[xmca] Banana Mediated Emotions

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Tue Jul 24 2007 - 14:51:50 PDT

Dear (Wolff-)Michael:
  Thanks for your reply, but above all thanks for your work on science teaching which I've read with great interest (I've got an article coming out next July in Language and Education which references you). I've also closely followed your work on gesture (particularly now that I'm reading a lot of McNeill's).
  When I read McNeill on gesture, I always get this feeling that he has to keep shaking things to keep them from separating. His view of speech is as something completely arbitrary, segmental, symbolic and systematic, and his view of gesture is completely iconic, holistic, and jerry-rigged.
  So in his latest book (Gesture and Thought, University of Chicago Press 2005) he has to give up the idea of categorizing gestures into iconics, metaphorics, emblems, deictics and beats. and he argues that everything is everything else as well as itself. Unlike speech.
  Unlike speech? When I first read "Emotion and Work" I was a little taken aback by your use of the Praat program to measure the emotional content of speech. I was even more taken aback by where you show that intonation contours are co-constructed, broken off, and then continued. Exactly what we'd expect if intonation were really just an internalization of gesture, pointing with your voice instead of your hands because you are using your hands to type at at computer, just as people point with their eyes or tongues when their hands are full.
  Intonation is indubitably part of speech; nobody has to keep shaking intonation and speech to get them to stay together. But this means that McNeill's description of language as being segmented, compositional, lexicon-based, syntactic, arbitrary and unilinear is all wrong.
  It's rather hard to see how speech could ever express emotion if it were the way McNeill imagines it. It can only express emotion if it is a little more the way McNeill imagines gesture to be: iconic and improvisational.Speech with expressive intonation and evaluative overtones is really a lot more like gesture then like lines of computer code.
  In fact it seems to me that with a whole range of emotions (which we might call the "higher emotions" by analogy with the higher psychological functions that Vygotsky posits) are not only expressed by speech but mediated and constructed by speech, so permeated with speech that language is as much a part of the emotion as bodily feelings or even more.
  These include all the emotions that Vygotsky writes about in the Psychology of Art, but they also include the sort of emotions that are central to ethics education (that's my big project this summer). And it seems to me that with these language-mediated emotions, the relationship between "feelings" and "emotions" that Damasio claims has to be reversed.
  Damasio really thinks that "feelings" come very much after the fact: they are "subordinated" to bodily states, to use the expression that so annoyed Andy. (I'm not sure why we can't say "subordinated", since Marxists certainly do use the term "superstructure" and base, and a base is be definition logically prior to a superstructure.) But in your data it seems to me that feelings come into being through their expression.
  Damasio thinks that we have some way of evaluating events for their emotional content without actually reacting emotionally to them, as when you see a car headed toward you and turn away without thinking or even feeling very much and the emotion that attends on a narrow brush with death comes very much after the fact. But in your data it seems to me that Jack needs to UNDERSTAND verbal interactions first before he can evaluate their emotional content: Jack needs to COMPREHEND (yes, consciously!) the lukewarm response of his superiors before he can experience disappointment and react with cynicism.
  I guess I don't think Jack's experience is a matter of chickens and eggs, or even of knowing that one was successful mediating a bodily state which then mediates performances that are far beyond normal. That would be true if there were no social dimension to success; that is, if it were not dependent on explicit, conscious, even verbal recognition.
  (To tell you the truth, I was a little saddened by the ending of the article.The idea of Jack and Ellen living from hand to mouth and from grant to grant does not seem to me to bode at all well for the future of their project or even of their current high morale. Here in Korea, every primary school teacher is a national civil servant with permanent tenure, and this is an extremely important part of their high social status, their desirability as marriage partners, and of course their self-esteem. It even has a noticeable effect on my graduate students; since they do not really require their MAs for advancement, they are quite willing to undertake risky research projects, like our current one on ethics education! The whole idea teaching ethical principles using rewards and punishments is not a little self-contradictory, and so is the attempt to stimulate intellectual adventurousness with carrots and sticks.)
  One of my grad students was playing a game with her kids called "Find the Banana" which involved hiding a banana behind some cards (which represented activities and days of the week) and then guessing which card had the banana by asking "Can you go swimming on Monday?" "Yes/no" The problem was that the kids kept turning around and peeking when she hid the banana, and so the game was over too quickly. In fury, she seized the banana, peeled it and devoured it before the children's appalled eyes. She then brandished the banana skin and told the children they would henceforth have to play for an empty peel.
  Soon the banana skin became a kind of trophy, a little like the World Cup. When one team one the banana skin, it was displayed proudly and prominently on the team leader's desk until the next team won it back. The banana had gone from being a pure use value to an exchange value, from a means to a physical state of well-being to a signifier of social status alone.
   From that point on the children saw no point in peeking to see where the banana peel was hidden.The first priority was now last, and the last priority was now first; obeying the rule on not peeking was now a precondition for the social signficance attendant on winning the Golden Banana Skin, and the idea of consuming the banana dwindled into insignificance. The corresponding emotions also underwent a transition, from the lower banana-mediated emotions to the higher banana-peel mediated emotions. So you see it is not just academics who intellectualize these things!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Tue Jul 24 14:53 PDT 2007

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