In 2019, shortly after the death of our dear friend and colleague, Jesper Hoffmeyer, a number of us began making plans for a Memorial Conference in his honour to take place the following spring at the University of Copenhagen. The arrival of the COVID pandemic in March of that year put an end to that plan, as international travel was shut down for many countries until late last year.
This year, to our great delight, we members of the International Society for Biosemiotics Studies were granted permission to hold our 23rd Annual Gatherings in Biosemiotics in the exact same room where we held our very first Gatherings in 2001.
“Biosemiotics has no beginning” Kalevi Kull reminds us often, but like all organic processes, one can trace major inflection points in its development, with the publication of Jesper Hoffmeyer’s English language edition of Signs of Meaning in the Universe in 1996, certainly qualifying as one of them, and the first annual Gatherings in Biosemiotics, organized by Jesper, Kalevi and Claus Emmeche and held right here where we meet again this year, qualifying as another one.
It is fitting, then that we devote the last day of our conference to the man who, through his writings, allowed so many of us to find each other as intellectual kindred spirits, and to build together this uniquely far-seeing community of scholars and friends. And yet, as his colleagues once wrote of Jesper’s often ambivalent feelings towards academia: “Notwithstanding these activities, a whole life devoted completely to teaching, writing and scholarship would seem like a desert to him” (2002:43).
Accordingly, on the last day of our Gathering, academic colleagues, family, and friends come together (both live and via video) to celebrate the life and legacy of Jesper Hoffmeyer, not just as the renowned scholar and public intellectual that he was, but also the many non-academic aspects of this remarkable man – as a friend, family member, schoolmate, saxophonist, newspaper columnist, artistic inspiration, jazz fan, 1960s commune co-habitant, and so much more.
Jesper touched the lives of many, leaving behind a legacy that extends far beyond his pioneering research. On Friday, August 4, 2023, we will gather to celebrate with beer and laughter this brilliant and convivial man.
Emmeche, C., K. Kull, & Stjernfelt, F. (2022). On biography. In C. Emmeche, K. Kull & Stjernfelt, F. (Eds.), Reading Hoffmeyer, Rethinking Biology (pp. 35-44). Tartu: Tartu University Press.
Hoffmeyer, J. (1996). Signs of Meaning in the Universe. Bloomington. Indiana University Press.