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[Xmca-l] Re: The Stuff of Words



Well, yes. But if present day conditions are the REVERSE of the conditions
under which Vygotsky was writing--that is, if the present trend is to
subsume labor under language instead of the other way around--don't we need
this distinction between signs and tools more than ever? That is, if sloppy
formulations like "cultural capital", "symbolic violence", "use/exchange
value of the word" are erasing the distinction between a mediating activity
which acts on the environment and a mediating activity which acts on other
mediators and on the self, and which therefore has the potential for
reciprocity and recursion, isn't this exactly where the clear-eyed
philosophers need to step in and straighten us out?

I think that instead what is happening is that our older generation
of rheumy-eyed philosophers (present company--usually--excluded) are too
interested in the "tool power" of large categories and insufficiently
interested in fine distinctions that make a difference. But perhaps it
is also that our younger generation of misty-eyed philosophers are, as
Eagleton remarked, more interested in copulating bodies than exploited
ones. Yet these fine distinctions that do make a difference equally allow
generalization and abstraction and tool power, and the copulating flesh and
the exploited muscles are one and the same.

Take, for example, your remark about the Fourier transform performed by the
ear (not the brain--the inner ear cochlea--I can see the world centre for
studying the cochlea from my office window). Actually, it's part of a wide
range of "realisation" phenomena that were already being noticed by
Vygotsky. In realisational phenomena, you don't have cause and effect, just
as in cause and effect you don't have "association". Words don't "cause"
meaning: they provide material correlates for meaning and in that sense
"realise" them as matter. Meaning does not "cause" wording; it correlates
wording to a semantics--an activity of consciousness--and through it to a
context of situation or culture, and in that sense "realises" it.

So in his lecture on early childhood, Vygotsky says that the stabilization
of forms, colours, and sizes by the eye in early childhood is part of a two
way relationship, a dialogue, between the sense organs and the brain. The
reason why we don't see a table as a trapezoid, when we stand over it and
compare the front with the back, the reason why we don't see a piece of
chalk at nighttime as black, the reason why we have orthoscopic perception
and we don't see a man at a distance as a looming midget is that the brain
imposes the contrary views on the eye. And where does the brain get this
view if not from language and from other people?

David Kellogg
Macquarie University





On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 11:55 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> Personally, I think the first and most persistently important thing is to
> see how much alike are tables and words.
>
> But ... Vygotsky was very insistent on the distinction because he was
> fighting a battle against the idea that speech ought to be subsumed under
> the larger category of labour. He had to fight for semiotics against a
> vulgar kind of orthodox Marxism. But we here in 2017 are living in
> different times, where we have Discourse Theory and Linguistics while
> Marxism is widely regarded as antique. As Marx said "Just as philosophers
> have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make
> language into an independent realm." and we live well and truly in the
> times when labour is subsumed under language, and not the other way around.
>
> Everyone knows that a table is unlike a word. The point it to understand
> how tables are signs and word are material objects.
>
> Andy
>
> (BTW David, back in 1986 I walked in an offshoot of the bionic ear
> project. The ear has a little keyboard that works like a piano keyboard in
> reverse, making a real time Fourier transform of that air pressure wave and
> coding the harmonics it in nerve impulse. The brain never hears that
> pressure signal.)
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
> http://home.mira.net/~andy
> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> On 3/05/2017 7:06 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
>
>> David (and or Mike, Andy, anyone else), could you give a bit more on that
>> distinction between words and tables?
>>
>> And could you say how (and whether) (human, hand) nails are different
>> from tables; and then how nails are different from words?
>>
>> Alfredo
>> ________________________________________
>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>
>> on behalf of David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
>> Sent: 01 May 2017 08:43
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: [Xmca-l]  The Stuff of Words
>>
>> 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
>> forms
>> of artifacts such as tables and knives which constitute material culture.
>> What
>> 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
>> writing,
>> or as neuronal activity), whereas every table embodies an order imposed by
>> thinking
>> 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
>>
>>
>>
>