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Re: [xmca] The Sense in Which the Sensory Is Not Artefactual

I am getting a slightly clearer sense here David of what puzzled me in your earlier posting.

I think I just don't agree with the notion that " A relatively unimportant part of higher semiotic functions is corporeal, ... ". Of course this may depend on what we include in the higher semiotic functions, but speech-as-communication should be one of those, and the body-language aspects of speech (which is clearly not just linguistic but a sort of multimedia dance), from postural through gestural to intonational and paralinguistic, would seem to indicate that the corporeal side is essential to communicative effects. And we (a) miss it when we communicate with low bandwidth on xmca, and (b) imagine it back into place as we read.

When I really look at a painting and spend time getting "into" it, I know that I am also subtly moving "in tune" with its visual rhythms, not just in my eye-movement patterns, but in other aspects of my body. I don't know if this has been studied, but I would bet that even breathing rhythms shift somehow when we are in this kind of very "semiotic" visual communion with an artifact. And clearly there is a mediation of this that we would reasonably call emotional, and so emotional-semotic, or whatever better compound term we need.

What I find worrisome is the tendency in our tradition to imagine a "pure" symbolic and to treat it as higher precisely because it, assertedly, relegates the corporeal, and emotional, to a relatively unimportant role. The class ideology there just seems so evident, no?


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Dec 2, 2009, at 3:33 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

Mike has, in his subtle way, gently remonstrated with me for posting elliptical contributions with inscrutable headings. I guess I am somewhere on the autistic spectrum on this list, and not only on the list; I have that effect on students when I talk in English, and for reasons I don't understand very well things sometimes get even worse when I attempt to remedy matters in Korean.

I think it is partly a result of the fact that my mastery of intonation patterns in Korean is much weaker than it is in English (and when I ask my colleagues about intonation patterns in Korean I am sometimes told by otherwise very knowledgeable phonologists that they do not exist!).

And of course intonation and stress have to be replaced by the pale ghosts of punctuation and the oversubtle nuances of word choice on xmca. Precisely because xmca is a form of non-corporeal communication (as Wolff-Michael pointed out to me once) the evaluative intonation and even the object references are lost, and threads come and go attached to much larger ideas.

Let me start at the large idea end. I think that there is a somewhat dangerous tendency in activity thinking to think that human labor, using tools and directed on the environment as an object, is the explanatory principle for social progress, and therefore it must, in some guise or other, also be the explanatory principle for ontogenesis. Since the body is an artefact, and every child comes equipped with one, we may then describe child development as the child's growing mastery of that artefact, including its brain.

But this tendency is a form of Haecklian "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". It ignores the qualitative difference between ontogenesis and sociocultural progress. It collapses forms of mediation that have purely semiotic results with those that have physical ones. It risks measuring the height of the child in miles and missing the role of the imaginary self, the embryonic volition, and the difference between medical interventions in affect and artistic ones.

I agree with Andy (and Jay) that the body CAN be treated as an artefact, and that it is very useful to do so when we are talking about gesture (and also the phonological representation of gesture within speech, that is, intonation and stress). But I also think that when we do this it is more useful to be "upward reductionist" than "downward reductionist".

I agree; there's a link between the body-as-artefact and the development of the higher emotional functions, but I think it's a fairly slender one. A relatively unimportant part of higher semiotic functions is corporeal, else it would not be possible to appreciate ancient literature (or, for that matter, communicate on xmca).

In fact, I think that if the link between the artefactuality of the body and the higher semiotic processes were very robust, I doubt very much if my colleagues would be able to say that Korean lacks intonation at the word level and has a very unexpressive intonation system even at the phrase level, nor would Andy object when I use CAPITALS to try to replace the normal stress patterns of my (stridently hectoring) lecturing style.

One thing I noticed almost right away in the Gratier et al. article is that the pitch patterns and the intensity plots of the two lessons are very different, and in fact are in some sense reversed mirror images of each other. The BC lesson has very strong variations in intensity but rather flatter variations in pitch, while the non-BC lesson has very strong ups and downs in pitch but is rather flatter in intensity.

To me this suggests that the BC lesson is rather richer in intonation contours, while the non-BC lesson tends to stress stress. Of course, one would like to make some generalizing essentializing statement at this point, about English vs. Spanish, or even about melody versus rhythm. But I think there is a much more general, metatheoretical reason for resisting that kind of statement, related to the problem of linking microanalysis and macroanalysis.

A while ago I argued that every good example has two poles; one attached to shared concrete experience and the other attached to abstract thinking. An apple and a half apple can be seen as two objects (one apple and a half) or as one quantity (one and a half apples). I think this ability for a good example to be differentially interpreted is probably relevant to the abiilty to teach diverse classrooms.

I also think that both stress and intonation are necessary for conveying both concrete experience and abstract thinking. That's why it seems to me that Vygotsky is telling us, in Chapter One of Thinking and Speech, not to look for the unity of affect and thinking in vocabulary or in the extremely variable responses that we have to the various meanings of words per se, but to consider instead the evaluative overtones that they have which must be shared before we can say that we have succeeded in communicating. That is what Forster must have meant when he said "Only Connect!"

Habermas argues that "validity claims" are in some sense squatting outside our communications when we communicate. This is rubbish; a contested validity claim communicates every bit as much, perhaps more, than a shared one. People only say this sort of thing when they want to take the human feeling as well as the evaluative intonation and the expressive stress, out of communication. But even in situations where evaluative intonations and expressive stresses cannot be communicated bodily, communicated they must still be. even on xmca we use punctuation or at any rate some of us do some of the time


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