Sunday, January 29, 2017

"to encompass and objectify intrinsically ambiguous and contradictory concepts"

In the article whose conceit I borrow, Edward Sapir argues that we use labels, which he characterizes as "empty thrones," in a necessary attempt for ontological and epistemological reasons-to encompass and objectify intrinsically ambiguous and contradictory concepts. Our ability to analyze, or even conduct sociocultural life, is facilitated by a willful finding of commonality among these concepts and by choosing particular labels that help us fix the meaning of concepts ... Sapir's metaphor of enthroning and dethroning through the contextual choice and deployment of contending labels implicates political contingency as well as a struggle over the significance, value, and consequence of particular labels. Insofar as an ethno-racial terrain is involved, labels become polysemic sites in which difference, rather than homogeneity, is made tangible, represented, and foregrounded, as well as challenged and re-construed. (p. 81)
Quoted from Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, "Labels, Genuine and Spurious: anthropology and the politics of otherness in the United States," 2013, pp. 78-100.

We use labels for ontlogical and epistemological reasons. In Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry, Jurgen Ruesch wrote a brief introductory paragraph about "the definition of the context in which communication occurs" (1951: 23). "This context" he says "is summarized by the label which people give to specific social situations"; and adds that "Identification of a social situation is important both for the participant who wishes to communicate and for the scientist who aims at conceptualizing the process of communication" (ibid, 23). So right off the bat, the labels we use to identify the social context of situation for any given form of communication are necessary ontologically for the participant in the act of communicating and epistomologically for the observer's conceptualization of the process. I've used the shorthand meta-phatic labels for marking quotes useful for elaborating this aspect.

To encompass and objectify intrinsically ambiguous and contradictory concepts. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman (1959: 85) discusses how "a performer is to sustain a particular definition of the situation, this representing, as it were, his claim as to what reality is." What reality is is intrinsically ambiguous, owing to the intrapersonal nature of perception and the interpersonal nature of claims about it. These claims are objectified in the definition of the situation, but what they encompass may be contradictory. Elsewhere in the book Goffman discusses how the "maintenance of expressive control" operates via the tendency to accept the same signs and the contingencies of compatibility and consistency in "the over-all definition of the situation that is being fostered" (1959: 51).

Conducting sociocultural life depends upon the ability to analyze the conceptual labels of situations. In "Language In Operation", Roman Jakobson (1981[1964e]: 7) provides a curious case of a complex situation. He overhears a scrap of conversation aboard a train. The man reports to a lady about a radio broadcast. It was a recording of a long-dead London actor performing Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" from 1845. In the poem, a lover is "lamenting his deceased mistress". In the lover's monologue a talking bird is uttering the word "nevermore", which it is implied to have picked up from some unhappy previous owner. Effectively, the radius of communication for this unique word, "nevermore" (in this instance) goes as follows: unhappy bird-ownertalking birdnew ownerthe poemrecorded recitationradio broadcastsome guy having an emotional experience listening to it → and telling a lady about it onboard a trainRoman Jakobson overhearing itwriting the occasion down and publishing itus reading and writing about it. This can be endless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"A Process Philosophy of Signs"

What is a sign? We usually think that it is a fixed relation: a red light signifies ‘Stop’. In his bold new book, James Williams now argues that signs are varying processes: seeing the red light triggers a creative response to the question, Should I stop?
This looks pretty interesting! - I don't have much longer comments on it right now.  I found it b/c the author reviewed a book by Simon Duffy, who came to mind in the workshop I'm sitting in today.

"What is a sign?" is indeed long-standing, reaching to antiquity, but I doubt if the process philosophy approach is as novel as the author makes it out to seem. In the abstract of the book offered by the publisher (Edinburg University Press), this process approach is set "in contrast to earlier structuralist definitions" of the sign. But here the time-line seems odd, since structuralist definitions might have been popular some time ago (earlier from the standpoint of present writing) but Peirce's process-based definition is chronologically earlier than the structural one. In problematizing the sign as "a fixed relation", the author is perhaps unaware how loose and fluid sign-thinking has really been. Personally, I see the real crux of the matter in how fixed a sign is. The structuralist sign is fixed by convention because the structuralists had linguistic signs in mind. The philosophical sign is less fixed and follows logical reasoning from phenomenon to relation to explanation.

The definition "the sign is process" seems to neglect terminological inventions like semiosis, the process of operating with signs. Here, a chiasm between agentive (someone operating with signs) and non-agentive (signs are processes operating as-if on their own) appears. I think it creates an opening for unconscious semiosis, or operations of signs that are quasi-agentive, i.e. the latent operations of signs that go unnoticed for some time before becoming conscious or ones so minuscule and everyday that they are noticed because insignificant (in reading this text you're operating with a lot of signs, literally hundreds of little distinct marks called "graphemes" which combine into words, phrases, sentences, and ultimately some point, perhaps).

The fixity of sign relations this author approaches with the clumsy phrase "some sort of constancy between referent and meaning". Roman Jakobson had a very neat term for this fixity in spoken language - he called it the phono-semantic knot. I won't go into how it made sense from Jakobson's point of view, but the figure itself is pretty neat - removed from spoken language, these knots can be understood as nodes in our "semiotic webs" (or networks of representations, association of ideas, or however one terms it). The process-based point here should be, I think, that constancy is problematic if the sign is understood as a process, and not as something that is involved (etym. "rolled into") a process. This will remain open-ended and questionable, much as it did in Peirce, whose "infinite semiosis" may not have been really infinite, but achieving constancy in "the circle of society", i.e. one's signs becoming fixed when others use them with a certain constancy. "Constancy" is a cool word, though, since it combines both sameness or continuity and repetition or reappearance.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

points of contact

I noticed this:
In 1878, Bergson became a French citizen, although he could have chosen English citizenship. He was accepted at the École Normale along with Jean Jaurès and Émile Durkheim. He discovered Herbert Spencer with enthusiasm, and studied under Félix Ravaisson and Jules Lachelier. -
Bergson is kind of the great-grandpappy of Simondon-style thinking, it would be interesting to use Spencer as a common source (or at least reference point) with Malinowski, per the analysis at The plot thickens (with Herbert Spencer).

The SEP page above also makes this point:
Many philosophers today think that [Bergson's] concept of multiplicity, despite its difficulty, is revolutionary. It is revolutionary because it opens the way to a reconception of community.
 Is it possible that Bergson's idea of multiplicity is a cousin of Malinowski's idea of phatic communion?  Something to follow up on at some point.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

two schematics: social creativity and phatic communication

It occurred to me that these two images make an interesting pair.

The first one is from the 2015 paper about "Patterns of Peeragogy" and gives a map of ways around creating-the-social.

Briefly, the spirit of the map above is to say that we should look for the foundations of social creativity by a regression to the creation of the social. It gives some hints about what we expect to find constituting this Ur-Creative / Ur-Social level.

The second map is from our joint "Afterword" draft, with the core image itself extracted from an earlier slide deck "A Schematization of Phaticity".

In terms of theoretical levels, the second map is still one level deeper than the one above.   As used here, it suggests that each pre-social attitude, factor, or dimension is rooted in feelings or sentiments.  Thus, for example, we might describe the feelings of a newcomer (nervousness, self-doubt, curiosity, and so forth) as well as feelings towards a newcomer (compassion; superiority; maternal, paternal, avuncular, fraternal or sororal instincts; pastoral care, etc.).
I'd suggest that it could be interesting to develop a semiotic/phatic "reading" of social creativity, by applying the sign-function microscrope from the 2nd diagram to the 1st diagram.

Note: the "microscope" has several different "lenses" -- Malinowski seems to set everything very close to "zero" -- whereas La Barre sets things to "one", i.e., one "generalized emotional tone."  And Jakobson fragments the unity of a channel into relationships among several signals.

In short, the first diagram presents a sort of anatomy without covering dynamics, and the second diagram gives the basis for studying dynamics but in itself isn't tied to any particular domain.  It could be an interesting exercise to combine them.

fun and profit

«The most profitable trajectory for a successful science fiction novel in those days was for an sf book to start life as a magazine serial, move on to hardcover publication, and finally be reprinted as a mass market paperback. If you were writing a novel a year (or, say, three novels every two years, which was then almost what I was averaging), that was the only way to push your annual income up, at the time, from four to five figures—and the low five figures at that.» - Samuel Delany, in "Racism and Science Fiction", 1998.
I think this might be the piece of advice on publication strategies that I mis-remembered as "write the book before you seek an advance."  The above plan is reasonably consistent with that strategy however!

Another more contemporary take -- coming from a quite different perspective:
If you want to understand how to get a 7-figure advance in just a few lines, try this: understand how to explain your uniqueness; develop a compelling pitch around a single break-out concept; build and exhibit your massive network and platform; painstakingly detail your previous successes; present all of these things with an Alpha veneer of knowing that your stuff is awesome.
The pithy summary of this one is: “Your network is your net worth.”

There are a few similarities between these two pre- and post-internet strategies, but also plenty of differences.