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Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics

Technological Progress as a Problem in the Study of Culture Author(s): Jurij M. Lotman and Ilana Gomel Source: Poetics Today, Vol. 12, No. 4, National Literatures/Social Spaces (Winter, 1991), pp. 781-800 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1772717 . Accessed: 10/02/2011 07:04
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TechnologicalProgressas a Problemin the Study of Culture

Jurij. M. Lotman
Russian Literature, Tartu

Abrupt changes in the social system of scientific and technological ideas often occur in the history of human culture. There are moments, however, when these changes assume a character so far-reaching that they result in an overall transformation of a people's way of life and cultural concepts. Such periods are generally called scientific revolutions. At the beginning of the '60s, Thomas Kuhn wrote in the now

record of past research from the vantage of contemporary historiography, the historian of science may be tempted to exclaim that when paradigms change, the world itself changes with them." He concluded: "Of course, nothing of quite that sort does occur.... Outside the laboratory everyday affairs usually continue as before" (Kuhn 1970 [1962]: 111). Less than thirty years have passed, but nowadays hardly anybody would agree with this placid evaluation. There are, of course, constant changes in science and technology which produce a slow accumulation of the material for future explosions echoing far beyond the walls of laboratories and studies. Is it possible to say that after the invention of paper and gunpowder or the scientific application of electricity, things go on as usual? But even these changes, pregnant with consequences, are only intermediate stages if we consider such great epochs as the Neolithic revolution, the invention of writing, the invention of
Source: Semeiotike 22, Trudypo znakovymsistemam, Tartu (1988: 97-116). We thank Professor Igor Chernov for permission to publish this article. Poetics Today 12:4 (Winter 1991). Copyright ? 1991 by The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics. CCC 0333-5372/91/$2.50.

book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: "Examining



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printing, and the scientific and technological revolution we are now living through. (However enormous the consequences of these particular inventions, we are using them only as markers of whole epochs: the epoch of the appearance of historical society, and the epoch of the transition from the classical and medieval world to the period of modern history that we generally call the Renaissance. Singling out printing has a somewhat artificial character.) The changes occurring in these periods had such a momentous character that it is literally impossible to name an aspect of human history they did not touch. Moreover, these changes had a profound impact on our planet as part of the universe and, therefore, far exceeded the closed world of scientific laboratories. Study of the consequences of these great revolutions assumes nowadays a more than purely academic significance. The yearning to "see the future" is characteristic of humanity. It is especially keen in times of crisis. One has to take into account, though, that, so far, long-range historical prognostication has proven to be unreliable. On the one hand, the reason for this might be that the historical development of human society, as a particular kind of structure, contains mechanisms for reducing redundancy. Otherwise, the many thousand years long historical process of human development would have become informationally redundant and wholly foreseeable, thus fatalistically obviating the need for any kind of activity. On the other hand, the complexity of historical causation precludes unambiguous forecasting and determines the character of futurological models as spectra of alternatives. These circumstances necessitate a close look at past analogies. Thus, we can study consequences as a given actuality. When one considers the consequences of the great eras of crisis, when abrupt revolutionary shifts in the sphere of science and technology led to wholesale changes in humanity and its environment, one's first conclusion is that the spatial limits of these changes progressively grew, while their temporal limits progressively shrank (i.e., the changes themselves were occurring faster). This means that the individual participant in these events increasingly experienced the changes as more and more catastrophic. Taking into account the necessarily schematic character of such speculations, predicated on deductions from incomplete data, one would still note revolutionary changes in the field of information storage and exchange. The explosion of informational possibilities immediately influenced the organization of social labor, while the expansion of information storage was reflected in a more efficient stocktaking of its results. There is a repeated pattern to the immediate consequences of a technological change: having acquired new powerful means, society first attempts to use them for old ends, increasing its possibilities only

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quantitively. For example, preliterate civilizations could not organize a complex apparatus of administration and, therefore, were forced to limit their building plans.' The appearance of writing (in the context, of course, of other social and technological innovations) made possible the enormous building projects of temples, pyramids, and other nonutilitarian constructions that taxed society with monstrously unproductive expenses. Simultaneously, the administrative apparatus improved, acquiring, however, an impetus of growth exceeding the bounds of social necessity. Oral memory had a limited capacity and strictly established what was necessary to preserve. The superfluous was forgotten. Writing allowed the preservation of the unnecessary and infinitely expanded the volume of social memory. Archeological excavations in the ancient Syrian city of Ebla (c. 2,000 BC) have uncovered enormous palace archives of cuneiform tablets. The part that has been retrieved and translated largely deals with administrative matters and is patently disproportionate to the comparatively modest size of Ebla's actual industry. The city was a large industrial and commercial center of its period, and its business turnover was significant for those times. But the archive is enormous even in our own terms. However, the development of archaic bureaucracies was only the immediate consequence of the invention of writing. Another, more profound consequence, drastically changing the very matrix of culture, was of precisely the opposite type: the appearance of writing ushered in the era of individual creativity. Previously, what had been preserved was only that which had passed the censorship of collective memory and had been included in the tradition. The possibility
1. The last statement is true only in general and needs clarification. It is not to be assiimed that preliterate civilizationshad insufficientlycomplex forms of memory. The high development of mnemonic techniques was reflected in the preservation of long epic texts. A great amount of data supports the existence of collective memory, preserved with the aid of rituals, and of a special role for "memorykeepers." For example, the pre-Inca civilizations of the Peruvian plateaus built irrigation systems and other constructions demanding a high degree of organized labor. Nevertheless, these civilizations seem not to have had writing. Apparently, their collective memory was based on the use of celestial bodies and landmarks as mnemonic signs. The appearance of writing seems to have abolished the develTheuth, the inventor of writing, oped culture of oral memory. In Plato'sPhaedrus, says to the Egyptian king Thamus: "This [invention]will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories."But the king replies: "This invention of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written charactersand not remember of themselves. You have found a specific not for memory but for reminiscence" (Jowett 1892: 580). Interpreting the cyclical movement of celestial bodies as a set of instructions for the timing of agricultural work was widespread among preliterate civilizations, for whom the expression "the book of stars"(Baratynski)was not a metaphor. See Lotman (1987: 3-11).


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of recording opened the door to individual creativity and sharply changed the status of the individual. From this moment on, the idea of civilization is inextricably linked with the idea of individual, personal creativity. Tradition becomes the conservative factor, while the individual becomes the yeast of history, its dynamic element. Invention turns into a common event and history picks up speed. A somewhat similar process followed the invention of printing and the whole scientific and technological shift of the Renaissance. A spontaneous economic process led to the formation of early capitalist relations in Western Europe. The development of communication, improvements in navigation, road-building all turned irregular trading into stable national markets. However, it was no accident that both market boundaries and the state boundaries of independent political units patently gravitated to linguistic boundaries, or that precisely the unity of language became one of the most significant criteria in the transition from the motley of medieval political boundaries to the stabilization of the internal division of Europe which, despite all divergences, has been the main trend of modern wars. The age of printing became a time when both local dialects and sacred tongues (Latin, Church Slavonic, classical Arabic), whose boundaries were not political or national but religious, were supplanted by national literary languages. It is not the aim of this article to enumerate all the consequences of the Renaissance stage. The Renaissance was experienced by contemporaries as primarily a time of increased opportunities (a limitless increase, as they thought). The impossible, the impracticable, the forbidden became possible, practicable, permitted. Ulysses' voyage in Canto 24 of Dante's Inferno is still a daring, heroic, and sinful dream. Having crossed the Atlantic, he is wrecked on the rocky shores of Purgatory. But Cortes, in Lope de Vega's tragedy, is a different hero altogether: "I, Cortes, . . . have won palms of triumph for Spain and boundless lands for the King." The expansion of the realm of the possible was first perceived as quantitative increase: thus, improvements in shipbuilding made long-distance voyages possible. As new lands were discovered, the world grew bigger. The sophistication of bronzecasting technology gave rise not only to the sculptural masterpieces of Donatello, Cellini, and Leonardo da Vinci but to improved artillery as well, while the invention of granular gunpowder, around 1480, and the production of standardized cannonballs changed the character of warfare. The significance of these inventions far exceeded their immediate military or technical applications. (Pushkin loved the saying of Rivarol: "The printer is the artillery of thought." It is no accident that he planned to end Scenesfrom the Timesof Chivalry-a play about the end of the Middle Ages-with a symbolic scene of the triumph of

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gunpowder and printing over the knights' armor and castles.) Printing expanded the sphere of science, while etching, supposedly invented by Diirer and turned into a high art by Rembrandt, united the notions of "drawing" and "copying." Uniqueness and mass production paradoxically coexisted in Renaissance culture. The atmosphere of the rapid progress of science, technology, and culture gave rise to both the psychological trait of optimistic belief in the omnipotence of human genius and the worship of human reason, power, and limitless capability. Miranda, the heroine of Shakespeare's Tempest,brought up on an uninhabited island and never having seen anybody besides her old father, exclaims, "How beauteous mankind is!" (V.1.183) when she sees the shipwrecked mariners, among whom are both old and young, virtuous citizens and murderers. The worship of human creativity had, however, a seamy side: nature was viewed as raw material or as enemy territory, to be conquered and transformed. Francis Bacon, in his utopian work of 1626, The New Atlantis, pictures an ideal society ruled by "Solomon's House," a college of philosophers, an Academy of Sciences, so to speak. The head of this "House" says: "The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible" (Bacon 1974 [1906]: 288). The efforts of scientists are directed to changing the natural orderof things. "And we make by art, in the same orchards and gardens, trees and flowers, to come earlier or later than their seasons, and to come and bear more speedily than by their natural course they do" (ibid.: 290). Experiments are conducted "that thereby we may take light what may be wrought upon the body of man" (ibid.). "By art likewise we make them [animals] greater or taller than their kind is, and contrariwise dwarf them and stay their growth; we make them more fruitful and bearing than their kind is, and contrariwise, barren and not generative" (ibid.: 291). "Neither do we this by chance, but we know beforehand of what matter and commixture what kind of these creatures will arise" (ibid.). This desire to eliminate chance is very characteristic. It was hoped that this could be achieved with the help of automata, whose construction was a favorite Renaissance pastime. Clocks became more widely available, and the invention of the spiral spring "in 1459(?) was truly revolutionary, as it allowed the manufacture of portable room clocks and later, watches, which gave everybody the once impossible capacity to measure time" (Delumeau 1984: 176). The sense of time became part of human consciousness and of the ideology of the era. Shakespeare's Prospero (The Tempest)embodies power over the forces of nature, eliminating chance from his world. The desire to overcome both nature and chance arouses in the Renaissance intellectual an


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interest in astrology, and the image of the great scientist often merges with the image of the great magician. Prospero has eliminated accidents; he knowsthe future: "It goes on, I see, / As my soul prompts it" (1.2.422-23). Yet he also notes: "And by my prescience / I find my zenith doth depend upon / A most auspicious star" (I.2.180-82). It is no accident that the folk imagination embodied the Renaissance idea of man's triumph over nature in the image of Dr Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil (see Zhirmunskij 1978; Anikst 1983). In a Rembrandt etching, however, he appears as a curious scientist, eager to solve nature's mysteries. Marlowe's Faustus sells his soul to the devil in order to accomplish enormous projects: to connect Europe and Africa, to build bridges over the ocean. But Renaissance engineers really accomplished technological feats which made them appear to be magicians. Between 1391 and 1398 the canal that linked the Elbe with Lauenburg was excavated. It allowed navigation between the Baltic and the North seas. At the same time, tunnels were excavated in the Alps and the courses of rivers changed. In 1455, in Bologne, Aristotele Fioravanti moved a bell tower weighing more than 400 tons a distance of eighteen meters, and from 1475 to 1479, while directing the construction of the Uspensky cathedral in Moscow, he used lifting mechanisms to handle building materials. In Leonardo da Vinci's mechanical fantasies, as well as in the Italian Ramelli's engineering encyclopedia of the Renaissance Li Diverse et ArtificioseMachine (published in Paris in 1588), real machines and realizable projects were mixed with grandiose technological chimeras. The Renaissance created the basis for the subsequent European civilization. Humanistic culture, the idea of the value of the individual, marvelous art, all were rooted in this period. Simultaneously, a new impetus was given to the idea of nationality, medieval universalism was superseded by the concepts of national language and national culture, and national, centralized states were beginning to form. Both the machinery of production and the machinery of the state were being improved. The technology of management-from bookkeeping to state apparatuses-had passed through a revolutionary upheaval. Printing, road-building, and the improvement of land and sea communication radically changed the human psychology of communication. However, this bright picture significantly darkens as we look at it more attentively. The Renaissance had created its own myth of progress, which was adopted by the Enlightenment and influenced many subsequent scientific concepts. According to this myth, everything dark, bloody, and fanatical was the heritage of the Middle Ages. They were responsible for the Inquisition, the racial persecutions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, witch-hunts, and bloody religious strife. They created a fascination with magic, astrology, alchemy,

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and other forms of "secret knowledge." The enlightened and humanistic Renaissance fought these monsters and passed the torch of Reason to the rationalists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, many facts do not fit this model. First of all, let us note that technological progress was, from the beginning, met not only with admiration but with horror (technological progress meant, first and foremost, the progress of military technology; the word "engineer," apparently first used at the end of the sixteenth century by Salomon de Caux, who discovered the motion power of steam, originally meant "the inventor of war engines"). This was particularly true with regard to artillery, which was seen as the devil's trick. The great Renaissance historian Francesco Guicciardini called it a gift of Hell. Ariosto saw in it the death toll of noble warfare and dreamed of a return to "ordinary" weaponry. Renaissance humanists cursed the technology they had created. What was particularly frightening was its "unscrupulousness," its ability to serve both sides: Sultan Mohammed the Second would not have been able to take Constantinople in 1453 had he not been supplied with artillery by Hungarian engineers. Another aspect was even more disturbing for humanists: the development of science and technology, the growth of all branches of knowledge did not reduce but rather increased the irrational unforeseeability of life (thus the Renaissance dream of rational utopia). Instead of eliminating chance, the scientific and technological revolution created a new reality perceived by contemporaries as chaotic and unpredictable. One of the greatest thinkers of the Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli, rejected both astrology and providence, reducing man's destiny to the struggle of chance and will. Great men "owed nothing to fortune but the opportunity.... And in examining their life and deeds, it will be seen that they owed nothing to fortune but the opportunity which gave them matter to be shaped into what form they thought fit; and without that opportunity their powers would have been wasted, and without their powers the opportunity would have come in vain" (1950 [1513]: 2021). Elsewhere, he said, "For Fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force" (ibid.: 94). This ability to rule chance Machiavelli calls "great virtue" (virtu), using the word derived from the Latin virtus and meaning virility, courage, and virtue, in order to designate triumph over fate, even bought at the price of successful villainy. The Renaissance was not only an era of titans, a compilation of the biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Durer, and Erasmus of Rotterdam. It was a new age in human relations, a new way of thought and of life. In the Middle Ages childhood was not valued, women were objects of fear, iron was almost as precious as pure metals,


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the book was confined to the monastery. The Renaissance introduced humanistic ideas of education and developed the family cult of the child. Woman was proclaimed the noblest creation of God, becoming an object of worship by artists and poets, and was allowed to enter erudite circles. The popular book and the cheap engraving entered the house of the average citizen. Iron goods-scissors, knives, forks, locks, the steel parts of carriages and horses' harness-became common objects. Carriages rolled on European roads, while travellers were routinely equipped with watches and guns. Mariners received improved tools of navigation. But how did man feel in this rapidly changing world? The sphere of tradition and authority, of clerical and parental power, was forced to retreat. The new life demanded free and resolute people, capable of taking initiative. Talents were needed and they sprang up everywhere. The "new man" of the Renaissance, so visible in history, felt victorious. His slogan was "not to let an opportunity go by." Even the spirit-commanding magician Prospero says: I find my zenith doth depend upon A most auspiciousstar, whose influence If now I court not but omit, my fortunes Will ever after droop. (1.2.181-84) But this philosophy of luck also fed the spirit of amorality and adventurism. Machiavelli could describe with equanimity the exploits of Cesare Borgia, who achieved political success through a combination of cruelty, cunning, and treachery that allowed him to get rid of all his enemies at once. But for the mass of readers the Renaissance tyrant seemed like Dracula-the hero of a popular German book Of One GreatMonster,which had had nine printings in Germany by the end of the fifteenth century (two of them in Low German). This book "was widely read and especially in those circles where home libraries were not found" (Anon. 1964: 188). In the mirror of the popular book the Renaissance man appeared as the double-faced image of Faustus and Dracula. The rapid change in the way of life took only two to three generations-a historically negligible amount of time. And yet it involved a transformation of basic social, moral, and religious values, thus causing the masses to feel uncertainty, disorientation, apprehension, and fear. Only this can explain the phenomenon of mass hysterical fear that spread throughout Western Europe from the late fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, a phenomenon which, although extremely interesting for the scholar of mass psychology, has not yet been completely elucidated. It is characteristic that such expressions of this

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fear as witch-hunts, while indifferent to Catholic/Protestant divisions, ceased at the boundary of the classical Renaissance: the Russia of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries did not experience this mass psychosis (isolated cases in the Ukraine, which were clearly connected with the Renaissance and Baroque influences from the West, only confirm this observation [see Lotman 1983; Kovacs 1973: 53-86]). This period is full of violent social upheavals. Yet if the historian of ideology is interested in the actual class content of these upheavals, the scholar of the historical dynamics of mass psychology cannot overlook the psychological forms taken by the spirit of the age. It should not be forgotten that ideas are realized and acquire a concrete meaning, not in the pages of scholarly editions of historical documents, but in the context of the age's psychological atmosphere. In the Renaissance atmosphere hope and fear, the devil-may-care attitude of some and the perplexity of others, were deeply intertwined. This was the atmosphere of a scientific and technological revolution. Fear was caused by the loss of bearings in life. But those who experienced it did not see it this way. They were looking for a concrete scapegoat, eager to find those responsible for the general corruption. Fear longed for an embodiment. First of all, there appeared fear of science and fear of the scholar, whose image in the popular imagination was that of a wicked magician, with the devil peeping over his shoulder. Besides the subjective feelings of confusion, there were objective reasons for this attitude to science. Renaissance science was marked by esoterism. "Solomon's House" in Bacon's New Atlantis is a secret society. The reversed writing of Leonardo da Vinci, his love for ciphers, expresses the same tendency to cloak science in mystery. For the common man of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, science had been devoid of what became one of its main features in the Enlightenment: reproducibility of results, clarity and demonstrability of methods. The versatility of the Renaissance scientist seemed to flow from the "master craftsman"-the devil as the source of all knowledge. In his "Dialogue of Marvels," Caesarius of Heisterbach retold some abbot's story of his youth as a student in Paris. "Since his understanding was dull and his memory weak, so it was difficult for him to understand and to remember, he was the butt of everybody's jokes and was considered an idiot." Once, when he was sick, Satan visited him and offered him "the knowledge of all sciences," but the student withstood the temptation (in Speranski 1906: 98). Caesarius's novellas were written in the thirteenth century, but even in the Renaissance the common man felt closer to a pious "idiot" (this word of Greek origin meant, in the Middle Ages, "layman,""ignoramus," "a person who does not know Latin") than to a scholar who had signed a pact with the devil.


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The common man, disturbed in his habitual way of life, saw another source of danger in religious and national minorities. The church had always persecuted heretics, but in the period under discussion hatred for them became a feature of the mass psychology. When life loses its foundations, everybody who dresses, thinks, or prays differently sparks fear. Racial persecutions broke out in Western Europe. However, all the fears of the time were merged in the third one: fear of witchcraft. The progress of science and technology, the secular, "pagan" character of culture undermined faith. In many areas of life it had simply become unnecessary. Machiavelli and Bodin created completely secular theories of the state, with no place left for a divinity. Copernicus and Galileo practically ousted God from the universe. Neither religious nor moral considerations stopped Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) when, in 1495, he made a deal with Turkish Sultan Beyazit the Second and received 300,000 crowns for poisoning the Sultan's brother and rival (and his own guest), Cem. The humanists banished God in order to clear space for man. But in the popular consciousness this space was occupied by the devil. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are referred to as "the golden age of Satan" and "the explosion of satanism" by historians. The panic peaked between 1575 and 1625 (the time during which Bacon wrote Novum Organum and The Advancementof Learning, and Bodin wrote De La Republique;the time of Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Rembrandt). Belief in the devil's might became obsessive. Luther wrote, in "A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians," that through his body and possessions, a man was enslaved by the devil. The world was the devil's domain. The bread that men ate, the water they drank, the clothes on their back, even the air they breathed, everything pertaining to their flesh was the devil's kingdom. Fear of the devil seemed to emblematize the tragic situation of sixteenth-century man and produced a flood of writings about Satan, witches, and their wicked machinations (see Delumeau 1980 [1978]; Roskoff 1869; Janssen 1883-1894; Osborn 1893). Even enlightened humanists were carried away by this flood. The same Bodin, whom the great student of that period Pinski has called "a free-thinker and even an atheist," was also the author of the treatise De La Demonomanie des Sorcierswhich theoretically proved the necessity of burning witches at the stake (Pinski 1961: 109; see also Baudrillard 1853: 189). The medieval church in the West had always persecuted witches. Historians who stress the responsibility of the Curia justly note the deplorable part played by both the papal bull of Innocent the Sixth, "Summis desiderantes" (5.12.1484), and the notorious Malleus Maleficarum of 1484 by the Dominicans Sprenger and Kramer. However, as G. Roskoff (1869) already noted, the latter pair burned 48 people dur-

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ing the five years of their atrocious activities, while by the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth, no less than 50 "witches" were burned each Sunday in many German towns. Contemporaries noted that in some places there were no women left, which led to a sharp decline in population. The pandemic of fear spread from Sweden and Scotland to Italy and from Hungary in the East to Spain in the West. Under the banner of the fight against the devil, there were mass executions in Mexico.2 Moreover, the frightened middle classes participated widely in witch-hunts. Delumeau has justly noted that "anything strange, new, and prone to change caused fear" (1980 [1978]: 49). But the same scholar, analyzing the wave of denunciations bred by the atmosphere of suspicion and fear, writes: "In the epidemic of demonomania which devastated Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rivalry between neighbors, neighboring villages, antagonistic clans, or internal quarrels came to the fore" (ibid.: 51).3 Deterioration of the economic situation gave rise to litigation; envy and malice inspired accusations of witchcraft. Fear and suspicion created an atmosphere in which denunciation automatically led to condemnation, while every new stake, on the one hand, thickened the miasma of fear and, on the other hand, increased the temptation to line one's pocket quickly at the expense of the next victim. The tangle of motives produced a "snowball effect." But if thousands of fires blackened the skies of Europe, there occurred simultaneously parallel processes of redistribution of wealth and of rapid turnover in positions of authority, since the ineluctable accusation could fall on anybody (see Naude 1625). The miasma of fear brought about the simplification of court procedures and the cancellation of all the traditional medieval norms of legal defense. All limitations on the use of torture were practically annulled. Legal minds, such as the famous Saxon lawyer Carpzov, scientifically proved the impossibility of following ordinary legal procedures in witchcraft trials. The famous humanist Jean Bodin wrote: "Not one witch in a million would be punished if the procedure were governed by ordinary laws; suspicion is a sufficient reason for torture since rumors never appear in a void." Not only the accused but even their defense counsels were deprived of the guarantees of immunity. When one of Erasmus's pupils attempted to prove, in a scholarly tract, that witches were mentally ill women who deserved pity and
2. Todorov (1982) discusses the problem of culture clash. See also Chaunu (1969). 3. Scholars who study the problem of witchcraft in Africa stress the connection between family quarrels and accusations of witchcraft. They also note that a sudden intrusion of Western civilization into traditional African societies leads to an aggravation of the problem and outbreaks of "demonomania."See Macfarlane (1970: 167).


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not execution, Bodin accused him of witchcraft. Johann von Schoneburg, Archbishop-Elector of Trier, who showed a particular zeal in persecuting Protestants, Jews, and witches, also burned the rector of the local university, having accused him of consorting with the latter. Johann Georg the Second, Prince-Bishop of Bamberg, burned the chancellor, five city burgomasters, and many civil servants for the same reason (Trevor-Roper 1967: 150-52). Under such conditions, the courage of those who, like Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, attempted to win acquittal in witch trials, is to be particularly appreciated (Bryusov 1913: 13; Nauert 1965). The main victims of witch-hunts were women. There were sufficient reasons for this. In various historical situations, the psychosis of mass fear gives rise to the recognizable pattern of "the mythology of danger." There arises the notion of some tightly knit, secret group, plotting against society. What causes particular anxiety is the belief that members of this group are able to recognize each other through a secret code, while remaining indistinguishable themselves. It is possible to identify them, not through legal evidence, but through "the gut feelings" of the judge and the prosecutor. In the first century AD, Marcus Minucius Felicius, a Christian, collected street rumors about Christians and refuted them in his dialogue Octavius. There we find: "They recognize each other by secret signs, and therefore form close connections, while being hardly familiar with each other. Fornication is part of their religion. In public they call each other brothers and sisters, but only to make of these sacred names a disguise for lewdness and incest" (1689: 35-36). The thought of somebody else's solidarity against the background of one's own disorientation causes one to feel threatened. Women in the Middle Ages were a minority-not quantitatively but socially and culturally. This alone was sufficient to explain their being viewed with suspicion. Moreover, the Renaissance had not left the psychology of the European woman untouched: she was playing an increasingly active role in society. More than the average man, she was "the new human being": at least, she had taken more steps forward. For the confused masses, a woman who displayed unusual behavior of any kind was an embodiment of the coming kingdom of Satan. In order to clarify the meaning of the unprecedented plague of women's victimization, it is necessary to see who was in the gravest danger of being stigmatized as a witch. Alan Macfarlane, who studied this question using historical data from England and Scotland, came to the conclusion that no economic factor could explain witch-hunts (1970: 98-100). Delumeau, noting that a large percentage of witchhunt victims were old women, linked this fact to the Renaissance cult of beauty and loathing for physical ugliness (1984: 426-27). However,

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on the basis of plentiful data, it is possible to conclude that, besides old women, among those in danger were little girls, young women, "alien" women, and women who were extraordinarily beautiful as well as those who were extraordinarily ugly. In the list of those executed in Wurtzburg in 1629, for example, one finds the following marginal notes: "the most beautiful woman in Wurtzburg," or a woman "who dressed too richly." The head councilman, marked as "the fattest man in Wurtzburg," was burned at the stake. So were the best musician, a blind girl, the poorest people and the richest (Roskoff 1869: 339-41; Heppe 1880;Janssen 1883-1894). The obvious common denominator of the persecutions is the fear of extremes, of destabilizing deviations from the norm. Paradoxically, technological development, instead of weakening fear, stimulated it. Many scholars have noted the role of printing in the epidemic of satanism. It is precisely the printer who created the "boom" of books on witchcraft that would have been impossible in the Middle Ages. The notorious Malleus Maleficarumhad numerous reprintings in the sixteenth century, with the overall number of copies reaching 50,000 (in other words, the book that had been intended for internal consumption by the Inquisition became popular reading). The Theatreof Demons,a thirty-three-volume encyclopedia of demonomania, reached a circulation figure of 231,600 copies. The writings of Luther and Calvin, filled with fear of the devil, were sold in enormous numbers. Bodin's De La Demonomanie had five (!) Latin editions between 1578 and 1604 as well as its French, German, and other translations. It is impossible to calculate the circulation of popular books like those about Faustus and Dracula. The analysis of trial documents shows that many women accused of witchcraft displayed knowledge of this type of literature in their evidence, and that this knowledge influenced their confessions. It is a safe supposition that in medieval society, divided into isolated subworlds, the epidemic fear of witchcraft would not have spread over the whole European continent. Significantly, when, between the second part of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth, a new economic structure was established, the way of life stabilized and the atmosphere of fear dispersed; the psychological climate changed with astonishing rapidity. One of the main features of people's behavior in an atmosphere of fear consists in a profound transformation of their internal logic. Therefore, when this atmosphere dissipates, whatever seemed possible and natural only yesterday appears impossible and incomprehensible. This partially explains the characteristic Enlightenment psychology of "awakening." The eighteenth-century man felt himself to have awakened from a deep and heavy slumber (see Goya's picture The Sleep of Reason). This loss of a psychological connection with


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the recent past led to the tendency to dissociate from it temporally by pushing it farther back in time. Thus, the cultural myth of the attributed religious wars and witch-hunts to the early Enlightenment Middle Ages. This was uncritically accepted by the positivist science of the nineteenth century. The historian who studies the sociopsychology of fear-dominated societies in different historical periods finds the self-propagating patterns of mass mentality.4 Thus, Michel Vovel, analyzing the popular moods of the French Revolution, finds that they were dominated by a myth of conspiracy, extraordinarily flexible and capable of being used for various purposes. It could be an aristocratic plot or-with the beginning of the war-a foreign plot, involving, as they said, "the accomplices of Pitt and Cobourg"-the label that fit equally well the followers of Gironde, of Danton, and of Ebert, until finally the bourgeois republic of Directoire came up with the idea of an anarchist plot. Those involved were the followers of Babeuf, supporters of "the agrarian law" and equalization of property. The terrorist, the man with a dagger, took over the place of the aristocrat in the system of propagandist symbols. (Vovel 1985: 137) The same author adduces a vivid example of how the peasant movement for taxation of grain that took place in the agricultural regions between the Loire and the Seine was reflected in the mass consciousness. The authorities were constantly preoccupied with the possibility of a counter-revolutionary plot; therefore it was often claimed that the peasants who wanted to tax grain prices were headed by priests. And if, after all, the movement was impossible to explain away thus, why not allege that it was the responsibility of "anarchists"?And thus there appeared the absurd rumor that the disturbances were instigated by some nonexistent brother of Marat or that Philippe Egalite, this cunning cousin of the King and a deputy of the Convention nationale, was involved in some underhanded activities.... But the supporters of popular taxation had their own explanation of the events. They countered the figure of the anarchist with the figure of the profiteer, whose barns they were searching. (Ibid.) It is interesting that the image of "conspiracy" repeatedly assumes the same forms in different historical periods, the forms which apparently reproduce the deeply archaic models of secret societies. Thus, Livy (Titus Livius), in book 39 (chaps. 8-19) of his History of Rome from Its Foundation (Livy 1958 [1936]), describes the inquest into secret bacchanalia in Rome. First of all, it is stressed that the meetings took place 4. In this connection, historians begin to get interested in the psychology of the mob. See Rude (1984 [1848]) and Vovel's(1985) interesting work on mass opinions in the epoch of the French Revolution.

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at night, in total darkness, and in secrecy. The main parts were played by women and "effeminate" men (ch. 15). Having gathered in darkness, intoxicated, the participants of the mystery indulged in chaotic and perverse sexual activities and made bloody sacrifices, killing those who attempted to avoid participation in orgies, since "the initiated thought that nothing was criminal but only the highest expression of their religion" (nihil nefastducere,hanc summaminter eos religionemesse). Curiously, Livy's description is repeated, almost word for word, in the hostile rumors about meetings of early Christians collected in Octavius by Marcus Minucius Felicius. Both authors describe, in similar words, the night gatherings, the orgies taking place in absolute darkness (both stress the loathing for light), the bloody killings of renegades, and the members' ability to recognize each other by secret signs. Minutius adds the ritual murder of a child and the sacrificial use made of its blood. According to Livy, bacchanalia spread "like a plague"; according to Minutius, Christianity-"like weeds." This scheme will be endlessly repeated in different historical contexts. It is easily discernible in legal descriptions of the witches' sabbath (both Livy and Minutius Felicius emphasize the predominance of women and representatives of suspect national minorities). Thus, we can note a paradoxical historical progression: a rapid, explosive advance in the sphere of science and technology turns the stable forms of ordinary life upside down and changes not only the social but also the psychological structures of the period. The upshot of this process gives rise to typical, historically recurrent, conflicts. First, there is an expansion of the potential for organizing forms of social life, of the social capacity for memory and record-keeping, of the possibility of long-range planning. Second, there is a parallel expansion of the potential for individual creative activity. These tendencies may clash and eventually bring about either stagnation or destabilization. Third, the unlimited opportunities for creativity and the rapid change of habitual forms of life disorient the masses. The usual ceases to be effective, and this breeds mass situations of stress and fear, reanimating deeply buried modes of behavior and thought. Scientific progress may be the background for psychological regression, potentially leading to uncontrollable consequences. Science increases the possibilities of prediction, but reality may turn out to be completely unpredictable. These catastrophic results would not have occurred had it only been a matter of technological progress; however, research shows that great scientific and technological upheavals are always intertwined with semiotic revolutions that profoundly transform the whole system of sociocultural semiotics. First, it is important to notice that the material environment, the physical aspect of humanity's cultural space,


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has not only practical but also semantic significance. A rapid change in the world of physical objects transforms habitual rules of the semantic production of meaning. Thus, Tyutchev, having crossed Europe by railway in 1847, noted changes in his perception of space: if earlier cities used to be hiatuses between stretches of open country, now the countryside only punctuated an almost continuous vista of cities. "Cities clasp each other's hands," he wrote. Artillery, plus the technology of travel, roads, and navigation, radically transformed the age-old perception of space. If in painting reality was constructed as illusion, the close and flat canvas imitating distance and depth, the cannonball turned far into near, while regular travel made the strange commonplace and the illusory real. But it was the same subject who experienced spatial expansion in painting and its contraction in travel. As a result, the language of spatial description lost its absolute character and became dependent on generic pragmatism and the particular sphere of its application. New things, devoid of traditional roots, have a heightened symbolic potential. And meaningfulness of objects creates mythology of objects. Thus, on the one hand, there appeared a mythology of gold, luxury, splendor, which merged with a myth of man as skillful craftsman, godlike creator (thus Benvenuto Cellini claimed that there was a shining halo around his head which he could show to those deserving of such an honor). On the other hand, there was a folk myth of "Gold the Devil" and of the demonic nature of everything created by human hands. Hatred of art merged with hatred of wealth and became the substratum of a whole layer of folk mythology. However, the clearest expression of a semiotic revolution was in the sphere of language and communication. It is no accident that the markers of great scientific and technological upheavals are leaps in communication technology: writing, printing, the epoch of TV, tapes, and computers. Each of these periods is marked not merely by an improvement in the technology of communication but by a far-reaching change in the status of language and its place in society. The nature of linguistic referentiality and speech use undergoes a profound metamorphosis. The Middle Ages knew the unconditionally authoritative Word, spoken in a sacred language and divine by its nature. Unlike ordinary language, it was always true and was beyond the arbitrariness of human usage. It allowed interpretation by the listener, who was imperfect, but excluded ambiguity by the speaker (God or his mouthpieces). In fact, sacred language had meaning but no application. Application was effected by the speaking subject's setting forth the divine Word. As he approached the kernel of meaning, application was to wither away. The Renaissance word became human and acquired complex refer-

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entiality. It became clear that the word might receive different meanings, depending on the intention of the speaker. The word became as cunning as politics, individually significant. Its coupling with reality often followed the rule of concealing, rather than revealing, meaning. The medieval word might have been incomprehensible (the layman, the simpleton, the "idiot" might not understand Latin), but the listener would know that the meaning, although obscure to him, was invariable. The very impossibility of everyday speech in the sacred tongue made referentiality exceedingly stable. The word was not subject to semantic games. The Renaissance word became nation-specific, merging with popular and everyday speech. It became comprehensible, but at the same time this comprehensibility started to dissolve in the relativity of the speaker's intention, the multiplicity of speech genres, and the confusion of referential systems in living linguistic usage. In the Middle Ages the Latin word and the popular word had been separated. And correspondingly, Aristotelian and ordinary logic, ideal and common norms of behavior were also separated. The ideas of goodness and truth lay outside of actual life and, thus, were unshakeable. The Renaissance rehabilitated the word in national language. The capitalized Word, the unique, highly authoritative, transparently referential Word was supplanted by the common popular word. It had become democratic but had lost its authority and credibility. The word became cunning. The listener was afraid of deceit and suspected it. Everyday speech bore everyday logic, which rose from the lower spheres of life to the status of the wisdom of the ages. Duplicity of oaths, dissimulation, concealment of intention, and complication of the link between speech and reality create a different attitude to the word. John Searle defines reference as the relation between the intention of the speaker and the recognition of this intention by the listener (Searle 1969; see also Arutyunova 1982: 14). But ordinary speech may conceal as well as reveal this intention. In a world which had broken away from its foundations, the masses, losing faith in the word, encountering language as deliberate lie, began to connect the word not with God but with the devil. At the same time, the technique of illusionist painting, having supplanted the icon, continued to improve. Instead of absolute value showing through the veneer of visual form, the viewer was confronted with pseudo-reality, which was in fact thoroughly conventional. As in twentieth-century cinema, lifelikeness increased illusion. Even everyday things, by being sucked into the sphere of art, lost the rough actuality of material objects and acquired the ambiguity of semiotic existence. The mass consciousness' reaction to this was twofold: on the one hand, the cult of inarticulateness, and on the other hand, the


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longing to return to the "simple" and authoritative biblical word. This yearning for the authoritative word was evident both in heresies and in the Reformation. At the same time, humanists also tended to return to the classical forms of Latin, a dead language whose use seemed to reduce the morbid distrust of the word. Whether the authority was the Apostles' or Cicero's, the end result was the same. People, panicked by loss of faith in the firm foundations of the past, desired to tame and "dogmatize" the word. Yet this desire caused the wide spread of demagoguery. The prohibition to doubt the word, for example, resulted in the fact that, at witchcraft trials, indictment was already condemnation. To mistrust what was said was to cross the line to the devil's side. After denunciation and indictment, the trial itself had only one purpose-to achieve the suspect's verbal confirmation of the accusation's truth. Rumormongers and gossips were free of suspicious questioning as to who was spreading rumors and why. They were above suspicion. They were joined by a new authority-the printed word. It is interesting to see how, in the epoch of witch-hunts, the press did not disseminate rumors but reinforced them. This can be compared to the way in which, in the twentieth century, the mass culture of commercial TV and cinema does not create, but rather cultivates, the myths of mass consciousness. Every abrupt change in human history releases new forces. The paradox is that movement forward may stimulate the regeneration of archaic cultural and psychological models, may give rise both to scientific blessings and to epidemics of mass fear. The recognition of this and the study of relevant sociocultural, psychological, and semiotic mechanisms become more than scholarly tasks.
Translated from the Russian by Ilana Gomel.

Anikst, A.
1983 Gete i Faust (Moscow: Kniga). Anon. 1964 Povest o Drakule [The Story of Dracula] (Moscow/Leningrad: Nauka). Arutyunova, N. D. 1982 "Novoe v zarubezhnoj lingvistike: problemy referentsii," Logika i lingvistika (Problemy referentsii) 13 (Moscow). Bacon, Francis 1974 [1906] The Advancement of Learning and New Atlantis, introduced by Thomas Case (London: Oxford University Press). Baudrillard, H.J. 1853 Bodin et son temps (Paris). Bryusov, V. 1913 Oklevetanni uchenni [The Slandered Scientist] (Moscow).

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Chaunu, P. 1969 Conquete et exploitation de nouveaux mondes, 16e siecle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France). Delumeau, Jean 1980 [1978] La Peur en Occident 14e-18e siecles: Une cite assiegee (Paris: Fayard). 1984 La Civilisation de la Renaissance (Paris: Editions Arthaud). Heppe, H., ed. 1880 Soltan's Geschichteder Hexenprozesse,Neubearbeitetvon Dr. H. Heppe (Stuttgart).

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1883-1894 Geschichtedes deutschenlVolkes:VII (1, 27)-VIII (Freiburg). Jowett, B., ed. and trans. 1892 The Dialogues of Plato (New York: Scribner's). Kovacs, Z. 1973 Die Hexen in Russland, Acta Ethnographica Academiae Hungaricae, Vol. 22, 53-86. Kuhn, Thomas 1970 [1962] International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. Vol. 2, No. 2, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press). Livy (Titus Livius) 1958 [1936] The History of Rome from Its Foundations (Ab Urbe Condita), translated by Evan T. Sage, Vol. 11, Books 38-39. Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Lotman, Jurij. M. 1983 "Ob ode vybrannoj iz Iova" ["On an Ode from the Book of Job"], Izvestcija ANSSSR (Ser. Literatury iJazyka) 42: 3. 1987 Neskol'ko myslei o tipologii kultury [Some Thoughts on Cultural Typology] (Moscow). Macfarlane, Alan 1970 Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul). Machiavelli, Niccol6 1950 [1513] The Prince and The Discourses, introduced by Max Lerner (New York: Random House). Marcus Minucius Felicius 1689 Octavius seu Idolorum Vanitate. Naud6, G. 1625 Apologies pour tous les grands personnages qui ont te' faussement soupconnes de magic (Paris). Nauert, Charles G. 1965 Agrippa and the Crisis of the Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press). Osborn, M. 1893 Die Teufelliteratur des 16 Jahrhund/Acta Germanica 3:3 (Berlin). Pinski, L. 1961 Realism epokhi vozrozhdenija [Realism of the Renaissance] (Moscow). Roskoff, G. 1869 Geschichtedes Teufels (Leipzig). Rude, D. 1984 [1848] Narodnye nizy v istorii [Lower Classes in History] (Moscow: Progress). Searle, John R. 1969 "Reference as a Speech Act," in Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).


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Shakespeare, William don: Methuen). Speranski, N. Todorov, Tsvetan

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1906 Vedmyi vedmovstvo [Witchesand Witchcraft] (Moscow). 1982 La Conquete de l'Amerique:La Question de l'autre (Paris: Editions du Seuil). 1967 Religion, The Reformation and Social Change, and Other Essays (London/Mel-

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bourne: Macmillan). Vovel, M. 1985 "K istorii obshchestvennogo soznanija epokhi Velikovojfrancuzskoj revolZhirmunskij, Viktor M., ed.
jucii," Francuzckij ezhegodnik (Moscow: Nauka). 1978 Istorija legendy o Fauste: Legenda o doktoreFauste (Moscow: Nauka).