Home > Uncategorized > Andreas Schönle “Social Power and Individual Agency: The Self in Greenblatt and Lotman”

Andreas Schönle “Social Power and Individual Agency: The Self in Greenblatt and Lotman”

Schönle, Andreas 2001. Social Power and Individual Agency: The Self in Greenblatt and Lotman. The Slavic and East European Journal 45(1): 61–79.

Both writers treat culture as a field of discourses – Lotman would call them codes – which at once enable and constrict behavior. Both seek to conceptualize agency and creativity. Unlike hard-core Foucaultians, Lotman and Greenblatt allow for individuality and originality, yet without lapsing into the Romantic myth of inspired creativity. The self, in their account, is not entirely a product of social discourses, even though it is subject to intense pressures and faces drastic limitations in the range of its choices. (62)

If both Lotman and Greenblatt emphasize that power seeks to impose semiotic homogeneity, the former thinks of power as a concrete, unified, albeit unpredictable agent, while the latter posits more abstract, yet plural sources of authority. […] the main difference between Lotman and Greenblatt lies in the ways in which they think of the strategies for autonomy available to the individual self. For Greenblatt, the self achieves some degree of independence from social and discursive practices by cultivating the illusion of its freedom. In contrast, for Lotman, the quest for autonomy entails puncturing illusions and withdrawing from the social circuit. (63)

Lotman proposes a semiotic theory of the self which consists of two parts: one dealing with the ways the self constitutes and changes its identity for itself, and the other with interactions between this self and social codes. The self develops its subjective identity by absorbing a message coming from outside and projecting it upon a supplementary code coming from within (Universe of the Mind, 22). To keep it simple, suffice it to say that the self is endowed with an ability to recode messages it receives and to restructure its own identity in the process. This restructuring results from the creative intersection between two non-homologous codes. A diary would be an example of this restructuring, in which discourses from everyday life are being introjected and refashioned according to the rhythms, inflections, and nuances of first person narration.  (73)

The actual notion of ‘individuality’, Lotman maintains, “is not primary or self-evident but depends on the means of encoding” (234). (73)

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