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[Xmca-l] The Ideological Footprint of Artifacts
The other day I was listening to Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette". It's the
wedding night, and they got to bed. Because they have no alarm clock, they
must listen carefully for the sound of the lark, else Romeo will be
captured by the guards of Verona and hanged.
Romeo is sleeping with one ear open, and he is the first to awake. Romeo
hears a bird and tells Juliette, and Juliette replies:
Non, ce n'est pas le jour.
Ce n'est pas l'allouette.
Dont le chant a frappe
Ton orielle inquiete
(No, it is not the day
That is not the lark
Whose song has struck
Your sleepless ear)
But of course the song persists. Juliette reassures him:
C'est le doux rossignol
(It's the sweet nightengale
The confidant of love!)
And Romeo decides, for probably just for the sake of being able to reverse
roles and sing the song himself, that he will go along with Juliette's idea
and go back to sleep. So then Juliette hears the sound and realizes that
you must leave, helas! And Romeo sings, "Non, ce n'est pas le jour...."
All of which reminded me of the crucial fact that in the sixteenth century
they did not yet have alarm clocks. But when you hear the woodwinds come in
precisely at 1:47:35, what you hear, if you are a modern listener, is an
electric alarm clock.
Now of course, in Gounod's time they no more had electric alarm clocks than
in Shakespeare's. But such is the ideological footprint of artifacts; they
heard the sound of the woodwinds as that of a nightengale, and we hear it
as battery powered alarm clock. Or is it the other way around, and the
alarm is designed to mimick a lark?
Last night we were working on ways of teaching vocabulary which are
GENERALIZABLE. It is of course the case, as Vygotsky points out, that
MEANINGS can be related easily to each other, in one way (hierarchically)
when we teach scientific concepts and in another (sensually,
experientially) when we are not. It's also true that the WORDINGS are
related easily toe ach other, as nouns and verbs, as participants and
processes, and as circumstances. But what kids want are to be able to match
the soundings and the imagery. In most languages this seems arbitrary and
so vocabulary seems a piecemeal affair.
It isn't. As Vygotsky points out, when you go back in time, you find that
there are (at least) three kinds of associative links which must help the
young vocabulary learner. We had the following list of Canadian animals to
teach brought in by a hakweon teacher from Canada:
moose, goose, badger, beaver, eagle, porcupine
With "moose" and "goose' the link is sounding--try bellowing the first like
a moose, and hooting the second like a goose. With "badger" and "beaver"
the link is wording--badgers badger grubs and bother birds, while beavers
are always beavering around with dams and nests. Eagle somehow alliterates
with "eye" and "spy", and "porcupine" suggests a piney, spiney,
Of course, none of these are concepts. All are forms of complex. But all of
them are the ideological footprint, the long shadow, cast by an artefact
down through history.
If you want to hear the lark, you will have to wait to the end of the
opera, where it takes on another meaning. As everybody knows, Romeo dies
before Juliet awakes. But in Gounod's version, he drinks the poison, she
awakes, and they are once again joyful in each other's arms, until he
remembers the poison (a minor detail!) and dies singing...you guessed
"No, it is not the day
That is not the lark...
It's the sweet nightengale
The confidant of love!"
Of course it's absurd (although not quite as absurd as the moment that poor
Rolando Villazon has to wipe the sweat off the end of his nose before he
kisses Nina Machaidze). But it's also somewhat terrifying, as a raw
demonstrating of the ideological footprint of artworks. A single sound has
the power to be a bird in one century, a piccolo in another, and a digital
alarm clock in our own. Artifacts cast a long shadow, even at night.