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RE: [xmca] Living metaphor and conventionalized language
I hope you won't mind if I reply to just one little corner of your very eloquent message (I have not been able to keep pace with recent discussions).
I am particularly interested in very early communication which, I think, has much more of the 'meaty sensuousness' about it - not yet pared and polished to the clear austerity of a sign system. It occurred to me that 'internalised' verbal thought 'usually' involves a considerable degree of paring and polishing - we perhaps learn to think with concepts rather than simply to 'relive' relational experiences in all their meaty sensuousness. I wondered, then, whether the fairly widespread incidence of 'imaginary friends' might be understood, at least to some extent, in terms of an early reluctance to forego the relational richness of interpersonal communication as this comes to be 'internalised'. The feeling of relating to another person is importantly different from the feeling of 'having a thought' and may, at many levels, feel more satisfying. This could lead on to echoes of Julian Jayne's argument about the relative recency of our 'ability' to recognise thoughts as internal 'products' of our own minds (how much our minds are indeed our own is the question here!) but also into dangerous territory where our preferred imaginary friend is omnipotent.
Being 'in' relation with another person is an altogether richer, more complicated and sensually elaborate experience even than remembering or thinking about being with someone and I think a lot of the yearning of poetry relates to this sense of the gates of perception being clouded by knowledge - once you have tasted the forbidden fruit there is no going back (or at least no easy going back - some people devote their lives to contemplation, meditation, prayer and other ways of trying to still the distracting ruckus of 'roof-brain chatter'.
All the best,
From: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of David Kellogg [email@example.com]
Sent: 10 August 2011 16:27
To: Culture ActivityeXtended Mind
Subject: Re: [xmca] Living metaphor and conventionalized language
Did I use the word "system"? I suppose I did. What I really mean is what Halliday calls "meaning potential", the way that a traffic light can potentially be red or yellow or green. It is what we might call leaving things that we could say unsaid.
I guess I think of a system as being just a set of options, you know, like a traffic light, or a dictionary entry or the system of tense or negation. It's the semiotic resources that Mommy and Daddy provide you with, the set of metaphors that have already been made with the language, what Vygotsky calls signification.
One of the key unresolved problems in CHAT (which you can see, for example, in the way Ratner disagrees with Wertsch, and even in the early disagreements between Vygotsky and Leontiev over "activity" and "semiosis") is how culture gets "in": is it "internalized" or is it "appropriated"? Is it somehow co-constructed, by the individual on the one hand and the society on the other?
Of course, BOTH "internalization" and "appropriation" are metaphors. I don't flee from the "internalization" metaphor the way that Martin does, partly because I think of it as referring not to a body but as to a nation, a country, a city, a community, a family...or some particle thereof. In this sense (a sense which I suppose is better captured by "interiorization" than by "internalization", just as "reflection" is better captured by "refraction") there is no duality; when you move from one nation to another you do not change worlds, nor do you change nations when you move from one city to another.
But I do have a problem--I think that we can't just get culture into the picture by referring to cultural artefacts like signs and tools. The map is not the territory, and human relations are not, in essence, about signs and tools; they are about flesh and blood other people. It is here that I think distinguishing between meaning potential in a cultural artefact and the actual meaning making that goes on between flesh and blood persons is important, not least because BOTH of them develop and develop each other in a way that's not really explicable by just looking at the artefacts themselves.
Consider, for example, the dictionary as a cultural artefact. You know, in the eighteenth century, dictionaries were a little like Bartlett's today. They did contain definitions for the really thick-skulled (there was a newly literate middle class that had to have everything spelled out) but the definitions were sometimes rather whimsical (e.g. "pensioner: a man whose flattery is repaid with insolence") and the main thing people read them for was the learned quotations and snappy put-downs that were provided as examples (hence Johnson's dictionary and of course the "Devil's Dictionary" of Ambrose Bierce).
So the function of a dictionary was not to systematize the language but rather to provide resources for sense. It was to make you sound witty and creative and original in the chocolate houses. I suppose it must have been rather annoying that dictionaries were so widely read, because it meant that many people in your chocolate house would know the joke before you told it, or, heaven forfend, try to tell the same joke themselves.But of course dictionaries WERE widely read, and they became guides to meaning potential rather than a set of instances of actual wit.
In the late twentieth century, though, the pendulum began to swing the other way, because CoBuild and other dictionaries began to inspect computer corpora of actual uses, and they discovered (for example) that it is much more common to say, metaphorically, that you "run a business" than concretely, that you run a hundred yards on your own two feet. To me, though, all that means is that the new systemic "meaning potential" has to start with running a business, and that what I did this morning for exercise was a kind of metaphorical extension of running a business to my muscles and achilles tendons.
There is a good poem about the relationship between meaning potential and actual meaning by Cecil Day-Lewis. It's metaphorical, of course! He begins by defining a sign for us, and pointing out that a tree is a sign too (because it stands for itself, or if you want to be physiological about it, it produces an image on our retina which is interpreted by our brains as a tree.) But it's a sign without a system, without much unrealized meaning potential.
This tree outside my window here,
Naked, umbrageous, fresh or sere,
Has neither chance nor will to be
Anything but a linden tree,
Even if its branches grew to span
The continent; for nature’s plan
Insists that infinite extension
Shall create no new dimension.
>From the first snuggling of the seed
In earth, a branchy form’s decreed.
You have to admit the Creator was original. He was certainly forceful in his creativity. But rather limited, when you look at it; in His later career He kept repeating Himself with only minor variations, and most of what was new was not very good. Human creativity is a different matter!.
Unwritten poems loom as if
They’d cover the whole of earthly life.
But each one, growing, learns to trim its
Impulse and meaning to the limits
Roughed out by me, then modified
In its own truth’s expanding light.
A poem, settling to its form,
Finds there’s no jailer, but a norm
Of conduct, and a fitting sphere
Which stops it wandering everywhere.
Human creativity, unlike nature, is an embarrassment of riches; we need rhyme (which you notice Day-Lewis adheres to quite rigorously) and meter to keep us honest. As Adorno says, the bourgeoisie would like life to be austere and art voluptuous, but we would really be much better off with things the other way around: life full of actual meaning, and art full of things left unsaid.
Now here Day-Lewis notes that there is a third thing--and it is the thing that Bakhtin wrote almost exclusively about, something that is neither system of meaning nor instance of meaning making, something that is neither signification nor purely individual sense: it is human relationships in all their complex, meaty sensuousness.
Are interpersonal relations more like intra-personal relations or are they more like societal relations? Are they more intra-psychological or more trans-psychological? Are more things to be left said or unsaid? Half said?
Are these going to be austere or voluptuous? Will they depend on potential or upon realization?
As for you, my love, it’s harder,
Though neither prisoner nor warder,
Not to desire you both: for love
Illudes us we can lightly move
Into a new dimension, where
The bounds of being disappear
And we make one impassioned cell.
So wanting to be all in all
Each for each, a man and a woman
Defy the limits of what’s human.
Voluptuous then, and almost intrapersonal--but this is a romantic, young person's view. Day-Lewis wrote this late in life, after many years of what we would have to call development. Human development is not like natural development; it means creating more potential rather than simply realizing it (and thus leaving less unsaid).
But when we cease to play explorers
And become settlers, clear before us
Lies the next need – to re-define
The boundary between yours and mine;
Else, one stays prisoner, one goes free.
Each to his own identity
Grown back, shall prove our love’s expression
Purer for this limitation.
Love’s essence, like a poem’s, shall spring
>From the not saying everything.
--- On Wed, 8/10/11, Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Larry Purss <email@example.com>
Subject: [xmca] Living metaphor and conventionalized language
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2011, 10:59 AM
Hi David Ke
Your response to Nickolai mentioned the constant movement of living metaphor
and language as a conventionalized SYSTEM. This seems to me to be one more
example of this living GENERATIVE movement of consciousness.
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