Re: [xmca] neoformation

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Fri Jan 25 2008 - 10:55:37 PST

  A couple of threads ago I was pointing out that Caravaggio's "Sacrifice of Isaac" in the Uffizi had "subjct verb object" grammar, and could be read from upper left to lower right like a text.
  (If you look a the painting carefully you'll see that it's not that simple, because the SVO sentence is embedded in a countervailing command by an angel with a ram. The real grammar of the painting is more like S V [SVO] + Prep + Indirect Object, "The brightly lit angel prevented Abraham sacrificing Isaac with the help of the smiling ram".)
  YOU it was who pointed out that the structuralist mantra "Subject Verb Object" is an AMALGAM, because "verb" is a word class (a so-called "part of speech", and thus paradigmatically defined) while "subject" and "object" are semantic relations (and thus syntagmatically defined).
  Yet this category error on wheels is supposed to be the key that unlocks the door between listening and speaking. Hyosun's kids watch the cartoon, they see Caillou hit Rosie, and they hear "CailloudidyouhitRosie" "No!" They haven't really a clue how the sounds map on to the actions they've seen, but they understand the scene as a whole, the way the five year old's in Vygotsky's Meumann's Stern's photograph experiment understand.
  The problem is when we ask the kids to ROLE PLAY the cartoon. Of course, Vygotsky's kids can do this by subsituting action for words. But in our classrooms the kids have to subsitute words for actions. And in order to say "Caillou hit Rosie" or even in order to answer questions like "Who hit Rosie?" "Who did Caillou hit?" "What did Caillou do?" or even "Did Caillou hit Rosie?" the kids are going to need that bizarre amalgam, SVO.
  So I was asking how kids get from a rough and ready scene by scene and turn by turn analysis to analyzing abstract units within turns. And I was suggesting that they do it, not by projecting the structure of sentences upward onto exchanges (because they don't actually have the structure of sentences yet, and contrary to the innatist hypothesis the fact that something like SVO is highly unnatural is NOT evidence that it is inborn). I was suggesting that they do it the other way around, by projecting the Turn-turn-turn structure of conversation onto single turns.
  When they do this, they get something quite close to sentence structure because PAUSES (silences, in your parlance) indicate a POTENTIAL change of speaking subject, even if the speaking subject doesn't actually change. That's why we get three units in "Fine, thanks, and you?" even though there AREN'T three grammatical units.
  Halliday points out that "subject" is not one thing but THREE: an ideational "actor", a topical "theme", and an interpersonal "subject" (in the sense of speaking or feeling or acting subject).
  The duke presented this teapot to my aunt. (The duke is actor, theme, and subject)
  My aunt was presented this teapot by the duke. (The duke is no longer the theme or the subject, but only the actor)
  These three things often, but not always, coincide, and that is what accounts for the theoretical confusion (that is, the AMALGAM you pointed out).
  It seems to me we've got a similar problem in parsing LSV's theory of development. We've got a number of categories that PHENOTYPICALLY coincide (though not always) and we have to figure out what the underlying mechanism of transition is.
  In LSV's theory of development ("Problem of Age", Vol. 5) he begins by pointing out that ALL the different "phenotypical" theories seem to agree on the basic "periodization" of childhood. Yet NONE of them agree on underlying mechanism which moves the child from stage to stage.
  We get this SAME disagreement when Pentti Hakarainnen advocates a "transitional activity system" in the interstices of the Leontiev/Elkonin scheme. We all agree (roughly) on the stages. We even agree (roughly) on the transition points. But as Professor Hakarainnen pointed out, we need some way of effecting the transition, and that way is not provided by pure description. His "transitional activity system" is (I think) VERY necessary, but only because ANL has VITIATED LSV's original proposal of its crises.
  I think ANL did this ONLY under the political pressure that followed the criticism of pedology and the condemnation of the Narkompros work on crises, but like many of the moves taken by activity theory in the wake of the master's death, it has become a permanent malformation instead of a transitional, disappearing critical neoformation.
  The Yeats poem goes like this:
  That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.)
That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.)
That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope's chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
(Like a long-leggedfly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.)

  In each case we are voices outside the tent/lonely place/Sistine Chapel urging each other to silence. Why is silence so necessary? Why would sound disturb the Master so profoundly? "She thinks that nobody looks." And so she is at once actor and audience, just as Caesar is author and reader, and Michelangelo is painter and viewer. Nothing comes from nothing!
  (By the way, Yeats makes it very clear that there IS a speaker and hearer to the question "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?" As usual, he's talking to a bloody tree.)
  You are right; I shouldn't use the word "denotation" and "connotation" because it's too easy to switch them around (as you just did!). I meant that before the eighteenth century English did not have "znachenie". Words only had "smysl", and language involved a lot of face to face negotiation, just as it does with young children. We can see this preponderance of "smysl" in nonstandardized spelling. It's in response to SEMANTIC ambiguity as well as to ORTHOGRAPHIC ambiguity that dictionaries (esp. Dr. Johnson's) get written.
  Jaynes' thesis (hotly disputed and in places quite dodgy, but nevertheless consistent with sociocultural theory) is this. Lateralization of language in the brain (and therefore consciousness) is a CULTURAL phenomenon.
  Before roughly the second millenium, humans used BOTH sides of the brain to speak, with the voice of "gods" or the voices of the dead originating in the right side and the obeying voice of living humans located in the left (some people STILL do this, and it is a recognized source of schizophrenia). That is how early man avoided the dilemma of Buridan's ass described by Vygotsky.
  Under environmental pressures (exposure to foreigners and foreign languages and especially the development of written language which is lateralized much the same way as the obeying voice of humans), people abandoned the hypothesis of hearing the voice of gods.
  One way they did this was to observe foreigners and see that they appeared to obey their own inner voices which spoke quite a different language from our own, and then reason that if other people had something like an inner voice then we must have it too. In other words, we learn about consciousness from other people and then apply it to ourselves.
  Another way they did this was with the use of auxiliary stimuli, e.g. divination sticks, casting lots, etc. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Like a voice from some dead person, mysteriously lodged in my brain.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Fri Jan 25 10:58 PST 2008

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