[xmca] Help With Peirce

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Thu Oct 11 2007 - 16:29:22 PDT

I need help from someone who has read more Peirce than just the various single volume anthologies that I've read (Justin Buchler, and Philip Wiener). Tony? Andy? Anyone?
  My problem is with Peirce's idea of the "icon". It's firstness, so in Heglian terms, its the thing-in-itself. In Korean we say "keun-nyang", or "it's just that way".
  But of course if it were really JUST a thing-in-itself there would be no way to represent it in our consciousness. So even the percept we have is slightly indexical, else we could not understand it. For us to even see it, it must be at least a little bit "a thing for others" because we are the others.
  For example, if I look at one of eric's fiddle-shaped tables, I see only the surface of the table, and what is beneath the surface (is it wood or veneer?) and inside the legs (are they hollow or not?) I must represent it for myself.
  The surface points to what is beneath the surface and the legs point to what is inside the legs, but they do not show them iconically. So of course in firstness there is always secondness (at least insofar as firstness is represented in the human mind).
  Then of course there is the matter of the fiddle-shape, which is indexical in a very different way because it points to something which is well outside the object. It points to music in much the same way that Sasha's spoon points to the act of eating (not exactly the same, because we do not play music on a fiddle-shaped table).
  Clearly we are getting into the realm of symbolic meanings. So of course in secondness there is always thirdness (at least insofar as secondness is represented in human societies).
  But this is where my Buchler and Wiener mediated understanding of Peirce breaks down, and I need help. In the case of the plastic arts, there is another stage where the symbolic means of representing social meanings breaks free of social meanings.
  On Wednesday evenings when I stand in front of my easel in the art department, I often begin by smearing paint on the linen with a ruler (I really MUST buy a palette knife!). Only then do I work it into an image, and the result is not always an improvement. (My painting technique is pretty rudimentary; I wait for an aleatory effect and then try hard, usually not very successfully, not to destroy it while I create deliberate effects.)
  My colleague, Professor Han, practices calligraphy. But he stopped representing actual readable text long ago: most days he simply produces firstnesses, and only occasionally can you find in his work the representation of part of a Korean vowel or a single, sub-symbolic portion of a Chinese character.
  For both of us, the paint appears to look better when it has broken free of all attempts to represent or indicate and has reverted to something very like a thing-in-itself. (I don't particularly like pretty pictures, and the linguist in me forces me to keep working, but Professor Han is a real artist, and he stops without destroying his aleatory effects.)
  The music we listen to while we paint seems to me to work in the same way: sometimes, of course, there are intelligible words. (I like opera, but the students prefer Korean hip-hop music.) But for the most part it is sound that has broken free of its representative functions and reverted to a thing-in-itself.
  Of course it is possible to attach INDIVIDUAL meanings to these things, just as we do when we are forced to "interpret" a Rorshach ink blot or say what we are thinking when we listen to music. But whether this is a genuine "meaning" or not, and whether this type of data can be said to be "gathered" rather than manufactured (like Wundt's think-aloud protocols that LSV rejected), it does not alter the case: the paint and the music is, to all appearances, "keun-nyang"; it just is.
  But the way it just is cannot be found in nature. No matter how "abstract" a sunset looks, it is not composed of symbolic materials in the way that the smear of paint and the pattern of music is, so it is impossible to think of the sunset as a REFUSAL to mean.
  Clearly, some kind of PLAY is going on in here; we admit this when we say that we have the means to mean things without the meanings. Clearly, it's relevant to some of my classroom data, where kids are producing sounds that sound VAGUELY like foreign language sounds but which are ostentatiously NOT foreign language sounds and are producing movements which LOOK purposive but which are clearly NOT (some of them are amazing pencil spinners already, though they have only very rudimentary handwriting).
  What would Peirce say? Is this firstness...or fourthness?
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Thu Oct 11 16:31 PDT 2007

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