Various Shapes of Cultural Biosemiotics
There is a steady and maybe growing impulse in biosemiotics to open itself to the arts and humanities. Recent events and publications indicate a desire expressed by biosemioticians and non-biosemioticians to engage in a dialogue concerning the manner in which living systems are cast, understood and dealt with, a dialogue that will determine the future course of those fields of research. In this article, I react to two recent monographs on the subject, Paul Cobley’s Cultural implications of biosemiotics (2016) and Wendy Wheeler’s Expecting the earth. Life, culture, biosemiotics (2016). After a close reading of these two books, I then briefly present certain issues that shed a different light on cultural biosemiotics: human pressure on other-than-human organisms, domestication and reproductive rights.
KeywordsBiosemiotics and culture Nature-culture Margins of biosemiotics Interdisciplinary dialogue Co-construction of humans and other-than-humans
This manuscript was written during the winter semester of 2017, while teaching a doctoral seminar entitled Living Signs. Biosemiotics and Its Margins at the Université du Québec à Montréal. For various reasons, principally linguistic and cultural, many of the students, who were all very well advanced and planning their dissertations, were engaging themselves with biosemiotics for the first time. Since the main subject of this seminar consisted in explicating living sign systems, we obviously read core and contemporary biosemiotic texts. And yet, considering the background of our program (arts and humanities), I thought it would be particularly relevant to also examine texts and issues outside of “proper” biosemiotics, but resolutely engaged with questions pertaining to signs, meaning and interpretation in relation to life – what I referred to as the margins of biosemiotics. We ended up doing something with and to biosemiotics that was not core practice, and rather different from what is currently being done under the heading of cultural biosemiotics. I wish to thank the students who participated in this wonderful seminar: Audrey Bélanger, Ivan Bricka, Lucile Crémier, Raphaëlle Dionne, Rana Hatmal, François David Prud’homme. I hope this seminar was as rewarding for them as much as it was for me.
I would also like to thank the reviewers of this journal who meticulously read through early drafts of this paper and whose comments helped me organise my thoughts.
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