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Towards Day 5 (Wed, Sept. 19): Relating Language and Thought

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
* naming, redux

* I have put up a map of the campus (and beyond) w/ our "sit sites" marked.

* By 5 p.m. tomorrow, begin recording your weekly observations there; I have done it!...
and played w/ doing so with photographs and "rheomodic" commentary; I invite you also to
experiment w/ different forms of representation, w/ different "languages" (a la eetong),
and w/ different forms of English, the various sorts of "green grammars" we are beginning
to read about....
*By Sunday @ 5, a more focused assignment: re-visit your visualization (and/or one of your classmates'?)
and analyze it in terms of some of the keywords we put on the table Monday: was your image
"anthropocentric"? did it feature a "garden," or "permaculture" (these are smacholdt's terms...)?
What do you see now, w/ the help of your own or your classmates' terms, that you didn't when
you/we first put it up? Warning! this activity of re-flecting and "re-levating" (lifting again to
will go on all semester....

You have some flexibility in the assignments; (frankly? I'm just looking for interesting conversation!):
if you have decided, this week, that your initial image is totally inadquate/inappropriate as a
"visualization" of campus, and you have another you would like to substitute, because more "ecologically friendly" or "environmentally aware," or that shows humans in their niche (since our representations were
wierdly absent humans....) please do so...but also please explain the revision in terms of our keywords...

Another question you might ask yourself: are there words in here--words we are using--that we need to understand better/use more carefully? Consider, for instance--taking off from smacholdt's "nature is a world unto itself"--Timothy Morton's argument, in Ecology Without Nature, that "the very idea of 'nature' which so many hold dear will have to wither away in an 'ecological' state of human society...the idea of nature is getting in the way of properly ecological forms of culture....the idea of nature...set people's hearts beating and stop the thinkng process....nature is all about: things that are not identical to us or our preformed concepts.... what precisely counts as human, what counts as nature...."?

Cf. also (from an e-mail from a recent grad of BMC, member of the Sustainability 360): Gerhard Richter's observation that "My landscapes are not only beautiful, or nostalgic...but above all 'untruthful.' By 'untruthful,' I mean the glorifying way we look at Nature. Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless, the total antithesis of ourselves."

* For Monday's class, read Andrew Goatly's “Green Grammar and Grammatical Metaphor," Mary Schleppegrell's reply, “What Makes a Grammar Green?” and Goatly's response to her (just so you'll no illusions that these linguistic matters are settled!)

Goatly says that Bohm (whom we read for today) has been "quite eloquent" in pointing out the "inadequacy of language to reflect scientific emphases on active processes," but "was unable to give a useful discussion of resources for re-representing the all-embracing world of process."

Goatly himself tries to do this in a very complicated 20-pp. paper (linguists don't write very clearly!);
I'd suggest focusing on the abstract, part 1 and the conclusion of his essay (skipping the "technical center"),
and then reading the two replies...spend a couple of hours on this, and then let it go....(you know by now
that you need to read selectively...and how to do this?)

come to class having written down what makes sense to you from this exchange:
something "added to you" by reading it (as well, of course, w/ whatever
questions may have arisen for you in the reading!)

II. For today, I asked you to do that w/ David Bohm's essay on "the rheomode,"
and to bring a question for him, for me, and for the class (and then I warned you
that we will attempt to re-write passages from our own essays in this mode....)
But first--->

What is it? What makes sense to you about this idea, and what doesn't?
What questions to you have for Bohm, me, your classmates, yourself?

Keynotes to review

Bohm focuses on how language structure influences and shapes our thinking,
how conventional English usage, in particular, invites/forces us to imagine
that the world is made up of separate entities:
it continually implies an "inappropriate division between things,"
when, really, all is unbroken and undivided movement;
"things" are abstracted as invariant aspects

every language form carries a dominant world view, and it's difficult to
express one contrary to what's implied in the primary structure of language--
so this chapter experiments w/ changing the common structure of English grammar,
to make it more appropriate to/reflective of current scientific thinking about the
way the world works--not in separable fragments, but by "undivided movements"

Bohm starts by calling attention to the conventional subject-verb-object
structure of English sentences, which he calls "divisive," because it implies
that there are two separate entities (the subject and object) that are fixed and static
and then he asks if it isn't posssible to end this fragmentation,
by giving a more basic role to the verb

his key idea here is that--rather than fixed, invariant forms, separately existent things--
physicists' primary understanding of the world today is one of movement,
and so we need to experiment w/ a new mode of language that reflects this understanding,
a mode in which the verb (rather than the noun) plays a primary role;
he calls this the "rheomode," or "flowing mode"

he suggests that common language has some features that call attention to how it works:
for ex, to talk about "relevance" is to "relevate/lift into attention,"
it's a creative (and ever-changing) perception of whether something "fits"
using language in this freer, more informal, "poetic" way shows
the fluid nature of the difference between relevant/irrelevant-->
to "re-levate" is to lift into attention again, to see if it still fits, is "re-levant"--
so "relevance" is not separate and fixed, but ongoing...

then (somewhat sillily?), Bohm does the same thing w/ a whole "series of flowing movements":
"videre" (to see)--> "to vidate"-->"revidate"
"divide" (to separate, a special case of vidation)--> "divate/re-divate"--> "redividate"
"ordinate" (to order)-->"re-ordinate"-->"re-ordinant"
"verrate" (to perceive truth)--> "re-verrate"
"factate" (to make)--> "re-factate"--> "re-factant"
"constate" (to establish/confirm/"stand together")-->"constare"-->"con-stant" -->"constatate/re-constate"
(continually tested to see whether it will "stand up"/cross-checking to see if it is stable)

what's important here is not losing sight of the formation of words,
but acknowledging the process of combination (= the way science thinks about particles):
in the rheomode, the "atomistic" attitude to words is replaced w/ "field theory,"
in which "particles" are only convenient abstractions from the whole, undivided movement

it's arbitrary to give too much significance to the breaks between words,
which are just "marks" in the larger movement of the world/language;
language is an order, like a symphony, in which we have to understand
each aspect in light of its relationship to the whole

the rheomode does not make a sharp distinction between
the acts of perception and experimentation and the activity
of communicating verbally about what we have observed and done

(cf. your reports that it was difficult/impossible to fully experience
your Thoreauvian "saunter" while trying to document it….)

"all of these are regarded as ...aspects of an unbroken and undivided whole movement...
we do not fall into a fragmentary division beween our 'inward' mental activites and their 'outward' function...
apparaently static things are abstractions from an unbroken and undivided whole movement"

III. Let's try it--a concrete experiment in which we apply the theory!
I asked you to bring a copy of the essay describing your Thoreauvian walk w/ you--
can everyone access this? (needed for the experiment).

Chose a single sentence (I'd recommend the last one...because so often they were summary,"
trying to "fix" your main idea). Re-write it in "rheomode": What elements might you change
to make this more "flowing," less "fragmented," more focused on verbs than nouns....?

A second (perhaps easier?) experiment, suggested by one of my frosh when they found
this one too hard: describe, in the rheomode, what is happening here just now.

IV. Questioning
Have any of your queries been answered? What's left to ask Bohm, me, the class?