[xmca] Reifications and Amalgams

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed May 23 2007 - 12:57:48 PDT

  eric...yes, I'll keep it in mind. I get the journal early because I have a (very expensive) subscription and of course if there's something I don't like I tend to whine a little.... I try not to sound like a disgruntled customer, but I don't always succeed.

  I think that Peirce's remark "We think only in signs" has to be read alongside his extremely broad definition of signs.
  Iconic signs include things "in themselves"; a table is a sign of its tableness. This makes sense to me, because not everything that is the table is perceptible (I cannot tell if the legs of the table are hollow or not). So the object that I see is not entirely the same as the object itself, and I am willing to accept that in some sense the object that I see is a sign for the object itself.
  Because Peirce's definition of signs is so broad as to include virtually everything, we can consider the mind itself as a kind of text (as Bakhurst does). This explains some things (the fact that minds appear to confront texts directly: the ability to read is simply the ability of one text to incorporate another) but it doesn't explain others (texts do not actually communicate; people use them to communicate).
  The biggest problem I have with Bakhurst's idea that a mind is a text is that no matter what definition of "sign" you use, a sign has to stand for something else, and I'm not really sure what the something else might be. I also think it ignores the distinction between process (discourse) and product (text). I guess I think minds are more like discourses than texts.
  Precisely because Peirce's definition of "sign" is so all-encompassing, he is actually quite persnickety about the distinctions between one kind of sign and another (and he has a taxonomy of hundreds of different varieities). We usually just think of the big three: icon, index and symbol, but there are index-like icons and symbol-like indexes and symbol-like-index-like icons and so on.
    There's a price to all this persnicketiness: Peirce won't let us go around implying that tools and thoughts are reducible to each other. Tools are necessarily things first; that is why they can be consumed.Similarly, thoughts are necessarily signs first; that is why they lead invariably to something else. Yes, of course, there are tools which embody thought, and we often think with tools. But if I wear black to a funeral, it is not my clothes that are mourning; it's me. (Roy Harris's example, not mine!)
  Contrary to what Shaffer and Clinton say, tools and thoughts are not at all inseparable, and they are certainly not reducible to each other. The difference in the proportions of iconicity and symbolicity are not at all fortuitous; like the difference in their consumability, they reflect different origins and different destinies too.
  I think it makes a BIG difference whether we teach Hamlet with a video game or with a text; the amount of LANGUAGE we can teach is different. Go in a library and get a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" and then compare it with the movie script for the recent movie adaptation; you'll see that one is around ten times longer than the other. That's just looking at it in quantitative terms. But even the quantitative difference is going to be critically important for education in the long run.
  Shaffer and Clinton seem to think that the decision about which mode of education we want to employ, the video game or the written text, is basically a decision about the kind of social outcome we want. I don't agree, but then I think minds are processes, not products.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
    When I was reading your mail, it occurred to me that the triadic nature of signs holds the REAL key to the fractal structure of language (that is, the self-similarity of language structure, the fact that the atoms of linguistic structure, the syllables, look suspiciously like the solar systems, the texts, insofar as they have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion). Peirce can explain to us why language holds the universe in a grain of sand.
  Most linguists (e.g. Diane Larsen-Freeman) have treated fractality as a matter of having the same proportion of content words to functors in books, texts, and even paragraphs (Zipf's law), or the same metafunctions (textual, interpersonal, and ideational) in texts, paragraphs, and clauses (we can call this Halliday's law).
  But that's not what fractality is. If we say that both atoms and solar systems are made up of fire, earth, air, and water, we are saying nothing about the similarity of their structure. A tree is not fractal simply because twigs, branches, and trunks are all made of cellulose, and a cloud is not fractal because all the little cloudlets and curlicues are also made of water vapor.
  Fractality refers not to the proportions of elements within units, but rather to larger units being made up of smaller units. If we think of the example that Volosinov gives, we can see this very clearly. A husband and a wife are sitting in a room reading. It begins to snow. The husband looks up and says "Well...!" (or the Russian equivalent thereof). The wife gazes at him, and then out the window.
  When we examine the structure of this exchange (as Leo van Lier does in his book "The ecology and semiotics of language learning") we see that every part of it is triadic.
  SIGN (1)
  ICON: snow falls
  INDEX: three more weeks of winter
  SYMBOL: another late spring
  SIGN (2)
  ICON: man notices, "ontologically fullfilling" (Tony Whitson) Sign (1)
  INDEX: "Well!"
  SYMBOL: bid for joint attention
  SIGN (3)
  ICON: woman hears "Well!", ontologically fulfilling Sign (2)
  INDEX: woman looks out the window
  SYMBOL: shared feelings of frustration at the lateness of spring
  Obviously the whole sign complex (1), (2), and (3) is only the beginning of a larger conversation, and could be viewed as a "first", or even an "iconic" opening, since it lacks clear lexicogrammar. Because the units contain other units, and because the whole has the same structure (not simply the same content) as the various parts, I think this is a true example of fractality.



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Received on Wed May 23 13:59 PDT 2007

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