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Re: [xmca] Hedegaard article
Very interesting applications of these distinctions, David.
Maybe a little too pessimistic for me in saying that more cultures
always means less power. That is often true, of course, but because
what we in the west tend to recognize as Cultures, esp. strong or
dominant cultures, are the ones that, like French or British or German
are highly, maybe even pathologically monological and conformitarian.
Be like the single ideal and only that or you are out, out of the
power game. Nasty, really. And not very flexible or adaptive or
efficient in making best use of the full range of human resources in
the society. This notion of Culture is itself, I think, somewhat
ethnocentric, and in relation to another message I sent recently, a
bit of a fraud by way of ignoring the fuzziness and higher-dimensional
variation and disaggregation of canonical traits that actually occurs.
So it is in effect a cultural ideology that denies power to the
Ruth Wodak, Teun van Dijk, and a large group in the Critical Discourse
community have done a lot of interesting work analyzing the discourses
of racism, anti-immigrant policy, and nationalistic identity politics.
Of course it bears out what you say, but it also elucidates these
metaphors of "impurity", the dilution of the Pure Culture, its
contamination with alien elements, etc. There is also the language of
betrayal of the Pure Culture by those who do not hate and detest, or
at least discriminate against and exclude, the bearers of the
contagion, much less those who actually assimilate some other language
or cultural forms from outside the Reich (as one might say). Not that
this tendency is unique to european racism, one finds an ethnic
variant of it among the Han chinese, Japanese anti-Korean attitudes,
and the religious variant in India in fanatical Hindustva and anti-
Moslem feeling. I wonder, however, how much of the global echoes of
our racism don't somehow derive from it? or haven't been exacerbated
and learned to justify themselves in part from the heritage of
imperialism and colonialism? victims all too often and too sadly wind
up assimilating the attitudes that allow them to become in turn
victimizers. In any case, we do know that in many parts of India, in
Hawaii in certain periods, and in various areas of Africa and
aboriginal Australia, there have been casually multilingual and
tolerantly pluri-cultural communities. Indeed I suspect that if we
looked for more examples, we'd have no trouble finding them. It is
not, I believe, the nature of culture to be exclusive and monological.
There is a certain fluid balance between processes that maintain
cultural forms across generations and those that mix forms from one
tradition with those from others.
Learning more about how this balance works might be an important
contribution to our species longer-term survival. Certainly our
current moment is worrisome.
Wonderful, David, that you are a painter. I am not, but more a viewer
in dialogue with visual forms. Perhaps in terms of "meaning" for
something like color or other concrete visual elements, you are right
that they are more complexive, more locally determined, and less
'conceptual' or translocally coordinative. But whole visual works,
like texts, present us, I think, with genres of perceiving, feeling,
and interpreting that we can ride up to broader cultural and visual-
semiotic practices which do function translocally. Visual anthropology
seems to bear this out, as do semiotic approaches to visual
representation practices. The relations between memory and these
matters are very odd, and perhaps indeed vary a lot between people (as
also between communities; ours being awfully logocentric and visually
unreflective). Maybe some of those 'tricks' you use to reproduce a
face from memory are more like the conceptual units of visual
composition? At least I believe there are such tricks among
professional sketch artists.
best to all,
PS. For visual anthropology I like Nancy Munn; for visual semiotics,
Kress & van Leeuwen on diagrams and ads, LM O'Toole on visual arts.
The classical arguments for the semiotic power of visual forms of
course are from Rudolf Arnheim, and there a lot from ethnographers on
the coordinative and 'higher' functions of visual forms in Thailand,
Bali, and all over. Didn't we have a link here on xmca recently to
that lecture on fractal patterns in African art and architecture?
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
On Mar 5, 2009, at 12:53 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
Your distinction between "higher" and "developmental" is very
useful. But I have this terrible urge to REVERSE it: to make
"higher" the more subjective and psychological sense and
"developmental" the more objective and sociocultural.
So "higher" processes are the ones that help you do stuff, and
"developmental" ones are the ones that help you get by. As you say,
the two things CAN be the same, but they can also differ; getting by
is not always a matter of doing more stuff.
I have always had trouble understanding how language ATTRITION can
be seen as a form of development. I think with your distinction
between "higher" and "more developed" it becomes easy: language
attrition (and more generally pathology, and even death) is
"developmental" (because it is objectively adaptive) but it is not
higher (because it does not actually help you, as a subject, do more
stuff; doesn't extend the radius of subjectivity and in fact
This helps me make more sense of the Hedegaard article. There is an
inherent contradiction between what is "higher" and what is "more
developed" which is papered over in the concept of "the good life".
That is what is bugging Halime, and it's one reason we can see that
she is at a higher level (though, alas, not necessarily more
developed) than Jens.
So the test for "higher" processes is:
a) The hedgehox/fox test. Higher processes have to make you foxy,
not hedgehoggy. Jens knows that readers of scientific books are
foxy, and fairy tale readers are hedgehoggy. Halime knows that there
is an important sense in which Danish culture is not foxier than
Turkish culture; the true fox is the one who masters both.
b) The "restructuring" test. Higher processes restructure lower
processes, but not vice versa. Jens knows that reading restructures
speaking and not vice versa. Halime knows that bilingualism
restructures monolingualism, and it's just for this reason that
monolingualism suppresses bilingualism as a subversive, impure form
of culture. The same is true of other forms of biculturalism, of
course; those who have MORE culture will always have LESS power.
c) The "word meaning" test. Higher processes are always based on
word meanings, though not necessarily on the actual spoken words.
Jens knows that "baby" is one kind of word meaning and "whale" is
another. Halime knows that it is the way she talks and not the way
she looks that marks her out as different.
Like Carol, I am a painter. When I think about color, I think about
it as a complex, not as a concept. I find it VERY hard to remember
precise colors, and almost impossible to draw a face from memory
(even my wife's face, which I've learned to draw by memorizing
separate "tricks" and putting them together rather than by thinking
of her and then drawing). I find it much easier to store word
meanings and memorize texts. I don't know if all memories work like
this, but mine does.
Seoul National University of Education
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