Re: [xmca] Uptake and Takeaway

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth who-is-at>
Date: Wed Jul 02 2008 - 20:56:57 PDT

Hi All, it was only a few days ago that I checked with Sonja and the
now former editorial assistant on the play issue. I think there are
still a couple of reviews outstanding, and it is therefore that the
play issue is still in the making. We are now into filling the third
volume of 2009, so even if the play issue were complete tomorrow---
all revisions done, it would not come out until 16(4) in 2009.
        To reiterate, the article on play published in the recent issue was
submitted and reviewed independently.

Wolff-Michael Roth, Editor-in-Chief

On 2-Jul-08, at 11:06 AM, David Kellogg wrote:

That's odd. I thought there was going to be a special issue of MCA
guest-edited by Sonia Bauer and Kirsten Radsliff-Clark on Gunilla
Lindqvist's "Playworlds" concept.

Like you, I read Wolff-Michael's editorial, and most of the articles
in the new issue, a couple of weeks ago. But if this really is the
play issue, I am more than a little disappointed.

First of all, Yongho and I submitted something for the play issue
last November. Usually I get some kind of a rejection slip (for my
voluminous collection!) This time, nothing.

Secondly, I had thought we would have a fully dedicated issue, but at
least two articles in the issue have nothing to do with play.

But thirdly, I don't think that Wolff-Michael's editorial really
makes a link between the onotology of difference and the concept of
play, and it seems to me that the link is really crying out to be
made. I suppose it is really not his fault; he did say that readers
were invited to guest-editorialize, and as Mike (Cole) points out,
nobody really took him at his word.

Let me try to do so, and you be ready to catch me if I fall. Here's
the executive summary for anybody who is too busy to read the
voluminous dreck that follows.

First, I'll summarize Wolff-Michael's editorial (because I know that
there is more than one person on our list who only reads the free
articles that get posted for discussion). To save time while I am
doing this, I want combine my summary with a kind of argument. I'm
going to argue that the philosophy of difference is not equal to the
philosophy of difference (fortunately!).

That is, philosophers of difference who use dialectics for the
purpose of deconstruction (e.g. Derrida, Nancy, Bakhtin and to some
extent even Wolff-Michael himself) are not always consistent with
those who use dialectics for the purpose of explaining development
(e.g. Marx, LSV, Volosinov, and, once again, Wolff-Michael himself).
Finally, I'll suggest that play is more conducive to the latter type
of dialectic analysis, because it is very obviously cumulative in the
way it is constructed.

Wolff-Michael begins with the observation that "classical"
interpreters of Marx have tried to reduce Marx's distinction between
use-value and exchange-value to one of point of view. The difference
between a commodity that you trade and a commodity you consume may
start out as a shift in point of view, but it certainly doesn't stop
there. It becomes an immanent contradiction, and immanent
contradictions drive development.

There are two ways to look at this immanent contradiction, but I
think only one of them is promising, that is, developmental. The
first, unpromising, way to look at it I would call deconstructionist,
because it abstracts the element of change over time or includes it
only as a reversible variable. We can see this very clearly in the
housing slump, caused precisely by the contradiction between the
fluctuating value of homes as exchange value and their relatively
stable value as durable articles of consumption.

But another I would call developmental, because it includes the arrow
of time in a non-reversible manner, and each state includes previous
states as a starting point. We can see this clearly in the tendency
of capitalism to evolve from a mercantile state, where exchange
values were clearly subordinated to use values, through a period of
colonialism, in which human labour and capital were increasingly
commoditized for the purposes of consumption very far from the site
of their production. Thence the formation of industrial capital, and
ultimately a form of capitalism based on finance capital, that is, a
type of exchange value in which use value plays an almost negligible

Wolff-Michael then gives language and culture as another example of
the same ontology of difference, and he gets back to this in his
final section when he argues that a lot of what the philosophers of
difference argued in the mid-twentieth century can be seen in the
foundational works of Marxism in the mid-nineteenth if we simply
substitute "sign" for "commodity". The data he uses is taken from a
French immersion class, where the kids are doing exploring "simple
machines" by designing what in England is called a "Heath Robinson"
contraption using simple machines (I think the American term is "Rube

A "Heath Robinson" machine is an example of non-elegant complexity: a
complex set of fairly simple reactions (ball goes down inclined
plane, sets off teeter-totter, which pulls string, releasting
balloon, etc.) usually aimed at some very trivial purpose (opening a
tin, or bathing a cat). An example would be a parody of Walt
Whitman's "O! Captain!" once written in an installment of "The
Katzenjammer Kids", where the kids design a bomb to play a prank on
the Captain:

Oh, Captain! My Captain!
Dis fiendish trick is great!
You slip on der banana peel
Und slide into der gate!

Der gate den sving und pull der string
Vile Fritz und mich is loafing
Der string ignite der dynamite
Und everyt'ing's exploding!

I use this example it includes the object of Wolff-Michael's
interest, which is the hybridization of language systems. In my
example, it happens through the use of pseudo-German vocabulary in
sentences of unmistakably English grammar. Of course, even supposedly
"pure" English does this: I recently noticed that all the nouns in
our elementary school syllabus were of Germanic origin, except for
two ("balloon" and "police"), and thus we had four years to teach the
children that English nouns went "DAda" in a Germanic stress pattern
rather than "daDA" in the French way.

Wolff-Michael's data is actually much more interesting; it is an
example of French metalanguage mixed with English language. One of
the children, Gord, insists on using French to tell the children that
they can speak English, and for the most part, they do. This is
particularly interesting to me, because in a lot of my data we see
the reverse: the "native" language is used as metalanguage, and the
target language forms the actual language. But Wolff-Michael uses
this as an example of "Sabir", something that is neither creole nor
pidgin, but a lingua franca, that is, a linguistic Rube Goldberg/
Heath Robinson contraption, put together for immediate practical
purposes out of bits and pieces one finds lying around in one's head.

Once again, we can take a deconstructionist attitude towards "Sabir"
and we can say that the existence of Sabirs shows that (as Derrida

a) We never speak only one language (because all languages are
Sabirs, and no Sabir is made of only one language)
b) We only ever speak one language (because, once again, all
languages are Sabirs, and no matter how many languages you think you
speak, you are putting together a single Rube Goldberg language of
your own every time you think and speak. In language, the scaffolding
IS the building.)

The problem with this deconstructionist view is that, paradoxically,
it obscures differences by universalizing them. It does not help us
understand how languages develop from one kind of Sabir to another,
why, for example, pidgins give rise to creoles and creoles to
"standardized languages". It just points to the fact that all of
these types of language are hybridized and pidginized and creolized
and non-standardized.

Similarly, it can't explain why and how children go from languages
that consist of complex discourse patterns of the sort we see in
quarrels to complex grammar we see in the more monologic whining of
older children to the complex vocabulary we seen in the language of
scientific and legal argumentation. It just points to the fact that
scientific argumentation is also a kind of playground dispute
conducted by different rules.

Halliday calls his view of language "systemic-functional", and by
that he means an emulsion of two fundamentally incompatible things. I
don't want to call it a "hybridization"; that implies a genetic
metaphor and a resultant stability that cannot apply to systems and
functions. I will call it a salad dressing instead: it is oil and
vinegar, and while the two things can and do work together they will
invariably separate out if you leave the emulsion to stand for any
length of time.

Systemically, language is like a stoplight: we have a choice between
red which always means "stop" and green which always means "go". But
what about yellow? If you are already in the intersection, it means
"go", but if you are not in the intersection yet it means something
like "stop". Even the color is situational; in England they tell you
that a yellow stoplight is not yellow but orange.

Functionally, language is like a car horn: people make noises at us
and we have to look around and see who is making the noise before we
hazard a guess about why they are making it and whether it means
"stop" or "go". But of course the noises that people make are not
simply noises; they have lexicogrammar which can be to some extent
decoded the way we decode "green" and "red", that is, according to
rules that are not functional but systemic, that have to do with
choice rather than merely situation.

Now, Halliday insists that language is the way that it is because of
what it has to do, and of course he is right. That is why pidgins
develop into creoles, and functions develop into systems. That is why
children evolve from home languages that are mostly situational and
functional to school languages that are mostly volitional and
systemic. In both cases, we see not simply endless deconstruction of
one thing into another but development of a simple situationally
embedded form into a more complexly differentiated and thus
situationally more independent form.

But if functional differentiation were all there were to linguistic
differentiation, then it would be impossible to explain the SYSTEMIC
differences we find between modern languages. All languages have to
factor in time and distance when people tell stories, but they do not
do it the same way. There are many different ways of doing these
things, and the choice of system is always a matter of choice and not
just system.

Let me conclude by applying this distinction between a
deconstructionist ontology of difference and a developmental one to
play. Of course, we can deconstruct forms of adult play into much
simpler ones: Roger Callois, for example, points out that the basic
four forms of play (agonistic contests of strength, aleatory contests
of luck, mimetic contests of role play, and "ilinx", or the pursuit
of dizziness and inebriation) exist in both adults and children: the
impulses that make children arm-wrestle will be recognizeably
represented at the Beijing Olympics, playing the stock market is not
qualitatively different from playing "Rock Paper Scissors", playing
"house" is, in embryo, much like playing "The Marriage of Figaro",
and drinking single-malt whiskey is done for the same reasons that
children like to play on swings and merry-go-rounds till they get
dizzy and vomit.

But we can also recognize a developmental sequence here. Some forms
of play encourage repetition, such as the game of "catch". Other
forms of play require that the actions be varied rather then
repeated, and the patterns of variation are realized as roles, such
as "pitcher" and "catcher". Finally, there are forms of play that
require the variation of roles as well as actions, and the patterns
by which roles are varied (taking turns at the bat, changing innings,
playing tournaments, the World Series) are called rules.

I think it's not enough to say that rule-based games are
deconstructible into roles, and it would be entirely false to say
vice versa. It is not true that roles consist of nothing more than
repeated actions, and it is quite wrong to say that repeated actions
are inherently roles. Development is cumulative, and where a process
is cumulative the arrow of time doth hold sway. I think there is, in
the bowels of this observation, something we could salvage for
discussing how ethical decisions emerge from aesthetic ones, and how
rational judgments are enabled by emotional ones. But that is for
another time.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Tue, 7/1/08, Jonna Kangasoja <> wrote:

From: Jonna Kangasoja <>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Uptake and Takeaway
To: "David Kellogg" <>, "eXtended Mind,
Culture, Activity" <>
Date: Tuesday, July 1, 2008, 12:41 PM

Hi David,

The play issue (MCA Vol. 15 number 2) reached me in Helsinki end of
last week. There is another very interesting editorial by Wolff-
Michael on ontology of difference.


David Kellogg kirjoitti 30.6.2008 kello 21.44:

> Mike:
> I'll try hard to do as you say, because I think that the issue of
> affect and intellect (emotion and rational thought) is an almost
> perfect issue for a guest editorial.
> But I don't think I am a perfect candidate for the guest. First of
> all, as you can see from the last line of my contribution below,
> I'm still confused about the difference between microgenesis on the
> one hand and learning on the other.
> Like many sloppy thinkers, I tend to proceed by bold analogy and
> then fiddle with the results until they fit well enough for
> whatever practical purpose I have at hand.
> In this case, I tend to think of the distinction as similar to the
> distinction we find between Darwinian phylogenetic evolution on the
> one hand and Marxian socio-historical change on the other, or
> between Marxian socio-historical change on the one hand and
> Vygotskyan ontogenetic development on the other.
> For me time scale is what makes each of these distinctions both
> distinguishable and indissolubly linked: in each case, the
> distinction is something like that between climate change and
> weather change, and the similarity is similarly similar.
> Phylogenetic evolution is on the scale of hundreds of thousands of
> years, while Marxian socio-historical change occurs within
> centuries. Yet FUNCTIONALLY they appear remarkably congruent: the
> production of coats, so well elaborated in the first volume of
> Capital, is a logical attempt to accelerate the production of fur
> to match the colder climes encountered outside Africa, and the
> production of houses is a socio-cultural response to the dearth of
> caves.
> Similarly, Vygotskyan ontogenesis takes place on the scale of
> years, but functionally it appears as both a reverse-engineering
> and an extension of the socio-cultural development of clothes,
> housing, and of course language.
> In each case the slower process provides the environment for the
> speedier one, but the speedier process lays down a foundation for
> the next phase of the slower one. In each case, the speedier
> process is a functionally similar extension of the slower one by
> radically more rapid means (cultural vs. natural, semiotic vs. tool-
> based)
> I'm afraid I'm still thinking about the distinction between
> microgenesis and ontogenesis in an analogous way. Ontogenetic
> development provides the preconditions in which microgenesis
> unfolds, and in return microgenesis enables the next phase of
> ontogenetic development. And in that sense microgenesis plays
> precisely the role that LSV assigns to learning: it leads
> ontogenesis by socially awakening processes that give rise to
> psychological development.
> I understand perfectly what you said about microgenesis being
> simply a moment of ontogenesis, about it being part of a
> revolutionary transformation rather than the kind of incremental
> and easily forgotten experience that we see in learning. But all
> this suggests to me at this point is some kind of selection akin to
> evolutionary selection (my sloppy analogy ridden thinking again!).
> Some transformations live and reorganize the child's mind, in which
> case we call them microgenetic, but these are a subset of a much
> broader set of transformations, most of which simply persist
> without any radically reorganizing effects or even wither and die
> on the vine. This larger set of transformations are what we call
> learning. I'm afraid that's the limit of my understanding at this

> point.
> The second reason I'm not sure about being the guest editor on
> affect and intellect is that I think we're going to have a special
> issue on Gunilla Lindqvist and playworlds soon. The current issue
> of MCA contains two really smashing articles on this very topic;
> perhaps one of the authors could contribute a guest editorial
> developing the affect/intellect issue, so obviously implicated in
> playworlds, for that issue.
> I think that would work much better to achieve Wolff-Michael's real
> goal, which is establishing a kind of inter-issue coherence, so
> that every issue of MCA appears as an installment of some larger
> project without end. (Not to be confused with a process without a
> product!)
> When is the play issue coming out? Anybody know?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> --- On Sun, 6/29/08, Mike Cole <> wrote:
> From: Mike Cole <>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Uptake and Takeaway
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
> Date: Sunday, June 29, 2008, 5:34 PM
> David et al---
> I come very late to this note and for the moment wish only to
> emphasize my
> appreciation for David
> taking notice of the invitation for readers of MCA to write
> editorials. The
> idea is indeed to take up
> some issue or issues that have appeared in the past and comment on
> them with
> respect to the present.
> This is a different function than summarizing what is to come.
> So far as I know, except for David's Xmca note below, there has
> been no
> uptake of this takeupable idea.
> Why not?
> The door is open. Why not walk in?
> For openers, David, perhaps you could work your comments below into
> a guest
> editorial of your own.
> After all, there are lots of readers of MCA who are not members of
> XMCA (and
> versa vice, alas).
> mike
> On Wed, Apr 23, 2008 at 5:35 PM, David Kellogg
> <>
> wrote:
>> I just got the latest MCA and read Wolff-Michael Roth's guest
> editorial
>> (!). It's really a brilliant idea, to have readers pen the
>> editorials.
> At
>> first I thought it wouldn't work, because readers won't have
> advance access
>> to the issue copy and can't do a "round up" the way
> Wolff-Michael used to
>> do.
>> But of course that's NOT what Wolff-Michael's got in mind at
> What he
>> has in mind is not a round-up but an up-take, something like this
>> conversation which he uses as data between a schoolchild and the
>> head of
>> about a science project involving the measurement of water
>> temperature:
>> D: It's like nineteen.
>> N: Whoo, it's it's GONE UP a degree since this
> morning.
>> Nineteen what.
>> D: Nineteen degrees fahrenheit
>> N: Nope.
>> D: in...Nah. I just fogot it.
>> N: Nineteen degrees what?
>> D: Uh, nineteen degrees I forgot.
>> N: It's not...
>> D: I keep forgetting everything.
>> N: OK, alright. That's right. There's no such thing as being
> dumb.
>> Notice how the words "nineteen" and then "forgot"
> like song refrains
>> through this little two-part aria. First D says it, and then N
>> uptakes it
>> and then D uptakes THAT, and so on.
>> So now we readers get a chance to UPTAKE an issue from a previous
>> issue
>> (Nystrand, Slimani) rather than try to foresee the theme of the
>> present
>> issue. In this case it's Wolff-Michael's own problem of
> emotion and
>> intonation. So even the non-editorial writing reder can get
>> something much
>> more important than a "round-up" for readers who are too
lazy to
> go and read
>> the articles or even the abstracts. We get continuity and coherence!
>> That's my (hugely appreciative) uptake of Wolff-Michael's
> innovation! Now
>> here's a comment on the uptaken issue, the link of emotion and
> intonation.
>> There are really three points in the article where I disagree a
>> little,
> and
>> I think they all point to a slightly larger disagreement:
>> p. 3: Wolff-Michael argues that N's "nineteen degrees
> should
>> normally RISE rather than fall: "...(W)hereas in usual
>> utterances-intended-as questions the pitch level would rise toward
>> the
> end,
>> the pitch level was falling in her utterance as if she were making a
>> statement." This rise is indeed characteristic of
>> "utterances-intended-as-questions" when they refer to
>> AVAILABLE, OLD information, like this:
>> D: It's nineteen degrees Fahrenheit!
>> N: It's nineteen degrees....? (UP)
>> N: It's nineteen degrees FAHRENHEIT? (UP)
>> N: It's nineteen degrees WHAT? (UP)
>> But it is NOT characteristic of
> "utterances-intended-as-questions" when
>> they refer UNSTATED, NOT YET AVAILABLE, NEW information, like this:
>> A: I'm going to be LATE.
>> B: Late for WHAT? (DOWN)
>> A: Late for work!
>> B: Late for WORK? (Incredulously, up-DOWN) It's SUNday! (DOWN)
>> You can see that here the intonation is very consistently DOWN,
>> and the
>> (up-DOWN) movement simply serves to give the speaker more room in
>> which to
>> fall. I think that this is because the default intonation in
>> English (and
> in
>> many other languages as well) is DOWN, and it is this intonation
>> which is
>> used to impart new information. The marked intonation is UP, and
>> this is
>> used to cast doubt or critical distance on old information.
>> This is why, by the way, rhetorical wh-questions tend to be UPly
>> intoned,
>> even when they are written. If I were shamelessly touting my own
>> wares, I
>> might mention at this point that Jungran Yi and I wrote about this at
> least
>> tangentially in an article in Language Awareness:
>> p. 5: Wolff-Michael says "In the speaking/hearing complement,
> collective
>> knowing and consciousness is expressed. This can be assumed to be
>> the case
>> as long as no evidence to the contrary is provided as part of a
>> situation,
>> for example, if one of the speakers were to have said, 'What did
> say?'
>> or "What do you mean?' In such a situation, the sound--and
> even some
>> words has been heard but the marked sense is not evident to the
> listener."
>> These are two VERY different cases as you can easily tell by
>> reading them
>> aloud and noticing that the former has UP intonation while the
>> latter is
>> normally intoned DOWN. In the former, the sound has indeed not been
> clearly
>> heard, and therefore the UP intonation is used to "scroll
> the
>> discourse. But in the latter what is being asked for is new and more
>> specific information.
>> p. 5: Wolff-Michael says that in modern art this kind of "what
> you
>> mean?" is not possible, because "art is for its own sake,
> signifying or
>> denoting something else." A great deal of modern art has TRIED to
> achieve
>> the Quixotic feat of not meaning anything. But it is in principle
>> impossible, a fantasy of the aesthetes in the late nineteenth
>> century;
> even
>> Jackson Pollock admitted that his paintings were INDEXICAL--they
>> meant the
>> actions that were used to produce them, and not simple ICONS. It's

>> not
>> possible to create art without meaning anything; it's like
> Chomsky's
>> supposedly meaningless "Colorless green ideas" (which next
> "This sentence
>> has never before been written and will never be written again" is
> probably
>> the most widely quoted and thoroughly understood piece of Chomsky
>> ever
>> written).
>> It seems to me a larger disagreement looms in Wolff-Michael's
> analysis of
>> the data. He argues that N's response "There is no such thing
> being dumb"
>> is a consolatory move intended to allay the negative affect of D's
>> forgetfulness, and I am sure that is how N sees it. But the object of
>> interest here is affect, and that means that what really matters
>> is how D
>> feels about this "consolation".
>> It seems to me unlikely that this consolation will genuinely lead
>> to a
>> zone of proximal development. On the contrary, by explicitly
> "uptaking" the
>> issue of dumbness which was only implicit heretofore, it seem
>> quite likely
>> to have the OPPOSITE effect.
>> This brings me to the larger disagreement. Wolff-Michael and I
>> are both
>> interested in affect and how thinking emerges from feeling, linked
>> yet
>> distinct. But Wolff-Michael is very much focussing on micro-
>> genesis, and I
>> think that LSV's main concern (as well as my own) was the role of
> affect in
>> ontogenesis, the way in which rational and objective thought emerges
> (again,
>> linked but distinct) from non-rational and affective feeling.
>> Microgenesis is important, and I have no doubt that we can indeed
>> study
> it
>> the way Wolff-Michael has pioneered, through intonation. The
>> problem is
> that
>> as we can see, there are cultural patterns that affect intonation
>> that are
>> quite independent of individual affect: they are concerned with the
> newness
>> or giveness or availability of the topicalized information rather
>> than
> with
>> the speaker's affective attitude towards it, and as with any
> use,
>> the speaker's affect must take these cultural conventions (UP for
>> Information and DOWN for New) into account when the speaker expreses
>> feelings. So to a certain extent we've got a primacy of thinking
>> feeling already, because of the cultural patrimony that the
>> speaker must
>> speak through.
>> On the other hand, it seems to me to be the case that while
>> children like
>> D have a procedural understanding of these cultural conventions,
>> their
>> affective experience is still overwhelming; the logical argument that
> memory
>> is not a measure of intelligence is simply not convincing (and
>> rightly so
>> given the salience of memory in education and in working life). So
>> the
>> take-away is not going to be the same as the uptake, and this cold
>> comfort
>> (how consolation pries!) is unlikely to create a zone of ontogenetic
>> affective development.
>> Can a zone of microgenetic development be said to be a zone of
>> development? Isn't it merely a zone of proximal learning?
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>> ---------------------------------
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