[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Gregory Desilet info at gregorydesilet.com
Tue Oct 28 13:26:28 EDT 2014

Ed—I take your point about Burke regarding fascism as a distortion or perversion of religion. To recall, he expresses it this way, “There is nothing in religion proper that requires a fascist state. There is much in religion, when misused, that does lead to a fascist state.” In other words, religion does not lead to fascism as day leads to night. But I would argue that the reason religion can, when misused, lead to a fascist state derives from the circumstance that both share the same metaphysical core. This metaphysical core is highly suspect with regard to its potential for benefiting human community. I know this statement will possibly seem outrageous at face value, but I make a detailed case for this view in a paper titled “Burke, Heidegger, Derrida, and the Specter of Nazism at the Origin of Rhetoric” (available online here: https://www.academia.edu/6400427/Burke_Heidegger_Derrida_and_the_Specter_of_Nazism_at_the_Origin_of_Rhetoric).

Of course, this line of thinking features Burke’s sacrificial logic expressed in his phrase “cult of the kill” and all that he sees as bound up in that. The inevitability of this “logic”—what I identify as the metaphysical core—is what I take issue with in the above paper. When we start out with the “cult of the kill” metaphysical ground (and the late Burke seems to admit of no other alternative), we are not necessarily obliged to end up with the politics of fascism but we have necessarily greased the wheels in that direction. And human community all too often inclines in that direction when propelled by this metaphysical ground—which is in essence a logic of oppositional relation much like YES/NO computer gatekeeping—only where the YES/NO dichotomy is at the origin hierarchically conceived such that one side is, in its essence, superior to the other. This gatekeeping may work okay when making certain kinds of choices (though I would dispute this as well) but it does not work well when categorizing humans (leading to what Burke calls the logic of the sacrificial scapegoat). Alternative metaphysical ground, which Burke does not consider, leads to an alternative logic of gatekeeping whereby the essences on each side of the dichotomy are not hierarchically arranged at the assumptive origin. In this latter alternative metaphysical orientation, hierarchy among choices arises from a contextualized evaluative process, not a presumption at the outset.  

This hierarchical “presumption at the outset” is another feature of what I regard as the metaphysical core of religion. It ties in closely with the notion of a “sacred text.” Here a “sacred" text may be defined as sacred only if it is divinely inspired or revealed. As such, it cannot be challenged or negotiated with. Most institutionalized religions center on sacred texts or texts that are made to be sacred. This notion of sacred texts flies in the face of everything communication scholars have learned about the nature of language—namely that it cannot be made to operate in ways that preclude interpretation (which may be seen as a form of negotiation). On this line of thought, any institutionalized religion that does not center on the notion of a sacred text effectively strays from religion into what may more properly be called philosophy—an approach to life where argument and negotiation prevail over revelation and certainty. 

Interestingly, Burke’s “cult of the kill” thesis is, therefore, in many ways inconsistent with the more interpretive view of language he offers in, for example, Permanence and Change. However, Burke seems to be of two minds when it comes to his views on the nature of language. His later work in “Fact, Inference, and Proof in the Analysis of Literary Symbolism,” for example, offers a view of language more consistent with the sacred text notion of language (where the notion of “fact” substitutes for the notion of “sacred text”). I find this inconsistency in Burke troubling along with what I view as his blindness to the above mentioned metaphysical alternative orientation. 


On Oct 28, 2014, at 7:55 AM, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com> wrote:

> Greg,
> Thanks for the link.  I'll give the interview a listen and get back.
> Two things:
> First, Deacon is not one of the plagiarizers of Burke's thought.  He has told me he knows nothing about Burke, and I believe him.  Deacon is, after all, in two fields not noted for Burkean connections, anthropology and neuroscience.  I've been forwarding to Deacon my kb posts.  After the most recent one, he got back to me with near assurance he wants to start reading Burke.  It's actually more confirming, I believe, that these similaries in theory, philosophy, and conclusions from research appear independently---especially from a significant source in a hard science.
> Second, as I read it, the connection Burke makes between Hitler's fascistic rants and religion in "Hitler's 'Battle'" is offered to the detriment of Hitler, not religion.  Burke calls what Hitler has done a "bastardization" of religious rhetoric, meaning, in Burke's typically elliptical way, an illigitimate use of the motive of perfection, a taking-to-the-end-of-the-line his depiction of this arbitrary and quite earth-bound, untranscendent scapegoat, whose demise will supposedly '' +"cure" the ills of the German people.
> This harks back to what Burke says in ATH about "heroic," tragic-frame rhetoric approaching "coxcombry" when employed for nonreligious reasons.  God and the devil are "perfected" conceptions, or can be so idealized.
> Now, this does not mean given expressions of religion, like Islam today in various formulations---in terms of its fanatical quest to make its earthly environment confirm exactly to its extreme, and one can say I think, socially and historically backward standards---are not facistic.  Nor is it to say that fundamentalist religion of any kind, even when thoroughly transcendentalized, isn't to be "discounted" for language as a source of conceptual excess.  "Perfection" of whatever variety, when grimly pursued in respect to the here-and-now or the graat beyond, is to be taken  with salt and viewed with suspicion, Burke surely hints at, if not in each case clearly proclaims.
> Religion in general is not the customary "enemy" in Burke's writings.  More frequently, it's the immanent expressions of that "theological" motive in the "quest for empire" in this world that earns Burke's strongest disdain.
> That's my sermon for today.  As the Stage Manager isn Our Town said, "Twan't much."
> Ed
> --------------------------------------------
> On Mon, 10/27/14, Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com> wrote:
> Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever
> To: "Ed Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
> Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
> Date: Monday, October 27, 2014, 3:08 PM
> You make a good case, Ed, for
> Deacon’s debt to Burke. Hopefully he will eventually have
> something more to say about that. 
> Speaking of unacknowledged “debt” to Burke, I came
> across a YouTube video recently in which Hamed Abdel Samad
> is interviewed. It seems he wrote a controversial book on
> what he calls “Islamism.” In the interview he explains
> the connection he makes between religion and fascism—a
> connection Burke also makes in his 1938 review of Hitler’s
> Mein Kampf. Exploring this connection is indeed
> controversial but Samad makes an interesting case of it.
> And, Ed, in doing so, he seems to follow certain aspects of
> our line of argument about conflict management in our
> Rhetoric of the Enemy article. Here is a link to the video:
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCfp48c31u0
> Greg
> On Oct 21, 2014, at 3:36 PM, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
> wrote:
>> Burkophiles,
>>     I want to summarize what I see as
> fifteen or so points of intersection between Burke’s
> dramatism/logology and Terrence W. Deacon’s semiotic
> theory.  I do so in no particular order.  I’m
> basing my assessments on Deacon’s most recent book,
> Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, and three
> of his academic articles or book chapters: “The Symbol
> Concept,” “The Emergent Process of Thinking as Reflected
> in Language Processing,” and “Beyond the Symbolic
> Species.”  Seven times so far, I’ve posted here on
> Deacon at some length.  I’ll make reference to the
> dates of those postings, or a few of them, where you might
> find further treatment, when appropriate.
>> 1.    Deacon’s notion of an
> “absential feature” in human symbolic action, as 
>> well as in whatever we want to call the nonsymbolic
> activity of the “lower animals,” echoes Burke’s
> primary emphasis on the “negative” as author and
> motivator of the human drama.  This “absential
> feature,” as extant in the “Creatura,” but not in the
> “Pleroma” (Deacon here borrows language from the ancient
> Gnostics by way of his mentor Gregory Bateson), is the
> elephant in the living room scientistic theorists
> recurrently ignore in their efforts to reduce anthropology
> to biology, biology to chemistry, chemistry to physics.
> 8/7/14.
>> 2.    From this absential feature at the
> core of the “entelechy” that 
>> characterizes beings in the Creatura (yes, Deacon
> references Aristotle and the Four Causes), a list of
> ancillary features built around “purpose” and reflective
> of Burke’s pentad emerges.  See Deacon’s analogous
> idea of “teleodynamics.”  8/7/14, 8/9/14.
>> 3.     Deacon, like Burke,
> claims that action, so to speak, cannot be reduced 
>> to motion, phrasing the concept somewhat differently
> from Burke.  For Deacon, it’s the absential feature
> itself that eludes the scientistic rationale.  “There
> are no components to what is absent,” he emphasizes.
> 8/7/14.
>> 4.    Deacon’s definition of what a
> symbol is and is not appears to mirror 
>> well enough Burke’s conception.  I say seems to
> mirror “well enough” because Burke does not as carefully
> exclude, or even much refer to, mathematical, signal- or
> code-like, computational-type “symbols.”  Deacon
> argues convincingly that math-type “symbols” do not
> possess the airy abstractiveness, web-like relatedness to
> and embeddedness in, a whole lexicon of terms none of which
> can be “mapped” in relation to objects in the real
> world, a “system-internal web of relationships”
> requiring “an associated indexical operation  . . .
> in order to point outside this system.”  Neither
> Melia’s book chapter “Scientism and Dramatism: Some
> Quasi-Mathematical Motifs in the Work of Kenneth Burke”
> (The Legacy of Kenneth Burke), nor Burke’s references to
> the “statistical” in PLF, seem to undercut this claim.
>>     To put the matter simply: In the
> lingo of dramatism, numerals in themselves do not exude
> “drama” (make exception for the indirect, the
> derivative), whereas the words, phrases, and sentences of
> the world’s conventional, arbitrary languages do. 
> That’s the implicit lesson Deacon’s semiotics would tend
> to highlight. 9/16/14.
>> 5.    Deacon’s conception of the
> origins of language sounds a lot like Burke’s 
>> speculations in those QJS articles (1952/1953),
> reprinted in LASA (pp. 419-79).  Deacon speaks of “an
> undifferentiated starting condition.”  “We must
> ask: What’s the form of a thought”---or “the idea that
> a sentence conveys”---“before it is put into words,”
> the “’mental images’ not quite formed or desires and
> intentions to achieve some imagined goal only vaguely
> formulated?”  These “embryos of a speech act”
> would be “focused on aiming for and achieving expressive
> goals.
>>>>     For Burke, those “expressive
> goals”---“connotative,” “suggestive,”
> “loaded,” “fraught . . . with significance”; I’m
> deep into Roget’s here---might stem from a
> “’pre-negative’ . . . tonal gesture,” “calling
> attention-to “ “danger” with “sound[s] . . .
> hav[ing] a deterrent or pejorative meaning” (LASA, pp.
> 423-24).  Deacon’s “lexicality,” a pre-linguistic
> “pointing to” would serve as basis for this transition
> into morally-tinged negation of the kind that
> “dramatically” invests the danger or opportunity in
> question with quasi-theological import.  The negative
> as “engine of intentionality” with its now-infinite
> vistas (indeed, now “rotten with perfection”), would
> begin to indict as well as beckon, accuse as well as
> highlight, come upon its denizens with an aura of spiritual
> hazard, as well as material consequence. 9/16/14.
>>     Deacon does refine his description
> of this likely lengthy transition with: “I see this
> particular near universal [the “oral-vocal”] to be a
> relatively late emerging biological adaptation for symbolic
> communication.”  The “gestural embodiment”
> probably came first, since our primate ancestors were not
> good at vocality.  The vocal came to predominate
> because of its greater potential for myriad “sign
> vehicles.”
>> 6.    Which brings us to Burke’s
> hexadic acknowledgement of “attititude” as 
>> an ingredient in the symbolic mix, language primarily
> expressing an attitude, creating an orientation toward
> certain pathways of action, giving cues to action and a
> command to follow those cues.  For Deacon, that
> attitudinal, “expressive” dimension is denominated a
> “mood.”  In respect to symbolic origins, “Within
> this frame of social communicative arousal,” he maintains,
> “what might be described as the ‘mood’ of the speech
> or interpretive act is differentiated.”  “This
> ‘mood’ needs to be maintained.”  It’s “a
> focused readiness and expectation with respect to social
> interaction.”
>> 7.     Burke famously defines
> humans as the “symbol-using animal.” 
>> Deacon’s “symbolic species” functions as a
> virtual synonym.  “In my work,” Deacon says, “I
> use the phrase symbolic species, quite literally, to argue
> that symbols have literally changed the kind of biological
> organism we are.”
>>     “Indeed, there is ample evidence
> to suggest that language is both well-integrated into almost
> every aspect of our cognitive and social lives, that it
> utilizes a significant fraction of the forebrain, and is
> acquired robustly under even quite difficult social
> circumstances and neurological impairment.  It is far
> from fragile.”
>>     “So rather than merely intelligent
> or wise (sapient) creatures, we are creatures whose social
> and mental capacities have been quite literally shaped by
> the special demands of communicating with symbols.  And
> this doesn’t just mean that we are adapted for language
> use, but also for all the many ancillary mental biases that
> support reliable access and use of this social resource.”
>>     This defining human trait or
> attribute gets locked in globally via “the near universal
> regularities of human language.”
>> 8.    “Drama”---or, to put it more
> logologically, “theological drama”---as 
>> master “screen,” through which even the
> “positives of nature are seen through the eyes of moral
> negativity”?  Howabout Deacon’s approximation:
> “We are ‘symbolic savants,’ unable to suppress the
> many predispositions evolved to aid in symbol acquisition,
> use, and transmission . . . . We almost certainly have
> evolved a predisposition to see things as symbols, whether
> they are or not.”  E.g., “the make-believe of
> children,”  “find[ing] meaning in coincidental
> events,” seeing “faces in the clouds,” “run[ning]
> our lives with respect to dictates presumed to originate
> from an invisible spiritual world.”  “Our special
> adaptation is the lens through which we see the world. 
> With it comes an irrepressible predisposition to seek for a
> cryptic meaning hiding beneath the surface of
> appearances.”
>>     An approximation?  Sounds more
> like a paraphrase.  Always take note of “our special
> adaptation” and factor it into our interpretations of
> “reality.”
>>     More later, I hope, by way of
> additional intersections between Burke and Deacon.
>>     Ed
>> --------------------------------------------
>> On Thu, 10/9/14, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
> wrote:
>> Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part
> Whatever
>> To: kb at kbjournal.org
>> Date: Thursday, October 9, 2014, 5:05 PM
>> Burkophiles,
>>      Let me reiterate, clarify,
> emphasize:
>> It’s the dyadic grammatical pairing of subject and
>> predicate that Deacon says is not “innate” in the
> human
>> mind and human discourse, as in Chomsky’s universal
>> generative conception, not the “symbolic” faculty
>> itself.  No evolutionary, genomic, or
> neurological
>> evidence exists for Chomsky’s view.  It’s
> mostly
>> implicit in these shorter works by Deacon, but
> strongly
>> implicit, that symbolization itself does come naturally
> to
>> the Symbolic Species.  That is, you’ll recall,
> the
>> title of his earlier book.
>>      You may wonder, too, at the
> claim that
>> children pick up on their own a facility for indexical
> and
>> combinatorial modes of symbolic reference, rather than
> learn
>> that culminative syntax from the structures of the
>> conventional language into which they’re socialized.
>> The fact is, Deacon asserts, “The infant already
>> ‘knows’ the logic of these ‘rules’ of
>> indexicality,” which bring noun subject and verbal
>> predicate together.  Those necessary regularities
> are
>> well absorbed the first year and a half by way of
> experience
>> itself.
>>      Also, as he or she reads him, a
> Burkean
>> might be taken aback by Deacon’s occasional reference
> to
>> the “predicate frame” (the “comment” on the
>> “subject” or “topic” that requires the careful
>> “indexing”) as the “symbolic” part of a
>> “complete” sentence or iteration.  This does
> not
>> mean, for Deacon, that the noun subject and object, or
>> referential parts, of the fully-formed utterance
> hasn’t
>> been symbolically transformed by the symbolizing
>> species.  Even proper names, which, unlike common
>> nouns, can be indexically “mapped” a la Saussure,
> are
>> still embedded a culturally conventional,
> artifactualized
>> linguistic system.  What Deacon seems to be
> suggesting
>> here is that distinctive symbolization “emerges”
> from
>> nonsymbolic indexicality—the “pointing” gestures
> and
>> vocalizations of lower animals that indicate some
> recognized
>> “icon” that poses danger, potentially satisfies
>> appetite, requires territorial markings or
>>   signals of aggression or subservience,
> etc.---distinctive
>> symbolization emerges especially via an
> “expressive,”
>> “mood”-generating, “sense”-making, meaningful,
>> ultimately abstractive vocalization that characterizes
> how
>> to conceive of, proceed toward, exploit, or retreat
> from the
>> object or being so referenced.  As Burke has
> said,
>> “The true locus of assertion is not in the DISEASE,
> but in
>> the STRUCTURAL POWERS by which the poet encompasses
> it”
>> (PLF, p. 18, emphasis not added), a redemptive
>> “act”-centered predication.
>>      So, there seems to be an
> underlay of the
>> presymbolic in the indexical not so present in the
>> nonindexical.
>>      Constraining indexicality
> Deacon
>> anatomizes into four aspects, only one of which I’ll
>> mention here, the most basic, what he calls
> “semiotic
>> constraints.”  These manifest themselves in
>> “predication constraints (symbols must be bound in
> order
>> to refer)”; “transitivity and embedding
> constraints
>> (indexicality depends on immediate correlation and
>> contiguity across the transitive)”; and
> “quantification
>> (symbolized indices need re-specification).
>>>>      In elaboration, Deacon says,
> “To state
>> this hypothesis in semiotic terms: a symbol must be
>> contiguous with the index that grounds its reference
> (either
>> to the world or to the immediate agreeing textual
> context,
>> which is otherwise grounded), or else its reference
>> fails.  Contiguity thus has a doubly indexical
> role to
>> play.  Its contiguity (textually or pragmatically)
> with
>> the symbolizing sign vehicle [see paragraph 3 above]
> points
>> to this symbol, and their contiguity in turn points to
>> something else.  This is an expression of one
> further
>> feature of indexicality: transitivity of reference.”
>> Or, more “simply stated, a pointer pointing to
> another
>> pointer pointing to some object effectively enables
> the
>> first pointer to also point to that object.”
>>      Ultimate grounding in the real
> world
>> seems vital to Deacon for complete and satisfying
>> predication.
>>      Being the neuroscientist that
> he is,
>> Deacon asks, by way of “transitivity” as he calls
> it,
>> “How does this interaction between phases of
> sentence
>> differentiation produce anything?  What sort of
> signals
>> are being sent in each direction” from one area of
> the
>> human brain to another?  To simplify, what’s
>> happening is “counter-current information
> processing”
>> that generally proceeds from “lower” to
> “higher”
>> structures of the brain, and from back to front---from
>> limbic, peri-limbic, and peripheral, to
> “specialized”
>> cortical regions; from “posterior
> (attention-sensory)
>> cortical systems” to “anterior (intention-action)
>> cortical systems”; i.e., from reptilian brain
> structures
>> like the thalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala, to the
>> advanced cerebral components of mammalian, primate,
> and
>> early hominid ancestry.  And, of equal importance,
> back
>> again, from “higher” to “lower,” etc., as
>> well.  These “counter-current”
>>   electro-chemical operations afford a kind of
> monitoring,
>> provide checks and balances, generate
> “equilibrium.”
>>      Whether we’re neurologically
> examining
>> sensory, or motor, or cognitive, or linguistic
> operations,
>> they all look pretty much the same, I interpret. 
> They
>> each exhibit similarly “emergent” characteristics,
> in
>> terms of evolutionary origins and current sequential
>> functioning.
>>      What remains to be dealt with
> is a
>> summary of the complementary intersections between
> Burke’s
>> dramatism/logology and Deacon’s semiotics, and also
> the
>> challenge Deacon possibly poses to Burke’s
> action/motion
>> dichotomy.
>>      At a later date.
>>      And a P.S.  If you object
> to my use
>> of the singular form of the verb “to be” in the
> “what
>> remains” sentence, do read the Fowler-Nicholson
>> “Dictionary of American-English Usage,” pp.
>> 374-75.  Fowler and Nicholson don’t explain it
> well,
>> but they do get it right, unlike billions of
> publications
>> I’ve read, including the New York Times.  I’m
> still
>> a grammarian of a kind at heart, even after the
>> Deacon-struction.
>>      Ed     
>> --------------------------------------------
>> On Mon, 10/6/14, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
>> wrote:
>>   Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part
> Whatever
>>   To: kb at kbjournal.org
>>   Date: Monday, October 6, 2014, 3:34 PM
>>   Burkophiles,
>>       I’ve already said
>>   that Terrence W. Deacon’s semiotic theory
> partly
>> supports,
>>   partly enhances, and partly challenges Burke’s
>>   dramatism/logology, in my view.  Burke
> surely, we would
>>   maintain, enhances Deacon, as well.  Before
> I get to the
>>   “challenge”---as the song goes, “Don’t
> know where,
>>   don’t know when”---let me add to the themes
> of support
>>   and enhancement.  Here I’ll be
> referencing, in
>>   particular, two of Deacon’s shorter works, the
> journal
>>   article, “The Emergent Process of Thinking as
> Reflected
>> in
>>   Language Processing,” and Deacon’s book 
> chapter,
>>   “Beyond the Symbolic Species,” The Symbolic
> Species
>>   being the title of the
> anthropologist/neuroscientist’s
>>   tome that preceded Incomplete Nature: How Mind
> Emerged
>> from
>>   Matter, about which I previously bloviated.
>>       I would judge Deacon’s
> explanatory
>>   “god-term”/”rome-term” to be
> “emergent,” as
>> per
>>   the title of the here-featured treatise. 
> The word
>>   “emerge” plays a similar role, I think, in
> “Beyond
>> the
>>   Symbolic Species.”  All roads seem to lead
> from
>>   “emerge”/”emergent” to the two sets of
> dialectical
>>   opposites subsumed below:
>>       The primary polar matchup term
>>   “emergent” is pitted against, is
> “innate,” as in
>> the
>>   pre-processed, genetically-programmed and
> “engineered”
>>   universal generative grammar of Noam Chomsky and
> his
>>   epigoni.  No evidence of such a special
> facility can be
>>   found in the human genome or in the structures of
> the
>> human
>>   brain, which actually look not that much
> different from
>>   those found in a mouse, let alone a
> chimpanzee.  (I’m
>>   referencing Incomplete Nature as well as
>> “Emergent.”) 
>>   We have here a “process of coming out,” a
> “rising .
>> .
>>   . out of a surrounding medium,” even “an
> effect
>> produced
>>   by a combination of causes but unable to be seen
> as the
>> sum
>>   of their individual effects” (The Shorter OED),
> except
>>   through careful, detailed scrutiny of the natural
> history
>>   and evolution of living organisms, pathways of
>>   electro-chemical discharge in the brain, the
> very
>> neurology
>>   of sensory, motor, thinking, and linguistic
> development
>> and
>>   outcomes,
>>    animal communication generally,
>>   even the listening and reading, as well as the
> speaking
>> and
>>   writing, of symbolizers like us---all these
> operations
>>   recapitulating the same sequential steps. 
> (It’s
>>   appropriate here to note what Susan Greenfield
> and
>> Christof
>>   Koch, both neuroscientists, said in an exchange
> in
>>   Psychology Today: Electrochemical discharges in
> the brain
>>   can occur within time frames of 1/14th of a
> second.)
>>       From this dialectical
>>   emphasis on “emergent” rather than
> “innate,” there
>>   is derived the contrasting concepts of
>>   “subject/predicate.”  They assume more
> independent
>>   “roles,” if not do “battle” with each
> other,
>>   seemingly asymmetrically, in a way that Chomsky
> would not
>>   likely entertain.  “Subject/predicate”;
> “noun
>>   phrase/verb phrase”; “”topic/comment”;
>> “indexical
>>   support/predicate frame”;
> “’pointing’”/desired
>> or
>>   undesired result; “orientation component”/act
> to
>>   accomplish in respect to that “orientation”;
>>   “function,” as in
> functionary/”argument”;
>>   “reference/sense”; “indexical
> operation/symbolic
>>   operation”; “slots” for “pointing,” or
>>   “addresses”/”operation”; “(embedded)
> bound
>>   indexes/symbolic operation”;
> “disambiguating” the
>>   “indexical”/successful “symbolic” action
> toward a
>>   desired end---these serve as various expressions
> of the
>>   “process” of
>>    “emergence,” left to
>>   right, in communication, part of which, the
>>   “indexical”-founded-on-the-“iconic”
> preliminaries
>>   I’ve already spoken of, homo loquax/dialecticus
> shares
>>   with other living creatures.
>>       The major point Deacon makes is,
> there
>>   is no built-in genetic-neurological template by
> which the
>>   symbolic species gets from subject to
> predicate.  That
>>   aptitude, that enabling juxtaposition, resides
> not in our
>>   biology, nor in our cultural conditioning. 
> It is a
>> faculty
>>   humans learn in early childhood via the bound and
> required
>>   “logic” of successful symbolization. 
>>   “Disambiguating” indexicality---i.e.,
> “:pointing”
>>   via gestures or indexical words to what it is we
> are
>>   symbolically talking about---is a requirement
> for
>> successful
>>   human communication.  We must put those two
> communicative
>>   elements together somehow to get what we’re
> after, or
>> tell
>>   others more or less accurately what we want them
> to
>> know. 
>>   Nonsymbolic animals have no such indexical
> problem,
>> because
>>   their communication doesn’t get beyond the
> “iconic,”
>>   the “:arousal” to “attention” a
> significant
>>   “form” will evoke for them---and the
> “indexical,”
>>   the gestural or
>>    vocal “pointing” to
>>   that feared or desired object. 
> “Symbolization” via
>>   predication complicates, potentially, actually
>> practically,
>>   interrupts, erects barriers in succession to
> making clear,
>>   what we are talking about, who or what we have in
> mind,
>> what
>>   we want others to “do” in order for our
> interests to
>> be
>>   satisfied.
>>       How human thinking, sensory and
> motor
>>   skills, and language production get to happen
> involve
>>   similar, if not identical, neural continuities.
>>       And how all this
>>   dovetails so nicely with Burke’s dramatistic
> philosophy,
>>   yet broaches an issue Burke may not have
> adequately dealt
>>   with, remains.
>>       Next
>>   time.
>>       Ed  
>>   --------------------------------------------
>>   On Tue, 9/16/14, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
>>   wrote:
>>    Subject: [KB] "The
>>   Symbol Concept"
>>    To: kb at kbjournal.org
>>    Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2014,
> 1:08 PM
>>    Burkophiles,
>>        Thanks, Bob, for your
>>   response on Burke,
>>    rhetoric, and
>>   “repetition.”  I hope to get back on
>>   that one later.
>>        I
>>   posted a few weeks ago on Terrence W.
>>   Deacon’s book Incomplete Nature: How Mind
> Emerged from
>>    Matter.  I said, in effect, and
> sought to
>>   briefly
>>    summarize how, Deacon’s
>>   philosophy of language part
>>    supports, part
>>   enhances, and part challenges Burke’s
>>   dramatism/logology.  Ronald Soetaert of
> Ghent U.
>>    seconded that take on Deacon’s
> relevance to
>>   our
>>    enterprise.
>>        Since then, I’ve been
> in further
>>    dialogue with Professor Deacon. 
> He sent me
>>   three of
>>    his published articles, then
>>   later, a fourth, later still an
>>    essay now
>>   in press.  Two of these pieces have to do
>>   with his mentor, Gregory Bateson, whose work I
> referred
>>   to
>>    in at least one of my posts as being
> a
>>   clear precursor of
>>    Deacon’s semiotics. 
>>   The other of those first three,
>>    an
>>   encyclopedia chapter entitled “The Symbol
> Concept,”
>>    I’d like to summarize in this post
> and maybe
>>   one or two
>>    more.  The chapter appears in
>>   The Oxford Handbook of
>>    Language Evolution
>>   (Oxford University Press, 2011).  If
>>   you’re interested, please read on.
>>        (And as you read, do
> keep in mind
>>   that
>>    Incomplete Nature has made a profound
>>   impact, judging from
>>    multiple reviews
>>   easily accessed on the internet.)
>>        First, Deacon’s
> confirmation of
>>   Burke,
>>    formerly unbeknownst to Deacon, as I
>>   noted: Deacon’s in
>>    anthropology and
>>   neuroscience, not communication and
>>   literature, the prime sources of Burkean interest
> and
>>    scholarship.  From the
> perspective of
>>   Incomplete
>>    Nature, I pointed out how
>>   Deacon’s critique of the
>>    commonplace
>>   “scientific lens,” maybe epitomized by
>>   behaviorism’s notion of the human mind, any
> “mind,”
>>   as
>>    a “black box” we ought to
> prescind
>>   from our motivational
>>    calculations, is
>>   faulty and inadequate.  Input and
>>    output,
>>   neural stimulus and response, reduction of mind
> to
>>    biology, then to chemistry, then to
> physics,
>>   are the
>>    requisite foci for useful data and
>>   explanation, so much of
>>    hard science, at
>>   least, seems to suggest.  Deacon says
>>    no,
>>   we have to factor in, indeed highlight, a
> necessary
>>    “absential feature”(similar to
> Burke’s
>>   negative) that
>>    becomes the basis for human
>>   purpose, trial and error---we
>>    can genuinely
>>   label it all the
>>     aspects of “action,”
>>   expressive of a chosen
>>    “preference,”
>>   that cuts across “spontaneous” causes
>>   in nature and orients persons toward “work”
> that
>>   limits,
>>    organizes, directs life
>>   outcomes.
>>        “The
>>   Symbol Concept” further
>>    underscores the
>>   dramatistic relevance of Deacon’s
>>   thought.  Deacon once again takes issue with
> regnant
>>    scientific/technological terminologies
> that
>>   confuse what a
>>    “symbol” actually is. 
>>   A symbol is not, Deacon
>>    claims, mere
>>   “code,” “sign,” “icon,” or number,
>>    that is, symbols are not mere pointers
> ,
>>   markers, gauges, or
>>    portraits of the kind
>>   so often denominated
>>    “symbols.” 
>>   Actual “symbols” refer, abstractly
>>    and
>>   generally, “irrespective of any natural
>>   affinities.”  In other words, as per
> Burke, symbols
>>    synthesize, synthetically, disparate
> beings,
>>   entities, or
>>    events for seemingly
>>   pragmatic, culturally-conditioned
>>    purposes
>>   that transcend mere appearance of similarity. 
>>    Contra Saussure (with the exception of
> proper
>>   nouns),
>>    symbolic reference cannot be
>>   “mapped.”  To the
>>    extent that a common
>>   word or symbol “maps” anything, it
>>   “maps” a position in a given lexicon in
> relation to
>>    other
>>     terminologies in that
>>   symbol system.
>>        The
>>   airy, diaphanous character of
>>    Burke’s
>>   equivalent notion of symbolic action/reference
>>    finds peak expression in his chapter,
> “What
>>   Are the Signs
>>    of What?---A Theory of
>>   Entitlement.” in LASA.  There
>>    Burke
>>   maintains what he said in the Grammar about how
> common
>>    symbols refer to “nothing” in the
> real
>>   world, only here
>>    he follows up with how
>>   “reference” is reversed, in terms
>>    of
>>   customary suppositions: “Things are the signs
> of
>>    words,” rather than vice
> versa.  In so
>>   “latching
>>    on” to the symbol’s
>>   concept, so to speak, tangible
>>    entities and
>>   “objects” “materialize” the
>>   “spirit” of the symbol, participate in its
>>    “pageantry” (pp. 361, 379).
>>        But---and
>>   here’s where Deacon gets into
>>    semiotic
>>   and semiological issues foreign to Burke’s
>>    dramatism, i.e., the “enhancement”
> I
>>    mentioned---“sign”-age,
>>   “signal”-ing,
>>    “code”deciphering,
>>   the whole gamut of concepts related
>>    to
>>   computer algorithms and “encryption,” come to
> bear in
>>    undergirding the higher-order
> cognitive
>>   process we call
>>    human symbolic
>>   communication.  Like love and marriage
>>   (for the traditionally minded, anyway), you
> can’t have
>>   one
>>    without the other.  The symbols
> of
>>   human language are
>>    fashioned out of sounds
>>   and written or printed characters
>>    the roots
>>   of which are presymbolic, and prehuman, for that
>>    matter.  Such “iconic” and
>>   “indexical” sources
>>    of communication
>>   are evident in the activites of nonsymbolic
>>   animals, as well as in the “symbolic actions”
> of you
>>   and
>>    me.  Thus, add “iconism” and
>>   “indexicality” to
>>    Deacon’s
>>   “absential feature” and Bateson’s
>>   “difference that makes a
>>     difference”
>>   (that results from some pre-ethical sense of
>>    negation, and occasions a form of
> “trial and
>>   error” in
>>    the service of a kind of
>>   “preference,” a capacity for
>>    which all
>>   living things show signs of possessing and
>>   utilizing).
>>        In
>>   explaining this “hierarchy” of
>>    notions
>>   he uses in explaining how human symbolic action
>>    works, Deacon borrows from the
> philosophy of
>>   Charles Sanders
>>    Peirce.  Peirce coined the
>>   term “legisign” to refer
>>    to iconic,
>>   indexical, and symbolic signs in general. 
>>   The locution “sinsign” refers to a specific
> instance
>>   of
>>    an iconic or lexical sign (there can
> be
>>   no such thing,
>>    actually, as a “symbolic
>>   sinsign,” as will become clear,
>>    I hope. 
>>   “Natural affinities” characterize
>>   sinsigns; not so, anything that attains the level
> of
>>    “symbolic,” based on, as Burke and
> Deacon
>>   say,
>>    arbitrary, conventional, culturally
>>   reflective origins of
>>    reference.)  A stick
>>   figure drawing on a restroom door
>>    is an
>>   iconic legisign.  It “portrays” in
>>   general.  A picture of a famous person is an
> iconic
>>    sinsign.  It portrays in
> particular.  A
>>   smoke
>>    alarm sound is an indexical legisign,
>>   as is the position of
>>    a needle on a
>>   pressure gauge.  They “point” or
>>   orient
>>     toward an action in the large.  A
>>   particular smell of
>>    smoke is an indexical
>>   sinsign.  Spoken or written
>>    words, in a
>>   syntactical context or not, are symbolic
>>   legisigns.  The reference is to “a general
> concept or
>>    type of object.”
>>        Proper names might seem
> to be a bit
>>   like
>>    symbolic sinsigns, but they are not. 
>>   Their reference
>>    can be mapped, one-to-one
>>   Saussure-like, but “the
>>    sign-vehicle is a
>>   conventional form.”  Therefore
>>    Peirce
>>   would call them “indexical legisigns.” 
>>    “Dolphin signature whistles are
> indexical
>>   sinsigns”
>>    (Deacon, e-mail message,
>>   9/9/14).  Symbolic signs of
>>    the most
>>   abstract or merely potential kind of reference
>>    Peirce calls “qualisigns.”
>>        Symbolic reference,
>>   then, functions like
>>    this: “A written
>>   word [for instance] is first recognized
>>    as
>>   an iconic sinsign (an instance of a familiar
> form), then
>>    an indexical legisign (a type of sign
> vehicle
>>   contiguous
>>    with other related types), and
>>   then as a symbolic legisign
>>    (a conventional
>>   type of sign referring to a conventional
>>   type of reference).
>>       Deacon employs the text message
> “smiley
>>    face” and Aristotle’s take on how
> a
>>   “signet ring”
>>    functions in
>>   communication as examples of this hierarchal
>>    progression in the production of
> meaning for
>>   symbol-users,
>>    one of Deacon’s most
>>   salient points being: This
>>    “dependency of
>>   symbolic reference on indexical reference
>>   [and iconic reference]” mirrors the dependency
> of human
>>    symbolic action/communication on the
>>   “genetic,” even
>>    “phylogenetic,”
>>   capacities for iconic and indexical
>>   communication of a sort in “living organisms”
> in
>>    general, a theme of Deacon’s (and
>>   Bateson’s) I
>>    emphasized in my previous
>>   posts on Incomplete Nature.
>>        So, for further review
> and/or
>>   comment:
>>        What do
>>   Deacon’s semiotic distinctions,
>>    and
>>   especially unifications, mean for Burke’s
> signature
>>    “(Nonsymbolic) Motion/(Symbolic)
> Action”
>>   dichotomy 
>>    (1978/2003)?  Is some sort of
>>   modification in order
>>    along the lines of
>>   Jim Chesebro’s complaint that Burke did
>>   not pay enough attention to nonsymbolic motive s
> (Burke
>>    panel at the ECA Convention, 1992)?
>>        Does Deacon’s
>>   critique of Chomsky’s
>>    Universal
>>   Generative Grammar as the innate
> “constraint”
>>    on syntactical linguistic
> relationships in
>>   human
>>    communication, in favor instead of
>>   “indexical”
>>    constraints, tend to
>>   support Burke’s notion of the
>>    negative as
>>   “the engine of intentionality” and the very
>>    dawn of human symbolism
> (1952/1953/1966)?
>>        Maybe something on
>>   those issues later.
>>        Ed
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