Conceived as the research branch of the study of literary theory and comparative literature, which are taught in the Department of Poetics and Comparative Literature, the Institute, whose founder and first director was Prof. Benjamin Harshav (Hrushovski), was inaugurated on March 23, 1975 with lectures by the distinguished linguist Roman Jakobson (MIT and Harvard), on "Language, Sign, Poetry" and the President of the International Association of Semiotic Studies (IASS), Prof. Cesare Segre (Pavia), on "Semiotique et la science de la litterature."
The combining of poetics and semiotics under one roof gives a comprehensive, in-depth perspective to the study of culture in general, and literature in particular. Poetics is the systematic study of literature as art, as communication, as the expression of culture in history, and as personal creation. Semiotics explores art, language, literature, culture and social languages, like fashion and advertising, from the standpoint of their communicative value and their function as "sign systems." The Institute, named since 1977 after the late Chancellor of the University, Leslie Porter, and Dame Shirley Porter, promotes scholarly activity in these fields by providing assistance to researchers, organizing local and international conferences, and promoting the exchange of scholars with institutions abroad.
The Porter Institute is directed by a steering committee whose current members are: Dr. Orly Lubin (Director of the Porter Institute), Prof. Gideon Toury, Prof. Ziva Ben-Porat, Prof. Menachem Perry (Chair of the Department of Literature), Prof. Meir Sternberg (Editor of Poetics Today), Dr. Rakefet Sela-Sheffy (head of The Porter School of Cultural Studies) and Prof. Hana Wirth-Nesher.
Seminars and conferences focus on current issues in poetics and semiotics, addressing such topics as New Strategies in the Study of Shakespeare, New Technologies as Teaching and Reserch Tools in Cultural Studies, Testimony as Communication, Poetics of Avant Garde Poetries and Cognitive Intertextuality. Visiting lecturers participate in seminars and conduct joint research with members of the Department of Poetics and Comperative Literature and other groups or individuals associated with the Institute (see: Recent and Coming Events).
The Institute produces and edits Poetics Today, a quarterly journal published by Duke University Press, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and research in poetics and semiotics. It publishes a Hebrew book series of original scholarly monographs in the field, Literature, Meaning and Culture, and a series of research papers in poetics and semiotics focusing on work in progress.
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