[KB] Incomplete Nature

Ronald Soetaert Ronald.Soetaert at UGent.be
Thu Aug 7 15:20:26 EDT 2014

Dear colleagues, 

I couldn’t agree more with Ed Apple’s plea for reading Terence Deacon and linking his ideas with Kenneth Burke’s perspective on humans as symbol using animals. Just for your information this link was a central topic in our presentations in two conferences we (Kris Rutten and I) attended: The Generative Anthropolgy Summer Conference 2014 (June, 19-22 -Victoria. Canada) and KBS 2014: Attitudes Toward Technology/Technology’s Attitudes (July, 17-22 St Louis). I learned about the work of Terence Deacon from Richard Van Oort (see his book ‘The End of Literature’). At that moment I was working on a presentation (as part of a price I received in Belgium) about the future of the humanities. Because I also wanted to convince my colleagues from the ‘hard sciences’ I started with the work of Deacon and the importance of the concepts sign-symbol.

 Again, it was Richard Van Oort who introduced me in Deacon’s perspectives (from his work The Symbolic Species). As Ed Apple has argued, we were also intrigued by the possibility of linking ideas from Deacon (biology) and ideas from Burke (rhetoric). So we mailed Richard Van Oort to invite him for our panel during the Burke Conference in St Louis (meanwhile we had discovered that although Richard would not describe himself as a Burkophile, he is certainly also fascinated by the work of Burke – see his review of Burke’s essays on Shakespeare). Richard agreed to come to the Burke conference (with a contribution in our panel “Bodies that learn language”: Rhetoric, Education and Anthropology). But before the Burke conference he invited us ‘his’ conference: The Generative Anthropolgy Summer Conference 2014 (June, 19-22). Victoria. Canada http://web.uvic.ca/gasc2014/index.html

Part of our abstract, illustrated what we tried to do: “The major question of our research is what we might learn from ‘works of imaginative literature’ (Gibson 2007: 1), or other cultural artefacts such as films, games, cartoons and graphic novels. We also concur with Richard van Oort (2004: 622) who suggests that an anthropological perspective causes an increasing focus in literary studies on culture as an object of symbolic interpretation: ‘For who is better trained than the literary critic in the exercise of searching for symbolic significance, of reading beyond the literal surface to see the deeper, more sacred meaning beneath?’ etc.”

During the presentation (in Vicoria and St Louis), described turns in the humanities/social science and analysed the role of rhetoric as a major perspective. Therefore we suggested that the symbolic turn could be a major perspective. So we tried to link rhetorical perspectives with anthropological perspectives (referring to the work of Van Oort). We suggested we should enter into a dialogue with biology/science (see Deacon). But we also suggested we should try to defend the importance of the humanities. Therefore we quoted Van Oort: “it is literally quite true that without the mediating presence of the originary scene of symbolic representation—‘textuality,’ if one likes—there is no humanity and therefore no object of study”.

Again, I would like to link this with the review and suggestions of Ed Apple. By the way: also my thanks to Ed Apple for sharing his thoughts.

Of course we could elaborate more on all this but Kris and I are on a holiday now, but I could not resist to send a quick mail with some information of our work and plans. And of course agreeing with Ed Apple's suggestions. 
In fact Kris Rutten and I were planning to make this perspective a central theme for a follow up conference in Ghent…  Ed Apple’s mail convinces us this could be an interesting perspective. 

Ronald Soetaert

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