Implicit lacunas as a factor of communicative disharmony

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

Author: Kotova Larissa, East Kazakhstan State University in honor of S. Amanzholov, Kazakhstan

East Kazakhstan State University in honor of S. Amanzholov, Kazakhstan

The analysis of narrative (literal) communication in the sphere of effectiveness of speech communication shows that there are several factors which make the “author-addressee” dialogue ineffective, being implicit for the addressee.

Giving definition to the notion of effective communication A.K. Mikhalskaya points out a significant difference in its interpretation from the point of view of a new culture concept: “not only a correct interpretation of a message by an addressee, but also a genuine mutual understanding between the members of a communication process can be acknowledged as the result of effective communication, psychological manifestation of which is gladness. Successful communication also causes esthetic emotional experience similar to that caused by works of art” [Mikhalskaya 1990, 5: 56-57]. Such kind of a dialogue between the author and the reader leads to achieving harmony which can be viewed as the desirable communicative effect in artistic communication.

Contemporary works of literature are aimed directly at this type of communicative effect. However, it would not be an exaggeration to say that harmony is something that any communicant who is involved in a dialogue wants to achieve. “A communication can be called harmonious if it gives the communicants not only the information to think over, but presents the reader with the feeling of the beautiful, satisfaction and joy of empathy. Thus, harmonization can be defined as intellectual, emotional and esthetic empathy of communicants, which presupposes creative activity of not only the addressor, but also the addressee” [Bolotnova 1992, 4:77].

There is no doubt that it is especially relevant when a narration has some special conditions – “secondary informative ways” which include allusion, reminiscence, parody and other types of statements, which “presuppose that the readers have certain knowledge of history and philology” [Akhmanova, Gyubbenet 1977, 3: 47]. They are also can be called “vertical context”. These elements require extensive speech and cognitive activity from the reader. “Vertical” and “horizontal” conjugacy of various textual stimuli and associations in the opinion of the author of a literary work should arouse certain associations, which help to identify and reveal allusions which enrich the text to be perceived. If textual stimuli and associations remain unread, there will be no effect that the author counted for.

The ability to sense the vertical context is in itself a criterion of reader differentiation (naïve/sophisticated). A priori we can assume that it is easier to sense and understand the allusions for a “sophisticated” reader, since he is well-read which is a necessary condition for sensing a vertical context and influences the effectiveness of literary communication (allows achieving harmony).

However, the experiment, during which the informants were offered to interpret sentences with different types of allusions, showed paradoxical[1] results: there was one clearly designated type of allusions which was not sensed by the first group of informants. In other words communication of these readers with the author not only wasn’t harmonious, but also had no communicative effect whatsoever (i.e. there was disharmony noticed). There was formed a control group of readers members of which didn’t sense any other types of allusions, but errorlessly found and revealed this very type.

Here are some examples of texts offered to informants: keep Thy promise to Peter: do what Thou said. Strengthen her gates, fix her locks, erect her horn, uplift her. (St. Ephraim the Syrian A Spiritual Psalter: or, Reflections on God, Ps. 86); I yielded to temptation and went backward: stretch thy arm to me and I shall rise like the sinful woman in the house of Simon, like the thief on the cross (Ps. 91).

Some excerpts from G.K. Chesterton’s works:

If you doubt the penitence as a practical fact, there are your knives and forks. You are The Twelve True Fishers, and there are all your silver fish. But He has made me a fisher of men.” (The Queer Feet); "We must surrender," he said. "You could do nothing against fifty thousand tons of water coming down a steep hill, ten minutes hence. We must surrender. Our four thousand men might as well be four. Vicisti Galilae! Perkins, you may as well get me another glass of wine." (The Napoleon of Notting Hill); Men who have escaped death by a hair have it, and men whose love is returned by a woman unexpectedly, and men whose sins are forgiven them. (The Ball And The Cross).

Or there is one of his entire works:

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil's walking parody

On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet. (Donkey)

Here are some excerpts from K.S. Lewis’s works:

Solomon... for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name stole back upon her mind. For the first time in all those years she tasted the word King itself with all its linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power. Next moment she was once more the ordinary social Jane, flushed and confused to find that she had been staring rudely (at least she hoped that rudeness would be the main impression) at a total stranger. But her world was unmade. Anything might happen now. (That Hideous Strength); Now of a sudden they all began talking loudly at once, each, not contentiously but delightedly, interrupting the others. A stranger coming into the kitchen would have thought they were drunk, not soddenly but gaily drunk: would have seen heads bent close together, eyes dancing, an excited wealth of gesture. What they said, none of the party could afterwards remember... Never in her life had she heard such talk — such eloquence, such toppling structures of double meaning, such sky-rockets of metaphor and allusion. A moment after that and they were all silent (That Hideous Strength); In this way also it may be hard for "the rich" to enter the Kingdom. And yet, I believe, the necessity for the conversion is inexorable; at least, if our natural loves are to enter the heavenly life. That they can enter it most of us in fact believe… (The four loves) and others.

Thus, on the one part, there are readers philologists, who sensed no allusions in 32 reading excerpts, 27 of which were taken from the texts of the authors of the 20th century, who are our contemporaries (it was decided not to take into account those 5 passages that were taken from the texts of the 4th century writers – some of them have been mentioned earlier in the article: their specific character and archaic language can make them difficult to understand even by philologists. On the other part there is a group of naïve readers who easily detected allusions in all texts (out of 42 texts offered to them) including the texts of the 4th century authors (which they didn’t find difficult to comprehend, and moreover, the informants gave lots of additional information about the meaning of the “promise given to Peter”, and about what particular Peter the author wrote, they knew the name of the “sinful woman in the house of Simon”, and they indicated what complex life situations or his own sins the author meant; they errorlessly named the holiday mentioned in the poem “Donkey”) 
There was a hypothesis voiced about the reasons that brought such result, about its being not connected with traditional division of readers into sophisticated and naïve. In such case what parameters made a primary influence on the result? 

Some measurements (such as age, sex, native language, education level, profession, living standards, interests and so on) in the group of informants were leveled to a maximum extent. There was a single measurement in which the informants differed. The control group (aged from 26 to 72) consisted of Christians (of different ethnicity, all of them belonging to the congregation of the same orthodox church). Unlike them, the first group’s representatives (aged 19 to 68) were people of the postsoviet culture, non-religious, though nominally Christians (christened), but not attending church and not accustomed to church sacraments.

As readers both groups developed under identical conditions of state atheistic upbringing and education, in traditions of soviet culture. The soviet reader educated on the literature of social realism was deprived of the ability to get acquainted with the achievements of world philosophy, culture and literature: they were inaccessible for the reader, on the one hand, due to censure that safeguarded atheistic views, and, on the other hand, even when the reader had access to it he could not understand them to the full extent due to developed atheistic world outlook (it would be honest to say that the soviet reader didn’t need it).

So, the only significant difference between the two groups of informants is the fact that the first group had a developed religious mind and an appropriate world outlook, and the second group didn’t. Besides this perception of the world should be called “Christian” (not Russian unlike the Russian linguistic picture of the world, and not orthodox, which is supported by the given examples in other languages– passages from the works of English writers of the 20th century and from works in Greek, written in the 4th century by an ethnic Syrian). For, as it is known, the spiritual experience of Christians of all times is identical.

Christian readers (the 2nd group) sense the allusion (and appropriate meaningful layers) not only because they know the Gospels as a precedent-related text (also known to men of religion) but because everything mentioned in the text is familiar to every believer as a spiritual experience, an experience which more than once was felt (as a personal confession) and voiced in confessions. This is a qualitatively different type of knowledge and consciousness.

The first group not just lacks linguistic and/or extralinguistic knowledge (background knowledge which can be gained from cultural and historical commentary), but also knowledge which form the world outlook, that knowledge and experience the lack of which requires clarification of every detail and symbol.

It results in required constant intellectual efforts from the reader with non-developed religious conscience not only when they read texts of the Holy Writ and Holy Tradition (patristics), but also when they read fiction containing allusion to these texts. When they read them there appear lacunas similar to those emerging in cross-cultural communication in perception of a foreign text. Figuratively speaking these lacunas “gulp” the religious content. At the same time “when it comes to psychological, human (italics of the author of the article – L.K.) meaningfulness of the religious contents compared to any other type of information which can circulate within human society, it is of maximum value” [Mechkovskaya 1998: 39].

Studying lacunas always leads to assumptions about a certain level and direction of culture scientization of this or that society. Our case is not an exception: it illustrates not only the level and direction of soviet culture scientization, but also shows what kind of information turned out to be in “neglected” part of a cultural fund of some recipients, including educated ones.

Usually a person realizes the fact of presence/absence of knowledge which makes religious content quite understandable (using introspection the reader can prove it). But sometimes it can be observed that this fact slips away from the reader’s attention (it is implied), which leads to disappointing mistakes in text interpretation. The mistakes become even more disappointing when they are made by professionals – philologists, linguistic culture experts, writers, and etc. lets consider one of the examples.

Literary expert V.V. Savelyeva analyzing some aspects of N.S. Leskov’s novel in her book “Artistic anthropoligy” writes: “Using mythonyms as proper names leads to the problem of bringing into correlation of a certain character and a mythological character. In this case either other personalized or non-personalized elements should subdue mythonyms or mythonyms will absorb all nominations. For example, the deacon in N. Leskov’s novel “Islanders” has the name of Achilla (highlighted by V.V. Savelyeva – L.K.) and is characterized by a great physical strength. When trying to find sense in the image of the character the reader has the right to speak about somewhat contradictory image of the character, combining features of a pagan character and an orthodox righteous man” [Savelyeva 1999: 84].

In fact there is no and cannot be any “internal contradiction” as well as “combination of features” of paganism and orthodoxy. The researcher, provided he is a religious person, wouldn’t miss the fact of “joyful religiousness” of N.S. Leskov (as he defined it), which presupposed sincere and warm faith (orthodox in this case) and absolutely excludes the ability of appearance of thoughts which could lead to “combination” of such features (in the mind of the author of the 12th century literary monument “The Song of the Igor’s campaign” these features could match not only in terms of ethics, morality and dogmatism – here the author has an unshakable Christian position, but rather in terms of folk poetical figurativeness of the language). In the mature orthodox mind of a 21st century man it is hard to find other two things so “incompatible” and even mutually exclusive (and thus having no chance for “being combined”. Though in the mind of the soviet reader – even a professional reader – such an opportunity exists) as Christianity and paganism. We can mention their historical antagonism which has a twenty-century long tradition.

N.B. Mechkovskaya writes: “Studying the history of Christianity perception by people we cannot fail to notice the fact that in the Russian language (the only language among all Slavic) the name of the estate which represented the majority of population is motivated by the name of the religion: крестьяне (peasants) derived from the Old Slavonic крестианинъ (Christian). In other Slavic and non-Slavic languages of Europe the nomination is motivated differently… (for example, селянин (peasant, villager) comes from the ancient Slavic verb ‘сидеть’ (to sit) – L.K.). Similarly only in Russian the name of the seventh day of the week is motivated by a Christian symbolism: воскресение (Sunday, in Russian - Resurrection); in other Slavic languages this is a free from work day… In this light there is another interesting fact: Old Slavic word поганъ (pagan) in all east European languages acquired additional extremely negative meaning of “dirty, filthy, nasty” having lost its original meaning” [Mechkovskaya 1996: 57]. Even soviet philologists cannot but know these facts.

Besides, if we consider that all known in history cultural areas to some extent preserve religious consciousness traditions (and the soviet cultural area which succeeded from pre-revolutionary Russian is not an exception), then, as it may seem, it is a well-known fact for all Russians that in Christian families (especially in the families of clergymen – and the novel character comes from this kind of family, which is clear from his ecclesiastical rank of deacon: in an orthodox church clergy is, as a rule, represented by the whole dynasties. Though this is true for other estates, too) the name to a child is given during the Sacrament of Christening and, by all means, after some Christian Saints (both Russian and western, whose names were canonized before 1054), whose names are registered in Orthodox Church calendar. As a result of this act a Christian acquires a heavenly patron, which is quite important for his perception of the world. If we turn to church calendar we will find the name of Achila there (which is spelled differently from the variant suggested by V.V. Savelyeva). It was the name of a monk of Kiev-Pecherskaya Laura (14th cent.) who, by the way, like Leskov’s character had a rank of a deacon and was canonized as the Reverent (remembrance January 4/17), whose relics have been still lying in Feodossiyevy Caves of Kiev-Pecherskaya Laura. Such motivation of the character seems to be more realistic. It is disappointing that a mistaken motivation (from the name of the ancient Greek myth hero Achilles or Achilla[2]) described by V.V.Savelyeva in her doctoral thesis was assumed as one of her basic theoretical propositions. At the same time the situation is explained by a deep implicit lacuna.

Lacunas that we registered have not been described and included by researches into known classifications of culturological lacunas (in other words they have remained lacunas for several generations of researches of the soviet period) and, consequently, are not being studied. It is reasonable to try defining their place in such classifications (we shall take the classification of I.Y. Markovina and Y.S. Sorokin as the basis) [Antipov 1989: 130-145].

Depending on what status we assign to cultures-communicants any lacunas can be identified as intercultural or intra-cultural. In our case this indicator is rather ambivalent and there are two approaches to its assessment depending on what status we assign to interacting cultures.

1) Lacunas can be called intercultural provided that Christian and atheistic subcultures that coexist within the frames of local Russian culture are considered two separate independent cultures. Presence of different groups of recipients consciously belonging to this or that culture gives rise to the following assumptions: some representatives of one linguistic cultural community (in our experiment these are readers of group 2) make a conscious choice and, having refused the official ideology, enter somewhat marginal for official ideology cultural area characterized by “cherished by the humanity ideas” (N.B. Mechkovskaya), bind with these ideas their life goals (altering the previous ones), means of their achievement, ideals, beliefs, value system and hierarchy, preferences, interests, way of living and so on and so forth. Under conditions of the soviet state this move required certain efforts since it lead to desocialization of an individual. However what was marginal for the soviet culture has always been in the center of universal culture. Thus, the move which leads a person out of the frames of one (soviet atheistic) culture, brings him into the other culture which is beyond the ethnos - a Christian (or Muslim) culture. At the same time national priorities lose their importance for the individual (what we have tried to illustrate, emphasizing “unity in one main thing” of Christians of all times and nationalities. This is also true for representatives of other religions). In this respect a Christian of any nationality is in antagonistic relations to its national culture if it is non-Christian (which is the case on the post-soviet territory), since he cannot fail to notice that his culture rejects (on a scale from indifference to mockery, blasphemy and defilement) everything which is sacred for him. Materialistic atheistic culture and mentality inevitably forms a system of negative sense and semantic fields around the notions connected with God, faith, church, Christian virtues. At best the competent bearers of this culture realize optionality of this knowledge compared to scientific knowledge – examples mentioned above, in our opinion, should illustrate this statement (the reader can use introspection to check the correctness of our statement). And vice versa this culture is characterized by tolerance and indifference towards notions that are associated in the mind of a Christian with something inadmissible, sinful, dishonorable (take for example legalizing in the contemporary culture of popularization of violence, pornography, different types of occultism, activization of totalitarian sects, pour moral and artistic level of some TV programs and/or movies, principles and civic stand of mass media and so on). It is natural for a religious man to distance himself from this culture and to minimize contacts with this culture. In such interpretation ideological lacunas can be considered intercultural.

2) Lacunas can be called intracultural if there is a national component of a cultural heritage present, and two temporal periods – pre-soviet Christian (orthodox) and soviet atheistic are considered to be two periods in the development of one Russian culture (taking into account the degree of “merit” of both of them). Level and direction of scientization at the second stage lead to a “mass” oblivion of the first one and emergence of “cultural heritage” lacunas of considerable depth and hard to fill in.

We can choose any of the approaches to define the status of the cultures-communicants, thereby the lacunas can be characterized as intercultural or intracultural (and every time we should provide an explanation). Regardless of it, every lacuna can be classified at several levels and according to several criteria.

At the first stage they should be referred to as cultural lacunas, the sublevel of cultural heritage lacunas, the variety of world outlook lacunas.

Cultural heritage lacunas are considered to be absolute “if in one of the cultures compared there are no realias characteristic of other cultures”. World outlook lacunas should be called absolute: belongingness of an individual to this or that culture results in lack in the culture of one group of recipients of some categories needed in the outlook of the other.

According to the next principle of classification – size – all lacunas can be divided into confronting (vigorous, deep) and contrastive (weak, shallow). In our case all lacunas are confronting.

Perception of the text by recipient allows classifying lacunas according to the implicit character. The analysis of interaction of the reader and the text (of a different culture or containing an allusion to realias characteristic of other cultures) shows that against the background of an easily interpreted text there are some things which are perceived by the reader as strange, unusual, mistaken or left in the “insensibility” zone. Depending on this we can divide all lacunas into explicit and implicit. Observations show that lacunas analyzed by the author appear to ne in the zone of absolute insensibility, i.e. beyond the “the bright area of the consciousness” (Baudouin de Courtenay) for the recipients, whose representatives formed group 1 of informants in our experiment (lacunized information being absolutely clear and transparent for group 2 of the informants). This allows us referring to world outlook lacunas as mostly implicit ones.

The depth of lacunas can be estimated intuitively: it depends on existence of the possibility to compensate or counterbalance them in each separate case.

Summarizing everything mentioned above we can come to a conclusion that all lacunas identified during the experiment for a non-Christian recipient should be characterized as deep in most cases implicit confronting inter- (intra-)cultural lacunas of cultural heritage, a world outlook variety, mostly absolute.

If we turn to our examples in each case we can state what array of information happens to be lacunized for the reader grown up in the soviet culture period and simultaneously sensed and understood by the Christian reader [Kotova 2007: 128-133], which once again proves the assumptions about major directions and levels of this culture scientization and developing a mentality with deep implicit world outlook lacunas within several generations of soviet people regardless of higher education or research degree. At the same time presence of these lacunas prevents them from understanding authors with a different world outlook in a proper way, and this type of world outlook is characteristic of not only Russian literature (beginning from the 11th cent. and up to the 20th cent.), but for the world literature in general.


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8. Савельева В.В. Художественная антропология. – Алматы, 1999.

[1] In the capacity of informants there were two groups: the 1st group – faculty, graduate students and senior students of university philological department (sophisticated readers; adequate text interpretation is one of their core professional skills). Control group – readers non-philologists of different education and erudition levels (naïve readers).

[2] Information about this hero of antique epos turned out non-lacunized in this author’s works. At the same time Christianity categorizes it as “Hellenic intricacy” which is invariably scornfully and pejoratively treated by Holy Fathers of the ancient times.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

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