymological root of a word that forms part of the vocabulary of distinct Western languages, a fact that may bear witness to its importance, philosophy, as it was originally understood by the ancient Greeks, was not their exclusive property, nor is philosophical thinking a unique Western trait. A similar claim may be made with regard to other exponents of non-Greek philosophies worldwide. For instance, Asian philosophy cannot be represented only in Chinese philosophy, whose exponents can be traced back to the time of Lao Tzu and Confucius (see


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also Rosker, 2009). India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, among other countries, have their own ways of philosophizing, but also apparently alienated from the mainstream Western philosophical enterprise and cultural paradigms. In the case of Filipino philosophy, contemporary advocates such as Abulad, Aquino, Ceniza, Co, Demeterio, Ferriols, Gripaldo, Mercado, Quito, Timbreza, among many others, and non-Filipino “supporters” like McLean, Elwood or Kroeger, alongside the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, Washington, USA, continue to promote the rich philosophical heritage that is integral to the Asian region. The Filipino Asian experience of alienation, however, mirrors a kind of a cultural damage, which can be viewed and understood from Philippine history itself. (see also de Mas, 1990) A similar negative experience is found in one of the works of Isaac Ukpokolo (2011) with regard to the African experience. The notion of alienation in Filipino philosophy may be seen as a result of the marginalization of the country’s autochthonous experiences in the face of an influx of Eastern and Western philosophies (Gripaldo, 2004; for other related notions of alienation, not discussed in this paper, see Pappenheim, 1959; Marcson, 1970; Meszaros, 1970; Murchland, 1971; Littlewood, 1997; Schmitt, 1996). The 20th-century conception of philosophy as emerging from culture has helped unveil their intrinsic connection. The importance placed on the role of culture can be observed in contemporary philosophical debates and conferences where the field of ‘philosophy of culture’ also supports the fact that philosophizing is indeed universal, thus providing an instance of the dealienation of culture itself. The notion of dealienation, in this paper, is applied to the Filipino Asian culture and philosophy in order to exemplify the principle that philosophy emerges from culture, and to substantiate this fact. Likewise, the discourse implicitly espouses interculturalism as a form of philosophy. (see Cacciatore, 2011; also on intercultural relations cf. López-Varela, 2010; and implicitly in Nikolenko, 2012) Indeed, this reinterpretation somehow motivates the struggle to offer more visibility to non-Western philosophies (Asian, African, etc) and non-Western cultures, a recognition observed in a number of conferences, debates and publications that are beginning to discuss the philosophical peculiarities of distinct societies.


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FILIPINO PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURAL ALIENATION The term ‘philosophy of culture’ refers to the conception that philosophizing, a universal capacity, develops from a particular culture and becomes mainly operative within it. In this context, Filipino philosophy is instantiated and reaffirmed somehow by way of its encounter with the so-called cultural alienation. Accordingly, there is no singular form of philosophy which, like other cultural products, can coexist with other philosophies within the same culture, and that can even be exported to other alien societies. For example, during the period of Western imperial expansion, the inhabitants of the colonies who were fortunate enough to travel to the metropolis and acquire Western knowledge in situ, often returned to spread it at home, pushing aside local and autochthonous forms of experience that were deemed less important. Evidence remains in the Philippines where contemporary philosophical thought continues to have a fundamental Western orientation. A glaring indication can be found in the Academe, particularly in the Seminaries, Universities and Colleges in the Philippines, offering a degree program in Philosophy. A more traditional and predominantly scholastic tradition up to the late 20th century could be found in seminaries; but in the 21st century, more seminaries have embraced the other existing philosophical traditions, including the postmodern tradition. Moreover, many Filipino writers and professors of philosophy have diverse philosophical backgrounds, espousing the eclectic, the analytic or the continental school of thought. A number of them (some professors of philosophy in the University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and the University of the Philippines) have openly sided with the Anglo-American (Analytic/Pragmatic) tradition. Others are more comfortable not only in teaching, but also in their journal writings and book publications about Oriental (Eastern) Philosophy. The promotion of a philosophy of culture, however, provides recognition to the other existing philosophies, paradoxically enhancing, in the case of the Philippines, identification of a Filipino nation-state with the notion of a unique Filipino philosophy: “Filipino cultural heritage contains the time-tested wisdom and practical experiences of their forbears, their own philosophical perceptions and world-views” (Timbreza, 2008: xii). This prompts two questions: What is a Filipino philosophy? What is its relation to Western and non-Western (Asian) philosophies? Abulad


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(1984, 1988) offers his options for a Filipino philosophy and its contemporary conception in the Philippines, although his philosophical background is essentially Western. Gripaldo (2000, 2004a&b, 2004a&b, 2007a&b, 2008), a self-confessed product of the analytic school, exhibits the kind of Filipino philosophy that is generally advocated in the Philippines. Quito (1983) frankly reveals the state of philosophy in the Philippines, a well-thought-of source for an appropriate conception of Filipino philosophy. Moreover, Mercado (1974), Co (1988), and Timbreza (2000, 2008), among many others, have articulated some anthropological or cultural adaptations and influences for regarding Filipino philosophy (see also Gianan, 2009). Suazo (2006) provides some semiotic allusions to some answers to these questions, particularly employing Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of appropriation – eventually clarifying Filipino identity/philosophy, family orientation, and Filipino value. Understandably, Filipino authors and advocates have varied philosophical views, yet they seem to affirm the thought that Filipino philosophy is also fundamentally related to other Asian philosophies, such as the Chinese philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Malaysian philosophy, Indonesian philosophy, etc. In fact, the Philippines is an archipelago, and hence, it is culturally diverse, yet also an advocate of multiculturalism. Besides, Filipino philosophy is predominantly western in orientation, but eastern in geographical setting. Despite Western influence upon Filipino culture (see Bazaco, 1939; Martin, 1980; Mallat, 1990; de Mas, 1990; Estioko, 1994; see also work by Gripaldo 2000, 2004a, 2007a, 2007b, 2008), unlike Western philosophy, the Filipino way of thinking about the world may not necessarily reflect a system-building kind of philosophy, sharing perhaps similarities with elements of Asian philosophies such as Chinese thought (see Co 1988). But in many ways, Filipino philosophy may be considered as a departure from the so-called “dogmatic” philosophy, struggling for simplicity in meaning and purpose. Some describe it as phenomenological, existential and ethical in character, with the practice of self-reflection displayed, for instance, in the conception of loob as a philosophy of benevolence and peace. Pronounced lo-ob, the term in English literally means “within” and refers to the “inherently good inner nature of humans”). Kagandahang-loob, roughly translated as “good will” or “benevolence,” is an important characteristic in Filipino philosophical thought (see works by Mercado, 1974; Gianan, 2009a).


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Interestingly, the Filipino understanding of philosophical thought entails that this capacity to wonder is not the exclusive property of certain intellectuals. Although most enthusiasts come indeed from academic circles, where Filipino philosophy is discussed, assimilated and disseminated, philosophy in the Philippines, just like in some other Asian countries, is a way of life and a discipline practiced by the non-academic community (see also Quito, 1990), and encouraged by the Philippine National Philosophical Research Society (PNPRS) who organizes Annual Philosophical Lecture Series. Three approaches are being used by advocates of Filipino philosophy (Gripaldo, 2000, 2004): traditional, constitutional and cultural. The first focuses on the study of individual Filipino philosophers, the second deals with non-Filipino influences, and the third refers to those tenets that have been introduced in the previous section. The alienation present in many postcolonial situations is also present in Philippine culture and influences the conception of Filipino philosophy. Alienation takes its root from Latin alienus (from alius, meaning “other, foreign, strange, not natural, outsider”). The concept entails a process of separation and detachment, of estrangement and even rejection. Alienation is very much related to a territorial conception of identity, whether individual or social. People in diaspora are often seen as strangers, and they themselves may feel alien in the new society and may suffer culture shock. The return of a citizen to his/her mother country after living abroad can sometimes create alienating situations. But not everything in the alienation experience is negative. In its feeling of otherness, alienation creates a fracture within identity, helping the individual to be less engrossed within him or herself (see also Gianan, 2009b, 2011). The introduction of a discourse on alienation sounds off the attempts of liberation discourses. In the context of the various stages in the history and culture of the Filipino, alienation takes on various forms from the pre-Hispanic up to the post-EDSA era. The pre-Hispanic period shows an accretion of some foreign cultures, Chinese merchants for instance, coming into the archipelago by way of trade-business. The coming of the Spaniards marks the beginning of identifying the island as a colony of Spain, and naming of the local native settlers as the Filipinos (citizens who are born in the country or naturalized, for instance a Spaniard naturally born in the country), in honour of Prince Philip who was to become the King of Spain. Citizenship entails adopting the political powers and cultural values of the so-called mother country, including religious creed.


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(see Cushner, 1971; Bowring, 1963; Arcilla, 1991) Gradually, the local populations become assimilated into their new forms of identity, never fully recognized in terms of equal civil rights, although the new Filipinos continued to be regarded as “indios” (Demeterio, 2008; Agoncillo, 1990). Similarly, during the period of the Japanese occupation, the local population was subject to abuses that were particularly shocking in the case of the so-called Filipino ‘comfort women’ (de Viana, 2009). In the postWorld War II, independence brought Filipinos the chance to gain selfgovernance through North-American intervention. However, alienation continued to be present as American lifestyle replaced previous situations of persistent identity shifting. The declaration of Martial Law by Ferdinand E. Marcos on 21 September 1972, and his subsequent tyrant regime continued to deny equal rights and freedom to the Filipinos. In 1986, a collective non-violent act, the “EDSA Revolution” (or simply “EDSA I”) ousted the dictator. As in the case of M. Ghandi’s role in India’s Independence, the EDSA experience illustrates the Filipinos’ non-violent philosophy even in their struggle for freedom, a peaceful rebellion forged in the spirit of a persistent sense of alienation and resulting tolerance (see Timbreza 2008). A new and more recent strain of alienation during the rule of former President Joseph Estrada resulted in a concerted effort by leaders in government agencies and private sectors to accuse him of corruption and plunder, in yet another peaceful civil revolution called EDSA II. Granted clemency by his successor, Estrada nowadays enjoys his freedom like any other Filipino citizen. DEALIENATION OF CULTURE IN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT AND THE FILIPINO EXPERIENCE Dealienation in this paper is opposite to alienation so that, literally, it entails a negation of alienation itself. This notion is also basically, but not exclusively, an adaptation of the Hegelian account of the growth of selfconsciousness as a process. Also, the dealienation of the Filipino experience may act as an expression of a critical philosophy of culture that struggles to include the moral dimension, along the lines proposed by Korstanje and Koll in their paper entitled “Breaking Symbolic Alienation: The Role and Challenges of Critical Philosophy in the Next Millennium” where the authors claim that “a true, critical philosophy should


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seek new channels and ways to break the logic of alienation intrinsic to late capitalism,” adding that “the importance of a critical philosophy does not end with universities or an academic book. It should offer a means of moral judgment” (Korstanje and Koll, 2011). It is, thus, a challenge to the pervading cultural and philosophical traditions in the Philippines, as discussed above. The dealienation of culture in philosophy takes place when culture recognizes its philosophy as embedded in it, and yet this paper likewise asserts that philosophy can be disembedded by a historian of philosophy or an ethnophilosopher (on this see Gripaldo, 2012). Let us take the example of Western philosophy, and of Greek culture and philosophy as its cradle. Accepting the claim, made by historians of philosophy, that Thales of Miletus is the first philosopher of Western tradition, it would be easy to see philosophizing as a cultural activity, exercised by the mainstream Greek communities as part of their customs. In fact, this kind of activity was disseminated and made known because it was already part of Greek life and praxis. In other words, it was embedded in Greek culture as a mode of living, as an intellectual orientation, and even as a profession (in teaching). Noticeably, however, the individual philosopher is not the culture itself, but somehow this same individual is influenced by, and can influence the greater majority of, that culture. This individual philosopher is part of a culture that happens to have a comparable maximization of intellectual activity and reasonability. Similarly, in the recognition of the existence of an activity called philosophy, such discourse reveals that philosophizing is already part of an Other world, outside Greek culture, a recognition that automatically offers the possibility for other cultures to be home to individuals who can be independent and free thinkers, and eventually become philosophers. This trend, agreeably, goes well with the conception of Filipino philosophy as emerging from and subsisting in the Filipino culture, as espoused and promoted primarily by the Filipinos themselves. It has been observed, nonetheless, that Filipinos possess the capacity to think and reason and have the capability of knowing and understanding their own self, and others as well as their surrounding world. Yet, the recognition of the unique identity of Filipinos as part of Asian cultures and philosophies requires breaking away from the various forms of alienation mentioned earlier. Positively, the EDSA experience has brought the idea of a Filipino identity and philosophy back to life, demonstrating


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the dealienation of Filipino philosophy and culture. The philosophy of non-violence is exhibited within the EDSA experience, which remarkably articulates and promotes the Filipino philosophy and culture as part of a Filipino Asian heritage. The act of recognition and acceptance of Filipino identity, as an individual and as a nation, inevitably leads to the recognition and acceptance of the Filipino culture (Aganon and David, 1985; see also Suazo, 2006). This act leads the Filipino individual to uphold one’s identity, which is rooted in one’s own Filipino culture where one’s philosophy is embedded as well. Consequently, this act further empowers the Filipino individual to “disembed” philosophy from this cultural experience, which eventually enables one to uphold and maintain one’s own Filipino philosophy and culture. CONCLUSION The acceptance of the notion of philosophy as emerging from culture corroborates the existence of non-Western philosophies as revealed by other existing cultures in many parts of the world. This paper has used Filipino philosophy in a Filipino culture to exemplify other ways of philosophizing. In order to do so, it has presented the Filipino experience of alienation as a positive force which, nevertheless, in time becomes historicized into a form of dealienation of culture. By averting certain alienating circumstances in the context of Philippine history and culture, the paper has displayed the existence of Filipino philosophy, which is not only an intellectual activity reserved for the elite world of the academia. Dealienation, to some supporters, would be a liberating experience; but to others, especially those so-called traditional practitioners, it is another form of cultural illusion. But taking a cue from the other various existing Asian cultural and philosophical perspectives, it is asserted that the dealienation of Asian culture, for instance, warrants the emergence and subsistence of an Asian philosophy. With this assertion, the alienation of philosophy and culture becomes one among the list of cultural illusions that need to be eradicated fundamentally by the collective efforts of the epistemic communities worldwide. By and large, the recognition of the emerging philosophy of culture, particularly in non-Western societies, expresses a form of dealienation of a certain culture. Even so, the discourse itself is but part of my advocacy for philosophy and culture


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to be understood and cherished by other co-existing cultures and their respective philosophies, anywhere at any time by anyone. References Abulad, Romualdo. “Options for a Filipino philosophy.” Karunungan 18 (1984): 17−30. Abulad, Romualdo. “Contemporary Filipino philosophy.” Karunungan 5 (1988): 1−13. Aganon, Allen, and Maria Assumpta David. Eds. Sikolohiyang Pilipino: Isyu, pananaw, at kaalaman. Manila, Philippines: National Bookstore, 1985. Agoncillo, Teodoro. History of the Filipino people. Quezon City, Philippines: Garotech Publishing, 1990. Arcilla, Jose. Rizal and the emergence of the Philippine nation. Quezon City, Philippines: Office of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University, 1991. Bazaco, Evergisto. History of education in the Philippines. Manila, Philippines: University of Santo Tomas Press, 1939. Blackburn, Simon. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Bowring, John. A visit to the Philippine islands. Manila, Philippines: Filipiniana Guild Books, 1963. Cacciatore, Giuseppe. “Intercultural Ethics and ‘Critical’ Universalism.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 8.2 (2011): 23–38. Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics for Beginners. Aberystwyth: University of Wales, Aberystwyth. 6 Feb. 2008 . Co, Alfredo. “Elements of Chinese thought in the Filipino mind.” Karunungan 5 (1988): 27−34. Cushner, Nicholas. Spain in the Philippines: From conquest to revolution. Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University, 1971. de Mas, Sinibaldo. “Education in mid-nineteenth century Philippines.” Documentary sources of Philippines history. Eds. Gregorio F. Zaide, and Sonia Zaide. Vol. 7. Manila, Philippines: National Bookstore, 1990. Document No. 272. de Viana, Augusto. “The Filipino view of Japan – a survey from the Spanish period to world war II.” Ad Veritatem 8.2 (2009): 485−501. Demeterio, Feorillo Petronilo. “The primitivization of the Indio mind and the explosion of rationalities: The politics of knowledge in the Spanish colonial Philippines.” August 2008. . Estioko, Leonardo. History of education: A Filipino perspective. Manila, Philippines: Logos, 1994. Gianan, Nicolito. “Loob: Delving into the Conception of Filipino Philosophy.” UPLB Journal 7 (2009a): 17−24. Gianan, Nicolito. “Upholding Philosophy as Emerging from Culture: The Case of Filipino Philosophy.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 6.2 (2009b): 118−128.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 195−206 Gianan, Nicolito. “Delving into the Ethical Dimension of Ubuntu Philosophy.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 8.1 (2011): 63−82. Gripaldo, Rolando. Filipino philosophy: Traditional approach. Part I, Section I. Manila, Philippines: De La Salle University Press, 2000. Gripaldo, Rolando. “Is there a Filipino philosophy?” The philosophical landscape. Ed. R. Gripaldo. Manila, Philippines: Philippine National Philosophical Research Society, 2004a. 297−301. Gripaldo, Rolando. “Filipino philosophy: Western tradition in an Eastern setting.” The philosophical landscape. R. Gripaldo. Ed. Manila, Philippines: Philippine National Philosophical Research Society, 2004b. 302−318. Gripaldo, Rolando. “Filipino philosophy, Western tradition and nation building.”. International Journal of Philosophy 36.1 (2007a):40−52. Gripaldo, Rolando. “The concept of public good: A view from a Filipino philosopher.”. International Journal of Philosophy 36.2 (2007b): 141−154. Gripaldo, Rolando. “The making of a Filipino philosopher.”. International Journal of Philosophy 37.1 (2008): 23−36. Gripaldo, Rolando. “Philosophy in Culture: Embedded and Disembedded.”. International Journal of Philosophy 41.1 (2012): 59−65. Korstanje, Maximiliano and Koll, Geoffrey. “Breaking the Symbolic Alienation: The New Role and Challenges of Critical Philosophy in Next Millennium.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 8.2 (2011): 105−106. Littlewood, Roland and Lipsedge, Maurice. Aliens and alienists: Ethnic minorities and psychiatry. London: Routledge, 1997. López-Varela, Asunción. “Exploring Intercultural Relations from the Intersubjective Perspectives offered through Creative Art in Multimodal Formats (SIIM research program).” Massimo Leone. Ed. Analisi delle culture; culture dell’Analisi Universitá degli studi di Torino Revista di Simiotica Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerche sulla Comunicazione. Lexia 5-6 (2010): 125−147. Mallat, Jean. “Educational and cultural conditions in mid-19th century in the Philippines.” Gregorio F. Zaide, and S. Zaide. Eds. Documentary sources of Philippine history. Vol. 7. Manila, Philippines: National Bookstore, 1990. Document No. 280. Marcson, Simon. Ed. Automation, alienation, and anomie. New York: Harper and Row, 1970. Martin, Dalmacio. A century of education in the Philippines. Manila, Philippines: Philippine Historical Association, 1980. Mercado, Leonardo. Elements of Filipino philosophy. Philippines: Divine Word University Publications, 1974. Meszaros, Istvan. Marx’s theory of alienation. London: The Merlin Press, 1970. Murchland, Bernard. Age of alienation. New York: Random House, 1971. Nikolenko, Nadezhda. “Semiosis and Nomadic Art in Eurasia.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9.2 (2012): 183−194. Pappenheim, Fritz. The alienation of modern man: an interpretation based on Marx and Tonnies. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1959.


Nicolito A. Gianan / Philosophy and Dealienation of Culture Peirce, Charles Sanders. The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. C. Hartshorne, P. Weiss, vols. 1-6, and A. Burks, vols. 7-8. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1931-58. Philippine National Philosophical Research Society, Inc. . Quito, Emerita. The State of Philosophy in the Philippines. Manila, Philippines: De La Salle University, 1983. Quito, Emerita. Volkgeist in vernacular literature. A life of philosophy: Feschrift in honor of Emerita Quito. Manila: De La Salle University Press, 1990. Rosker, Jana. “Traditional Chinese thought: Philosophy or religion?” Asian Philosophy 19.3 (2009): 225−237. Schmitt, Richard. “Marx’s concept of alienation.” Topoi 15.2 (1996): 163−176. Suazo, Ruby. “Paul Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics of Appropriation as an Experimental Tool towards the Clarification of the Filipino Identity through Family Orientation as a Core Filipino Value.” Diss. Cebu City, Philippines: University of San Carlos, 2006. Timbreza, Florentino. Quest for meaning: Philosophy made easy for Filipinos. Philippines: New Day Publishers, 2000. Timbreza, Florentino. Filipino philosophy today. Mandaluyong City, Philippines: National Bookstore, 2008. Ukpokolo, Isaac. “Between Group Mind and Common Good: Interrogating the African Socio-Political Condition.” Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 8.2 (2011): 235–252.


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The Many Names of Hong Kong: Mapping Language, Silence and Culture in China Diego BUSIOL

City University of Hong Kong Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR [email protected] Abstract. Hong Kong is a peculiar case for the study of cultural practices. One of the most Westernized cities in Asia, Hong Kong is, to many people in China, one of the most ‘Chinese’ places in the country. Hong Kong’s no-place situation presents an interesting example of the tensions within and without cultural systems and their relations to language. Keywords: Culture, Hong Kong, Chinese, displacement, language

INTRODUCTION: THE FIELD OF CULTURE Culture is a word which escapes concise definition. Its meaning varies depending on the perspective used to approach it. In the West, the study of culture developed particularly in the 20th century under several influences such historicism, Darwinism, Marxist theories, sociological, anthropological, and semiotic approaches, the development of the so-called ‘popular culture,’ and postcolonial studies, among others. One of the definitions from the field of anthropology read as follows: Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiment in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action. (Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952: 357)

In the field of cultural semiotics, the Moscow-Tartu School which emerged in the 1960s under the leadership of Yuri Lotman, including contacts with Western émigrés, notably Roman Jakobson, followed the tradition of Russian Formalism, later combined with Czech Structuralism. They studied culture as a “secondary modelling system” with regard to verbal language (“primary modelling system”). For instance, Lotman


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endeavoured to analyze Russian cultural history from this perspective which dealt with traditional forms of narrative, such as literature (novels, short stories, memoirs, epic poetry), as well as film, music and theatre, contemplated as cultural texts. The analysis of sign systems yielded the creative patterns of personal conduct pragmatics at work in the various cultural works in a given epoch. (for an in depth study of Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotic of Culture, see Dennis Ioffe in this volume). Similarly, anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s explains that culture denotes a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life. (1966: 89)

This definition does not provide a distinction between symbolic and non-symbolic signs (such as icons in Charles Sanders Peirce’s classification). Michel Foucault’s vision of culture is obviously influenced by his studies on the working of national institutions, such as the school or the prison system which, according to Foucault, ‘disciplined’ individuals towards certain forms of behavior in a given society. For Foucault culture is “a hierarchical organization of values, accessible to everybody, but at the same time the occasion of a mechanism of selection and exclusion” (2001: 173). The concept of culture seems to be clear, and concrete, and almost measurable. But having so many different definitions might be indicative of its complexity and abstraction. Each definition tries to grasp a concept which does not seem to exist anywhere. Considering culture as a set of values, for example, does not help in understanding the process undergoing the formation of such values, or how the culture continuously changes. The emphasis on mechanism of selection and exclusion misses all that is communal and cohesive in cultural practices. From the semiotic point of view, the concept seems to be more likely employed as a signifier of difference based on particular markers, such as ethnicity, color, class (high/low culture): “All of the reviewed articles employ the labels minority, people of color, and ethnic as synonyms for the culturally different, and the culturally diverse” (Park, 2005: 21). Then the question is “different from what?”


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Etymologically, the term culture derives a Latin verb colere with the meaning of cultivation and, figuratively, to take care/guard, and to the root cultus which refers, in Toadvine’s words: not only to cultivation in the agricultural sense, but also to training, style of dress, refinement, sophistication, and civilization. […] our current terms culture and cultivation retain these many figurative echoes. They also clearly retain these interesting double sense or ambiguity of the original: on the one hand, cultivation is the dirty work of tilling the soil. This is what those sweaty farmers do out in the fields, outside of the town, far from the opera house and the fine dining establishments. On the other hand, cultivation is sophistication, refinement, gentility, keeping your hands clean, pursuing the life of the mind, acting civilized. (Toadvine, 2005: 20)

Culture is frequently related to myths of origin and the development of the first human settlements which regarded on agriculture as a way of life against previous nomadic experiences. In the Western Tradition, the idea of the garden-city/community appears in conjunction with that of culture. Garden-cities may have originated as early as 4000 BC, when the idea of Paradise spread through Persian literature and Hellenic influence into Europe and North Africa. The Persian word for walled-garden eparidaida rendered the European “Paradise.” Hebrew pardes referred to a park, garden or orchard (see the Song of Solomon 4:13, Ecclesiastes 2:5 and Nehemiah 2:8) In the New Testament the word is used in Luke 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:4 and Rev. 2:7 in a reference to the Gen. 2:8 and the tree of life. The garden-myth contemplates location in relation to the birth of sexuality (locus amoenus), and therefore community. The enclosed quality of the garden was meant to protect physical and spiritual relaxation, and eventually came to refer to a plantation or cultivated area, not necessarily walled. Both knowledge, symbolized in the Biblical Tree of Life, and culture (cultivation) are terms related to the agricultural way of life of these early settlements. In religious mythical imagery, a cosmic centre or axis mundi would help connect the planes of the sacred (Heaven) and the human world, so that the tree (or a pillar-ziggurat, temple, etc) is a frequent element joining human life to Heavens. The cultivated garden implies the removal of the dangerous, disorderly and wild, and sometimes the taming of nature, even if the envisioned garden-community may seek to preserve ecological relations and not degrade life and nature. The mythical images captured in artistic representations bring forth important human concerns regarding social life and cul-


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ture in what Benedict Anderson termed ‘imagined communities.’ A similar balance between the imagined and the real was the object of Edward Said’s critique of orientalism. Frequently, prototypical representations of culture (literature, architecture, visual arts, etc.) are instruments of institutional power and provide a means to control and subordinate certain areas. Said’s notion of ‘imagined geographies’ shows the inequalities created in the construction of representations about other (different) regions and societies. Culture in this arithmetic is a marker for the periphery, a contradictory descriptor for a deficit, since to have culture, in this schema, is to be assigned a position subordinate to that of those inscribed without culture. (Park, 2005: 21)

Thus, the terms culture and cultivation harbor the seeds of an entire series of oppositions like mind vs. body, city vs. country, theory vs. practice, culture vs. nature. Cultus, our Latin starting-point, is related to culter, blade, as in the blade of the plow. This is a blade that cuts two ways. (Toadvine, 2005: 20)

Etymology reveals the process of semiosis suffered by the concept of ‘culture’ in Western societies. The referential value (denotation), based on a relation of similitude between sign and its object ‘cultivation,’ gives way to various connotative meanings by means of consensus as materialized in usages and collective representational customs. Interestingly, culture, as Toadvine defines it, is the act of setting tracks and making furrows for cultivation, and expressions such as “going of the furrow,” meaning ‘going mad or crazy,’ are in close association with the Latin deliriare, which in fact means deviant behaviour or ‘going off the tracks.’ The cutting edge is that ‘culture’ tries to capture in a concept what is indeed a process. Life experiences (events) take on symbolic forms in order to be transferred and applicable to other times and contexts by other people (this is what we call tradition). However, all signs carry more than one level of meaning. Some meanings (mostly denotative) are negotiated and interiorized by means of repetition of symbolic forms, and become shared experiences (termed “facts,” “values,” etc). These common experiences (facts, values) are attributed to groups of people, who, in turn, come to be identified by those essential attributes. Such essential definitions of culture are usually modified, appended often with caveats.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 207−226 These caveats, do not, however substantively affect the functional conceptualization and deployment of culture […] Remaining embedded within the caveat is the identification of a static core culture which can be modified and differentially adhered to, since variance must center around something, and modification presupposes a core entity which can be modified but remain discernible as itself. (Park, 2005: 23)

Roland Barthes used the term ‘myth’ or ‘metalanguage’ to refer to the second associative level of semiosis which serves to reveal and provide justification for the dominant values prevailing in a given period as they are ritualistically reproduced (Barthes, 1990). Furthermore, the field of language is appropriately part of the field of culture and vice versa. Thus, for James Clifford, affective negotiations take place in human socials worlds and modes of everyday living represented through different symbolic cultural manifestations where narrative occupies a prominent position because of the relevance of communication in human life: a recognition of allegory emphasizes the fact that realistic portraits, to the extent that they are ‘convincing’ or ‘rich,’ are extended metaphors, patterns of associations that point to coherent (theoretical, aesthetic, moral) additional meanings. (Clifford, 1986: 100)

This means that despite the territorial boroughs of the term’s etymology, the different meanings of ‘culture’ do not represent barriers nor borders. Rather, the offers multiple avenues for cultivation. THE LOCATION OF CULTURE Semiotic research has shown that human typically conceptualize abstract concepts in terms of physical perceptions, for example, bordering skin as a differentiated body with an inside and an outside, identity as a separate psycho-physical territory, time as a dimension of space, culture as cultivated land, and representation as narrative (all sign types, including icons have symbolic qualities that can be ‘read’). Frequently abstract space becomes a particular location or place (López-Varela, 2010). In relation to the concept of ‘culture,’ A. Gupta and J. Ferguson (1992) also notice a remarkable emphasis on images of break, rupture, and disjunction. The distinctiveness of societies, nations, and cultures is based upon a seemingly unproblematic division of space, on the fact that


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they occupy ‘naturally’ discontinuous spaces. The premise of discontinuity forms the starting point from which to theorize contact, conflict, and contradiction between peoples, societies and cultures. For example, the representation of the world as a collection of countries, as in most world maps, sees it as an inherently fragmented space, divided by different colors into diverse national societies, each rooted in its proper place. In the past, culture was conveniently mapped in geographical topographies. Today, new forms of mobility, in the form of physical transportation and virtual navigation in cyberspace, offer novel ways of looking and mapping the world. Cultivation (colere) became knowledge (cultus) possibly when new forms of technology enabled farmers to distinguish themselves (by means of their cultural possessions – architectural property, artistic works in their homes, etc) from the rest of a retrograde tribal nomadic society. Once, barriers and walls marked limits of separation and difference within growing social groups (tribal communities, gardencities, national regions, nation-states). Instead, today borders have become ‘in-between’ spaces open to interpersonal and intercultural dialogue (see introduction to López-Varela, and Net, 2009). Times have changed. People are no longer essentially fixed and located. Tracking devices are everywhere: from video-cameras in urban-shopping areas to applications in our smart phones that tell everyone where we are at a particular moment, including the top of Mount Everest. In the case of language, traditionally, it served as means of distinction among cultures. However, monolingual situations have never been the rule. In Europe, classic Latin coexisted with several vernacular languages in different countries, until the 18th century when the emergence of the conception of nation-state made it necessary to impose one national language over others. In colonial and invasive situations when one country has occupied the territorial location of another, frequently the so-called ‘mother tongue’ has been imposed in detriment of local languages. Herder’s hypothesis of a narrow link between language, thought and culture is today more questionable than ever, and organizations such UNESCO have encouraged protection programs such as the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing (2007) or the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003-2009). Language is indeed a fundamental location for culture and identity, but its position is not neutral. At the time of the utterance, the speakingsubject discloses the place where he/she is speaking from. This position


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of power is simultaneously mobile, since the speaking subject becomes, in turn, an addressee, that is, the ‘object’ of another subject’s speech. The correlation between language, knowledge sharing and culture is also related to the fantasy of a unitary self, able to define and classify, and thus control, the objects she or he is watching as if through a keyhole, a looking-glass, or lenses (metaphors that enable other ways of looking, say, supported by technological means). Observation, however, does not suffice to achieve complete power over the object (whereas a thing or a person). The sign, particularly the word, is on the side of the object. It is the object (the other) what makes the subject speak. For instance, to think about a location, such as Hong Kong, and to describe it is to create it, no matter where the speaking subject comes from. EAST/WEST (RE)LOCATIONS AND HONG KONG’S(DIS)(MIS)PLACEMENTS Because of its colonial past, Hong Kong is commonly described as ‘a place where East and West meet.’ However, Hong Kong’s pluri-cultural identity cannot be defined unambiguously. In the late 1960s, the city was described as “superficially westernized but deeply Chinese” (Agassi and Jarvie, 1969). Today, like many other places in the world, is seen as ‘Americanized’ (Watters, 2010) because of the way it ideally assumes and exacerbates many of the values of capitalist societies in the West: technology, technique, efficiency, results, fast-paced life, perfect happiness (Wang, 2007). At the same time, Hong Kong has remained deeply traditionally, embodying the old Chinese way of life before the Maoist Cultural Revolution. In “A modern history of Hong Kong,” Steve Tsang states that the Hongkonger remains quintessentially Chinese and yet share a way of life, core values and an outlook that resemble at least as much, if not more, that of the average New Yorker or Londoner, rather than that of their compatriots in China. (Tsang, 2004: ix)

This difficulty in defining Hong Kong has recently been captured by Dung Kai-cheung in his book Atlas: The Archeology of An Imaginary City, recently translated into English. Set in the long-lost fictional City of Victoria (similar to modern-day Hong Kong), the novel is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections – theory, the city, streets, and 213

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signs – Dung’s novel re-imagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artefacts, much like Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Paul Auster. Mixing real-world scenarios with purely invented people and events, and incorporating anecdote and actual and fictional social commentary and critique, Dung’s novel challenges the representation of place, history and culture by displaying a new geo-graphy (earth description). In part 1, ‘Theory,’ Dung uses several definitions to describe the city multiple identities of Hong Kong: Counterplace, Commonplace, Misplace, Displace, Antiplace, Nonplace, Extraterritoriality, Boundary, Utopia, Supertopia, Subtopia, Transtopia, Multitopia, Unitopia, Omnitopia. Living in Hong Kong as a foreigner, and reading Western literature about Hong Kong and Chinese culture one gets the distinctive impression that the major part of it is biased by Western critical thinking and terminology. Even the idea of ‘the Orient’ seems a Western creation. Interestingly, the failure to understand Chinese cultures under Western eyes reflects the limitations of such cultural representations. Here I would like to make use of Lacan’s notion of ‘the mirror stage.’ The child’s recognition of his/her image in the mirror around the 18 months of age is simultaneously the place of identity and of its fracture. The mirror, as material location, is not just simply the place where the sign (image) is reflected. The viewing subject receives self-confirmation from this reflection, thinking that it is already there, prior to his/her contemplation. The image gives him/her an imagined sense of unity that will constitute the imaginary I. So the mirror is not just a neutral location. It does not simply reflect a ‘real’ ‘original’ object that exists nowhere. It creates a sign (image) that becomes, ex-nihilo, a unified ego-subject looking at oneself. This ‘ego-ideal’ is given in the subject’s identification with others objects of his/her observation. Thus, it is not just ‘imaginary’ (an image) but also ‘symbolic’ in that, as prospective subject, the ‘ego-ideal’ achieves a place in discourse. In terms of Peircean semiosis, it is important to note that signs categories – icon, index, symbol – only have a theoretical existence. In practice, their features merge in different proportions. That signs should be, as much as possible, similar to the objects they signify is known as “relative motivation.” But, things can be similar to one another in various ways, and such signs achieve meaning in consensus (“motivated convention”). Motivation represents a ‘natural connection’ between the signifier and the signified in Saussure’s semiology, and ‘similarity’ be-


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tween representatum and representamen in Peirce’s semiotics. Motivation can be imposed by ‘custom’ (habit, in Peirce’s terms), or approved by ‘convention’ (Saussure), and ‘consensus’ is materialized in usages or collective representational customs. In the case of human identity, motivation is present in the form of ‘desire.’ Desire is present in both of the fantasies [Imaginary and the Symbolic] as the gap (or the surplus) that separates the fantasy from the reality it seeks to capture. Lacan sees both fantasy and gap (surplus) as positive elements. The fantasy structures the reality that the individual perceives and lives. The gap serves as the motivation (a performative flavouring) that gives the fantasy meaning. (Brown, 2008: 125)

Between the location of the ‘ego-ideal’ and its selfhood lies, therefore, a deep intersubjective ground., more or less collective depending on East or West perspectives. Let us now move back to Hong Kong’s cultural identity. How does the West function as a mirror for Hong Kong, and for China? What can be said about the process of identification (and alienation) to (and from) the image? In “Mainlanders as ‘Others’ in the Life and Law of Hong Kong” (2011), Rohan B.E Price and John K.S Ho describe the city’s population as an open hybrid territory: For the majority of its history, the Hong Kong populace resembled streams with many currents rather than a single pool; it was a collection of essentially transient Chinese people from a variety of Han ethnic sub-groups who moved frequently in and out of the territory according to timeless reasons including family responsibilities, political persecution, festivals and changed business circumstances. (Price and Ho, 2011: 5)

The authors add that “throughout the pre-Pacific War colonial era, the many Chinese peoples of Hong Kong were homogenized in the British imaginary and viewed as a single, broad and undifferentiated Chinese ‘race’” (Price and Ho, 2011: 5). Such interpretation has led to the creation of an imaginary Hong Kong, a fictional place that did not exist anywhere. It can be said that the image of Hong Kong has anticipated Hong Kong itself. Nothing, not even an image at the mirror really exists before speech. Dung Kai-cheung was born in Hong Kong in 1967. In his account, the island of Hong Kong is “placed in the middle of ‘Macao Roads’,” which he had previously described as “jointly produced by Daniel Ross and Philip 215

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Maughan, lieutenants of the Bombay Marine, for the British East India Company” (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 209). Interestingly, for Dung Kaicheung “Macao Roads” did not exist as such. They were “drawn in 1810,” demonstrating for the first time the possibility of a theory of counterplace. According to an ancient and almost forgotten saying, every place that appears on a map must have one or more counterplaces. This knowledge had been invalidated in the development of scientific map-making, and it regained attention only recently through extended researches into ancient maps. (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 208)

Here the author plays with the idea that under the British colonial regime, Hong Kong becomes a ‘counterplace,’ a place modelled on another place located in Britain. Under Western eyes, it is the act of naming and placing something in speech what allows it to have an identity and to be. Thus the West is image at the other side of Hong Kong’s mirror: in the mimetic world of maps, a place will inevitably find its counterplace in another parallel space. A Platonic relationship exists between counterplaces, i.e. both (or more) are copies or simulacra of a common “reality” or “idea.” Or, to put it in other words, both are translations of an “original text.” The mutual reliance of counterplaces is built on their common connection with the same origin. Yet this connection only points at another name. The name “Hong Kong” allows both Red River and Fragrant Harbour to become distinct and but not mutually exclusive “really existing” places. (209)

If Hongkongers hardly recognize themselves as “Chinese,” meaning being part of Mainland China, it is interesting that in the 1960s, the great majority of Hongkongers were descendant by people from Mainland (now arguably at the 3-4th generation). Particularly in the past Hong Kong has maintained close relations with Mainland, also because of commercial reasons. In Hong Kong the feeling of being members of the Chinese race remains strong. Nevertheless, it seems that identification to Mainland China and to what it represents is no longer possible. Precisely the “border closure in the early 1960s and British assimilation of extant refugee populations created the Hong Kong identity on a foundation of Mainlander ‘otherness’.” (Price and Ho, 2011: n.p.) Once more, Dung Kai-cheung’s text shows Hong Kong’s sense of alienation:


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 207−226 When we study ancient maps, we find repeatedly that places with the same name appear in different forms. These places lumped together under one name are not in fact the same place but common places. Although they are not the same place, they have something in common. This is how the term “commonplace” is defined. Examples of commonplaces are numerous. […] no place on any map can ever be the same place as any other place on any other map. Every map has its own set of places, and every place belongs exclusively to its own map. Therefore, no one single place could ever transgress the map to which it owes its existence and become one with another place. If similar configurations appear on different maps, it is because of the fact that these places are commonplaces to each other. (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 210−211)

Surprisingly, according to a recent research carried out by the University of Hong Kong, If we use a dichotomy of ‘Hong Kong citizens’ versus ‘Chinese citizens’ to measure Hong Kong people’s ethnic identity, the proportion of people identifying themselves as ‘Hong Kong citizens’ outnumbers that of ‘Chinese citizens’ both in their narrow and broad senses, by about 20 to 30 percentage points, while the percentage of those identifying themselves as ‘Chinese citizens’ has dropped to a new low since 2000, now at 17%. Also in terms of absolute rating, people’s identification with ‘Hong Kong citizens’ has reached a ten-year high, while that of ‘Chinese citizens’ has dropped to a 12-year low. This is contrary to the China’s economic development in recent years, so it must be due to factors beyond economic development. (Public Opinion Program, the University of Hong Kong, 2011: n.p.)

So, what is the Hong Kong identity and where is it located? Again Dung Kai-cheung enlightens us: Hong Kong is also a commonplace. It follows that when every place has its commonplaces, each of these places loses its distinctive character and becomes simply a common place. No place can transcend itself to attain an eternal and absolute state. […] This is the reason that modern maps of high precision lack imagination. By making people forget that places can only relate to one another as commonplaces, these conventions fool us into believing that any place has always been the same – forever fixed and immutable. (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 211)

How can Hong Kong be just a fantasy commonplace when its people believe themselves the depositaries of the tradition of the ‘real’ Chinese culture and values? (see Public Opinion Program, the University of Hong Kong, 2011). Are these assumptions of Chinese identity held by Hongkongers misplaced? (it should be noticed that the appellative itself


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offers connotations of displacement, as seen in opposition to other English derivational processes such as Japanese). The prefix “mis” in “misplace” carries both the meaning of “wrongly taking one thing as another one” as in “mistake” or “misunderstand,” and the meaning of “should not be” as in “misbehaviour.” As for the concept of “place”, in this school of thought [Dung Kai-cheung terms it ‘cartocentric’], it can be understood as “representation” from the perspective of production, or as “reading” from the perspective of reception. In fact, “representation” and “reading” are just two sides of the same coin […] Investigations from this angle suggest that Hong Kong is also a misplace. (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 211−212)

WORDS AND SILENCE IN CHINESE CULTURE Unlike Western writing systems, based on symbolic alphabets, Chinese languages are structured around pictograms. Some researchers have claimed that such writing hinders abstract modes of thought (Logan, 2004). The lack of morphology in Chinese languages invites users to pay more attention to their contexts (Wenzel, 2010). Furthermore, it would seem that the lack of clear counterfactual markers in Chinese results is a deficiency in reasoning by means of spatio-temporal cues (see Bloom, 1981). It would seem that the disposition towards the word in Western and Chinese discourse is not as similar as we might have imaged. Furthermore, the power-status of Chinese words is much more modest in relation to Western traditions such as the Judeo-Christian and the Islamic, all of which have placed a strong emphasis on the ‘Word’ as message from the divinity, located in some kind of sacred text. Greek thought arose around the notion of logos, which throughout time referred to: word, discourse and reason, the principle of order and knowledge (see Olatunji and Alabi in this volume). The Ancient Greeks also celebrated rhetoric and speech as the way for gaining knowledge and accessing the truth. For Christianity the word is the principle of life itself, as the word was used to found the universe. The gospel by John begins with the well known statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In China things have been different. In general, Chinese thinkers who have reflected on language were primarily interested in the pragmatic aspects of the relation between language and those who use it, rather than the semantic aspect of its relation with reality. In other words, language


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matters on account of its regulatory function rather than the descriptive function favored by the Aristotelian tradition. Instead of questioning if a proposition is true or false, Chinese thinkers ask what effect a certain belief would be able to exercise, or what moral and social implications may result from a given proposition. The use of the word tends to be rather utilitarian, instrumental; it serves for communicating and exchanging information, and not for the pleasure of discourse. For instance, in the Analects, Confucius reduces the ‘word’ to a tool for communicating (15.41 − 辭達而已矣), and recommends to use it sparingly, and not abuse it. (Lunyu, 論語): 【十九章】【一節】子曰、予欲無言。子貢曰、子如不言、則小子何述焉 。 【三節】子曰、天何言哉、四時行焉、百物生焉、天何言哉。 17.19 The Master sighed, “Would that I did not have to speak!” Zigong said, “If the Master did not speak, then how would we little ones receive guidance from you?” The Master replied, “What does Heaven ever say? Yet the four seasons are put in motion by it, and the myriad creatures receive their life from it. What does Heaven ever say?”

Confucius is not interested into discussion or conversation. He scolds his students when they keep trying to refute him. He argues that it is exactly this interest on the word (ning) that will prevent them from ¡understanding’. The word becomes something to avoid (Slingerland, 2003): 【第四章】【一節】或曰、雍也仁、而不佞。【二節】子曰、焉用佞、禦 人 以口給、屢憎於人、不知其仁、焉用佞。 5.5 Someone said, “Zhonggong is Good but not eloquent (ning 佞)” The Master said, “Of what use is eloquence? If you go about responding to everyone with a clever tongue you will often incur resentment. I do not know whether or not Zhonggong is good, but of what use is eloquence?”

Speaking might even become something that depreciates the person: 【第三章】子曰、巧言令色、鮮矣仁。 1.3 A clever tongue and fine appearance are rarely signs of Goodness


Diego Busiol / The Many Names of Hong Kong 【廿七章】子曰、剛、毅、木、訥、近仁。 13.27 Resolute, decisive, straightforward, and reticent – these qualities are close to Goodness.

Contemporary Western philosophy perceives the Word, that is, the signifier, as introducing a multiplicity of meaning, differance in Derridean terms. While traditional Chinese thought tends to emphasize similarities, westerners value more difference and independent thinking Being a different individual is generally a positive value in Western societies but it has a negative connotation in collectivities that construct their social world around the idea of unity (and conformity) of the group., as in the case of Chinese culture. In most of Western countries speech needs to be loaded with information. Silence is perceived as an empty awkward and embarrassing pause. People even find it as expressing a lack of interest and unwillingness to communicate, a sign of hostility, rejection, or interpersonal incompatibility; anxiety or shyness; or a lack of verbal skills. On the other hand, when not used to refute the other’s point, silence might imply consent. In China, however, silence holds a strong contextual meaning, such as showing obedience to senior people, or being a sign of respect for the wisdom and expertise of others, or disagreement while avoiding direct confrontation, or a time interval for sorting out ideas, depending on the context of the time.

Silence in Chinese culture more likely refers to the Other. It is not just a lack of saying. Silence in China is full of information which remains unsaid because of community rules. In a society where group harmony is valued over individual expression of inner thoughts and feelings, contradicting someone else, particularly someone who hold a higher role in society, implies taking one side of an argument and becoming an opponent. Thus, conversational participation in China is never argumentative. Silence becomes then a form of respect for the other who shows a different idea, since taking distance from such ideas could also mean taking distance from the person. On the contrary in the West, discussion serves to clarify opposite points of view, as well as leading to a mutual understanding.


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CULTURES, BOUNDARIES, LANGUAGES AND FIELDS Hong Kong’s people adherence to their particular cultural (non)identity is also reflected in its languages. Cantonese is their mother tongue, followed by English, with Mandarin being only the third option. After it was returned to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China by the British, in July 1997, the Hong Kong Government announced a Trilingual Policy with the intention to train a new trilingual generation of students being able to speak fluently Cantonese, Putonghua and English (Tung, 1997). This imposition of learning Putonghua created concerns among the population of Hong Kong. In an interesting study, Lai (2012) correlated the language spoken by people from the middle and working classes with their sense of identity. The result has shown that both groups agree quite strongly that a main difference between Hong Kong and Mainland China is that Hong Kong is a bilingual city of English and Chinese. This shows that the Hong Kong identity does not depend only on Cantonese, but a bilingualism of English and Cantonese. (Lai, 2012: 125)

Indeed “even after the change of sovereignty, the majority of the respondents in both groups still think that English is the most useful language. It has superior status in present Hong Kong” (Lai, 2012: 126; see also Chan, 2010). On the other hand, “Putonghua is not considered a significant language” neither is Cantonese. But it is clear that “if Putonghua is used as a means to hasten national unity, the respondents in this survey, mainly the middle-class group, tend to reject the idea” (Lai, 2012: 129). He adds, surprisingly, that since language is power, as long as Hong Kong people still believe that they are superior to the mainland Chinese, it is not likely that Putonghua will replace any of the roles that Cantonese and English are playing in society without much government imposition. (Lai, 2012: 129)

The study conducted by Lai shows that in Hong Kong the sense of belonging to Mainland China has not increased since 1997, and that has possibly even dropped. What are the reasons behind Hong Kong’s mirror image displacement from China to the West? Following Dung Kai-cheung:


Diego Busiol / The Many Names of Hong Kong The term “displace” can be understood in a narrow and a broad sense. In the narrow sense, it means that the position of one place is taken over by another place in the diachronic development of map-making. (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 212−213)

In an obvious allusion to European Structuralism, the author goes on to explain that There are two ways in which this displacement could have taken place. The first is […] a form of geographical transfer (at least geographical as understood in the context of cartographical discourse). In the second way, the signifier “Hong Kong” displaced the signifier “Chek Chue” and became the name of a more or less specific place on the map. No matter which is the case, it implies that one place can be replaced by another at any time, and the place being taken over will never be the same as before even though its form and position may remain unchanged. (Dung Kaicheung, 2012: 213)

But the process of displacement does not end there, as Hong Kong turns yet to look into another mirror; that of the United States, where Derridean deconstruction was itself displaced. No matter whether we understand them from the perspective of teleology or of utilitarianism, and no matter how scientifically and with what exactitude they are produced, maps have never been copies of the real world but are displacements. In the end, the real world is totally supplanted in the process of displacement and fades from human cognition. The sight of the Guangdong coast in the sixteenth century is forever beyond reach, but not the sight of the sixteenth century “Coastal Map of Guangdong. (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 213-14)

A utopian place where the best values and life goals are to be found, North-American society has become the image of Hong Kong’s idealego. Many other non-Western cultures (the Japanese case is particularly striking) have seen their traditional cultural values displaced in favour of the American-way-of-life, thus creating a tension between the ideal-ego (the process of Westernization) and the ego-ideal (own tradition) It remains to be seen if this gap represents cultural misrecognition, or if it just a symptom that shows how cultural boundaries are just fictions. After all, as Dung Kai-cheung explains “The prerequisite for setting of boundaries on maps is possession of the power to create fiction” (220). Image and Imaginary do not simply overlap in Hong Kong. Icons also have symbolic registers. The image is not only the place of Others, that of representation. In it is also possible to re-trace the Other if the image 222

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is (dis)placed into a ‘tale’; in other words, if it is not taken as complete imitation (or identification) of the real (this would be mere mimetic repetition). When not taken as a whole, placed out of boundaries, for instance, significant elements emerge that make a difference. How do we experience the feeling of crossing the boundary? How do we prevent transgression? Or how do we construct the crime of transgression? An invisible boundary is more powerful and ruthless than a natural geographical barrier in forcing a dissection of non-differentiated space. […] There is no absolute inside or outside. From this perspective, the fixing of boundaries is a way of making a place a place. Since there is no place on earth that has an absolute existence, all places (or all human understanding of places) are areas within boundaries, and power interprets areas as territories with boundaries. A boundary is not just not an imitation of the real world; it is actually a fictional molding of the real world. (Dung Kai-cheung, 2012: 219)

In the formulation and implementation of the cultural boundary, the world copies the map. Objects like stones or fences that mark the cultivating area in the real world do not appear prior to the drawing of the line on the map, and maps are certainly not records of the prior existence of these objects. On the contrary, such categorizing objects are deictic cues that point to imitations of the imaginary line on the map. When in his famous 1972−3 seminar, Lacan affirms that the unconscious is structured like language, he uses the preposition ‘like’, not ‘by’ and, by no means, he refers to a unique form of language. But, what language do people really speak? Everyone is born in the discourse of the Other, occupied at first by the mother, later by ‘the name of the father’ or any other social authority or participant institution (familiar, educational, professionalizing) in the process of socialization within a certain culture. Socialization takes place mostly by means of language, akin to cognitive processing which transforms signs (including icons/images) into symbols. The location of culture, like that of language, is always out-bounded; simultaneously real and fictional; public fact or private event; a socially consensual act and an individually motivated sign. If fixing of boundaries is a way of locating a place, culture, like language, is placed and dis(mis)placed. As Dung Kaicheung indicates above, rivers and mountains are not boundaries. They only function as such under a mind that interprets them as ‘motivated signs’ (in Peirce’s terms). Frequently, motivation takes the form of set-


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ting limits between the speaking subject and his/her world; that is, as an instrument of (even if unconscious) power. Thus, language can set boundaries but also break them. As mentioned above, not taken as a ‘whole’ (for instance creative/fictional language with its capacity for ambiguity) human discourse can tell and re-tell the same story in a myriad of forms, just as Dung Kai-cheung defines Kong Kong by means of 15 words and their accompanying plurality of descriptions. CONCLUSIONS This paper has focuses on the problem of the location of culture, providing the example of the city of Hong Kong. First, it hopes to have shown how culture is an abstract concept, variously defined across different time periods. All these definitions only capture partial states of affairs, and show the narrow relation between culture and language. The last part of the paper suggests that the diverse ways of thinking about culture may arise directly from different attitudes towards the Word, so that, the cultivated garden may become a garden of forking paths (to use Borges’ expression) and opportunities or, quite the contrary, something to be absolutely wary of. It also shows how cultures are not bounded territories. As in the case of Hong Kong, locations might be placed as islands on a stream of influences. Acknowledgments. I would like to thank Prof. López-Varela for pointing out to me the work by writer Kai-cheung Dung. References Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. . Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Los Angeles: University of California, 1990. Bloom, Alfred Harold. The linguistic shaping of thought: A study in the impact of language on thinking in China and the West. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates, 1981. Boroditsky, Lera. “Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time.” Cognitive Psychology 43 (2001): 1−22. Bracher, Mark. Lacan, Discourse, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1993. Chan Elaine. “Beyond Pedagogy: Language and identity in post-colonial Hong Kong.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 23.2 (2010): 271−285. Foucault, Michel. L’hermeneutique du sujet. Cours au Collège de France, 1981−1982. Paris: Gallimard Seuil, 2001.


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 207−226 Clifford, James. “On Ethnographic Allegory.” In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Eds. James Clifford, and George E. Marcus. Berkeley: U of California P, 1986. Dung, Kai-Cheung. Atlas: The Archeology of An Imaginary City. Trans. Anders Hansson and Bonnie S. McDougall. Weatherhead Books on Asia. NY: Columbia UP, 2012. Geertz Clifford. 1966. The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books. 1973. Gu X. L. “A Contrastive Analysis of Chinese and American Views about Silence and Debate.” Unpublished paper Intercultural Communication Conference held in California State University, Fullerton, 2003. Gupta Akhil, and James Ferguson. “Beyond “culture”: space, identity, and the politics of difference.” Cultural Anthropology 7 (1992): 6–23. Irigaray, L. To Speak Is Never Neutral, London and New York, Continuum, 2002. Jarvie, I. C., and J. Agassi. Hong Kong, a society in transition. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1969. Kluckhohn, C. and A.L. Kroeber. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Cambridge, Mass: The Museum, 1952. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar, Book XX: Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge. NY: Norton, 1998. Lai M.L. “Hong Kong Students’ Attitudes Towards Cantonese, Putonghua and English After the Change of Sovereignty.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 22.2 (2010): 112-133. Logan, R. K. The Alphabet Effect: A Media Ecology Understanding of the Making of Western Civilization. Hampton Press Communication Series, 2004. López-Varela, Asuncion. “Exploring Intercultural Relations from the Intersubjective Perspectives offered through Creative Art in Multimodal Formats.” Analisi delle culture; culture dell’Analisi. Universitá degli studi di Torino. Revista di Simiotica. Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerche sulla Comunicazione, Lexia 5-6 (2010): 125−147. López-Varela, Asunción, Mariana Net. Eds. Real and Virtual Cities: Intertextual and Intermedial Mindscapes. Bucharest: Editura Univers Enciclopedic, 2009. Park, Y. Culture as deficit: a critical discourse analysis of the concept of culture in contemporary Social work discourse. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 32.3 (2005): 13−34. Price, B.E. and John K.S. Ho. “Mainlanders as ‘Others’ in the Life and Law of Hong Kong” King’s Law Journal. 26 July, 2011. . Public Opinion Program the University of Hong Kong. Hong Kong people’s ethnic identity. Survey 2011. . Slingerland, E.G. Confucius: The Essential Analects: Selected Passages With Traditional Commentary, Hackett Publishing Company, 2003. Toadvine T. “Culture and Cultivation: Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Agriculture.” Eds. Charles S. Brown and Ted Toadvine. Nature’s Edge: Boundary Explorations in Ecological Theory and Practice, Albany: SUNY Press. 2007. 207–222. Wang, F. “Western discourse” and contemporary Chinese culture.” Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 1.2. (2007): 197−212


Diego Busiol / The Many Names of Hong Kong Watters, E. “The Americanization of mental illness.” November 2010. . Wenzel, C.H. “Isolation and Involvement: Wilhelm von Humboldt, François Jullien, and More.” Philosophy East and West 60.4 (2010): 458−475.


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The Semiosis of Imperialism: Boadicea or the 17th-Century Iconography of a Barbarous Queen I-Chun WANG

Center for Arts and Humanities National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan 王 儀君 [email protected] Abstract. By discussing Bonduca (1611) a a Jacobean tragi-comedy in the Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher canon, generally judged by scholars to be the work of the second one alone, this paper looks into the tragic story of Queen Boadicea, as rewritten in fiction. The cultural and semiotic codes that Bonduca represents are examined in the context of imperialism. The paper explores the conflict between the Romans and the colonized Iceni tribe and discusses the legitimization of colonization in the light of historical records alongside fictional accounts. The paper shows how the Boudican Revolt can be seen as part of the disempowerment of Brittany. The study serves as an example of the need for a complex multi-dimensional framework for the comparative study of literatures and cultures. Keywords: Bonduca, Icenic culture; John Fletcher, Roman History, Postcolonial Studies

INTRODUCTION In her desperate actions against Roman imperial rule, Queen Boadicea was presented as a historical figure first by Publius Cornelius Tacitus in his Annals of Imperial Rome, and later by Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577) and Milton’s A History of Britain (1670). Queen Bonduca’s story, as recorded by Tactitus and retold by John Fletcher, Colman, and Cowper, among others, exemplifies the tragedy of resistance in Roman Britain. Critics tend to see John Fletcher’s (1611) drama as propaganda for Britain’s own expansion during the 17th century. Fletcher presents the queen as a woman warrior, symbol of fortitude in pre-modern cultural history, but also as a frustrated cultural spirit. The story was also recorded by Tennyson in a poem that presents the heroic and warrior queen defending the Icenian tribe (roughly the present territory of Norfolk; see Allen, 1970: 1) against the Romans. Employing the voice of the woman warrior, Tennyson equates the invading Romans as eagles preying upon the Britons’ flesh.


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By presenting several semiotic layers of cultural codes in the portraits of characters and their actions, this paper looks at Fletcher’s play and illustrates the process of domestication of the other, as well as the instrumental use of female figures for territorial expansion. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO THE ROMAN INVASION OF BRITAIN During the last century BC, the rapid expansion of Celtic tribes was regarded as the “Celtic horror.” Germanic tribes that inhabited lands in northern Europe migrated south and caused panic within the Roman Empire (see, for example, Mattingly, 2006: 12−25). Sulpicius Halba, a Roman commander, Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Flavius Julius Valens all participated in the wars against the Germans. Caesar and Claudius declared wars against the Celts during the time of territorial expansion. Caesar fought Cassivelaun, a Celtic leader, while Romulus Augustus fought against the Germanic chieftain Odoacer the Scirian (Lambert, 1809: 272). At the time, territory expansion was a mission of most empires and military invasions were recorded in chronicles, historical writings, and narrated also in literary works. Among these narratives we can cite Cymbeline by William Shakespeare and Bonduca by John Fletcher, both of which deal with Roman invasions. The first is set in Roman Britain, the latter reinterprets the encounters between Queen Bonduca and the Roman armies that occupy her land (Schwebel, 1970: 344). Fletcher’s (1611) Bonduca, Queene of Britaine narrates not only the tragic story of the warrior queen. It also deals with the complicated issue of ethnic identity in a period of cultural formation. By discussing Fletcher’s text alongside historical sources, this paper examines the legitimization of colonization in the context of the changing historical perspectives reflected within it. The paper also examines how even before the Roman invasion, a cultural process of assimilation was implemented. Robin Collingwood and John Myers describe how people in the British lowlands describe this process: The lowland zone, extending as far west as the base of Devonshire – Cornwall peninsula and the beginning of the Welsh hills, and as far north as the Pennines and the uplands of county Durham and Northumberland, is a single, undivided whole. Its landward limits, clearly marked by the outcrop of the Paleozoic rocks, may be repre-


Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology 9(2)/2012: 227−236 sented by a line beginning at Seaton, on the Devonshire coast, and running north to the Bristol Channel…. While the highland zone is discontinuous; it is broken into three parts by two deep inlets, where the western sea has penetrated through it to meet the lowland zone. (6)

While the three parts of the highland zone were a region almost impenetrable, the lowlands were included gradually into the Roman culture. Peter Wells refers to Roman culture as one that celebrated military victories and the conquest of new territories resulting in civilized ways of life thus implementing the greatness of their empire (Wells, 2001: 18). The Romans found construction of governmental and social infrastructure hard to achieve beyond the two great rivers of Europe, the Danube and the Rhine (Wells, 2001: 7). To them, the tribes beyond these rivers were barbarous, and while Caesar used Rhine as the easternmost extent of his military conquest, Augustus’s legions took the two rivers as border. In his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, the Venerable Bede includes descriptions of Caesar’s conquests in the territory of the Gauls, describing how Caesar sailed to the British Isles with “eighty ships of burden and vessels with oars” (Bede, 1963: 9). This author presents Britain as a beautiful island with a geographical domain of 800 miles to the north and 200 miles wide, containing “five nations, the English, Britons, Scots, Picts and Latins” (Bede, 1963: 5). Furthermore, Bede narrates how Caesar and Claudius encountered these barbarians tribes and how they captured cities such as Trinovantum and Cassibellaun, describing how Lucius, king of Britain, requested to be made a Christian (Bede, 1963: 8). Other elements in his work include how the Romans enclosed the islands from sea to sea to restrain the fury of the barbarous nations (Bede, 1963: 105) and how some leaders of the British tribes requested help from Rome, being afraid they would be “overthrown by the barbarians” (Bede, 1963: 18). The Romans did not respond actively to the request. The domination of Britain was a mixture of Roman imperial military occupation and self-rule, and lasted about fifteen generations (Mattingly, 2006: 12). Born in Northumbria, Bede was taken to the monastery of Wearmouth and he might have even been sent to Rome to “assist with his knowledge of Northumbrian history the settlement of the church” in England (Knowles, 1963: v). Although Caesar prepared a way to conquer Britain, it is generally agreed that Emperor Claudius led an invasion and established Londinium, that is, “the settlement on the Wide River” (Coates, 1998: 220). Gregory the Great eventually sent his missionaries, 229

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Augustine and his companions, to the king of Kent, Ethelbert, who took a Christian as his wife (Bede, 1963: 9). These examples show that Romanization was executed in the name of religion and by means of the elite culture as maintained by Collingwood and Myers (see, also Watts, 1998). THE ICENI TRIBE IN HISTORY AND LITERARY FICTION Roman veteran soldiers founded a ‘colonia’ (settlement) at what is now called Colchester (Camulodunum), and a legionary fortress was also established at Gloucester (Glevum) (Blair, 1963: 44). The local indigenous tribes, worried about their safety, signed treaties with the Romans. Among them were Boudica’s husband Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe and Cogidubnus of the Regni tribe (Tacitus XIV. 34−5). The Iceni, in particular, signed to get Roman protection against the Belgae tribe from Gaul who kept threatening them. But when Prasutagus became a client king to Rome, his tribe started to suffer a change in cultural values. For example, their graves were destroyed and a temple dedicated to Emperor Claudius was built in their place. The worst event was that their people were sold into Roman slavery and they were required to provide taxes to support the Roman veterans and common soldiers. Tacitus’s indictment of Roman imperialism was voiced by Galgacus, chieftain to the Caledonian Confederacy who criticized the licentiousness of the Roman soldiers (Skene, 1836: 37). His bravery before the Battle of Mons Graupius against the Romans parallels that of Boudica: Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and this union of yours, will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain. To all of us slavery is a thing unknown; there are no lands beyond us, and even the sea is not safe, menaced as we are by a Roman fleet. And thus in war and battle, in which the brave find glory, even the coward will find safety. Former contests, in which, with varying fortune, the Romans were resisted, still left in us a last hope of succour, inasmuch as being the most renowned nation of Britain, dwelling in the very heart of the country, and out of sight of the shores of the conquered, we could keep even our eyes unpolluted by the contagion of slavery. (Tacitus, The Agricola, 29)

The 17th-century poet Willaim Cowper uses an aged Druid prophet foretelling the destiny of Queen Boudicea and her people in his “Boadicea, an Ode”: “in Britain there were regions that Ceasar never knew … /


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Empire is on us bestowed, Shame and ruin wait for you” (Cowper 29, 43−44, 300). This poem shows that the plundered land was not appreciated by the conquerors. Cowper does not interpret Boudicea as a heroine in order to construct “Englishness.” For Fletcher, however, the warrior queen exhibits her courage in the face of romanization, while Catarach is presented as a valiant Iceni general who admires Roman civilization. A few sculptures and paintings represent Boudica (Frenee-Hutchins, 2009: 25) as a revel against Roman rule in contrast to Catarach, who embodies the civilizing power of Roman culture against the savage cult represented by Boudicea. In Tennyson she is also depicted as a bloodthirsty barbarian. In this paper I shall show how the Boudican Revolt can be seen both as part of the disempowerment of Brittany. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon notices this unbalanced social structure found in all colonial cities. He theorizes that the opposing forces between the settler and the native. Fletcher’s Bonduca is set against this background. Fletcher’s Bonduca does not exhibit her demeanor as a respected ruler. She is sneered at as an incompetent druid leader (II. iii). Her resistance against Roman conquest is seen, from the the beginning of the play, as based on emotional reasons: the “liberty they hold as dear as their lives” in Bonduca’s words. Fletcher presents Bonduca as coarse, hysterical, and on the verge of losing control. Compared to Tennyson’s, Fletcher’s Bonduca is emotional and lacks knowledge of war tactics. Her daughters see her as a harsh, unnatural mother, but she not respected by her fellow warriors either. Fletcher’s story not only exemplifies women’s subservient status. It also shows how this negative perception of a ruling female figure was used to weaken the unity of the Icenic society from inside. Fletcher’s Catarach, however, is an ambiguous figure who considers her tribe inferior to Roman civilization (II. iv). A supposedly anonymous letter from a native woman to a Roman soldier Julius, informs the Romans that the Iceni tribe “will be weakly guarded” (II. iv), hinting that an attack on the Icenic would be fruitful. Roman captain Petillius is quick to notice Bonduca’s and Catarach’s united forces, and seeks to ‘divide’ in order to ‘conquer.’ Catarach’s lack of faith in his own cultural codes begins to weaken them: Catarach: Where is your conquest then?/ Why your Alters crown’d with wreaths of flowers,/ The beasts with gilt horns waiting fore the fire?/ The holy Druides composing songs/ Of everlasting Life to Victory?/ Why are these Triumphs, Lady? For


I-Chun Wang / The Semiosis of Imperialism a May-game?/ For hunting the herd of wretched Romans?/ Is it no more? Shut up your temples…. (I. i)

When Bonduca denounces her cousin’s siding with the Romans, Catarach retorts with a discourse built upon sexual signifiers. His fight with a Roman soldier is described in terms that put emphasis on his “sword” and on becoming “a mistress” to a master (I. i.). A feminized Catarach whose social codes are subjugated to male Roman power, he praises the Romans for being more honorable and masculine than the Britons. When he surrenders, he insists that he yields not because of the blow, but because of the “courtesies” of the Romans (IV. Ii). However, in the historical records things were a little different. Cultural history is frequently set in a sign system embedded with codes of power and domestication of the other. In the historical situation at hand, many of these British territories became client to Rome as free allies, rebelling only when their tribute and levies were raised. (Collingwood and Myers, 1936; 88−92) At the start of the revolt Roman governor Plautius was not in the province, and two of his generals, Quintus Petillius Cerialis and Suetonius, led two thousand and ten thousand men respectively to confront Bonduca (Collingwood and Myers, 1936: 98−102). In Tacitus’s Annals Suetonius was regarded as a hero for suppressing the rebellion of the Iceni (Blair, 1963: 44). The image of Suetonius’s counterpart, Bonduca, was described as a leader whose army included “women dressed like Furies with unbound hair and carrying torches, and Druids raising their hands in blood-curdling prayers to heaven” (Roberts, 1988: 120). Nevertheless, it was Bonduca, with her united troops from different tribes, who had surprised the Romans and destroyed their settlement in Camulodunum (Lappenberg, 1845: 28). The historical Catarach (Caratacus) became a fugitive after the revolt. Unlike Tacitus, Fletcher places emphasis on the cultural differences between the Romans and the Iceni. Both, however, undermine the role of Queen Bonduca in different ways. Tacitus describes the Roman tactics and their professional training, better equipped for battle. He presents the troops led by Bonduca as feminine and with a lack of military strategy (Tacitus, 2006: 29.2), concluding that Roman victory resulted from the fact that “civilization over the dark forces of unreason and superstition, of ethnic and religious fanaticism” (Tacitus cited in Roberts 1988: 122), associated to female roles.


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Similarly, Fletcher uses Bonduca’s lack of military strategy and organization, tied to a perceived femininity, as the reasons for the uprising failure. Fletcher portrays Bonduca as a lamenting mother fighting for the honor of her children, a bearer of tradition, and a queen standing up for the liberty of her people. The queen is frequently reminded of what should be her position: “Home, and spinne woemen spinne, go sinne you trifle” says Catarach, who accuses her of “mandelling in mans affairs” (I. ii). Thus, in Fletcher, Bonduca becomes a symbol of respectable womanhood, defending her people and territory (MacDonald, 1988: 57). THE CULTURAL SEMIOSIS OF CONQUEST Jacob Pandian (2004) finds that the study of historical cartographies help understand how political powers are negotiated in border disputes (2004: 54). David Mattingly (2006) goes further in indicating that archeological excavations in Colchester suggest that there is “abundant evidence of Roman campaigning in Britain” that placed huge emphasis on the cultural aspects of conquest (2006: 88−89). Jacob Pandian (2004) finds, the semiotics of these historical cartographies help understand how political powers are negotiated in border disputes (2004: 54). David Mattingly (2006) goes further in indicating that archeological excavations in Colchester suggest that there is “abundant evidence of Roman campaigning in Britain” that placed huge emphasis on cultural aspects (2006: 88−89). In studying Michael Roberts’ (1988) comparison between the speeches of Suetonius and Bonduca to their troops, as narrated by Tacitus, it is interesting to notice the cultural strategies at work in order to achieve domination. While Bonduca’s speech is focused more on emotional and personal vengeance focusing on Roman abuse, the rape of her daughters, and the loss of their liberty. The speech by the Roman leader Suetonius focuses on the glories and virtues of battle, and offers a motivation for conquest which includes subduing the conquered to service or slavery (servos appellando, Tacitus 31.3 in Roberts, 1988: 126). The speech of Suetonius, therefore, manifests the nature and the reason for the conquest which is the exploitation of the defeated in order to gain access to the land as well as the people. When compared to Tacitus’s descriptions of Roman imperialism, Fletcher’s play manifests a different emphasis in that he focuses, as mentioned before, on the personal and cultural aspects. It seems that every


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character on the side of Iceni has a tragic flaw that would precipitate their failure. This is exemplified, for instance, in the figure of Hengo, Catarach’s young nephew, who naively chases after the Romans and dies of a shot through the back, while imagining his uncle to be loyal to the honor of the Iceni people. Further aggression to the role of women in the play comes from Catarach sneers at his nieces, Bondica’s daughters, who having been raped but the Romans seek revenge. Their uncle exclaims: “You should have kept your legs close then” (III. v.). Catarach obviously does not understand the difference between a client kingdom and a conquered province. His nieces, however, as doubly humiliated victims, value respect and liberty more than the material benefit they might receive from the Romans. The Romans, as portrayed by Fletcher, are arrogant and restless. They make mistakes and dishonor their reputation by raping the women, who are described as walking around naked, therefore inviting their assaults. Penius, a Roman commander, perceiving the cultural differences between the Romans and the Iceni, worries that his soldiers will eventually fall into the trap of the natives, who were “rude and naked” (II. i). On the battlefield the Romans show bravery. This perspective indicates Roman superiority. Catarach’s process of the mimicry of Roman civilization represents a prime example of the workings and impact of Rome’s cultural propaganda upon the regions to be colonized. The game of ‘divide and conquer’ is again visible in Penius’ words: No; but it is lost, because it must be won:/ The Britons must be victors. Who ere saw/ A troop of bloody Vultures hovering/ About a few corrupted carcasses,/ Let him behold the silly Romane host,/ Girded with millions of fierce Britain Swains./ With death as many as they have had hopes;/ And then go thither, he that loves his shame;/ I scorn my life, yet dare not lose my name. (II. i)

Catarach’s insistence on adopting Roman standards of warfare results in the Icenic losing their territory, as well as in many deaths. The Romanization of Catarach in Fletcher’s play shows “the result of a colonial indoctrination process” through which Native “men and women, denied an autonomous cultural identity, have been coerced into seeking legitimacy through the imitation of Western models” (Huggan, 1994: 643). For some authors, this psychological as well as sociological loss of empowerment may have resulted in the actual military defeat (see Clare Jowitt, 2003: 485). Early records such as S. Daniel’s (1618) Collection of the Historie of England regard queen Bonduca as a noble sovereign. Peter


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Wells (2001) provides an explanation for Catarach’s conduct by suggesting that cultural interactions between the Romans and the conquered tribes had began much earlier, thus setting the roots for later assimilation. (Wells, 2001: 64) In fact, trade between other native tribes was already under way before the conquest in 43 AD (see Sealy, 1997). Other authors (Haverfield, 1923) demonstrate that the Romans were skillful in fostering frontier defenses and civilization by means of language, material culture, lifestyle, and religion. CONCLUSIONS Queen Bonduca’s story, as recorded by Tactitus and retold by Fletcher, Colman, and Cowper, among others, exemplifies the tragedy of resistance in Roman Britain. Critics tend to see Fletcher’s drama as propaganda for Britain’s own expansion during the 17th century. By presenting several semiotic layers of cultural codes in the portraits of characters and their actions, the play illustrates the process of domestication of the other, as well as the instrumental use of female figures for territorial expansion. References Aldhouse-Green, Miranda Jane. Boudica Britannia: Rebel, War-leader and Queen. Edinburg: Pearson, 2006. Allen, D. F. “The Coins of Iceni.” Britannia. 1 (1970): 1−33. Bede, the Venerable. The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. Ed. J. A. Giles. London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd, 1963. Blair, Peter Hunter. Roman Britain and Early England 55 B.C.-A.D. 871. New York: Norton, 1963. Boece, Hector. The Chronicles of Scotland. 1522. Eds. R. W. Chambers, and E. C. Batho. Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 1938−41. Caesar, Julius. The Conquest of Gaul. Ed. W. A. MacDevitt. New York: Digireads, 2012. Coates, Richard. “A New Explanation of the Name of London.” Transactions of the Philological Society 96.2 (1998): 203−229. Collingwood, Robin George, and J. N. L. Myers. Roman Britain and English Settlement. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1936. Cowper, William. “Boadicea, an Ode.” The Complete Works of William Cowper. Ed. S. Milford. London: Henry Frowde, 1905. Daniel, S. The Collection of the Historie of England. London: Nicholas Okes, 1618. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Arrington. New York: Grove P, 1966.


I-Chun Wang / The Semiosis of Imperialism Fletcher, John, and Francis Baumont. Bonduca or the British Heroine, a Tragedy. London, 1647. Frenee-Hutchins, Samantha. The Cultural and Ideological Significance of Representations of Boudica during the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I. PhD Diss. Exeter: U of Exeter and U d’Orléans, 2009. Haverfield, F. The Romanization of Roman Britain. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1923. Holinshed, Raphael. Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. London: Richard Taylor, 1808. Huggan, Graham. “A Tale of Two Arrots: Walcott, Rhys, and the Uses of Colonial Mimicry.” Contemporary Literature 35.4 (Winter 1994): 643−660. Jowitt, Clare. “Colonialism, Politics and Romanization in John Fletcher’s Bonduca.” Studies in English Literature 43.2 (2003): 475−494. Knowles, Dom David. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1963. Lambert, B. History and Survey of London and Its Environs from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. London: Hughes, 1809. Lappenberg, Johann Martin. A History of England under the Anglo-Saxon Kings. London: John Murray, 1845. MacDonald, Sharon. “Boadicea: Warrior, Mother and Myth.” Image of Women in Peace and War: Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspectives. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1988. 40−61. Mikalachki, Jodi. The Legacy of Boadicea: Gender and Nation in Early Modern England. New York: Routledge, 1998. Mattingly, David. An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire. New York: Penguin, 2006. Roberts, Michael. “The Revolt of Boudicca (Tacitus, Annals 14.29-39) and the Assertion of Libertas in Neronian Rome.” The American Journal of Philology 109.1 (Spring 1988): 118−132. Schwebel, Stephen M. “What Weight to Conquest?” The American Journal of International Law 64.2 (1970): 344−347. Skene, William Forbes. The Highlanders of Scotland: Their Origin, History and Antiquities with a Sketch of their Manners and Customs. London: John Murray, 1836. Tacitus, Publius Cornelius. The Annals of Imperial Rome. Trans. Michael Grant. London: The Folio Society, 2006. Tacitus, Publius Cornelius. The Agricola and the Germania. Trans. S. A. Handford. London: Penguin, 1970. Tennyson, Alfred. “Boadicea.” Poems of Alfred Tennyson. Boston: J. E. Tilten, 1865. 629−632. Watts, Dorothy. Religion in Late Roman Britain: Forces of Change. London: Routledge, 1998. Wells, Peter S. The Barbarians Speak. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.


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The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures: On Traveling, Toilets, and Belonging Massimo LEONE

Dipartimento di Filosofia, Università di Torino Via Sant’Ottavio 20 10124 Torino Italy [email protected] Abstract. Tourism industry is increasingly stripping traveling of one of its most fundamental anthropological and existential values: its being a laboratory in which travelers can temporarily experience the disruption of their regime of sedentary belonging, protected by a plan of return. According to this perspective, non-touristy traveling is one of the best ways to test the limits of one’s tolerance to cultural diversity and acknowledge, as a consequence, the identity of one’s cultural and existential ‘home.’ Yet, modern and contemporary travelogues mostly extol the traveler’s heroic capacity to overcome the limits of tolerance. Claiming that such emphasis stems from the colonial desire to domesticate and assimilate the world and its diversity, the article proposes to subvert this logic and to replace panoramic travelogues, dominated by the will power of subjects, with prosopopoeic travelogues, that tell the stories of how the things of the world, relics of centuries of civilization, reject travelers and their desire of domestication and conquest. As an example of this subversion, the article proposes a semiotic exploration of toilets, their variety, and their ‘cultural resistance.’ Keywords: travel, tourism, travel literature, cultural colonialism, toilets, semiotics

INTRODUCTION The present article claims that in most post-modern societies the experience of traveling is constructed in such a way as to prevent travelers from achieving the most important existential awareness traveling can offer: not the feeling of how beautiful traveling is – a feeling that is unceasingly sold and bought in the contemporary market of tourism – but the opposite feeling of how ugly traveling is. Indeed, as the present article seeks to make it clear, it is only by coming to terms with the intensity of transition entailed by a journey that travelers understand the meaning of frontiers, of crossing them, of nostalgia for a lost regime of sedentary belonging (Leone, forthcoming), and of despair in the situation of those who, like migrants, travel without the certainty of return. On the contrary, the present-day tourist industry downplays the intensity of transition


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implied by traveling while exalting its extension of distance, with the consequence that flocks of tourists currently travel from the economically most advanced societies of the world to the most disenfranchised ones without ever losing, and therefore without ever understanding, the feeling of ‘being at home.’ In order to re-appropriate the formative experience of traveling, which is essentially an experience of temporary alienation, travel discourse should switch from the triumphing tale of a domineering traveler – relic and perhaps prosecution of the war imperialistic tale – to the humbling tale of nostalgia. There is only one way to perform such switch: passing from a travelogue of acting protagonists to one of passive subjects, voicing the tale of how they are rejected by the things of an alien land. The article proposes both a case-study and a tale of this sort, exploring the ways in which ‘Western’ travelers can become aware of the rigid limits of their area of belonging by clashing against a very quotidian traveling experience: the intolerability of other cultures’ modalities of bodily waste disposal.1 ON HOW DISCOMFORTING TRAVELING IS As it was announced in the summary, the present article is meant to be an inchoate reflection on the traveling body. Most narrative and academic literature on traveling has a predilection for the tale and/or the study of a more or less conscious traveling mind.2 When the traveler’s body enters the scene of writing, it remains behind the veil of the traveler’s mind. For instance, in The Road to Oxiana – a sort of archetype of late modern travel literature – Robert Byron describes his dysentery in epic terms, but offers an account of his bowels that is sifted, nonetheless, through the traveler’s desire: dysentery becomes a mere obstacle to the attainment of the destination, and not an extraordinary occasion to talk about what befalls the traveling body, independently from the more or less conscious mental agency of the traveler (Byron; on Byron’s narrative style, Knox). The ‘Cartesian’ conception of travel professes that I am a more or less alert mind moving a more or less subjugated body. A eulogy of decision and planning stems from this conception: the day on which I decided to leave, the destination that I planned to reach, the path that I meant to take. Also the mystics of hazard – so common in the contemporary imaginaire of travel that it has turned into the most trivial cliché – would be


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meaningless without its contrast with this logic of programming: I met the Imponderable only because chance, whatever it is, upset my traveling plans. To what extent this dialectics between planning and unforeseen events owes its characteristics to the culture of war, and in what measure modern travel looks like a small-scale military campaign, are issues that would deserve further reflection. The present section, however, is meant to take a different path (as it is evident, also the rhetoric of academic discourse does not escape the metaphors of military and travel planning). For each journey there is a secret story – secret because rarely told. It is a story that remains hidden in the interstices of the official one. In the official story, travelers’ minds receive through their senses the spectacle of a different world, which unfolds before them thanks to the endeavor of a journey. That is essentially a panoramic narrative: the narrative of a subject’s mind that gathers in itself the impressions of traveling and re-elaborates them into a subjective tale. In a journey’s secret story, instead, the protagonist is not a subject’s mind that receives the diversity of an explored world, but the world’s resistance to be received. It is essentially a prosopopoeic narrative: the tale of a traveling body knocking against a reality that rejects it. The reason why this story has been rarely told should be already quite clear: whereas the panoramic narrative extols the triumph of a subject’s mind that penetrates into an Otherness – most travel literature consists in nothing but this encomium of penetration and adaptation –, the secret story of a journey is essentially a depressive tale: despite all efforts, the Otherness of the world rejects the subject’s body; if the body could autonomously express its own judgment, it would immediately declare that traveling is insane, and that there is no better decision than that of going back home. Hence, the story of the traveling body is a secret one, little told, because it is not the triumphing tale of a mind that imagines reality and acts upon it; it is, on the contrary, the nostalgic tale of a body that does not imagine reality but is, in a certain sense, imagined by it, a body that does not act upon reality but is acted upon by it. It is, to say it in the terms of generative semiotics, a tale of passion more than a tale of action. Hence, how is it possible to voice this secret story? And, above all, why is it necessary to voice it? Certainly, it is not a story that could be told through the genre of lamentation. For instance, Lévi-Strauss’s sores in Tristes tropiques are legendary insofar as they signal his body’s incapacity


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to adapt to pre-modern transportation means. Yet, the description of these sores is nonetheless instrumental to the epic of the traveler’s mind: despite suffering, Lévi-Strauss stoically moves toward the Unknown. The story of the traveling body should focus, instead, not on the tale of the sores but on the alternative tale of the saddle that provokes them; it should express the hardness of the saddle, its pride, its impenetrability, and its hostility. The saddle should be represented as the anti-subject of Lévi-Strauss and his sores as the passion caused by this anti-subject’s action. The sores should turn into the expression of a pre-modernity that withstands being explored by a modern subject. This is the point of view that should be adopted by a tale of the traveling body: not that of the traveler’s mind adapting to the Otherness of things, moved by the subject’s unstoppable desire to conquer, but the point of view of things, of their refusing this adaptation, of their declaring the defeat of travelers, or at least the inanity of their efforts. “Sunt lacrimae rerum” should be the motto of those who undertake narrating the tale of the traveling body. The general aim of such an inversion of perspective is evident. Most narrative and academic literature on traveling pursues, more or less consciously, the objective of ‘domesticating’ the world. Travelers moves across space, comes across worlds that are very different from their own, string their tale together around the surprise of this encounter, exalt the human diversity, but eventually unceasingly re-propose a eulogy of adjustment: if one really wishes so, and if one has the intelligence to do it, one can turn the world into one’s own home. The ultimate testimony to this domestication (in the etymological sense of the term) is writing: it is through writing that travelers attest not only their survival to the world and its adversities but also the embracing of all such adversities in a single subjectivity. This version of the travelogue is fascinating and in line with the episteme of post-modernity – the thriving of this genre of literature confirms it – but also deeply hypocrite as well as guilty. The hypocrisy of travelogue consists in neglecting an essential element of every traveler’s experience: the idea that one travels in order to savor the taste of different cultures is a banality that even Lonely Planet marketing experts no longer promote. On the contrary, the Homeric conception of travel is anthropologically more meaningful and sincere: one travels in order to be nauseated by traveling, to accumulate nostalgia, and


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to confirm the conviction that the world is an alien land and that one cannot be at ease if not ‘at home.’ One travels because it is only through traveling that one understands what this ‘home’ is. ‘Home’ is not the place from which one leaves, but that to which one returns. And what is, after all, this place to which one returns if not the mirror-like image of all that which in traveling has been a cause of suffering? Of that which in alien lands has rejected us and that, on the contrary, will welcome us ‘home’ (or, at least, such is our illusion)? The greatest existential contribution of traveling does not consist in the taste but in the distaste of Otherness. We travel in order to test the limits of our capacity of adaptation because it is exactly these limits that outline our ‘home’: I do not tolerate, therefore I am. And the measure of this intolerance, which defines us in a fundamental way, manifests itself – for those who are not blindfolded by the hypocritical commerce of travel – precisely through the body. It is, indeed, in the traveling body and the reactions that the conscious mental agency of travelers can control the least, that the limits of their capacity of adaptation are inscribed. Overcoming these limits is possible through an effort of will. We can bend our body to the needs of travel. In contemporary travel literature, there is no text that does not include the exaltation of this stoic and agonistic attitude. However, extolling such effort of adaptation, such tension toward stretching the limits of one’s tolerance, without admitting the existence of these limits, would be not only hypocritical but also meaningless. Why, indeed, should I take pleasure – a subtly masochistic pleasure, like that of fakirs – from increasing my tolerance to distaste if not in order to exactly understand what I cannot tolerate and what, in other terms, the conditions are in which I could not live? I am what I do not tolerate because I am that to which I could not renounce. Traveling is, after all, nothing but an existential laboratory where to understand, protected by a plan of return, what is indispensable in my culture. The indispensable something, which we discover through the distaste of traveling, is our ‘home.’ A politically correct conception of travel, which disregards its fundamental aspect of identity construction – besides the very well known and commercially fruitful aspect of the exploration of Otherness –, would be, as it was pointed out earlier, not only hypocritical but also guilty. The panoramic logic, indeed, according to which there are no limits to the


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traveling subject’s capacity to absorb and distill the diversity of the world, is essentially a domineering logic, which, as it was pointed out earlier, is probably inextricable from that of the imperialistic war tale. Claiming one’s infinite adaptability to Otherness – an adaptability without distaste – and more or less explicitly considering it as an essential feature of the human anthropology could appear, at first glance, as standings of extraordinary ecumenism: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.” But the other side of the coin is that if I am able to adapt to whatever Otherness, it is also because whatever Otherness, including mine, is adaptable; it can befit my existential and narrative project of travel. There is nothing incommensurable in the world, nothing deeply intolerable and distasteful; as it was said earlier, that could seem like an expression of extraordinary tolerance. However, denying the incommensurability of one’s own identity, affirming one’s own capacity of tolerating everything, implicitly also means denying the incommensurability of the others’ identity, and somehow obliging them to tolerate everything. When I say: “you, Other whom I come across while traveling, are, after all, like me,” I am implicitly expropriating Others of their identity; I am domesticating them. On the contrary, if travelers really consider that nothing in humanity is extraneous to them, they should include in this humanity also the attachment to one’s form of life as well as the distaste for the Others’ forms of life and the consequent incapacity to adapt. The fairy-tale of the cosmopolitan traveler is guilty because it neglects an element that is essential for understanding contemporary societies: the masochistic pleasure that travelers experience in testing the limits of their intolerance becomes an unbearable torture when it is deprived of the protective net of its temporariness, which essentially is an expression of the traveler’s mental and subjective agency. I travel; I revel in my capacity of adaptation, but while being well assured that if I wish so I could turn on my heel and go back ‘home’. Traveling should teach young people – those who can afford it – not “how beautiful traveling is” – according to an ideology that is not only tautological but also fed by the logic of tourism marketing –, but exactly the opposite: “how ugly traveling is”; how uncomfortable is; how unbearable. How much one is better ‘at home.’ Or, better, how traveling would be unbearable had one not the certainty of return. “Tu proverai sì come sa di sale/ lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle/ lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’altrui scale,”3 as Dante said.


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When in April 2010 a cloud of volcanic ashes prevented intercontinental travelers from landing in London, turning several airports of the planet into bivouacs, journalists reporting from these airports declared their common impression: “it looks like a refugee camp.” Indeed, if there is something traveling should teach is exactly that: the intolerability of the human condition of those who travel with the awareness that they will not be able to return, of those for whom adapting is not an option but an obligation, of those who discover, in an alien land, the exact boundaries of both their distaste for the Others and the Others’ distaste for them but cannot escape either. Traveling should have this purpose (and such was essentially the purpose of traveling in several ancient cultures before the rise of tourism, that is, a version of traveling where the dimension of cyclical routine and, therefore, the certainty of return are emphasized): learning the intolerability of uprooting and sharpening one’s solidarity with those who suffer from it. A recent advertising campaign for a famous cruise company showed a couple at home bursting into tears at the memory of a past vacation. In fact, exactly the opposite should occur: nostalgia should take over the traveler during the journey’s most difficult moments, those in which the body says “enough” and longs for returning; it is at the thought of ‘home’ that the traveler should burst into tears. This advertisement is nothing but a symptom of the way in which the industry of tourism has turned traveling into a stupefying substance through which the contemporary ‘escapism’ is fed (Roche, and Sie(n)), into a vicious circle where traveling does not result in rediscovering one’s home but in clouding the feeling of not having one. In order to recuperate the existential value of traveling, the contemporary imaginaire should be nourished with different narratives, which instead of featuring the domesticating subject of the imperialistic war travel or the domesticated subject of the consumeristic tourism travel, highlights the resistance of the world to the traveler’s body: the unavailability of ‘things’ to become the traveling subject’s ‘objects’ and their turning, instead, into an obstacle to the tourist’s will of penetration, adaptation, and control. Things that make a journey intolerable: that should be the theme of a new travel literature. The panoramic narrative should be paralleled by a prosopopoeic narrative, where things become protagonists in their incommensurable Otherness.


Massimo Leone / The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures

As it was said before, these narratives will have to be about the body, especially about its refusal to accomplish even the most essential biological functions in an alien land: “When my body, although hungry, refused to eat or drink”; “when my body, although tired, refused to fall asleep”; “when my body started to suffer from vertigos”; “about unbearable cold and warmth”; “on being uncomfortable”; “on the disappearance of sexual drive”; etc. These are indeed the occasions – when the body is supposed to almost spontaneously act in the world but refuses to do so, or ‘is jammed,’ or paralyzed by hesitation –, that reveal the existential nature of travel, its capacity of making us discover how the shadow of our ‘home’ conditions us in our apparently most elementary behaviors and perhaps especially in those. These new narratives must be about the body but not from the point of view of the body. Narratives from the point of view of the body inevitably adopt the perspective of a subject, and one would therefore go back to the epic of Robert Byron’s dysentery. On the contrary, narratives about the traveling body should be from the point of view of things, of alien things that prevail over the body and refuse to be domesticated, absorbed, and controlled. These new narratives must be tales of disgusting food, uncomfortable couches, windows without curtains, cities without squares, apartments without heating, streets without sidewalks, alcoves without privacy, etc. They must be tales of absences, or else of fastidious presences, but they must be, nevertheless, prosopopoeias, narratives that reveal, through the denial of things, the failure of the traveler’s grappling with Otherness. What matters, nevertheless, is not the sad anecdote of food we cannot eat, of beds where we cannot sleep, of streets that give us vertigos, etc, but the way in which this food, these beds, and these streets are, in reality, signs of something much more general and abstract. In order for the failure of our body, in its contact with an alien reality, to be intelligible to us, it is necessary that we develop an interpretation of this reality, that we compare it with that of our ‘home,’ that we single out, for instance, the fulcrum of the difference between ‘our’ food and the food that disgusts us. This operation is indispensable not only for understanding the limits of our tolerance but also, according to the typical mirror-like logic of structuralism, for seizing the features of ‘our’ identity. What has to be programmatically pursued is the construction of a differential taxonomy in which a relation between subjects and things is not


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reduced to universal principles, but it is interpreted, instead, as a possibility within a matrix of patterns. So as to exemplify the theoretical contents expressed in the first part of this section, the second part will propose a travel prosopopoeia from a semiotic viewpoint: a tour of the world from toilet to toilet. Here the term ‘toilet’ will generically designate, unless specifically indicated, the place devoted to the elimination of corporal waste. THE STATE OF THE ART The semiotic reflection on the places and practices of ‘travel scatology’ must not develop from scratch, but must carve out a niche for itself with reference to the abundant literature on the topic. Historical studies on the subject are numerous, although not always of high academic standard.One of the first attempts to write a history of toilets is Wright; Dobell, Horan, and Monestier propose a social history of toilets, although with a narrative more than academic style; one of the best scientific works on the subject is Inglis; Furrer carries on a cultural history of ‘excrementitious’ places; Silguya scatological history from the Middle Ages until nowadays; Cagliano focuses on the Italian context in particular; an excellent archaeological and historical study of places for defecation in ancient Rome is Hobson, which focuses mostly on Pompeii (where, as it is known, some specimens of Roman latrinae and foricae are still visible); Juuti and Wallenius concentrate on the Finnish contest; Prignano on Latin America, again with narrative more than academic style; for a history of the technology of toilets, to be consulted is Lehr, Keeley, and Lehr (vol. 1, chap. 4: “Waste Water Treatement”). From the point of view described above, these historical studies are important mostly because they point out that the resistance things put up to the traveler’s body can be related to complex historical processes, which have shaped throughout centuries – sometimes throughout millennia – the ways in which a group of individuals handles the issue of corporal waste. This is true not only for ‘excrementitious’ places and practices but for the experience of traveling in general: when an alien land repels the traveler with its disgusting food, uncomfortable couches, ‘poisonous’ drugs, etc., in reality what repulses the traveler are not only these things as such but the centuries of cultural history that they embody: in the dimensions


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of a toilet, in the shape of a WC, in the disposition of water sources, etc. the traveler comes across the quintessential output of centuries of history. No discipline more than cultural anthropology has undertaken the task of understanding the variety of ‘scatological cultures’, although the studies devoted to the subject by this discipline are thus far relatively few considering the centrality it holds in the experience of every human being. At least in the twentieth century, one of the main steps toward the establishment of an ‘anthropology of toilets’ is represented by the activity of Geoffrey Gorer, Ruth Benedict, John Embree, and other anthropologists in the ‘Foreign Morale Analysis Division’ [FMAD], established during the Second World War as part of the ‘United States Office of War Information.’ In 1942, the British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer (1905−85) wrote for the FMAD an essay entitled Japanese Character Structure, where he argued that the ‘toilet training’ of Japanese children was determinant in shaping their adult character. This thesis, proposed by someone who had never visited Japan, was subsequently harshly criticized (for a survey, Janssens) but was nevertheless instrumental in introducing the subject of toilets in the international anthropological debate. Even nowadays, Japan produces the highest number of academic essays on this topic, also in relation to a flourishing industry of sanitary fixtures (cfr the cultural activities sponsored by TOTO). Sabbath and Hall propose an anthropological exploration of the taboo of defecation; Cummings carries on a comparative anthropology of toilet cultures; Weinberg and Williams frame the ‘eliminative behaviors’ – an expression used by much English literature on the subject in the anthropology of deviance; Praeger dwells on US faecal culture; Shannonon the issues related to the gender dimension of public toilets, especially as regards transgender users; the most recent study, and perhaps also the best one, on the ‘gender’ of ‘excrementitious’ places and practices is Gershenson and Pensen; one of the most recent contributions on a general anthropology of public toilets is the excellent collective volume Molotch and Noren. Several coffee-table books on the argument also exist, but have very little academic relevance. Some of them, though, offer a rich photographic documentation, like Lambton (which focuses mostly on the UK), Eveleigh, and Gregory and James (with more an international viewpoint). More relevantly, post-colonial studies on toilets include Mbembe, Anderson (1995) and (2010), and


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Esty; to be consulted is also the special issue 3, 2 of the International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. One must learn from these studies, compare them with one’s anecdotic experience of the world, and seek to increase their explanatory potential by inserting them in a new theoretical, methodological, and analytical framework. Semiotics too, has already produced several studies on the subject of toilets (for a recent survey, cfr Gramigna Forthcoming). One of the first structural studies on the design of toilets is Kira, still interesting; the essay of Francesco Marsciani on the ethno-semiotics of public toilets is already a classic; so are Kim Sung-do’s analysis on ‘toilet manuals’ in Korean Buddhism and Manar Hammad’s insights on the spatial path predisposed by the Japanese bath (but centered mostly on the ritual bath and not on ‘excrementitious’ practices). More or less semiotic observations on latrinalia, that is, what people write and draw in public toilets, are numerous too.Also the many anthropological studies on this theme often adopt a more or less explicitly semiotic perspective, like Butler, which conducts a study of the latrinalia of the University of Melbourne; Hands and Hands is a less academic survey on the same topic. There is no lack either of more specific essays, mostly confined in blogs or other extemporary publications with scarce academic tenor: on the semiotics of urination postures (Boles) – to be compared with the cultural analysis of ‘street urinating’ proposed by the fine Italian intellectual Claudio Magris –;on that of the signs that indicate the gender of toilets (Sensemaya), etc. However, the most famous attempt to elaborate a ‘cultural semiotics’ of toilets is the one by philosopher Slavoj Žižek. In his review (for the London Review of Books) of a book by Timothy Garton Ash (Free World: Why a Crisis of the West Reveals the Opportunity of Our Time), Žižek recalls a famous sequence of Buñuel’s movie The Phantom of Liberty (1974), a sequence in which alimentary and ‘excrementitious’ practices are inverted:4 people defecate around a table, conversing amiably, whereas when they want to eat something they slip away into a private closet. Drawing inspiration from this sequence, Žižek elaborates a triangle of ‘excrementitious’ cultures, a triangle that is meant to parallel and complement the one elaborated by Lévi-Strauss about food cultures (‘the cooked, the raw, and the rotten’). According to Žižek’s cultural taxonomy, in a traditional German WC, the hole in which excrements – after flushing – disappear is situated in


Massimo Leone / The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures

the front, so that excrements do not fall in it immediately but lie first on the ceramic layer above, exposed to smelling, inspecting, and possible detecting of traces of any disease.5 In a traditional French WC, instead, the hole is situated in the back, where excrements are supposed to disappear as soon as possible. Finally, the US or Anglo WC looks like a synthesis of the first two, like a mediation between these two opposites: the toilet bowl is full of water, so that excrements float in it, visible but without being completely open to inspection. Žižek then quotes a famous passage of Erica Jong’s book Fear of Flying (1973), a passage where the author declares that German toilets are the key to the horrors of the Third Reich, and that individuals able to build toilets like the German ones are capable of anything. Žižek’s analysis concludes by an attempt to link the semiotics of WCs to that of cultures: starting from Hegel, the geographical triad Germany-France-England has been related to three different existential expressions: reflexive precision (Germany), revolutionary urgency (France), and utilitarian pragmatism (England). German conservatism, French revolutionary radicalism, and British liberalism represent the same triad at the level of political systems, whereas the prominence of metaphysics and poetry (Germany), politics (France), and economics (England) represent it at the level of the public sphere. According to Žižek, the comparative analysis of toilets allows the scholar not only to observe the effects of this trichotomy in the intimate dimension, but also to identify its effects in the various attitudes that such trichotomy produces in relation to the idea of ‘excrementitious’ excess: ambiguous contemplative fascination (Germany); desire to get rid of it as soon as possible (France); and pragmatic decision to treat it like an ordinary matter and to dispose of it in the most appropriate manner (UK). According to Žižek, an inspection of WCs would allow the scholar of contemporary cultures to understand that it is not true that we live in a post-ideological world. Žižek’s pseudo-semiotic analysis is marred by thoughtless reference to its philosophical-psychoanalytical background, conspicuous propensity for stereotypes, and a taste for boutades. However, if the analysis is rough, the idea underlying it is worthy of consideration: ‘excrementitious’ places and practices are elements that a semiotics of culture can put into a series, analyze through the elaboration of a more or less articulated differential taxonomy, and most importantly, seek to couple with other tax-


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ono omies in th he attemp pt to turnn these huumble placces and s cabrous pracp nd its culttures. ticess into a keey for the intelligibiility of thee world an TAXONO T OMIC AT TTEMPTS Herre followss a map of o ‘worldd toiletry patterns’ (Fig. 1). This map of worrld toilet practices p was prodduced by the Toto Toilet C Company; it is parttially reprroduced here h for scientific purposess only. A As a piece of in Japan,, it would require a specific analcom mmercial research, r generated g a ysis.. Francescca Bray in ncludes thhe map on n her web bsite, but iit is, in faact, a ‘quo ote’ from another article, bby Allen Chun. C Ch hun subseequently pubp lisheed his anaalysis of the t map iin a speciial issue of o Postcolonnial Studiees on toileet culturess.

Fig. 1. World to oiletry pattterns acccording to Franciscaa Bray T The taxonomy divid des the ‘eexcrementitious syn ntagm’ innto three fundam mental elem ments: “sstyle,” whhich identtifies the body poositions att the mom ment of defecation d n; “how tto wipe,” which in ndicates teechniquess for the subsequeent cleanin ng of thee body; an nd “treatm ment of w waste,” which w regaards the processes of o bodily waste’s disposal. d To T each ellement off this synttagm corrresponds, accordingg to a loggic that iss quite cloose to thaat of structuralism,, a paradiigm. Hencce, for instance, “sstyle” inclludes two o opposiite possibilities: “sittting dow wn” and “ssquatting down”; ““how to wipe” w incluudes five possibilitiies: “papeer,” “water,” “pebble,” “ropee,” “leaf,”” and “sprraying”; finally, fi “trreatment oof waste”” includess six posssibilities: “bait “


Massimo Leone / The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures

of animals,” “bait of fish,” “burying,” “compost,” “sewerage,” and “exposure.”6 It is immediately clear that these paradigmatic options are not structured in a perfectly exclusive matrix as they can co-occur in certain common ‘excrementitious’ practices of the planet.7 Francesca Bray’s map also visualizes the way in which various countries tend to construct their own ‘excrementitious syntagms.’ In Turkey, for instance, the map shows a co-presence of “sitting down” and “squatting down”, combined with “water” and “sewerage.” The map signals also, through suitable graphic patterns, the religious demography of the planet, perhaps so as to suggest that there is a connection – to be explored yet by anthropologists and other scholars – between ‘excrementitious syntagms’ and religious ideologies. From the point of view of semiotics, this taxonomy and the diagram that visualizes it are interesting but too simplistic. A much more articulated map is needed to fully understand the meaning of ‘excrementitious’ places and practices and relate it to that of other dimensions characterizing the various cultures. One should start from the assumptions that, on the one hand, the human body cannot avoid producing waste – which from a certain point of view is nothing but an expression of the biological entropy generated by life –; on the other hand, that this production is never purely biological; or rather, that there is nothing in the biological mechanism of the human body that is not inextricably intertwined with its functioning as semiotic interface with the world, permanently immersed in a continuously changing web of meaning and textuality. Nothing in the alimentary-digestive process is perfectly ‘natural,’ but many anthropologists, and perhaps also several semioticians, have often assumed that only those sections of such process directly exposed to the external reality (the preparation of food, its consumption, the elimination of bodily waste, etc) are under the influence of cultures. However, the human body features porous thresholds, and its nature of semiotic interface with the world manifests itself also in its internal functioning, invisible to the observation of anthropologists and semioticians. Let us consider, for instance, to what extent the meaning we come across in the world thanks to our unceasing – although often unconscious – semiotic activity influences the speed with which we chew, the production of saliva, the ease with which we swallow, the production of gastric juice, the efficacy of digestive movements, etc. Let us consider also how ‘semiotic’


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the very beginning of the ‘excrementitious syntagm’ is (if it can ever be isolated from the whole alimentary-digestive process), that is, the stimulus, the initial impulse;and to what extent the quotidian interpretation of our Umwelt, – according to Von Uexküll’s acceptation of this term –, can either accelerate or slow down the elimination of the waste we produce. For instance, when we are extremely afraid we empty our bowels immediately without even the possibility of a conscious control. One could argue: this is an instinctive and therefore very little semiotic mechanism, selected by the evolution of the species as extreme mechanism of defense; if I can neither flee nor fight, at least I make myself extremely undesirable for my predator, covering myself with my own excrements.Yet, this apparently instinctual mechanism too can turn into a cultural pattern, for instance, when human beings cover themselves with excrements or other nauseating substances in order to repel the enemy. The incipit of Naipaul’s A Bend in the Rivercontains a narrative evocation of this strategy. However, if this defense mechanism is highly instinctive and effective from the evolutionary point of view exactly insofar as it is instinctive, the elaboration of the meaning of fear is not instinctive at all. Again, it is through functioning as semiotic interfaces with the world, producing the thread of meaning and the web of textuality, and using this web to link ourselves with our Umwelt that we are able to feel afraid and therefore trigger the instinctive mechanisms of panic. Also in conditions of extreme danger, some people can block these mechanisms; in a certain sense, they can choose not be afraid or at least not to let fear handle their body as it pleases. At the opposite extreme, let us consider also what Freud wrote on the pre-genital pleasure of retaining one’s own excrements not only for the nervous stimulation that it provokes but also for the unconscious sense of production and therefore fullness linked with this retention. What is ‘natural’ in this sense of accumulation, possession, and retention? Semiotically speaking, nothing. What is mechanically biological in the behavior of those who cannot get rid of their bodily waste, even while suffering from it? Of course, a chemical compound can force the body to empty itself in a few minutes, but this chemical necessity proves exactly the non-chemical but semiotic nature of the human body’s functioning: I need a drug because the meaning that I produce through my interaction with the world has such a grip over my body that it even manages to block its apparently more ‘mechanical’ functions.


Massimo Leone / The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures

If the impact of meaning, and therefore, culture on my body, or rather, on the functioning of my body as the interface made meaningful by culture, is evident even in the development of peristalsis, let us imagine what its influence can be on ‘excrementitious’ places and practices: when and where I eliminate my bodily waste, in what conditions of solitude, in what spaces, in what places, at what times, with what movements of the body, according to what more or less gender logics, with what sanitation techniques and disposal of waste, etc.. Each of the elements of this ‘enlarged “excrementitious” syntagm’ implies a choice within a paradigm of possibilities, and therefore involves a dynamic that is similar to that of the construction of a text starting from the virtual possibilities of a language. Moreover, each of these ‘linguistic’ choices is directly or indirectly shaped by a culture, according to dynamics that have analogous – and homologous – impact on other dimensions of life. It is in this sense that Žižek’s (pre-) semiotic analysis must be interpreted: who can deny that the same cultural mechanism simultaneously shapes the hermeneutic style of a culture and its relation with bodily waste? However, the ‘excrementitious’ style to which, influenced by a certain culture, we adhere is mostly unintelligible to us. Since early childhood, we have absorbed its elements and often we are not even aware of the existence of alternatives. The obstinacy with which, normally with no reflection whatsoever, we follow this routine day by day would deserve an in-depth analysis. In almost every society, only small children, ‘fools’, ‘perverse’ people, or artists dare modify, sometimes in a radical way, the ‘excrementitious’ style they have inherited from a family, a society, a culture, and a historical époque. As if the management of bodily waste needed an iron cultural control with very little space for idiosyncrasies. Whereas cultures generally attribute a taste for variety, novelty, and individual creativity to the elaboration of food and to the modalities of its ingestion – and increasingly so especially in late- or post-modern societies –, at the other end of the digestive process human beings adopt a rigidly codified habit, learned in early childhood and kept throughout life. Perhaps, reflection on the routines that preside over the elimination of bodily waste must involve a meditation on the ways in which this waste represents the most tangible and quotidian expression of the principle of death that we harbor in our bodies, of the principle that sooner or later will transform our entire body into waste.8


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At the risk of perpetuating a cliché, it is necessary to underline that it is only through contact with different cultures, and therefore in particular through traveling, that we become aware of the existence of these routines, that the ‘excrementitious’ style to which we adhere is deeply different from those we come across in other societies. It is through traveling – and here we return to the initial point of our reflection – that we realize how a certain culture writes its laws even in the depths of our body, even in our apparently most ‘private’ behaviors. It is through traveling that we become aware of the ‘inalienability’ of our routines, of the identity limits with which a culture – from the micro-culture of a family to the macro-culture of a whole society – circumscribes our tolerance, making all the other routines, and the cultures that have generated them, insufferable to us and our traveling bodies. WASTE AND BELONGING This article represents only an initial and quite subjective and impressionistic step toward the elaboration of a semiotics of ‘excrementitious’ cultures. The next step, a huge step, must consist in linking this simple taxonomy of ‘excrementitious’ syntagms and paradigms with a causal explanation: why does a traveler with my cultural identity finds it so unbearable to renounce his own sense of place, solitude, invisibility, privacy, posture, coproscopy, cleaning, and disposal? What cultural and historical forces are behind this intolerance of mine? What is, instead, behind the ‘excrementitious’ costumes that I cannot accept? In the next decades, it will be difficult to underestimate the relevance of the way in which cultures influence the management of bodily waste. The more and more frequent crises of advanced economies manifest themselves also as crises of the modalities with which the role of human beings as producers of waste is removed and ignored. The experience of traveling allows one to re-appropriate a conception of waste as something that, despite the cosmetics of modern toilets, inexorably accompanies human existence.9 Furthermore, it allows one to understand that the economic disparities characterizing the planet express themselves also as disparities concerning the sense of waste: only the economically most advanced societies can afford the illusion of living in a world where the excrements that we produce while we live – this little quotidian memento mori – are immediately cast away from the senses in a mysterious elsewhere.


Massimo Leone / The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures

The planet’s intensifying cultural globalization and demographic growth will push us to wonder how sustainable and, most importantly, how democratic our ‘excrementitious’ styles are. How many can afford cultivating the aseptic sense of waste characterizing, in various ways, most advanced economies? Reflection on the ecological bettering of these ‘excrementitious’ styles (from the double flushing system on) and to their potential expansion (see the initiatives of the World Toilet Organizations) is already current. Also semioticians, as social scientists, can and must give their contribution, helping us to understand the deep meaning of apparently meaningless everyday gestures, and replacing the traditional tales of triumphing travelers who dominate the world with newsemiotically-oriented stories of nostalgic travelers that humble things, like foreign toilets, urge toward a more modest feeling of their humanity. THEORETICAL CONCLUSIONS The everyday practice of getting rid of one’s bodily waste is made apparently meaningless by the ‘excrementitious’ routines that we learn and interiorize since early childhood and that make us forgetful about their cultural character. In reality, nothing is naturally spontaneous in the way in which we eliminate the waste we produce while living, although being oblivious to it can be a way to escape coming to terms with the troubling awareness of how our existence not only brings about waste but also is ultimately destined to turn into waste. Yet, there is a deep lesson about belonging to be learned from the cultural semiotics of bodily waste practices. On the one hand, a general lesson: the frontiers of our body are designed day after day also through the ways in which we expel and reject everything we consider as waste. From this point of view, the positive profile of our identity is a mirror-like image of the negative waste that the construction of such identity brings about. Economically advanced societies have elaborated sophisticated methods to get rid not only of the presence but also of the very awareness of this negative production of death, which is inextricably related to the positive production of life. Elegant toilets and effective sewage systems cast faraway from our areas of belonging not only our bodily waste but also what it represents: the waste that we essentially are, once the sparkle of life has abandoned us. On the other hand, a specific lesson: it is only by re-interpreting traveling as an experience that tests the limits of our area of belonging, ex-


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posing us to the crossings of frontiers whose intensity is intolerable, that we can understand how our ‘home’ is mostly made by the quotidian routines that shape our identity without us being aware of it. A non-touristy experience of travel, for instance, does not reproduce in an alien land our own ‘excrementitious’ syntagms, but gives us the opportunity to realize that also in the apparently insignificant elimination of our bodily waste we are shaped by invisible routines, and that these routines outline our identity with a force whose intensity can be revealed also by the shock and the intolerability of traveling. References Anderson, Warwick H. “Excremental Colonialism: Public Health and the Poetics of Pollution.” Critical Inquiry 21 (1995): 640−669. Anderson, Warwick H. “Going through the Motions: American Hygiene and Colonial ‘mimicry’.” American Literary History 14 (2002): 686−719. Boles, David W. “Uniform Urination: Analysis of Peeing Postures.” Urban Semiotics, 2006. On-line. 22 May 2010. Butler, Ella.The Anthropology of Anonymity: Toilet Graffiti at the University of Melbourne. Research paper n. 30, Melbourne: School of Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, The University of Melbourne, 2006. Byron, Robert. The Road to Oxiana. London: Macmillan, 1937. Cagliano, Stefano. L’impronunciabile bisogno. Milan: Cortina, 2002. Chun, Allen. “Flushing in the Future: The Supermodern Japanese Toilet in a Changing Domestic Culture.” Postcolonial Studies 5.2 (2002): 153-170. Cox, Edward Coxfrey. A Reference Guide to the Literature of Travel: Including Voyages, Geographical Descriptions, Adventures, Shipwrecks, and Expeditions. 3 Vols. Seattle: University of Washington, 1935−49. Cummings, William “Squat Toilets and Cultural Commensurability: Two Texts, Plus Three Photographs I Forgot to Take.” Journal of Mundane Behavior 1.3 (2000). Web sources. 22 May 2010. Dobell, Steve. Down the Plughole: an Irreverent History of the Bath. London: Pavilion, 1996. Elsner, Jás, and Joan Pau Rubiés. Eds. Voyages and Visions: toward a Cultural History of Travel. London: Reaktion Books, 1999. Esty, Joshua D. “Excremental Postcolonialism.” Contemporary Literature 40.1 (1999): 22−59. Eveleigh, David J. Bogs, Baths, and Basins. Stroud (UK): Sutton, 2002. Furrer, Daniel. Wasserthron und Donnerbalken: Eine kleine Kulturgeschichte des stillen Örtchens. Darmstadt: Primus, 2004. Gaultier, René. Précis de coprologie clinique. Paris: Baillière, 1914. Gershenson, Olga, and Barbara Penner Eds. Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009.


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Massimo Leone / The Semiotics of Waste World Cultures

This article is part of an essay on the semiotics of belonging that the author will hopefully publish in 2013. A first version of this essay, in Italian, was published as Leone 2012. 2The literary and academic bibliography on travel is immense, to the extent that it constitutes an autonomous branch both in literature (‘travel literature,’ also said ‘odeporics’) and in scholarship (‘travel studies’); a useful, although somewhat dated, tool of navigation through bibliography on travel is Coz 1935−49; a more updated survey is Hulme and Youngs as well as Speake; for a gender perspective, Netzley; on odeporics, Monga; an interesting journal on the subject is Studies in Travel Literature www.studiesintravelwriting. com; it gathers many of the research results of the Centre for Travel Writing Studies of the University of Nottingham ( hum/centres/english/travel_writing.html); a reference in this field is also the series of symposia ‘Borders and Crossings’, which have been organized for more than a decade (the last one to date took place in Melbourne: research/conferences/borderscrossings/ index.html); the publications of the Hakluyt Society are also indispensable (; for a cultural history of travel, Elsner and Rubiés; for an interesting introduction to the semiotics of travel literature (focusing mainly on a Francophone corpus), Scott; on the semiotics of tourism, Brucculeri and Giannitrapani, and especially all the works by Jean-Didier Urbain; the bibliography on imaginary traveling is even vaster than that on ‘real’ traveling! 3 “You shall learn how salty is the taste/ of another man’s bread and how hard is the way,/going down and then up another man’s stairs.” Engl. translation by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander (Princeton Dante project). 4For an in-depth study of the many movies in which toilets, and especially public toilets, become a fundamental place of narration, cfr Tschirbs. 5Incidentally, the first cross-fertilization between semiotics and coprology probably took place in semeiotics, and in particular in the study of excrements as possible reservoir of diagnostic signs; Gaultier is one of the first systematic surveys of this branch of semeiotics; for a historical reconstruction, Lewin. 6Slapstick comedy often draws inspiration from a ‘politically incorrect’ viewpoint on these differences; see, for instance, the adventures of Sasha Baron Cohen’s fictional character Borat Sagdiyev as he seeks to learn the US ‘excrementitious syntagm.’ 7In Italy, for instance, there is no clear opposition between “paper” and “water” as regards cleaning techniques, given the diffusion of one of the ‘national jewels,’ the bidet. 8Cfr Bataille (on the informe) and Kristeva (on abjection). 9 There are countless literary representation of such estrangement toward “the toilets of the Other”; cfr, for instance, Paul Bowles’ Sheltering Sky (1949) and Edmund White’s The Married Man (2000), the last chapter of which describes a traveller covered in excrement in the Sahara. 1