Semiotics in Lithuania: The A. J. Greimas Semiotics and Literary Theory Centre at Vilnius University

Established in 1992, the Algirdas Julius Greimas Centre for Semiotic Studies and Research aims at developing semiotics and contemporary theories of meaning. It also endeavors to apply semiotic principles and methods in the humanities and social sciences disciplines, encouraging interdisciplinary (semiotic and hermeneutic) research, developing Lithuanian semiotic terminology, educating competent researchers of contemporary cultural, social, and political discourses, and updating Lithuanian humanists about the latest  European semiotic advances. The name of Greimas inspires the members of the centre to continue the traditional cooperation between Lithuanian and French semioticians and to represent Greimasian semiotics in international semiotics forums.

Aiming at the unity of science and studies, the Greimas centre offers a MA program in semiotics (started in 2005). French semioticians representing current semiotics research are invited to the centre to help ensure the quality of studies and the development of a critical and sound approach. Methodological discussions take place in the interdisciplinary seminars as well as in the annual academic week, in which students and teachers from a number of Lithuanian high schools participate.

Kestutis Nastopka

Since 1993 weekly interdisciplinary seminars conducted by Prof. Kęstutis Nastopka, Prof. Arūnas Sverdiolas and Doc. Saulius Žukas have been taking place in the Greimas Centre. Seminars, which initially where devoted to general semiotics, are now focused on a different theme each year (e. g. Dialogue: problems of intertextuality and intersubjectivity; pictoriality: literature, painting and philosophy; believing and trusting; sense expression; body and text: semiotic and phenomenological point of view). The seminars are attended by researchers, students and lecturers from different institutions of higher education. They discuss and analyze topics by relying on different methodologies and usually base their discussions on readings of theoretical texts which are connected to the topic itself.

Arūnas Sverdiolas

The Greimas Centre organizes annual academic weeks in Druskininkai since 1991. It usually takes place during the first week of July. Members of humanities and social sciences (students, lecturers and researchers from various institutions of higher education in Lithuania as well as scholars from abroad) take part in this academic week. This event’s goal is to stimulate interdisciplinary and disciplinary cooperation between researchers and students, the interchange of ideas and projects and the development of a culture of discussion and polemics. Usually the annual academic week has a specific theme which is connected to the topic of the interdisciplinary seminars taking place that year. The academic week is organized as a series of reports, papers, seminars and discussions.

In search of Greimas was the title of an international conference held in 2007 at Vilnius University. Students and followers of Greimas, who are spread throughout Europe and beyond, and who know each other but rarely have an opportunity to gather together, were invited to his homeland. The conference marked Greimas’s 90th birth anniversary.

Students of Greimas who thought they knew their teacher discovered a different side of his creative personality. Some were surprised by the neo-romantic and somewhat sentimental style which was a characteristic of his early literary writings, others by the fact that semiotic theory in all the stages of its development was closely related to the practical aspects of his life, his personal qualities and dispositions.

The conference presented the participants with the possibility to reinterpret the relation of phenomenology and semiotics. In France during the golden year of structuralism the two lines of disciplinary practice were often thought to be irreconcilable or at least different. The presenters introduced the potential of bridging the phenomenology and semiotics approaches, and described the possibilities of talking about senses within the semiotic discipline.

At the end of the conference a summarizing question was raised: did we find Greimas? It is important to understand that Greimasian semiotics is not a precept, but a process, not a canon, but, according to Paolo Fabbri, an organon. After the conference, the participants emphasized their commitment to continue the never-ending search for the meaning of meaning.

The semiotics research carried out in the Greimas Centre focuses on the general theory of meaning and on the new aspects of its development; such research is relevant to the application of general theoretical principles to discourses of the present day: e. g. analysis of social discourses and advertising. Presenting a clear methodological framework, the Greimas Centre participates in international scientific projects. In collaboration with French semioticians during the years 2003-2004, the Greimas Centre conducted research on The Body in contemporary social discourse (advertising and politics) as a part of the integrated Lithuanian-French research program Gilibert. The research results have been presented in various periodic publications as well as in a collection of articles „Kūno raiška šiuolaikiniame socialiniame diskurse“(The Expression of The Body in Contemporary Social Discourse, 2007). During the years 2007-2008, research in the field of the social practices of taste has been carried out for the Gilibert program. The key theme of the scientific research carried out in the centre is Analysis of literary texts: theoretical and practical aspects. Apart from completing individual projects in the field of literature, a group of  lecturers at the Greimas Centre (dr. N.Keršytė, doc. I. Melnikova, doc. B. Meržvinskytė, prof. K. Nastopka, doc. P. Subačius) carried out in 2007-2008 a project of compiling a dictionary of Lithuanian literary terms, sponsored by the Lithuanian national fund of science and studies.

Algirdas Julius Greimas considered the development of academic-university culture as a priority in the Lithuanian culture. He insisted on creating a department of anthropology (under the name of Jonas Basanavičius), which would encompass various humanities disciplines. The introduction of semiotics in the studies of literary theories in the reorganized Centre of Semiotics and Literary Theory is a partial realization of this proposal.

The Greimas Centre for Semiotics and Literary Theory takes responsibility for the integrity of literary studies and the application of general theoretical criteria in all specialties of literary disciplines. Lecturers of the Centre are participating in the programs of literature anthropology and intermedial studies of literature. They are designing new literary courses which reflect the problematics of contemporary developments in the humanities and the social sciences.  The popularization of the above-mentioned courses in other faculties contributes to promoting the humanitarization of studies at Vilnius University.

Greimas Centre Staff

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