Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

“Dare to Know” (Kant)

by • October 25th, 2008

This post distills a series of thoughts from reading three different texts: The Heroic Model of Science (Chapter 1, Telling the Truth about History by Appleby, Hunt & Jacob, 1991); The Talmud and the Internet by Jonathan Rosen (2000), and an Interview with Ilan Stavans by Richard Birnbaum (@ 2003).
Three threads are primary: language, interaction, and science. “Language” is engaged theoretically and in practice, particularly the practices of interpretation. Although the references in the three selected texts refer mainly to written translations, I extrapolate ‘down’ to in-the-moment generation of understanding in everyday talking with each other, based on cooperation or agreement between people about meaning. I also extrapolate ‘up’ – or at least ‘over’ – to the interlinguistic skills that are most obviously evident in simultaneous interpretation. As to interaction, there are numerous levels from the microsocial to the macrosocial and the temporal to the ephemeral. The history of science is significant because of its influence on how people in western countries learn.
Why these three texts, beyond the coincidence of reading them more-or-less at the same time? Appleby, Hunt & Jacob (hereafter AH&J) investigate “what sorts of political circumstances foster critical inquiry” (p. 9). They

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Babel fish (Douglas Adams on interpretation)

by • December 9th, 2007

“The Babel fish,” said The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, “is small, yellow, and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequences with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
1979/2005 p. 58-59

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researching the edges

by • October 1st, 2007

I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where edges meet.

Anne Fadiman. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.
1997. (Preface, p. viii.)
The Review linked above does criticize Fadiman for overromanticizing some aspects of Hmong culture, history, and customs; what reviewer Mai Na M. Lee calls “the bigger issues.” In particular, she criticizes Fadiman’s conclusion that Hmong are “differently ethical.” The phrasing itself is curious, requiring some serious parsing. The way I read the phrase, Fadiman is asserting that ethics are as foundational and valued among the Hmong as within any people. The use of “differently” (instead of the starker label of “different”) – refers to the ethics being performed or based “in a different manner.” It seems to me this opens up comparision on the basis of more, rather then less, similarity. Dr. Lee did not read the phrase this way, interpreting its meaning as more distancing (differencing?) than joining.
Dr. Lee has the benefit of context; I have not yet read that far. There is a Bakhtinian movement discernable here: the counterplay of centripetal and centrifugal forces in the utterances of

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a “trans moment in world history”

by • July 17th, 2007

Seriously. Todd Hasak-Lowy.
Every short story in this collection is graduate school hilarious. This guy speaks the language, knows the culture, and is an astute social commentator in an-understated-while-laughing-at-himself way. I have laughed out loud several times. In this title story, The Task of This Translator” (a play on Walter Benjamin), Ted hires “our hero”, Ben (151), to work for the translation business he establishes after a course on “‘Transnationalism and Borders’ or something like that” (150), because “Ted concluded that … the future was about transnationalism, or something to that effect – and that a business, one day a giant corporation, was waiting to sprout from this trans moment in world history” (150-151).
Some of his phrases are sheer elegance:
“…the sheer beauty of the language, wanting to learn it in order to better understand the unrest that speaks this language…” (152)
“…the unrest that speaks this language…”
In this phrase is all of postmodernism, eh?

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“Be hard by being tender!” [When Nietzsche Wept (part 2)]

by • August 22nd, 2006

So Dr. Breuer challenges Nietzsche. I wrote about the first six chapters a few days ago: my enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed. 🙂
“We are each composed of many parts, each clamoring for expression. We can be held responsible only for the final compromise, not for the wayward impulses of each of the parts” (300).
“’One must have chaos and frenzy within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.’” (179-180). [oft-quoted, even by the Deaf community!]
“The key to living well is
first to will that which is necessary
and then to love that which is willed
” (282).
“A tree requires stormy weather if it is to attain a proud height…creativity and discovery are begotten in pain” (179).
The notion of eternal recurrence (249-251) deserves its own post in the phenomenology thread (good section in wikipedia on Nietzsche’s view, emphasizing the thought rather than the physical reality of an eternal return). There’s something of the dialectic/dialogic in there (see p. 84, too). It has convinced me that it is time to read the copy of Thus Spake Zarathurstra that I picked up in Berlin last summer.
More on interpretation (I extrapolate): “ a series of meanings folded into” [an object, fill in the

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Geraldine Brooks on interpretation

by • August 1st, 2006

As I tend to do, I noted all of the references to interpreting in Nine Parts of Desire.
“I wanted to ask her if she blamed the Iranian government for not showing her son some mercy, but Janet, who was translating, s hook her head slightly and didn’t put the question. Instead, I asked gently if she felt that all her sacrifices had been worth it” (100).
“Even Hamzah [King Hussein’s young son] wasn’t excluded. Although the boy’s command of English was perfect, he preferred to speak Arabic, and would force his father to act as translater” (136).
“One British doctor, on an eighteen-month posting to a Jeddah hospital, thought his interpreter had failed him during an ante-natal checkup on a twenty-eight year old Bedouin. ‘I asked her when she’d had her last period, and she said, “What’s a period?” It turned out she’d never had one. She’d been married at twelve, before her menarche, and had been pregnant or lactating ever since” (172).
“Official translators milled among the athletes, facilitating conversations. Each of them wore the usual Iranian attire &emdash; black hood and long tunic &emdash; but with a vivid, color-coded athletes’ warmup jacket pulled incongruously on top. Indigo

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Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail

by • December 16th, 2005

This ethnography, subtitled Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool, is amazing. In addition to superb analysis that grounds complicated theory with real day-to-day living, there are bits that might relate to my study on interpreters in the European Parliament. An obvious connection is with RP, Received Pronounciation, also known as posh (p. 14).
The author, Jacqueline Nassy Brown (who will give a talk at UMass in Feb), is interviewed (briefly) on the BBC radio program Thinking Allowed (interview starts about 8 1/2 minutes in). In the book, she provides a two-page summary of phenomenology that’s quite useful (p. 9-10). Interestingly, she distances herself from it as representative of her own epistemology, stating “my point is not to endorse … but to lay the groundwork for one of the arguments that follows…” (p. 11).
Her argument is fascinating, involving the ways “people make sense of place-as-matter, a practice that includes reading landscapes and acting on the view that place acts, that it shapes human consciousness” (p. 11).
Broadly, Brown’s argument is situated to engage the question of “how we might theorize the local in view of increased scholarly attention to transnational processes of racial formation” (p. 5).

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1,558 names

by • June 15th, 2004

Graduations are the fingerspelling curse of the world (unless one is into the Rochester Method).
Since the lone deaf audience member that my team and I were there for was only interested in his friend’s actual reception of her diploma, we spent the time talking about cultural differences, whiteness, and science fiction. 🙂 He recommended Wilbur Smith; I recommended Octavia Butler, particularly the Xenogenesis series. He recommended George R.R. Martin; I recommended Alastair Reynolds.

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