Re: [xmca] Rote, Role, Rule

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 16 2008 - 22:03:38 PST


Very little was known about the Andean quipu in Vygotsky's time. This idea of a mnemonic device carried by runners to remember things can only be apocryphal and not based on any real ethnohistorical research. The runners (chaski) had as much to do with what they carried as did the pony express riders with what was in their saddle bags. Andean ethnohistorical research simply didn't exist during Vygotsky's time.
    The quipu interestingly enough, and the role of cloth/weavings in pre-conquest Andean society in general fits marvelously with the metaphor of culture as weaving ... We now know that quipus were used for all kinds of purposes: censuses, historical records of various kinds, as well as systems for modeling. So they were most likely not just a transition between stages 3 and 4 but examples of stage 4 itself. But these non-phonological, non-iconic systems were never considered "writing" (spectres of Derrida). With few exceptions (e.g., Polo de Ondegardo) the colonizing Spaniards treated all of the Andean cultural developments as irrelevant to what they considered important (gold and silver) or simply as works of the devil. !So they never bothered to try to understand them or conserve them. A real goose story!! And unlike the meso-American codices and their glyphs, which were close enough to recognize as some kind of writing and conserved or were
 carved into stone and resisted the passage of centuries, Andean systems for preserving and transmitting information only existed on cloth or string, which doesn't really last.

    In the current reappropriation of Andean cosmovision, many communities which continued the use of quipu have become centers for their revival, plenty of websites to visit if of interest.


From: David Kellogg <>
To: Paul Dillon <>; xmca <>
Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 2:07:57 PM
Subject: Re: [xmca] Rote, Role, Rule

Amazing! I knew we were missing something with your long absence.
Actually, I didn't mean the mathematical quipu. As I understand it, the quipu was used to send messages the same way as a notched stick or a knotted handkerchief or a string around the finger. (My unreadable marginal notes in "Thinking and Speech" function in teh same way.)
With a quipu, the runner has a mnemonic, but only the runner really knew what the knots were supposed to signify. It wasn't so much a means of communication as an "aide de memoire", a form of self-directed speech which was used to stimulate other-directed speech.
But what you say makes sense. LSV remarks that the first writing systems (think of Mike's Sumerian classrooms) were really numerical systems. These might have been "exapted" as forms of self-directed speech by treating them as having elided arguments (e.g. "iiii" is treated as meaning "four papyri"). These abbreviated forms could then have been elaborated by adding explicit predications (e.g. "I have four rolls of papyrus") and so to the invention of writing.
I think what I find really useful in Mescharykov's contribution is that it manages to reverse engineer LSV's argument into a rather elided form in precisely this way, as four genetic "laws" (sic), which are nevertheless clearly linked:
1) nature-->culture: the differentiation of cultural functions from naturally given ones, e.g. counting from quantity.
2) social-->individual: the differentiation of cultural functions into socially given and then individual functions, e.g. counting by yourself from counting in a classroom.
3) extramental-->intramental: the differentiation of individual functions into externally self-directed and internally self-directed, e.g. verbal memory from self-directed speech (the quipu).
4) spontaneous-->scientific: the differentiation of intramental functions into every-day conceptions based on contextually bound, syntagmatically analyzeable experience and scientific concepts based on universal, paradigmatically analyzed abstract meanings, e.g. foreign languages from native languages.
If what you say is true, then the quipu is just what LSV was looking for: a mediational means that represents a transitional form between the third genetic law and the fourth one!
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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