-- 98 --
We shall now discuss some of the
publications on the structural study of
literary texts. The reason for having this chapter on the semiotics of
culture is mainly diachronic: most of the literature discussed belongs to
the 19th or 20th century; therefore the type of culture represented in
these texts should be treated after the more archaic systems have been
discussed. Since the meaning of signs in contemporary semiotic systems
is believed to be given in immediate experience (unlike the meaning in
archaic systems which has to be "reconstructed" by comparative methods),
the structural study of modern literary texts is more oriented towards
exactness and the use of formal models.
Implicit regularities of the lexical level are discovered by means of
statistical methods , . Statistical data on the structure of
vocabulary are valuable instruments of discovering semantics of the poet's
model of the world. Interesting observations on the relationship between
the statistical structure of vocabulary (proportion of frequent and rare
words vs. the number of different words used) and the compositional structure
and semantics of two stories, one by Tolstoy and the other by Chekhov, are
given in the article by Gasparov et al. It turns out that both stories are
similar compositionally, lexico-statistically, and, even, thematically.
However, the author's interpretation is diametrically different. Both
stories are divided into three parts, each successive part being smaller
and using less different words. This corresponds in both stories to a
Complex Less complex Simple
world ------------------ world --------------------- world
In Tolstoy's story "Three Deaths," the movement is away from the complex
world of falsehood and pretense to the simple world of nature (the direction
is from the negative to the positive); in Chekhov's story "Ionych," the
movement is away from the complex world of intellect and beauty
- 99 --
to the simple world of material interests and loss of human contacts (the
direction is from the positive to the negative).
There are attempts at discovering the mechanics of the plot. In his short
contribution, M.L. Gasparov summarizes very succinctly the essence of plot
action in the short story (novella). He notes that most novellas are based
on the hero's cunning, dexterity, etc. and include much joking, merriment, etc.
According to Gasparov, all actions and thoughts in the novella are "classified"
into "permitted" and "forbidden." The plot is activated when "forbidden"
elements become "permitted." The relationship between the novella and the
fable is as follows: the typical plot of the fable may be summarized as
follows: "Someone wanted to violate the existing state of affairs in order
to achieve some gains, but failed in the end," while the typical plot of the
novella follows the same formula but with a different end: ".. and succeeded."
The most convenient classification of the fable plots is according to the
type of the hero's plan which fails, while the most convenient classification
of novellistic plots is according to "action" (ploy, etc.).
A very interesting method of formal analysis of plots (sjuzhet) was suggested
by O. Revzina and I. Revzin [47a] who had been working on this problem for
a considerable time. The method described in the article makes use of some
of the notions of the theory of graphs. The authors use the Proppian scheme
of classes of personages and establish their own classification of personages
for "mystery stories" and the drama. The plot is described in terms of
coincidence / non-coincidence between semantic and fabular features of the
personage and its identification in terms of classes.
The relations of co-occurrence of personages are formally determined in
order to establish "independent" and "dependent" personages and describe
them in terms of "mobility," "importance for the plot" and "power of mutual
relations." These characteristics are determined on the basis of co-occurrence
only and give a good approximation of the plot, Analysis of symmetry and
asymmetry of the graphs describing relations between personages helps to
-- 100 --
explain seemingly "irrational" turns of the plot.
These applications of formal analysis are only first attempts of "exact"
literary science. It is important to mention in this article four monographs
in which structural approach to literary texts was demonstrated with evident
success. These are books by Ju. Lotman, B. Uspenskij and A. Chudakov. Again
my task becomes more difficult, because to give a sufficient account of the
contents of four voluminous books is a much harder task than to give a summary
of an article. My task is, however, facilitated by the fact that the books
by Lotman and Uspenskij are well known in the West.
The two books by Ju. Lotman [29b], [29d] are the most complete and comprehensive
account of structuralism in literary studies. They cover the entire field of
literary criticism, from semiotic analysis of the lower levels of the linguistic
plane of expression in literary art to problems of the place of literature
in life. Lotman takes up the most general, ontological problems of art and
treats them from the point of view of semiotics: according to Lotman, society
cannot exist without art, because art fulfils the function of a universal
information processing device:
Man is, by necessity, involved in a very intense
process: he is bombarded by information; life
sends its signals to him. These signals will
remain unheeded, the information will miss the
recipient, and all-important chances in humanity's
struggle for survival will not be utilized, if it
does not meet the growing need to decode these
signals and transform them into signs which may
serve the purposes of communication in the human
society. ( ...) Humanity cannot exist without a
special mechanism, a generator of new "languages"
which could be used as media of knowledge. ( ...)
Art is a supremely organized generator of a
special type of languages. They render an
invaluable service to humanity in organizing
one of the most complex spheres of human
knowledge the mechanism of which is not at
all clear 43).
43) [29b], p. 9.
-- 101 --
From this premise which aptly prepares the ground for a semiotics of art
(without pretending to account for all the complexity of the phenomenon),
Lotman sets out to show the operation of the verbal art as special language.
An hierarchy of languages is involved when a single text is examined. The
system used by a writer is related to the prevailing artistic code (or
codes) of his epoch (cf. such notions as "the poetics of baroque," etc.).
Within the writer's specific "language," one may distinguish sub-systems
characteristic of periods, genres, etc. Finally one comes down to the
artistic system of a specific text. According to Lotman, the "language"
of the artistic text is in its essence an artistic model of the world;
in this sense all its structure belongs to the level of "content." The
model of the world created by an artistic language as a whole is more general
than the individual model created by a specific text. An artistic message
creates an artistic model of a concrete event or phenomenon, while the
artistic language models the universe in its most general categories.
Lotman makes an interesting observation that, apart from modelling various
categories of the world, the language of art also models the observer's
point of view due to the existence in each artistic language of an hierarchy
of styles. This observation seems to discover one of the most important
qualities of art as language. I would even go as far as saying that the
ability to present the observer's point of view is the source of the modelling
ability of such a language, because every language of art knows differences
in style, in "point of view," while only very specific languages possess
extensive and detailed modelling ability. Pertinent semantic oppositions
which construct the world of "romanticism" or "classicism" are few and
general, whereas possibilities for expressing "point of view" are more
elaborate. It is also important to remember that in many systems the model
of the world is but an extension of a specific "point of view." An interesting
example of the importance of the notion of "point of view" is given by
Lotman in his analysis of "stylistic recoding" in Lermontov's novel The Hero
of Our Times, where the character of the main hero, Pechorin, is given
through the point of view of various personages (the narrator, Pechorin
himself, the staff-captain, etc.). Lotman shows that this shift of points
-- 102 --
of view is not limited to the description of the main hero, but is the
main constructive principle of the novel in general. This device is repeated
on various level: motifs, plot, verbal characteristics, etc. Lotman insists
that such internal recoding is the main source of the formation of meaning
in secondary modelling systems along with external recoding comparing the
artistic world to the world outside the work of art. The book touches on
other aspects of artistic structure as well: the relationship among various
structures within the text, the borders of the text (the problem of "frame"),
the principles of artistic arrangement. Lotman discusses in detail the
structure of repetition at various levels (phonological, morphological,
semantic) stressing the semantic role of this principle. The book is filled
with many interesting examples. Lotman's second book, Analysis of the Poetic
Text, is a practical application of the principles elaborated in the former
study for the analysis of several poems by Russian authors. Each analysis
emphasizes the semantic importance of a particular aspect of structure (the
analysis of a poem by Batjushkov illustrates the importance of the sound
structure; Lermontov's poem shows the artistic role of grammatical relations;
Tjutchev's poem is analyzed in order to demonstrate the significance of
dialogical structure, etc.).
B. Uspenskij's book is devoted to the problem of the "point of view" in the
composition of the artistic text. All interpretations of "point of view"
are examined: point of view understood as a value judgment, an ideological
attitude, point of view as spatial localization of the speaker, narrator or
personage etc., point of view as psychological attitude and, finally, as
linguistic characterization. Uspenskij develops Baxtin's concept of polyphony
in the work of art which he interprets as follows:
A. The presence of several independent points
of view in the text. This does not call
for any additional commentaries: the term
(polyphony, i.e. "many voices") speaks for
B. The points of view must belong to the direct
participants of the narrated events. In other
words, there is no abstract ideological position,
no point of view independent of at least some
-- 103 --
C. Points of view are expressed, first and foremost,
in the sphere of evaluation, i.e. as ideological
and axiological points of view 44)
Point of view as phraseological characterization is closely related to the
problems of "alien word" and "skaz," and Uspenskij shows convincingly that
the stratification of points of view may serve as a useful instrument in
defining the types of narration. According to Uspenskij, skaz appears in
its pure form when a point of view expressed in the narrative does not
belong to any participant of the action and, at the same time, cannot be
ascribed to the author due to specific phraseology used. Uspanskij analyzes
the problem of proper names and comes to the conclusion that this is one of
the clearest instances of the expression of the point of view. Interesting
examples from Tolstoy's War and Peace are given (various names of Napoleon),
as well as from Russian appellative letters of the 16th - 17th centuries.
Uspenskij's treatment of the use of French in War and Peace as an indicator
of the shift of point of view is highly original. The book makes wide use
of the research on the expression of spatial and temporal relations ("points
of view") in literature. The author cites famous examples of consecutive
view, panoramic scope, kaleidoscopic montage in works of literature (Tolstoy's
description of the dinner at the Rostovs in War and Peace, Gogol's landscapes
in Taras Bulba and the battle scenes in Pushkin's Poltava). He gives a
detailed analysis of the aspectual and temporal meanings of verbs as an
instrument of expressing temporal point of view. "Psychological" point of
view is described in terms of the opposition "internal/external." Uspenskij
emphasizes that the problem of "point of view" is a meeting place between
verbal and visual art; his cogent comparisons between literature and plastic
arts reveal basic unity in modelling the world.
Chudakov's monograph on the poetics of Chekhov  attracted the immediate
44) [56c], p. 19.
-- 104 --
attention of the public, because it was the first attempt by a professional
historian of literature to apply the principles of structural analysis.
Chudakov's aim was very ambitious -- to describe the poetics of such a difficult
writer as Chekhov, whose manner seemed to be the embodiment of purely "realistic"
approach, free from self-evident formal "devices." Chudakov insists that the
notion of "structure" as applied to literature should be constructive, allowing
for discrete scientific analysis, rather than a substitute for such "traditional"
notions as "organic unity" or "living wholeness." It is necessary to establish
the elements of the system under description and the relations between these
elements. Chudakov proceeds from the basic theoretical tenets of such scholars
as Shklovskij, Ejxenbaum and Tynjanov in distinguishing two aspects of the
literary system: material (facts, events, and realia) and the form of its
organization. The binary character of the system calls for a binary approach
to its stratification. The first stage of stratification yields the following
levels: the level of realia (or "objects"), the level of fabula and sjuzhet and
the level of ideas. The second stage yields what the authors call "the narrative
level" (the lexical organization of the text and the orientation of all the
realia of the text with respect to the narrator).
Chudakov's analysis proceeds from the narrative level to the level of ideas.
The description of the narrative level aims at discovering the type of the
narrative with respect to the role of the narrator. All stories written by
Chekhov in the first period of his career (1880-1887) were examined by a
special dichotomic procedure: 1) the position of the narrator is expressed
in extended statements, speculations, aphorisms, exclamations, etc. (yes --
no); 2) the position of the narrator and his emotions are expressed in
separate words (yes -- no) and 3) the narrator intervenes in the course of
the story, forestalls the events, discusses the events with the reader, asks
him questions, explains his devices (yes -- no).
Statistical evaluation of the results shows that in his early stories Chekhov
consistently employs subjective method of narration. At the end of the first
period subjective narration is replaced by objective narration, the one in
-- 105 --
which the subjectivity of the narrator is no longer present and the point
of view of the hero is predominant. According to Chudakov, this narrative
type was first introduced by Pushkin and developed by Gogol, Dostoevsky,
and Tolstoy; however it was Chekhov who carried out its principles most
consistently: he turned the expression of the point of view of his characters
into the main constructive device of his prose. The narrator as a separate
'voice' disappears. During the third period of his creative activity, Chekhov
again introduces a new type of narration in which the objective expression
of the characters' points of view is supplemented by the 'voice' of the narrator.
The narrative becomes multi-directional.
The next level of analysis introduces theworld of realia. Chudakov notes
that Chekhov is very fond of details and descriptions that are not directly
related to the development of the plot or the character. He defines Chekhov's
method of description as depicting not only essential features of the world,
but accidental, irrelevant traits as well: "In Chekhov the world of things
is not a background, periphery of the stage. It is equal to the characters,
it is likewise lit by the author's attention" 45) . This basic Chekhovian
principle of showing the world as a unity of the essential and the accidental
is carried out in the description of people and events, the same conception
lies behind the ideological pattern of his artistic world. The absence of
any dogmatism, the insistence on the equal value of different attitudes and
ideas, aversion towards any self-assertion and violence -- these were Chekhov's
contributions to a vision of the world. Equally important were his artistic
discoveries: literary structure became oriented not towards one center, but
towards many equal constituent centers.
Thus, the semiotic approach to literature, as practiced by Soviet scholars,
proved that it may be successfully applied to both simple structures and
the most complex phenomena of literature. Chudakov's monograph seems to
45) , p. 152.
-- 106 --
be especially indicative in this respect, as it combines rigorous formal
analysis with far-reaching conclusions about the ideological structure of
the writer's work. It shows how the same basic principles may be responsible
for the organization of the lowest and the highest levels of the work of
art. It also demonstrates the extreme epistemological usefulness of the
concept of "point of view" as elaborated by B. Uspenskij.
While the studies of the typology of
cultures carried out by Toporov and
Ivanov revealed some of the basic features of archaic culture and mythopoeic
thought and the semiotic analyses of literature by Lotman, Uspenskij, and
Chudakov established the rules of structural analysis in literature, the synthesis
of both approaches and its application to modern literature and art introduced
a new dimension into Soviet structuralism. Keen interest in the history of
symbolic systems and reconstruction of their archaic state prompted Soviet
scholars to search for typologically similar phenomena in modern culture
without losing sight of its specific identity. It appears that certain types
of modern art and literature exhibit features of organization which may be
interpreted as recurrence of archaic patterns (cf., semantization of the
sound level in poetry, the use of anagrams, spatial orientation of the
represented world along the axis "top -- bottom," cyclic and dynamic treatment
of time as in the epic, etc.). Significantly such features tend to occur most
often in works of art usually described as "modern" or "modernist." Much has
been said about the meeting between the "modern" and the "archaic" in the
work of the 20th century avant-garde 46), which was sometimes consciously
oriented toward "primitive," "folk," or "archaic" patterns (cf. Xlebnikov
with his keen interest in ancient Slavic culture, the cubists with their use
of the African motifs, etc.).
But such patterns may be re-activated not only consciously and not only in
46) Cf. especially .
-- 107 --
the work of artists and writers who explicitly announced their break with
the tradition of European realism. In his recent monograph on the structure
of Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment  Toporov shows the importance
of certain typologically archaic patterns for the understanding of the structure
of artistic space in Dostoevsky's novel. His analysis proceeds from M. Baxtin's
conception of Dostovesky as a successor of archaic narrative forms (Socratic
dialogue, Mennipaea), at the same time as Baxtin's ideas are developed further
and put into the framework of Toporov's notion of the panchronic universal
semiotic complex which tends to re-appear whenever the world view is concerned
with the basic fundamentals of human existence interpreted in the cosmic sense.
Toporov's work presents a new approach to semantics of the literary text which
tries to combine structural analysis of contextual meanings with the general
semiotic orientation provided by the general semantic model inherent in the
text. Thus, concrete lexical observations go side by side with interpretations
derived from the overall conceptual model. This is somewhat reminiscent of
the method employed by Chudakov in his book with the important difference that
Toporov operates at once at much lower and much higher levels of artistic
structure. Toporov postulates the principle of multiplicity of meaning in
the novel taken as a whole. The important methodological point is that the
meaning of the whole is not given a priori; neither can it be summarized in
a discrete discursive statement. It is built up gradually from the meanings
of the separate elements of the text, the elements in question being phonemes,
morphemes, words, syntactic constructions, phraseological units. The meaning
of the whole is not additive in the sense of simple mechanical juxtaposition
of separate semantic elements. On the contrary, it is "non-enumerable." At
every stage of semantic integration, the meaning may be combined in a multitude
of ways and the contribution of each linguistic level is not directly propor-
tional to its place in linguistic structure, i.e. elements of the "lower" levels
may sometimes contribute more to the meaning of the whole than those of the
"higher" levels. This approach to the semantic analysis of prose is, indeed,
new. Certain elements of this conception may be discerned in Andrej Belyj's
work "The Artistic Craft of Gogol" ("Masterstvo Gogolja"), but there it seemed
to be immanent, derived solely from the specific features of Gogol's style.
-- 108 --
Tunjanov's concept of "closeness" of the verse line ("tesnota stixovogo
rjada") seems to contribute to Toporov's methodology. Recently attempts
were made to approach the poetry of Mandel'shtam from this point of view
,[49a], but Toporov is the first to apply this type of semantic analysis
to such complex work of prose as Crime and Punishment.
Toporov limits this analysis to words. The choice of a definite meaning in
interpretation depends on the simplest choice of common semantic elements
in the examined words. At the same time meanings do not exist as simple
data. Some are actualized only with a change in time perspective. Toporov
points out that in such complex texts the accidental appears as a simple
conglomerate only at lower levels of analysis. For higher levels the
accidental, the random forms a complex structure of relationships. This
structure becomes apparent when other texts, apart from Dostoevsky's novel,
are taken into consideration. Toporov writes:
Just as we read (= form) from the text of
Dostoevsky's novel certain new texts (or
sub-texts), the same task may be formulated
for the entire set of texts of Russian
literature. The texts formed in this way
possess all the specific features of a text
in general, and first of all, semantic
continuity. The text as understood in
this sense remains integral in spite of the
fact that it is composed of many genres, is
created over a considerable period of time,
and belongs to many authors. The text is
integral and continuous, although it was
(and will be) written by many authors,
because it emerged somewhere half-way
between the object and all the authors
who are characterized by certain common
principles of selection and synthesis of
the material (...). This is only the
initial approach to the subject of "St.
Petersburg text in Russian literature"
which is completely different from what
is commonly understood as "the theme of
St. Petersburg in Russian literature" 47)
47) , pp. 226-227.
-- 109 --
Toporov's treatment of the mythopoeic thinking stresses its universality
and typological applicability to most diverse human situations:
Universal mythopoeic patterns receive their
most complete realization in archaic cosmological
texts describing the solution of a certain
principal task (super-task) which determines
everything else. Such a solution becomes
necessary in a crisis situation when the
organized, predictable ("visible") cosmic
principle is threatened with being transformed
into a destructive, , unpredictable ("invisible"),
chaotic state. The solution of such a task is
realized as a trial-combat between the two
opposing forces, as obtaining an answer to the
main question of existence. The intensity of the
struggle is such that every term of the binary
oppositions which structure the universe becomes
ambiguous, ambivalent; its final ("last") interpretation
may be determined only according to the point of view
which is accepted as final. The conflict attains the
peak of dramatism, and the function is crystallized.
It becomes self-sufficient and determinative.
Everything that comes into its orbit loses its
substantiality, its former value criteria and becomes
restructured in order to correspond to the function.
In these circumstances the borders become blurred
between the terms of oppositions, between the hero
and his antagonist, the signans and the signatum;
a proper noun and a common noun. Continuity and
homogeneity of the space and time disappear, and
they become discrete, different segments acquiring
different value. The task may be solved only in
the sacral center of the space (it possesses the
highest semioticity; "suddenly it became visible
far away, towards all the corners of the world")
which is opposed to the profanic space, and in the
sacral temporal point, at the border between two
different states when profanic continuity is dissolved
and the time stands still. The same happens in the
language. Words and statements appear which take
the role of the final instance, which determine all
the rest and subject it to itself. In these
circumstances the word transcends the boundaries
of the language and becomes one with the thought
and deed, realizing its extra-linguistic potentialities 48).
48) , pp. 227-228.
- 110 --
Toporov shows how Dostoevsky utilized these characteristic features of the
mythopoeic thinking in Crime and Punishment. It was necessary for the writer
in order to represent in the most economical and effective manner the
tremendous amount of new semantic information. In this, Dostoevsky acted
as an innovator, he re-interpreted traditional "mythopoeic" patterns while,
at the same time, creating new forms of the novel. Thus, in Dostoevsky the
re-emergence of archaic forms answered a powerful innovative urge.
As in the mythopoeic model, the hero in Crime and Punishment is introduced
at the peak of conflict when his semantic structure is highly imbalanced, the
ambivalence of his position is at its peak, and he is constantly made to solve
the super-task, is faced with imminent choice between the positive and the
negative. At the same time, Dostoevsky is highly critical of such a posture
for his hero, and (and this is his unique contribution to the archaic scheme),
he constantly questions the hero's ability and right to be the subject of
this choice. Dostoevsky made the structure of the novel completely independent
of the hero, and increased the hero's field of choice and his combinatorial
possibilities. This opened possibilities for mythopoeic structures and, at
the same time, created completely new avenues of literary art. All this makes
Dostoevsky a truly modern artist whose creation belongs more to the period
which he did not live to see than to his own epoch.
Dostoevsky's hero, according to Toporov, is deliberately "unfinished." He
cannot be derived from the plot; he is open to new possibilities and contains
untapped potentialities of development. Dostoevsky's characters are always
half-way between good and evil; their model of behavior is indeterministic,
and at every turn of the plot one may expect completely unpredictable reactions.
Toporov agrees with Baxtin that polyphony of Dostoevsky's novels makes the
characters express separate, independent points of view. However, Toporov
goes beyond this conclusion:
While in Tolstoy's novels the author is above
his characters, he encompasses them with his
final and omniscient will, in Dostoevsky's
novels the author is within his characters
in the sense that different heroes (positively,
-- 111 --
negatively, or otherwise) solve the same task,
they are all magnetized in one direction, they
are considered in terms of the history of one
soul; they are also pragmatically related to
the author who is interiorized in the text 49).
Toporov insists that in Crime and Punishment the hero is, in fact, not confined
to the figure of Raskolnikov. Doppelgänger is a typically Dostoevskian device.
The heroes are localized in a certain Merkmalraum in such a way, that the two
neighboring figures possess a number of common features; the principle of
their localization depends on the function. Any two characters may receive
a common description, if their functions in a given fragment of the system
are identical. This, again, is a demonstration of the archaic pattern of the
novel: "The splitting of das Selbst with the view of a subsequent synthesis
in terms of moral regeneration is comparable to the general pattern of any
sacrificial act with the same pragmatics. A psychotherapeutic aspect of this
pattern is so evident that it partly explains why Dostoevsky's novels may be
used as scenarios "enacted" by the reader wandering about the actual places
where the events of the novels took place" 50).
Several conditions are necessary to bring the hero and the plot together, to
activate the relationships between both. One is a special psycho-physical
state of the hero who must possess the highest degree of freedom in order
to move freely in the space of the novel. The hero's state justifies even the
most improbable combinations of the plot. Dostoevsky's heroes are often
described as sick people who lose memory and any capability of human contact.
Toporov cites numerous examples where the characters behave like sick people,
suffer anmesia, spells of dizziness, faint, fall into apathy. On the other
hand, the hero may very quickly pass from utter despondency, sickness and
fever to mental and physical vigorousness, alertness, joy, and elation.
Another condition of the extraordinary freedom of "orientation" so characteristic
49) , p. 230.
50) , p. 230, Note 8.
-- 112 --
of Dostoevsky's heroes is a high degree of fragmentation, "compartmentalization"
of the space in the novel, comparable to the fragmentation of the character's
personality. The space of the novel is structured into small discrete fragments,
and it is difficult to pass from one fragment to another. This refers to all
the levels of the novel space: purely local, temporal, causal, axiological,
the level of behavior. The difficulty is usually overcome, but this adds a
dimension of unexpectedness into the world of the novel. The contrast between
two "space" fragments is often perceived as striking, the more so because
the time of passage is very short. This effect is achieved, on the linguistic
level, by the constant use of such words as "suddenly," "at once," "unexpectedly,"
"in no time," "at that moment," "as a lightning," etc. which serve as pure
operators of transition rather than significative elements. Especially frequent
is the word vdrug ("suddenly") which becomes completely "grammaticalized" and
may be compared to a formant of aspect. Similar functions are performed by
the words strannyj, stranno ("strange," "strangely"). This word introduces
an atmosphere of unexpectedness, unfulfilled expectation and indeterminacy.
Like vdrug, stranno is often used several times in the same sentence, in spite
of its seeming redundancy.
The temporal and spatial aspects of Crime and Punishment reveal many mythopoeic
features. Certain points in the space-temporal continuum of the novel are
described as significant. As in the mythopoeic tradition, time and space are
not a mere background of the action. They are active; they influence the
hero's behavior and may thus be equated to plot. A special place is occupied
by the moment of the sunset (cf. the role of the sunset as a boundary between
the order and the chaos in archaic traditions). In Dostoevsky's novel, the
sunset is not only the symbol of fateful decisions; it is also an active force
which influences the hero. Another source of constant indeterminacy is
Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg where "everything is possible as in Russia and
the Russian language in general" 51). The main feature of St. Petersburg is
51) , p. 241.
-- 113 --
phantasmagory. The space in St. Petersburg is characterized by the opposition
middle (internal) vs. periphery (external). These oppositions are activated
by the hero's movement. The movement has a distinct semantic connotation
of moral and ethical transformation: the feelings of hope and liberation
accompany the hero's departure from home while the closed space of the
apartment, home, brings the feelings of grief, anguish, and bondage. I may
venture to add that this evaluation of the opposition center vs. periphery
is in direct contrast to the prevailing pattern of the mythopoeic thought
where center (internal space, home) carried positive connotations, whereas
periphery (external space, alien realm) was conceived as hostile. I think
that this inversion of axiological coordinates is yet another sign of
Dostoevsky's modernity, of his innovative insight into the nature of man and
society. Presumably some of the anguish which permeates his works may be
related to his perception of radically changed values: home is no longer safe,
family is not a haven of refuge but the focus of all evil, the "own" is the
man's real enemy. Thus, the positive pole is shifted and begins to characterize
such semantic units as "the outer space," "the strangers" (even outcasts),
"solitude." At the same time the middle and the periphery are associated with
such features which in mythopoeic thought characterized their opposites.
The middle, formerly symbolic of the cosmic order, appears as the epitome of
the chaotic elements in Dostoevsky, while the periphery which was the abode
of the chthonic forces becomes the symbol of freedom, liberation and inner
Outside the house, the middle is associated with heat, dust, lack of fresh
air, noise, and crowd. Especially sinister are the shamelessness and the
gregariousness of the crowd with its vulgarity, sweat, and stink, The hero
is repelled by all this and tries to avoid the crowd and the middle. The
middle is the old business and trade center of St. Petersburg (such as
Bassejnaja and Sennaja streets, Litejnyj prospekt), the periphery where
the hero finds refuge from the sinister vulgarity and din of the city crowd
includes the broad green squares, embankments of the Neva, and the suburban
-- 114 --
Inside the house the middle is the hero's narrow and dingy room, more like
a coffin than a human lodging (cf. frequent comparisons of rooms with the
coffin in Crime and Punishment). The predominant colour is dirty yellow.
The mein feature of the middle inside the house is narrowness, denseness.
Linguistically, Dostoevsky establishes what may be called an intimate connection
between uzost'/ (narrowness) and uzhas (despair, horror), and the writer often
uses both words in similar contexts. The same is true of another pair,
tesnota (closeness) and toska (anguish, despair). Tesnota is also associated
with toshnota (nausea).
All these features remind the reader of the narrowness and chaos of death.
Dostoevsky employs iconic linguistic means to describe the narrow and
menacing world of the middle: the vocabulary becomes very limited, semantically
close words are united syntagmatically, the borders between proper and common
nouns are blurred, the meaning becomes dependent on the internal form of the
word and its phonetic structure, verba dicendi become standardized. The
language used for the description of the middle becomes narrow, the words
are too closely knit together, new, unnatural associations appear, and
linguistic elements tend to repeat.
The semantic associations of the periphery are exactly the opposite. Broad
space, the feeling of freedom, warm breeze instead of freezing cold or
sweltering heat, green vistas instead of dingy, yellowish wallpaper or grey
stone blocks, in short, infinity instead of finiteness.
Infinity is closely associated with life, while finiteness is a feature of
death (I will remark in parenthesis that this is yet another sign of Dostoevsky's
modernity and, in the final analysis, abandonment of the basic mythopoeic world
view). Infinity may be approached only through the fullness of life. The
image of this fullness can be perceived through memory (anamnesis) which is
the only rock of salvation for someone who, like Dostoevsky's heroes, is
plunged into the depths of despair. Here the writer again resorts to one of
the basic mythopoeic concepts.
-- 115 --
Toporov's analysis is important not only as a new attempt at the interpretation
of Dostoevsky, it provides a useful conceptual framework for understanding
some of the basic features of the semiotics of modern culture.
The conception of the "St. Petersburg text" in Russian literature as a
significant aspect of Russian culture is also developed in studies on the
structure of the poetry of the early 20th century. This poetry accepted the
semantic lessons of Dostoevsky, and the structure of its artistic language
developed the corresponding features of his poetics. Baxtin has discovered
Dostoevsky's dependence on the patterns of the ancient Greek and Roman
literature, as well as on "carnival culture," the archaic mode of collective
expression in folk communities. Orientation towards cultural prototypes and
the corresponding re-structuring of the semantic system is a specific feature
of the poetry of the early 20th century. It operates with complex semantic
elements the meaning of which is built up not only from the interaction of
"vocabulary" units, but incorporates all the intermediate cultural "references."
Especially interesting in this respect is the poetry of Anna Axmatova and Osip
Mandel'shtam. The "iconicity" of artistic language, so prominent in Dostoevsky,
is even more pronounced in the "semantic" poetry of the Russian Acmeists.
As in Dostoevsky's novels, certain fragments of the Acmeist world undergo
semantic transformation: the hero is no longer consubstantial with the author
or actual prototypes. The concept of "lyrical hero" which dominated Russian
poetics disintegrated under the impact of new semantic influences. The
"biographic" model of poetry which closely reflected the events ot the poet's
life but reinterpreted them to suit the literary and artistic conventions
was discarded. At the same time, the Acmeist poetry provided far broader
possibilities for interiorizing the author as a real living person into the
space of the poem, This was achieved by a greater emphasis on "compressed
semantics," ellipsis, references to extrapoetic facts, a wide use of colloquialisms,
idiolectisms. The dichotomy between "poetry" and "life" became irrelevant.
"Raw" fragments of actual reality were incorporated into the poem, though in
a different manner than in the Futurist approach. The Futurists used actual
-- 116 --
linguistic (and even extra-linguistic) material from the street in order to
change the texture of poetry to approximate life as closely as possible, while
the Acmeists sought to represent the semantic structures of reality in all
their complexity. There is also a difference in the attitude towards society
and individual. The Futurists are at the same time collectivistic and
individualistic, while the Acmeist position may be described as personalist.
Therefore for a Futurist the poem is a means of self-expression and/or
propaganda, while for an Acmeist the poem is part of the person.
The new concept of hero in the Acmeist poetry also includes such phenomena as
"composite" hero, overlapping of prototypes, as semantic shift of prototype,
in short a "semantic" rather than "biographic" model of the hero. The same
is true of the approach to the plot. Everything is dependent on the semantic
function and is modified accordingly. Likewise, the word acquires additional
nuances and cultural and poetic prototypes are often not disguised (although
these may be reflected not directly but via "modifying" intermediaries).
As in Dostoevsky's novels, the world is organized according to certain
archetypal patterns, but the transformation of the archetypal structure is
even more apparent (especially in Mandel'shtam).
Thus Acmeist poetics emerges as a unique semiotic cultural mechanism which
interiorized many otherwise "unobservable" features of Russian culture in
order to create a bridge between the archetypal and the modern and preserve
some of the most valuable semantic paradigms.
Several studies are devoted to the semiotic mechanism of the poetry of Anna
Akhmatova , [53a], [5a], [53b], [53c], [55d], . All of them deal
with the problem of semiotic structure of Akhmatova's highly important work
"Poem Without a Hero." The "Poem"'s unique circumstances of creation and
existence make it one of the most interesting literary monuments of our time
in Russian culture. It is significant that the first to draw the attention
of the scholarly public, as well as of wider audience, to this extraordinary
poetic work were semioticians. "Poem" is intended not only to be read and
enjoyed (and this is, by far, one of the best examples of Russian poetry,
-- 117 --
and not only contemporary), but also understood and interpreted. Akhmatova
deliberately made the problem of meaning the focus of this work. "Poem"
is not only free from plot and heroes in the conventional sense of the
terms, it is also full of literary, artistic, cultural, historic, and
biographic allusions which are deliberately enciphered, and the reader's
task is to reconstruct all additional "meanings." The task is not made
simpler by the fact that Akhmatova often gave deliberately misleading keys,
compressed several allusions into one, or, on the other hand, split one
prototypal image into several new elements.
Toporov has also prepared an important monograph on the relationship between
Akhmatova and Blok.
Timenchik, Toporov, and Civjan carried out extensive research into various
"sources" of "Poem"'s imagery. They started from a purely lexical stratum
of the text in which reminiscences, direct and veiled quotations from
various poets of the beginning of the century were discovered. Timencik
was the first in Soviet literary science to draw attention to Mikhail
Kuz'min, an outstanding Russian poet of the 1910-20's, as one of the
principal "sources" of "Poem"(especially his cycle "Forel' razbivaet
l'/od" ("Trout Breaks the Ice") which is written in the same "continuous"
tri-linear rhythm as "Poem"). Civjan studied the poetic structure of "Poem"
and came to the conclusion that it is comprised of a complex network of
auto-quotations superimposed on the plot constructed from quotations,
reminiscences, and allusions from other poets (Kuz'/min, Brjusov, Blok,
Gumilev, as well as certain other poets from his circle: Vsevolod Knjazev,
Vladimir Komarovskij, Nikolaj Nedobrovo, Vladimir Shilejko, there are important
reminiscences from Maksimillian Voloshin; especially significant are references
to the poetry of Akhmatova's teacher Innokentij Anneskij and her constant
poetic companion Osip Mande'shtam). According to Civjan, "Poem" occupies
the same functional place in the Russian poetry of the 20th century as
Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin" occupied in the poetry of the 19th century. Like
"Eugene Onegin," "Poem" is a literary encyclopedia. However, Akhmatova
-- 118 --
sometimes enters into explicit polemics with Pushkin's approach in that
she deliberately confuses certain literary sources trying to create an
impression of mystery, "other-wordliness," a mixture of intimate psychological
story and irrational phantasmagory, openness, and a queer esoteric impe-
netrability at the same time. This "play" had important cultural purposes
and psychological foundations: Akhmatova faced a tremendous task of
reconstructing an entire epoch in the history of Russian poetry, an epoch
which was as brilliant and important as it was thoroughly and deliberately
forgotten. And this was to be done from an intensely personal point of
view, by someone who was left as "the only witness" but who also had
direct and passionate involvement in the life of the "St. Petersburg period"
of Russian poetry and who used poetic talent not only for direct testimony,
but, more importantly, for prolonging the life of her contemporaries. By
being represented with such personal involvement, Akhmatova's heroes obtained
that freedom of deed and word which is found only among the living.
The problem of literary reminiscences is also treated by G. Levinton [28a],
[28b], [28c] and Z . Minc . Levinton analyzes several examples of
literary reminiscences in the work of A.K. Tolstoy, O. Mandel'shtam and
other poets. He introduces several distinctive features ("functional vs.
non-functional," "conscious vs. unconscious") for the classification of
extraneous literary elements in the text. Minc gives a theoretical analysis
of the phenomenon of reminiscence in Blok's poetry. The main conclusion
is that, in spite of fundamental differences between the poetic systems of
Blok and the Acmeists, poetic quotation appears to be the one common element.
Minc analyzes the corresponding material in Blok's poems in terms of the
Voloshinov-Baxtin opposition "one's own word vs. alien woid." She traces
Blok's interest in "alien word" to three sources: the aesthetics of symbolism
(especially, the philosopher Vladimir Solovjev) according to which everything
is text and all events are "quotations" from a text; orientation towards
culture inherited from the 19th century Russian poetry; and an atmosphere
of Blok's home where speech was an object of special attention. Minc
establishes the following functions of reminiscences in Blok's poetry:
1. the quoted passage is a sign of the work from which the quotation
-- 119 --
2. the quotation is a sign of the entire body of work of a given
3. a quotation is a sign of a given culture
4. a quotation is a sign of a general orientation towards secondary
sources, towards cultural background as a whole.
Another interesting feature of Blok's method is a "poly-genetic" character
of quotations in his work: i.e. a given image may be traced back to several
Thus, we see that semiotic "derivativity" is a very important feature of
some of the best works of Russian 20th century literature. This is an
interesting parameter of the cultural system as a whole: much of what is
being done in Russian culture now (including semiotics and structuralism)
is motivated by orientation at cultural (artistic, epistemological, etc.)
patterns which are no longer observable.
As I have stated at the beginning of this review, much of what has been done
in Soviet structuralism and semiotics was inspired by a continuous rediscovery
of the heritage of the first half of the 20th century. In this sense, Soviet
structuralism may be compared with Czech and Slovak structuralism which drew
their inspiration from the pre-war culture of the Czech and Slovak avantgarde
poets and critics, the traditions of J. Mukarhovsky, K. Teige, R. Jakobson,
J. Seifert, "DAV" . The significant difference is that in Russia these
traditions may be pushed perhaps one generation back, to the activity of
the post-symbolist and early Formalist criticism of 1910-1918. If we now
apply to Russian structuralist and semiotic writings the methodology of
discovering "reminiscences" we encounter important cultural and scholarly
forerunners of the present trends in philology whose ideas are being discussed
and developed now.
In this connection mention should be made of regular publications of archival
materials in the Tartu Trudy pa znakovym sistemam. Beginning with volume 3,
-- 120 -
this series has published the works of such scholars and writers as Pavel
Florenskij , , [11a], [11b], Boris Jarxo , , Boris Pasternak ,
Boris Tomashevskij , Olga Frejdenberg , and Sergei Bernshtejn .
Their concepts provoke active response in the scientific audience. Important
publications of materials by Boris Pasternak  and early Futurists [10a],
[10b] appeared in other Tartu series. I should especially mention the
importance of archival studies conducted by the young literary scholars
Gabriel Superfin and Lazar Flejshman who helped to introduce many hitherto
unknown works into Soviet philology. Among the ideas which influenced the
development of Soviet semiotics mention should be made of Florenskij's
brilliant analysis of "Point of view" and visual symbols in connection with
the problem of "inverse perspective" in medieval icon painting, his discussion
of the symbolic role of numbers and the structure of visual perception,
Pasternak's critique of the formalist method, and Jarxo's conception of
literary critiscism as an exact science. Materials by O. Frejdenberg which
appeared in the newest, sixth volume of the series highlight the present
interest in mythological semantics, the structure of mythopoeic thinking
and the emergence of literary genres. Frejdenberg was close in many respects
to Baxtin with his attention to folklore and archaic forms of literature.
The same volume of the Trudy includes a very intersting article by S. Bernshtejn.
It is an analysis of a poem by Alexander Blok at all linguistic and poetic
levels. This study shows that recognition of artistic function of all poetic
elements such as phonetic, morphological, syntactic has long been one of
the dominant features of Russian structural poetics of which Bernshtejn
was one of the founders.
No author can be compared with Mixail Mixajlovic Baxtin as far as influence
on modern Soviet semiotics is concerned. In Western semiotic literature,
it has become commonplace to credit Baxtin even with those "achievements"
for which he himself would hardly agree to take credit. This is due not
only to an insufficient knowledge of Baxtin's work, but, mainly, to other
factors related to special circumstances of Baxtin's life and work and
the West's acquaintance with his ideas. Much emphasis has been put on Baxtin's
-- 121 --
early formulations about the relationship between the sign and ideology
(with a typical shift of meanings observed by Baxtin himself); however
Baxtin's poignant criticism of modern culture and his sometimes romantic
admiration of archaic and folk models passed completely unnoticed. Those
who wrote on Baxtin seemed to overlook the fact that Dostoevsky and Rabelais
interested him not as convenient examples of the correctness of his analysis,
but as epoch-making cultured phenomena endowed with value and significance
of their own. Baxtin's work was perceived as a closed entity encapsulating,
as it were, his early ideas developed still in the twenties, while, in
reality, the scholar deepened his approach. Baxtin followed closely the
scientific debates of the thirties and the forties, and the comparison of
his early book on Dostoevsky with its second edition shows the measure of
Baxtin's evolution. At the same time, Baxtin's modernity and the independence
of his thought already in his earliest works were underestimated.
Therefore, Ivanov's recent detailed study [18t], of the importance of Baxtin's
ideas for semiotics is especially valuable and timely. It helps to establish
a proper perspective on Baxtin's own contribution to science and to distinguish
what is his from what belongs to later interpretations.
Ivanov begins his analysis of Baxtin's ideas with a survey of the concepts
of sign and semiotic system. Baxtin was the first to link the idea of sign
with the notion of ideology. However, Baxtin's emphasis was not on the
ideological determinacy of signs (as some of his present interpreters seem
to think), but on the semiotic nature of "ideologies": "where there is no
sign, there is no ideology," "there is semiotic significance in everything
that relates to ideology" 52). I think it is also important to understand
that for Baxtin the word "ideology" carried a completely different meaning
that for most of those who commonly use this word. The closest correspondence
to this term might be "semiotic system" which is clear from the following
statement by Baxtin: "all products of ideological creation: works of art
52) V. Voloshinov. Marksizm i filosofija jazyka, pp. 15, 17
Quoted in [18t], p. 5 (translation mine D.S.).
-- 122 --
and science, religious symbols and ceremonies, etc. are material objects <...>.
True, these are objects of a special kind, they are endowed with meaning,
sense, intrinsic value. But all these meanings and values are given only
in material objects and actions" 53). This emphasis on the material expression
of meaning is a very specific feature of Baxtin's thinking. Baxtin insists
on a special contribution of material expression to meaning. This aspect
distinguished his theory from the semiotics of de Saussure which he studied
thoroughly; Baxtin remarked critically that in de Saussure's theory "linguistic
relations have nothing in common with ideological values" 54). Baxtin saw
semiosis as a completely objectivized process: "every ideological product
and all that is "ideationally valuable" in it does not dwell in the soul
or the internal world, nor does it dwell in the reflected world of ideas
and pure meanings, but in the objective and accessible ideological material -
in a word, sound, gesture, combination of masses, lines, colors, living
bodies..." 55). According to Baxtin, the world of material signs was
directly accessible to objective study. The type of relations discovered
as a result of scientific analysis is, by necessity, sociological, because
values inhere in the signs, moreover, in their "material body," as Baxtin
would say. This fundamental conclusion distinguishes Baxtin sharply from
Husserl and his Russian follower Gustav Shpet. On the one hand, Baxtin's
insistence on the semioticity and meaningfulness of material objects and
events would make him close to Husserl with his "subjective objectivity"
and intentionality of cognition. On the other hand, Baxtin's sociological
emphasis and clear rejection of "pure conscience" point to the opposite
direction than that followed by Husserl. At the same time, it must be
borne in mind that Baxtin's sociological approach is equally directed
against any psychologizing of semiotics; therefore all attempt to read from
Baxtin's theory of dialogue an epistemology of "split personality" is pure
misunderstanding. For Baxtin dialogue necessarily takes place between
53) [18t], p. 5
54) [18t], p. 6
55) , p. 7
-- 123 --
objectivized, even sociologically relevant "voices," while "split personality"
cannot be divested of heavy psychological connotations.
Ivanov draws on important theoretical conclusion from Baxtin's concept of
the nature of sign: it is impossible to study the semantics of the work
of art in isolation from purely formal aspects (linguistic in case of
literature). He quotes the following passage from an early work by Baxtin:
"... in art the meaning is absolutely inseparable from all the details of
the material body wherein it dwells. The work of art is meaningful in its
entirety. The very act of creation of the sign-body has paramount importance.
Technical, subordinate and therefore substitutable elements are brought
to a minimum" 56). Ivanov concludes that establishment of inter-level
correlations in works of art must assume precedence over isolation of
levels of analysis as was the practice of the Formalists. This is a very
interesting point which, I think, could serve as a basis for a typology of
art. Clearly, the measure of explicit semantization of "purely formal"
aspects (prosody, sound structure, morphological, and syntactic patterns)
differs from one literary tradition to another and it would be interesting
to study the relationship between such semantization and the semantic import
and function of the work of art.
Baxtin's determination to see meaning in the sign naturally led him to a
conclusion that every field of ideological creativity "forms its specific
signs and symbols which are not applicable in other spheres. The sign is
created here by a special ideological function from which it is inseparable". 57).
At the same time, Baxtin declared that although "specific ideological signs"
are not mutually substitutable, they all are based on the word, accompanied
56) [18t], p. 7.
57) [18t], p. 8
-- 124 --
by the word as singing is accompanied by music" 58). Here we are introduced
to one of the fundamental concepts of Baxtin -- the word. The meaning
of this term in Baxtin's writings is very synthetic. It incorporates both
the meaning of the word as a lexical unit and a more general meaning of
verbal activity, verbal aspect of human life. It may also mean the abstract
Logos. Therefore we prefer to translate the Russian term 'slovo' by the
English "word," even though it does not do justice to all the nuances of
The acceptance of the word, the Logos as the primary factor in the development
of ideological (semiotic) systems is the basis of all theoretical conclusions
reached by Baxtin. Here Baxtin appears as the predecessor of all later
semiotic thought. Apparently the Jakobsonian theory of the primacy of
language in all sign systems grew from the early works of Baxtin who wrote:
"... the word accompanies and comments on every ideological act <...>. All
manifestations of ideological creativity, all other, non-verbal signs are
enveloped by the verbal element, are immersed in it and cannot be completely
isolated or divested from it" 59). For Baxtin, the language of artistic images
is the language of literature.
I think this categoric statement of the relationship between the verbal
sphere and other semiotic systems can be accepted as long as one keeps in
mind that the role of language in modelling "ideological activity", although
crucial, has, nevertheless, its limits. True, Baxtin himself never equates
the word (as he understood it) with language. By including into slovo all
the gamut of secondary associations, contextual meanings and behavioral
accompaniments, Baxtin broadened its function and sphere and made the word
transcend its purely linguistic borders. We may agree that language serves
as a primary model of "structuredness" (cf. the ideas of Lotman), that insofar
58) [18t], p. 9.
59) [18t], p. 9.
-- 125 --
as human behavior results in "ideological events" it is based on linguistic
conceptualization. However, it would not be too precipitous to assume
that at least some of the contents of signs, the actual substance of semantic
elements may be not so dependent upon the verbal aspect. Recent psychophysiological
studies on the crucial role of the right cerebral hemisphere in controlling and
organizing emotive activity and expressive audio-visual perception and response
show that certain basic human abilities which play an important part in non-
verbal semiotic systems (dance, music, plastic arts) are sufficiently
independent from linguistic conceptualization. Of course, the structure of
the corresponding socially accepted systems always reveals the primary
modelling role of language (and more so in the so-called "primitive" and
"archaic" cultures). One may hypothesize, however, that these structures
are, in effect, rationalizations superimposed upon the material whose
spontaneous activation does not involve the use of the word. This consideration
may prove important in the evaluation of Baxtin's theory of carnival and dialogue
which stresses the creative role of the word, but, at the same time, reveals
such levels of human culture for which precisely these "non-linguistic" aspects
may be important.
Let us return, however, to Ivanov's article. Having outlined Baxtin's
contribution to understanding the nature of sign, Ivanov proceeds to discuss
Baxtin's theory of "metalinguistics." This theory is an attempt at a critical
examination and development of de Saussure's theory of semeiology. Baxtin
starts from a diametrically different premise than de Saussure. For de
Saussure a model of the semiotic act was the elementary verbal utterance,
Structural linguistics has recognized in the sentence the highest unit of
analysis. Baxtin's unique contribution was his deep understanding of the
communicative aspect of semiosis: "We are accustomed to think of ideological
creativity as an internal process of understanding, comprehension and awareness.
We are not sufficiently aware that this process is entirely external: it is
for the eye, the ear, the hands, it is not within us, but between us" 60).
60) [18t], p. 9.
-- 126 --
Baxtin's discovery of the communicative aspect of semiosis was one of the
most important of the predictions which are so abundant in his work, Recent
psychological and anthropological studies reported at the International
Congress of Ethnological and Anthropological Sciences in Chicago stress
the ordered nature and semantic importance of all human behavior in "face-
to-face interaction." Especially valuable are observations concerning the
contribution of this significative behavior to the meaning of the verbal
elements exchanged by the communicants. This seems to corroborate Baxtin's
thesis that the meaning of the sign is revealed only in communication.
On the other hand, some of these observations seem to indicate that the
word may not play as predominant a role in structuring semantics during
face-to-face communication as would appear from Baxtin's theory. However,
Baxtin's insistence on the crucial place of the word may be vindicated,
firstly, by a speech-like structure of the non-verbal communicative "stream"
and, secondly, by the implicit verbal semantization even of non-verbal
behavior (cf. below about "internal speech"). In any case, already in
his early works Baxtin formulated one of the most important theses of the
modern semiotic theory. Ivanov shows how Baxtin's ideas were "re-discovered"
in the works of Emile Benveniste, one of the founders of modern semiotics.
Baxtin's theory of linguistics was formulated almost in the same terms in the
most recent writings of Benveniste. Both scholars come to the conclusion
that a special semantic theory of the utterance should be created. This
theory should not be limited to the sentence as its main object. Baxtin
refers to this approach as "meta-linguistic," and Benveniste, as "meta-
semantic." Baxtin did not limit himself to theoretical considerations only.
His detailed analyses of the structure of the utterance, especially the
classification of the patterns of relationship between various "voices"
within a single discourse, remain unsurpassed. They have served as the
basis for the modern "discourse analysis" "text linguistics," and "trans-
linguistics." Ivanov points out that Baxtin's approach is broader than that
of translinguistics, because the latter limits itself only to messages
consisting of more than one sentence, whereas Baxtin, true to his complex
view of the sign, regards all discourse events as legitimate objects of
-- 127 --
study, even though they may consist of not more than a single word.
Ivanov points out that, according to Baxtin, the principal constitutive
feature of the word is polysemy. Ivanov compares the statements by Baxtin
and Benveniste and notes that both authors describe the same situation when
the overall meaning of the whole (message, utterance, a group of utterances,
etc.) is continuous and cannot be represented as a sum total of the discrete
meanings that compose it. On the contrary, the meaning of the constitutive
elements may be understood only after the overall meaning of the whole is
clear. The meaning of the whole is distributed over separate elements.
Both Baxtin and Benveniste have come to recognize the essential difference
between the sign and the signal, the continuous meaning and the discrete
meaning. They distinguish between recognition and cognition (understanding).
Recognition is the identification of an isolated sign, recognition of its
self-identity, whereas cognition (understanding) "is not recognition of
'the same', but understanding in the proper sense of the word, i.e. orientation
in a given context and in a given situation, orientation in becoming, rather
than 'orientation' in immovable being" 61). Ivanov points out that these
ideas are based on differentiation between the point of view of the hearer
(which was, according to Baxtin, the traditional linguistic point of view),
and the point of view of the speaker. Here Baxtin formulated a fundamental
theoretical thesis which later was developed by R. Jakobson and N. Chomsky.
Baxtin's conception of understanding was based on the idea of dialogue: "We
respond to every word of the utterance that we understand with our own
words <...>. Every understanding is dialogical. Understanding is the
counterpart of the utterance, just as remarks in the dialogue are counterparts" 62).
Ivanov writes that the idea of dialogue is the center of Baxtin's entire
61) [18t], p. 17.
62) [18t], p. 17.
-- 128 --
theory. All the main themes, discoveries and achievements for which philology
now gives credit to Baxtin are crystallized around this central notion.
According to Baxtin, dialogical communication is "the sphere of the real
life of the word," Dialogical relations are demonstrated in those forms
of discourse where "the alien word" is incorporated into the verbal structure.
The ability to discern and use "the alien word" is one of the basic pre-
requisites of successful ideological creativity. The real meaning of "the
whole" is discovered only through the interaction between "the own word"
and "the alien word."
Baxtin pays specific attention to the problem of quotation. He studied the
role of quotation in the Ellinistic and medieval cultures and discovered
that quotations (i.e. "alien word") may sometimes be so skillfully concealed
that only special investigations will discover them. On the other hand,
quotations are often quite conspicuous. In any case, they were intended to
intertwine and interact with the "own word." Baxtin's classification of
quotations remains the most complete and many-faceted even today. The role
of quotation in culture was also discussed in the twenties by the Russian
poet Osip Mandel'shtam; this, undoubtedly, reflects some of the basic features
of modern culture (cf. above about "quotations" in Russian poetry). The
film director Sergej Ejzenshtejn, who is in many respects close to Baxtin's
position, also recognized the important cultural role of quotations. Ivanov
also cites the opinion of Thomas Mann who gradually came to the conclusion
that life itself should be regarded as a cultural object, like a mythic
A considerable attention is paid in Ivanov's article to Baxtin's relationship
with Freudianism. Ivanov is certainly correct in pointing out that Baxtin
not only knew and appropriated the ideas of Freud, but that he went much
further from the starting point. Baxtin's anti-psychologism is seen not as
a drawback caused by a lack of knowledge (as some of Baxtin's French commentators
seem to think), but as a conscious position based on a reinterpretation of
certain basic ideas of Freud. Baxtin adopted a consistently sociological
point of view in which no place was left for "individual drives" in the
Freudian sense. Dialogue was understood as an entirely social phenomenon;
the "voices" or "remarks" of the dialogue were interpreted as socially
sanctified, and the only distinction was between the subdivisions of the
social: official vs. unofficial. Baxtin's conception of the dialogue helps
to understand how even the most intimate and "suppressed" drives are conceived
of as social expressions. According to Baxtin, the Freudian unconscious
does not exist per se, in "pure" drives or aversions, but only insofar as
it is expressed verbally, in "internal speech." "Internal speech" even
of a child is, according to Baxtin, an interiorized dialogue, but as we
have seen the dialogue is social from the very beginning, so even the internal
speech is, by necessity, social: "The word should at first be born and ripen
in the process of the social communication of organisms in order to enter
the organism and become the internal word" 63). This idea of Baxtin is very
close to the later discoveries of Vygotskij and Piaget.
Baxtin interpreted the Freudian conflict between the conscious and the
subconscious as a conflict within the sphere of verbal behavior between
the internal and the external speech or between different strata of the
internal speech -- the official conscience and the unofficial conscience.
Baxtin's insistence on the role of external signs for the structuring of
internal emotions is close to Freud's view of the role of speech in the
treatment of neuroses. At the same time, Baxtin's position is a polemical
denial of Freud's insistence on the "non-observability" of the sub-conscious.
Finally, Baxtin denies all "sub-conscious" character of this aspect of
human existence and links it with sociology. I think that while the semiotic
implications of Baxtin's dialogical view of verbal behavior and experience
are indeed invaluable, his use of exclusively sociological interpretation
of the conflict between the different layers of speech within the individual
could be supplemented by semiotic considerations. Ivanov seems to agree
63) [18t], p. 21.
-- 130 --
with Baxtin on the sociological interpretation of the dialogue and "internal
dialogism," while adding certain additional observations from the sphere
of linguistics. Anthropological data point to the fact that dialogue and
carnival are rooted in the antinomic nature of the sign in "primitive"
societies. It is common knowledge that certain basic elements of the
"primitive" semiotic systems are characterized by explicit ambiguity in
terms of their semantic description. This ambiguity is so regular it is
hardly possible to explain it by any reference to conscious "unofficial
ideology." Partial explanation of this phenomenon lies in the much greater
role of such signs in the actual life of the community than is the case
in modern societies where ramified and stratified specialized systems have
taken the place of such universal signs. The universality, irreplaceability,
and uniqueness of such "primitive" symbols was combined with their extremely
high modelling capacity (cf. above, Toporov's views on the structure of
universal semiotic complexes). Such signs represented the entire scope of
existence, in its macrocosmic, mesocosmic (social) and microcosmic aspects.
Therefore it is difficult to accept the extrapolation of Baxtin's interpretation
of the carnival and dialogue. The ridicule, protest against the official
ideology, the reversal of the social "top" and "bottom," the deliberate
equation of the social and bodily spatial coordinates -- all these features
of the carnival belong to a specific stage (or typological niche) in culture.
In tribal societies all these features are either not observed at all in
the social context of the tribe, or are embedded into a completely different
semantic structure. Among such societies as the Australian aborigines, the
Andaman islanders, or the African Bushmen there is no division between the
"official" and "unofficial" ideology. The "carnival" reversals are embedded
into the structure of ordinary symbols and rituals; such reversals are not
regarded as extraordinary, but as something inherent in the pattern of tribal
world-view (which is not dichotomized into "socially superior" and "socially
inferior"). The reversal of "social" (rather, ritual) roles is a normal
procedure which may or may not be celebrated as a special occasion. Every
ritual and social group (sub-phratry, phratry, moiety, etc.) is associated
with "positive" and "negative" semantic characteristics. The bodily "bottom"
-- 131 --
is not at all associated with "inferior" social and ritual groups, so that
when the reversal occurs, it is not necessarily accompanied by the symbolism
of the bodily "bottom." The structure of taboo is not geared to the anal-
genital sphere which is allowed to be expressed quite freely, At the same
time while explicit anal-genital symbolism is very much in evidence in
these societies, it does not carry the "carnival" connotations of obscenity,
ridicule and freedom. This is correlated with the important communicative
role of "collective monologue" (cf. "shouting" rituals among the Bushmen).
The analysis of the semantics of such trickster figures as the Raven among
the Paleo-Siberians and North-West Coast Indians or the Coyote among the
Plains Indians shows that, although the trickster possesses many carnival
features (gluttony, prodigous sexual urge, association with excreta, etc.)
he does not represent any social reversal. One may also add here that
in many societies (such as the Zuni in North America) ritual manipulation
with excrements was not at all a "comic," "carnival" feature, but a serious
Thus, one may say that the semantic substance of the carnival is found in
many tribal societies, but the structure of the elements is quite different
from the one described by Baxtin. These elements are organized in a specific
manner, are interpreted as social symbols of temporary liberation at a
different typological stage when they come into the sphere of polarized
social relations and ideologies and repressed "collective monologue." It
may also be added that Baxtin was somewhat too emphatic in stressing the
antagonistic relationship between the carnival and the official culture,
for the carnival liberation, although quasi-universal, was temporary and
reinforced the psychological validity and truth of the official system.
Ivanov cites interesting parallels to Baxtin's theory of carnival from the
written works and motion pictures by Ejzenshtejn who was fascinated by the
problem of travesty and carnival treatment of death. Ejzenshtejn discerned
carnival motifs in the history of the Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible, who
often used reversal of social and sexual roles in his court life. Ivan,
as it were, travestied the carnival itself because he used it to wield death
- 132 --
and terror, and not life and joy. On the other hand, ritual laughter at
the cemeteries shown by Ejzenshtejn in his "; Que viva Mexico!" symbolizes
the victory of life over death.
Baxtin's theory is one of the first coherent and successful attempts to
construct an integral theory of all human culture in terms of communication.
His deep insight into the nature of communication, verbal activity, his
view of the novel as a polyphonic genre based on the interaction of several
sign systems in the continuum of the present, his evaluation of the role
of dialogue and theory of carnival, not to speak of his more specific
contributions to the theory of semiotics or the poetics of Dostoevsky
and Rabelais, make him one of the most significant cultural figures of the
20th century. Ivanov showed that his approach was not an isolated phenomenon.
It was typical of 20th century science and culture with their relativism,
anti-positivism, and rejection of authoritarian linear evolutionism. One
should also bear in mind that Baxtin's romantic view and positive evaluation
of the carnival is typical of another aspect of the modern culture, its
disillusionment with the idea of limitless progress. This should caution
all those who might try to use some of Baxtin's ideas out of the context
of his ideas and life. It is instructive that another champion of dialogical
approach to communication in the 20th century, Martin Buber, shared with
Baxtin this attachment to tradition and history.
* * *
We have thus traced some of the
trends of structuralism and semiotics in
the Soviet philology. This movement has been characterized to date by
a peculiar blend of extremely liberal approach as far as methods are concerned
and certain persistent themes which can hardly be called subjects of research,
but rather aspects of interest. These specific thematic aspects of Soviet
structuralism and semiotics are not a vogue or fad, as sometimes happens
in this field, but deep spiritual commitments fostered by certain traditions
-- 133 --
of Russian culture and humanities. They include a synthetic view of sign
and semiotic system as embedded in the cultural and human context of
communication, prevalence of semantic aspect in semiotic studies which
is also typical of purely linguistic research, and a basically protective
attitude towards traditional semiotic systems which are endowed not only
with cultural value, but are also regarded as indispensable elements in the
informational pattern of society. This latter position is in sharp con-
trast to some of the tenets of the Western philosophical structuralism
which sees itself as an instrument of dislocation, disruption, and sometimes
even destruction of existing semiotic systems. While both positions are
originally rooted in completely different value systems, the discussion of
the comparative merits of which would be much beyond the purpose of the
present paper, it is instructive that the platform of the Soviet structuralist
school seems somewhat more in agreement with the general concern for the
global future of mankind as a species in the context of ecological catastrophe.
The last paper to be briefly mentioned here is V. Ivanov's monograph on
the category of time in the art and culture of the 20th century [18s]. It
raises far more general questions than semiotic approach to culture or art.
Ivanov is deeply concerned about the future of human culture in our age,
and he discerns certain symptomatic phenomena in various semiotic systems
which try to expand the common Newtonian time perspective, thus making the
signs more like organic living essences and striving to save semiotic systems
from destruction, oblivion, misinterpretation or misuse. At the same time,
the problem of the evolution of semiotic systems emerges in a different
light in view of the perceived changes in the structure of time. Suddenly,
time is perceived as bringing not only progress in knowledge and increase
in information, but its pitfalls become obvious: an avalanche-like increase
in quantity of information and the growing inability of human recipients
to cope with it, interference with or suppresion of cultural memory with the
resulting social neuroses so similar to individual neuroses. Signs are
perceived as changing their hitherto immutable meanings. They lose their
independence from time, or rather, their commeasurability with time. Thus,
-- 134 -
new qualities of time were discovered, and the Kantian objectivized, immanent,
homogeneous, and reversible flow was replaced by the Bergsonian duree,
imbued with value, anthropocentric, heterogeneous, and irreversible. Ivanov
analyses the relation to time and its perception of such 20th century figures
as Reichenbach, who treated the complex problem of the connection of the
direction of time with the increase in physical entropy, and Florenskij,
who was among the first thinkers to perceive the antinomy between entropy
and ectropy (or, in Winer's terms, negentropy) in terms of the eternal
conflict between the Cosmos and Logos. Floresnkij clearly saw the relationship
between the perception of the continuity and fullness of time and fullness of
conscience. On the other hand, "incomplete," "deficient" conscience leads
to reversals in time, e.g. in dreams. In the problem of the perception of
history, again, a positivistic view of history as a step-by-step progress
is countered by the modernistic view of history either as iterative, cyclic
(Velimir Xlebnikov) or as cataclysmic (in the past: Teillhard, Vernadskij;
in the future: Reichenbach, Andrej Belyj). Ivanov examines the syntactic
aspect of the arts which express new concepts of time: polyphony, projectivity
vs. non-projectivity of the fabula, collage, etc. He comes to the conclusion
that the 20th century has introduced new dimensions into the perception of
historic time: the beginning and the end. It is impossible to give a correct
semantic description of the total system in its diachronic aspect without
knowing both its beginning and its end. While the special semiotic role
of the beginning was evident in archaic and tribal cultures, the end attracted
the attention only of the eschatological thought. However, the 20th century
has shown that it is impossible to interpret, to semantisize sign systems
without knowing their end, either actual or "hypothetical," at a given
synchronic level. Post-diction gives a new order and structure to signs.
Thus, it is impossible to understand the poet's role fully if the real mean-
ing of his death remains unknown. The same is true of whole cultures and
civilizations. Mandel'shtam wrote that death illuminates the preceding
creation by a specific and very personal light.
Toporov in his already quoted article on cosmology and history has proposed
-- 135 --
the construct of the end of history which would not be synonymous with the
peril of civilization, but would inaugurate a new stage in semiotic modelling
whereby the process of history with its emphasis on "important," "destiny-
making" events would be terminated and a new type of consciousness, based
on panchronic and simultaneous treatment of "cultural values" would prevail.
This type of consciousness would not be needed to be "fired up" by con-
temporaneous events, for semiotic value would be restored to traditional
signs, whereas the present would be taken up by the analysis of the rules
of combination. This would add to history the much needed finality that
attributes certain stable values to historic elements which continue as
human events without making the system of history irretrievably complex.
The problem of semiotic description of history is believed to be solved
by presenting history as a certain semantic field within which the relations
are governed by semantic rather than causal laws, the hierarchy is established
not along the temporal axis, but along the axis of combination.
Ivanov believes that the problem of the end is the crucial problem of
modernity precisely because it is now possible to envisage the actual end
of culture. He suggests that culture should be re-oriented in such a way
as to be ready to absorb the meaning of this boundary situation. The
solution is seen in perfecting the mechanism of cultural memory so that
the fullest possible information should always be stored about any cultural
subject or object because its existence may be terminated at any given
Having come to these final questions of culture it is, indeed, very difficult
to visualize the future of Soviet structuralism and semiotics. The very
fact that they are openly tackling such problems shows that here one deals
with a cultural phenomenon of outstanding scale.