Semiotics of Culture and Art. A Trial of Encyclopaedia. Parts 1 and 2
by S. T. Machlina
University of Culture: St.Petersburg, Russia 2000.
552 pp. (in Russian).
Reviewed by S. V. Sintzova, Russia. E-mail:

The most authoritative Russian philosophic journal "Voprosy philosophii" ("Problems of Philosophy") has recently noted the originality of semiotics research in Russia [1]. While assimilating all the achievements of Western countries, the scientific research are none the less developed on the native intellectual ground. Both in the methods applied and the style of thinking, Russian mentality and specific circle of problems is indicated easily. Such feature is observed as well in the book under review. The "trial" of Encyclopaedia on semiotics of culture and art reflects not only an uneasy process of semiotics propagation in Russia, but also a specific form it assumed here, by the influence of valuable traditions of national humanitarian science. Let's note, for example, scientific achievements of Moscow linguistic circle, Kazan linguistic school, the group "OPOYAZ" and research works by A. A. Potebnya, M. M. Bachtin, V. V. Vinogradov and their followers, regarding problems of sign and meaning. The previous experience and scientific traditions, close to semiotics ideas, have determined the specific features of their comprehension and application to the same specific problems of Russian (former Soviet) humanitarian sciences. This was influenced by unique history of Russia, its original culture, as well as strong ideological pressure, connected with the existence of preferable directions and "prohibited" areas. Very often, in order to deceive ideology guards and to force through some favourite idea, the researcher should shape it in deliberately complicated form, showing it far from "sharp points". But complex scientific terminology concealed dangers (for the ruling ideology) yet most interesting and promising conceptions. All that, no doubt, influenced semiotics' progress in Russia, regarding concepts selection and interpretations.

The kernel of Encyclopaedia, integrating all the materials as a whole, is the author's own concept, presented formerly in her book "The language of art within the context of culture" (St.Petersburg, 1995). Correspondingly, some terms had been transferred to the issue to clarify author's own position (such as "convention in the art", "content and form", "semiotics of culture", "semiotics of modern science knowledge", etc.). The important part of the book regards to the terms, which are common in the world science, featuring semiotics method itself and its main notions ("intertext", "narrative", "sema", "semema", "reading/writing", "discourse", "figurativity", "signal", "view", "opposition", "denotate", etc.). For this part the author used and re-cast articles from a number of other Encyclopaedias, Russian and Western works. The introduction of these terms, with the references to the origins and further developing works of other scientists, gives a clear view on the dynamics of scientific ideas, their fate in connection with the progress of semiotics as a whole, the rotation of key problems and reference points.

The Encyclopaedia also includes author's essays and reviews, especially regarding those cultural phenomena which were in the centre of semiotic research (for example, "vanguard" is viewed as Russian phenomenon, and author's article is presented, on the interaction of different arts in Russian culture in the late twentieth century; "mass art" is shown by the material of a well-known to Russian reader/viewer art phenomena, being characteristic features of national culture for a long time).

The meaning of each term, and it's possible applications, are considered by the extensive material of Russian culture. For example, the fruitfulness of the notion "intertext" is revealed by the Poushkin's poem "Copper Rider", the most mysterious poem of our classic canon. The obvious merit of the issue is that in the course of analysis of cultural phenomena, S. T. Machlina applies not only famous sources, but also less known recent ones, including Ph. D. theses. This, as well as extensive bibliography, provides high informative level of Encyclopaedia. Let us especially note the articles on personalities. Side by side the well-known names of semiotics classics, Encyclopaedia gives place to the researches, who only just begin to explore this area. This provides an opportunity to follow new trends in modern semiotics studies.

The Encyclopaedia does not pretend to offer a complete view of semiotics problems. This issue is intended primarily to those studying actual problems of culture by structuralist method (as it is said in the preface). It provides a theoretical means for basic course of this discipline. But the issue also has some valuable features, enabling us to recommend it to foreign reader. Due to pronounced national orientation, Encyclopaedia gives a clear view of semiotics' progress in Russia/USSR: its origin, development, methods, problems and current field of research. This allows reader to estimate the originality of Russian semiotics within the context of world science. We consider the "Trial of Encyclopaedia' as successful one and would like to wish the author further extending this edition with due regard to innovative publications.


1. Rozin V. M. "Is Semiotics possible as independent science? (methodological analysis of semiotic approach and researches)". "Voprosy philosophii", 2000, N 5, p.63. (in Russian).