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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.
David Kirshner
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth@uvic.ca>

Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2009 18:07:13 
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity<xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Cc: <mcole@weber.ucsd.edu>
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  
> development.
> 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  
> intelligence.
> 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
> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca

Wolff-Michael Roth,
Lansdowne Professor, Applied Cognitive Science
MacLaurin Building A548
University of Victoria
Email: mroth@uvic.ca
Internet: http://www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth

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