Dario Martinelli

A seminar on bio- and zoosemiotics

Premise

Despite their popularity within the semiotic environment, biosemiotics and zoosemiotics are still surrounded by a certain curiosity, the kind of curiosity that manifests itself in attitudes like scepticism and ‘exoticism’. At the same time, there is a growing interest not only about bio- and zoosemiotics, but also about the whole area of the “non human”. Finally, after decades of prejudices, this area caught the interest of cognitive sciences, human sciences (is it still fair to call them just human?), art research, and more generally are now also approached according to a wider perspective. Most of the competencies so far collected on the non human have been specialistic, punctual, and thus not so open and interdisciplinary. Biology focuses largely on the anatomy, the structure, and the particulars of living organisms. Classical ethology organizes animal behaviour in patterns and ethograms. TV constantly broadcasts documentaries showing, say, a group of lions in the African savannah, dealing with the usual two or three situations (hunt, reproduction, territory defence), or – as it is becoming trendier and trendier in channels such as Animal Planet – exceeds in the opposite direction, i.e., making a reality candid-camera-like spectacle out of animal abilities and actions. What has clearly been missing for a long time, in the discussion on the non human, are the good old philosophical questions (the big issues). As far as non-human animals are concerned, it seems that we either (believe we) know things for sure, or we do not. Very little seems to be in the middle. It is not so often that we have had ‘doubts’, in the philosophical sense of the term.

But we now feel an urge to doubt, when discussing the non human. We feel the urge to define and refine this area, as concept. It is true that humanities are generally hardly practical and empirical, but it is also true that natural sciences are a bit too uninterested in theoretical reflection. History has proven on various occasions (and keeps on doing so) that these forms of opposite yet sadly complementary superficiality have the primary effect of slowing down, rather than supporting, the evolution of human knowledge. We also start to realize that to study the non human under a humanistic perspective helps us, as humans, to learn more about ourselves.

Program

Tuesday, 17.05. 11:00 - 18:30 (Workshop. Performance Platform)

  • extensive presentation of the field is provided, with a particular attention to its definition and its main problematics.
  • focus on the increasingly popular area of investigation of the human-non human relationship, an area that includes applied bio- and zoosemiotics and the diverse cultural representations of the non human.

Wednesday, 18.05. 9:15 - 12:30 (Workshop. Performance Platform)

  • focus on ethics. the most traditional and important area of inquiry, i.e., the actual semiosis among non-human organisms. Elements of systematics of the field shall be presented, the main theoretical issues, and specific examples of this type of research.

Thursday, 19.05. 14:30 - 17:30 (Workshop. Performance Platform)

  • remaining questions, tutorials and/or open discussion

Thursday, 19.05. 19:00 - 21:00 (public lecture. Hörsaal Karl-Haußknecht-Straße 7)

  • arts in animals. overview of the foundation of arts as a biological phenomenon.

The seminar shall be divided in five main thematic parts (to be distributed in as many meetings will be organized). In Part 1, a hopefully extensive presentation of the field is provided, with a particular attention to its definition and its main problematics. Part 2 shall describe the most traditional and important area of inquiry, i.e., the actual semiosis among non-human organisms. Elements of systematics of the field shall be presented, the main theoretical issues, and specific examples of this type of research. Part 3, on the other hand, shall focus on the increasingly popular area of investigation of the human-non human relationship, an area that includes applied bio- and zoosemiotics and the diverse cultural representations of the non human. Part 5, finally, shall explore the possibility of including ethical reflections on the bio- and zoosemiotic program, following the example of other branches of semiotics, which are currently addressing questions of this type in their own field of inquiry. It is not a “traditional” topic in the field, but it is becoming an increasingly regular presence within the discussion.

Bionote

Prof. Dr. Dario Martinelli (1974), musicologist and semiotician, is Director of the International Semiotics Institute, Professor at Kaunas University of Technology, and is also affiliated to the University of Helsinki and the University of Lapland (adjunct professor in both cases). Currently he is also CRO for the Lithuanian Research Council for a 3-year project on Music and Politics, that will be implemented until December 2016 .

His academic interests include Musicology, Popular music studies, Film studies, Semiotics, Animal studies, and he is currently developing a new research path called “Numanities”, devoted to the rethinking of the role and paradigm of humanities in nowadays society. Along with his mentors, his main points of reference, as scholar, include Felice Cimatti, Philip Tagg, Roberto Marchesini, Umberto Eco, Marc Bekoff, Tom Regan, Peter Singer, Francesco Casetti, David Bordwell and of course Charles Darwin.

https://dariomartinelli.wordpress.com

Credits

The workshops and lecture were kindly supported by Lehrfonds, Bauhaus University Weimar.

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