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[Xmca-l] Re: Intonation and Gesture



Hi David,

Apologies for the delayed reply! It's been tough for me to find time to read the relevant sections in McNeill's book, and I still haven't read enough. But it seems to me that what he is trying to do is provide an alternative to the view that gesture, including speech, is entirely representational. Reading the section in Gesture and Thought titled "The H-Model", the central point seems to be that "a gesture is not a representation, or is not only such: it is a form of being." McNeill proposes that a gesture, including a word, is not an "expression" of thought, it *is* thought. To gesture, to speak, is not only (he keeps saying "not only") to send a message, but also to exist in a particular way. Thought, McNeill suggests, is "cognitive being itself."

I'm still not clear whether this is to say that a gesture is an entity, with its own kind of being, or whether it is to say that to gesture is to transform one's human being in the world. Perhaps both. I'm attaching an image of a 6-year old child solving math problems on his fingers which might be said to illustrate "cognitive being." This is a gesture to self; can it be seen as a transformation of the child's being? I suppose the representational view would be simply that the child's fingers represent numbers: the child is simply creating an external representation to make his task easier. McNeill's alternative would presumably be to say that the movement of the digits *is* the solving of the arithmetic problem. The child flicking fingers up and down is like an abacus user, who exploits the material organization of the machine to arrive at a solution.

McNeill also picks up on a point made in Being & Time where Heidegger argues that every sign has an indexical aspect. A traffic light seems to be a purely conventional and arbitrary linkage of form and meaning. However, in practice a red stop sign means 'stop *here,* at this particular place.' So a sign always points out some aspect of the context; I don't think that this means that it "merely* points out the context, as you say. McNeill seems to be drawing on this contextuality of signs when he suggests that to *produce* a sign is to invite the recipient to enter a shared way of relating to that context. As the child raises and lowers his fingers, an observer starts to enter into his process of seeking a solution, albeit a process that is so rapid that it has to be taped and replayed to start to grasp the details.

The notions that McNeill invokes of "bringing thinking into existence" and "materialization" seem to me strongly reminiscent of Chapter 7 of Thinking and Speech where Vygotsky wrote of thinking 'completing itself' in the word, and of the word as an 'embodiment' of thought. Vygotsky here borrowed neo-Platonist, Christian phraseology of early 20th century Russia and gave it a materialist, Marxist spin. As with Heidegger, the aim was to develop a non-dualistic account of psychological functioning. However, like you, I'm sure, I don't see Vygotsky as showing here a "residual of behaviorist thinking" (as you quote McNeill), and I'm not sure I understand his point there. Consequently, I don't understand why anyone would consider this a rejection of the concept of mediation. It is simply a clarification of the character of the mediators: they are not (only) representations.

When the child counts on his fingers he is introducing a mediator to help with the math problem that has been written (another mediator) on the paper in front of him. The fingers are presumably more 'handy' than the written numbers; his fingers can both stand as an object visible in front of him, and they are subject to his willful agency - he can manipulate them. As he transforms them, the problem unfolds in front of his eyes, until he reaches a solution that he can write down. He doesn't think first and then move his fingers (what would be the point?); his moving of his fingers *is* his thinking. The mediator - it seems to me - is of central importance here. Perhaps you and I agree that McNeill has got this point wrong.

Now, it's true that Heidegger wrote that "language is the dwelling house of being." It's also true that Marx wrote that "language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men." Neither of these statements is especially developmental, but neither of them, it seems to me, rules out a developmental analysis.

And when you write of "somebody called Dreyfus, who apparently read Heidegger once" I assume you have your tongue in your cheek? I'm sure you know that Hubert Dreyfus, past-president of the American Philosophical Association, is such a well-known and controversial interpreter of Heidegger that his position has been nick-named "Dreydegger."

Martin

[cid:195FD259-072A-4E15-B6D0-1961ED78EF99]

On Apr 10, 2014, at 4:02 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com<mailto:dkellogg60@gmail.com>> wrote:

Martin:

And here's the hook.

McNeill says in a footnote on p. 100 of "Gesture and Thought", 2005.

"Vygotsky's concept of mediated cognition, in which the sign serves as
a 'cognitive tool', inserts a step of manipulation and resource
exploitation into the linkage of speeh to thought. This residual of
behaviorist thinking, I believe, can be and in this work is
dissociated from other indispensable Vygotskian concepts--dialectic,
verbal thought, the minimal psychological unit, and the separation of
functions between the social and individual planes."

And..disassociate it he does. The "Growth Point" assumes predicative
verbal thinking and then "expands" it: no mediated cognition, and no
zone of proximal development--because no development! It's essentially
a pre-formist mode, which he calls the "H-model".The "H-model", which
is actually named after Heidegger, is based on the idea that signs
merely point out the context of shared practical activity:

"A sign signifies only for those who 'dwell' in that context. In this
we can recognize a receipe for a dialectic: sign and image are
inseparable and jointly form a conttext to dwell in; the two combined
to create the possibility of shared states of cognitive being. This
description brings the GP ("growth point"--DK) and the social Other
together as joint inhabitants of the context (and it is the speaker
who always is the one dwelling there the best). The communication
process is then getting the Other to dwell there too. Heidegger spoke
of language as the house of being, just as Merleau Ponty spoke of
inhabiting it. (p. 100)".

Now, McNeill doesn't actually cite much Heidegger--where you do get
page numbers, they are to somebody called Dreyfus, who apparently read
Heidegger once. McNeill says that the "H-model" itself was inspired by
a lecture he went to in 1995 and an e-mail discussion he had. But when
I read my miniscule one volume of Heidegger's "Basic Writings" (Harper
1977), it seems to me that Heidegger is essentially a pre-formist.

"Technology is no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing. If we
give heed to this, then another whole realm for the essence of
technology will open itself up to use. It is the realm of revealing,
i.e. of truth." (The Question Concerning Technology, p. 318)

Heidegger begins his essay on language like this:

"Thus we are within language, at home in language, prior to everything
else. A way to it is superfluous. Moreover, the way to language is
impossible, if indeed we are already at the place to which it is
supposed to lead us." (The Way to Language, p. 398).

It's true that he then goes on to show that we are not quite there.
But his way of getting us there isn't developmental at all--no
mediation, no internalization, and of course no development of word
meaning. As he puts it: "To bring language as language to language".

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 10 April 2014 07:49, Martin John Packer <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co<mailto:mpacker@uniandes.edu.co>> wrote:
Okay David, I will swallow the bait!  Why does a Heideggerian Vygotskian necessarily reject the concept of mediation?

And (my followup question), why would a Vygotskian Vygotskian maintain that the means of mediation disappears with its internalization?

cheers

Martin

On Apr 9, 2014, at 4:38 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com<mailto:dkellogg60@gmail.com>> wrote:

McNeill is a Heideggerian Vygotskyan (see his discussion of his "H
Model" in "Gesture and Thought", p. 101). This means, necessarily,
that he rejects the concept of mediation, and with it the whole idea
that the means of mediation disappears with its
decontextualization/internalization.




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