From paradigm to environment: The foreign rhythm and punctual catalysis of culture

Pierluigi Basso Fossali


Lotman and Barthes created two different critically oriented semiotic traditions. Both of them wen t through an evolution in their thought, moving from systematic organization to living transformations in cultural systems. This allowed them to carry out a bilateral critique of codes and identities in favour of either anonymous hybridity (Lotman) or neutrality (Barthes), where heterogeneity becomes a principle of creative “disorder”. Though quite different as regards their theoretical production, both scholars meet in their refusal to turn descriptive practices (studium) into a model of any other form of behaviour, considering that the determination of textual or institutional perimetres is not always clear. In short, Barthes and Lotman anticipated current research trends on the semiotics of practices; Barthes because of a sort of self-reflexion on the behaviour of the interpreter in front of an object, and Lotman through his analytic interest in attitudes and ways of living.

Barthes’s view on writing essentially reaches Lotman’s conception of culture as a “collective person”: we are looking for traces of breathing in the life of signs. More precisely, we can assert that, in the view of both scholars, inscribing speech events in history problematizes the dynamic and asynchronous relation between the structural frame of a culture and its textual heritage. The rhythm of fashion is not a side topic in their research, but, rather, it is the clearest exemplification of a dialectic between structural projection from the outside and local introjection of forms, depending on the conditions that make a difference.


history of semiotics; Roland Barthes; Louis Hjelmslev; Juri Lotman

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia