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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 "impure".

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?

Jay Lemke
Educational Studies
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 contracts it).

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.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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