International Congress of the International Biosemiotic Society
Glotterbad, 9 -11 May 1991
IASS - AIS Bulletin 10(2)1990 + 11(1)1991
Models - New Approaches to Rehabilitation
Thure von Uexküll opened the meeting by stating that health
is an active process, not a static condition. Then the first
main theme, narrativity, turned up: Tale telling is so important
because it connects events to arrive at a biography. In a world
where everything is changing a frame must be set, an integration
of chance events into understandable successions, giving sense
to them. Narrativity is seen by Uexküll as a strategy to
cope with contiguity ("Strategie zur Kontingenzbewältigung").
Are there "construction rules" for narrative structures?
Martin Krampen distinguishes on this behalf "paradigmatic"
aspects and "syntagmatic" ones referring to synchronous,
"vertical" (static?) items which are connected "in
a row" (= time) to result in a narrative structure. He
continued by analyzing common features in fairy tales: The journey
of the hero. A sketchy description: Starting point is a situation
of alienation (the breaking of a contract, the posing of a task
or challenge); then it continues through a probing time, where
unknown, dangerous situations follow; they are surpassed - either
with the help of "adjuvants" (magic, ghosts, fairies)
- or in spite of impairment by "opponents" (witches,
- finally, an aim is reached, like wedding, liberation, crowning,
or metamorphosis, as a reintegrating, closing event.
By comparing the hero to the patient, alienation is represented
by the onset of a disease, symptoms serve as opponents, doctors
and drugs act as adjuvants, until a balance, or even a rehabilitation
("salutogenese", Uexküll), is reached. Autopoiesis
was briefly mentioned, but not explained...
As an illustrative example, a patient's record was presented
(in dialogic, parallel presentation of the written view of the
patient and that of his therapists). Now, what is the first
code system? The bodily changes, the patient's descriptions,
the first medical comment, the analytic, "deep" interpretation
- or, rather, ours, the audience' comments an all these? It
was fascinating to realize language as a never-ending chain
After noon, J. Hoffmeyer commented on the role of emotions in
interaction of inborn and learned behavior, and presented another
main theme: Can cognition interfere with endosemiosis? Some
of his triadic models of body-brain-environment interactions
showed that endosemiosis should be given more attention when
talking about conscious processes.
Thomas A. Sebeok continued with a broad evaluation of narrativity
from everyday life to the sciences, which raised many questions
for discussion. (Are pictures narrative? Origin of narrative
competence, "narrative iconicity", Posner.)
Roland Posner was the next speaker with remarks about attitudes
towards death by analyzing grammatical changes (!) during the
centuries. He showed that the agens was first without location,
later "outside" of the speaker, and still later "within"
him. Posner drew a hypothetical (anti-)parallel by referring
to contemporary psychotherapeutic interaction: The client starts
with symptoms within himself, and learns slowly to attribute
causes to the (social) environment. He "goes back"
to earlier stages of grammar (?).
H. Schneider called narrative structures "mnemotechnic",
and showed that story telling is a method only, a useful projection
of understanding onto objective structures: Contingencies happen,
but we connect them e.g. with language, thus bridging endosemiosis
and anthropomorphic epistemology. Uexküll pointed out that
"objective structures" and narratives about them are
both descriptions, both models of explanation...!
The concluding statements by medical experts brought a broad
variety of topics (Chinese medical system, problems of autonomy
of patients and doctors, pain management): A lot of fascinating
questions, discussed too little because of time problems. (By
the way, the meeting as a whole was rated higher by standards
of intensity and consistency compared to the previous one.)
The foundation of an International Biosemiotic Society, for
which an agreement was reached last year, was discussed again.
Instead of an independent society, an affiliation (DGS or IASS)
was preferred. R. Posner should check the possibilities with
regard to the DGS, A. Fürlinger for the IASS.