Genius Loci: Kaariku. Arcadian Myth in Memoirs of the Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotics

Emily Johnson, University of Oklahoma

As many researchers have pointed out, one of the principal distinguishing features of the academic work produced by the Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotics during its golden age (the 1960s and 1970s) is its tendency towards "exactitude and explicitness," its scientific tone. Leading semioticians like Jurij Lotman openly aspired to develop "exact methods" for conducting research in the humanities. They wanted to subject the results of their investigations to verification whenever possible; to make literary and cultural studies more like the natural sciences.

Perhaps for this reason the dozens of memoirs about of the Moscow-Tartu School which have appeared in print over the course of the last fifteen years represent such a surprise. When writing about their own past and particularly the summer workshops which took place at Kaariku during the 1960s, scholars associated with the Moscow-Tartu School have often been decidedly nostagic and romantic. Writers famous for their ground-breaking studies of legends and myths, have described idyllic pastoral scenes, cited lines Pushkin wrote on Tsarskoe Selo, and spoken reverently of the "genius loci" of the area. In some cases, the memoirist has clearly made the decision to strike a subjective tone consciously and even offers an explanation ofhis choice within the context of his narrative. In others the air of nostalgia and the use of mythic elements seem less affected and at least potentially naive.

In this paper I intend to analyze the memoirs produced by members of the Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotics, looking specifically at the way in which each writer describes the atmosphere at Kaariku. I plan to focus on the elements of and references to the pastoral in these descriptions.