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Re: [xmca] sense and sensibility
Thanks for your, as always, thought-filled note. MY note was really just my notes on reading Bakhurst one Friday afternoon after class. It has very few original thoughts of my own in it: it's mostly me trying to grapple with Bakhurst and through him Ilyenkov and also with Martin, all of whom think, as far as I can tell, more or less the way I think, except faster, clearer and better.
I need an example. Since we are talking about EMBODIED cognition, take a look at this clip of our national icon Kim Yuna competing in Moscow last night.
I have to admit that I don't really like figure skating (it seems all figure and no ground, and the music almost irrelevant, like looking at a particularly boring form of sculpture with the radio on). And I suppose most non-Koreans look at Yuna and see a gum-chewing jock with a lithe body and well-honed athletic skills.
In order to see that she is also a great artist, you really have to see beyond the embodiment of her performance, and her ability to use her body to evoke ideas that have almost nothing to do with her body at all but everything to do with her cultural endowment.
First (around .046 in the clip), there is a close up on Yuna's face. The expression she has is one we Koreans would call "han". It's originally a Chinese concept, really, although in modern Chinese the word means "hatred", during the Tang dynasty it meant something like sorrow. For Koreans, it means an eternal sorrow, an incurable and infinite one, which cannot be defeated but which can nevertheless be harnessed for finite (often artistic) purposes.
>From 2:08 to around 2:30 Yuna does a kind of spin that suggests the premature opening and then withering of some kind of flower blossom. This too suggests a concept that is actually quite current in Korea right now, where we have a sudden cold snap and a bitter rain that has wrenched the cherry blossoms from the trees, and made way for the first leaves of spring. (The Korean term is "kkotsaem chuyi", or "the ruinous envy of the spring winds for flower buds").
But just as her art is more than her athleticism, I think her ability to evoke a response in me is considerably more than her art or even than her cultural endowment. At the beginning of the video, skating backwards to build up speed, Yuna attempts an axel and almost falls (at 1:06).
I catch my breath. I think she has lost it. I think it was a beautiful rescue. But neither the fall nor the rescue can be explained by artistic intention or cultural endowment, any more than the withering blossom can be explained by "embodiment".
Only when I think about it do I remember things like when I learned to ski as a five year old and I was proud that I didn't fall on my first run, and dad laughed that it only meant I was not skiing hard enough yet. I was born in the USA and my father is non-Korean, but I think that in this now nearly fifty year old remark of my Dad's I can discern the rudiments of "han".
In that sense, "han" is objective and even transhistorical: it exists not in my brain or in my Dad's brain or even in the great Tang poem "Song of Eternal Sorrow" (in which the Emperor Xuanzong must slay his favorite concubine Yang Guifei in order to preserve his empire). It is independent of all of them, and anchored in transhistorical, transcultural and yet completely social experience which is embodied in only a trivial sense (the same sense in which it is "material").
I think that's why it's fruitless to try to draw straight lines between embodied 'activity' and sense making, why I can't accept the purely cognitive approach to metaphor any more than I can accept the purely cybernetic approach to cognition.
For many years, a colleague of mine at Korea University has been trying to show the various areas of the brain that light up during the process of reading, and mapping how these differ in people who are coordinate bilinguals (like me) or compound bilinguals (like most people who learn a second language in school).
I have no doubt--no doubt at all--that something lights up in the brain when I read a word. I know, because my colleague has proven it, that in some people the somethings that light up in English are rather closer to the somethings that light up in Chinese, while in others they are farther away.
But I also have no doubt that this is largely trivial to understanding the actual experience of reading. I am sure that something lights up in the brain when I throw a lever on a voting machine too, and that for some people the somethings that light up when you vote for a right-wing party that apologizes for militarism is different from what lights up when you vote for a working class part--while in others it is probably the same.
In order to understand the things that go into reading or voting, what I need to understand is not in the brain. It's what Luria and Bella Kotik-Friedgut like to call "extra-cortical", i.e. social and in the end semiotic. The brain and the other trappings of embodied cognition are ultimately only the subjective side of things, and it is in signs that we have to seek the true objectivity and even the materiality of consciousness.
Seoul National University of Education
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