Semiotica 2022 (245):157-173 (2022)

This paper affords a Lotmanian cultural semiotic analysis of the inner workings of ritual embodying the mechanism of cultural memory. In this intersectional study, we propose treating ritual as an integral semiotic system in which the community follows a prescribed collective process to create religious or social meanings and to regulate the mechanism of cultural memory through concrete symbols in the forms of behavior, speech, gestures, objects, spatial structures, and so on. Three semiotic properties of ritual in relation to cultural memory are identified, namely, continuity, concreteness, and integrity, which are jointly responsible for the efficacy of ritual in cultural memory making, or to be specific, in the preservation, retrieval, and even reproduction of cultural memory. With these properties, ritual helps construct and maintain socio-cultural order and group identity in the community, by repeating itself and thus creating a sense of continuity through the preservation and retrieval of cultural memory. The key components in ritual are its diverse and polysemous symbols, which are seldom confined to a specific context, although they are indeed subject to the dominant symbol and the dominant meaning in a ritual when necessary. With an extraordinary degree of autonomy and not bound to any fixed context, ritual symbols can enter a ritual situation as its components but retain the freedom of leaving the ritual context at any time, like an unchained “spectator,” and permeating multiple contexts as self-contained units. It is precisely through these transferrable ritual symbols that the fragments of cultural memory are randomly dispersed in the semiosphere and carried to unexpected socio-cultural contexts, bridging the past, the present, and the future and creating new cultural memory.
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DOI 10.1515/sem-2019-0085
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Sherpas Through Their Rituals.Melvyn C. Goldstein & Sherry Ortner - 1980 - Journal of the American Oriental Society 100 (2):216.

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