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Re: zuhanden/vorhanden Re: [xmca] When does an action begin and end?
I spent a lot of time in my early work on discourse analysis with the
problem of segmentation or boundaries, which is pretty much the same
as when utterances or meaning-units begin and end. And I did this
fairly soon after starting in the context of the larger actions and
activities of which the speech was, or would be interpreted as having
been, a part.
The conclusions I came to, which are shared I think by many people who
do this as a matter of professional practice, are that (a) boundaries
are inherently fuzzy, and (b) units are always nested inside larger
units. What seems to happen is this: units on different scales, and
units defined by different critical features (form, meaning, function,
action, etc.) rarely coincide in time/timing at their boundaries.
Major boundaries tend to be points where they do coincide, or start/
end almost simultaneously on the relevant timescale. But minor,
internal, intermediate boundaries are much fuzzier because the higher-
scale units are enlisting a kind of continuity across the boundaries
in the lower-scale units. (Higher = longer timescale, larger activity/
The issue of consciousness, or automation, or vor/zuhanden depends in
part on one's theory of meaning construction. Wolf-Michael notes
Heidegger's tendency to emphasize the always-already prior
signification in words. Bakhtin adds to this a complementary focus on
the re-appropriation of the words of others (prior, presupposing) to
make them our own in concrete situated usage (constructive-creative).
I suspect H. has both these dimensions, too, but have no texts to
cite. Halliday uses a notion of "meaning potential" in words (the
prior part), but it is probabilistic and situation-dependent, and
various people following him use a notion like "instantiation" or
instantial meaning for the here-and-now meaning, which is usually
within the meaning-potential expectations, but not always (which can
in principle alter the potential over time and repeated usage).
A lot of meaning interpretation/construction is automated, just as a
lot of action is, where the default or most-probably meaning-potential
option is automatically assumed, unless something goes wrong (as with
the broken tool). Many kinds of texts in specialist communities rely
on these default readings to avoid ambiguity (but they can still be
very ambiguous for non-members). Other kinds of texts (literary,
poetic, metaphorical, creative, perverse) deliberately force readers
to slow down and make more conscious choices about probable meanings
(Roland Barthes' "writerly" texts, for example).
Automated meanings tend, I think, not to impress themselves on us,
they just flow past and function mainly to scaffold the ever-next
meaning. That makes it quite possible to get to the "end" and find we
can't really recall much of what we've just read, even though the
meaning of the final units is only clear to us because we have built
on the ones that went before. This can even apply to our own writing!
Insofar as an action, sensu stricto in AT, serves some particular goal
or function within a larger activity, it also can have fuzzy
boundaries when it may subserve more than one goal or function, or
where the functions it serves change or evolve on the real-time
enactment timescale. Segmentation is neat. Life is not.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
On Aug 19, 2009, at 6:46 AM, Martin Packer wrote:
Tony, your gloss of Heidegger seems on the money to me. I would,
however, defend the use of term present-at-hand rather than
something like present-at-mind. Heidegger is one of those
interesting philosophers who insisted that we humans are, as he put
it, in-the-world. Even detached contemplation is a way of comporting
oneself, of acting bodily, in a concrete situation, so even in such
contemplation it is a matter of how things are 'at hand.'
There are interesting similarities between Heidegger and Vygotsky,
despite them being at opposite poles politically. Both were trying
to articulate a monist ontology, and both described the task as one
of analyzing complex totalities. Both saw temporality as central.
Both, of course, were heavily influenced by Hegel.
Perhaps rather than say we can use tools without being conscious of
them unless they break or go missing or don't fit the task, it is
more accurate to say that this is a specific kind of consciousness -
tacit knowing, saber rather than conocer (or is it the other way
around? I always get that wrong).
And rather than turn to Heidegger for an understanding of the kind
of consciousness involved in reading a text, why not skip a couple
of generations? Wolfgang Iser, student of Hans-Georg Gadamer who was
Heidegger's student, has studied just this: the particular and
peculiar kind of interaction a reader has with a textual object. His
book 'The Act of Reading' is a (hermeneutic) phenomenology of this
interaction. He emphasizes that a text is an object that presents
the reader with a collection of “intersubjective structures,” which
regulate the act of reading without determining the outcome. These
structures are the same for every reader, though each reader will
respond to them differently.
For Iser, a text is made up of a network of these response-inviting
structures. One result is that the reader is conscious of a sequence
of distinct perspectives. One has a “wandering viewpoint” through a
text, learning first of one character’s experiences and then of
another’s, or learning first of one setting then another, or
shifting backwards and forwards in time (Iser's principal interest
was fiction). Each perspective provides a background to the next.
This continually changing vantage point is one indication that the
reader can never be conscious of the whole text at once: the text
*implies* a whole without actually providing it. So the reader must
work to construct a sense of the whole – of a complete and
consistent entity – from only partial views.
Iser is concerned mainly with skilled adult readers, and I don't
know of work that has applied his ideas to children learning to
read. But if such work doesn't exist it would a great idea!
So when David says "Leontiev is taking the position that all skill
learning is the automatization of declarative knowledge in the form
of procedural knowledge" asks "Why not just say that we are aware of
text but that we are deliberately not foregrounding or highlighting
it because we are busy foregrounding and highlighting something
else?" I want to reply, why not both? When one kind of knowledge
gets automatized we discover a whole new set of phenomena that we
can foreground and know. In time that will become well enough known
that it becomes part of the background, and then new phenomena will
become evident, in a process that never ends - the totality of
intertextuality appears, for example.
On Aug 19, 2009, at 12:00 AM, Tony Whitson wrote:
I also look to Martin as among those on xmca who may be helpful
Also, I think I used "transpose" when I should have used
"counterpose." But the H cogniscenti can staighten us all about
As for swine flu quarantines, some of my grad students have been in
China this summer, and it's not at all an imaginary concern.
Responses that might seem like overkill in North America can be
seen quite differently in the context of countries like China, with
such a different population density.
On Tue, 18 Aug 2009, Mike Cole wrote:
Tony-- Lets hope those deeply immersed in Heidegger will help out.
What you are describing sounds a lot like the Merleau-Ponty,
Bateson, et al
blind man with the stick example. for those on the list
who have not seen this discussion, which reaches back about 25
google lchc for "blind man" "stick".
Wolf- Michael has been reading Heidegger over the summer and
agrees that he
is relevant to CHAT discussions. David and Andy and
other may be able to help. Or, we can go offline for a couple of
catch swine flu, be quarantined, and read English translations
that will prove inadequate!
I am still left very uncertain about the mono-semic use of
in this discussion and it seems relevant. But that, too,
may be a misunderstanding. So much is and its so hard to
On Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 8:01 PM, Tony Whitson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To make another connection: Maybe we could correlate this with the
difference, in Dewey's terms, between being engaged
something (the tool) in our response to a problematic situation,
engagement with that same thing (tool) when IT BECOMES the
Also, it strikes me that there may be a problem with the
"zuhanden" is translated as "ready-to-hand"
"vorhanden" is translated as "present-at-hand"
I don't think the problem is in the translation, but in the
terminology. Not wanting to presume to correct H on his own
wonder if it would not be more apt to counterpose "Zuhandenheit"
something that would translate more as "present-to-mind" or
"present-to-attention" or "present-to-consciousness" (while of
care to avoid using "mind" in a Cartesian sense).
What do you think?
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