Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (
Date: Sun Jan 15 2006 - 10:27:05 PST

I think that part of the trouble is also in the prevailing opinion that
"thought" is not material. One can understand that the actual production
of speech and its perception (hearing/seeing) is based in the material
transmission of sound/light, but it is still, I think, hard to de-couple
the pair: thought-ideal.
In other words, I think that the prevailing paradigm still is somewhat
"abstract-structuralist-normativist" view that language is just a vessel
for expressing thoughts which are somehow "independent", "non-material",
"esoteric" -- in one word "ideal".
In one sense, if the substance of thinking are concepts, then they could
be understood as "non material", intangible, because they are abstract
and general and can be applied to many actual instances of material
reality. In another sense, concepts are non-material and abstract
because they are not about the perceptible material environment, but
instead, they refer to relations, values, rules, etc. So the question
becomes removed from "language" as a material artifact and a tool and
pushed back to the materiality/immateriality of thought. And there is
the duality -- when thinking is de-coupled from language as material
activity - it is possible to imagine it as being "non-material".

Mike Cole wrote:

>To start with Kevin's question about language and its materiality (and
>remembering that we all have to read "forgivingly" because we read/write out
>of order and with partial understanding of ourselves and others' views)...
>For me it is fascinating that my students have a horrible time realizing
>language has any materiality to it at all. My way of illustrating this is
>to slip into speaking Russian for a few sentences. They can all continue
>me as before, but somehow the ideality has either disappeared or been
>radically transformed (e.g., they might interpret the sounds as a ravings of
>lunatic professor, or someone playing a trick on them). Then I point out the
>phylogenetically ("naturally") they are able to use the MATERIAL sound waves
>produced by my MATERIAL body, a process that we can "see" traces of in a
>mediated fashion on an oscilloscope. So they get the material part and
>remember from some prior physiology class how it works more or less (except
>for the deaf student sitting in the front row who is being signed to,
>another opportunity to
>discuss the material/idea/mediated nature of communication-- my topic in
>this case). Then I ask who in the class understood what I said. These days I
>will get a couple of hands up. Why do they understand me? Because we share a
>past history of mediating our activities through the particular artifactual
>system of the Russian languge. Where did the ideality disappear to for tne
>non-Russian speakers? Etc.
>I am uncertain how much the differences in thinking about
>artifacts/tools/language externalized by Geraldine and her colleagues would
>modify the relevance of
>the actual examples used in the paper. I am still thinking on that issue. I
>have contacted Geraldine and encourage her and colleagues to join the
>discussion, which
>I very much hope they will do. If Peter is around his views contra mine
>would be helpful to think with as well. Who knows, maybe we can ALL learn
>something. We sure have plenty of learning to do!
>On 1/15/06, Kevin Rocap <> wrote:
>>Dear Steve, et al,
>>I'm also reading my messages a little out of order, so I see Mike has
>>situated the word "table" as being material in the sense of "sound
>>waves, hand movements, writing or neuronal activity"...somewhat similar
>>to my list. So if that's the sense, that's clear to me. If there are
>>other nuances, or differing perspectives, I'd be interested in those as
>>In Peace,
>>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

Ana Marjanovic-Shane

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