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Re: [xmca] The Sense in Which the Sensory Is Not Artefactual
I am getting a slightly clearer sense here David of what puzzled me in
your earlier posting.
I think I just don't agree with the notion that " A relatively
unimportant part of higher semiotic functions is corporeal, ... ". Of
course this may depend on what we include in the higher semiotic
functions, but speech-as-communication should be one of those, and the
body-language aspects of speech (which is clearly not just linguistic
but a sort of multimedia dance), from postural through gestural to
intonational and paralinguistic, would seem to indicate that the
corporeal side is essential to communicative effects. And we (a) miss
it when we communicate with low bandwidth on xmca, and (b) imagine it
back into place as we read.
When I really look at a painting and spend time getting "into" it, I
know that I am also subtly moving "in tune" with its visual rhythms,
not just in my eye-movement patterns, but in other aspects of my body.
I don't know if this has been studied, but I would bet that even
breathing rhythms shift somehow when we are in this kind of very
"semiotic" visual communion with an artifact. And clearly there is a
mediation of this that we would reasonably call emotional, and so
emotional-semotic, or whatever better compound term we need.
What I find worrisome is the tendency in our tradition to imagine a
"pure" symbolic and to treat it as higher precisely because it,
assertedly, relegates the corporeal, and emotional, to a relatively
unimportant role. The class ideology there just seems so evident, no?
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
On Dec 2, 2009, at 3:33 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
Mike has, in his subtle way, gently remonstrated with me for posting
elliptical contributions with inscrutable headings. I guess I am
somewhere on the autistic spectrum on this list, and not only on the
list; I have that effect on students when I talk in English, and for
reasons I don't understand very well things sometimes get even worse
when I attempt to remedy matters in Korean.
I think it is partly a result of the fact that my mastery of
intonation patterns in Korean is much weaker than it is in English
(and when I ask my colleagues about intonation patterns in Korean I
am sometimes told by otherwise very knowledgeable phonologists that
they do not exist!).
And of course intonation and stress have to be replaced by the pale
ghosts of punctuation and the oversubtle nuances of word choice on
xmca. Precisely because xmca is a form of non-corporeal
communication (as Wolff-Michael pointed out to me once) the
evaluative intonation and even the object references are lost, and
threads come and go attached to much larger ideas.
Let me start at the large idea end. I think that there is a somewhat
dangerous tendency in activity thinking to think that human labor,
using tools and directed on the environment as an object, is the
explanatory principle for social progress, and therefore it must, in
some guise or other, also be the explanatory principle for
ontogenesis. Since the body is an artefact, and every child comes
equipped with one, we may then describe child development as the
child's growing mastery of that artefact, including its brain.
But this tendency is a form of Haecklian "ontogeny recapitulates
phylogeny". It ignores the qualitative difference between
ontogenesis and sociocultural progress. It collapses forms of
mediation that have purely semiotic results with those that have
physical ones. It risks measuring the height of the child in miles
and missing the role of the imaginary self, the embryonic volition,
and the difference between medical interventions in affect and
I agree with Andy (and Jay) that the body CAN be treated as an
artefact, and that it is very useful to do so when we are talking
about gesture (and also the phonological representation of gesture
within speech, that is, intonation and stress). But I also think
that when we do this it is more useful to be "upward reductionist"
than "downward reductionist".
I agree; there's a link between the body-as-artefact and the
development of the higher emotional functions, but I think it's a
fairly slender one. A relatively unimportant part of higher semiotic
functions is corporeal, else it would not be possible to appreciate
ancient literature (or, for that matter, communicate on xmca).
In fact, I think that if the link between the artefactuality of the
body and the higher semiotic processes were very robust, I doubt
very much if my colleagues would be able to say that Korean lacks
intonation at the word level and has a very unexpressive intonation
system even at the phrase level, nor would Andy object when I use
CAPITALS to try to replace the normal stress patterns of my
(stridently hectoring) lecturing style.
One thing I noticed almost right away in the Gratier et al. article
is that the pitch patterns and the intensity plots of the two
lessons are very different, and in fact are in some sense reversed
mirror images of each other. The BC lesson has very strong
variations in intensity but rather flatter variations in pitch,
while the non-BC lesson has very strong ups and downs in pitch but
is rather flatter in intensity.
To me this suggests that the BC lesson is rather richer in
intonation contours, while the non-BC lesson tends to stress stress.
Of course, one would like to make some generalizing essentializing
statement at this point, about English vs. Spanish, or even about
melody versus rhythm. But I think there is a much more general,
metatheoretical reason for resisting that kind of statement, related
to the problem of linking microanalysis and macroanalysis.
A while ago I argued that every good example has two poles; one
attached to shared concrete experience and the other attached to
abstract thinking. An apple and a half apple can be seen as two
objects (one apple and a half) or as one quantity (one and a half
apples). I think this ability for a good example to be
differentially interpreted is probably relevant to the abiilty to
teach diverse classrooms.
I also think that both stress and intonation are necessary for
conveying both concrete experience and abstract thinking. That's why
it seems to me that Vygotsky is telling us, in Chapter One of
Thinking and Speech, not to look for the unity of affect and
thinking in vocabulary or in the extremely variable responses that
we have to the various meanings of words per se, but to consider
instead the evaluative overtones that they have which must be shared
before we can say that we have succeeded in communicating. That is
what Forster must have meant when he said "Only Connect!"
Habermas argues that "validity claims" are in some sense squatting
outside our communications when we communicate. This is rubbish; a
contested validity claim communicates every bit as much, perhaps
more, than a shared one. People only say this sort of thing when
they want to take the human feeling as well as the evaluative
intonation and the expressive stress, out of communication. But even
in situations where evaluative intonations and expressive stresses
cannot be communicated bodily, communicated they must still be. even
on xmca we use punctuation or at any rate some of us do some of the
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