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[Xmca-l] Re: Intonation and Gesture



Martin:

I thought that it was impossible to embed non-textual mediational
meanss in the Plain Text Mode e-mails that made it possible for me to
resubscribe to xmca. Sure enough I can see the picture that you sent
but I can't make it move).

I think, though, that youtube links work okay. Try this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1lDbR-hres

You guessed it. It's three Oksapmin children sitting around talking
about the "body parts" number system that Vygotsky discusses in HDHMF
and which Geoffrey Saxe and Indigo Esmonde investigated longitudinally
in MCA 12 (3 & 4) pp.171-225.

You asked in your previous missive why I think the means of mediation
disappears with decontextualization/internalization. Perhaps
"disappear" is the wrong word; it is not, actually, Vygotsky's word
(Vygotsky says that it is restructured). But you can see that the
child is demonstrating the body parts numbering system through
speaking and gesture. The child on the right, on the other hand, is
only repeating the words. Interestingly, the child appears to be much
more familiar with the words at the beginning of the system than at
the end, because at the beginning of the counting sequence, the child
on the right can anticipate what the child on the left is going to
say, but towards the end of the sequence, the child has to wait and
hear the word before he can repeat it (I am more or less the same when
I try to count to 27 in Russian, because I tried to internalize the
words by doing sit ups and I never got past about fifteen, which tells
you more than you ever wanted to know about the state of my abs....)

The reason I prefer to use "disappearance" when I describe this
process is that I am afraid that the word "mediation" is losing its
explanatory power through the kind of inflationary process that
Vygotsky talks about in the "Crisis" when he gives us the fable about
the frog that wanted to be as big as a cow. (You can see exactly the
same thing happening with "dialogue" amongst the Bakhtinians).
Vygotsky himself, at the end of Chapter Five of HDHMF, gets extremely
frustrated with people who talk about words as psychological tools
(e.g. "Tools of the Mind") and says that the relationship between
signs and tools is a purely abstract and logical one, and cannot be
conflated (as people on this very list do when they speak of
"artifacts"). Since Vygotsky does talk about inner speech as being
less or even unmediated, I think it is fair to say that the
restructuring of a process--the sort of thing we can see going on
here--is a kind of disappearance of the outward froms of mediation;
the replacement of a gesture by a word, and the replacement of a word
by a thought.

McNeill, by trying to catch Vygotsky in a contradiction, catches
himself in one. Take a look at p. 219 of his earlier book, "Hand and
Mind", (University of Chicago Press, 1992). He says this:

"Linguistic signs are not in themselves units of consciousness.
Instead, the role of linguistic signs is to mediate consciousness
(Zinchenko, 1985; Tulviste 1989). In this view, the linguistic
component a) gives consciousness a concrete anchor in the system of
language and b) brings new material into consciousness."

Now, it is true that the use of "mediate" is not his, and "in this
view" implies a certain distancing from the view he's expressing. But
it is clear, from the context, that McNeill does not think word
meaning is a unit of consciousness. He thinks that word "sense" is a
little closer to a unit of consciousness. But the true unit of
consciousness, as far as McNeill is concerned, is the GP--the Growth
Point.

On the very next page, McNeill says this:

"What does the growth point consist of? It is, theoretically, the
utterance's primitive stage, the earliest form of the utterance in
deep time, and the opening up of a microgenetic process that yeilds
the surface utterance form as the final stage. The growth point is the
speaker's minimal idea unit that can develop into a full utterance
together with a gesture."

So the GP both is and is not a unit of consciousness! So too, thinking
both does and does not exist without speech.

Go figure. Or maybe figure and go?

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies



On 15 April 2014 07:06, Martin John Packer <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co> wrote:
> 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.
>
>
>