The Unifying Aspects of Cultures


Transcultural Stereotypes in Works of Art and Literature

Chair of the section/Suggestions, Abstracts, Contributions to:
Email: Tamara Fessenko (Tambov/Russland)

ABSTRACT: Culture is no isolated phenomenon with its own independent history: it has existed as long as human beings and must also develop according to its inherent laws.

Using the detailed functional and historical studies of culture as a starting point (Lotmann 1970), Koch 1986), Posner 1989), Fleischer 1989), my aim in the following contribution is to call attention to a previously little investigated theme of the unifying function of culture in the social community and to examine culture not in isolation, but in connection with art, language and literature.

Culture is to be defined as an orientation system, by means of which human communities as a whole organize their activity.

Culture is a system of signs: the cultural phenomena originate as individual signs and function in the specific social group. Social systems as the environment for culture determine how it functions.

The signs of culture are incorporated by means of socialization into human consciousness, which for its part can only direct the activity of people, if it contains model pictures of the social-cultural environment. Such model formation is realized by symbolic means, for example, through rituals, types of behavior, language, etc., the meaning of which is to control the members of a culture. This repertoire of symbolic meanings is changeable and is to be adapted to the total human experience and the social system.

The social system is the foundation of every culture, its basis. One can say that the social system is the producer and bearer of culture. For that reason, changes in the social system find their expression in the culture. The culture reacts back on the social environment and, as a realm of sign phenomena, can help guide its development. Many forms of interaction occur between the realms of these two systems.

Works of art (including literature) also possess the same sign character, but with a different function. Culture, art and literature do not share hierarchical but networking (interwoven) relationships. If the social system for culture is its environment, then culture serves as the environment for art, and art in turn for literature. Elements of the literary environment surface in the literature - texts as words - , which consequently belong to the sign system of the ethnic language. Art and literature (just as culture) result, on the one hand, from the social systems that they produce; on the other hand, they for their part, through many processes of feedback as developed sign systems, exert their influence on the conditions of these social systems.

All signs are produced for purposes of communication and form messages, which function as an interwoven hierarchical mechanism of signs in the realm of culture as well as in the fields of art and literature.

It follows from this that the culture appears as a totality of the sign systems, into which all coded messages and traditions are integrated.

The contents of the traditions can be stored and retrieved and are represented above all by cultural stereotypes. W. Lippmann (1922) first introduced the concept of stereotypes as the designation of culturally shaped approaches or certainties, which structure the forms of perception and behavior of the bearers of culture.

Lippmann applied this concept of stereotypes to the totality of constant approaches and valuations of a culture. In later investigations this concept was applied to the phenomena of the interaction in the cultures of various ethnic and social groups. Through this means he established an orientation, an adaptive and also a socially integrative function of stereotypes. The stereotypes are taken over into the culture (society) completely formed.

In this case, in terms of sign theory, the shaping takes place by means of signs and is guided by forces external to the individual. In contrast to their categorization, the stereotypes are acquired by the cultural mediation of signs, if the creation of categories is coupled with personal experiences and an understanding of reality.

The stereotypes are represented through verbal signs as well as through signs of art and literature.

I have not investigated transcultural stereotypes, which I understand as models, which relate to the generalization of forms of transcultural perception and conception. The transcultural stereotype can be defined as above the model of "transculturalism", which is anchored in the consciousness of societies with cultures using different languages.

This contribution demonstrates a close relationship between transcultural stereotypes as a cognitive aspect and their possibilities of representation in works of art and literature.