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Re: [xmca] Living metaphor and conventionalized language
Thanks for the kind words, and above all for the Wallace Stevens, neither fragment of which I knew, but whose rather self-defeating sentiments I am very fond of (for reasons that actually do have something to do with the reasons that I will probably never be able to unload any of this stuff in the Journal of Aesthetic Education or any other peer-reviewed journal).
I like to think of Stevens as the greatest insurance agent who every wrote poetry about it. Insurance companies make money by betting with you that you are wrong when you wake up in the night and imagine that something absolutely catastrophic is going to happen to you in the morning.
But what happens when an insurance company issues a fire policy on its own headquarters? In both fragments you cite, Stevens picks up where Blake leaves off:
Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.
The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton's Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.
Blake would never bother to take out life insurance on Israel's paths and tents; he believes in their eternal life, and he looks forward, gleefully, to collecting on Voltaire and Rousseau.
I think Stevens is not so sure. When we read "Anecdote of a Jar" or "The Idea of Order" we can see that he believes that any human artefact imposes reasons and a kind of order in the place of chaotic nature.
The way a Tibetan woman dresses, as she walks "korla" around the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, imposes a clockwork regularity on the whole of existence. Vygotsky? Oh, I think there is no question about it. He would have bet with Voltaire and Rousseau against Israel's paths and tents (probably wearing a square hat or some kind of phylacteries).
There is a good defense of Vygotsky's rationalism in Bakhurst's article "Vygotsky's Demons" (in the Cambridge Companion), and I agree with it. The only really rationalist demon that Bakhurst refuses to defend is the one that troubles Mike from time to time, the idea that cultures must be said to be different, and that some of them must be said to be more developed than others.
Actually, even this seems defensible to me, but we have to face the fact that "we" will probably belong to the senescent, post-development others rather than to the most developed. Take, for example, the crudest possible quantitative measure of a "developed" society, namely the average life expectancy it offers to its newborn children. In China, the average life expectancy in Tibet (at least in the rural areas) is in the thirties and forties, while the rest of the country has easily twice that.
Life expectancy fell when Russia re-established capitalism, and of course it is falling in the USA, and it seems to me this too suggests something about their changing level of social and cultural development. So on the one hand, development is real, substantial, and it does apply not just to individual lives but also to those of cultures and societies. And on other, unlike individual development, it can really never said to be over and therefore there can't be any absolute sense in which any race has won the race.
I think Stevens would have felt the contradiction between those two statements, but Vygotsky would have been able to explain it. Wearing a sombrero!
--- On Thu, 8/11/11, Robert Lake <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Robert Lake <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Living metaphor and conventionalized language
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Thursday, August 11, 2011, 7:04 AM
Thank-you for this wonderful posting.
>From what I have been reading of your work
for over a year now, writing like this
represents your best work.
I recommend you submit something to the
*Journal of Aesthetic Education.*
Thanks for the poetry and your commentary.
I have never read anything by Cecil Day-Lewis and now I must have more.
Here are the last two stanzas -from Wallace Stevens........
*Six Significant Landscapes*
I include the first one for the sheer beauty of metaphor and the last one
just for fun.
Not all the knives of the lamp-posts,
Nor the chisels of the long streets,
Nor the mallets of the domes
And high towers,
What one star can carve,
Shining through the grape-leaves.
Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses --
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon --
Rationalists would wear sombreros.
On Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 12:27 AM, David Kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org>wrote:
> 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
> 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
> 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.
> David Kellogg
> --- On Wed, 8/10/11, Larry Purss <email@example.com> wrote:
> From: Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Subject: [xmca] Living metaphor and conventionalized language
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
> Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2011, 10:59 AM
> Hi David Ke
> Your response to Nickolai mentioned the constant movement of living
> and language as a conventionalized SYSTEM. This seems to me to be one more
> example of this living GENERATIVE movement of consciousness.
> xmca mailing list
> xmca mailing list
*Robert Lake Ed.D.
Social Foundations of Education
Dept. of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading
Georgia Southern University
P. O. Box 8144
Phone: (912) 478-5125
Fax: (912) 478-5382
Statesboro, GA 30460
*Democracy must be born anew in every generation, and education is its
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