Re: [xmca] Uptake and Takeaway

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Wed Jul 02 2008 - 11:06:30 PDT

That's odd. I thought there was going to be a special issue of MCA guest-edited by Sonia Bauer and Kirsten Radsliff-Clark on Gunilla Lindqvist's "Playworlds" concept.
Like you, I read Wolff-Michael's editorial, and most of the articles in the new issue, a couple of weeks ago. But if this really is the play issue, I am more than a little disappointed.
First of all, Yongho and I submitted something for the play issue last November. Usually I get some kind of a rejection slip (for my voluminous collection!) This time, nothing.
Secondly, I had thought we would have a fully dedicated issue, but at least two articles in the issue have nothing to do with play.
But thirdly, I don't think that Wolff-Michael's editorial really makes a link between the onotology of difference and the concept of play, and it seems to me that the link is really crying out to be made. I suppose it is really not his fault; he did say that readers were invited to guest-editorialize, and as Mike (Cole) points out, nobody really took him at his word.
Let me try to do so, and you be ready to catch me if I fall. Here's the executive summary for anybody who is too busy to read the voluminous dreck that follows.
First, I'll summarize Wolff-Michael's editorial (because I know that there is more than one person on our list who only reads the free articles that get posted for discussion). To save time while I am doing this, I want combine my summary with a kind of argument. I'm going to argue that the philosophy of difference is not equal to the philosophy of difference (fortunately!).
That is, philosophers of difference who use dialectics for the purpose of deconstruction (e.g. Derrida, Nancy, Bakhtin and to some extent even Wolff-Michael himself) are not always consistent with those who use dialectics for the purpose of explaining development (e.g. Marx, LSV, Volosinov, and, once again, Wolff-Michael himself). Finally, I'll suggest that play is more conducive to the latter type of dialectic analysis, because it is very obviously cumulative in the way it is constructed.
Wolff-Michael begins with the observation that "classical" interpreters of Marx have tried to reduce Marx's distinction between use-value and exchange-value to one of point of view. The difference between a commodity that you trade and a commodity you consume may start out as a shift in point of view, but it certainly doesn't stop there. It becomes an immanent contradiction, and immanent contradictions drive development.
There are two ways to look at this immanent contradiction, but I think only one of them is promising, that is, developmental. The first, unpromising, way to look at it I would call deconstructionist, because it abstracts the element of change over time or includes it only as a reversible variable. We can see this very clearly in the housing slump, caused precisely by the contradiction between the fluctuating value of homes as exchange value and their relatively stable value as durable articles of consumption.
But another I would call developmental, because it includes the arrow of time in a non-reversible manner, and each state includes previous states as a starting point. We can see this clearly in the tendency of capitalism to evolve from a mercantile state, where exchange values were clearly subordinated to use values, through a period of colonialism, in which human labour and capital were increasingly commoditized for the purposes of consumption very far from the site of their production. Thence the formation of industrial capital, and ultimately a form of capitalism based on finance capital, that is, a type of exchange value in which use value plays an almost negligible role.  
Wolff-Michael then gives language and culture as another example of the same ontology of difference, and he gets back to this in his final section when he argues that a lot of what the philosophers of difference argued in the mid-twentieth century can be seen in the foundational works of Marxism in the mid-nineteenth if we simply substitute "sign" for "commodity". The data he uses is taken from a French immersion class, where the kids are doing exploring "simple machines" by designing what in England is called a "Heath Robinson" contraption using simple machines (I think the American term is "Rube Goldberg"). 
A "Heath Robinson" machine is an example of non-elegant complexity: a complex set of fairly simple reactions (ball goes down inclined plane, sets off teeter-totter, which pulls string, releasting balloon, etc.) usually aimed at some very trivial purpose (opening a tin, or bathing a cat). An example would be a parody of Walt Whitman's "O! Captain!" once written in an installment of "The Katzenjammer Kids", where the kids design a bomb to play a prank on the Captain:
Oh, Captain! My Captain!
Dis fiendish trick is great!
You slip on der banana peel
Und slide into der gate!
Der gate den sving und pull der string
Vile Fritz und mich is loafing
Der string ignite der dynamite
Und everyt'ing's exploding! 
I use this example it includes the object of Wolff-Michael's interest, which is the hybridization of language systems. In my example, it happens through the use of pseudo-German vocabulary in sentences of unmistakably English grammar. Of course, even supposedly "pure" English does this: I recently noticed that all the nouns in our elementary school syllabus were of Germanic origin, except for two ("balloon" and "police"), and thus we had four years to teach the children that English nouns went "DAda" in a Germanic stress pattern rather than "daDA" in the French way.
Wolff-Michael's data is actually much more interesting; it is an example of French metalanguage mixed with English language. One of the children, Gord, insists on using French to tell the children that they can speak English, and for the most part, they do. This is particularly interesting to me, because in a lot of my data we see the reverse: the "native" language is used as metalanguage, and the target language forms the actual language. But Wolff-Michael uses this as an example of "Sabir", something that is neither creole nor pidgin, but a lingua franca, that is, a linguistic Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson contraption, put together for immediate practical purposes out of bits and pieces one finds lying around in one's head.
Once again, we can take a deconstructionist attitude towards "Sabir" and we can say that the existence of Sabirs shows that (as Derrida says):
a) We never speak only one language (because all languages are Sabirs, and no Sabir is made of only one language)
b) We only ever speak one language (because, once again, all languages are Sabirs, and no matter how many languages you think you speak, you are putting together a single Rube Goldberg language of your own every time you think and speak. In language, the scaffolding IS the building.)
The problem with this deconstructionist view is that, paradoxically, it obscures differences by universalizing them. It does not help us understand how languages develop from one kind of Sabir to another, why, for example, pidgins give rise to creoles and creoles to "standardized languages". It just points to the fact that all of these types of language are hybridized and pidginized and creolized and non-standardized.
Similarly, it can't explain why and how children go from languages that consist of complex discourse patterns of the sort we see in quarrels to complex grammar we see in the more monologic whining of older children to the complex vocabulary we seen in the language of scientific and legal argumentation. It just points to the fact that scientific argumentation is also a kind of playground dispute conducted by different rules.
Halliday calls his view of language "systemic-functional", and by that he means an emulsion of two fundamentally incompatible things. I don't want to call it a "hybridization"; that implies a genetic metaphor and a resultant stability that cannot apply to systems and functions. I will call it a salad dressing instead: it is oil and vinegar, and while the two things can and do work together they will invariably separate out if you leave the emulsion to stand for any length of time.
Systemically, language is like a stoplight: we have a choice between red which always means "stop" and green which always means "go". But what about yellow? If you are already in the intersection, it means "go", but if you are not in the intersection yet it means something like "stop". Even the color is situational; in England they tell you that a yellow stoplight is not yellow but orange.
Functionally, language is like a car horn: people make noises at us and we have to look around and see who is making the noise before we hazard a guess about why they are making it and whether it means "stop" or "go". But of course the noises that people make are not simply noises; they have lexicogrammar which can be to some extent decoded the way we decode "green" and "red", that is, according to rules that are not functional but systemic, that have to do with choice rather than merely situation.
Now, Halliday insists that language is the way that it is because of what it has to do, and of course he is right. That is why pidgins develop into creoles, and functions develop into systems. That is why children evolve from home languages that are mostly situational and functional to school languages that are mostly volitional and systemic. In both cases, we see not simply endless deconstruction of one thing into another but development of a simple situationally embedded form into a more complexly differentiated and thus situationally more independent form.
But if functional differentiation were all there were to linguistic differentiation, then it would be impossible to explain the SYSTEMIC differences we find between modern languages. All languages have to factor in time and distance when people tell stories, but they do not do it the same way. There are many different ways of doing these things, and the choice of system is always a matter of choice and not just system.
Let me conclude by applying this distinction between a deconstructionist ontology of difference and a developmental one to play. Of course, we can deconstruct forms of adult play into much simpler ones: Roger Callois, for example, points out that the basic four forms of play (agonistic contests of strength, aleatory contests of luck, mimetic contests of role play, and "ilinx", or the pursuit of dizziness and inebriation) exist in both adults and children: the impulses that make children arm-wrestle will be recognizeably represented at the Beijing Olympics, playing the stock market is not qualitatively different from playing "Rock Paper Scissors", playing "house" is, in embryo, much like playing "The Marriage of Figaro", and drinking single-malt whiskey is done for the same reasons that children like to play on swings and merry-go-rounds till they get dizzy and vomit.
But we can also recognize a developmental sequence here. Some forms of play encourage repetition, such as the game of "catch". Other forms of play require that the actions be varied rather then repeated, and the patterns of variation are realized as roles, such as "pitcher" and "catcher". Finally, there are forms of play that require the variation of roles as well as actions, and the patterns by which roles are varied (taking turns at the bat, changing innings, playing tournaments, the World Series) are called rules.
I think it's not enough to say that rule-based games are deconstructible into roles, and it would be entirely false to say vice versa. It is not true that roles consist of nothing more than repeated actions, and it is quite wrong to say that repeated actions are inherently roles. Development is cumulative, and where a process is cumulative the arrow of time doth hold sway. I think there is, in the bowels of this observation, something we could salvage for discussing how ethical decisions emerge from aesthetic ones, and how rational judgments are enabled by emotional ones. But that is for another time.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Tue, 7/1/08, Jonna Kangasoja <> wrote:

From: Jonna Kangasoja <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Uptake and Takeaway
To: "David Kellogg" <>, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Date: Tuesday, July 1, 2008, 12:41 PM

Hi David,

The play issue (MCA Vol. 15 number 2) reached me in Helsinki end of
last week. There is another very interesting editorial by Wolff-
Michael on ontology of difference.


David Kellogg kirjoitti 30.6.2008 kello 21.44:

> Mike:
> I'll try hard to do as you say, because I think that the issue of
> affect and intellect (emotion and rational thought) is an almost
> perfect issue for a guest editorial.
> But I don't think I am a perfect candidate for the guest. First of
> all, as you can see from the last line of my contribution below,
> I'm still confused about the difference between microgenesis on the
> one hand and learning on the other.
> Like many sloppy thinkers, I tend to proceed by bold analogy and
> then fiddle with the results until they fit well enough for
> whatever practical purpose I have at hand.
> In this case, I tend to think of the distinction as similar to the
> distinction we find between Darwinian phylogenetic evolution on the
> one hand and Marxian socio-historical change on the other, or
> between Marxian socio-historical change on the one hand and
> Vygotskyan ontogenetic development on the other.
> For me time scale is what makes each of these distinctions both
> distinguishable and indissolubly linked: in each case, the
> distinction is something like that between climate change and
> weather change, and the similarity is similarly similar.
> Phylogenetic evolution is on the scale of hundreds of thousands of
> years, while Marxian socio-historical change occurs within
> centuries. Yet FUNCTIONALLY they appear remarkably congruent: the
> production of coats, so well elaborated in the first volume of
> Capital, is a logical attempt to accelerate the production of fur
> to match the colder climes encountered outside Africa, and the
> production of houses is a socio-cultural response to the dearth of
> caves.
> Similarly, Vygotskyan ontogenesis takes place on the scale of
> years, but functionally it appears as both a reverse-engineering
> and an extension of the socio-cultural development of clothes,
> housing, and of course language.
> In each case the slower process provides the environment for the
> speedier one, but the speedier process lays down a foundation for
> the next phase of the slower one. In each case, the speedier
> process is a functionally similar extension of the slower one by
> radically more rapid means (cultural vs. natural, semiotic vs. tool-
> based)
> I'm afraid I'm still thinking about the distinction between
> microgenesis and ontogenesis in an analogous way. Ontogenetic
> development provides the preconditions in which microgenesis
> unfolds, and in return microgenesis enables the next phase of
> ontogenetic development. And in that sense microgenesis plays
> precisely the role that LSV assigns to learning: it leads
> ontogenesis by socially awakening processes that give rise to
> psychological development.
> I understand perfectly what you said about microgenesis being
> simply a moment of ontogenesis, about it being part of a
> revolutionary transformation rather than the kind of incremental
> and easily forgotten experience that we see in learning. But all
> this suggests to me at this point is some kind of selection akin to
> evolutionary selection (my sloppy analogy ridden thinking again!).
> Some transformations live and reorganize the child's mind, in which
> case we call them microgenetic, but these are a subset of a much
> broader set of transformations, most of which simply persist
> without any radically reorganizing effects or even wither and die
> on the vine. This larger set of transformations are what we call
> learning. I'm afraid that's the limit of my understanding at this

> point.
> The second reason I'm not sure about being the guest editor on
> affect and intellect is that I think we're going to have a special
> issue on Gunilla Lindqvist and playworlds soon. The current issue
> of MCA contains two really smashing articles on this very topic;
> perhaps one of the authors could contribute a guest editorial
> developing the affect/intellect issue, so obviously implicated in
> playworlds, for that issue.
> I think that would work much better to achieve Wolff-Michael's real
> goal, which is establishing a kind of inter-issue coherence, so
> that every issue of MCA appears as an installment of some larger
> project without end. (Not to be confused with a process without a
> product!)
> When is the play issue coming out? Anybody know?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> --- On Sun, 6/29/08, Mike Cole <> wrote:
> From: Mike Cole <>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Uptake and Takeaway
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
> Date: Sunday, June 29, 2008, 5:34 PM
> David et al---
> I come very late to this note and for the moment wish only to
> emphasize my
> appreciation for David
> taking notice of the invitation for readers of MCA to write
> editorials. The
> idea is indeed to take up
> some issue or issues that have appeared in the past and comment on
> them with
> respect to the present.
> This is a different function than summarizing what is to come.
> So far as I know, except for David's Xmca note below, there has
> been no
> uptake of this takeupable idea.
> Why not?
> The door is open. Why not walk in?
> For openers, David, perhaps you could work your comments below into
> a guest
> editorial of your own.
> After all, there are lots of readers of MCA who are not members of
> XMCA (and
> versa vice, alas).
> mike
> On Wed, Apr 23, 2008 at 5:35 PM, David Kellogg
> <>
> wrote:
>> 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
> 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
>> about a science project involving the measurement of water
>> temperature:
>> D: It's like nineteen.
>> N: Whoo, it's it's GONE UP a degree since this
> morning.
>> Nineteen what.
>> D: Nineteen degrees fahrenheit
>> N: Nope.
>> D: 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"
> 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
> 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
> 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
>> 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
> say?'
>> or "What do you mean?' In such a situation, the sound--and
> 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
> 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
> you
>> mean?" is not possible, because "art is for its own sake,
> 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
> "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
> 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
> use,
>> the speaker's affect must take these cultural conventions (UP for
>> Information and DOWN for New) into account when the speaker expreses
>> feelings. So to a certain extent we've got a primacy of thinking
>> 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 Jul 2 11:08 PDT 2008

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