Report on the 2nd Syros Seminar of the Academy of Cultural Heritages

Report on the 2nd Seminar of the Academy of Cultural Heritages at Syros, Greece, on Oct. 2-6, 2018 at Ermoupolis, Municipality, Cultural Center, Ritsos Hall and Apollo Theater; Director: Eero Tarasti; Co-directors Alexandros Lagopoulos, Karin Boklund-Lagopoulos, Demetre Yannou, Hannu Riikonen, Altti Kuusamo, and Jukka Meurman; Assistants: Lazaros Papoutsis and Paul Forsell


Tuesday morning Oct 2nd was opened by a speech by Altti Kuusamo on Approaches to Visual Semiotics. For him visual perception is always cultural activity and model making. He showed a picture of oyster made look like human profile with eye and nose etc. Has this artist ever seen a real oyester, he asked. No – it is representation. We have to know tradition of pictures in order to read them. No picture can explain itself, not even when it tries to do that (comment: what about music?). He then mentioned Benvenutio Cellini and Gombrich, and noted that when in front of a bust we understand what we are expected to look for. Even 10 years old child understands it is a bust. We have a type and several tokens of it. Is there an innocent eye? Problem of kitch is: kitch has always a mother art, say, like Neuschwanstein in Munich (comment: is there an innocent ear? no, every work of Brahms for instance refers to some Beethoven work as its ‘type’).

Alexandros Lagopoulos gave a lecture on Basic Concepts of Semiotics and Culture. What is culture, he asked? He argued that it is a historical construct, as is also the case with history, andthat they appear as interconnected in Hegelian philosophy. In precapitalist societies, in which the cosmogonical myth exists as an archetype of everyday life, the concept of time is circular. In Hegel, historical time takes a linear form (comment: one might add here the notion of omnitemporality – Proust – and zero time – avantgarde), which becomes more complex, due to the spiral development of the Spirit (comment: yet the absolute is never reached!). Hegel defines culture as arts and letters, that is, as high culture.

Lagopoulos drew a chart portraying the course from Herder, who defined the German spirit as Gothic, through Hegel to Adorno and Benjamin. He argued that the Marxist Frankfurt School supported the idea of high art. Adorno considered that the masssive industrialization of art leads to a psychological adjustment to the status quo; Benjamin is an exception to this School, because he emphasized the reinterpretation of meaning in consumption (comment: in Adorno this leads to conflict: Ich und Gesellschaft and Hörtypen). For the Frankfurt School, the solution was high art (comment: but we may ask which kind of high art? Only the avant-garde of German music beginning from atonality and serialism was accepted, which again leads to a quasi-totalitarian view of correct art music style). Contrary to the above views of culture as high culture, there are views emphasizing the originality of low culture. Gramsci launched the notion of cultural hegemony, but also emphasized the originality of working class culture. In the context of British Culturalism, of a Marxist orientation, Richard Hoggart studied working class ways of living, as well as popular culture and aesthetics, and Raymond Williams defined culture as a structure of feelings.

Lagopoulos discussed the historical development of Saussurean semiotics, concluding that theories of culture and semiotics radically converge on the same object, and that semiotics is a theory of culture. He also analyzed certain basic semiotic concepts. Among these, he referred to Saussure, who thought that first we have the amorphous mass of thought and then language which provides it with order, articulates it (comment: here may lay the fundamental mistake of all of structuralism: thought is NOT amorphous before language, but it already has a structure. Saussure was committed to what could be called the ‘linguistic phallacy’, ie., that all structures come from verbal language. To this comment, Lagopoulos answered that Saussure considered this approach as necessary specifically for the constitution of langue as the object of linguistics; he added that this point is clarified by Hjelmslev, who argues that this ‘mass’ may be seen as structured, but from extra-linguistic (and extra-semiotic) approaches, that is, approaches from other fields which study meaning, such as psychology or phenomenology. When meaning is studed semiotically, we may speak of the articulation of another field with semiotic theory. The proposal by Lagopoulos for the new field of social semiotics is based on such an articulation, namely of semiotics and the material social structure).

Lagopoulos argued, however, that culture does not cover the whole of society and substantiated this argument through etymological analysis. His main argument is that Civilization is to be understood as culture (object of semiotics) PLUS material society. More specifically, the word ‘culture’ comes from the Latin cultura, cultivation in the agricultural sense, wich came to be used metaphorically to mean a ‘cultured’ person (with taste and correct behaviour). In German, ‘Kultur’ means intellectual civilization. The word ‘civilization’ stems from Latin civitas, the social body of citizens, cives, copying the Greek politis (from polis, city). Civilization means more than culture understood as intellectual life, because it also covers the material aspects of life, as expressed by the German dichotomy of Kultur vs Zivilisation. Lagopoulos substantiated this argument with a diagram showing the components of society and their interactions, as well as the production of culture, in dialectical terms, from the socio-economic system.

He referred to two bibliographical sources to demonstrate his argument about social semiotics. First, the social geographer David Harvey and his argument concerning the central process of capitalism, the accumulation of capital, which leads to a tendency to annihilate space through time, that is, to a time-space compression. Harvey reminds us of the crises of capitalist overaccumulation and argues that they create a feeling of time-space compression, which leads to radical transformations of culture.

60 years earlier, Medvedev and Bakhtin supported a comparable idea. They identify signification with ideology and argue that it is embodied in a semiotic material which thus becomes ‘objects-signs’ and constitutes the collective ideological environment of a culture. For these authors, there are

different forms of communication in a culture and all of them are anchored in a collectivity’s socio-economic existence.

Hannu Riikonen dealt with Twentieth century open air performances of Greek tragedies in Greece and Italy. Open air performances were given in Provence, in Syracusa and Delfoi. Epidauros festival started in 1953. There was an interest in ruins. The Finnish poet Eino Leino wrote in his novel Onnen Orja that the essence of Rome is eternity. Richard Wagner joined the antique movement. Olympic games had theater performances. In Berlin in 1936 Oresteia was performed. In ballet Isadora Duncan represented the renaissance of antiquity. In 1860 plays were given at Rome ruins. In Nimes, France, at an amphitheater there were bull fights and Monet-Sully’s Antigone. Stravinsky’s Oediepe Roi is from 1927. Darius Milhaud wrote his work Les Choephores. Verdi’s Aida was given at Verona and Fiesole in 1911. In Ostia close to Rome Pizzetti organized festivals in 1927 and 1930.

Eero Tarasti introduced the history of musical semiotics as a study of musical meaning. He wondered why great semioticians seldom wrote about music: Saussure, Greimas, Lotman, Eco, Foucault Kristeva – nothing. Instead, Lévi-Strauss and Barthes – much. As an example of music’s cultural significations he analyzed the French culture and its basic aesthetic categories, such as 1) préciosité, galantry, 2) clarity, classicism, 3) importance of language (literature, programs), 4) sensuality, corporeality, 5) lyricism, 6) capriciousness, surprise, irregularity, asymmetry, 7) mediterraneity vs nordic, 8) curiosity – exoticism and orientalism, 9) ‘jeu’ playfulness, ‘good bad taste’.

As an illustration the Helsinki University Music Society ensemble, (a quartet: Mikael Stoor violin, Mikko Metsälampi alto, Jaani Helander cello and Eero Tarasti,piano, played the second and third movement from Chausson’s Piano quartet A major op 50.

On Wednesday Karin Boklund-Lagopoulos spoke about Greimasian narratology and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. She analysed Tolkien’s

(1882-1973) novels in the light of Greimasian semiotics. Tolkien’s story has a double plot: the story of Frodo, the ordinary person who reluctantly undertakes a heroic quest, and the story of Aragorn, the exceptional man with heroic abilities and destiny. Both plotlines can be analysed using the canonical narrative scheme of Greimas: disruption of an initial condition, mission and acceptance, a series of preparatory trials involving the acquisition of helpers and/or modalities, a main trial resulting in victory, and a glorifying trial leading to ultimate recognition and reward. There are interesting differences between the two plotlines, reflecting their different heroes; in particular, the story of Aragorn has a conventional happy ending, with the hero marrying the princess and inheriting the kingdom, but Frodo, in spite of the success of his quest, cannot return to live happily ever after in the Shire and ultimately has to leave Middle-Earth forever. A narrative also has a semantic aspect, which can be analysed in terms of what Greimas calls isotopies. This concept was briefly presented using references to Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s novels, in particular how Jackson was able to create convincing visual representations of Tolkien’s story world on the basis of the isotopies of Tolkien’s text. Isotopies combine to create the themes of the story. Although it was partly based on Vladimir Propp’s work on the Russian folktale, Greimasian narratology is more abstract and can be used to analyse all sorts of texts, including modern novels and films. Starting in the 1980s, it was also further developed to take into account psychological states, which are not simply binary in nature. (Comment: how can the epic element be put into a story? In Richard Wagner’s Ring, so close to Tolkien, Carl Dahlhaus criticized just the impossibility of putting epic into tragedy; Wittgenstein on the other hand, in his remarks, said that the epic element is the best in Wagner. Aristotle in his Poetics warned of adapting epic to tragedy. Propp’s narratology was made for folklore, not for 20th century literature. The psychology is different. Yet Greimasian narratology is excellent in Tolkien!)

Hannu Riikonen then told about the art of letter writing on the basis of the long term correspondence between him and Eero Tarasti. It has been published regarding the years 1962-1976, but now the second volume of letters in 1977-2017 is forthcoming .

In the next section most interesting speeches were given first by doctoral student of Helsinki University Grisell Mcdonell on her doctoral thesis on the work or Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) , the ‘Paganini’ of the double bass was given, She applied there a.o. the concepts of existential semiotics. the zemic model and the aesthetics of Werktreue.

Then the Polish delegation gave their presentations with rich topics from cultural to musical and visual semiotics. Katarzyna Machtyl from Poznan spoke about the constant exchange translation and explosion referring to Yuri Lotman’s concept of intercultural communication. The cultural heritage, its history and past are very important in Lotman’s work, as well as the West-East relations. The great exemplification of it can be the differences between the binary and ternary system. The first one refers to Russian culture and the second to West European culture. The dynamics of the political and cultural changes at the end of 20th century were the important object of this semiotician’s study.

Yet, Machtyl asked what is the most important system of intercultural relations: dialog and/or conflict and invasion? How, in the era of globalization, can we communicate and must the cultural invasions be considered in the negative way only? Are the assumptions of the unpredictable character of culture and a constant exchange between cultures a satisfying notions to describe and recognize the contemporary world?

Eva Schreiber likewise from Poznan spoke about musical canon, multicanon and the idea of cultural translation. Then prof. Krzysztof Guckzalsk from Cracow University discussed the renaissant perspective, and cultural transfers from Ost to West. All these speeches evoked rich discussion and comments.

The evening was for a concert at the Apollo Theater, which is a miniature copy of Milano’s La Scala theater. There soprano Laura Pyrrö performed songs b y Jean Sibelius, Richard Wagner, Reynaldo Hahn, Giacomo Puccini and Eero Tarasti. Her pianist was Eila Tarasti. At the end the aforementioned Helsinki University Music society ensemble played movements from piano quartets of Chausson, Hahn and Fauré.

Jukka Meurman, professor emeritus of oral infectious diseases, gave a speech on medical ethics in general. He started from ancient medical science with its principle Primum non nocere. (First thing is not to harm). (comment: it sounds almost like the principle of the conductor and music pedagogue Jorma panula: Help, do not disturb). Of course all started from

Hippokrates. Declaration of Helsinki, the modern cornerstone of medical ethics was based on discussions at the first congress of World Medical Association in 1947, after the Nurenberg trials.

General physician’s oath contains the code of medical ethics, and emphasizes the role of ethical commitment. The principle of confidentiality. Do not steal! Do not lie! in research. Respect of human dignity and autonomy are most important. This code of ethics must be literally followed. Also animals have rights considering their use in experiments. Basic questions of medical study are: what? why? how? and so what? (comments: arts often portray physicians. Avicenna was also a doctor, Molière parodized doctors in his Malade imaginaire . Nous avons changé tout cela… and all remember doctor Dulcamara in Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore!).

Sari Helkala-Koivisto studied prosodic symbols in music. There is cultural prosody: expression in autocommunication and social semiotics. Cultures have changed at global scene, due to digitalisation. Cognitively we pay now the attention to a new deficit trait (ADT); ADT is a self-inflicted concentration disturbance of the adults, which is nowadays characterizing the whole culture and expanding from this field also to children. How to present values, Plato’s idea of education and the idea of childhood. Plato distinguished body and soul. But they are united in aesthetic experience. Child lives between reality anf fantasy. Arts education has a rich history from Montessori to Ruskin, Munro. Hollo and Stefani.

Sayantan Dasgupta from Calcutta dealt wit James Joyce’s short story Araby (in the collection of Dubliners) in the light of existential semiotics. Joyce’s novel consider the arabs, and culture of orient; Joyce’s story takes place in Dublin but there is inherent colonialism, it concerns the oppressed Ireland. The boy wants to reach Araby (a Grand Oriental Fête that happened from May 14 to May 19, 1894 in Dublin). The boy in the story lives in a city but under unsatisfactory social norms, yet with joy. Boy‘s mind, his being in-myself is positive. There is a self-transcendence, Love-belonging. This is analogous what Kari Boklund said about Tolkien. What is not possible to me is a reaction to outer reality. Boy wants to reach Arabia.


Reijo Mälkiä treated the Jeremiah’s prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem 586 BC in the light of the zemic model. His goal is to find out by zemic model whether there is common metalevel model for Jeremiah’s differents prophecies. Transcendence i.e. Yahweh uses Jeremiah as his agent to communicate his message to people who spend a sinful life in Jerusalem. The model seemed to fit indeed very well in explaining theoretically the situation and the story which has of course also a historic background. The study also raises other issues;

for example, reflection from Dasein S1 to the suprazemic level and to the transzemic one. Does a man create his own God?


Ilmar Taimre from Brisbane, Australia gave an interpretive model for conceptual music. Music is any work, object, music performance or event which involves a sonic dimension, real or imagined. Conceptual music is a special category. It is music above and beyond any audible or perceptible layers of its presentation. Penderecki’s Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima in 1960 but whose original title is 8’ 37’’ and it was retitled as Threnody after the performance. Next followed The art of funerary violin (2006), guild of Nullus funus sine fidula (no funerals without a violin). Taimre discussed moreover works of David Bowie and Steve Reich. He used as his tool theories of Lotman and Peirce, distinguishing the thinking subject together with cultural system by Lotan and signs by Peirce. Ways of being, saying and meaning lead us to non-conceptual and conceptual. Conceptual is the work of a work (comment: yet, we can say like Busoni that a composer intends to express concepts but he often fails – like Wagner). German music in general is conceptual. But what are musical concepts? Late Peirce had the idea of synekhistic and tykhist universe and evolutionary love. Schnebel has the work Musik zum lessen: only white pages; Messiaen Turangalila symphony. Can we understand music without knowing its inherent concepts (see the same problem afore in the speech of Altti Kuusamo on visual signs). Are musical concepts the same as title, story, or genre of music?

Panu Heimonen told about the progress in his doctoral research on the ritornelli and solist dialogues of Mozart’s piano concertos. He had discovered such notions as the origin of competition: Benevolence, Self-Interest, and Pride in Mozart’s piano concertos 453, 467,492 and 456 Mozart’s concertos exemplify passionate genre of dialogue, between the solist and orchestra. Dialogical zemic model was used therein. Heimonen launched the concepts of competition, benevolence from 18th century philosophical discourse to the level of music analysis. Thus there are benevolent and selfish themes. The whole deals with socialisation in musical terms. Topics were also taken into account. He put some notions in the semiotic square of nature, privateness, socialibity and virtue/vice .

Antti Vihinen had studied Gustav Mahler in Finland in 1907 when he met Jean Sibelius. Sibelius had his Mahler crisis after. Mahler emigrated to the US. Sibelius’s hostility against Mahler can be explained by various factors. Sibelius thought that a composer cannot conduct. There were also intrigues of Alma Mahler and Adorno against Sibelius. Topical level is important: in Mahler we find familiar themes of central European musical topics like folksongs in the type Hänschen klein geht allein…. Bruder Jakob

Jimena Biga gave a very rich and manifold presentation of the notion of cultural heritage. Her startingpoint was the modern migration and the perception of the past in a foreign country. Archaeology can lead to humanities. Human mobility leads to a new society. New heritage has a theory and interpretation of the past in a democratrised way. Re-thinking about heritage management and cultural diversity takes place. Collection of data for qualitative research is central. Time-travel experience in the third and second person. Aspiring for a multivocal conception, and experiencing human mobility in the 21st century. Reasons for it are: study, exchange, work, family , climate, forced migration: refugees, and conflicts. It is seen negatively in the media: we note there the lack of empathy, but positive is multiculturalism, enrichment of the mainstream culture.

A migrant has a sense of place, and sense of belonging, facing barriers, making unfamiliar familiar, modification in the way of living. Aims: learning how to live with the positive and negative side of the cultures: negative heritage and dissonant heritages exist. Let us say Germans in Lapland. Heritage management can be destructive, or positive? We cannot think of cultural collective memory of national identity due to globalization. New heritage is less material and more focused in narratives, interaction between people and world. How people give meaning? Time-travel method can be applied. Excavation and democratic ways of considering the heritage. Object is a voiceless entity. We have to give sense of existence to it. People coming from countries with indigenous people from countries with different ideology like Russia. Conservatism in some countries like Iran. Migrants have a perception of the past: like in the case of Finnish identity, and sense of displacement. Tourists have a particular perception of past. Did the area belong to saame people? People was then more intelligent than in the present time. (Comment: is existential semiotic method such that it could be used in archaeology?) Experiental archaeology i.e. living like in stone age. Nobody can perceive past with anybody else’s eyes, said Jimena Biga.

Demetre Yannou gave in his German speech an overview of cultural historical questions regarding music history. He proceeded from notes to covering the cultural phenomenon and used photos as testimonies of cultural state before. He studied documents of a Greek music performer as he is mentioned in journals of a Greek provincial city in the late 30ies of the 20th century; the problem was how to deal with archive materials. The matter was examined on the basis of the personal archive documents of the above music performer, the viola player V. Yapalakis (1912-1986), born in Russia and established in Greece since 1930. After his death the Yapalakis Archive (, accessible also for English speaking people) was donated at the School of Music Studies of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. So the problem about which the speech was dealing with, was the reconstruction of a short time of the musical past according to testimonies of the Yapalakis Archive (mainly photos, scores and journal documents) taken as ground for the approach of general cultural issues.

Mikko Metsälampi introduced some ideas of his MA thesis based on the metaphor of Theseus’ ship; what is involved is the problematic of new and old, ontology of the original compared to a copy (comment: in the terms of Umberto Eco Oa vs Ob, genuine vs fake.

Hannu Riikonen introduced an interesting figure from Finnish studies on antiquity. Oskar Emil Tudeer and his book about Persian war from 1906. It appeared in the first period of Russian suppression of Finland culminating to the murder of general governor Bobrikoff. Tudeer published the book about the Greek people during the Persian wars in 1906. Tudeer had an important role in the country’s idea history. His life passed from Mikkeli to Wiborg, and dissertation on Homeros, then studies in Berlin and Munich. In his books on Greece there is a humanist credo. He deals with the impact of sea upon Greeks and Greek life; he had an eloquent style altogether.

At the end, Altti Kuusamo spoke about the representation of the antique tale and its doubles, in the line of Ovidius- Orpheus –Arachne. Arachne’s story ekphrases Minerva and Arachne who are competing at weaving; Arachne is betteer but by jalousie Minerva transforms Arachne into a spider. Tintoretto used this topics in his painting; the same by Fr. da Cossa: Triumph of Minerva. Veronese in Arachne and La Tempesta. 18th century paintings have a gesture of rhetorical nature. Finally, kitch emerges. Velasquez’ The spinner 1657-58 contains three levels: ordinary spinner in the foreground 2) episode of the story of Arachne, 3) the rape of Europa in a pastiche of Rubens and 4) Velazquez’ idea to parallel Europa to Arachne. Velazquez has a parallel to this in his Las Meninas. Picasso then used it for his pictures. Iconographical story lies behind the picture. Iconology means the symbolism of its forms. Ernst Cassirer’s bare tendency was mentieoned.

Eero Tarasti then explained his theories of existential semiotics during an excursion to Kini village and its beach.