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Re: [xmca] bodies and artifacts

One of the ways I have found useful to think about the body in relation to semiotic mediation is to see the body as, among other things, a semiotic artifact.

What I mean by semiotic artifact is a material object or substrate that can be written on and read from, much like a printed page or an architectural drawing. Written on, in the general semiotic sense, not necessarily in words, but in signs of some kind: meaningful features that can be "read" or made sense of by people (or nonhumans, but that's another story) in that our meaning-mediated world, and our actions that respond to that world (including by trying to change or re-create it or just imagine it in some new way), are affected by our encounter with the features of the semiotic object, according to some community interpretive practices, with our own individual variations on them.

At a very obvious level, bodies can be dressed up in signs: hair styles, tans, cosmetics. And this can be taken to a more "artifactual" form with dress, or a more physiological form with, say, body- building. From tattoos to ripped abs is a small shift when we are thinking about the body as a writable/readable object. If we want to get still more physiological, and think not only about reading other people's bodies, but reading our own, then the proprioceptive feelings we sense within out bodies can be considered signs as well, whether exhilaration or nausea, strength or weakness, etc. The meaning of these feelings is certainly culturally mediated. They are physiological phenomena, but they are also meaningful cultural phenomena, with value judgements attached, with intertexts in literature, etc.

And we can deliberately write to our most physiological states, e.g. with drugs, to produce feelings that have cultural meanings and values for us, whether of calm or elation, energy or hallucination. And to a considerable extent, our modifications of our body physiology can be "read" by others, just as can our made physiques, tattoos, or hair styles.

So I would say that the body mediates our sense of the world and ourselves and other people in at least two ways: directly through physiology, as with hormonal responses, sensory modalities of perception, bodily affordances and dis-affordances ("handicaps" for example), etc. AND also in these other, clearly semiotic and cultural ways, as a semiotic artifact, as well as with the cultural overlays of meaning that lie over and color the meanings and responses to all the direct physiological mediations.

I do not, however, know what being wooden on a rainy day feels like to a chair.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Dec 7, 2009, at 4:14 AM, Mabel Encinas wrote:

Ok. You have a point. Then, lets start thinking from an embodied approach :)

Let's accept that the body is an artifact. What is then the difference between a chair and the body. Both are yes, "products of human art", as you express it. However, only in the process (practice) there seem to be a difference. Both are material and ideal (the body is not separated from the mind; the chair, this one here that I feel is made of cloth and a cushioned material, plastic, metal, and involves the ideal that a designer and workers in a factory transformed so people could seat on). What is the difference?


Date: Mon, 7 Dec 2009 22:53:40 +1100
From: ablunden@mira.net
To: liliamabel@hotmail.com
Subject: Re: [xmca] bodies and artifacts

Well, the body is the body is the body. The reason the
question arises for me is when we make generalisations in
which things like person, artefact, consciousness, concept,
action, and so on, figure, where does the body fit in? My
response was that even though it is obviously unique in many
ways, it falls into the same category as artefacts.

My questions to you are: what harm is done? why is anything
ignored? And, what is the body if it is not a material
product of human art, used by human beings?


Mabel Encinas wrote:

Is this way being fruitful? That is why I do not like to consider the body as an artifact. Did not cognitive pscyhology do that? (Bruner, Acts
of Meaning). Then intentions and all the teleological aspects are so
much ignored...


Date: Mon, 7 Dec 2009 20:21:09 +1100
From: ablunden@mira.net
To: liliamabel@hotmail.com
Subject: Re: [xmca] bodies and artifacts

Sure. But the body has been constructed like a living
machine - the various artefacts that you use (especially but
not only language and images) are "internalized" in some
way. So one (external) artefact is replaced by another
(internal) artefact. Yes?


Mabel Encinas wrote:
However, sometimes practices do not involve other artefact
than the body (some practices are directed to the body), and that was
why I was talking about the limit of thinking about the body as
artefact... is that a limit? That is why I mentioned the body as "the
raw material". I was thinking for example practices linked to
and the like, for example, among many others.

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