Saturday, May 28, 2016

Après nous: Élogie De La Démocratie en Amérique

Illustration: "More Crows than Eagles"
[W]hile the AIDS epidemic affected a real community of mutual support, the heroin epidemic specifically strikes down people whose communities are already gone. -BoingBoing
A recent article on the blog More Crows than Eagles: More Coyotes than Wolves gives a name to a new social class: the "unnecessariat".  In one of the follow-up comments, the blog author references William Gibson's (2014) science fiction book, "The Peripheral".  I happen to have read that book so it's a source of interesting images, but in a spoiler-free nutshell, it concerns people who are (apparently) peripheral to the machinations of power, and the ability of those people to project themselves into another frame using a "peripheral" device.  This seems like a good metaphor for the status of the author, who has reached a wide audience with this piece.

The link I've drawn between "Unnecessariat" and the Phatic Workshop lies in the slogan "Silence=Death" used as an epigram in the former.  I wondered whether it was possible that this silence-that-equals-death might (in a rather strange way) be a phatic silence.

Ephratt (2008) writes:
Silence is a means of maintaining contact and alliance in the phatic function.
In a straightforward reading of the "Silence=Death" formula, silence refers not to contact, but to the severing of contact.  This is presented here in the form of a not-so-candid historical fiction about the overcoming of said dis-connection, spoken by Hillary Clinton:
[B]ecause of both President and Mrs. Reagan – in particular, Mrs. Reagan – we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it. Nobody wanted anything to do with it.
"Silence" in this construction is represented as blocked communication.  But Clinton's version should be contrasted with a more historically accurate telling of the story, this time from one of the people who produced the iconic "Silence=Death" poster,
I would argue that it was the AIDS activist community that actually created [the image], a community in search of its voice, one that went on to find it through the activation of its own social spaces.
This statement posits a rather different kind of silence, one that exists prior to speaking.  And, interestingly, we can observe that to begin with this silence is itself "passed over in silence" -- i.e., although it is presented as a verbal slogan, the slogan is communicated as-if non-verbally, in the form of an image. And it seems quite clear from the quote above that this particular image did indeed fulfill a phatic function.

The viewer of the image would enter into a relationship with it -- certainly not a "conversation."  Rather, the viewer of the image is necessarily silent, and, in the formula at the heart of the image, it is the viewer's silence that is equated with death.  That, undoubtedly, is an uncomfortable experience, but perhaps also a healing one -- for example, the viewer may engage with this necessary silence as a "moment of silence" in which to mourn.

And, on that note, let us turn the heroin epidemic discussed in the "Unnecessariat" article. 

In previous posts, we've looked at Bruce Alexander's theory of addiction and some of its implications.  In accordance with this theory, the summary from BoingBoing quoted above comes as no surprise.  In Alexander's theory, people turn to drugs (and other addictions) not because of some force in the drugs themselves, but because of a desperate search for connection.

Recent research in neurology seems to partly confirm this theory, by pointing to the existence of "loneliness neurons":
Instead of focusing on the aversive state of being alone, this study looks at how social contact gets rewarded in the nervous system. Then loneliness becomes understandable as a lack of reward.
If we're prepared to accept the folk axiom that all forms of "reward" (drugs, sex, companionship, etc.) are interchangeable in the brain, then it seems reasonable to think that the AIDS and heroin epidemics are both responses to the above-mentioned "lack of reward."

I'd approach that kind of folk psychology with scepticism, but this sort of negative phrasing also has philosophical problems, namely, it belies the creative role that loneliness can play:
Simondon locates [the] becoming of the transindividual, somewhat paradoxically, in solitude. Andre Ling on Intra-Being
It seems to me that the psychological "lack of reward" can also be put in positive terms, as part of a problem-identification phase of existence. If someone is plugged into society, they are, quite likely, already engaged in solving existing social problems. Someone who has "left his home and the lake of his home and went into the mountains" (as per the first sentence of "Zarathustra's Prolog") may be in a position to think of new problems.

Where does this put the Unnecessariat?  It seems to me that in an inverse of the way in which the silence-that-equals-death can be phatic (as per the above analysis), the White Light/White Heat/White Noise of "reward" can readily undermine social contact.  Demonstrating that would need a good bit of work that is beyond the scope of this article, but let me come to the theme suggested by my chosen title for an example.

From "Unnecessariat":
[T]he world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. 
In this setting, the "reward" is economic.  And this situation stands in direct contrast with the idea at the center of de Tocqueville's De La Démocratie en Amérique, which puts forward the following principle on page 1:
The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that the equality of conditions is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived, and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated.
This more than anything is the world that has drifted away.  This can be seen, among other places, in the political sphere, which has entered a post-truth phase. The linked article highlights Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, but Hillary Clinton seems to be a key part of the club -- indeed, in the "Unnecessariat" formulation, so is everybody who matters.

This is effectively by definition.  In the Animal Farm formula, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."  We can add a further detail: that these more-equal animals are more equal "... in and through their mattering."  Here's how T. S. Eliot put it in his rejection letter to Orwell, sent on behalf of Faber & Faber:
And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm – in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.
But of course, he was writing from the perspective of "someone who matters."

Here's how "Unnecessariat" continues:
The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!
Again, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton -- though not especially young -- are both good examples of the kind of self-fulfilling mediated prophecy described here.  The fiction at the heart of the new un-democratic America -- and here we recall that fictio means fashioning, forming, formation -- is that people "matter" the more they are mediated.

And here, I think, is where the idea of an "unecessary class" is particularly apt. In fact, they aren't to be passed over in silence -- at least in Trump's fantasy, they're to be walled off, much in the same way in which the dead are separated from the living in the telling of Baudrillard's Symbolic Exchange and Death. In a summary by Gary Genosko:
[I]t is not so much that death is controlled but rather that it is excluded in the monopoly of global power of the “good, transparent, positive, West,” a system whose ideal is “zero death,” as Baudrillard puts it, and which at all costs neutralizes the symbolic stakes of reversibility and challenge.
In lieu of an actual sugar skull from Día de los Muertos, here is the cover of a comic book about disavowal and opiate addiction that probably does an even better job of communicating the idea I had in mind.
It seems reasonable to argue that the "unnecessary" class, from rural America to the inner city -- and beyond -- is not a victim of demon drugs, but rather, a specific kind of technological progress -- the very technology of exclusion.  The comment on "Unnecessariat" in response to which "The Peripheral" was brought up is as follows:
I am wondering if this economic phenomenon is less about greed and schemes than the inevitable fallout from blind ‘more efficient tech at all costs’ commitments. Overpopulation due to over-efficiency, if you will, in almost just one generation. No one except sci-fi writers seems to have seen it coming.
To wrap up, the elogy is in two parts: First, from an album that's about as old as I am (to within a week or two),

I don't need no arms around me
And I dont need no drugs to calm me.
I have seen the writing on the wall.
Don't think I need anything at all.
No! Don't think I'll need anything at all.


And second, this image, from Poe's tombstone -- referencing "talking birds":




CAVEAT: UNFINISHED WORK

I'd like to finish this off with an "afterword" that connects the ideas here to Jakobson's article.  But I have to wait for another day on that.  Some rabid speculation and gnashing of teeth continues in the comments for now.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

attention hijacking techniques



This came up a couple times in my Google+ feed and was then posted on BoingBoing.  All sources I trust (explicitly if not implicitly).

https://medium.com/@tristanharris/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3

The article is about different ways that online media "hijack" users attention.
The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?
It's been interesting to think these issues over while reading "Metaphatics Metaeverything".  (... I guess this is one benefit of being very slow in reading it -- I can be inspired by a number of different resources as I go along.)

While hardly a scientific or sociocultural breakthrough, one of the main thoughts is that by "aggregating" attention and keeping people involved, social media turns communication into a commodity.   Other recent news is related:
In thinking about what's going on here and its relationship to "fourth quadrant" phatics, it seems relevant to think what corresponding kinds of interactions might have been going on in other societies without these attention aggregating machines.  

For example, the title of the book "A Thousand Plateaus" is inspired by Bateson's anthropological observations in Bali.  (Geertz also references this work.)  Here's how D&G put it:
Gregory Bateson uses the word "plateau" to designate something very special: a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end. Bateson cites Balinese culture as an example: mother-child sexual games, and even quarrels among men, undergo this bizarre intensive stabilization. "Some sort of continuing plateau of intensity is substituted for [sexual] climax," war, or a culmination point. It is a regrettable characteristic of the Western mind to relate expressions and actions to exterior or transcendent ends, instead of evaluating them on a plane of consistency on the basis of their intrinsic value.
Intrinsic value could be another possible (positive) gloss for asemantic in the description of phatic behavior.  Actually, what I think is going on with these "intrinsic values" is something else -- closer to Simondon's theory of information and Sloterdijk's theory of proto-architecture -- namely that phatic behavior does not "inform" the other, but instead has the purpose of giving a mutually-sustaining form to the social order.   Computer scientist Aaron Sloman points out in a couple places that something at least somewhat along these lines is how the word "information" was used in everyday language by people like Jane Austen.

But the "regrettable characteristic" mentioned by D&G seems to be involved in reshaping information-producing systems into profit-making and wealth-concentrating machines.


In some earlier writings I ranted quite a bit about "ethics" and "meta-ethics" and so forth.  I'm not sure if that's worth revisiting.  But it does seem worth keeping in mind the idea of "phatics" when reading the above-linked article on "ethics" -- and also (as a kind of "reading question") to think about how "contact" plays into addictive behaviors.  I plan to expand some of these thoughts in "phatica4" but I didn't want to lose the link above in the meantime.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

comments on "clarity"

My paper on "An Institutional Approach to Computational Social Creativity" has passed the "conditional accept" hurdle that was presented in the first reviews I received from the Seventh International Conference on Computational Creativity:

I think the author has made a good effort to improve his paper. My recommendation is to accept it.

But there are still some problems: 

Nevertheless, there are some points that I believe the author should try to improve for his final version.

My thought in this note is to document a few of the remaining pain-points.  I suspect they're likely to come up in other papers I write, too, at least until I get a lot more practice.  In particular, reviewing some of these issues should be useful preparation for the "Phatics, phaticity, and phatic studies" paper.

Here's how the reviewer continues:
The abstract and the introduction can be better. Please, check the following link:
http://cs.stanford.edu/people/widom/paper-writing.html

The clarity of the document still can be improved. I insist on this point because our main goal as authors is to connect with our readers. So, for instance, see section “4A. Monitoring users”. This section has two main paragraphs; however, they are not properly linked. It is necessary to clearly, maybe it is better to say explicitly, see how the content of the first paragraph relates to the second one. Probably my concern has to do with the fact that the provided information in the text is too compact; so, it might not be that easy for some readers to connect the dots. Please, check the whole document on this respect. 
The link points to a document by Jennifer Widom that seems like a micro version of the book "Writing Science".  It provides some section-by-section tips about technical papers.   This does seem useful.

In connection with the remarks above, I'll extract a couple relevant quotes -- and add my worked exercises.
The Abstract: State the problem, your approach and solution, and the main contributions of the paper. Include little if any background and motivation. Be factual but comprehensive. The material in the abstract should not be repeated later word for word in the paper.  
My current abstract:

Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Memorial Prize-winning work on “the analysis of economic governance, especially the commons” scaffolds an argument for an institutional approach to computational social creativity. Several Ostrom-inspired “creativity design principles” are explored and exemplified to illustrate the computational and institutional structures that are employed in current and potential computational creativity practice.

I think the reviewer is correct -- the problem, approach, solution, and contributions are relatively buried or hidden in that. Let me try again.

Problem: Modelling the creativity that takes place in social settings presents theoretical challenges: there is relatively little agreement about what "social creativity" means.

Approach: Rhodes's classic "4Ps" framework offers a simple and relevant typology. Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Memorial Prize-winning work on “the analysis of economic governance, especially the commons” shows how to build a theory of social creativity with more rigour and detail.

Solution: Several Ostrom-inspired “creativity design principles” are advanced and used to explore the computational and institutional structures that relevant to computational creativity research.

Contributions: These principles frame a literature survey that describes the shared concepts that structure the contexts that support creative work. These concepts are connected to the idea of computational "tests" to foreground the connections with standard computing practice.

...So presumably I can just delete the underlined terms and I'll have a new (slightly longer) and better abstract.

Making room for some longer text is a bit of a challenge but I guess I'll just need to delete some text in order to simplify the presentation.

The reviewer comment that the "text is too compact" seems totally accurate.  It's an 8 page paper, so there's only so much I can say.

Perhaps I can use another idea from Widom's outline to fix some of these compressed sections?

Here's how she describes the introduction:
The Introduction: [...]  Here is the Stanford InfoLab's patented five-point structure for Introductions. Unless there's a good argument against it, the Introduction should consist of five paragraphs answering the following five questions:
  1. What is the problem?
  2. Why is it interesting and important?
  3. Why is it hard? (E.g., why do naive approaches fail?)
  4. Why hasn't it been solved before? (Or, what's wrong with previous proposed solutions? How does mine differ?)
  5. What are the key components of my approach and results? Also include any specific limitations.
Then have a final paragraph or subsection: "Summary of Contributions". It should list the major contributions in bullet form, mentioning in which sections they can be found. This material doubles as an outline of the rest of the paper, saving space and eliminating redundancy.

I'm not going to go through the introduction text here, but instead, will try to see if I can apply these ideas to the aforementioned Section 4A -- assuming that Section 4A can itself only be an introduction to the ideas, given the space limitations.

4A. Monitoring users. [Proposed design principle:] “Tests document the interaction of Producers and Place.”

A shared environmental sensor may notice when a given Producer makes some specific kind of change to the Place. A Producer’s own sensors also notice changes in the Place. In the first instance, what a Producer produces is sensory
data. Information capture is thereby more or less localised, and may be shared more or less widely. For Ostrom, monitoring helps deal with conflicts and provides grounds for sanctions. Here, it becomes clear that monitoring is a requirement for any action or interaction whatsoever. Along with sensors, action requires effectors, or (more broadly) transducers.


Traditional unit tests document the success or failure of implemented code relative to a pre-existing standard. A broader notion of testing can also compare the result of any action with the initial concept, e.g., comparing a painted image to an initial altered snapshot, as done by The Painting Fool (Colton and Ventura 2014). A similar idea can extend to “proprioceptive” sensing and judgement about effected actions. Similar judgements about upstream data allow for filtering and the associated “ecocompositional technique [of] constraining” (Keller 2012). 


  1. What is the problem? 
    • The straightforward view suggested by the idea of "monitoring" is to deploy some global functionality that keeps track of the actions of all participating Producers within a Place.
  2. Why is it interesting and important?
    • Sensors are generally deployed along with effectors or (more broadly) transducers that translate the sensory information into action. So, monitoring is important for modelling any action or interaction whatsover.
  3. Why is it hard? (E.g., why do naive approaches fail?)
    • For example, The Painting Fool compares an initial snapshot (sensory data) to the painted image that it generates in response to that snapshot, and judges the quality of its output on that basis.  This example could be extended to theorise "proprioceptive" sensing and judgement about effected actions more broadly.
  4. Why hasn't it been solved before? (Or, what's wrong with previous proposed solutions? How does mine differ?)
    • Filtering upstream data is another simple application of sensors and transducers; for Keller (2012) this is one of a several important "ecocompositional techniques."
  5. What are the key components of my approach and results? Also include any specific limitations. 
    • The general conclusion is that distributing the monitoring function among participants is vital for social creativity.
That's only a little shorter (after removing the underlined text -- 170 words as opposed to the original's 180) but I think it is a lot clearer.

The straightforward view suggested by the idea of "monitoring" is to deploy some global functionality that keeps track of the actions of all participating Producers within a Place.  But this function can be broken up and distributed out among the Producers themselves. In the first instance, what a Producer produces is sensory data. Sensors are generally deployed along with effectors or (more broadly) transducers that translate the sensory information into action. So, monitoring is important for modelling any action or interaction whatsover.  For example, The Painting Fool compares an initial snapshot (sensory data) to the painted image that it generates in response to that snapshot, and judges the quality of its output on that basis.  This example could be extended to theorise "proprioceptive" sensing and judgement about effected actions more broadly. Filtering upstream data is another simple application of sensors and transducers; for Keller (2012) this is one of a several important "ecocompositional techniques." The general conclusion is that distributing the monitoring function among participants is vital for social creativity.

A further comment to connect this with phatic studies


It seems to me that there are several things going on here that would be really useful for us to theorise (and apply!) in our work on phatics.  For instance, why do the five numbered points in Widom's theory of Introductions seem to work rather well (and, apparently, not just for introductions)?  Perhaps it's because these points help to draw attention to the things that really matter in a given text.  Perhaps one of the ways they do that is to filter out extraneous material. 

To be clear, this is much more in line with a Jakobsonian phatics -- and the changes above don't appear to be about small talk.  Indeed, my writing has previously been criticised for being "overly chatty."

However, what the reviewer said above does suggest that clarity connects with "relationship goals":
The clarity of the document still can be improved. I insist on this point because our main goal as authors is to connect with our readers.
And I think this is why a rejected paper, or even just constructive criticism like I've received here, can feel so embarrassing.  In a La Barrean mode, phatic communication is about understanding (cf. Slide 5 in "A schematization of phaticity").

To further illustrate my thought here, I followed up a now familiar intuition and learned that "Clearness" in Greek is σαφήνεια, where the -φήνεια component seems to link with our cluster of "phatic" terms.

So I think one branch of "applied phatic studies" would be devoted to developing clear communication.

Relating this to some ideas in the recent Phatica 3.1. blog post: 

[socialibility] "is behind the possibility of even phatic communication among them"

This reminds me of the familiar writing trope "consider your reader."

Also, if
"links of fellowship" are "consummated only by the breaking of bread and the communion of food" [or, perhaps, among those] "who [have] attended the same classes, read the same books, seen the same entertainments, and [know] the same people"
...then I think the particular kind of fellowship in academic discourse is very much of the latter sort -- and lack of clarity makes that kind of communization difficult or impossible.

In a simpler or "primitive" communication context, the activities of phatic communion also seem to depend on clarity.  An unclear greeting, or rudeness or lack of concreteness surrounding food -- these sorts of things could probably escallate to all-out war.  Malinoswki refers to "the specific feelings which form convivial gregariousness" - the specificity seems almost as important as the gregariousness.

One final thing to say here is that "clear communication" seems to result in "clear text" -- so the ideas here could start to bridge into our upper-right quadrant of topics related to "future phatics."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Phatica 3.1.


Current plan:

1. Introduction


In the introduction, where we simultaneously demonstrate where we are, i.e. where we:
  • Give a short overview of the strikingly complex history and etymology of the term "phatic"; [effectively a condensed version of chapter 2, where we treat what we want, which is a better understanding of phaticity]
  • briefly describe the matter at hand, i.e. the phaticity in phatic communion, phatic communication, and phatic function; [condensed chapter 3, where we enter into the foreign territory of relevant literature and begin the exposition on the history of phatics]
  • explain the demon of terminological invention and how Phatica has lead so many to coin new phaticisms; [condensed ch. 4, where we adapt to it by demonstrating the wide variety of terms by linking them together somehow, perhaps in light of the textual foundations]
  • summarize the current situation by describing the trends that show most promise for future research; [con. ch. 5, where we get what we want, which is a better understanding of phaticity]
  • list problems with current theories and definitions, i.e. inconsistencies in the general outlook or framework; [con. ch. 6, where we pay for by acknowledging not only the mistakes of the past but possible difficulties awaiting phatic studies in the future]
  • inform the reader of the most general aspects of phaticity that are common to both classical authorities and new innovators, i.e. a general theory of phaticity that looks a lot like where we began; [con. ch. 7, where we return to a familiar situation of contemporary phatic studies and propose a sort of unified theory or perspective]
  • conclude with our main findings; [condensed version of the conclusion, where we find that the familiar situation has changed, namely we now have a better understanding of what we're dealing with].
It's a good idea to write the introduction last, so the current introduction can remain an outline of what's to come until we've written the rest and can start condensing the chapters into paragraphs for the introduction.

2. Phaticity


Give a short overview of the strikingly complex history and etymology of the term "phatic".
Effectively a condensed version of chapter 2, where we treat what we want, which is a better understanding of phaticity.
Here I think we have a good beginning with the paraphrased version of the text in Manuscriptorium, which you sent me on Feb 2. I altered it slightly but the core remains the same. We'll probably have to change, add, and retract much but this seems like a good place to start advancing the narrative.



The term "phatic" has a strikingly complex history. When Bronisław Malinowski came up with the idea of "phatic communion" in the early 1920s, he aimed to describe the communion achieved through speaking alone. Following him, Weston La Barre was the first to treat "phatic communication" explicitly, and Roman Jakobson popularized the concept of the "phatic function", not to mention further variants invented during the ensuing decades.

In this paper we trace the complexity of "phatics", try our best to unite the manifold colorful threads within the framework of "phaticity", and propose a new disciplinary approach that we call "phatic studies". Phatics have been of interest in various research areas touching on the field of communication but the term has become particularly popular in the beginning of the current century. It seems to be high time to give a name to "phatic studies",
which already exists in a diffuse form.

While there is an intuitive simplicity and familiarity to phatics to many linguists, literary, communication, and social media theorists, a fundamental challenge for phatic studies is to bring a degree of consistency to the term’s diverse usage. In practice the term "phatic" may be assigned a specific technical meaning, or may inherent multiple meanings, or may even be used as an open signifier with any and all meanings.

We find that there are three major lineages in the scholarly tradition dealing with phatic communion, phatic communication, and the phatic function of speech, stemming from Malinowski, La Barre, and Jakobson, respectively. The situation gets much more complex and navigation becomes more difficult after John Laver's overview of the communicative functions of phatic communion, which associates phatic communion with the concept of "relationship", and even more so after the Couplands, who treated small talk and relationship goals under the guise of phatic communion, associating it with "relationship goals".

In the literature surveyed for this review, we are dealing not only with a plurality of definitions, but with entirely different levels of abstraction. In order to adapt to this situation it becomes necessary to construct a conception of "phaticity" that can aid investigating the phatic integration between different levels of abstraction from intrapersonal to social. Therefore, we introduce the concept phaticity with the specific purpose of drawing together several implicitly related theoretical concepts from different registers pertaining to different levels.

Thinking across these related concepts, we are drawn to the conclusion that phaticity is an irrevocable component in the production of the social system. In order to understand what this means, we can build the theory up by looking first at the features of the communication situation that pertain to interpersonal integration, proceeding to group, organizational, and institutional integration, and finally to the integration of these within a society.

With this meta-review the authors hope to concretize the domain of phatic studies and provide it with a solid theoretical and empirical foundation. A meta-scientific corollary of this perspective is that further research should aim towards the integration of theoretical foundations and research results to achieve a mutually comprehensive framework for filling in the gaping white spots in our current knowledge.

3. The phatic function of communi(cati)on


Briefly describe the matter at hand, i.e. the phaticity in phatic communion, phatic communication, and phatic function.
Effectively a condensed version of chapter 3, where we enter into the foreign territory of relevant literature and begin the exposition on the history of phatics.
I now realize that the previous chapter as it currently stands is actually a previous version of the outline, just like the introduction is essentially a newer version of the same outline. It turns out that Dan Harmon's clockwise circle can also occur within each of the eight points. Somehow it feels natural that it should do so, but I wouldn't impose it on every subchapter because it may become restrictive. I'll later try to organize the discourse on textual foundations the same way, but for now I attempted to compare the textual foundations and elucidate the characteristics of phatic communion, communication, and function from citations. I'm currently elaborating it further by adding extra developments as bullet points into each cell.



Malinowski's
phatic communion

La
Barre's phatic communication

Jakobson's
phatic function

What it
characterizes

"language
used in free, aimless, social intercourse"

inter-communication
through vocalizations

the set of
linguistic messages operating upon contact

What it
does

"serves
to establish bonds of personal union between people brought together by
the mere need of companionship and does not serve any purpose of
communicating ideas", and serves "the direct aim of binding hearer to
speaker by a tie of some social sentiment or other"
"communicates
a generalized emotional tone through the band so that all its members
come to have the same attitude toward a situation"

serves
to start, "to establish, [to sustain,] to prolong, or to discontinue
communication, to check whether the channel works", "to attract the
attention of the interlocutor or to confirm his continued attention"

Semantic
emptiness

"Are words
in Phatic Communion used primarily to convey meaning, the meaning which
is symbolically theirs? Certainly not!" and "language does not function
here as a means of transmission of thought"

"it is at
least a "pseudo-language," if we are careful to define what we mean by
this" because "we feel communication has taken place when it has not"

"prone to
communicate before being able to send or receive informative
communication"

Illustrative
situations

talking
while sitting together at a village fire, chatting on a work break,
gossip during work, European drawing-room conversation
"the
acute phatic prescience of a mother when her child is concerned", "the
phatic closeness of lovers", "phatic nudges, pats, punches, pawing,
and verbal face-making" at parties, "a constant companion like a
college room-mate"

(telephone)
conversation, inter-locution, dialogue

Relation
to infancy

"But
can we regard it as a mode of action?", implying that the organic
language of infants is primarily phatic because it's an action
language, i.e. a pseudo-language

"close
emotional concern, endlessly repeated contexts, the infant's
idiosyncracies of expression, and the mother's own organic reception
all give her a large and continuing intelligence about the child"

"the first
verbal function acquired by infants"
Estimation
of prevalence

"I
should like to add at once that though the examples discussed were
taken from savage life, we would find among ourselves exact parallels
to every type of linguistic use so far discussed"

"a quite
surprising amount of human communication", particularly "political,
diplomatic, economic, social, theological, philosophical, aesthetic,
and amatory", "remains strictly phatic, for
all its employment of articulate words" and "pretenses at semantic
respectability"

presumably
prevalent enough to merit a discrimination of phatic code and function
(as Whiteley pointed out, and as Reiss problematized)

Relationship
to referential context

"Language
here is not dependent upon what happens at that moment, it seems to be
even deprived of any context of situation", and "the outer situation
does not enter directly into the technique of speaking"
does not
convey "detailed information about the structure of the universe"

presumably
the referential function lapses in greetings (according to Ogden &
Richards)

Evaluative
aspect


"affirmations
of some supremely obvious state of things", "or personal accounts of
the speaker's views and life history"
"expressions
of vague notions or awareness of agreeable, disagreeable, or dangerous
situations and events", "commenting on the infinitely varied passing
world"

"Dorothy
Parker caught eloquent examples: "'Well!' the young man said.""

Sociability

"the
function of Speech in mere sociabilities" is "one of the bedrock aspects of
man's nature in society", "the mere presence of others [is] a
necessity for man"
"is
behind the possibility of even phatic communication among them"
the phatic
function is "the only one" that other social species, such as parrots,
have in common "with human beings"

What
sociability achieves

"atmosphere
of sociability", "a pleasant atmosphere of polite, social intercourse"

phatic
conversations "set and maintain the relaxed emotional tone of the group"

presumably
continuing, sustaining, and prolonging communication

Remarks
about weather

"comments
on weather" such as "'Nice day to-day" become "the binding tissue of
words which unites the crew of a ship in bad weather"

"an exchange of polite opinions about the
weather between two thoroughly sober people [does not have] any real
concern with or bearing upon current or proximate meteorological
events: in this, people are taking the temperature and assessing the
humidity of the inter-individual weather, not the earthly"
"a
limited set of stereotyped phrases of greeting, parting, commonplace
remarks about the weather" (Laver 1975: 218) "in salutations, in
small-talk about the weather and the like, we observe that people tend
to use stereotypical forms of expression" (Nord 2007: 173)

Relation
to action and intention

"The
meaning of any utterance cannot be connected with the speaker's or
hearer's behaviour, with the purpose of what they are doing", "not in
this case to connect people in action"
"sometimes
it binds the group to biologically useful common action", it "is at
least a kind of social hormone, to communicate emotion and to unify
band action", it allows to foresee the actions of fellows, "this mutual
vocal abuse is a symbolic substitute for action, a statement in
inter-band diplomacy which has much the same function as a
politico-economic treatise establishing historic legal title to
territories"

"For
talking birds, however, as their student Mowrer [1950] noted,
vocalization is primarily a means of getting their human partner to
continue communication with them and to give in fact no sign of
parting." (Jakobson 1981[1964e]: 9)

Propitiation

"another
man's silence is not a reassuring factor, but, on the contrary,
something alarming and dangerous"
"nothing
is more infuriating to some people than a spouse who does not keep up
even a reasonably intermittent flow of phatic reply, but holds to an
unpermitted and thoroughly suspect emotional privacy"

"to check
whether the channel works ("Hello, do you hear me?")"

In-group
/ out-group distinction

"The
stranger who cannot speak the language is to all savage tribesmen a
natural enemy"
"the
conversation of human adolescents [...] consists, almost exclusively,
in such group-conformity-making pejoratives, encomiastics, and
intensificatives", since "often new sub-languages or argots arise
among secretive ingroups like criminals, adolescents, and others with
their own special libidinal ties", this also "asserts a claim of
territorialism"
"messages
primarily serving to establish [...] communication" must be known
beforehand
Friendship
bonding

"the
communion of words is the first act to establish links of fellowship",
phatic expressions "are needed to get over the strange and unpleasant
tension which men feel when facing each other in silence"

"long-continued,
stable, and intense emotional ties for the repeated experience of
contexts by the same particular individuals" are necessary for
development of language, as "no doubt the speech of proto-humans was
still largely phatic in nature"

presumably
friend- and fellowship influence the length of communication and the
use of phatic language

Affirmation
and consent

"always the
same emphasis on affirmation and consent"

"extremely
close organic-phatic libidinal ties, to bring about the blandly
accepted, the multiple taken-for-granted agreements which inhere in and
make up all arbitrary semantic communication"

"and on the
other end of the wire "Um-hum!""

Impatience

"the hearer
listens under some restraint and with slightly veiled impatience,
waiting till his own turn arrives to speak"
"communicating
or seeking to induce merely an endocrine state, emotional state, or
manipulable "state of mind""

"and on the
other end of the wire "Um-hum!"" (again)

Attention

"in
this use of speech the bonds created between hearer and speaker are not
quite symmetrical, the man linguistically active receiving the greater
share of social pleasure and self-enhancement"

white-cheeked
gibbon has four types of expressive vocalizations that can be roughly
be translated into human speech as "hmmm", communicating non-committal
attention

"to attract
the
attention of the interlocutor or to confirm his continued attention"
The
situation

"the
situation in all such cases is created by the exchange of words, by the
specific feelings which form convivial gregariousness", "the whole
situation consists in what happens linguistically"
"constant
association alone, with the only feeble emotional ties, can commonly
carry the burden of much new phatic context", "learned habitual and
familiar situations become more and more burdened by common memory of
specific contexts, more and more colored by individual personal
idiosyncracy, and richer and richer in private emotional connotation"

"a
physical channel and psychological connection between the addresser and
the addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in
communication" (Jakobson 1985[1976c]: 113)

Linguistic
subcode

"formulae of
greeting or approach"

"one
can convey incredible amounts of meaning and evoke large constellations
of understanding merely by a breath noise, a certainly more than
"non-committal" grunt, a lifted eyebrow, a modulated cough, or a
minimal body movement"

"a profuse
exchange of ritualized formulas, by entire dialogues with the mere
purport of prolonging communication"

Congeniality
with  communization

"links of
fellowship" are "consummated only by the breaking of bread and the
communion of food" (Morris's version)

"who
has attended the same classes, read the same books, seen the same
entertainments, and knows the same people" (Ruesch's version)

the phatic
function can operate in hypersemiotic communication (Fiordo's version)

Relation
to phatic acts

the formulae
of greeting and approach can be multilingual, i.e. verbal acts

"phatic
communication precedes the semantic" and it primarily involves
vocalizations, i.e. vocal acts

can be
reduced to attention drawn by body sound communication, i.e. strepital
acts


I think I could write a paragraph or few about each row in this table, and possible add something from newer phatic studies in chapter 4, i.e.


4. The study of phaticity


Explain the demon of terminological invention and how Phatica has lead so many to coin new phaticisms.
Effectively a condensed version of chapter 4, where we adapt to it by demonstrating the wide variety of terms by linking them together somehow, perhaps in light of the textual foundations.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Response to Phatica3 (2)


As a foreword, let me say that your remarks on "story" were very insightful. I was very surprised at how much sense that version of the plan makes. It looks like a sizeable chunch of it, particularly in the beginning, we've already hashed out (beginning with that awesome paragraph that you intralingually translated into a very easily readable text) so that it would really be a matter of going over the already written material and shaping it into mutually agreeable form. I would still make a few revisions but mostly just elaborate the transformation from middle to end, particularly 8. B., which is something that requires some work - I'm thinking of some schematization of the relationships between various authorities on the subject. We've already attempted to systematize the field a bit by compiling that list of relevant authors, so we could report on the most relevant and promising contemporary trends.

But before getting into responding to your remarks I have to continue my response to Phatica3, moving on to the second chapter. I think we've already got enough material in Phatica3 to shape it into a publishable text. So I'd begin with that. But I think it pans out because #2 is "Questions and methods", and the point that needs elaboration - 8. B. - concerns methodological ideas referenced near the middle of Respose to Phatica3 (1), which is about a literal timeline graphic of how the people who cite each other fit together and how to delineate the domain of phatic studies without the outline getting too expansive or becoming blurry. The best guess for proceeding with this topic is a brief overview of Minor usages and Related concepts, and a description of the Cambrian explosion of "phatic ______" terminology and innovative theoretical applications, some of which may go a long way towards investigating the role of modern communication technologies in contemporary human relations, including the possible effects it may have on our modes of communication and new sociotechnological developments that require innovations and re-evaluations in the science and philosophy of human communication. By the way, I emphasize words and phrases that could become prime candidates for inclusion in our first proper draft.

The first quote under "Questions and methods" originates from Feenberg (1989: 33). I'm quite happy with including his reference because his paper was really good (we discussed him in our e-mail exchange). The key phrase I'd emphasize is getting phatic studies off the ground. As reviewers of relevant literature we have a kind of intellectual obligation to invite more interested parties to join the collaborative endeavour to elucidate the role of phaticity in human behavior. We should encourage promising lines of thought and compliment (or complement? - I mean not only approve but also improve) or comment their entries, pointing out aspects that they may be uniquely qualified to elaborate.

Our task is to provide an enticing-sounding initial agenda, in some sense making up the mind of a loose collection of researchers, based on what they've already published and how their research results integrate with other efforts made elsewhere, perhaps even in an unrelated fields. Not only do we have to summarize and clarify current trends but deliberately select satisfactory ideas for future efforts. The content of future research may very well depend upon the already established ideas set forth by current studies. It might be impossible to establish a consensus wherein all parties cast a formal vote but it is more than likely that a thorough review could achieve an inclusive, integrative perspective that closely approaches an ideal consensus, however arbitrary that may seem at the outset. In this paragraph I basically paraphrased Feenberg's quote (1989: 33) and my procedural note about contacting phatic researchers). The original note advised to write them a short summary of our meta-review of relevant literature, and asking their opinions, impressions, and observations.

I wholeheartedly agree with with your idea of interviewing and writing about phatic researchers, and that we should do so at a later date when we have something concrete to show for ourselves (i.e. a paper or two about the subject under our belts). We could attract the attention of those notable folks by tailoring a page or few about how our efforts and theirs are interrelated. Next I'll try to address the research questions you posed so as to clarify some ideas about theory, methodology, and application. This, I think, would lead us from 8. B. to 9. A|B., where we (according to the current plan) evaluate and compare the approaches and orientations surveyed in relevant literature as well as new directions for future work (10. A.) before the final re-evaluation where we evaluate and compare where we came from (textual foundations) and where we're going (new directions). The outcome should be pretty coherent and consistent.

1. Is it possible that the textual foundations of phatic studies - i.e. phatic communion, communication, and function - can be distinguished in three epistemological dimensions: a) the empirical study of phatic communion in human groups, social interactions, and public discourse; b) the theoretical study of phatic communication in mono- and multimodal mediums; and c) the meta-theoretical investigation into the phatic function of speech and writing, bodily behavior, social action, and objects or built and virtual environments (not excluding the bio-, eco-, and zoological). In other words, phatic studies can be divvied up between analysis, synthesis, and mathesis, or: a) Malinowski examined the function of speech in pure social intercourse; b) La Barre combined this new-fangled speech function with contemporary linguistics, anthropology, and primatology, and; c) Jakobson schematized phatic function and attributed it to a universal feature of any form of communication (contact), greatly aiding in establishing it as a (meta-)theoretical staple in the humanities and social sciences.

I would say that it's certainly possible. I introduced the Leibniz-Deleuzean "mathesis" into this discussion because I believe we could find a way to bypass both Whiteley and Lévi-Strauss (who outlined the levels of investigation). I think it's doable because it has already been done. Juri Lotman was a postcard-buddy with Lévi-Strauss (French was Lotman's third language, if I'm not mistaken), and developed a theory of semiotic modeling systems that more-or-less correspond to Lévi-Strauss's levels of investigation, and follow the logic of meta-systems: roughly, the study of signs in natural language and everyday life; the study of technical metalanguage used to study signs in natural language and everyday life; and finally the meta-scientific study of how technical metalanguage is studied. I think I've treated this subject briefly before in this blog (I'm having a déjà vu), i.e. how a meta-reviewer is several times removed from real life because she does not try to make sense of reality as it is, unmediated, but of how reality is conceptualized by those who study how people make sense of reality. This runaway train can go on unimpeded and sometimes results in research which, while interesting to read, is so caught up in footnotes, marginalia, and details that it amounts to no imaginable practical importance. (I'm meandering, aren't I.)

2. The development of the field of phatic studies depends upon an autocommunicative process within the diffuse group of researchers investigating phaticity. More popular and comprehensive papers represent a form of meta-scientific communication that establishes coherence and consistency as well as some sort of self-description, self-orientation, and self-motivation for the phatic line of thinking. For more integrative research efforts someone needs to weave together the strands of phatic texture found in numerous sources. An enticing-sounding initial agenda, i.e. a self-description that orients present and future research efforts toward a common route based on past research, and would consequently motivate more coherent and consistent scientific correspondence.

As Feenberg (1989: 35) points out, the outcome of metaphatic weaving should be a unifying overview that can be relied upon in order to interpret phatic studies, i.e. integrating various viewpoints, approaches and findings so as to initiate a new round of debate, elaboration, and consolidation. Without this ever-growing work of definition and improvement we cannot hope to achieve a sense of accomplishment and direction. Phatic studies require a common code for framing its history and delineating its directions of promising progress.

3. There is a "we" when individual I's interact and collaborate, becoming constitutive participants in an emergent system simultaneously separate and indivisible. The key symbol of community belonging in phatic studies is of course the common usage of "phatic" as a relevant terminological feature but the essence of community-ness is not limited with a common stock of knowledge or mutual awareness and should ideally include mutual influence. In other words, actual communicative contact may differentiate a sense of community from the fact of community. While numerous researchers may have many identical views arrived at via different routes, without an evident relationship of give and take they can scarcely be called a community. This response is largely based on Adrian Peace's (2013: 109) discussion of the sense of community but it's far from only promising source.

Vincent Miller (2015: 2), for example, writes about the influence of recent developments in communication technologies, especially the novel affordances for the previously impossible amount and frequency of contact between alternative, minority, and dissenting accounts. Instead of academic circles and schools of thought we are positioned in an increasingly visible network of mutual awareness and influence. Easy access to stored and forgotten information or unpublished and unorthodox opinions makes the landscape we hope to navigate and supply with roadsigns increasingly vast and complex. It is nevertheless possible that converging research interests will lead to a reinvigoration of this nearly centennial conversation about purely social forms of communication.

4. Communication systems and networks can be viewed in terms of part-whole relations, growing hierarchically through the integration of levels from intrapersonal to societal processes, penetrating several interrelated layers of groups, organizations, and institutions. That a human person is inextricably a part of the social organization that provides it with signs, language, and texts - not to mention codes and representations in other sign systems - is undoubtable. People constitue and are constituted by their circle of society.

There is a bounty of suggestions towards this conclusion, a great chunk of which employ the concept of phaticity in some form or other. For example, Algirdas Greimas (1982: 59) discusses the concept of contract and how it is necessary to recognize that any form of communication has a preliminary phatic undergirding that enables communicators to enter into a "contract", understood as an intersubjective relationship that effectively modifies the status of communicators in some way of other. According to his interpretation, the contract involves a tension and a relaxation, i.e. a well-disposed or mistrustful expectation and a response to the expectation. (I'll try to elaborate Greimas' interpretation below because his ideas are actually pretty fun to play around with.)

5. What are the preconditions for communion to become labor? This is a good question worthy of an article-length answer delving into the details of Julia Elyachar's perspective and how it has been applied and developed further in the half-decade since the inception of this term. Because phatic labor and infrastructure originate from the anthropological study of community infrastructure and economic transactions we would do well to consider the economic studies that subscribe to Elyachar (I've gathered a small handful of such studies but have yet to consult them, exactly because it might lead to novelties we're not ready to consider and place in our emerging phatic studies framework).

As far as I can currently tell, Elyachar's phatic labor raises a poignant question that should be taken into account before proceeding. Namely, the idea that phatic labor establishes economic relations becomes problematic when it is taken into account that one of the primary characteristics of phatic communion is that it is a social engagement motivated by social needs in a leisurely situation. While it is true that the women Elyachar reports on engage in casual conversation perhaps without the explicit goal of finding a path to a certain product or service, it is doubtful if phatic labor is devoid of the implicit aim of achieving something practical. This aspect could probably be analyzed quite succinctly with the aid of Henk Haverkate's (1988) concept of pseudophatic communion. (I looked into it and found that no-one has made any use of his insight in this regard. It'd be nice if we did.)

6. The origin of the social fabric, field, matrix, system, perspective, etc. is a question phatic studies is uniquely predisposed to untangle. It is likely that phaticity not only contributes to its existence but that the phylogenetically earliest means of communization, i.e. nonlinguistic vocalizations and body movements, are necessary preconditions for intersubjectively significant referential communication and the highly complex social fabric we are woven into. As far as generalities go this subject is extremely fertile. But when getting down to specifics there's a veritable Tohuwabohu of propositions.

Thus far my best guess as to how to treat this subject is to employ Ruesch's levels of abstraction and demonstrate the role various forms of phatic communi(cati)on play in the integration between different levels. Since it's pretty much the only systematic approach that can facilitate the multitude of domains the concept of phaticity has infiltrated and overtaken I think it's doable. But I'd set myself some time aside to go over Ruesch's writings and figuring out how to piece it together so that it would be equally elegant and explanatory. So at this point there's really more hope and fanfare than actual results, but the hope is great so there's that. (Sidenote: it might be a good idea to hash this out by playing around with common phatic metaphors, i.e. social lubricant, oil, gearl or glue, etc.).

7. In case of trolling or verbal harassment I think we could slightly subvert the discourse on phatic image and conceptualize the captivation of targeted messages. From the top of my head I'd call it aggressive addressivity. The latter term I picked up from a paper about Bakhtin and Peirce, so that addressivity designates the property of the message that makes the addressee an intended target receiver. According to this concept, every message - even those addressed explicitly to no-one - is implicitly addressed to someone, whether real or unreal. In the case of verbal harassment we could elucidate the ways a message (almost violently) captures the addressee's attention.

The selection of phatic themes available for dissecting this topic is quite broad. It actually poses an interesting problem: how would someone detach from and terminate contact with online bullies, especially if the latter are taking every possible step to attack your real-world occupation, relationships and prospects in life. It's a bit related to typomania (i.e. you cannot not read something written or said to or about you) but with the added tinge of aggression and abuse. It's a compelling subject but we'd need to familiarize ourselves with relevant literature for more poignant points of convergence.

8. The successful implementation of pre-fabricated signs, i.e. phatic politeness routines, is an interesting question. I actually thought long and hard about this very subject recently, particularly about what the "function" in phatic function really means. It's supposedly the role that a given code element plays in an utterance. But then again I subscribe to Katharina Reiss's (1982) critique that the phatic function is an inextricable function because all communication involves contact as a presupposition. Unlike the metalingual function, which is operative only when language is used to talk about language, the phatic function operates in all language use, basically, in some form or other.

But I also think that it might be possible to construct a model of effective phatic communion by first abstracting the qualities that characterize it, and then hypothesizing the conditions for successful phatic communion, prime among them being the so-called relationship goals. In other words, whether the phatic communion has a positive outcome or not could probably be measured or qualified by the aspects Malinowski pointed out, i.e. social pleasure and self-enhancement. But it could also include La Barre's generalized emotional tone and unified group action, or Jakobson's prolongation of communicative contact. The best contribution in this regard is quite accidental: some authors add "developing" in between Jakobson's three phases, "establishing", "maintaining", and "discontinuing". I'm not sure if developing follows maintaining or if they're competing, but the sense of relationship development could be one way to approach successful phatic functioning.

9. Apophatic and kataphatic are perhaps too theological for our purposes. The best we could do, I think, is to treat these cognates - along with lymphatic and emphatic - when we finally take on etymology and the clues you gathered from that Greek colleague. At some point we might have to actually address the paradox of "the speech function of speech" and how the broader significance of phaticity is oftentimes in painful contrast with the strict meaning of the original root.

In truth I just don't know where the kinship between "phatic" and words like "fame" and "phenomenon" would lead us. When I throw φατικός into Google Translate what I get is "affirmative" (same in Estonian). This might not be accidental because Malinowski's supplement does indeed contain the phrases "affirmations of some supremely obvious state of things" and "Always the same emphasis of affirmation and consent". It seems probable that we would need to ask a Greek or go roundabout and see if any Greek authors have written something about phaticity that would allow more insight into the semantics of it.

Now, since you posed these research questions in order to elucidate possible research methods. As I understand it, posed these questions by searching for question marks in the meta-phatic posts. But I didn't track down what inspired them, so these answers were improvisations. It's basically a form of cross-talk, the kind some semioticians say is a source of creativity and new information. Nevertheless, they felt like valid questions and I gave near-adequate suggestions towards approaching them. It was a lot of text so I'll try to summarize:
  1. There are several ways to divvy up the field or domain. We could go with Lévi-Strauss's levels of investigation, Lotman's modeling systems theory, or something like analysis-synthesis-mathesis.
  2. Our task is to weave together various strains of phaticity, engage in some work of definition, and present an enticing-sounding initial agenda for phatic studies.
  3. We can tie phatic studies with various socioanthropological theories of social organization and emphasize the role of phatic communication in the process of social formation.
  4. There is a long history of mereological (part-whole) thinking in phatic studies, most notably perhaps Jakobson and Ruesch, who treated the subject explicitly.
  5. Elyachar's phatic labor and infrastructure should be re-evaluated in light of recent studies on the subject, and other theoretical concerns in the field.
  6. Ruesch's levels of abstraction could be used to present a systematic account of how phaticity influences the integration of an individual into social communication systems.
  7. Trolling and verbal harassment is an interesting topic that can be approached from the phatic perspective, but it would require some extra work.
  8. It might be possible to abstract the characteristics of successful phatic communion by looking intended and achieved relationship goals.
  9. Cognates of "phatic" could lay the groundwork for a more philosophical follow-up paper.

References

  • Feenberg, Andrew 1989. The Writter World: On the theory and practice of computer conferencing. In: Masor, Robin and Anthony Kaye (eds.), Mindweave: Communication, Computers, and Distance Education. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 22-39.
  • Greimas, Algirdas Julien 1982. Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary. Translated by J. Courtés. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Haverkate, Henk 1988. Politeness strategies in verbal interaction: An analysis of directness and indirectness in speech acts. Semiotica 71(1): 59-71.
  • Miller, Vincent 2015. Phatic culture and the status quo: Reconsidering the purpose of social media activism. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 1354856515592512.
  • Peace, Adrian 2013. The phatic finger: Public gesture and shared meaning on the highways of the Australian Outback. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 24(1): 99-114.
  • Reiss, Katharina 1981. Type, Kind and Individuality of Text: Decision Making in Translation. Poetics Today 2(4): 121-131.

Monday, May 2, 2016

remarks on "story"

From https://twitter.com/RickandMorty/status/717852604684840960

I think the ideas in "Phatic Agency" and "Phatic Interference" give us several potential "New Directions"-style end-points to connect up with (I'm picking up a thought I started in a comment here).

That is, thinking in terms of the Harmon story circle, the upper-right quadrant could be devoted to Foundational stuff, and the upper-left quadrant could be devoted to the more futuristic ideas about agency in objects, AI, and so on.  However, the bottom-half of the story circle still feels a bit blurry for me.

Possibly in the lower-right we would develop the "From six to nine: An elaboration of sign-functions" framework (used in the slide deck) and in the lower-left use these dimensions to develop a survey focusing on "networks" -- not just through our selection of content, but also methodologically, by taking up the idea of a network analysis (in the spirit of "the medium is the message")?

~~

So (following the figure above) another possible paper outline might be something like this, with text in bold parts indicating that many of the key ideas are already developed:

1. A. Malinowski describes phaticity in society (text from "Response to Phatica3").
2. B. La Barre and Jakobson head in more fundamental and more abstract directions (text from "Response to Phatica3").
3. A|B: We read the three theorists against each other informally, to sum up and develop an initial framework of analysis (slide 7): "It's not about meaning.  It's about understanding.  And attraction."
4. A. Malinowski re-represented using the "six-to-nine" formalism (slide 8). "Malinowski seems to contradict himself on the matter of referentiality"
5. B. La Barre and Jakobson using the "six-to-nine" formalism (slide 9, slide 10). "La Barre is really treating non-referential (nonlinguistic vocal) communication; Jakobson technicalizes phatic communion by setting it on the contact feature."
6. A. Literature survey 1: Textual foundations for textual foundations (slide 4).
7. A. Literature survey 2: Immediate influences of the textual foundations (slide 5).
8. B. We read several 1990s-2010s authors against each other using a network (citation/intertextual reference) analysis, connecting back to literature found in part 6 and 7 where relevant (TBD, main papers collected in "Metaphatics Metaeverything" and elsewhere; with some methodological ideas referenced in papers near the middle of "Response to Phatica3").
9. A|B. We evaluate our own analysis and methods from part 8 against the ways others who we have surveyed are working (TBD)
10. A. "New directions 1" --- phaticity in society reprise -- survey of the most interesting ways in which others are re-writing or paraphrasing Malinowskian questions for today's world (TBD, possibly drawing on our list of "Cognates and correlates in other fields")
11. B. "New directions 2" -- survey of the most interesting La Barrean and Jakobsonian contributions, including own main conclusions and questions for future work (TBD, possibly drawing on our list of "Cognates and correlates in other fields")
TBD=To be done.

Here A represents a hypothetical "standard Malinowskian storyline," and B represents the La Barre/Jakobson (and later, Rebane-Corneli) storyline, which is possibly a sort of long-term coup d'état.

~~

And a few off-the-cuff theoretical remarks that could potentially apply to parts 8 and 9 of that outline.

While I'm thinking about stories, in a couple of recent papers I found the following reference useful:

Kim, J.; Cheng, J.; and Bernstein, M. S. 2014. Ensemble: exploring complementary strengths of leaders and crowds in creative collaboration. In Proceedings of the 17th ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work & social computing, 745–755. ACM.

They make the following comment, which in itself is rather obvious but which has some interesting implications:
A story is not a modular presentation of ideas but a multi-layered work consisting of interdependent characters, plot elements, and settings.
My response was:
[E. Ostrom's] theme of local scale suggests more and less representative examples. For instance, academic research is currently organised in a much more segmented and localised format than Wikipedia. Modularity is one of three features that are hypothesised to support commons based peer production (CBPP) (Benkler 2002). However, CBPP requires not just decomposability into modules but relatively fine granularity of these modules, and as well as a low cost of integration to bring disparate pieces of work together once they are completed – possibly “subsidised” by an assistive technology, like Wikipedia’s metadata systems. Creative and scientific writing, at the level of individual papers or books, tends to miss features that would allow this work to scale (Kim, Cheng, and Bernstein 2014).
That said, the technology of inter-textual references does allow academic work en masse to grow at a large scale, in a sort of wiki-like or blogosphere-like way -- even though individual papers are not massively-multiple collaborations in a hands-on-the-keyboard sense. The integrative "glue" seems to be precisely what we would examine in the network analysis; and I think we could account for it in a theoretically relevant way.

For instance, I think we might be able to argue that this glue is not just a matter of the third-person-referential/phatic/typomaniacal, but somehow also connected with human mouthiness, and La Barre's protological statement about mouths:
in the beginning [was] the organ of human inter-individuality
The mouth being one of several physical "portals" of the body, and perhaps the one most justifiably described as "a portal to another world."

If (for a moment) we were to flesh out our theoretical structures from "skinny" networks to more "fleshy" surfaces, we would see things like this appearing:
https://math.temple.edu/random/ManifoldWithBoundary.gif
Indeed, for quite some time I've been interested in thinking about the structure of academic communication -- so, for example, I wonder if a given text might "weave" a structure similar to the one pictured above, which then only makes sense when it is hooked up with other related texts.

Although some contemporary theorists are (justifiably) concerned with answering:
What kinds of representations are sufficiently expressive to account for the hierarchical conceptual relationships of concepts?
Lawrence W. Barsalou (1993): Flexibility, Structure, and Linguistic Vagary in Concepts: Manifestations of a Compositional System of Perceptual Symbols. In:  A. Collins, S. Gathercole, Martin A. Conway & P. E. Morris (eds.) Theories of Memory. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hove.

...In my opinion, "story" will require still-more complicated representations -- they are "multi-layered," but that's not all!  Even more challenging is the assertion that stories are not simply "modular" -- which means that hooking various texts together may be necessary but is probably not sufficient for sense-making.

For instance, the first image above shows the A story and the B story overlapping at key points in the overall plot (A|B), and in my outline above I included "read X against Y" at these points of overlap.  In the 8-part story circle these are also points of transition (NEED/GO, TAKE/RETURN), into and out of the core part of the story that takes place after the preface and before the final summing up.  Perhaps a conflict situation like "A|B" or "read X against Y" helps the reader find him- or herself in the story.

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Since the network analysis stuff seems to need the most work, I'll start by reviewing the references on that, and aim to write my "part 2/3" response to "Metaphatics Metaeverything" with those ideas in mind to see how they develop.