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[Xmca-l] Re: The Stuff of Words

David, in this paper https://www.academia.edu/30657582/

if you do a search for "chair" you will see an extended quote from a Hegelian called Heikki who is using production of chairs rather than tables as an example for concepts, after which you will see my critique (with which I am sure you will agree) and then if you flip to the mention of "chair" at the bottom of page 7 you see a surprising thing about the production of chairs which illustrates Mike's point about how pencils are carriers of historical practices.


Andy Blunden
On 1/05/2017 4:58 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
And tables carry with them the practice of eating "at table" and meeting a the board room table etc., it not that the table carries the idea of table but is the bearer of practices, which have refined the size and shape of tables for eating, talking, etc. LIkewise pencils are for cursive writing on paper. not scratching hieroglyphics into clay.

Great quote from Mike! There is a LOT of resistance to this idea ... everywhere. It smells of Marxism.


Andy Blunden
On 1/05/2017 4:43 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
Gordon Wells quotes this from an article Mike wrote in a Festschrift for
George Miller. Mike is talking about artefacts:

"They are ideal in that they contain in coded form the interactions of
which they
were previously a part and which they mediate in the present (e.g., the
structure of
a pencil carries within it the history of certain forms of writing). They
are material
in that they are embodied in material artifacts. This principle applies
with equal
force whether one is considering language/speech or the more usually noted
of artifacts such as tables and knives which constitute material culture.
differentiates a word, such as “language” from, say, a table. is the
relative prominence
of their material and ideal aspects. No word exists apart from its material instantiation (as a configuration of sound waves, or hand movements, or as
or as neuronal activity), whereas every table embodies an order imposed by
human beings."

This is the kind of thing that regularly gets me thrown out of journals by the ear. Mike says that the difference between a word and a table is the relative salience of the ideal and the material. Sure--words are full of
the ideal, and tables are full of material. Right?

Nope. Mike says it's the other way around. Why? Well, because a word without some word-stuff (sound or graphite) just isn't a word. In a word, meaning is solidary with material sounding: change one, and you change the other. But with a table, what you start with is the idea of the table; as soon as you've got that idea, you've got a table. You could change the material to anything and you'd still have a table.

Wells doesn't throw Mike out by the ear. But he does ignore the delightful perversity in what Mike is saying, and what he gets out of the quote is just that words are really just like tools. When in fact Mike is saying
just the opposite.

(The part I don't get is Mike's notion that the structure of a pencil carries within it the history of certain forms of writing. Does he mean that the length of the pencil reflects how often it's been used? Or is he making a more archaeological point about graphite, wood, rubber and their relationship to a certain point in the history of writing and erasing? Actually, pencils are more like tables than like words--the idea has to
come first.)

David Kellogg
Macquarie University