Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Gesellschaftliche Reproduktion und kulturelle Innovation. Aus semiotischer Sicht / Social Reproduction and Cultural Innovation. From a Semiotic Point of View

Liminal and Hybrid Aspects of Intersemiotics

Madeleine Schechter (Tel Aviv University)



Starting from the main stance of the conference, namely: "to consider society (the people) and culture (people's production) as a whole in an intersemiotic way", this article raises two interrelated basic questions concerning 1) the meaning of the term "whole" in this context and 2) how one can understand "intersemiotics", i.e. the scientific network that underlines the constitution of the former. In other words, I intend to focus on the particle "inter" and on its significations.

A first possible answer is that the whole is the entire amount of the cultural categories, conceptual and organizational schemata, cooperating yet preserving the limits, and therefore intersemiosis preserves the differences and tensioned relationships between them. Second, the whole can be conceived as the outcome of a synthesis which by abolishing the traditional logical binarism and the hierarchies, solves the oppositions fusing them into an ordered continuum, which harmoniously integrates peoples and their practices materialized in culture production . The third option, which is both the theoretical and pragmatic basic hypothesis of this article, is to explore the question of "intersemiotic" from the theoretical perspectives opened up by liminality and hybridity. In this proposal I shall refer only to liminality, inasmuch hybridity is a variation of the former, focusing mainly on the question of cultural identity and its negotiation in the post-colonial period.

The rationale of the use of liminality and hybridity was suggested by the term "intersemiotics", which connects the general questions concerning semiotics with some major trends in anthropology and social sciences, which prepared the path to a shift in paradigm from modernism to postmodernism.

Moreover, not only theorists such as Y. Lotmann, who coined the term "semiosphere", but also V. Turner, the major name in the field of liminality, use as a methodology a variety of semiotics, i.e. "comparative symbology", which brings to the fore the transitional, the interstitial, the ambiguous and the paradoxical, in short those entities, states of affairs, processes and their symbolic presentations which exist in-between domains, and therefore in-between otherwise distinct categories. According to Turner liminal and liminoid undermine the well-established structures and denote those: anti-, meta-, and protostructural states, specific of modern industrial societies. In describing liminality as an "interstructural" period, state or situation, Turner underlines the ambiguity of threshold vs. limit, while the former both unites and divides. According to the negative or positive aspects involved, liminality can be described in terms of both/and or neither/nor. Due to its ambiguity and paradox, the liminal phases of culture are characterized by playfulness; as such at the level of cultural practices, numberless and unexpected kind of inconclusive, transitional or transgressive interactions take place. The playful, dynamic character of liminality challenges the categorization of socio-cultural processes in terms of binary oppositions, and as such has far-reaching consequences in the constructions of meaning. Both liminal and liminoid states are articulated within an in-between zone (they imply each other in order to be identified), which blurs the categorical distinctions (either/or), without reducing them however to a synthesis of opposites.

In this respect, liminal, liminoid and hybrid, provide heuristic models in elaboration of an analysis of culture in terms of intersemiotics, starting from the deep-rooted human insight in the power, danger and fertility of the thinking about those so disturbing yet fascinating states, processes and their symbolic presentations, which are neither determined/limited nor amorphic/limitless, and as such can be seen as the seedbeds of cultural creativity in fact.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-09