Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom

From: Kevin Rocap (
Date: Sun Jan 15 2006 - 12:12:37 PST

Dear friends,

Well, it helps to stir the pot sometimes ;-)

I like your example a lot Mike. And, in a somewhat unrelated vein, I
often use a similar type of exercise to get people to remember that just
because they don't speak or understand a language different than their
own doesn't mean that everything they already know and can articulate in
their own language vanishes when immersed in that different language
;-) (the old problem of teachers or others believing that a student who
doesn't speak English has little or no prior knowledge to speak of
(literally); the confusion of proficiency in a given language with one's
degree of knowledge or experience writ large).

I think Ana's ruminations and some of what Steve said also get at the
nuances of materiality that I was feeling at a loss about in the
moment. That is, the whole physicality of neurons, sound waves,
gesture, tongue and mouth use, etc. is the part of materiality with
which I am most comfortable in viewing language as material. It seemed
like there was something else I wasn't quite clear about.

It is the if/how of the materiality of language in its relation to the
wider world beyond my body that I thought I was not quite getting
(though I intuitively can't think of language, concept, word,
thing/action-in-the-world as separate, or "dual" in any sense either -
I'm just not sure I would always call that interaction, inter-relation,
interdependence: "material" - nor always know entirely what is gained in
framing it as part of a "material"/"ideal" synthesis or hybrid). Does
that make sense?

As to your questions Steve, not to get too Philosophy 101 about the
whole thing ;-), but part of the dilemma is in the Derridean "supplement
of copula" perhaps. You write "can one encounter physical objects that
have no meaning"? And the trick, to me, is in the verb "to have"
being close to an existence claim, i.e., the physical object
intrinsically "has" meaning versus meaning being something that arises
from human subject-physical object interaction. In other words, does it
have meaning when no one is around? (tree in the forest? ;-)) And, as
Derrida suggests, perhaps that is just the bias of a language that
requires constant existence claims given the relative and fundamental
dominance of the verb "to be" (cleverly concealed in your statement in
the verb "to have"), no? (since not all languages have that "to be"

Ana I definitely think you're turning the light on where I was getting
stuck regarding the thought-language "duality", with, perhaps traces of
the good ole dilemma of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. ;-) I feel a bit
like the person who said "I believe the earth is round, but I know it is
flat" - I have scientific knowledge on one hand, but a different
day-to-day "common sense" experience on the other - I "believe" thought
is material but I "know" it is non-material ;-) "Common sense" everyday
cultural tools for approaching thought tell me it's non-material,
potentially against a more scientific perspective, no?

Thanks for all of the good food for thought.

In Peace,

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