Contents:

Alo Joosepson
Riin Magnus
Priit Põhjala
Jens Haug
Andres Kurismaa
Leene Korp
Maarja Saldre
Tuuli Raudla
Kristin Vaik
Jüri-Franciscus Lotman
Katre Väli
Eva Lepik
Mari Bleive
Pille Kruus
Maris Saar
Tanel Pern
Tiina Põllu
Kristjan Jaak Kangur
Randy Peiker
Katre Kikas
Anu Haamer
Renata Sõukand
Ulla Kattai
Georg Brinkmann
Terje Meisterson, Johannes Tralla
Tiit Kuuskmäe
Ivar Leemet
Veronika Bohl
 
 
 
 

Julia Kristeva: Strangers to Ourselves

Alo Joosepson

Semiotician, psychoanalyst, literary theorist and writer Julia Kristeva has contributed considerably to the development of ideas about the formation of self and other, as well as the discrimination between and the interplay of the familiar and the foreign. She has devoted an entire book entitled Strangers to Ourselves (Étrangers à nous-mêmes, 1988, English translation 1991) to the discussion of semiological, psychological and historical aspects of a stranger and strangeness in European culture. The main point of the book is that we are all more or less strangers to ourselves and by accepting this incoherence in our identity we can become more tolerant towards others, strangers, foreigners - towards difference in general. The goal of this paper is to convey to the Estonian audience some of the ideas expressed in this book. The focus is on the psychological characteristics of being a stranger, but also on the semiological peculiarity of sign use in extreme surfacing of the uncanny in any consciousness that has acknowledged its own strangeness, i.e. the split nature between conscious and unconscious domains. Less consideration is given to the historical dynamics of the category of stranger in European culture, outlined by Kristeva.

As Kristeva integrates several disciplinary perspectives in her approach, this paper also seeks to highlight the fruitfulness of her multi-perspective writing in order to draw attention to the inherently interdisciplinary nature of semiotic studies. Semiotics should not avoid facing neither its own split nature (for example between semiology and semiotics) nor the suppressed and discarded minor traditions within its entire analytic scope.



Adolf Portmann and archetypes: quasi-semiotics, crypto-semiotics or not semiotics at all ?

Riin Magnus

This paper considers the work of the Swiss zoologist Adolf Portmann (1897-1982) on the background of the semiotic writings of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jakob von Uexküll. The goal of the paper is to analyse their respective use of the notions of "archetype", "myth", "structure", "plan", etc., and to establish their common points in understanding the origin and conditions of semiotic processes. A further aim of the juxtaposition is to investigate the possibilities of a disciplinary self-renewal for semiotics by introducing "new" approaches into its existing framework. It will be argued that an 'alien' viewpoint may be helpful in emphasizing those aspects that semiotics as a discipline wants to push to its outskirts as "bad memories" or which are simply ignored.



How natural is natural language ?

Priit Põhjala

This paper examines the characteristics of natural languages (langage) and tries to shed some light on the following questions: Why do people perceive natural language as something inherent? How natural or unnatural natural language actually is? Why natural language is called natural?

On the one hand, perceiving natural language as natural and inherent is justified with a reference to its historic and social crystallisation, the 'unnoticeable' and partly naturalised process of language acquisition and its superiority in relation to other human sign systems. The fact that natural language is peculiar only to humans also bears some importance. On the other hand, the question whether natural language is inborn or not, remains uncertain. There is a tendency in modern semiotics to consider natural language as the secondary rather than the primary modelling system.

The naturalness or unnaturalness of natural language is a relative problem. When we use the term 'natural' together with the term 'language', we remain within the anthropocentric paradigm. However, we cannot easily give up this attribute, as it is strongly fixed and in scientific discourse it is necessary to distinguish natural language from other languages of culture.



Self-time: A cultural semiotic study

Jens Haug

Describing culture in spatial metaphors permits us to use such qualifiers as centre and periphery in differentiating the self and the other. Moreover, culturally distant, alien or marginal phenomena are often distant spatially. A similar overlap of distant and alien can be observed on the temporal scale - certain events and notions located in the near past or the near future pertain to one's self , whereas distant - either very ancient or located in a distant future - are other . This allows us to construct the concept of self-time: it is a conceived break in continuous time, important for individuals for making their daily activities meaningful; it is discernible and comprehensible, considered their own by individuals due to the importance or familiarity of the ways of understanding located in the period.

The concept of self-time can be treated as integral and determinable. This allows it to be used for researching such cultural and social phenomena as environmental awareness or ethnic memory. The variability of self-time across cultures and in history creates an interesting intersection for opening up these objects of research. Located where psychology, semiotics and culturology overlap, the concept of self-time carries the energy of heterosis and allows for further synthesis with such fields as sociology, religious studies, social semiotics, ecology, ethics, etc.



Alienation of thoughts in psychopathology

Andres Kurismaa

The aim of this paper is to give a brief overview of 1) the phenomena of thought insertion and influenced thinking (recognized as the first order symptoms of schizophrenia) and 2) main explanatory theories of thought insertion. In the first half, necessary background information is presented, in order to characterize the nature of thought insertion and influenced thinking as well as some examples concerning their possible manifestations. In scientific literature, these phenomena are described as occurrences of depersonalisation and psychic automatism that accordingly designate a feeling of alienation from one's own mental processes and a loss of volitional control over them. The first part is concluded with a discussion of the concepts that are used to discriminate between various forms of these experiences.

In the second half, the paper turns to the problem of elucidating causal relations that might be responsible for bringing about the experience of thought insertion. The top-down account presented here takes it to be merely the consequence of a theoretical or an intellectual misinterpretation of the origin of thoughts, whereas bottom-up theories try to look for its objective ground on neurological and phenomenological levels. Combining the latter views seems to offer a wider framework capable of encompassing some cognitive-level factors as well as creating a basis for accounts possibly implicating a semiotic approach to psychiatry.



Body as a boundary of self and nonself

Leene Korp

This paper attempts to examine the interpretation of the human body as kind of a boundary between 'self' and 'other'. Until recently, Descartes' conception of the body as a material element strictly separate from consciousness and reason influenced various common practices and sentiments, so that the body is dissevered into non-collaborating pieces or viewed as a functional instrument mainly usable for communication. To appreciate the body, one has to reconnect it with consciousness, mind, senses, emotions, etc. - which in fact may all be considered as something embodied in the whole organism. Thus the form of the external environment depends on the senses and turns into a unique personal Umwelt; also the body and the two separated environments (the inner and the outer world) become the manifestations of the same phenomenon.



Where do the dreams come from ?

Maarja Saldre

The origins and meaning of dreams have been discussed throughout the cultural history of mankind. In this paper, I take a brief look at the issue from the viewpoint of the semiotics of "self" and "other" . The conception of dreams as a message delivered to the sleeper from the sphere of "other" by superhuman forces is represented by Ancient Greek society. The somewhat opposite, psychoanalytical view of dreams originating from man's "inner" subconscious, belongs to the current Western culture. In both cases, one of the most important and difficult questions raised is that of translating the message received in the language of dreams to the natural language.



The doll: between familiarity and obscurity

Tuuli Raudla

The goal of this paper is to give an insight into the mythology of doll focusing on its contradictory nature in the light of a distinction between self and other . The starting point of the paper is a theoretical concept of doll formulated by Yuri Lotman in his essay "Dolls in the System of Culture". Doll is described as a phenomenon that meets many boundaries and can be seen as the link between such oppositions as: living-dead, animate-mechanical, human-machine, animating-petrifying. Being at the crossroads of these oppositions and, at the same time, in the centre of the playful activities of the human mind, doll is considered both as a resource of cultural freedom as well as an instrument of individual self-construction.



Which name is closest to the self ?

Kristin Vaik

This paper discusses the problem of different names of a person based on the writings of Yuri Lotman and the Tartu-Moscow School concerning proper names. The goal is to place the different names of a person on the scale of self and other in order to find out which name is considered to be the closest to   the self . The article consists of three parts. The first tries to consider proper names from the viewpoint of the Tartu-Moscow School. The second part analyses the meaning and function of a proper name and nicknames, focusing on the nickname as the less studied of the two. The third part tries to place proper names on the scale from self to other .



The biography as culture's attempt to acquire the writer's creation

Jüri-Franciscus Lotman

This paper attempts to observe biography as culture's attempt to acquire the writer's creation. It draws from Roland Barthes' and Yuri M. Lotman's theories on this topic by approaching them from the viewpoint of the semiotics of the self and the other . The paper concludes that for reasons which may at first seem independent from each other, but which in a broader perspective appear to be different aspects of the same cultural mechanism, biography as a metatext is culture's instrument for expounding and remembering the creation of the writer. The essence of the artistic phenomenon itself remains indecipherable, and therefore in a culture the artistic text is always on the pole of the other .



To remember dreams and reality is to exist

Katre Väli

The purpose of this paper is to shed some light on the problem of self and other with respect to the question of one's memories. As an object-text the paper uses Madis Kõiv's autobiographical book Studia memoriae, where he, as the title indicates, studies his memories and tries to find their right beginnings and ends. An interesting aspect of his works is the constant mixture of remembered dreams and real events; these worlds have very vague boundaries and they are both vital for the construction of Kõiv's "remembered self". Memories are extremely personal; while writing an autobiography, one usually relies only on one's memories and does not take the Other into account.

Every memory is changed by the events that follow and we therefore cannot say whether the past is before the present or vice versa. Although childhood memories are the brightest, we cannot believe them to be the basis of our identity; we might be reminded of them due to particular events or emotions we are experiencing in the present, or have experienced later. Returning to the childhood with the help of memories is a very active, yet painful research, because childhood memories are covered with the taboos and rules of the adults' world. Sometimes recalling the memories of childhood is like waking from a dream - one will never know whether what happened was for real or not.

We create our identity with the help of memories, but we cannot be aware of the boundaries between the known and the unfamiliar. When we reproduce past events with the help of memory, they have already gone through the categories that make them ours; otherwise they could not be recalled.

The categories of time are non-existent in memory. The moment of reproducing the events of the past brings all memories together, the limits of time disappear, only "childhood" remains a clear category, but this is also created by ourselves in the light of new events.



The hero and the author: "The Bride's Veil" by Karl Ristikivi in the context of Mikhail Bakhtin's "Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity"

Eva Lepik

The paper examines the novel "The Bride's Veil" by Karl Ristikivi, using Mikhail Bakhtin's early essay "Author and hero in aesthetic activity" as theoretical background. In this essay Bakhtin sees the relations between Self and Other as equivalent to those between hero and author. The Self (hero) is always created by the Other (author). Ristikivi's novel, however, presents a case in which the hero (St. Catherine of Siena) is the other too, both for the narrator and for the other characters in the novel. The paper is concerned with genre problems generated by this relation between the author and the hero.



About self and other in the genre of travelogue: Jaan Kaplinski's Spring on Two Coasts or a Sentimental Journey to America

Mari Bleive

In my paper I try to open the genre of travelogue from a different perspective than it is usually done, namely to investigate whether and if so then how a travelogue can be a means for creative thinking in culture - according to Yuri Lotman's definition of the concept. I use Jaan Kaplinski's travelogue Spring on Two Coasts or a Sentimental Journey to America as an illustration, and Yuri Lotman's paper "On the Theory of Reciprocal Influence of Cultures" as a methodological basis. Some of the travel books may be seen as means for creative thinking - these are fictional travel books; others - usually scientific or popular-scientific travelogues - may not. J. Kaplinski's travel book belongs to the former group because it transforms structurally organized, integrated semiotic items of information into different, unpredictable items of information - in the way Yuri Lotman has described creative thinking. However, Kaplinski's travel book does not constitute, as travel books usually do, a totally integrated semiotic world - according to Lotman, this is characteristic of fictional texts.

I also follow the historical development of travel writing, based on J. Lotman's models. I argue that increasingly, the characteristic features specific to travel writing have taken shape, so that nowadays the genre forms an independent sphere of semiosis. Descriptions of facts have moved towards the periphery and their interpretation towards the centre of the genre's semiosphere.



Locating Brecht - translating cultures

Pille Kruus

Translation is a cultural process: a text cannot be separated from previous texts that together form a cultural space that affects any reading. Translating the Goncourt Prix winning La Maîtresse de Brecht by Jacques-Pierre Amette - the novel is based on the final years (1948-1956) of the famous German communist writer and director Bertolt Brecht - from French into Estonian created a complicated situation: historically close Estonian and (East-)German cultures that also share the first-hand experience of the Soviet regime had to communicate through a French "mediator". This situation is analyzed with the help of Yuri Lotman's communication theory, according to which self-identification always requires the contrasting other .



At the border of the Own and the Alien : the questions of defining oneself. Tõnu Õnnepalu's Border State

Maris Saar

The categories of the own and the alien in Estonian worldview have shifted considerably in the last 20 years. One of the manifestations of this in literature is Tõnu Õnnepalu's novel Border State , published in 1993. The areas of self and other , of own and alien , are intertwined in a complex way, culminating in an ambivalent attitude towards both Western and Eastern Europe, while the third way (the ideal, civilisation-less nature) is impossible to reach. This complexity of defining the "own" comes from the difficulty of defining one's identity. The identity of the protagonist of the novel corresponds to Zygmunt Bauman's concept of the stroller (or, flâneur) -- but accepting this role is not enough to find peace in oneself. The only solution for the protagonist to find peace is to let go of the concepts of the "own" and the "alien".



Texts of Daniil Harms in Mehis Heinsaar's play Artur and Paul

Tanel Pern

This paper examines the function of Daniil Harms's texts in Mehis Heinsaar's play "Artur ja Paul". The play is analysed from the viewpoint of "text in text" (Yuri Lotman's concept), or intext (Peeter Torop's concept). It is concluded that by becoming a part of another (drama) text, Harms's prose and drama pieces - relatively different from each other in the original - have also turned into a series of their own. As a part of another text, they have also lost their status of being a part of an "other" culture. The text as a whole is, in this case, dominant over the intext(s).



The semiotic aspect of self and other in the prose of Victor Pelevin

Tiina Põllu

This paper deals with the prose of the Russian post-modern writer Victor Pelevin from a semiotic and psychoanalytic point of view, primarily by applying the theories of Yuri M. Lotman and Carl Gustav Jung. The research is based on the novels Omon Ra (1992), Generation P (1999) and Chapaev and Pustota (1996). The aim is to detect the mechanisms of self and other in mental processes that form the basis for wider analyses on ideological, intercultural and individual levels. The approach adopted is a humanistic one, where the dichotomy between self and other is seen through the models of C. G. Jung on the mind and Self (consciousness). The subject's self-consciousness constructs the border between its 'own' and the 'other' world; thus it is essential for an individual's Self to meet something unknown and strange. In the prose of V. Pelevin we notice that the unknown cannot always be accepted without problems that arise both in people's inner world, in their surroundings and in their semiosphere in general. A crucial question is the difference between dreams and reality, especially in situations where Pelevin's characters experience difficulties, where 'self' is no longer a reliable criteria for understanding the world and oneself. The East-West problematic is seen through the current socio-cultural situation in Russia, with its people undergoing social and mental changes and trying to adapt themselves to the new order. Viktor Pelevin has described contemporary Russia as being in transition on the border of self and other .



How Other becomes Self through the historical spider-web

Kristjan Jaak Kangur

The paper handles the problem of Self and Other from the aspect of whether and to what extent an adequate reception of a culturally and historically different text is possible in another culture. The theoretical basis of the analysis is Yuri Lotman's conception of the mutual influence of different cultures. This is illustrated with the example of Akira Kurosawa's interpretation of Shakespeare's play Macbeth - the movie Castle of the Spider's Web . According to Lotman, the impelling force in the process of mutual influence is often not similarity or closeness, but distinction. In order to associate with a foreign culture, one has to interiorise its image to one's world. But Lotman points out that there is a paradox - the interiorised image has to be translatable into the culture's internal language (thus, it cannot be the Other), but at the same time it has to be the Other (thus, not translatable into the culture's internal language). Kurosawa's film is a good example for illustrating one possible way of overcoming this schism. In case of a screening, the most frequent problem is that the first and often the only noticeable code is the linguistic one, whereas the others are taken as simply providing extra information, and will fail to be recognised as subcodes. Kurosawa transports the original text into a historically different time and space, translating the original text into a form that is understandable in his culture. Lotman concludes that every foreign text contributes to the informational value of a culture, thus enlarging its indeterminacy.



Tammsaare or Tuglas ?

Randy Peiker

In this paper, I compare the oeuvre of two outstanding Estonian writers, A. H. Tammsaare and Friedebert Tuglas. My hypothesis is that A.H. Tammsaare, whose literary work has had a great impact on the construction of Estonian national identity, can be seen as opposing to F. Tuglas, also an eminent writer, whose personal characteristics as well as oeuvre, however is unfamiliar to the mentality of the nation and to the understanding of oneself. My question is, whether culture may amplify this kind of opposition on the background of certain initial assumptions? A well-known example here would be Mozart and Salieri, whose biographies do not show considerable concurrences. But for a contemporary art-savvy person, they are interrelated and stand in opposition. My analysis of the dynamics of the opposition between A. H. Tammsaare and F. Tuglas relies on certain key concepts developed by the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics (boundary, text and the problem of self and other). More specifically, I follow Yuri M. Lotman's argument that human being can be considered as a kind of text or a semiotic unit, a semiosphere on its own. According to Lotman, every semiotic entity creates, as an affirmation of its own identity, a space that is Other to it that may be either perceived as of alien semiotics or not semiotic at all. To further my hypotheses, I have drawn out the most important and exciting schisms between the two writers.



The relationship between the own and the alien in the formation of the Estonian nation: Hans Anton Schults trying to define self and nationality

Katre Kikas

This paper analyses the process of nation formation as it is reflected in the writings of H. A. Schults (1866-1905). Schults was a folklore collector, one whose field notes are termed "fakelore" by traditional folklorists. But from a broader perspective of cultural studies, he is an excellent source for studying an individual's reaction to the shifting boundary of the own and the alien in the process of constructing Estonian identity. The main device he uses to construct own is synecdoche - he perceives his relatives and neighbourhood as the synecdochal representation of the whole nation. The alien is characterized by the absence of synecdochal relations. Own is also related with a different kind of alien (which I will call a double), used as a model in the formation of own-alien relationships. Double is not translatable in the language of own , it functions as a possible parallel world.



Contacts between "self" and "other" in old Estonian folk beliefs and Christianity

Anu Haamer

This paper provides a brief review about the process of translation between two religious traditions. The author compares the ancient, so-called pagan folk belief system with the contemporary Christian funeral tradition. In the first part, the author provides an introduction to pagan religious understanding of death and presents a brief review about traditional funerals and behaviour towards a dead person. In the second part of the paper, the author describes the contemporary Christian funeral tradition in Viljandi County, Southern Estonia. With this analysis it becomes clear that several ancient traditional activities related to a dead person are still in use. To conclude, there has been a translation between the two systems, with the ancient and the contemporary religious understanding producing a new quality - a quality in which the old folk-beliefs are mixed into Christianity.



The 'Own' and the 'alien' in Estonian herbal ethnomedicine: Chamomile and arnica

Renata Sõukand

In order to become culturally relevant in a given culture, the imported phenomena (e.g. medicinal plants) have to be integrated into 'own', while also remaining 'alien' in some respect (which, in the case of medicinal plants, gives additional potency to the healing power). The paper takes as examples two alien species of herbs introduced into Estonian ethnomedicine before the 19th century and discusses the ways of transformation from the 'alien' to the 'own'. Although the transformation is different on either case, both plants came to be considered, eventually, as 'own': Arnica montana became 'own' by spreading its name to locally grown plants, a process we can call cultural acclimatization; Matricaria sp. was acclimatized through nature, expanded from culture to wildlife and from there into the medical use among common people.



Setos - the conceptions of identity

Ulla Kattai

Identity acquires its positive meaning through a relationship with something that is not itself - through relations with the other . This is common to all identity conceptions. But there is a situation where things are more complicated: borderlands, which are undefined and open places. Their inhabitants are forced to live in the intersection of two different cultures. Setos have not chosen a side - they balance on the boundary, enlacing elements from Estonian and Russian culture. This paper analyses the identity construction of this atypical community through the binarity of the Self and the Other , by trying to present different views of diverse community members.



Aposematic signals as distinctors of the self and the other in predator-prey communication

Georg Brinkmann

The paper examines the fundamental opposition of self and other in aposematic signals in predator-prey communication. The position of aposematism as a warning mechanism is described from the point of view of zoo- and biosemiotic ideas - in order to clarify how the distinction between edible and non-edible prey is drawn in predators' cognitive systems. The opposition is also used to review the common mechanisms and different developments of aposematic signals from the evolutionary perspective: Müllerian mimicry, neophobia, kin-selection and preadaptation.



"Ecological" consumption - a new excuse for buying

Terje Meisterson, Johannes Tralla

In our paper we will examine the use and implementation of the term "öko" (eco- as referring to "ecological" consumption) in different contexts and for different purposes, based on the materials published in the Estonian media. The paper focuses on the description and mapping of "öko" as a mainstream phenomenon. The dynamics of the corresponding phenomena is described through the opposition of the own and the alien . In this, we rely on the theories by Roland Barthes and Yuri Lotman. The main issue examined in our paper refers to the attempts of introducing the alien (ecological way of life) into the paradigm of the own (mainstream consumption culture).



Self and Other: Walls from the point of view of the semiotics of boundary

Tiit Kuuskmäe

The paper provides an inquiry into the semiotic aspects of walls (in the sense of a fence). Its guiding presupposition is that understanding what a wall is may also play an important role in understanding the semiotic contrast between self and other . As a manifestation of a semiotic boundary, a wall has three functions - to limit, to protect and to cover. These functions result in two types of walls - walls that dissociate and walls that constitute. Wall as a social construct is the outcome of extreme attention paid to the distinction between self and other in these societies. The notion of wall as an extreme limit has also penetrated into many other fields such as psychology, folklore and politics; the analogy for the wall in biology is the cell membrane.



Self and Other: the logic of the Jewish question in Christianity

Ivar Leemet

The paper is focused on the opposition of Self and Other and its logic in Christian (and Orthodox) anti-Semitism. It provides a diachronic analysis, first, of the image that middle age (or the so-called medieval renaissance) Christians had of the Jews, and, secondly, of the Russian anti-Semitism of the 19th century, based on the anti-Semitic ideology of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoevsky's viewpoint can be seen as a waypoint to the "exposure" of the 20th century and it is characterised by a more complicated logic or the logic of multiple Selves and Others. The paper also considers the specificity of fear and the integration of the psychoanalytic explanation possibilities and the logic of Self and Other.



Ideology and Semiotics: The reception of the Lihula monument affair in the German-speaking press

Veronika Bohl

This paper examines the relationship between ideology and semiotics with regard to visual texts, e.g. the monument of Lihula. For the present purposes, ideology is defined as a political, cultural and historical decoding system by which (visual) signs receive their connotation. From this it follows that one and the same sign can have several meanings, depending on the ideological perspective. As an example, the analysis of the Lihula monument shows that there are different modes of reading: a particular viewpoint is strongly expressed in the international press, here represented by the German-speaking press. There, the monument is regarded as being a Nazi one, in contrast to the Estonian press, which read it as a memorial for Estonian soldiers. This historically charged example shows the different modes of ideologically affected sign decoding.