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Task for Practice seminar ¹4
Ex.1 What is symbol in Losev’s conception?
Alexei Losev was interested in the nature of the mathematical and linguistic symbols. He insisted on the study of the semantic and the structural sense of the language, he criticized non-semantic structuralism, discussed the problem of the possibility of a rigid axiomatic in linguistics. Based on his philosophical theory of language Losev looked at the transition of name and word in the process of life and social existence, transferring the communication and interpretation acts to the first plane. The eminent linguist and logician Sebastian Shaumian (Yale University) considers that “Losev’s law of polysemy is the most important finding beginning from the 1930s, when the basic understandings and principles of the classical semiotical paradigms were formulated. After all, our conscience does not accept reality per se, but through the prism of communicative and factual interpretations being the constituents of a dialectical unity which otherwise could coincide and contradict each other”.
The symbol, according to Losev, came to be the sense and abstraction of the thing. In addition, in this communion endless symbolism is present. The symbol of a thing is reflected in its structure, energized by infinite appearances individual manifestations of the structure. The symbol of a thing qua sign, having nothing to do with the content of singleness, which is considered here. In the end, the symbol, occupied its own lawful place among other literature and art principles and categories in Losev’s books.
Here is a quotation from A. Losev’s writings concerning the problem of defining the notion of symbol, in order to demonstrate the result of a candid following the mystic dialectic concept of the process of signification.
“Within symbol “idea” introduces something new into “image”, likewise “image” introduces something new, unprecedented into “idea”; and “idea” is equated here not with the simple “imaginary” but with the identity of “idea”, as well as “image” is equated not with the simple abstract “idea” but with the identity of “idea” and “image”. It is “indifferent” within a symbol what to start with; it is impossible to see in it neither “idea” without “image”, nor “image” without “idea”. Symbol is an independent reality. Although it represents an appointment of two aspects they are given here in a complete, absolute indivisibility, so that it is already impossible to know where is an “idea” and where is a “thing”. It does not mean, of course, that “idea” and “image” cannot be distinguished from each other within a symbol. They differ obligatory because otherwise symbol would not be an expression. But they differ in such a manner that a point of their absolute equivalence is clearly seen”. (A.Losev, Philosophy, Mythology, Culture. M, 1991, p.48)
This definition could be used for illustration of the dialectics of form and content and at the same time is a precise description of transcendent symbolism. Losev concludes in a natural way: “In symbol the very fact of the “inner” is equated with the very fact of the “outer”, it is not simply semantic but substantial, realidentity between “idea” and “thing”” (A.Losev, Philosophy, Mythology, Culture. M, 1991, p.49). Losev was not able to state openly that this understanding of symbol belongs to the mystic tradition because of his publicity in Soviet time.
So we must state that seemingly positivistic definition of symbol is not in contradiction with the definition of symbol in true mysticism at all. For instance, Christian cross is one of such symbols-models that apparently “replace” the object in the process of perception. Use of the cross in all its objective materiality can cardinally change symbolic reality of everyday mundial life. People become brothers or sisters by exchanging crosses. In this process the cross replaces consanguinity. The cross means blood.
Ex.2 What is model in Lotman’s conception?
From the diverse variety of Juri Lotman’s writings on art some constant “favourite” ideas can be extracted. Among them we find the concept of a piece of art being a specific model of reality and an intent interest in reciprocal interrelation between “life” and art. The problem of borderline between what is presented and how it is presented was addressed in the very early Lotman’s works on general problems of visual art.
Reading Mirhail Lotman’s works on relationship between reality and representation from this “symbolists’” point of view, one can discover that they, to a great extent describe exactly this “magic” kind of situations. That is, a situation when model or “second reality” or “secondary modelling system” becomes as significant as the object itself.
At the same time Lotman’s model is of a specific hierarchical character and can work in a rather complicated regime of interplay between different levels of “reality”. He demonstrates the mobile nature of the borderline between model and representation and model and reality in different kinds of visual art: in folk pictures (“Artistic nature of Russian folk pictures” 1976), still life (“Still life in semiotic perspective” 1986), portrait (“Portrait” 1993). The last mentioned work, “Portrait”, shows the evolution of Lotman’s position towards a very complicated and refined picture of interplay between different levels of art and reality and even their mutual transformation when both can swap the roles. This situation can be defined as “theatrical” behaviour of artist and his model. We may state it was precisely Lotman’s works on semiotics of theatre (see Lotman 1973a; 1973b; 1978; 1980; 1989) that influenced his approach to static forms of visual art. Theatre becomes a metamodel for any kind of art and gives a perspective to all investigations into artistic text.
Nevertheless, this whole witty and intelligent construction makes the problem “what is a model of what” even more complicated than one could have expected at the starting point of the reasoning. The language ambivalence of the word “model” (model as a person or object of representation, model as a representation itself) stays unconditioned. This situation reminds us of the specific ambivalence of such notions as “beginning” and “end” (in the Sanscrit proto-language they have common radical), “birth” and “death”, “father” and “son” within mythological mental worldpicture.
This problem’s field is already quite close to the main philosophic question on the origin of man and mind. And it could be predicted that the question of mimesis would lead to the question of transcendence and divinity. So Lotman points at the representation of Christ being an archetype of portrait as such. And in this connection the notion and idea of the so-called “bogochelovechestvo” is mentioned: En face image of Christ represents in itself the highest manifestation of the idea of portrait, divine and human at the same time. This ambivalence as a matter of fact reveals the nature of portrait as such. […] At the same time the problem of “bogochelovechestvo” is concentrated in the image of Christ. (M. Lotman, About Art, M. 1998. p.510). A discussion on the term “bogochelovechestvo” (usually poorly translated as Godmanhood), which was one of the most important in the philosophic system of V. Solov’ev, one can find in Judith Kornblatt’s article “Vladimir Solov’ev on spiritual nationhood, Russia and the Jews”. (from an article by E.Grigorjeva. Lotman on mimesis // Sign Systems Studies ¹31, 2003.P.218-234).