Alexander Kozin


Freie Universitaet BerlinInstitute für Philosophie

D-14195 Berlin

Review of Igor Klyukanov’s “A Communication Universe, Manifestations of Meaning, Stagings of Significance”. - Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014.

The appearance of Igor Klyukanov’s monograph, “A Communication Universe, Manifestations of Meaning, Stagings of Significance,” is an exciting event for it offers an in-depth theoretical re-examination of communication as the subject that defines the discipline of communication studies and, co-extensively, as a phenomenon in itself. This dual task divides the book into three parts. The first part is dedicated to various communication perspectives. It therefore presents us with the ontological status of communication, including corresponding theories and models. The second part expands the ontological inquiry into epistemology. The last part of the book takes the reader farther into the realms of communication critique, aesthetics and ethics. In order to familiarize prospective readers with Klyukanov’s argument, I would like to present “A Communication Universe, Manifestations of Meaning, Stagings of Significance” chapter by chapter. I end with a short summary and a discussion.

In Chapter 1, titled ‘Toward the Nature of Communication: Unforgetting,’ Klyukanov examines the existent research on communication. The background for such an examination is formed by the presumed crisis of communication studies, where ‘crisis’ can be understood in Husserlian terms as a condition and antecedent for any substantive foundational reversal.(1) Appropriately, in the beginning of the book, Klyukanov sets the stage forapproaching the radical change that faces communication studies, a synthetic discipline assembled of numerous research tracks and methods borrowed and adapted from other more traditional disciplines: psychology, sociology, linguistics, philosophy. Despite deeply-rooted traditionalism of its donors, communication studies remain a theoretically diffused area of studies. There is an advantage and disadvantage to this state of affairs. On the one hand, a receptive discipline can rely on a vibrant development due to an inexhaustible source of theoretical insights. On the other hand, such a discipline inevitably suffers from the stigma of a soft discipline, that is, a discipline with faded borders and undefended fortifications. This duality makes communication studies simultaneously plastic, highly receptive to outside influences and yet brittle, an easy subject of criticism from the outside.
According to Klyukanov, the urgency of investigating communication as a phenomenon in itself comes as much from the state of the discipline as from the effects of the ongoing communication revolution on communication studies, its fields, themes, and methods. The rise of informatics and the advent of the electronic age prompted this predominantly pragmatically-minded discipline to move even further from the central question that defines all theory in that area,What of communication itself?The question is rarely put in such a way as to bring communication in full relief, to the position of centrality, with the dual foci falling on both the phenomenon’s distant present and its proximal future.
Klyukanov’s book does not only pose this very question but also suggests that an answer should be sought outside of any specific tradition, for “no concept or theoretical orientation seems to be capable of explaining the phenomenon on its own” (above, 8). In order to understand communication, one needs to trace its processuality. Klyukanov underscores this approach by the term ‘staging,’ which is essentially the condition for manifesting meaning. Only by attending to staged transformations that the true meaning of communication can be attained as both a phenomenon in itself and a phenomenon for us, in thetemporal dimensions of synchrony and diachrony.As was intimated by the author, the intention for using the notion of ‘staging’ rather than ‘stages’ comes as an attempt “to present the process of communication not so much in terms of step-by-step unfolding but rather through various ontological insights that highlight its nature from a certain angle.”(2)
Hence, the search for a coherent theory of communication that must be necessarily historical but also mythopoetic: “theorizing in the present book takes the form of a journey within which communication is looked at (contemplated) in all its cosmic order and beauty” (above, 32). In other words, Klyukanov directs his search toward the conditions for the existence of communication. Following classical approaches, starting with Aristotle, he proposes that the concepts of movement and effect should be considered first in that regard. In the same regard, when considering the processual side of communication, he introduces Plato, whose his idea of eternal return helps replace the notion ‘movement’ with the notion of ‘motion.’ The Platonic perspective provides a provisional definition for communication: “Communication is a continuously moving process in which meaningful experience unfolds and infolds in space and time or rather space-time” (above, 43).
In the first chapter of the analytical part, Chapter 3: “Up in the Air: Communication as Invocation”, Klyukanov attributes the beginning of communication to the ritual of invocation which is a form or repetition. As a diversifiable structure of repetition, invocation is also a ‘vocalized’ form of communication, for “it brings forth objects with the help of various signals” (above, 50). At this staging, communication is still primitive; it is still immersed in the relationship with the non-human matter of the naturalistic kind. For the primitive mentality, nature is an intrinsic part of communication already because it treats appearances as real objects. At this staging, communication is objectified because its relationship with the world is based on drawing objects from that world. Invocation ‘fixes’ the world by ordering its dynamism via the idea of universal objectivity. Communication comes into the picture because the subject dissociates himself or herself from the objective world by exercising the gift of communication, which is essentially a gift of self-reflection and self-exposure: “Communication as invocation, then, is an attempt of the subject to bring (one)Self into existence” (above, 53).
An essential role in the process of invocation is played by technology which provides the means for creating social meaning: “a society overall, as the object with all its meanings, is brought into effect by technology” (above, 55). This meaning is otherwise than the authentic one brought about by human interaction. Technology endows the social world with repeatability that formulates itself in opposition to archiving. At this staging of communication, the subject cannot yet be viewed as the true self, and the Other is still viewed as an object: in other words, there is no mutual construction of communication as a phenomenon in itself and for us. Here, communication appears as ideal, noise-less. This means that in order for the subject to reinstitute communication as interactive medium, he or she must overcome the non-ideal, that is, a heavily empirical and therefore noise-full encounter. This staging of communication ends when “the challenge of dealing with objects must be met in a way other (Other) than invocation” (above, 66).
Chapter 4, ‘Down the Stream: Communication as Conversation,’ introduces conversation as the kind of staging of communication that restores the imbalance of the previous staging because in conversation, “objects are experienced in actual situations” […] “Here the subject begins to learn how to let the objects go” (above, 67-68). Klyukanov’s critique of the old-fashioned theory of communication as a transfer of messages between points makes him suggest communication as conversation is a spatio-temporal clearance characterized by conflict and drama where meanings are always in ‘free play.’ Conversational emulation counts as modified invocation: it has an explicit epistemological significance because what matters most at this staging of communication is “whether experiences, interactively constituted and symbolically mediated, begin to make sense” (above, 74). At this staging, communication is dialogical and symbolic, leading invocation to implicate conversation as an epistemological operation; hence, the basis for symbolic interactionism. In fact, communication is as a merger of different elements into a union, which remains to be fluid until the cultural archive solidifies it into a locally suitable form. “The dialogic form of communication can be viewed as the preliminary search for truth,” a process for finding meaning (above, 83-84).
Chapter 5, ‘Of This Earth: Communication as Construction,’ takes interactionism from the symbolic realm to the realm for construction. There is a dialectical tension that distinguishes this realm; hence, the role of social constructivism in communication and the significance of discourse: “Participants resort to discourse—or rather communication reveals its nature as discourse—because they cannot completely understand each other” (above, 97). Therefore, at this staging, communication assumes a meta-function, disclosing itself as an order of its own. As construction, communication is assumed to bear the strategic function of coordination: “Communication as constructing a certain order is usually conceptualized as a social process” (above, 102). At this staging, communication can be conceived as a collaborative production of signification translatable into socio-cultural artefacts. The social order is viewed at this staging as building a perfect order based on complete empirical verifiability. The role of discourse in that model would be that of a judge: “hence, the theories that explain communication as poetic justice” (above, 116).
In Chapter 6, ‘Through the Fire. Communication as Resignation,’ Klyukanov introduces the last staging of the four-stage model, where the process of communication no longer with meaning-construction but rather with the creation of meaning. One only needs to imagine the self on stage, facing the invisible audience to be able to imagine how communication functions as action. At this staging, responsivity becomes the key word that could allow for theunderstanding of the relationship between the Self and the Other. Communication emerges as a ritualistic event not in the performative sense of the word ‘event’ but in the sense of being involved into something being other than oneself yet remaining so in a most intimate way. Instrumentality ofphronesis, an Aristotelian legacy, brings into focus practicality, as an effective and socially-improved route to the primordial flow, so to speak. At this staging, communication as resignation can be understood as an initiation ritual. A transition into the aesthetic realm is accompanied by the Sartrean idea of ‘creative freedom.’
In the author’s words, communication as re-signation is “an act of one’s becoming in contact with the entire world of one’s experiences” (above, 135). The world of virtual communication belongs to this staging because of its productive entirety. The dynamic character of communication is best revealed here as well. At this staging, technological assistance is essential to consider as well as the critical and extreme character of communication, for example, in public discourse. Communicative performativity also belongs to this staging but should be distinguished from conversational performance due to its interpretability as being a form of sympathy, which can be formalized as similitude. Responsibility is another feature of communication that manifests itself at this point. “Overall, the nature of communication at this point can be interpreted as sympathy” (above, 145).
In Chapter 7, ‘Airy Nothing: Communication as Transformation,’ Klyukanov returns to the things themselves by solidifying his insights in terms of a series of transformations. All the experiences are transformed themselves and the return is to the Self in the manner of enriched awareness of the Self and the Other. Here, communication reveals its side as sacred, that is, unquestionable. It is acted upon on the belief that communication as a ritual reveals its significance in the practice that should be accepted as a given, even if this practice is nothing more than an exchange of greetings. Through this ritual communication is constantly sanctified. “Communication teaches humility in this way but also brings one to eternity” (above, 162). Ritual is a quality, and not just any quality but a quality of the ethical kind because it is an activity of generativity, fecundity, and transformability. At this staging, communication shows both the beginning and the end, taking place on the social continuum.
The last chapter of the book, ‘Communication: Infinite Return,’ pursues two objectives: one presents a summary of the main methodological points, while the other condenses them in the notion of ‘infinite return.’ After underscoring the essential importance of staging as a frame for an understanding of communication in terms of revolutions that occur to social phenomena on the historical plane, Klyukanov moves to defining communication in terms of the Platonic cosmos and the overarching element of existence that appears in the semblance of a sphere. According to Klyukanov, “Communication is a constant attempt to bring together into one being space and time, subject and object, object and thing, existence and essence, sense and meaning, observer and observed, explanation and understanding, Plato and Aristotle, Self and Other(s)or Self and Self” (above, 195). On this note I would like to end my exposé of the book and address a few points worth mentioning at the end.
First, the book has an uncommon richness of contributory material. It is quoted from several languages with a particularly strong emphasis on the Russian-language research, a refreshing addition to the general predominance of the Anglo-American scholarship in academic references. Co-extensively, working theoretically on a phenomenon involves interdisciplinarily diverse literature, and Klyukanov is quite comfortable dealing with this kind of diversity, choosing and positioning his sources and their key points of argument on the same plane, making them work for the same purpose, let it be a work of philosophy or an empirical study. Second, the argument of the book, although not unquestionable in certain elements (see below), is solid overall and convincingly generative of new emphases and directions. It invites further discussion and extends theorizing about the phenomenon of communication in ways that make its significance obvious. This is to say that the audience appreciative of clarity and rigour will find the style of Klyukanov’s most congenial.
At the same time, there are several points that could have streamlined the book’s design and perhaps strengthened certain points of the argument. Here, I would only like to question the four-partite structure of the book’s analytical part. Klyukanov justifies the use of this ‘square’ by the need to ‘stabilize’ the phenomenon that--as he himself has shown--defies stability, thriving on self-alterations and other-transformations. To channel communication into a pre-set structure spells confinement. The effects of confinement become obvious if we examine the precise fit of the four stagings of significance (invocation, conversation, construction, resignation) in relation to each other. Thus, whileinvocationrefers to the ritualistic side of communication,conversationdesignates the most primordial communication phenomenon,constructionimplies constructivism, andresignationhas strong metaphysical implications. This is to say that the four stagings do not belong to the same categorical continuum, be it the state of communication discipline, communication consciousness, or communication phenomenon. More strongly, the components do not play off each other, suggesting a more uniform typology, sending Klyukanov’s examination into several different directions simultaneously, jeopardizing the overall coherence of its findings.
Despite these minor points of critique, Klyukanov’s book is an example of theoretically significant and analytically lucid scholarship on the subject of communication. ‘A Communication Universe, Manifestations of Meaning, Stagings of Significance’ presents communication as a multi-faceted phenomenon that can be analyzed on different planes of experience. More importantly, it presents communication as a phenomenon in need of reassessment and not only because there has been little focused research about the phenomenon itself, but largely because it signifies a crisis of identity for the entire discipline, calling for a review of its kernel-concepts. Once the discipline becomes forgetful of the question that concerns communication not as a subtitle, an affiliation, or a means, but as a phenomenon in itself, it looses the ability of defining itself, running the risk of dissolution. In this respect, Klyukanov’s book is an instrumental contribution to the preservation of communication that makes it interesting both to a wide audience and academic community.


Husserl E.The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, D. Carr (trans.).-Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970.

1 Thus, when Husserl announces the crisis of sciences, for a conceptual disclosure of this crisis, he takes the problem of geometry’s origin disguised as the problem of geometrical ideality; in actuality, he investigates the problem of historical sociality. Getting to the origin of historical sociality requires a regressive analysis capable of inquiring into the original sense-giving and its diachronic transformations on the basis of “the self-evidence of actual success” (Husserl 1970, 365).

2 From personal correspondence with Igor Klyukanov.

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