On the Ecology of Culture in 2021. Perception and the Senses in the Biosphere and in the Semiosphere

In June 2021, UNESCO launched The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (DER). The main purpose of the program is to remind us that there is only one Earth, not one planet for nature and another for humans. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the interdependence of all living things on the planet and the need to reorient our societies in order to ensure a sustainable path.

In the context of the conference, we are interested in the question, what is our perception of the new reality in which we live since 2020? With the advent of the pandemic, the metaphorical use of the mask, which Greimas wrote about («larvatus prodeo», Greimas 2018), has moved into everyday life. Our feelings and our relationship with the world have changed: with the emergence of a closed space and the concept of confinement, with the proliferation of infodemic speeches, with the invention of new forms of cultural leisure.

In the 2000s, Dmitry Likhachev, philologist and historian of Russian culture, already wrote about the «ecology of culture» (Likhachev, 2000). For him, human life «is not a series of events but a particular organism, a biographical whole». If ecology studies the world as a «whole», it must also study the «house» that man builds during his life. This house is human culture.

We analyze Likhachev's proposals in relation to the concepts of the biosphere and the semiosphere, coined respectively by Vladimir Vernadsky and Yuri Lotman. Likhachev polemicizes with Vernadsky by saying that if the noosphere («smart» part of the biosphere) presupposes an «intelligent» intervention of man in nature and in culture, we should take into account the negative effects of this intervention, such as unexpected epidemics that the ecology of culture is designed to contain. As for Lotman, he sees in Likhachev's proposals new opportunities for the development of semiotics: «Semiotics, by studying culture, is located both outside and inside, as a part of culture. Semiotic metalanguage participates in living cultural processes and stimulates the intellectual activity of society» (Lotman, 2000).

The issue of cultural environmental ethics raised by Likhachev will allow us to put forward some proposals in connection with the role of the collective and individual actants, taking into account the latest semiotic publications on this subject: Basso Fossali, 2017; Zinna and Darrault, 2017; Kull, 2019; Fontanille, 2021.

In particular, we will rely on the proposal of the DER, «Restoring the Human-Nature bond», to underline the role of culture as an antidote available to humans in times of crisis. Culture as a way of perceiving the crisis, understanding the crisis, countering it and preventing new threats.

Inna Merkulova

State Academic University for the Humanities – GAUGN on the basis of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow & STIH, Sorbonne-University, Paris

Associate Professor, Founder and Director of the International Center for Semiotics and Intercultural Dialogue at the State Academic University for the Humanities, Moscow. Associate Researcher at the «Sense-Text-Informatics-History» laboratory at Sorbonne University. Representative of Russia on the Executive board of the IASS. After a doctoral dissertation on semiotics and graphics (supervisor Jacques Fontanille) she focuses her research on literary semiotics, intercultural dialogue, and theory of translation. Among her translations are: Culture and Explosion, by Y. Lotman (Limoges, 2004); The Semiotics of Passions: From States of Affairs to States of Feelings, by A.J. Greimas and J. Fontanille (Moscow, 2007/2015). Her recent books include: Semiotics, Graphics and Enunciation in Contemporary French Prose (Moscow, 2019, in Russian; 2020, in French); New Normality, New Life Forms: Semiotics in the Era of Crises (ed., Moscow, 2021).

ecology of culture