Peeter Kormašov
University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics


This article is about the semiotics of self and other in the war literature. War is one of those situations, where the distinction between those notions is very clear. Nevertheless, one should not understand self and other as a binary oppositon, but rather as a subjective allocation like Juri Lotman sees it. Against this static definition speaks the fact, that such a distribution is made from the observers point of view which is also a terminus a quo of this article. Taking some well-known war novels as an example, the purpose is to show how subjective the constructing of notions self and other is. Irwin Shaw’s Young Lions is followed up and it is compared with other authors, who all have mostly written about the Second World War. Self and other are not only on either side of the front line, but this distribution is much more complicated. In the beginning of the war it is hard for the soldiers to see an enemy in those fighting against them. It is only after first losses and battle experiences, when they will not hesitate to attack. Despite the inhumaneness of the war, the soldiers stay alive thanks to the comradeship and cooperation on the battle field. But in totalitarian states soldiers can not even feel safe in their home country, because the secret services control everything and being against the war means being a traitor. Dividing into self and other is constructed from above and the borders on the level of human relations may not overlap. Brothers, friends and schoolmates may find themselves fighting on the opposite sides. Soldiers are not the only ones who have to suffer, but there are also civilians, whose homes are in the war area. Of course they do not like the conquerors, except for those who will re-establish their independence. Because the borders between self and other are so relative, it can have tragic causes. The front is not so stable that it is always simple do make a distinction between the protagonist and the enemy. After the war, even when the soldier will stay alive and is not badly injured, it is impossible to look the self otherwise as through the eyes of other.

Keywords: semiotics of self and other, war, Irwin Shaw, Erich Maria Remarque, Ernest Hemingway