Saturday, August 8, 2009

The saga will continue . . .

This blog will continue at wordpress (

I'll continue to post from time to time on writing, music, writing music, thinking, teaching and learning, teaching and learning writing . . .

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Transactional Analysis: Scripts or Life-narratives

(From wikipedia [edited])

TA (see Eric Berne, Games People Play [New York: Grove Press, 1964]) introduces the idea of a "Life (or Childhood) Script," that is, a story one perceives about one's own life (a life story), to answer questions such as "What matters?," "How do I get along in life?" and "What kind of person am I?." This narrative is often stuck to no matter the consequences, to "prove" one is right, even at the cost of pain, compulsion, self-defeating behaviour and other dysfunction. (Scripts are addressed most fully in Berne's What Do You Say After You Say Hello? The Psychology of Human Destiny [Grove P, 1972]).


  • A script is a life plan, directed to a reward.
  • A script is decisional and responsive, i.e., decided upon in childhood in response to perceptions of the world and as a means of living with and making sense of the world. It is not just thrust upon a person by external forces.
  • A script is reinforced by parents (or other influential people and/or experiences).
  • A script is for the most part outside awareness.
  • A script is how we navigate and what we look for, the rest of reality is redefined (distorted) to match our filters.

Each culture, country and people has a mythos, that is, a legend explaining its origins, core beliefs and purpose. According to TA, so do individual people. A person begins writing their own script at a young age, as they try to make sense of the world and his place within it. Although it is revised throughout life, the core story is selected and decided upon typically by age 7. As adults it passes out of awareness. A life script might be "to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die," and could result in a person indeed setting himself up for this, by adopting behaviours in childhood that produce exactly this effect. Though Berne identified several dozen common scripts, there are a practically infinite number of them. Though often destructive, scripts can just as easily be positive or beneficial.

[The term comes from "behaviourist" linguistics: a behavioural script is a sequence of expected behaviours for a given situation, routine, habitual or practised, cf. Shrank's linguistic scripts in AI (R.C. Schank & R. Abelson, Scripts, Plans, Goals, and Understanding [Hillsdale, NJ: Earlbaum Assoc., 1977]). Memory is episodic, i.e., organized around personal experiences rather than semantic categories; thus, scripts are generalized episodes or schemas. In behaviour, individuals make inferences to scripts by filling in missing information in the schema; scripts enable case-based reasoning [CBR] on the four R's: retrieve, reuse, revise, retain.]

Redefining and Discounting

  • Redefining means deliberately (but unconsciously) distorting things to match our preferred way of seeing the world. Thus a person whose script involves "struggling alone against a cold hard world" may redefine others' kindness, concluding that others are trying to get something by manipulation.
  • Discounting means taking something as worth less than it is. The person might give a substitute reaction that does not originate as a here-and-now adult attempt to solve the actual problem or choose not to see evidence that would contradict their script. Types of discount can include passivity (doing nothing), over-adaptation, agitation, incapacitation, anger and violence.

Injunctions and Drivers

TA identifies twelve key injunctions that people commonly build into their scripts. These arepowerful "I can't/mustn't . . ." messages that are embedded in a child's belief and life-script:

  • Don't be (don't exist)!
  • Don't be who you are!
  • Don't be a child!
  • Don't grow up!
  • Don't make it in your life!
  • Don't do anything!
  • Don't be important!
  • Don't belong!
  • Don't be close!
  • Don't be well (don't be sane)!
  • Don't think!
  • Don't feel!
In addition, there is the so-called episcript:
"You should (or deserve to) have this happen in your life, so it doesn't have to happen to me" (magical thinking on the part of the parent[s]).

Against these, a child is often told other things he or she must do. These are the drivers:

  • Please (me/others)!
  • Be perfect!
  • Be strong!
  • Try hard!
  • Hurry up!
  • Be careful!

Thus, in creating their script, a child will often attempt to juggle these drivers, example: "It's okay for me to go on living (ignore don't exist) so long as I try hard."

This explains why some change is inordinately difficult. To continue the above example: When a person stops trying hard and relaxes to be with their family, the injunction You don't have the right to exist that was being suppressed by their script now becomes exposed and threatening. They may feel a massive psychological pressure which they themselves doesn't understand, to return to trying hard, in order to feel safe and justified (in a childlike way) in existing.

Driver behaviour is also detectable at a very small scale, for instance in instinctive responses to certain situations where driver behaviour is played out over five to twenty seconds.

Broadly speaking, scripts can be tragic, heroic or banal (or non-winner).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Joseph Heath—Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism

Something new from the co-author of The Rebel Sell . . .

A blurb:
Every day, people use financial claims to support an array of social or political opinions, rooting everything back to the money. But how much of what they say is actually true? Joseph Heath, author of the international bestseller The Rebel Sell, sets out to show how most of our commonly held beliefs about economics are just plain wrong. Free of the financial jargon aimed to confuse unsuspecting citizens, Filthy Lucre draws on everyday examples to show the 6 favourite fallacies of the right, and then the 6 of the left.
An excerpt. An interview.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


It is assumed that maieutics was created by the historical Socrates, because Socrates discusses it in Plato’s Symposium and Thaetetus. But the method may well have evolved out of Orphic practice, to which the idea of reminiscence and the practice of catharsis are central; it was certainly a technique characteristic of the Socratic School.

However, it does differ from what is more typically called the Socratic method, a.k.a. elenchus (elengkhos, "refutation," "testing"), which aims to help the interlocutor understand that what they think is a true idea is really a false prejudice
it aims to correct—or, at least, understand—error (= looking for assumptions, including fumble-rules and leaping/stumbling logic, i.e. enthymemes [a.k.a. “rhetorical syllogisms,” with missing warrants and backings], in their thinking about a question or problem
This is Socrates as gadfly.

Maieutics aims to draw some innate idea from the interlocutor
it aims to elicit truth (= using their experience and expertise to understand their question or problem)
This is Socrates as midwife.

Elenchus works on those who think they know something, but really don’t; maieutics works on those who know something, but don’t know that they do.

Alternatively, the two methods can be understood as parts of a process.

The basic elements of the Socratic dialogue are the question and answer [elenchus—aporia], the debate [maieutics—anamnesis] and the conclusion [aletheia].

So there are three phases:
  1. elenchus: The student responds to the teacher’s question, (hopefully or faithfully) assuming that what they say is true. The philosopher asks further questions until the student comes to the conclusion that what they took to be true was mistaken or a mistaken assumption [= a negative, a.k.a. privative, method or method of doubt—aporia].
  2. maieutics: Now freed from prejudice, the student is invited to continue the dialogue in pursuit of a truth (assumed to be [!]) innate in them [= a positive method or method of invention—anamnesis].
  3. aletheia [“truth”]: Truth, what was hidden [-letheia], is what is revealed [a-letheia] in the process.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Engineering Flow

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi ("Chick-send-me-high") identifies nine factors that accompany the experience of flow in a practice or process, i.e. a "game":

1. You are clear about the rules of the game and your expectations of itand your goals are achievable.

2. You find the game neither too easy nor too difficult (= a balance between skill and challenge).

3. During the game, you focus closely, i.e. intently and narrowly, and . . .

4. . . . adjust your behaviour immediately in response to moves in the game (= an uninterrupted feedback cycle).

5. As a result, you experience a merging of action and awareness, that is, . . .

6. . . . you feel absorbed in the activity itself, yet . . .

7. . . . in control.

8. Thus, the game feels timeless and . . .

9. . . . effortless.

Flow is thus ecstatic (ek-stasis: "outside-standing," i.e. standing outside, or rather, to one side of the everyday world and your everyday concerns) and engaged (en gage: "under pledge," i.e. fully committed to a task, knowing exactly what to do and how to do it).

Csíkszentmihályi conceives of flow as developmental: all going well, you can stay in the "flow channel," in which challenges and skills increase together by increments. This diagram is adapted from Flow (1990, 74):

Starting from position A in Figure 1, you move into an anxiety zone if the challenges of the game increase without a corresponding increase in skills (position B). To get back into the flow channel, any combination of skills improvement and decrease in difficulty will suffice, but the best (or most "fluid") move is a horizontal one, an increase in skills that enables you to move to position D. In a like manner, you can improve your skills while the difficulty of the game holds constant; you move from position A to position C, whereupon boredom sets in. To achieve flow you need to move toward position D by seeking a more challenging job. Of course, then position D becomes the new position A, and the cycle starts all over again.

See "Play and Intrinsic Rewards," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 15 (1975) 41-63 and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1990).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Altermodern Manifesto: Postmodernism is Dead [like it was ever alive!]

By Nicolas Bourriaud, for the Tate Triennial [3 Feb. to 26 Apr.] 2009:
  1. A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation—understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern culture [a.k.a. global or "trans-national" modernity: "borders," "exiles," "energy" (?)]
  2. Increased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live [mobility]
  3. Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universe [itineracy]
  4. Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation [multiculturalism = atomic entities in suspension (cf. colloids), i.e. "rough" aggregates of simple entities; creolism = molecular entities in solution, i.e. "smooth" aggregates of compound entities]: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture [art ex hybridity]
  5. This new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbing [polyglotism]
  6. Today's art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselves [art pro hybridity: "docu-motion," "heterochronia"]
  7. Artists are responding to a new globalised perception. They traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication [art per hybridity: "archive," "viatorisation"]
So, this (like Augé's supermodernity) is another way of saying what Fredric Jameson said many years ago: that postmodernism is just reconfigured, revaluated modernism.

Cf. his manifesto:
Many signs suggest that the historical period defined by postmodernism is coming to an end: multiculturalism and the discourse of identity is being overtaken by a planetary movement of creolisation; cultural relativism and deconstruction, substituted for modernist universalism, give us no weapons against the twofold threat of uniformity and mass culture and traditionalist, far-right, withdrawal. . . .

If twentieth-century modernism was above all a western cultural phenomenon, altermodernity arises out of planetary negotiations, discussions between agents from different cultures. Stripped of a centre, it can only be polyglot. [Thus, "[w]e are entering the era of universal subtitling, of generalised dubbing."] Altermodernity is characterised by translation, unlike the modernism of the twentieth century which spoke the abstract language of the colonial west, and postmodernism, which encloses artistic phenomena in origins and identities [?]. . . .

The artist becomes "homo viator," the prototype of the contemporary traveller whose passage through signs and formats refers to a contemporary experience of mobility, travel and transpassing. This evolution can be seen in the way works are made: a new type of form is appearing, the journey-form, made of lines drawn both in space and time, materialising trajectories rather than destinations. The form of the work expresses a course, a wandering, rather than a fixed space-time.

Themes [ed.]:
  1. energy: sustainability rather than the single explosive force
  2. travel: forms based on the experiences of travel—or travel as the form itself
  3. archive: chaining or clustering together signs from contemporary and historical periods
  4. docu-motion: fact melded with fiction
  5. heterochronia: existing within many times; questioning the notion of what is considered contemporary
  6. exiles: exploring the positives and negatives of exile
  7. borders: crossing not only national borders, but also the traditional artistic borders of form and medium
  8. viatorisation: the viator—traveller—giving movement and dynamism to form.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Marc Augé Interviewed: "Places and Non-places—a Conversation with Marc Augé"

Augé interviewed (cf. Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity [1992; Verso, 1995]):
[1.] For me, place has never been an empirical notion. Anything can become a place, every space can be one, if in one manner or another encounters take place there that create social ties. A space can be either a place or a non-place, or a place for some and not for others. One classic case is the airport, which is a very different case for someone who works there regularly, with colleagues and relationships, and someone who passes through once only, or by chance.

[2.] The second point is that in the sometime nostalgic visions that we have of the past, we tend to consider the new as something that twists the nature of what existed before [past + vs present -]. And so place is good because we meet people and we establish relationships there, while the non-place is bad because there everyone is a stranger to everyone else [i.e. these new non-places are socially estranging].

That was not and is not my intention [i.e. to append valuations to these different spaces—yet is not the positive valuation of space apparent in the extract from "Non-Spaces" below?]. It is necessary to attempt to characterize whatever is new in the contemporary world and, in my opinion, what is new is a change of setting, a shift in references, which implies that spaces are no longer perceived in the same way. Non-places could be seen, approaching them from another vantage point, as the heirs to everything that has created discomfort or annoyance in the history of human spaces [
i.e. these non-places are estranging per se].

However, when reflecting upon the meaning of travel, we should consider that this negative definition of the non-place rules out the possibility of adventure. Encounters often take place in a space that is not yet symbolized, which cannot prescribe social relations; in a nonplace the notion of the unknown, the mysterious appears. Knights errant, the Knights of the Round Table, in the stories handed down to us from the Middle Ages, set off in search of adventure
That is, once upon a time, non-place was positive/cataphatic (i.e. known thru affirmation): it represented adventure and mystery (now it is negative/apophatic [i.e. known thru denial]: it represents rootlessness and estrangement). Perhaps the non-places Augé discusses are positive too?

See Adam Greenfield, "
On making non-place into place":
You know where this definition begins to break down, though? When you spend way too much time in non-place. All of a sudden, in a process that somewhat resembles a figure/ground reversal, these putatively anonymous and interstitial zones take on texture and resolution of their own. . . . [Then, one] can no longer see non-places . . . as entirely flat and featureless: I’ve learned that everything has texture if you see it often enough.

This place/non-place stuff is old hat (viz. Heidegger [in Malpas] and Foucault), but has spawned a new kitsch industry of "aesthetic pandering" for non-places like airports and other transport terminals, supermarkets, multinational corporate retail outlets, etc., as Dylan Trigg suggests at Side Effects; this is not to say that we haven't pandered for place thru the many avatars of Blut und Boden ideology (as Flusser suggests in his discussion of kitsch Heimat-worship): cf. the Heideggerian Edward Casey on place as "the bedrock of our being-in-the-world" (Getting Back Into Place [Indiana UP, 1993] xvi-xvii):
Place, at least in the view of the anthropologist, is a space long taken over by human beings and where something is said about relationships which human beings have with their own history, their natural environment and with one another.
Cf. Augé, "Non-Places," Architecturally Speaking: Practices of Art, Architecture, and the Everyday, ed. Alan Read (Routledge, 2000) 7-12:
Just as imagination takes us forward into the realm of the purely possible—into what might be—so memory brings us back into the domain of the actual and the already elapsed: to what has been. Place ushers us into what already is: namely, the environing subsoil of our embodiment, the bedrock of our being-in-the-world. If imagination projects us out beyond ourselves while memory takes us back behind ourselves, place subtends and enfolds us, lying perpetually under and around us. In imagining and remembering, we go into the ethereal and the thick respectively. By being in place, we find ourselves in what is subsistent and enveloping.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Free Modifiers

Free modifiers (or sentence adjuncts) are grammatical structures that do not sound complete (unlike independent clauses) and that are set off from other structures with a pause (in speech) or a punctuation mark (in writing).

They can be identified by these characteristics:
1. They are not necessary to make the sentence complete.
2. They can be located anywhere in a sentence, beginning, middle, or end.
3. They are most often punctuated with commas.
4. They are usually identified by the first word in the phrase.

There are
seventeen kinds, falling into six groups, namely, one each for five parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition [the other three parts of speech—pronoun, conjunction and interjection—aren't usually used in free modification]) and one comprising five types of clause:
  1. verbal clusters: present participial, past participial, infinitive [= verbal + modifiers or a noun], as is, detached (Jim opened the door, but later closed it)
  2. nominal clusters: noun (A skilful burglar, Jim opened the door [a.k.a. an appositive]), list, such as
  3. adjectival clusters (Curious about the noise, Jim opened the door) [= adjective that emphasises the noun]
  4. adverbial clusters (Unfortunately, Jim opened the door) [= adverb that emphasises the noun]
  5. prepositional phrases (Like a butler, Jim opened the door)
  6. altered clauses: subordinate, free relative (which, for which), free absolute (His fingers trembling, Jim opened the door [= noun + free modifier]), free that (His goal—that the door be open—was achieved), quote-attributing clause
3 positions: initial, medial, final

Note also resumptive (He finally faced his biggest fear, a fear that had plagued him since he joined the team) and summative (He finally faced his biggest fear, a debilitating obstacle that had plagued him since he joined the team) modifiers [N.B. they can modify any kind of word, phrase or clause].

Monday, July 6, 2009


We use commas to prevent possible confusion or misreading, i.e. for semantic reasons, but they have essential syntactical functions too:
  1. to separate independent clauses (those with a subject and a predicate [a verb with or without a complement]) when they are joined by the coordinating conjunctions and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet [the F-A-N-B-O-Y-S] (but not necessarily before and, but, or or when the clauses are short, and not when the and links two verbs [a compound predicate] rather than two clauses)
    The minutes would pass, and then Einstein would stop pacing as his face relaxed into a gentle smile. [N.B. Most people, according to my mother, skip cleaning in the corners; but, she used to say, they don't skip payday.]
  2. after introductory clauses (e.g. beginning with after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while), phrases (i.e. participial and infinitive phrases, absolute phrases, nonessential appositive phrases and long prepositional phrases) or words (e.g. however [transitional expressions], well [interjections], yes or no) [except when the clause or phrase is short and omitting the comma doesn't cause confusion. N.B. 1. Commas are not used after phrases that introduce inverted sentences. N.B. 2. A clause has a finite verb; a phrase does not—though it may have a verbal.]
    When you write, you make a sound in the reader's head.
  3. to set off non-essential clauses, phrases and words (e.g. modifiers, appositives, absolute phrases [a part of a sentence not grammatically connected to anything else]), contrasted elements, parenthetical expressions, interjections
    Some people lie, as my grandmother observed, because they don't know how to tell the truth. The ringed planet, Saturn, can be seen at dawn. His temper being what it is, I don't want a confrontation. Human beings, unlike oysters, frequently reveal their emotions. Language, then, sets the tone of our society. Now is the time, my friend, to stop smoking.
  4. to separate three or more parallel words, phrases or clauses written in a series, including co-ordinate adjectives
  5. to set off all geographical names, items in dates (except the month and day), addresses (except the street number and name), and titles in names
  6. to shift between the main discourse and a quotation

Pagan Singles 1986-2000

An overview from Simon Grigg and a comprehensive listing from the great Trevor Reekie (and a potted history of Nixons/EyeTV):
Pagan was far and away the most successful independent label, and had a massive influence. . . [It] managed to balance indie eccentricity with hits (and indeed was renown for turning those eccentrically indie records into hits) and was a goldmine, much plundered by the majors.

From Trevor's listing (
most of these vids/tracks are online at Sean's Myspace) . . .

PAG 1101 The Nixons - House of Flowers / Sometimes I Think ('93)

Before they went to America and changed their name to Eye TV. I truly loved The Nixons. They were onto a sound.

PAG 1112 The Nixons - Tick Tock / Cold / Shallow Sun / Drone ('94)

Recorded with Malcolm Wellsford. This was to set up the debut album.

PAG 1121 The Nixons - Basement Static / Higher ('94)

The band had all their gear stolen so they recorded an acoustic album. By this time Luke Casey was drumming and they were showing huge potential. They’d done one tour of America.

PACD 1131 Eye TV – Immaculate / Venus / Turn Around / Basement Static ('95)

(Tks 2,3 & 4 were recorded live at CBGB’s, New York). The band changed their name because there was already an American band of the same name. Eye TV toured the States again to support the release of their album there.

ANT 009 Eye TV - Wish It All Away / Call Me / Soul Sane Man / Slave to Love ('97)

Finally Eye TV got close to the hit that took too long to come. Finally radio and Eye TV started to connect.

ANT 013 Eye TV - Just The Way It Is / Whatever You Do ('99)

First big chart single for Eye TV. Huge at radio.

ANT 020 Eye TV - One Day Ahead ('00)

Their 2nd top 20 single in a row. Eventually surfaced on the album Fire Down Below. I saw them play this at Sweetwaters 99 and it soared. They never sounded better.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wuji to Wanwu

The (11th century CE) Taijitu shuo 太極圖說 "Explanation of the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate," written by the Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073 CE; this is his representation of the system of emanations), was the cornerstone of Neo-Confucianist cosmology. His brief text synthesized Confucianist metaphysics of the Yijing with aspects of Daoism and Chinese Buddhism. In the Taijitu diagram, wuji is represented as a blank circle and taiji as a circle with a center point (world embryo) or with broken and unbroken lines (yin and yang).

Zhou's key terms Wuji and Taiji appear in the famous opening phrase wuji er taiji 無極而太極, which Adler notes could also be translated "The Supreme Polarity that is Non-Polar!"

Non-polar (wuji) and yet Supreme Polarity (taiji)! The Supreme Polarity in activity generates yang; yet at the limit of activity it is still. In stillness it generates yin; yet at the limit of stillness it is also active. Activity and stillness alternate; each is the basis of the other. In distinguishing yin and yang, the Two Modes are thereby established. The alternation and combination of yang and yin generate water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. With these five [phases of] qi harmoniously arranged, the Four Seasons proceed through them. The Five Phases are simply yin and yang; yin and yang are simply the Supreme Polarity; the Supreme Polarity is fundamentally Non-polar. [Yet] in the generation of the Five Phases, each one has its nature. (tr. Adler 1999: 673-74)

Robinet explains the relationship:

The taiji is the One that contains Yin and Yang, or the Three (as stated in Hanshu 21A). This Three is, in Taoist terms, the One (Yang) plus the Two (Yin), or the Three that gives life to all beings (Daode jing 42), the One that virtually contains the multiplicity. Thus, the wuji is a limitless void, whereas the taiji is a limit in the sense that it is the beginning and the end of the world, a turning point. The wuji is the mechanism of both movement and quiescence; it is situated before the differentiation between movement and quiescence, metaphorically located in the space-time between the kun 坤, or pure Yin, and fu 復, the return of the Yang. In other terms, while the Taoists state that taiji is metaphysically preceded by wuji, which is the Dao, the Neo-Confucians says that the taiji is the Dao. (Isabelle Robinet, "Wuji and Taiji 無極 • 太極 Ultimateless and Great Ultimate," in The Encyclopedia of Taoism, ed. Fabrizio Pregadio [Routledge, 2008] 1058)

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Vampire: Reflections upon Seeing "Let the Right One In"

A quintessentially modern myth—despite its apparent antiquity. The vampire represents a seductive atavism [atavus L forefather]: history (of a particularly timeless kind: the ancient), blood (but without rootedness—or a parody of it, e.g. sleeping in shallow native soil), desire (but without procreation, or as co-dependent, or as parasitic), etc. Powers old and new (or ancient, but strangely modern): familiars, telepathy, flight, powers of transformation, fascination and regeneration . . .

It is modern, then, in its location of such seductive attributes in the past: the exotic past, i.e. the past as another country (where they do things differently [L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between 1]), another version of the dualism of Ricoeur's hermeneuticists of suspicion: Marx, Nietzsche and Freud; the weighty past (that reveals that we have never been modern [Bruno Latour]), i.e. the tropes of historicism, diachronic and synchronic: evolution, historism and contextualism, coincidence and correspondence.

It is a Taijitu yin yang—or yang-yin—thing: out of the wuji (the empty circle of timeless quiescence) comes the essential modern fiction—the simple dialectic of dark and light, old and new, self and other (see "Wuji to Wanwu").

Baglione's Eros and Anteros is emblematic of this dialectic:

Sacred Love versus [defeating] Profane Love, Giovanni Baglione (1602–1603), a.k.a. Eros and Anteros.

Genevieve Warwick reads it according to Alciati's emblem:
Nemesis, who vanquishes all, painted the winged enemy of winged Love, bow against bow, and fire against fire, that he might suffer what he made others suffer; and this once-bold boy, still carrying his arrows, now cries in misery. Three times he spits, and in the deep of his bosom (what a wonder!) fire is burned by fire. Love consumes the mad passions of Love. (Alciati, "Anteros, amor virtutis, alium Cupidinem superans" [emblem 72], Emblemata [1984, 250]—from the Greek Anthology, quoted in Genevieve Warwick, Caravaggio: Realism, Rebellion, Reception [U Delaware P, 2006] 62)
I prefer to think that here we see modernity—young Hermes armed and winged—with Eros and Anteros at his feet. He feigns to strike at Eros, while Anteros hides behind his legs. He is Freud psukhopompos or Nietzsche kunikos.

Friedrich Schiller, "Kassandra/Cassandra" (1802)

Nur das Irrthum ist das Leben,
Und das Wissen ist der Tot

Error is life [life is error], and knowledge is death.

Wer erfreute sich des Lebens,
Der in seine Tiefen blickt!

Who can enjoy life who sees into its depths!

Friedrich Schiller, The Poems of Schiller, Complete: Including All his Early Suppressed Pieces, trans. Edgar Alfred Bowring (John W. Parker, 1851) 153-57.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Philosophy of "As If," a.k.a. fictionalism: another erratological method

Hans Vaihinger [1852-1933], The Philosophy of "As If" [Philosophie des Als Ob]: A System of Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind, 2nd ed., trans. C. K. Ogden (1911 [wr. 1880s], 1924/1935; Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968).

From wikipedia [ed.]: In Philosophie des Als Ob, [Vaihinger] argue[s] that human beings can never really know the underlying reality of the world, and that as a result we construct systems of thought and then assume that these match reality: we behave "as if" the world matches our models. In the preface to the English edition of his work, Vaihinger expresses his principle of Fictionalism: "an idea whose theoretical untruth or incorrectness, and therewith its falsity, is admitted, is not for that reason practically valueless and useless; for such an idea, in spite of its theoretical nullity, may have great practical importance."

Vaihinger's summary of the Philosophy of "As If" in the autobiographical chapter that begins the English edition (xlv-xlvii):
  1. A dichotomy exists between science, which concerns itself with matter in motion, and philosophy, which concerns itself with sensations (this antinomy cannot be mediated by reason, only through intuition and experience).
  2. The "striving" or struggle for existence that exists in all matter has evolved into will (the will to live and to dominate others) in human beings.
  3. Consciousness/thought is a means to the end of, i.e., serves, the struggle for existence, in other words, the will; thus, consciousness/thought is biological.
  4. Such a means tends to develop in excess of its end—and can emancipate itself to become an end-in-itself;
  5. thus thought can become theoretical (thought about thought) . . .
  6. . . . and set itself impossible problems (like trying to solve the antimony of mind and matter).
  7. Such problems can only be solved "by looking backwards, by showing how they arose psychologically within us," i.e. by finding their biological conditions of possibility.
  8. Therefore, this philosophy is "anti-rational or irrationalist," i.e. not grounded in reason: i.e. . . .
  9. . . . thought is biological, and . . .
  10. many thought-processes/-constructs are "consciously false assumptions [as-ifs or fictions], which either contradict reality or are even contradictory in themselves, but which are intentionally thus formed in order to overcome difficulties of thought by this artificial deviation and reach the goal of thought by roundabout ways and by-paths."
  11. This "un-real" as-if world is as important as the "real" world—in fact, more important in ethical and aesthetic matters.
  12. Our given reality is our sensations.
  13. Science deals with the regularities of this reality[; philosophy with the irregularities (?)].
  14. Much in this reality is fitting [regular], but much is not—but though some of us console ourselves with the fiction that there is a Higher Spirit that created or regulates the universe . . .
  15. . . . it is senseless [i.e. irrational] to question the meaning of the universe
He prefaces this list by saying, as 1. suggests, "We do not understand the world when we are pondering over its problems, but when we are doing the world's work" (xlv). To do this, we must often make do with "as ifs," "consciously false ideas," which he equates with Kant's appearances. A "[f]iction is . . . merely a more conscious, more practical and more fruitful error" (94).

  1. a fiction: an assumption known to be false—but useful [a heuristic: "a part of that ars inveniendi which, in former times, was usually appended to Logic" (105)]
  2. a hypothesis: an assumption that is probable [a provisional idea requiring experiment or evaluation]
The four characteristics of fictions:
  1. an "arbitrary deviation from reality, that is, . . . contradiction of it"and, ultimately, self-contradiction (97), which means that . . .
  2. they "disappear in the course of history [through experience] or through the operation of logic [through thought]" (98),
  3. they are known to be fictional: "the fiction is just a fiction" (ibid.), and . . .
  4. . . . expedient: "means to a definite end" (99).
Thus, "truth . . . is merely the most expedient error" (emphasis given; 108; see Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense").

Categories of fiction:
  1. artificial classification: dichotomy, the Linnaean system
  2. abstractive (neglective, i.e. reductive) fictions: models, e.g. Adam Smith's assumption that human beings are egoistic, the analogy of psychic phenomena with mechanical processes, etc., linguistic roots, a mean or average (human being), approximation, the Socratic method
  3. a. schematic fictions, e.g. the simple (isolated) case, b. paradigmatic fictions or imaginary cases, c. utopian fictions, incl. the state of nature, d. the (arche)type
  4. tropic or symbolic (analogical) fictions, cf. the myth or poetic simile, esp. in physics, metaphysics and theology, e.g. substance, categories, . . .
  5. juristic (legal) fictions, and . . .
  6. personificatory fictions: soul, energy, force
  7. summational fictions (often mnemonic), i.e. general ideas
  8. heuristic fictions
  9. practical (ethical) fictions: freedom, the (standpoint of the) ideal
  10. mathematical fictions: (empty) space, (empty) time, etc.
  11. abstract generalisation, including mathematical and physical fictions like . . .
  12. unjustified transference: zero cases, negative/imaginary/irrational numbers, fractions;
  13. infinity; [14] matter; [15] the atom, and other [16] physical fictions, as well as . . .
  14. metaphysical fictions [my term] like [17] the thing-in-itself and [18] the absolute (17-84)
Cf. C. K. Ogden, Bentham's Theory of Fictions (1932; Routledge, 2007)—see below; Alfred Adler, in Heinz and Rowena R. Ansbacher, The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (Harper, 1956) on the personality construct of a fictional final goal; Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (OUP, 1967) on Vaihinger as a methodologist of narrativity; James Hillman, Healing Fiction (Continuum, 1994), which identifies the tendency to literalize, rather than "see through our meanings," with neurosis and madness (110[-12]). See also Barry Stampfel, Hans Vaihinger's Ghostly Presence in Contemporary Literary Studies," Criticism (Summer 1998).

Not Speaking the Truth

Here's the thing: aren't you irredeemably sick of trying to speak the truth about the world? Know that seeking it out: tracking it down—or ambushing it, if you are a person of power—always returns dead ends.

Take refuge in the fictive: the world is not furtive; it hides in plain sight. Seduction (L. "leading [or being led?] astray") is the only strategem. Seduce and be seduced shall be the only law.
Seduction, however, never belongs to the order of nature, but that of artifice—never to the order of energy, but that of signs and rituals. (Jean Baudrillard, Seduction [1979; NWP 1990] 2)
No! Signs and rituals: yes—but they are entirely natural. That is what we as homo insapiens do, after all: circulate and recycle stuff and nonsense.

Follow this law of nature:
  • Don't be yourself (unless you have to); don't dissemble (any more than you want to).
  • Don't think; use what you have at hand.
  • Follow threads.
  • Learn the ways of the world by walking them, but don't think that you have to walk far.
  • Walk often with your eyes closed (bearing in mind that others are ahead of and behind you); walk less with your end in mind (close is good enough).
  • Believe in a world without end: leave loose ends; unravel others'.
  • Know you will end where you began.

Wittgenstein: Showing off in Art

Ludwig Wittgenstein. Notebooks 1914-1916, G.H. vonWright and G. E. M. Anscombe, eds., Oxford: Blackwell, 1961. 109.

This same distinction between what can be shewn by the language but not said, explains the difficulty that is felt about types—e.g., as to the difference between things, facts, properties, relations. That M is a thing can't be said; it is nonsense: but something is shewn by the symbol "M." In [the] same way, that a proposition is a subject-predicate proposition can't be said: but is shown by the symbol.

. . . Therefore a THEORY of types is impossible. It tries to say something about the types when you can only talk about the symbols. But what you say about the symbols is not that this symbol has that type, which would be nonsense for [the] same reason: but you say simply: this is the symbol, to prevent a misunderstanding. E.g., in "aRb", "R" is not a symbol, but that "R" is between one name and another symbolises. Here we have not said: this symbol is not of this type but of that, but only: this symbolises and not that. . . . (1914)
The existence of objects, properties and relations can only be shown, not stated. The fact that our language has words for these "entities" shows that they exist; any attempt to say what they show—or, indeed, to assert facts—about the world, as most philosophy does, will result in nonsense (pseudopropositions). So "disputes [about what exists] . . . disappear . . . when we understand the roles played by different types of word in the construction of propositions" (Ray Monk, How to Read Wittgenstein [Granta, 2005] 38-39). “What can be shown, cannot be said” (TLP 4.1212).

  1. Language is made up of propositions, not words, and
  2. the world is made up of facts [complex, i.e. articulate], not objects [simple].
  3. Facts correspond to (true) propositions about the world.
Denis McManus calls this correspondence "the con-formity of thought and world," thus "intelligibility as con-formity":
[T]houghts and the world share "forms," with the "intelligibility" of thought imagined as something like a fit, an isomorphism, between the "form of thought" and the "form of the world" [i.e., not "the particular way in which . . . the world happens to be," but its "'logical' or 'metaphysical possibilities': the objects that happen to exist within it, as well as those that could happen to exist in it"]. (The Enchantment of Words: Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus [OUP, 2006] 5)
The question for him is how this conformity is acquired or comes to be.
Likewise, artists don't understand the world, they understand the language of art. They show it rather than saying it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Boo to Beauty

Roger Scruton, "Beauty and Desecration," City Journal 19.2 (Spring 2009)

"We must rescue art from the modern intoxication with ugliness."
At any time between 1750 and 1930, if you had asked an educated person to describe the goal of poetry, art, or music, “beauty” would have been the answer. And if you had asked what the point of that was, you would have learned that beauty is a value, as important in its way as truth and goodness, and indeed hardly distinguishable from them. . . .
At some time during the aftermath of modernism, beauty ceased to receive those tributes. Art increasingly aimed to disturb, subvert, or transgress moral certainties, and it was not beauty but originality—however achieved and at whatever moral cost—that won the prizes. Indeed, there arose a widespread suspicion of beauty as next in line to kitsch—something too sweet and inoffensive for the serious modern artist to pursue.
Beauty is what artists and philosophers since the Renaissance say art aims at. But artists and philosophers, like most other human beings, often say and do very different things. Donatello's "David" is "beautiful"; his "Mary Magdalene" very much not (unless you extend the definition of beauty to include the beauty of suffering, or something of that ilk, which move would make Grosz's grotesques beautiful too).

To be obsessed with beauty, to see beauty as truth—and somehow transcendental, is to side with Plato against Aristotle, who sees beauty as form, and to ignore other aims for art, like catharsis in Aristotle's reading of tragedy or ecstasy in Longinus's reading of the literary sublime - rather more "earthly" notions. Scruton, the (early modern) lover of beauty, is as reductive as the (late modern) lovers of ugliness. Surely art does a lot of stuff—unless you want to subsume a whole lot of stuff under "beauty," as I think Scruton does (or "truth," as Heidegger does).

See Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" (1939) or Vilem Flusser, "Taking Up Residence in Homelessless," a.k.a. "The Challenge of the Migrant" (1985; 1993; 2003).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kenosis: Dying a Criminal's Death

κένωσις (kénōsis), means an "emptying," from κενός (kenos), "empty."

Phillipians 2.5-8 (KJ):
2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
2:6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
2:7 But made himself of no reputation [made himself nothing or emptied himself (ἐκένωσε, ekénōse)], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

[5] Think like Jesus: [6] Though he was God, he didn't cling to his God-ness. [7] Instead, he gave up his status, choosing to become a servant and to be made human. As such, [8] he humbled himself before God and died a criminal on a cross.

In Christian theology, kenosis is the concept of the 'self-emptying' of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God. The kenotic ethic is the ethic of Jesus, considered as the ethic of sacrifice. The Phillipians passage urges believers to imitate Christ's self-emptying.

Something similar might happen in peak experiences like flow in art or sport, a syncope of the self. But, paradoxically, the self-emptying seems to be accompanied by a sense of self-fulfilment, a sense that the peak experience expresses the self (hence, for Maslow peak experiences are characteristic of the self-actualized). (Alternatively, some feel that once the self is emptied the void fills with "the world," hence the sense of plenitude that often accompanies peak experiences.)

The issue here is what is emptied in the self-emptying: the history of the self (not usually, because artistic and sporting experience is based on internalised practice and learning, i.e. they utilise memory), the sense of self (yes, if you mean the focus on an external object [thing or goal]; no, if you are an "autobiographical" artist), etc.?

Less lofty, but as beholden to this dynamic, are tropes like the trainee artist as apprentice, art as mere craft or a kind of slavery, experience (human or bodily) as the material of art, etc., etc.

syncope: in rhetoric, cutting letters or syllables from the middle of a word (a metaplasm, i.e. an orthographical figure); in medicine, a faint or loss of consciousness
but also, perhaps, a "bracketing" (ἐποχή, epokhé) of the self.

epokhé: the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, is suspended. This concept was developed by the Greek skeptics, in particular, Metrodorus of Lampsacus, and plays an implicit role in skeptical thought, e.g. Descartes' method of doubt. The term was popularized by Husserl, who elaborates the notion of "phenomenological epoché" or "bracketing" in Ideas I. Through the systematic procedure of phenomenological reduction, one is thought to be able to suspend judgment regarding the general or naive philosophical belief in the existence of the external world, and thus examine phenomena as they are originally given to consciousness.

What I am suggesting here is a kind of inverse epokhé, but we might go one step further: on the basis of claiming that we do not know anything, Pyrrho, the Skeptic, argued that we should suspend judgment or withhold assent. It is not that we have no rationale to choose one way of action or another; rather, one kind of life or action cannot definitively be said to be "correct." Instead we ought to live according to custom, law, and tradition.

Noli me tangere

Noli me tangere, meaning "don't touch me," is the Latin version of words spoken, according to John 20:17, by Jesus to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. The original phrase, Μή μου ἅπτου, in the Gospel of John, is better represented in translation as "stop clinging to me."

The touch-me-not suggests the tendency to "cling to," i.e. mourn, dead ideas etc. But when does remembrance (narcissistic object-identification) become fixation (disavowal of an object) [see below on Freud]? Assuming a preference for embodied cognition, perhaps when it ceases to be bodily/affective, when it becomes transfigured into something merely mental/ideal. [= the not]

But does that eliminate faith, which keeps alive a dead idea, or does it just capture the tendency of remembrance to fix a thing to identify it? Or are there just better and worse ways to remember something: recollection, nostalgia, worship, obsession, forgetting (that is not forgetting), etc.?

Or maybe the touch-me-not is actually an injunction from the Father, suggesting that the idea etc. in medias res of its transfiguration is off limits, especially to embodied cognition [= the not-yet] . . .

Or maybe it suggests (reality-)testing the idea etc. by taking it out to your "brethren," rather than dwelling on it in isolation [= the yet] . . .

John 20:17: "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."

Freud, "Mourning and Melancholia": Mourning is characterised by a loss of interest in the outside world, melancholy by a(n apparently unjustified) loss of self-esteem: "In mourning the world has become impoverished and empty, during melancholia, it is the ego itself [kenosis: the 'self-emptying' of one's own will and becoming entirely receptive to God]" (246). However, the melancholic loss of self-esteem is actually directed at the love object itself. The subject, instead of withdrawing cathexis from the object, unconsciously identifies with the now-hated object to which he or she remains ever more firmly attached.

[identification:] O loved
O identified with, thus S = O [= regression]
[abandonment: ] O lost, thus S lost [= ambivalent choice]
[disavowal:] O hated [sadism], thus S hated [masochism]

This pathological development stems on the one hand from the narcissistic nature of the initial object choice, which by its nature promotes narcissistic regression, and on the other hand from the ambivalence of the choice and the predominance in it of the sadistic impulse, which here assumes masochistic form.

But in melancholia as in mourning, it is essentially the work consisting in finishing with the object (by degrading it or declaring it dead) that will "strike dead" the dead and release the subject.

(Sigmund Freud, "Trauer und Melancholie,"
Intern. Zschr. ärztl. Psychoanal 4 [1915]: 277-287; G.W. 10, 428-448; "Mourning and Melancholia," SE 14 [1916-1917g]: 243-258)

Innovation has always depended less on how smart you are than how connected you are (apparently)

"Late Pleistocene Demography and the Appearance of Modern Human Behavior"
by Adam Powell, Stephen Shennan, Mark G. Thomas
Science 324.5932 (5 June 2009): 1298-1301.

Abstract: The origins of modern human behavior are marked by increased symbolic and technological complexity in the archaeological record. In western Eurasia this transition, the Upper Paleolithic, occurred about 45,000 years ago, but many of its features appear transiently in southern Africa about 45,000 years earlier. We show that demography is a major determinant in the maintenance of cultural complexity and that variation in regional subpopulation density and/or migratory activity results in spatial structuring of cultural skill accumulation. Genetic estimates of regional population size over time show that densities in early Upper Paleolithic Europe were similar to those in sub-Saharan Africa when modern behavior first appeared. Demographic factors can thus explain geographic variation in the timing of the first appearance of modern behavior without invoking increased cognitive capacity.

Greater population density → increased "cultural [symbolic and technological] complexity" or "development." Social networking, i.e. the transmission of ideas and skills, fostered the emergence of more and more complex innovations.

It has often been thought that boosts in brain power or advances in language in homo sapiens led to modern human behaviour. But it seemed to take a long time for these resources to pay off.

That is, "you can have individuals who are really great at inventing ideas and concepts and ways of approaching the world, but you need a certain population density to be able to have that stuff catch hold and spread," as Richard Potts of the Smithsonian told

Is this a clue that reciprocity, i.e. sociability, might be the precondition of human cognition, that humans are smart(er) because they collaborate (better than other animals) [= embedded cognition]? (It's not because we are smart and decide to work together.)

For a critique, see John Hawks on "Learning, Population Size, and 'Modern Human Behaviour.'"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Fumblerules are writing rules that contradict their advice, such as "don't use no double negatives" and "eschew obfuscation" (they are thus self-referential paradoxes).

The alt.usage.english FAQ, quoting George L. Trigg, "Grammar," Physics Review Letters 42.12 (19 Mar 1979) 747-48 and William Safire, "The Fumblerules of Grammar," New York Times (11 Apr. 1979): SM4.

Here are some of Trigg's:
  1. Make sure each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
  2. Just between you and I, the case of pronoun is important.
  3. Watch out for irregular verbs which have crope into English.
  4. Verbs has to agree in number with their subjects.
  5. Don't use no double negatives.
  6. Being bad grammar, a writer should not use dangling modifiers.
  7. Join clauses good like a conjunction should.
  8. A writer must be not shift your point of view.
  9. About sentence fragments.
  10. Don't use run-on sentences you got to punctuate them.
  11. In letters essays and reports use commas to separate items in series.
  12. Don't use commas, which are not necessary.
  13. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  14. Its important to use apostrophes right in everybodys writing.
  15. Don't abbrev.
  16. Check to see if you any words out.
  17. In the case of a report, check to see that jargonwise, it's A-OK.
  18. As far as incomplete constructions, they are wrong.
  19. About repetition, the repetition of a word might be real effective repetition - take, for instance the repetition of Abraham Lincoln.
  20. In my opinion, I think that an author when he is writing should definitely not get into the habit of making use of too many unnecessary words that he does not really need in order to put his message across.
  21. Use parallel construction not only to be concise but also clarify.
  22. It behooves us all to avoid archaic expressions.
  23. Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be weeded out.
  24. Consult the dictionery to avoid mispelings.
  25. To ignorantly split an infinitive is a practice to religiously avoid.
  26. Last but not least, lay off cliches.
Erratology encourages students to make (and teach) their own fumblerules to break (and learn) the disabling rules of the institution. By thus risking the authority they are lent by the institution, they exercise their sovereign right to write.

erratology: Erratology uses as a heuristic the principle that rules exist to be broken/that exceptions disprove the rule (against Cicero's exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis in his defence of Balbo [56BCE]); through erratology you can learn by making mistakes rather than proceeding by trial and error - or learning from your mistakes. It is a variant on Winston Weathers' deformative grammar, "Grammar B" (see Peter Elbow's essay, "Collage: Your Cheatin' Art").

And the same goes for writing teachers: they too must risk mistakes—and their authority . . .

Cf. Muphry's (or Merphy's) Law:
"In neither taste nor precision is any man's practice a court of last appeal, for writers all, both great and small, are habitual sinners against the light; and their accuser is cheerfully aware that his own work will supply (as in making this book it has supplied) many 'awful examples'" (Ambrose Bierce, "Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults" [1909]).

The law, as set out by John Bangsund, states that:

  1. if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written;
  2. if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
  3. the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault;
  4. any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.
("Scenes of Editorial Life: Muphry's Law," John Bangsund's Threepenny Planet [Mar 1992])

The Fern as an Iterated Function System

From Curran Kelleher, "Recursive Structures and Processes," MIT Open Courseware (24 Aug. 2007) 10-12.

1.2.7 Iterated Function Systems [= "a method of constructing fractals; the resulting constructions are always self-similar" (wikipedia)]

Iterated Function Systems (IFS) take a single point and move it around re­peatedly, plotting a point on the screen for each move. The point is moved according to a mapping function, which is chosen probabalistically from several possible mapping functions.

["The fractal is made up of the union ['collage'] of several copies of itself, each copy being transformed by a function (hence 'function system'). . . . The functions are normally contractive. . . . Hence the shape of an IFS fractal is made up of several possibly-overlapping smaller copies of itself, each of which is also made up of copies of itself" (wikipedia).]

[Barnsley's fern, cf. Michael Barnsley, Fractals Everywhere (Academic P, 1988)]

The fern IFS is a system of four mapping functions. Each of these functions is a mapping from the outermost rectangle to another, smaller rectangle. The system is comprised of the following four functions, which map from any point inside the outermost black rectangle . . .

1. to a point on the green part of the stem (1% of the time)
2. to a point in the red rectangle, the lowest left branch (7% of the time)
3. to a point in the dark blue rectangle, the lowest right branch (7% of the time)
4. to a point in the light blue rectangle, which spirals everything upwards and smaller (85% of the time)

Figure 1.1: The rectangles used in the coordinate transformations (approx­imately), and the image generated by our program.

Here is Java code which implements this IFS:

Is this algorithm recursive? The code itself is not recursive, it is just repetitive. However, the mappings are recursive, because they are applied to themselves eventually. The filling in of the fractal object happens because of the randomness introduced by selecting probabilistically which of the four mappings to apply.

See wikipedia.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Strange loop

A strange loop arises when, by moving up or down through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started.

An example: the endless apprenticeship of University life, i.e. how when, after years of drudgery as an ignorant slave to an all-knowing master or masters, you take a step (by dint of many tiny steps) up the ladder, only to find yourself ignorant slave to another all-knowing master or masters. Commonly known as the academic smackdown.

There are more productive strange loops like the Shepard tone, named after Roger Shepard is a sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves. When played with the base pitch of the tone moving upwards or downwards, it is referred to as the Shepard scale. This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower (see example).

See also M. C. Escher's Ascending and Descending.

The Writing Zone according to Ecological Systems Theory (addendum)

"Successful" writing in the institutional system of the University takes two forms, one "positive," one "negative."
  1. In the "negative" form, the student, like Schreber in his paranoia, fends off disaster by appeasing the mysterious forces of the powers-that-be, producing writing by trial and error that mimics the conventions of academic style (as we know, the more "successful" students are those skilled in mimicry who learn the conventions without scruple and produce entirely what the institution says it expects from them).
  2. In the "positive" form, like Schreber in his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, the student produces writing by courting disaster, by making mistakes their own in an effort to remake the institution in their own image.
(Does this characterisation sound right? If it sounds like paranoiaand wishful thinkingit aptly captures the institutional environment in which it was written.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Writing Zone According to Ecological Systems Theory

See Urie Bronfenbrenner, The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979).

The theory (see wikipedia) specifies four types of nested environmental systems, with bi-directional influences within and between the systems.

The four systems:

1. Microsystem: the individual's immediate environments (family, school, peer group, neighborhood, and childcare environments);
2. Mesosystem: the direct connections between immediate environments (i.e., a child’s home and school);
3. Exosystem: the environments that only indirectly affect the individual (such as parent's workplace);
4. Macrosystem: the larger cultural context (Eastern vs. Western culture, national economy, political culture, subculture).

Later, a fifth system was added:

5. Chronosystem: the patterning of environmental events and transitions over the course of life.

Cf. Te Whariki version ("ECE" = Early Childhood Education):

One version of the ecology of the writing zone of the academic writer relies on a simplified version of this diagram—with only three systems: the microsystem of the individual, the exosystem of the institutional writing classroom, and the macrosystem of the social/national context.

Students come to the institutional writing classroom aiming to learn what they take to be the rules of that system and easily become trapped in that system, to the exclusion of their self (interior life: personal/cultural history, etc., i.e. experience and expertise) and the "real world" (life outside the institution, i.e. society, national history, etc, i.e. context).

(Obviously, insofar as we take students to be embodied and embedded "cognizers," and these aspects of their selves to be socioculturally determined, the micro- and exosystem overlap in an inside-outside relationship [like a Klein bottle].)

This entrapment takes the form of paranoid rule-following, most of which is untaught, i.e. received wisdom, and improvised, i.e. learnt by trial and error (unconsciously erratological).

Freud's "Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)," i.e. The Schreber Case, trans. Andrew Webber, intro. Colin McCabe (Penguin, 2003). The psychotic Schreber suffers a "world catastrophe," after which he disavows reality (Umwelt) and invents an alternative reality (Eigenwelt) with its own logic, where symbols become concrete and symptoms are projected as real.

Oddly, students misread the institutional clues about the rules in relatively consistent ways (which might suggest that the institution supplies or
conditions these mis-rules, thus providing a mix of information and mis- or disinformation, probably because its existence depends on students assuming the position of ignorance). In other words, there is a definable set of transformations of academic style, much as the elements of Schreber's delusions seem to mirror (i.e. consistently and inversely)—and their relationships to mimic—conventional ones.

The task of the writing teacher is to enable the student to see, adapt to, and make use of the mesosystems that mediate between their microsystem (Innenwelt) and the exosystem (writing class within the academic institution, i.e. their immediate Umwelt), and between that exosystem and the
social/national context (the "real world," i.e. their mediate Umwelt; this is a modification of the idea of a mesosystem). To do so is to allow students to see the system as a system: to get distance on it by dint of thinking from the outside in or inside out, thereby turning its vicious circle into a virtuous one (i.e. setting up a positive rather than negative feedback loop).

a Klein bottle, orig.
Kleinsche Fläche (Klein surface), misread as Kleinsche Flasche (Klein bottle):