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[Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history

The following is worth reading in light of the discussion. Origin
his/her-stories are often imbued with meta-narratives; we have concepts
(and science too) to guide is into the distant past, which is also present
in everyday life. Please excuse the text, I had to export from a PDF image.

-Miguel Zavala



SOURCE: Gunther Kress & Theo Van Leeuwen,"Chapter 1.The Semiotic
Landscape: Language and Visual Communication."

The dominance of the verbal, written medium over other visual media is
firmly codedand buttressed in conventional histories of writing. These go
something like this. Languagein its spoken form is a natural phenomenon,
common to all human groups. Writing, however, is the achievement of only
some (historically,by far the minority of) cultures. At a particu­lar
stage in the historyof certain cultures,there developed the need to make
recordsof transactions of various kinds, associated usually with trade,
religionor (governing)  power. These  records were  initially highly
iconic; that  is, the  relation between the object to be recorded and the
forms and means of recording was close and transparent. For instance, the
number of notches in a stick would representthe number of objects stored
or traded or owed. The
 Representation of the object would  usually also be transparent: a wavy
line eventually  became the  Chinese  ideogram for  'water';the
hieroglyphic  image of the ox's head which initially 'stood for' 'ox'
eventually became the letter aleph (),alpha (a), a. This example
illustrates what in these histories is regarded as the rarest of all
achievements, the invention of alphabetic writing.

Alphabetic writing developed,it seems clear, out of iconic, image-based
scripts. In these originalscript forms, an object was initially
represented by an image of that object. Over time, in the use of the
script by different groups,speaking different languages, the image of the
object came to stand for the name of the object and then for its
initialletter.Aleph, 'ox' in Egyptian hieroglyphics, after centuries of
travel and constant transformation through the culturesand languages of
the easternMediterranean, became the letter alpha, and eventually the
letter a in the Roman alphabet. Clearly this was a process where each step
involved considerable abstraction, so much so that, seemingly, alphabetic
writing has been inventedonly once in the historyof human cultures.All
present alphabetic scripts, from
India to the MiddleEast to  Europe, are developments of that  initial step
from  Egyptian (or possibly Sumerian) iconic hieroglyphic  representation
to the Phoenician alphabet, and from there westward to the Greek-speaking
world, and eastwardto the Indian subcontinent, or, in the region of its
origin, developing into the Arabic version of the alphabet.

This is indeed an impressive cultural history, impressive enough to have
stood as the acceptedhistorical account of the achievement of (alphabetic)
writing,unquestioned for centuries.Within this account, all cultureswith
forms of visual representation that are not directly connected to language
are treated as cultures withoutwriting. However, it isworth investigating
this history, and in particular the crucial step from visual
representation to the link with language,a little more closely.Prior to
this step (in reality a development spanning millennia) there were two
separate and independent modes of representation. One was
language-as-speech; the other, the visualimage, or visual marks. Each
served a par­ ticularset of purposes such as the construction of histories
and myths, the recording of genealogies and transactions, and the
recordingand measurement of objects. In the case of some cultures,however,
the one form of representation 'tookover' the other, as a means of
recording; that is, visualrepresentation became specialized - one could
say,reduced- to function as a means of the visual representation of
speech,perhaps in highly organized and bureaucratized societies. At this
point the visual was subsumed,taken over, by the verbalas its means of
recording. Consequently its former public uses, possibilities and
potentials for independent representation disappeared, declined and
withered away.

In the case of other cultures,however, this development did not occur.
Here the visual continued, along with the verbal means of representation.
Instances of this abound:from the one extreme of the Inca quipu strings
(sensorily the tactile mode of representation) to Australian Aboriginal
drawings, sand-paintings and carvings. These encode, in a manner not at
all directly dependent on, or a 'translation' of, verbal language,
meanings of the culture which are deemed to be best represented in visual
form. They are connected with language, or language with them, so that
wall-paintings or sand-paintings, for instance, are accompanied by verbal
recounts of geographical features, journeys, ancestor myths,and so on.
However, in these cases there is no question of the priority of the one
over the other mode, and the visual has certainly not become subsumedto
the verbal as its form of representation.

In this connection it is interesting to consider the history of two
wordswhich in a sense are synonymous with Western notions of literacy,the
words grammar and syntax. Gram­ mar derives from the Greek grammatike
('the art of reading and writing','grammar','alphabet'); related words
were gramma ('sign','letter','alphabet'), grammatikos ('liter­
ate','(primary) teacher','grammarian'). This etymology records the state
of thingsin the Hellenistic period (from approximately 300sc); in
earliertimes the meaning'sign',as in 'painted or drawn [etc.]mark' was the
primary meaning.In Homer,for example, the verb graphein still means
'scratch','scratch in', as in engraving, and from there it comes to mean
both 'writing' and 'drawing','painting'. Syntaxis, in pre-Hellenistic
times, meant 'contract', 'wage','organization','system','battle
formation',with syntagma, for instance, 'contingent of
troops','constitution (of a state)','book or treatise'. Only in the
Hellenistic period does syntaxis come to mean (among its othermeanings)
'grammatical construc­ tion'. The verb syntasso, again, means both
'arrange battleformations' and 'concentrate Cone's

While we do not wish to place too much emphasis on etymology,nevertheless
the history of these two words which are so crucial to our notions of
literacy points to forms of social organization and order, on the one
hand, and to visual 'markings' on the other. Together they indicate the
initially quite independent organization of the mode of images and the
mode of verbal language. At the same time, the subsequent history of the
word grammar brings out clearly the subordination of the visual medium to
the medium of verbal lan­ guage. Cultures which still retain the full use
of both media of representation are, from the point of view of 'literate
cultures', regarded as illiterate, impoverished, underdeveloped, when in
fact they have a richer array of means of representation than that overtly
and consciously available to literate cultures.Nevertheless, as we pointed
out earlier, literatecultures do make use of means of visual communication
other than writing, be it that they are seen as uncoded replicas of
reality or as a means of individual expression by children or artists.In
other words, they are not treated as either the expressions of, or
accessible to means of reading based on, articulated, rational and social

Our unconventional history of writingis one that treats the coming
together of visual and verbal representation as only one possibility, and
one, furthermore, that brings with it not just those benefits of writing
which are well enough understood, but also the negative aspects incurred
in the loss of an independent form of representation, the diminution of
modes of expression and representation. From that point of view cultures
such as Austral­ian Aboriginal cultures are seen as having both modes of
representation: the visual (or perhaps a whole set of visual forms of
representation) and the verbal.The point of this history is not only  the
political one of undermining the notion of 'illiterate  culture'  (or
'merely oral culture'), but also the attempt to see to what extent the
conventional history blinds us to the facts and uses of visual
communication in so-called literate-cultures.

In this book we develop the hypothesis that ina literate culturethe visual
means of communication are rational expressions of cultural meanings,
amenable to rationalaccounts and analysis.The problem which we face is
that literate cultureshave system­ atically suppressed means of analysis
of the visual forms of representation, so that there is not, at the
moment, an established theoretical framework within which visual forms of
representation can be discussed.

On 1/14/15 8:24 PM, "Andy Blunden" <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

>Peg, does my remark that writing was invented "for administrative
>purposes" stand up?
>*Andy Blunden*
>Peg Griffin wrote:
>> About writing origins, Henry: There's some accessible and reliable info
>> through that U of Chicago Oriental Institute museum web-site I
>> You can download the catalog for free - over 200 pages of good essays
>> illustrations.
>> 2.pdf 
>> The first chapter has a good discussion about writing and other early
>> graphic representations from art and administrative functions.  It has a
>> reasonable bibliography.  Subsequent specialized chapters also carry
>> documentation.  It's certainly a good start if you want to follow this
>> Peg Griffin, Ph. D.
>> Washington, DC 20003
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
>> [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of HENRY SHONERD
>> Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 7:18 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
>> Yes, thank you, Helen
>> I have a couple of questions:
>> 1)The movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams focuses on cave drawings of
>> France that date back 32,000 years. Writing may date back only about 5
>> thousand years, but I understand that writing systems begin with
>> pictographs, like in the caves of southern France. Is that relevant to
>> thread?
>> 2) Does oral history count as history?
>> Henry
>> I have a question
>>> On Jan 14, 2015, at 2:30 PM, Peg Griffin <Peg.Griffin@att.net> wrote:
>>> Thanks, Helena!  It is lovely.  A while ago I had skimmed it but
>>> misplaced ways to get to it for deep reading and use of it.
>>> Besides just liking this sort of thing, I've had some luck getting
>>> teacher ed students to see contemporary cultural and language
>>> diversity a little differently when they get a chance to see history
>>> they might have missed out on in their prior education.
>>> Peg
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
>>> [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Helena Worthen
>>> Sent: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 2:06 PM
>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>> Cc: 'Mikhail Munipov'
>>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
>>> And there's this:
>>> https://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201102/roads.of.arabia.htm
>>> This is a gorgeous exhibit, if it comes near you. For the text about
>>> writing
>>> 2000-1500 BCE, scroll about half way down. The exhibit has stones, set
>>> side by side, with different ancient scripts.
>>> Helena Worthen
>>> helenaworthen@gmail.com
>>> On Jan 13, 2015, at 7:16 PM, Peg Griffin wrote:
>>>> Here's a little side track:  There's a web trace of a 2010
>>>> well-curated
>>> museum exhibit on writing from the U of Chicago Oriental Institute.
>>>> http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/special/writing/
>>>> And here are a few little outtakes:
>>>> 		"four instances and places in human history when writing was
>>> invented from scratch - in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica -
>>> without previous exposure to or knowledge of writing. It appears
>>> likely that all other writing systems evolved from the four systems we
>>> have in our exhibition."
>>>> 		"the earliest cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia (today's
>>> Iraq), dating to about 3200 BC,"
>>>> 		" early Egyptian writing that includes tags and labels from
>>> the tombs of the first kings (about 3320 BC) as well as hieroglyphic
>>> writing and other scripts from the Nile Valley."
>>>> 		" Chinese writing, which emerged about 1200 BC, will be
>>> shown on oracle bones"
>>>> 		" Mayan hieroglyphs from the 7th century AD will show how
>>> early Mesoamericans wrote."
>>>> 		" Long believed to have been invented in Phoenicia in about
>>> 1000 BC, the earliest alphabetic texts are now those found in the
>>> This earliest alphabet was derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs as early
>>> as
>>> 1800 BC, well over five hundred years earlier than had been known."
>>>> There are some lovely little animations about the development of
>>>> cuneiform
>>> and one animation about a hieroglyph changing and eventually
>>> appropriated for a Greek letter.
>>>> I love this little site and fear the day I try to open it and find U
>>>> of Chicago has abandoned it. Peg
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From: xmca-l-bounces+peg.griffin=att.net@mailman.ucsd.edu
>>>> [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+peg.griffin=att.net@mailman.ucsd.edu] On
>>>> Behalf Of Andy Blunden
>>>> Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 9:24 PM
>>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>> Cc: Mikhail Munipov
>>>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Laws of evolution and laws of history
>>>> Actually, I think that "the more that human beings become removed
>>>> from
>>> animals in the narrower sense of the word, the more they make their
>>> own history consciously" is near as dammit what you are looking for.
>>>> Engels of course lacked good information. Even in his day Vygotsky
>>>> had
>>> poor information. In "Ape, Primitive Man and Child", "primitive" is
>>> taken to mean "non-literate", as it was for Luria in his Central Asian
>>> expedition, and a great deal of emphasis is put on the origins and
>>> development of *writing*. But writing only appears in Egypt c. 2,000
>>> BCE I think, in any case, in evolutionary time scales 5 minutes ago.
>>> The development of writing is nothing to do with evolution of the
>>>> Vygotsky defines primitive man as follows:
>>>>   "This term is commonly used, admittedly as a conventional label, to
>>>>   designate certain peoples of the uncivilized world, situated at the
>>>>   lower levels of cultural development. It is not entirely right to
>>>>   call these peoples primitive, as a greater or lesser degree of
>>>>   civilization can unquestionably be observed in all of them. All of
>>>>   them have already emerged from the prehistoric phase of human
>>>>   existence. Some of them have very ancient traditions. Some of them
>>>>   have been influenced by remote and powerful cultures, while the
>>>>   cultural development of others has become degraded.
>>>>   "/Primitive man, in the true sense of the term, does not exist
>>>>   anywhere at the present time, /and the human type, as represented
>>>>   among these primeval peoples, can only be called "relatively
>>>>   primitive." Primitiveness in this sense is a lower level, and the
>>>>   starting point for the historical development of human behaviour.
>>>>   Material for the psychology of primitive man is provided by data
>>>>   concerning prehistoric man, the peoples situated at the lower levels
>>>>   of cultural development and the comparative psychology of peoples of
>>>>   different cultures."(Preface, 1930, Italics in the original)
>>>> And from the start, this chapter is framed as "cultural development"
>>>> as
>>> distinct from "evolutionary development." Chapter 1 on primates
>>> focuses on the limited use of tools possible for apes, with the
>>> implication that the cultural development around the emergence of
>>> labour, i.e., the production of tools, was part of evolutionary
>>> development, prior and leading up to the formation of homo sapiens
>>> sapiens. There is no chapter covering the period between 2 million
>>> years ago and say `00,000 years ago, where cultural and biological
>> formation are interacting.
>>>> According to Engels and others including Dewey, speech emerges
>>> simultaneously with tools. Dewey makes the point that a tool is not a
>>> tool until its use is institutionalised, linking social, symbolic and
>>> tool-using activity together.
>>>> Andy
>>>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>> -
>>>> --
>>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>>>> mike cole wrote:
>>>>> So perhaps its just my bad memory, Andy. the issues remain central.
>>>>> THANKS for the appropriate links!
>>>>> mike
>>>>> On Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 4:51 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net
>>>>> <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>>>>   There can only be two sources of this idea: Engels' "Part Played
>>>>>   by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man" (1876)
>>> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1876/part-played-labour/ind
>>> ex.htm
>>>>>   and the Introduction to "Dialectics of Nature" (1883)
>>>>>   http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch01.htm
>>>>>   In the latter work, after explaining how freeing the hands by
>>>>>   adopting an erect gait, led to the use of tools, meaning labour,
>>>>>   and this led to the expansion of the brain, language and sundry
>>>>>   other changes, and thus eventualy the emergence of human beings as
>>>>>   a species. Then he says:
>>>>>      "With men we enter /history/."
>>>>>   In the earlier document, he says: "Labour begins with the making
>>>>>   of tools" which Engels claims happened before the formation of
>>>>>   modern homo sapiens, contributing to that formation rather than
>>>>>   being a product of the formation of modern humans, and he narrates
>>>>>   a story which continues from this point up to socialist revolution
>>>>>   as if it were one continuous story, blurring over the distinction
>>>>>   between evolution of the species and historical development of
>>>>>   culture.
>>>>>   The nerest we come to your quote is: "the more that human beings
>>>>>   become removed from animals in the narrower sense of the word, the
>>>>>   more they make their own history consciously." The "narrower
>>>>>   sense" I presume means biological differentiation. So this could
>>>>>   count for what you are looking for, Mike.
>>>>>   Andy
>>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> --
>>>>>   *Andy Blunden*
>>>>>   http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>>>>>   <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
>>>>>   mike cole wrote:
>>>>>       Dear Colleagues--
>>>>>       I seem to recall reading an idea, that I recall being
>>>>>       attributed to Engels,
>>>>>       that (rooughly) "more and more the laws of evolution are being
>>>>>       replaced by
>>>>>       the laws of history."
>>>>>       Can anyone enlighten me either as to the source of this
>>>>>       "quotation" or as
>>>>>       to the source of my own confusion in this regard?
>>>>>       mike
>>>>> --
>>>>> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal with a natural science as an
>>>>> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch.