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RE: [xmca] sense and sensibility
Dear Jaakko, I will be away until tonight. I can look at this then if you
don?t mind I am so sorry but I have been invited to a wedding
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: samedi 30 avril 2011 05:54
To: Culture ActivityeXtended Mind
Subject: 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
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
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)
>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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