RE: [xmca] Banana Mediated Emotions

From: Brenda Sherley <Brenda.Sherley who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jul 24 2007 - 14:58:16 PDT

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Brenda Sherley
Numeracy Adviser
School Support Services
School of Primary and Secondary Education
Victoria University of Wellington
Phone 04 4639611
-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Wednesday, 25 July 2007 9:52 a.m.
To: xcma
Subject: [xmca] Banana Mediated Emotions

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
  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
  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
  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
  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 15:02 PDT 2007

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