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Re: [xmca] The Coconut Eyes of Consciousness
It would seem that part of the price of entering into scholarly discourse is the possibility of being read differently than one reads oneself.
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From: Wolff-Michael Roth <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2009 18:07:13
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The Coconut Eyes of Consciousness
some of your emails are annoying because you apparently attempt to
misread what I have written and what it is about. I am not
UNDEVELOPMENTAL in my views or writing, precisely the opposite. And I
am totally labor movement---I come from the poorest of the poorest and
condemn the ruling relations that lead to the reproduction of
inequity. I practice what I preach (If I preach at all), too, about
anything I say, whether with respect to environment, sustainability,
etc. I really have no clue why you make those suggestions which are
precisely the opposite of what I am standing for. Perhaps Mike can
intervene here and ask David for a little bit more of netiquette.
On 15-Apr-09, at 4:15 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> Last night I read two very different pieces of work on culture and
> cognition, and this morning it seems to me that the differences
> between them are very instructive in the light of:
> a) recent exchanges here on the list on ethnomethodology in general
> and conversational analysis in particular, and
> b) articles by Wolff-Michael Roth and Sungwon Hwang in the recent
> MCA which seem to me to take a nondevelopmental view of solidarity
> by reducing it to a question of ontology and by eliminating the
> “prise de conscience” necessary for the recognition of similarities
> beyond differences.
> c) work we are doing in our Vygotsky seminar on Chapter Six of
> Thinking and Speech, where the "prise de conscience" of Claparede
> and Piaget is rather too placidly translated as "conscious awareness".
> The first thing I read was Edward Hutchins' contribution to the 1987
> Holland and Quinn volume 'Cultural Models in Language and
> Thought' (CUP). It’s called 'Myth and Experience in the Trobriand
> Islands' and it offers two readings of a common Trobriand myth which
> is offered to explain the fact that we do not see the spirits of the
> dead and yet they see us.
> One reading is what the Trobrianders themselves offer: A woman dies.
> Her daughter gives birth. She leaves the land of spirits to grow
> taro for her daughter and grandchild, but while doing this work, the
> daughter flings a soup bowl out the window and strikes her. In
> anger, the dead woman divides a coconut and gives her daughter the
> portion without eyes. From that day on the dead have eyes to see us,
> but we have no eyes to see them.
> The contradictions in the myth (e.g. the fact that the dead can
> carry heavy weights, and are both living and dead, at home and in
> exile on an island which is both real and mythical) are so many
> signs that it there is an esoteric as well as an exoteric
> interpretation. But the very existence of this explanation is known
> only to a privileged few.
> The second reading is based on Freud's famous interpretation of a
> man's toothache: according to Freud, the lives of old people weigh
> heavily on the young, and we all wish the early demise of our elders
> and despise ourselves for wishing it. We suppress the wish, but
> still feel guilty for having wished it, and thus punish ourselves
> through dreams and myths. The fact that we deny that this is what
> our myths mean is taken not as disproof of the hypothesis but rather
> as so much proof of the hypothesis of repression. The analyst always
> thinks we doth protest overmuch.
> Both interpretations admit the possibility of consciousness of the
> true meaning of the myth, but both of them close off this
> possibility to most interactants and seize the coconut eyes of
> consciousness for a priveleged few. The difference is that the
> Trobriand interpretation denies this consciousness to outsiders and
> confers it only to privileged insiders. But the Freudian
> interpretation denies this consciousness to the interactants and
> confers it only upon privileged outsiders.
> The second thing I read was Ron Eglash’s book on African Fractals,
> justly recommended elsewhere on this list. This begins with an
> extremely clear explanation of what fractal geometry really is and
> how it depends on the strictly mathematical idea that infinity can
> be discovered within a finite space.
> Then it shows how the creators of fractal architectures in Africa
> proceed to this consciousness by varied degrees of 'prise de
> conscience': some create fractals exoterically, because they 'look
> pretty', some because it is the hallowed esoteric tradition, and
> some because they are fully conscious of what they are doing.
> Eglash's book is what it demonstrates; it presents what is, after
> all, fairly esoteric knowledge in an exoteric way, a way that allows
> you to read it for pretty pictures, or for arcane knowledge, and
> even for a full mathematical 'prise de conscience'. The very act of
> reading it and understanding it convinces you that all three of
> these things are different moments of the same realization of
> consciousness. If they can think of infinity, so can you. If you can
> think it, so can they.
> But both acts require some work; there is no sense in which the
> concept of infinity within a finite space is presupposed or assumed.
> Consciousnss is "necessary" in the sense that it is mathematically
> determined and not arbitrary. But it's not built in from the get-go;
> after all, termites build beautiful fractal architecture as well,
> but they are, presumably, quite oblivious to both the aesthetic and
> the mathematical properties of what they are doing. Ultimately, the
> concrete form of that the necessary consciousness of infinity in a
> coconut shell takes is a "prise de conscience". That "prise de
> conscience" is a volitional and not a predetermined act.
> In Wolff-Michael’s editorial 'Solidarity and Responsibility', posted
> on his website, he is arguing for a sense of difference that is
> 'ontological' and 'categorical', that is, 'original' in the sense of
> Adam and Eve. He directly opposes this to a necessary consciousness
> of sameness that is developed through the consciousness of
> difference. I think (I hope) that it is this, and not any strongly
> felt anti-labor sentiment, that leads him to denounce strikes as
> ultimately pointless and self-destructive.
> In Sungwon Hwang’s commentary on my own piece, this 'ontological' as
> opposed to developmental sense of me-in-the-other is taken still
> further: 'The first articulation that crosses boundaries of cultures
> and languages presupposes the heterogeneous Self and culture/
> language in which boundaries are already problematized.' (p. 191),
> and 'The development (sic) does not denote the homogenization of
> differences but the non-self-identical movement of an irreducibly
> heterogenous unit.' Difference, then, is only the 'intensification'
> of some kind of pre-existing hybridization.
> At this point I have to admit that we are wading into esoteric water
> that is well over my exoteric head. Fortunately, Sungwon Hwang gives
> an example from my own work with teacher talk about student talk,
> and native language talk about foreign language talk. He says:
> '(M)eta-talk is a constitutive part of talk' (192), 'there is no
> clear distinction between talk and meta-talk once we consider them
> within the whole act of communication'.
> I think what I actually said was that 'talk about talk is not just
> talk, but it is not not talk either'. But I think I'm now willing to
> go a little further: in Sungwon Hwang's sense, the distinction is
> indeed clear and even embodied, because in my data meta-talk is by
> and large the province of the teacher and the teacher alone. It's
> only when we recognize this division of labor that we can form the
> firm intention to break it down. In this sense the transgression of
> the boundaries we see in linguistic hybridization is not at all
> ontological but rather a largely unforeseen and even unpredictable
> In the second part of Chapter Six of Thinking and Speech Vygotsky
> takes Claparede and Piaget (once again!) to the woodshed for their
> explanation of why the various partial functions of consciousness
> (e.g. attention, memory, perception) become conscious in school
> children but consciousness as a whole does not.
> Claparede and Piaget offer the 'loi de prise de conscience', which
> simply states that we become conscious of differences before we
> become conscious of simliarities, and the quasi-Freudian 'loi de
> deplacement' according to which this consciousness of maladaptation
> is transferred from the plane of action to the plane of
> consciousness through a process very like Freudian displacement and
> only after a period of time. (Minick version, p. 189)
> Vygotsky retorts that these laws merely restate the problem and do
> not by any means resolve it: we still do not know HOW we become
> conscious of similarities or HOW this consciousness gets transferred
> from the plane of practical intelligence to the plane of verbal
> If anything, Claparede and Piaget have made it LESS clear how
> children overcome the 'maladaptation' that shows them difference but
> not similarity and LESS clear how knowledge can be 'displaced' from
> the world of direct action the realm of indirect representations.
> By the end of the chapter, Vygotsky offers a solution, and it’s
> really the same exoteric ethnomethodological solution as Eglash,
> just as the non-solutions offered by Piaget and Claparede seem to
> partake of the same primevalist exoterica offered by the
> Trobrianders and by Freud.
> The child becomes conscious of similarity AFTER the child becomes
> conscious of difference for the simple reason that difference is can
> be perceptual, while similarity often requires the formation of a
> higher concept. The child 'seizes consciousness' of these concepts
> by noticing first the DIFFERENCE between everyday concepts and
> science concepts and only then their similarity.
> So it is that similarity emerges from difference, and the coco-nut
> eyes of consciousness are opened by the sundering of the coconut.
> And so Yeats writes:
> 'A woman can be proud and stiff
> When on love intent;
> But Love has pitched his mansion in
> The place of excrement;
> For nothing can be sole or whole
> That has not been rent.'
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> xmca mailing list
Lansdowne Professor, Applied Cognitive Science
MacLaurin Building A548
University of Victoria
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