[xmca] Uptake and Takeaway

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed Apr 23 2008 - 17:35:45 PDT

I just got the latest MCA and read Wolff-Michael Roth's guest editorial (!). It's really a brilliant idea, to have readers pen the editorials. At first I thought it wouldn't work, because readers won't have advance access to the issue copy and can't do a "round up" the way Wolff-Michael used to do.
  But of course that's NOT what Wolff-Michael's got in mind at all. What he has in mind is not a round-up but an up-take, something like this conversation which he uses as data between a schoolchild and the head of NGO about a science project involving the measurement of water temperature:
  D: It's like nineteen.
  N: Whoo, it's going...so it's GONE UP a degree since this morning. Nineteen what.
  D: Nineteen degrees fahrenheit
  N: Nope.
  D: Ah...degree in...Nah. I just fogot it.
  N: Nineteen degrees what?
  D: Uh, nineteen degrees I forgot.
  N: It's not...
  D: I keep forgetting everything.
  N: OK, alright. That's right. There's no such thing as being dumb.
  Notice how the words "nineteen" and then "forgot" run like song refrains through this little two-part aria. First D says it, and then N uptakes it and then D uptakes THAT, and so on.
  So now we readers get a chance to UPTAKE an issue from a previous issue (Nystrand, Slimani) rather than try to foresee the theme of the present issue. In this case it's Wolff-Michael's own problem of linking emotion and intonation. So even the non-editorial writing reder can get something much more important than a "round-up" for readers who are too lazy to go and read the articles or even the abstracts. We get continuity and coherence!
  That's my (hugely appreciative) uptake of Wolff-Michael's innovation! Now here's a comment on the uptaken issue, the link of emotion and intonation. There are really three points in the article where I disagree a little, and I think they all point to a slightly larger disagreement:
  p. 3: Wolff-Michael argues that N's "nineteen degrees what" should normally RISE rather than fall: "...(W)hereas in usual utterances-intended-as questions the pitch level would rise toward the end, the pitch level was falling in her utterance as if she were making a statement." This rise is indeed characteristic of "utterances-intended-as-questions" when they refer to already STATED, AVAILABLE, OLD information, like this:
  D: It's nineteen degrees Fahrenheit!
  N: It's nineteen degrees....? (UP)
  N: It's nineteen degrees FAHRENHEIT? (UP)
  N: It's nineteen degrees WHAT? (UP)
  But it is NOT characteristic of "utterances-intended-as-questions" when they refer UNSTATED, NOT YET AVAILABLE, NEW information, like this:
  A: I'm going to be LATE.
  B: Late for WHAT? (DOWN)
  A: Late for work!
  B: Late for WORK? (Incredulously, up-DOWN) It's SUNday! (DOWN)
  You can see that here the intonation is very consistently DOWN, and the (up-DOWN) movement simply serves to give the speaker more room in which to fall. I think that this is because the default intonation in English (and in many other languages as well) is DOWN, and it is this intonation which is used to impart new information. The marked intonation is UP, and this is used to cast doubt or critical distance on old information.
  This is why, by the way, rhetorical wh-questions tend to be UPly intoned, even when they are written. If I were shamelessly touting my own wares, I might mention at this point that Jungran Yi and I wrote about this at least tangentially in an article in Language Awareness:
  p. 5: Wolff-Michael says "In the speaking/hearing complement, collective knowing and consciousness is expressed. This can be assumed to be the case as long as no evidence to the contrary is provided as part of a situation, for example, if one of the speakers were to have said, 'What did you say?' or "What do you mean?' In such a situation, the sound--and maybe even some words has been heard but the marked sense is not evident to the listener."
  These are two VERY different cases as you can easily tell by reading them aloud and noticing that the former has UP intonation while the latter is normally intoned DOWN. In the former, the sound has indeed not been clearly heard, and therefore the UP intonation is used to "scroll back" the discourse. But in the latter what is being asked for is new and more specific information.
  p. 5: Wolff-Michael says that in modern art this kind of "what do you mean?" is not possible, because "art is for its own sake, not signifying or denoting something else." A great deal of modern art has TRIED to achieve the Quixotic feat of not meaning anything. But it is in principle impossible, a fantasy of the aesthetes in the late nineteenth century; even Jackson Pollock admitted that his paintings were INDEXICAL--they meant the actions that were used to produce them, and not simple ICONS. It's not possible to create art without meaning anything; it's like Chomsky's supposedly meaningless "Colorless green ideas" (which next to "This sentence has never before been written and will never be written again" is probably the most widely quoted and thoroughly understood piece of Chomsky ever written).
  It seems to me a larger disagreement looms in Wolff-Michael's analysis of the data. He argues that N's response "There is no such thing as being dumb" is a consolatory move intended to allay the negative affect of D's forgetfulness, and I am sure that is how N sees it. But the object of interest here is affect, and that means that what really matters is how D feels about this "consolation".
  It seems to me unlikely that this consolation will genuinely lead to a zone of proximal development. On the contrary, by explicitly "uptaking" the issue of dumbness which was only implicit heretofore, it seem quite likely to have the OPPOSITE effect.
  This brings me to the larger disagreement. Wolff-Michael and I are both interested in affect and how thinking emerges from feeling, linked yet distinct. But Wolff-Michael is very much focussing on micro-genesis, and I think that LSV's main concern (as well as my own) was the role of affect in ontogenesis, the way in which rational and objective thought emerges (again, linked but distinct) from non-rational and affective feeling.
  Microgenesis is important, and I have no doubt that we can indeed study it the way Wolff-Michael has pioneered, through intonation. The problem is that as we can see, there are cultural patterns that affect intonation that are quite independent of individual affect: they are concerned with the newness or giveness or availability of the topicalized information rather than with the speaker's affective attitude towards it, and as with any language use, the speaker's affect must take these cultural conventions (UP for Old Information and DOWN for New) into account when the speaker expreses feelings. So to a certain extent we've got a primacy of thinking over feeling already, because of the cultural patrimony that the speaker must speak through.
  On the other hand, it seems to me to be the case that while children like D have a procedural understanding of these cultural conventions, their affective experience is still overwhelming; the logical argument that memory is not a measure of intelligence is simply not convincing (and rightly so given the salience of memory in education and in working life). So the take-away is not going to be the same as the uptake, and this cold comfort (how consolation pries!) is unlikely to create a zone of ontogenetic affective development.
  Can a zone of microgenetic development be said to be a zone of development? Isn't it merely a zone of proximal learning?
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Apr 23 17:38 PDT 2008

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