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[Xmca-l] Re: The Stuff of Words

David and Andy,
I have seen Peirce’s categories firstness, secondness and thirdness on the chat before, and certainly you were part of that discussion. I would like to understand that better, also how it relates to the three categories of signs (iconic, indexical and symbolic). I have been reading your “Thinking of Feeling” piece and wonder how that might relate, which I hope so, since it would bring development into the mix. Also (sorry!), Andy’s Academia articles on political representation and activity/social theory are probably relevant in some way, though Andy probably sees language as a figure against a larger ground and a linguist (like Peirce) turns the figure/ground relationship around? 

> On May 5, 2017, at 4:01 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
> Greg:
> (As usual, I don't see the problem. I usually don't see these problems
> until the tide is well and truly over my head.)
> Meaning is simply another word for organization. Organization is always
> present and never separable from matter: it's a property of matter, the way
> that the internet is a property of a computer. Sometimes this organization
> is brought about without any human intervention (if you are religious, you
> will say that it brought about divinely, and if you are Spinozan, by
> nature: it amounts to the same thing, because "Deus Sive Natura").
> Sometimes it is brought about by human ingenuity (but of course if you are
> religious you will say that it is the divine in humans at work, and if you
> are Spinozan you will say that humans are simply that part of nature which
> has become conscious of itself: once again, Ii think it amounts to the same
> thing). So of course there are not two kinds of substance, res cogitans vs
> res extensa, only one substance and different ways of organizing it (which
> in the end amount to the same thing).
> You say that discourse particles like "Guess what?" and "so there" and
> "because" and "irregardless" and "what you say to the contrary
> notwithstanding" are "indexical". I agree, insofar as they depend on their
> relationship to the context of situation for their meaning. You say that a
> Southern drawl is indexical, and that the relationship of jazz or blues or
> hiphop to blackness is indexical. I agree, insofar as they satisfy the
> condition I just mentioned. But "because" is also a symbol, and a
> Southerner still sounds like a Southerner when he/she moves to New York
> City (and in fact you can argue they sound more so). In Africa, jazz and
> blues and hiphop in Africa are related to Americanness and not to
> blackness.
> So your division of signs into just three categories is too simple, Greg.
> In fact, if you really read your Peirce, you will discover that there are
> tens of thousands of categories, but they are generated from three
> ineffable primitives ("firstness", "secondness", and "thirdness"). So for
> example all words are symbols insofar as you have to know English in order
> to understand "Guess what?" or "because". But some words are
> symbol-indices, symbols that function as indexes, because they depend
> on the context of situation for their meaning. Without the symbolic
> gateway, they cannot function as indices. My wife, for example, cannot tell
> a Southerner from a more general American accent, and I myself still have
> trouble figuring out who is an Australian and who is an FOB bloody pom.
> Similarly, my wife doesn't see the blackness in hiphop--it sounds like
> K-pop to her.
> I don't actually think that any signs are associative or "prehensive"; I
> think that they are all different ways of looking or apprehending. So for
> example you can apprehend a wording as a symbol: a way of organizing sound
> stuff so that it "stands for" a way of organizing other stuff (sometimes
> lunchboxes and backpacks, actual categories of objects and sometimes the
> abstract models-in-the-making that Andy calls "projects"). You can also
> look at wording as index: not as something that is "associated" to the lips
> and tongue by juxtaposition or proximity or even continguity but rather
> something that has a necessary relation to the vocal tract (which is itself
> not a physiological organ, but something brought about by human
> organization). But when I look at sound waves on my Praat spectrograph and
> think of the shelving sea, what I am trying to get at is the sound stuff,
> the noise, the firstness of the stuff of words. I'm not Cezanne: I don't
> think there is any way of doing this with my eyes or ears alone: I think it
> requires a very complex combination of tools and signs to get down to
> firstness. But as Spinoza would have said if he had breakfast with
> Bacon, the head and the hand are not much by themselves, but nobody
> has ever really shown the limits of what they can do when they put each
> other in order and start to organize the world around them.
> (And that is about as much philosophy as you are going to get out of me,
> I'm afraid. The tide is galloping in....)
> David Kellogg
> Macquarie University
> PS: What I am absolutely certain of is this: mediating activity is not
> absent in sign use, pace Alfredo or Wolff-Michael, but it is very different
> from mediating activity in tool use, for the same reason that painting is
> different from wording: in painting you CAN leave out the human (if you are
> doing a dead seal for example, or if you are Rothko or Jackson Pollack--but
> keep in mind that the former committed suicide and the latter murdered two
> innocent young women). But in wording you never ever can. Wording can feel
> unmediated--in fact it has to feel unmediated or it doesn't work very
> well--but in reality it's even more mediated than ever.
> dk
> On Sat, May 6, 2017 at 1:09 AM, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> David (and others),
>> In the interests of disagreement (which I know you dearly appreciate), your
>> last post included this:
>> "Words don't "cause" meaning: they provide material correlates for meaning
>> and in that sense "realise" them as matter."
>> I was with you up until that point, but that's where I always lose you.
>> I know it is a rather trite thing to say but I guess it really depends on
>> what you mean by "meaning". If by meaning, you mean some plane of existence
>> that runs parallel to the material stuff, then this seems to be a bit of
>> trouble since this leaves us with, on the one hand, "matter" (res extensa?
>> noumena?), and on the other hand "meaning" (res cogitans? phenomena?).
>> Matter is easy enough to locate, but where do we locate "meaning" as you
>> have described it?
>> This reminds me of Saussure's classic drawing on p. 112 of his Cours
>> (attached) in which "the indefinite plane of jumbled ideas" (A in the
>> diagram) exists on one side of the chasm and "the equally vague plane of
>> sounds" (B) exists on the other side of the chasm. Each side is
>> self-contained and self-referential, and never the twain shall meet. Worlds
>> apart.
>> And this ties to the conversation in the other thread about the
>> ineffability of meaning (as well as Andy's Marx quote about a science of
>> language that is shorn from life). My suspicion is that this supposed
>> ineffability of meaning has everything to do with this Saussurean approach
>> to semiotics (i.e., meaningfulness).
>> Peirce's triadic view of the sign offers a different approach that may give
>> a way out of this trouble by putting the word back INto the world. (p. 102
>> of the attached Logic as Semiotic).
>> Peirce offers three kinds of relations of representamen (signifier) to
>> object: iconic, indexical, and symbolic. The symbol is the relation with
>> which we are most familiar - it is the one that Saussure speaks of and is
>> the one that is ineffable or, in Saussure's words, "arbitrary", i.e.
>> "conventional". It is the stuff of words, the meaning of which is found in
>> other words (hence the sense of ineffability). With only the symbolic
>> function, the whole world of words would be entirely self-referential and
>> thus truly ineffable (and this is why I like to say that Derrida is the end
>> of the Saussurean road - he took that idea to its logical conclusion and
>> discovered that the meaning of meaning is, well, empty (and thus
>> ineffable)).
>> But Peirce has two other relations of representamen to object, the iconic
>> and the indexical. In signs functioning iconically, the representamen
>> contains some quality of the object that it represents (e.g., a map that
>> holds relations of the space that it represents or onomatopoeia like "buzz"
>> in which the representamen has some of the qualities of the sound of the
>> bee flying by). With signs functioning indexically, the relationship of
>> representamen to object is one of temporal or spatial contiguity (e.g.,
>> where there is smoke there is fire, or where there is a Southern twang,
>> there is a Southerner, or, most classically, when I point, the object to
>> which I am pointing is spatially contiguous with the finger that is
>> pointing).
>> Now if I follow the argument of another of the inheritors of Roman
>> Jakobson's legacy, Michael Silverstein (yes, Hasan and Halliday weren't the
>> only inheritors of this tradition - Michael was a student of Jakobson's at
>> Harvard... and he does a great impression of Jacobson too), then we can
>> indeed locate a ground of the word (i.e., the symbolic function) in the
>> more primitive (i.e., rudimentary) indexical function.
>> But that argument is always a bit too much for me (if there are any takers,
>> the best place to find this argument is in Silverstein's chapter
>> "Metapragmatic Discourse, Metapragmatic Function," or in less explicit but
>> slightly more understandable article "Indexical Order and the Dialectics of
>> Sociolinguistics Life").
>> Vygotsky's argument is quite a bit more elegant and comprehensible: in
>> ontogeny meaningfulness begins with the index, first as the index par
>> excellence, pointing (something that, as Andy has previously pointed out,
>> might not be exactly how things go in a literal sense, but the general
>> structure here works well, I think, as a heuristic if nothing else - words
>> are first learned as indexes, temporally and spatially collocated, "bottle"
>> is first uttered as a way of saying "thirsty" and then later to refer to a
>> co-present object; note this is also why young kids get discourse markers
>> at such a young age (and seems incredibly precocious when they do!), since
>> discourse markers are primarily indexical). The indexical function is the
>> rudimentary form that then provides the groundwork for the development of
>> the symbolic function.
>> So then, in this Peircean(Vygotskian) approach, the meaning of signs is not
>> ineffable, there is a grounding for words, and that grounding is the
>> indexical, the "word"/sign that is both in the world and of the world.
>> This seems to me a way of putting meaning back into matter. And perhaps
>> speaking of words as the material correlates of meaning can be a useful
>> heuristic (i.e., how else can we talk about meanings and concepts given our
>> current set of meanings/concepts?). But we should also recognize that if it
>> becomes more than an heuristic it can lead us astray if we take it too far.
>> I'd add here that I think one of the greatest opportunities for CHAT to
>> make a contribution to social science today is in its conceptualization of
>> "concepts" (and, by extension, "meaningfulness"). I think that perhaps one
>> of the most taken-for-granted aspects of social science today is the idea
>> that we know what "concepts" are. In anthropology, people easily talk about
>> "cultural concepts" and typically they mean precisely something that floats
>> around in some ethereal plane of "meaningfulness" and which is not of the
>> material stuff of the world. Yet, this runs counter to the direction that
>> anthropology is heading these days with the so-called "ontological turn"
>> (I'll hold off on explaining this for now since this post is already
>> running way too long, but I'll just mention that one of the aims of this is
>> to get to a non-dualistic social science). CHAT's conception of the concept
>> seems to me to offer precisely what is needed -- a way of understanding the
>> concept as a fundamentally cultural and historical thing, rather than
>> simply as an "ideal" thing. The concept is the holding of a(n historical)
>> relation across time (cf. Hebb's synapse or Peirce's sunflower). Concepts
>> are thus little historical text-lets.
>> Okay, that was too much. Perhaps I will find some time in the future to
>> return to that last part, but there is no time to develop it further now.
>> Anyway, I'm glad that I finally had the opportunity to catch up to these
>> conversations. Delightful reading/thinking.
>> I'll keep reading but no promises that I'll be able to comment (as a young
>> scholar, I need to be spending my time putting stuff out - and unlike the
>> rest of you, I'm no good at multi-tasking... it's either one or the other
>> for me).
>> Very best,
>> greg
>> On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 4:18 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> Well, yes. But if present day conditions are the REVERSE of the
>> conditions
>>> under which Vygotsky was writing--that is, if the present trend is to
>>> subsume labor under language instead of the other way around--don't we
>> need
>>> this distinction between signs and tools more than ever? That is, if
>> sloppy
>>> formulations like "cultural capital", "symbolic violence", "use/exchange
>>> value of the word" are erasing the distinction between a mediating
>> activity
>>> which acts on the environment and a mediating activity which acts on
>> other
>>> mediators and on the self, and which therefore has the potential for
>>> reciprocity and recursion, isn't this exactly where the clear-eyed
>>> philosophers need to step in and straighten us out?
>>> I think that instead what is happening is that our older generation
>>> of rheumy-eyed philosophers (present company--usually--excluded) are too
>>> interested in the "tool power" of large categories and insufficiently
>>> interested in fine distinctions that make a difference. But perhaps it
>>> is also that our younger generation of misty-eyed philosophers are, as
>>> Eagleton remarked, more interested in copulating bodies than exploited
>>> ones. Yet these fine distinctions that do make a difference equally allow
>>> generalization and abstraction and tool power, and the copulating flesh
>> and
>>> the exploited muscles are one and the same.
>>> Take, for example, your remark about the Fourier transform performed by
>> the
>>> ear (not the brain--the inner ear cochlea--I can see the world centre for
>>> studying the cochlea from my office window). Actually, it's part of a
>> wide
>>> range of "realisation" phenomena that were already being noticed by
>>> Vygotsky. In realisational phenomena, you don't have cause and effect,
>> just
>>> as in cause and effect you don't have "association". Words don't "cause"
>>> meaning: they provide material correlates for meaning and in that sense
>>> "realise" them as matter. Meaning does not "cause" wording; it correlates
>>> wording to a semantics--an activity of consciousness--and through it to a
>>> context of situation or culture, and in that sense "realises" it.
>>> So in his lecture on early childhood, Vygotsky says that the
>> stabilization
>>> of forms, colours, and sizes by the eye in early childhood is part of a
>> two
>>> way relationship, a dialogue, between the sense organs and the brain. The
>>> reason why we don't see a table as a trapezoid, when we stand over it and
>>> compare the front with the back, the reason why we don't see a piece of
>>> chalk at nighttime as black, the reason why we have orthoscopic
>> perception
>>> and we don't see a man at a distance as a looming midget is that the
>> brain
>>> imposes the contrary views on the eye. And where does the brain get this
>>> view if not from language and from other people?
>>> David Kellogg
>>> Macquarie University
>>> On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 11:55 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
>>>> Personally, I think the first and most persistently important thing is
>> to
>>>> see how much alike are tables and words.
>>>> But ... Vygotsky was very insistent on the distinction because he was
>>>> fighting a battle against the idea that speech ought to be subsumed
>> under
>>>> the larger category of labour. He had to fight for semiotics against a
>>>> vulgar kind of orthodox Marxism. But we here in 2017 are living in
>>>> different times, where we have Discourse Theory and Linguistics while
>>>> Marxism is widely regarded as antique. As Marx said "Just as
>> philosophers
>>>> have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make
>>>> language into an independent realm." and we live well and truly in the
>>>> times when labour is subsumed under language, and not the other way
>>> around.
>>>> Everyone knows that a table is unlike a word. The point it to
>> understand
>>>> how tables are signs and word are material objects.
>>>> Andy
>>>> (BTW David, back in 1986 I walked in an offshoot of the bionic ear
>>>> project. The ear has a little keyboard that works like a piano keyboard
>>> in
>>>> reverse, making a real time Fourier transform of that air pressure wave
>>> and
>>>> coding the harmonics it in nerve impulse. The brain never hears that
>>>> pressure signal.)
>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>> Andy Blunden
>>>> http://home.mira.net/~andy
>>>> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
>>>> On 3/05/2017 7:06 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
>>>>> David (and or Mike, Andy, anyone else), could you give a bit more on
>>> that
>>>>> distinction between words and tables?
>>>>> And could you say how (and whether) (human, hand) nails are different
>>>>> from tables; and then how nails are different from words?
>>>>> Alfredo
>>>>> ________________________________________
>>>>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.
>> edu>
>>>>> on behalf of David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
>>>>> Sent: 01 May 2017 08:43
>>>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>>> Subject: [Xmca-l]  The Stuff of Words
>>>>> Gordon Wells quotes this from an article Mike wrote in a Festschrift
>> for
>>>>> George Miller. Mike is talking about artefacts:
>>>>> "They are ideal in that they contain in coded form the interactions of
>>>>> which they
>>>>> were previously a part and which they mediate in the present (e.g.,
>> the
>>>>> structure of
>>>>> a pencil carries within it the history of certain forms of writing).
>>> They
>>>>> are material
>>>>> in that they are embodied in material artifacts. This principle
>> applies
>>>>> with equal
>>>>> force whether one is considering language/speech or the more usually
>>> noted
>>>>> forms
>>>>> of artifacts such as tables and knives which constitute material
>>> culture.
>>>>> What
>>>>> differentiates a word, such as “language” from, say, a table. is the
>>>>> relative prominence
>>>>> of their material and ideal aspects. No word exists apart from its
>>>>> material
>>>>> instantiation (as a configuration of sound waves, or hand movements,
>> or
>>> as
>>>>> writing,
>>>>> or as neuronal activity), whereas every table embodies an order
>> imposed
>>> by
>>>>> thinking
>>>>> human beings."
>>>>> This is the kind of thing that regularly gets me thrown out of
>> journals
>>> by
>>>>> the ear. Mike says that the difference between a word and a table is
>> the
>>>>> relative salience of the ideal and the material. Sure--words are full
>> of
>>>>> the ideal, and tables are full of material. Right?
>>>>> Nope. Mike says it's the other way around. Why? Well, because a word
>>>>> without some word-stuff (sound or graphite) just isn't a word. In a
>>>>> word, meaning is solidary with material sounding: change one, and you
>>>>> change the other. But with a table, what you start with is the idea of
>>> the
>>>>> table; as soon as you've got that idea, you've got a table. You could
>>>>> change the material to anything and you'd still have a table.
>>>>> Wells doesn't throw Mike out by the ear. But he does ignore the
>>> delightful
>>>>> perversity in what Mike is saying, and what he gets out of the quote
>> is
>>>>> just that words are really just like tools. When in fact Mike is
>> saying
>>>>> just the opposite.
>>>>> (The part I don't get is Mike's notion that the structure of a pencil
>>>>> carries within it the history of certain forms of writing. Does he
>> mean
>>>>> that the length of the pencil reflects how often it's been used? Or is
>>> he
>>>>> making a more archaeological point about graphite, wood, rubber and
>>> their
>>>>> relationship to a certain point in the history of writing and erasing?
>>>>> Actually, pencils are more like tables than like words--the idea has
>> to
>>>>> come first.)
>>>>> David Kellogg
>>>>> Macquarie University
>> --
>> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
>> Assistant Professor
>> Department of Anthropology
>> 880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
>> Brigham Young University
>> Provo, UT 84602
>> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson