Re: [xmca] Banana Mediated Emotions

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jul 24 2007 - 21:23:18 PDT

Hi David,
when I refer to David McNeill's work, it is in particular to two
pieces, his 1984 or 1985 chapter where he writes about Vygotsky and
the 2002 paper that is clearly taking speech and gesture as a
dialectical pair sublated into a higher unit, of which each is a one-
sided expression.

Lilian Pozzer-Ardenghi and I have continued to explore communicative
units, and bring any meaning-making resource into it (Roth & Pozzer-
Ardenghi, 2006). We view all of these moments as constitutive of
meaning, which is not something to be pointed to in an unambiguous
way but more like a sense of how the world works. As Heidegger says,
words do not get meaning (or people construct meaning of words), but
rather, words ACCRUE to meaning, and the world is entirely shot
through with it.

So all the different moments--speech, gesture, prosody, position,
orientation, and the rates of all of these--do not act independently
but are subordinated to and constitute a higher order unit, none of
them expressing this higher order unit on its own (especially not
speech [language], to which we, in a phal-logo-centric culture want
to reduce everything) but rather only one-sidedly.

I like Holzkamp's analysis, which brings together motion,
emotiveional valence, motive, and motivation (you see the common
origin in all these words), and begins with a possible beginning when
one-cellular organisms correlate initially arbitrary motion with more
food concentrations, which are of higher valence. He then shows how
through episodes of quantitative and qualitative changes, we can
eventually get to anthropogenesis, where the motive of activity
becomes a new unit... and so on. In a paper a few years back, I
developed this approach.

I am not trying to be objectivist or subjectivist or materialist or
anything, just trying to make sense and understand. In a paper you
can do only so much within the limited amount of space (word
count).... Thus, Andy provided a label that an Australian colleague
of his would absolutely disagree; to this colleague, I am the
constructivist devil in person, subjectivist to the point of
poisoning our youth.... :-)


On 24-Jul-07, at 2:51 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

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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