The Eternal Return of the New. From Cultural Semiotics to Evolutionary Theory and Back Again.

Göran Sonesson
Professor of semiotics, Director of Centre for cognitive semiotics, SOL, Lund University

The first globalization of human beings occurred when Homo sapiens spread out from Africa. There may have been many smaller or bigger strands of globalization before the second one, epitomized by the discovery of America by the Europeans. As for the third big wave of globalization, which is part and parcel of contemporary life, it is not clear whether it concerns human beings or only their commodities. Before we can talk about what is new, however, we need to have a clear view of what is constant and unchanging. Many years ago I demonstrated the existence, within the domain of art, of the Mechanism of Modernism, which is an invariant structure for producing novelty, and I now want to generalize this model to the human Lifeworld generally. The foundation of these invariants structures is found, in terms of the Tartu school, in the opposition between Culture and Non-culture, or, in Husserl’s terms, between Homeworld and Alienworld. Availing myself of the theory of empathy, as applied to cultures, I have extended this Canonical model, made up of the Homeworld and a first kind of Alienworld, called Ego-culture and Alius-culture, respectively, to include a second kind of Alienworld, the Alter-culture. From point of view of the Ego, normally situated within culture, Alter is an other that is another Ego, whereas Alius can never be an Ego, but retains an essential Thingness. Group-selection may well function to permit altruists to gain the upper hand over egoists, as has been established by Evolutionary Theory, but only when selection operates on one group in opposition of one or several others. Homeworld and Alienworld are thus at the beginning of deep history. According to Evolutionary Theory, cultural evolution may well be selected for, and even have consequences for genetic evolution, once its comes of its own. Alter-culture was particularly favoured by the Enlightenment, following upon the second wave of globalization. But present day globalization so far predominantly seems to have been an expansion of Alius-culture.