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On Maieutic Machines by Michael Kinnucan

In languages, philosophy on October 31, 2013 at 01:49

From: On Maieutic Machines by Michael Kinnucan, Hypocrite Reader, http://hypocritereader.com

Socrates asks the young Theaetetus: what is knowledge? He says he really wants to know. Theaetetus hesitates a bit (he’s heard rumors about this guy), but answers in the end: Knowledge of geometry, of astronomy, knowledge of shoemaking and leatherworking—these, and things like them, are knowledge. And let’s be fair to Theaetetus: it’s not as though he’s wrong. Geometry is knowledge, or a knowledge anyway, in one extremely common and useful sense of the word “is.” It’s not an ignorance, certainly, nor is it for example a tree. It is knowledge. He knows his shapes.

Socrates is not satisfied, however. He raises two objections. First, when he said he didn’t know what knowledge was, Theaetetus evidently did not take him at his word: he keeps using the word “knowledge” in his answers, just as if Socrates knew what “knowledge” meant, when Socrates (unless he’s lying, which is likely) well and truly does not know what “knowledge” means. Second, Theaetetus offers a longwinded answer, or rather an indefinite one—presumably there is a knowledge of every fish in the sea, and we could spend our lives listing them off and never come to the end of it, but surely there’s a simple way to say what all the things share that we call knowledge. Surely in some sense they’re all alike. We don’t call them all knowledge by consulting some monstrous heterogeneous list.

Socrates gives the example of mud. You can do all sorts of things with mud—jump in it, wipe it off your feet, make bricks. But saying all the uses of mud would be neither necessary nor sufficient to define it. There’s a short way around: mix water and dirt, you’ve got mud. So (he seems to imply), what do you mix to get knowledge?

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

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Emancipation of the Sign by Franco Berardi Bifo

In art, economics, languages, philosophy, poetry on June 6, 2013 at 20:38

From:  Emancipation of the Sign: Poetry and Finance During the Twentieth Century by Franco Berardi Bifo, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com/

Money and language have something in common: they are nothing and yet they move everything. They are nothing but symbols, conventions, flatus vocis, but they have the power to persuade human beings to act, to work, and to transform physical things:

Money makes things happen. It is the source of action in the world and perhaps the only power we invest in. Perhaps in every other respect, in every other value, bankruptcy has been declared, giving money the power of some sacred deity, demanding to be recognized. Economics no longer persuades money to behave. Numbers cannot make the beast lie down and be quiet or sit up and do tricks. Thus, as we suspected all along, economics falsely imitates science. At best, economics is a neurosis of money, a symptom contrived to hold the beast in abeyance … Thus economics shares the language of psychopathology, inflation, depression, lows and heights, slumps and peaks, investments and losses, and economy remains caught in manipulations of acting stimulated or depressed, drawing attention to itself, egotistically unaware of its own soul. Economists, brokers, accountants, financiers, all assisted by lawyers, are the priests of the cult of money, reciting their prayers to make the power of money work without imagination.1

Financial capitalism is based on the autonomization of the dynamics of money, but more deeply, on the autonomization of value production from the physical interaction of things.

The passage from the industrial abstraction of work to the digital abstraction of world implies an immaterialization of the labor process.

Jean Baudrillard proposed a general semiology of simulation based on the premise of the end of referentiality, in the economic as well as the linguistic field. In Le miroir de la production (1973), Baudrillard writes: “In this sense need, use value and the referent ‘do not exist.’ They are only concepts produced and projected into a generic dimension by the development of the very system of exchange value.”2′

But the analogy between economy and language should not mislead us: although money and language have something in common, their destinies do not coincide, as language exceeds economic exchange. Poetry is the language of non-exchangeability, the return of infinite hermeneutics, and the return of the sensuous body of language.

I’m talking of poetry here as an excess of language, as a hidden resource which enables us to shift from one paradigm to another.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Colors / Ash by Meghan Dailey

In aesthetics, languages, philosophy, religion, theory on May 29, 2013 at 22:34

From: Colors / Ash by Meghan Dailey, Cabinet Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The identity of ash as a color is questionable. Ash is not ashen—drained of color—but variously gray, whitish, black-like, flecked, dirty, streaked. It can be steely and cold, or the harsh, smoky yield of raging flames. Intangible, abstract, but also very much there, even if only in trace form, ash is an absolute result. Elsewhere, ash is a mood. It speaks of melancholy, New England maybe—turning leaves on ash trees under overcast skies in damp autumn air, that sort of thing. Ed Ruscha’s drawing Ash (1971), rendered in gunpowder and pastel, perfectly crystallizes its valences and free–floating (literally) signification. For Ruscha, words are ever the stuff of extended reflection, of puns and hidden meanings, presented as plain as day. I like to think that he must have enjoyed the particular convergence between word and medium (a combustible substance in its pre-asheous state).

One can experience ash by wearing it. The LL Bean catalog sells “Bean’s Sloggs,” an outdoor shoe available in color ash as well as color black, and also some men’s casual trousers in ash—just one among many barely distinguishable neutrals the company offers: taupe, beige, moss, peat, stone, timber, fatigue. The clothing and colors signify the outdoors, and are situated and named as part of nature’s continuum. But peat and stone are going to outlive the whims of consumer taste.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet Magazine

Nushu by Fabio Conte

In Asia, community, gender, languages on February 10, 2013 at 17:53

From: Nushu, secret script of Chinese women by Fabio Conte, http://www.cafebabel.co.uk

Discovered in the 1950s, the ancient language was banned by the communist party so that it didn’t ignite discussions on women’s liberation. Thanks to tourism today, this ‘women’s script’ is experiencing something of a revival – unfortunately, fears are that there are few women left who are able to speak and write it.

In standard Chinese it is identified using only one character, yet Nushu itself represents concepts as well as sounds. Literally, ‘nu shu’ means ‘women’s script’. It is made up of over 20, 000 characters which are rhomboid, not square shaped, as they are in standard Chinese. It is read from right to left and mainly written in verses, probably so as to give a certain rhythm to the text. Mao’s prohibition of women’s script during the cultural revolution of China (1966-1976) meant the loss of all texts written in it. Consequently many of the women who knew how to speak and write it soon forgot it. Many texts written in Nushu were burned, and as such now it is difficult to establish the language’s origins.

In the village of Shanjianxu, in the southern region of Hunan (which is famous, amongst other things, for being home to the fictional mountains in 2009’s Avatar) the flower mountain temple is a shrine to two sisters who died over a thousand years ago. For many centuries, the inhabitants of the region have worshiped the spirits of these sisters at the temple. They offer gifts of rice paper rolls in which they placed their secrets, their wishes and sometimes their prayers, which is necessary to find the courage to commit suicide. In the temple, among the smell of incense, there is the sound of a countrywoman’s song which roughly translates as, ‘Spirit sisters, please listen to my prayer, this poor girl writes to you in women’s script, Spirit sisters, take pity on me. I wish to follow wherever you are, if you would only accept me there, then I would dedicate myself to you. I’m willowing to follow you right to the Yellow Springs, to the Underworld. Now, I care nothing for things of this world, Spirit sisters, take pity on me, I beg you, change me into a man, I don’t want to bear the name of woman’.

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Reposted with permission from: Cafebabel

What is Poetry by Juan Tomas

In art, languages, poetry on January 9, 2013 at 23:59

From: What is Poetry by Juan Tomas, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

To consider a question such as what is poetry, is tantamount to asking what art is, or what is music. Depending upon what period in man’s linear history, and in which culture we examine, the answer might be as varied as the nuances of a sun setting, or the shape of waves rolling in over a beach. If we examine any poem from the past, we will inevitably impose upon it our own twenty-first century interpretation, which might not coincide with the original contemporary view of its origin. Inspite of these obstacles, this essay examines poetic language and why it has been interpreted as an expression of some higher truth. With that in mind, this essay will demonstrate, through one specific poem, that poetry uses language to express the emotion of the human soul. It is therefore a window to the essence of its author, and of mankind’s collective soul.

If it can be said that poetry is a window to the essence of its author, then it is only proper that an examination be made of what constitutes a poet. Percy Bysshe Shelly makes a suggestion regarding that question in his remarks for an essay entitled, The Four Ages of Poetry from the opus A Defense of Poetry. Shelly writes that “In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word the good which in the relation, subsisting perception and expression.”(348) We know that language is the medium, or the means by which a poet expresses poetry, however, we might also ask why poetry and not prose is so appealing. Do the elements of rhythm and rhyme found in poetry give it some magical credibility, some appealing attraction? Do we believe a pronouncement made in rhyme over simple prose?

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard

In Europe, history, humanities, languages, research on January 5, 2013 at 05:12

From: The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com/

mezzofanti

Without a doubt, the most important book in English devoted to Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849), the polyglot of Bologna, is The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, written by an Irish priest, Charles William Russell, and published in 1858. When I first began research on hyperpolyglots, I knew I was going to have to spend considerable time with Russell’s book, which contains a wealth of information about Mezzofanti, his time, and his language abilities, not to mention other famous language learners. I had discovered the book by chance in the collection of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The only way to get the required time to hunt through its treasures was to get some sort of research funding, I thought. Soon I discovered that the book, because it is in the public domain, had been scanned and republished in hardcopy, and was also available for free online.

Before I say something about what makes Russell’s book so valuable for the hyperpolyglot hunter, let me say a bit about what a “hyperpolyglot” is. A hyperpolyglot is someone who knows six or more languages, according to Richard Hudson, a linguist at University College London. Some have criticized the word as an ugly string of syllables – the word “polyglot” trips off no tongues – but it’s useful for distinguishing ordinary multilingualism from the massive accumulation and use of languages that Mezzofanti and others displayed. For a long time, the hyperpolyglot was a sort of language learner whom many people had anecdotes about but who had never been investigated seriously. Is hyperpolyglottery a new kind of multilingualism, feeding off a globalized world of cheap communications? Is it a personal eccentricity, this passion or obsession for languages? Is it driven by a certain type of brain that remembers well, loves patterns, and finds pleasure in repetition? It’s all these things, to varying degrees, but to get my hands around the phenomenon, I was going to have to hunt for hyperpolyglots and start with Mezzofanti.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

The dark side of TESOL by Kimie Takahashi

In Asia, economics, gender, languages, politics, sociology on November 8, 2012 at 03:14

From: The dark side of TESOL by Kimie Takahashi, Language on the Move http://www.languageonthemove.com

The latest issue of Cross-Cultural Studies (published by the Center for Cross Cultural Studies, Kyung Hee University, Korea) includes an article about the dark side of TESOL authored by Ingrid Piller, Kimie Takahashi, and Yukinori Watanabe. Based on case studies from Japan and South Korea, this review paper explores the hidden costs of English language learning (ELL). In a context where English has become a commodity and ELL a form of consumption, we focus on the personal and social costs of (a) studying abroad as a much-touted path to “native-like” proficiency and (b) sexualization of language teaching materials in order to reach new niche markets. The hidden costs of ELL are embedded in language ideologies which set English up as a magical means of self-transformation and, at the same time, an unattainable goal for most Japanese and Koreans. We end with the call to expose debilitating language ideologies in order to shed light on the hidden costs of ELL.

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Reposted with permission from: Language on the Move

Alan Turing creator of Artificial Languages by Federico Gobbo

In humanities, languages, philosophy, research on November 5, 2012 at 21:43

From: Alan Turing creator of Artificial Languages by Federico Gobbo, InKoj, Philosophy & Artificial Languages, http://riviste.unimi.it/index.php/inkoj/index

ABSTRACT. In this paper an evaluation of the contribution to philosophical investigation by Alan Turing is provided in terms of creation of Artificial Languages (ALs). After a discussion of the term AL in the literature, and in particular within the theoretical model offered by Lyons, the legacy of Turing is  presented with a special attention to what remains after a century by his birth and what is still to be investigated in this area.

The definition of AL highly depends on two factor: the ambiguity of the English word ‘language’; the (scientific) context in which AL is used. In fact, unlike other so-called ‘natural’ languages – such as French – in the English language the word ‘language’ indicates both artificial and ‘natu ral’ languages – only when that adjective is expressed. In French, langage is the general term, which includes both artificial and natural languages, while langue explicitly denots ‘natural’ ones. Esperanto follows the French model in this respect. This lackness had great consequences on the antonym of the expression ‘natural language’, that is ‘artificial language’ (AL). From the point of view of linguistics and philosophy of language, Lyons (1991) ad- dresses this question in detail, giving a taxonomy of languages in terms of degree of naturalness.

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Reposted with permission from: InKoj

How writing began with Maria Zijlstra and Professor Antonio Sagona

In archaeology, Asia, audio, civilisation, culture, history, interview, languages on September 19, 2012 at 03:52

From: How writing began with Maria Zijlstra and Professor Antonio Sagona, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

The texts on the tablets, written in the Old Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, describe the Assyrians bringing textiles and tin to Anatolia on the backs of donkeys, and trading it with the locals for silver and gold. This letter is from Ashur-malik to his brother Ashur-idi complaining that, although winter has already come, he and his family have been left in Ashur without food, clothes or fuel. Lack of space obliged him to finish his letter on a small supplementary tablet. Often, as in this case, the tablet was encased in a clay envelope. These were sometimes inscribed with a summary of the contents and sealed by witnesses, using the traditional Mesopotamian cylinder seal rather than the local Anatolian stamp seal. Here the sender’s seal shows figures approaching a seated king with a bull-man at the end of the scene.

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Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

“Scarers in Print”

In books, humanities, languages, media, universities on May 30, 2012 at 09:27

 

“Scarers in Print”: Media Literacy and Media Practice from Our Mutual Friend to Friend Me On Facebook. Part 2 – Jim Mussell – http://jimmussell.com

The materiality of media must become disciplined so they can function, in a particular instance as a particular type of object. Bill Brown’s distinction between ‘object’ and ‘thing’, where objects become socialized through discourse while things remain obliquely out of view, is useful here. As Brown notes, ‘we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us’.5 But what if rather than positing a binary we rethink thingness as a repository or resource, something that can be drawn upon to recast objects from one form to another? In her book, Writing Machines, N. Katherine Hayles posits a materiality that is emergent and shifting, linking together representation and the physicality of the object that allows representation to operate. If, as Hayles suggests, ‘the physical attributes constituting any artefact are potentially infinite’, then objects – standing on the threshold of a generative, unknowable, thingness – are repositories of materiality.6 The object world marks the boundary between the socialized properties of things and the vast repository of the unknown that constitutes their thingness. As use is social practice, the form of this threshold constantly changes: objects manifest different properties and, in turn, recast the social relations in which they are embedded. As Brown suggests, the ‘thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation.’7 In a very real way, then, objects are interfaces because they make things happen.

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