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Lotman and Cultural Studies

Encounters and Extensions

Edited by Andreas Schonle

Publication Year: 2006

     One of the most widely read and translated theorists of the former Soviet Union, Yurii Lotman was a daring and imaginative thinker. A cofounder of the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics, he analyzed a broad range of cultural phenomena, from the opposition between Russia and the West to the symbolic construction of space, from cinema to card playing, from the impact of theater on painting to the impact of landscape design on poetry. His insights have been particularly important in conceptualizing the creation of meaning and understanding the function of art and literature in society, and they have enriched the work of such diverse figures as Paul Ricoeur, Stephen Greenblatt, Umberto Eco, Wolfgang Iser, Julia Kristeva, and Frederic Jameson.
     In this volume, edited by Andreas Schönle, contributors extend Lotman's theories to a number of fields. Focusing on his less frequently studied later period, Lotman and Cultural Studies engages with such ideas as the "semiosphere," the fluid, dynamic semiotic environment out of which meaning emerges; "auto-communication," the way in which people create narratives about themselves that in turn shape their self-identity; change, as both gradual evolution and an abrupt, unpredictable "explosion"; power; law and mercy; Russia and the West; center and periphery.
     As William Mills Todd observes in his afterword, the contributors to this volume test Lotman's legacy in a new context: "Their research agendas-Iranian and American politics, contemporary Russian and Czech politics, sexuality and the body-are distant from Lotman's own, but his concepts and awareness yield invariably illuminating results."

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book would not have existed without the stubborn passion of Jeremy Shine, then a graduate student in political science at the University of Michigan, who came to me to propose an interdisciplinary conference on Yuri Lotman. He was planning to use Lotman in his dissertation, he said, and hoped a conference would help resolve some ...

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A Note on Transliteration

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pp. ix

Transliteration of names is according to the Library of Congress transliteration system, except for names that have an established spelling in English. In keeping with other publications of Lotman’s works in English, we transliterated his first name as Yuri. We refer to Lotman’s translated works whenever possible. To avoid repeating in each chapter the full reference ...

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pp. 14-36

Yuri Lotman (1922–93) is arguably one of the most prominent and influential Russian scholars of the twentieth century. A cofounder of the Tartu-Moscow school of semiotics, he applied his mind to a wide array of disciplines, from aesthetics to literary and cultural history, narrative theory to intellectual history, cinema to mythology. He advanced highly ...


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pp. 37-38

Semiotic Collisions and the Ethics of Estrangement

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pp. 39-40

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1. Dante, Florenskii, Lotman: Journeying Then and Now through Medieval Space

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pp. 41-58

Given his interest in complex semiotic structures and in a “semiosphere” whose ever ramifying interactions model the vast physical cosmos, it is not surprising that Yuri Lotman paused in his writings to discuss the most elaborate of all texts, the worlds within worlds of Dante’s La Divina Commedia. Indeed, these two authors seem almost made for each other, ...

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2. Lotman’s Other: Estrangement and Ethics in Culture and Explosion

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pp. 59-83

With the republication over the last few years of Yuri Lotman’s main works and letters, attempting a synoptic evaluation of Lotman’s general thought has become an appealing project. We are free to allocate the semiotic enterprise to the classical Aristotelian categories: a “poetics,” a “physics,” and an “ethics.” The first two categories, which predominated ...

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3. Pushkin’s “Andzhelo,” Lotman’s Insight into It, and the Proper Measure of Politics and Grace

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pp. 84-112

In 1998 Sergei Bocharov published a bicentennial essay titled “From the History of Understanding Pushkin.”1 In it he notes that Pushkin criticism has long oscillated between two poles: worshipful subjective attempts to grasp the whole of the poet followed by “scholarly secularization” of specific technical problems. The result has been a beneficial ...

Political Realities and Rhetorical Boundaries

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pp. 113-114

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4. Post-Soviet Political Discourse and the Creation of Political Communities

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pp. 115-135

The work of Yuri Lotman has yet to make its mark among Western political scientists. In this chapter, I argue that this condition has been particularly unfortunate for those among them who are concerned with Russia. Since the fall of Communism and the lifting of restrictions on scholarly access, investigations of that country’s political culture have ...

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5. State Power, Hegemony,and Memory: Lotman and Gramsci

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pp. 136-158

In August 1904 Louisiana governor Newton C. Blanchard declared that September 14 of that year would be celebrated as Louisiana Day at the St. Louis World’s Fair. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, as that year’s fair was titled, celebrated the centennial of the 1803 treaty with France that brought the large Louisiana Territories to the United States. ...

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6. The Ever-Tempting Return to an Iranian Past in the Islamic Present Does Lotman’s Binarism Help?

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pp. 159-178

History thrives on the exploration of human diversity in time and space. Its seductiveness lies in the ability to recognize something that is totally different yet fully human in that we can comprehend it. History also provides the reader with a multitude of stories about past transformations, the dynamics and processes of which remain ambiguous, for texts ...

Margins and Selfhood

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pp. 179-180

Self Reflection and the Underground

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pp. 181-182

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7. The Self, Its Bubbles, and Its Illusions: Cultivating Autonomy in Greenblatt and Lotman

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pp. 183-207

Yuri Lotman, one of the founders of Soviet semiotics, and Stephen Greenblatt, the unwitting progenitor of New Historicism, have both been intensely preoccupied with mapping the sphere of culture and defining the coordinates of the individual self. Even though both scholars claim the mantle of cultural poetics, they are rooted in different critical ...

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8. Lotman’s Karamzin and the Late Soviet Liberal Intelligentsia

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pp. 208-226

No one who lived in Moscow during the turmoil of the late 1980s and early 1990s will ever forget December 1991. On December 8, the Soviet Union was dissolved in Belovezhskaia Pushcha; on December 25, President Gorbachev declared on TV his official resignation, and the red flag was publicly replaced over the Kremlin by the Russian tricolor. The ...

Iconic Self Expression

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pp. 227-228

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9. Bipolar Asymmetry, Indeterminacy, and Creativity in Cinema

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pp. 229-247

Two objectives have driven Yuri Lotman’s work on cultural texts: (1) explaining the indeterminacy and multivalence of their meaning and (2) demonstrating their ability not only to transmit and preserve information but also to create new meaning. As early as his Lectures on Structural Poetics (1964), Lotman attempted, in the context of information theory, ...

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10. Post-ing the Soviet Body as Tabula Phrasa and Spectacle

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pp. 248-296

As the history of culture attests, few phenomena rival the body in its extraordinary power to signify. Throughout centuries the body as “‘epistemophilic’ project,” to borrow Peter Brooks’s handy term, has engrossed anthropologists, doctors, psychoanalysts, artists, writers, pornographers, advertisers, entrepreneurs, priests, lawyers, and policemen. 1 ...

Negotiating the Everyday

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pp. 297-298

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11. Eccentricity and Cultural Semiotics in Imperial Russia

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pp. 299-319

The eccentric is that which by consensus is unique. In spite of eccentricity’s tendency to stand out, its natural and cultural manifestations nevertheless prove elusive objects of study. The opening chapter of Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse, offers a vivid figure for eccentricity as ephemera, evoking the impressions of its narrator from ...

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12. Writing in a Polluted Semiosphere: Everyday Life in Lotman, Foucault, and de Certeau

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pp. 320-344

In 1983 Jan Zábrana copied into his diary a statement he had heard on the radio: “The sardines that are being imported to us from the Soviet Union are not sardines in the true sense of the word.”1 Zábrana did not normally pay much attention to sardine imports, but as a translator with an ear highly sensitized to the use and abuse of language, he followed ...

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Afterword Lotman without Tears

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pp. 345-352

Habent sua fata libelli. So do theories, especially the twentieth-century Russian ones that escaped the linguistic and political borders of the Soviet Union. The formalists of the early Soviet period, repressed under Stalin but already losing some of their methodological edge as they branched out into the sociology of literature and literary history in the ...


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pp. 353-358


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pp. 359-362


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pp. 363-383

E-ISBN-13: 9780299220433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299220402

Publication Year: 2006