Archive: October, 2008

Kenneth Burke: A Grammar of Motives

[Readings] (10.29.08, 4:04 pm)

Kenneth Burke was an American philosopher and literary critic writing in the mid 20th century. His principles have had influence on a great number of others: Edward Said, Clifford Geertz, Frederic Jameson, and Erving Goffman. The introduction to this book poses his investigation as similar to some standard sociological questions, but his inquiry is much more philosophical in nature.

Burke’s opening also gives a straightforward overview of the principles of dramatism: The explicit topic is understanding everyday action and motive. Burke’s solution is to pose a dramatic approach. This uses five key elements, which he calls the pentad: Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and Purpose. Act represents the nature of the deed or action took place. Scene is the situation and background wherein the act takes place. The agent is the performer who enacted the act. Agency is the means and manner by which the agent could perform the act. Purpose is the most ambiguous term, reflecting why the agent performed the act in the first place.

Burke explains the challenge in using a particular philosophical idiom. Originally, the grammar of motives was intended to be a theory of comedy, and more precisely a rhetoric, but eventually became clear as a grammar. The idea behind creating the grammar is not to shoehorn all experience into the rigid structure of the grammar, but rather, expose and understand ambiguity.

A perfectionist might seek to evolve terms free of ambiguity and inconsistency (as with the terministic ideals of symbolic logic and logical positivism). But we have a different purpose in view, one that probably retains traces of its “comic” origin. We take it for granted that, insofar as men cannot themselves create the universe, there must remain something essentially enigmatic about the problem of motives, and that this underlying enigma will manifest istself in inevitable ambiguities and inconsistenceis among the terms for motives. Accordingly, what we want is not terms that avoid ambiguity, but terms that clearly reveal the strategic spots at which ambiguities necessarily arise. (p. xvii)

There may be overlap between the categories. For example: war may be seen as agency, act, purpose, scene, or agent, if personified. One feature of this categorization is that issues of the border between agent and instrument are disposed of. Relationships between an actor and an instrument, such as “the chisel is an instrument,” versus “the hand is an instrument,” cause problems in comparison to cognitive extension. Burke’s fomulation here encompasses these under the broad stroke of “agents,” whereas the term agency has a significantly more separate role. This approach reflects the idea of symbolic action as posed by Mead.

The Container and Thing Contained

Grammar implies a structure, and the first element of structure is containment. The scene contains the act, and it contains the agents. The idea here is that the scene encompasses and reflects the act dramatically. This is best evident in drama, but can be found in fiction as well as in real life. We reconstruct and recast scenes to reflect the nature of our actions within them. One of Burke’s goals in this section is to examine the ratios between scene, act, and agent. These ratios are the degrees of emphasis or dependency belonging to the elements in given actions. Burke’s postulate seems to be that acts may be analyzed dramatistically in terms of the ratios involved.

Any verb can be an act if it is willed. Verb and intention defines an act. This has significant ramifications for how we might read acts and intentionality with respect to agents. “As for ‘act,’ any verb, no matter how specific or how general, that has connotations of consciousness or purpose falls under this category.” (p. 14)

The ratios are not means of measurement, but rather a tool of analysis. Burke gives an example of examining nations and “democracy.” Employing different ratios yields different perspectives on the relations between the two. A scene-act ratio would cast nations as scenes or situations and these situations would enable acts that are democratic or otherwise. With an act-agent ratio, the people of nations would perform “democratic acts.” This example is a little convoluted, but presents an inherent ambiguity and ambivalence of the ratios as investigative tools.

Antinomies of Definition

The matter of definition exposes a paradox at the heart of trying to understand something. Definition requires context, but requires a differentiation from that context. “To tell what a thing is, you place it in terms of something else. This idea of locating or placing, is implicit in our very word for definition itself: to define or determine a thing, is to mark its boundaries, hence to use terms that posess, implicitly at least, contextual reference.” (p. 24) Here, Burke is borrowing significantly from Spinoza, who was critical that things could be observed alone in themselves. This idea resurfaces again in Stafford’s theory of likeness.

One central element of Burke’s analysis is the notion of dialectics. There is a necessity of opposition in dialectics. Rivals are at opposite banks of the same stream. This sense of opposition is one in which adversaries share the same scene or model. In these situations, the opposing parties on each side of the dielectic may vehemently disagree regarding their issue at stake, but they do necessarily agree that there is a world consistent save for this issue. An opposing view to the dialectic perspective is one in which differences arise from the use of different models. In these situations, no common ground may even be found for taking up opposition for argument.

Scope and Reduction

There is an interesting opening here, which applies very neatly to the construction of models. Forming a cohesive vocabulary is a similar (if not the same) process as constructing a model. Burke’s goal with dramatism is to form a procedure for developing a terminology (or calculus) of any given domain. The key here is the idea of a representative anecdote. In a model based perspective, a representative anecdote might be compared to some sort of representative or essential element.

Men seek for vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. Any selection of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality. Insofar as the vocabulary meets the needs of reflection, we can say that it has the necessary scope. In its selectivity, it is a reduction. Its scope and reduction become a deflection when the given terminology, or calculus, is not suited to the subject matter which it is designed to calculate. (p. 59)

There is a focus on the nature and effects of reduction. Divisions, distinctions, measurements, quantifications, comparisons, and metaphors, are all reductions.

Understanding a scene in terms of reductions: The scene must reflect only the reduced domain when a reduction is at hand. Any scene that reflects elements that do not belong to the reduction will fail to make sense when the reduction is in place. The idea that seems to be here is the importance of consistency. The grammar of drama is invariant under reductions (even though it is a reduction itself), and accounts for the transformed nature of content. A motive is a reduction, and can be understood as an analytic tool that is consistent as long as the dramatistic elements are consistent under that motive. For instance: if the motive is power, then acts must be power related acts, scenes must be scenes where power is at play, agents must be making use of power, agency is how power is played, and purpose is necessarily the pursuit of power.

A reduction, model, or term, is a way for interpreting the world, but is also a way to generating new worlds, which are dependent on these interpretations. Burke explains:

In sum: In any term we can posit a world, in the sense that we can treat the world in terms of it, seeing as all emanations, near or far, of its light. Such reduction to a simplicity being technically reduction to a summarizing title or “God term,” when we confront a simplicty we must forthwith as ourselves what complexities are subsumed beneath it. For a simplicity of motive being a perfection or purity of motive, the paradox of the absolute would admonish us that it cannot prevail in the “imperfect world” of everyday experience. It exist not actually, but only “in principle,” “substantially.” (p. 105)

Four Master Tropes

Burke explains the four master tropes: metaphor, metonymy, synechdoche, irony. He reformulates these in terms of other formats: Metaphor is perspective, metonymy is reduction, synechdoche is representation, and irony is dialectic. (p. 503)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorBurke, Kenneth
TitleA Grammar of Motives
Tagsspecials, media theory, philosophy, psychology, performance
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Barbara Stafford comes to LCC!

[General,Talks] (10.26.08, 4:03 pm)

Last Thursday, Barbara Stafford came to visit LCC as part of our distinguished speaker series. I read her book Visual Analogy last year, although whether I understood it or not is a different matter entirely. Stafford’s background is in art history, although recently she has expanded into the study of the cognitive dimensions and neuroscience of images. Her talk had the quality of weaving in and out among a number of conceptual domains, putting together a complex web that related to a few specific themes.

Because I am boring and no fun, one of the things I am going to try to to is unravel Stafford’s carefully woven tapestry, and isolate her exploration into more explicit bullets and categories. My drive to do things like this may strike the more poetic minded as undercutting her message, but without finding a graspable end of the woven yarn, it is hard to get the message at all.

Stafford’s central theme in her talk is the notion of attentiveness. One of her goals is to devise a taxonomy of attentiveness. In the process of exploring the kinds of attentiveness, there are a few binary conflicts: Speed versus slowness, automaticity versus spontaneity, and focus versus attention. Her exploration weaves through each of these conflicts, valuing the virtues of slowness, spontaneity, and attentiveness. The last of these conflcits is perhaps the easiest to explain.

Attentiveness is not focus. It is related: a chiefly visual practice, but takes a different aim in mind. Attentiveness is embodied, whereas focus is disembodied. An observer is focused when engaged with something at a distance, and with a specific objective in mind. Attentiveness is aware of the subject in its surroundings. Attentiveness is has many channels, and makes use of emotion and the body. Attention encompases affectiveness and affection. Focus narrows both the observer and the object observed down to a single channel: The observer is a detached eye, and the observed is reduced into components and parts. The rhetoric of focus comes from many sources, and is found in a sort of postmodern criticism. Pathological focus is voyeuristic in nature: it is the subjugation of the heat of affective life to icy scrutiny.

Automaticity relates to focus. The rhetoric and language of automaticity emerged from cybernetics and computation. The converse of this is sponteneity, whose language comes from art and the life sciences, especially biology. Both automaticity and spontaneity are about reactions and behavior. The difference between the two reflects the difference between focus and attention. Automaticity is disembodied where sponteneity is embodied. Automaticity is about precision and correctness, where sponteneity is about naturalness and freedom. Automaticity is rational where sponeneity is emotional. Automaticity has infiltrated our lives through computation. Stafford explained, hearkening back to an argument that has been made since Heidegger, that while we transfer data to computers, computers transfer their way of thinking back to us. Cognitive science has been infiltrated with the language of automaticity, especially that which comes from economics: We talk about “cognitive productivity.” Parts of the brain or mind have been deregulated or privatized. Automaticity is a language of parts, sponteneity is a language of wholes.

The final binary separation is between speed and slowness. Computation and automaticity aims to reduce things in a way that make them more easily systematized and more efficiently computed. Movements in art have moved toward slowness. Slowness demands a certain hesitation, something which Stafford considers a lost concept. Slowness also encourages reflection, and awareness of circumstance. Much postmodern architecture encourages the aesthetic of speed: glass is used to reduce the time that is necessary to look at things. Stafford gave several examples of artists who used slowness as an aesthetic, but I was only able to capture two of them. One is a documentary by Steve McQueen, called Gravesend. The other artist is Andy Goldsworthy. Both of these artists encourage the viewer to slow down and reflect. Instead of emphasizing the degree of information that can be observed, more can be learned and understood through careful observation and attention.

Slowness, sponteneity, and attention are all the same kind of thing. The virtues are wholeness, affection, and living in the moment.

Stafford’s goal is to develop a taxonomy of attention. She explores these by examining several kinds of looks, all reminisent of certain kinds of attention. Stafford’s presentation made use of paintings, photographs, and some digitally edited photographs. The kinds of attention are represented both in the subjects of the images, but also are evidenced by our own reading of the images. Becaue I am a dork, I’m actually bulletizing these:

  1. What is a critical/diagnostic look?
    Critical observation and decision making have been studied in great detail in cognitive science. How we plan and select actions relates to a critical and spontaneous moment where the decision is actually made. This is about a moment, extending beyond focus.
  2. What is a comparative look?
    Comparision is beyond impulse or reflex, but about a slow consideration of alternatives.
  3. What is a sorrowful look?
    In studying affect, it is easy to cognitively understand simple emotions like pain and pleasure. However, these means of study are ineffective at comprehending deeper, more complex emotions. Stafford showed us Caravaggio’s Penitent Magdalene as an example. The emotions of the girl are more than simple categories can explain. Like other kinds of slow art, we understand more of it the more we observe.
  4. What is a ponderous look?
    Pondering relates to weight in the etymology of the word itself. A ponderous look reflects the weight of the subject being considered.
  5. What is a sweet look?
    One of the more interesting categories used Correggio’s Jupiter and Io. Stafford asked the interesting question: What makes us want to be in the moment? What makes us want to remain awake? This issue goes back to the deeper issue of desire. Sweetness relates to desire, touch, and longing. This is different from the lengthy focus of the voyeur, but is a different eroticized yearning, which is another mixed and complex emotion.
  6. What is an inattentive/distracted look?
    In contrast to some of the above, these are not complete. Inattentive or distracted looks have their own complexity. An inattentive look is about fading and drifting consciousness. It is not about identity or self, but how we inhabit or dwell in the self. Similarly, distraction is not about multitasking, but about dispersal. These looks reflect where our consciousness resides.

A stray onion

[General] (10.26.08, 10:10 am)

This past Thursday, after Barbara Stafford (which I will write about later), Audrey and I came home after a quick stop at the grocery store, and passed by an onion on our way to our apartment. It was outside, lying at the side of the road, without any obvious defect, other than it might have fallen from someone’s grocery bag and touched the ground.

So, we took it upstairs and cooked with it. Cooking with found food, I suppose. Delicious!


[General] (10.23.08, 9:01 am)

Oh yes, and one of my priorities for this weekend (or maybe this month) is to fix the categories on my reading system. Reading posts should be getting matched with the readings label, but that hasn’t been happening lately.

Robert McKee

[General] (10.23.08, 8:58 am)

I’ve been having a Michael Mateas moment. I spent some time over on InteractiveStory.net and ProceduralArts, and found an interesting little bit about Robert McKee. It is just a set of notes, but relates to some concepts that are very relevant for adaptation, and thinking about the mechanics of fiction in general. To summarize his summary, story is about better understanding the world. Maybe I’ll put the book on my reading lists, but who knows.

I also had the chance to spend some time with Mateas’s Semiotic Considerations, which is very interesting. His perspective and my perspective are very different, but we’re getting at something very similar. It’s nicely bulleted, and only four pages, but it is so dense. So very dense. I may want to write about it just to unpack it.

Jesper Juul: Half-Real

[Readings] (10.22.08, 3:42 pm)

Juul’s thesis is that games are a combination of real rules with fictional context. His primary focus of study is videogames specifically. As a self described ludologist, Juul is primarily concerned with the aesthetics of rule based systems on their own, and the larger acceptance of free standing game studies as a viable academic discipline. The first prerogative in this agenda is to define games as the field of study. Juul defines games with the following bullet points (p. 7):

  1. A game is a rule based system.
  2. It has variable and quantifiable outcomes.
  3. Different outcomes are assigned different values.
  4. The player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome.
  5. The player feels emotionally attached to the outcome.
  6. The consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable.

This set of six qualifiers characterizes the medium, the compositional substance of games. Juul’s perception is simultaneously broad, but also narrow. The focus is to distinguish that which separates games from non-games. The chief element of this definition is on the outcome of the game, but various “game-like” activities have ambiguous outcomes. A chief example of this is with role-playing games. There is a large collection of borderline cases which are discussed later.

One of the central elements in Juul’s book is the conflict between rules and fiction. Juul poses the argument, which he immediately refutes, that fiction is unimportant because it is incidental to a game. This reverberates with the larger ludology/narratology conflict. One issue I that seems to be missed here is that rules themselves have procedural, and therefore representational elements. If cognitive science has taught us anything, it is that the human mind does not work using abstract symbols, but rather association. Rules and causality may be associative like anything else. This argument does not put forward the idea that meaning in games is narrative in nature, though.

Juul explains the paradoxical nature of rules, play, and fun. Games are somewhat self contradictory because of their reliance on free form play and concrete rules. The restriction created by rules brings meaning to the actions and outcomes in the game world. “The rules of a game add meaning and enable actions by setting up differences between potential moves and events.” (p. 19) This distinction is very relevant in comparison to role-playing games, which use the rules themselves to make the world more credible. Rules legitimize actions, bestowing meaning upon play, which would otherwise just be chaos.

There is a conflicted relationship between games and art. This has to do with the role of emotions within games. “Video games generally focus on manipulating and moving objects, and less commonly address the more complex interactions between humans such as friendships, love, and deceit. We can suggest many reasons why this is so–we can blame unimaginative game designers; we can blame a conservative game audience; we can blame a ris-dverse game industry; and finally we can look at game design and see that the game form lends itself more easily to some things than to others–it is hard to create a game about emotions because emotions are hard to implement in rules.” (p. 20)

I would actually posit a slightly different argument. Juul is saying that emotions are hard to implement as rules, which suggests that emotions could be unambiguously modeled. This suggests that emotional states would be manipulated like any other token in the game mechanics. I would argue instead that it is hard for emotion to clearly emerge from rules. The formulas for a love story or a horror movie are not without structure. Given structure alone, players cannot get emotion, because emotion arises from human experience. What is required instead is for rules to be represented in a way that reflects human experience. Games do reflect human experience and they do generate emotion, but the range of emotions that they reliably represent and evoke (anger, fear, joy) is only a small sliver of the human emotional spectrum.

Video Games and the Classic Game Model

Juul is interested in defining a model of games. The reason for this is that a model can be tested. Once laid out, it is a discursive object. A model can be used to identify boundaries and borderline cases. A model is also a productive set. Given a model of games, one can attempt create games that push the boundaries of that model in interesting ways.

On the borders of the classic game model

The six features of games as described earlier are to be seen as necessities. Juul argues that they should fall along the lines of conditions that are necessary and sufficient, as opposed to dimensions of games. Things such as The Sims and tabletop roleplaying are borderline cases. An example of the game spectrum can be seen on (p. 44)

On transmediation of games: Adaptations must accomodate rules and state. Only discussed here are games falling within the frame of the classic model. This makes sense for examples such as the equivalence of a particular number game with tic-tac-toe, but is not really viable for adaptations that involve setting.  Adaptations in role-playing games are ample enough for a full study on their own. For example, D&D referencing Lord of the Rings, also various board and card games, and of course, RPG game settings. Neglected also in the discussion is experience. The experience of playing the number game is dramatically different from the experience of playing tic-tac-toe.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorJuul, Jesper
TitleHalf Real
Tagsspecials, digital media, games
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Abraham Maslow: Motivation and Personality

[Readings] (10.21.08, 5:27 pm)

In a general sense, Maslow is important in psychology and cognitive science. Specifically, Maslow is important for understanding and modeling human behavior, and for juxtaposition against the Sims, whose representation of behavior comes straight from Maslow.

Elements of a Psychological Approach to Science

Early in his introduction, Maslow criticizes a disembodied and objective theory of science and psychology. He frames science as a pursuit of certain needs, specifically to understand. He emphasizes the role of values within science. It is especially important to understand the values and psychology behind the study of science, to understand the scientists themselves. Maslow’s subtle concern is that scientific values themselves might contaminate science itself. “It should reassure the uneasy pure scientist to know that the point of all this disquieting talk about values is to achieve more efficiently his goal, i.e., the improvement of our knowledge of nature, the decontamination of our knowledge of the known by study of the knower.” (p. 8)

What is interesting here is Maslow’s broad understanding and inclusiveness in science. Also significant is the defense of non-scientists. Ties into generalization and the destressing of method. We should focus instead on values. One of Maslow’s points is to encourage the aesthetic and humanistic values within science.

Problem Centering versus Means Centering in Science

The overview of this section is criticism of the means centered scientific approach. Means centering is the practice of focusing scientific inquiry around certain means, rather than centering on broader problems. Means centering tends to create an orthodoxy where new questions are not asked. I don’t think this is a criticism of the scientific method exactly, but rather its application and use, where only one technique is used for conducting experiements, for example: stimulus and response methods in psychology.

Holistic-Dynamic Theory in the Study of Personality

Maslow is interested in an approach to psychology different from the current approaches in use. The opening of this section is critical of the idea that there is soem discrete datum that may be isolated and studied in psychology. The idea of reducing individuals to collections of discrete elements that may be studied in isolation (eg, behaviorism) is a reductive-analytic approach. An alternative is to study the whole, which is a holistic approach. This comes in two flavors. Holistic-analytic is flawed because it still has an atomistic and static viewpoint. In this perspective, the subject being studied is essentially a passive target. Maslow’s emphasis is on a holistic-dynamic approach which treats the subject as having a more active role.

Preface to Motivation Theory

This section is made up of 16 principles foundational to motivation theory.

  1. The individual is a whole, indivisible.
  2. Hunger is a reasonable base of study for motivation.
  3. Desires are merely means to ends, rather than ends in of themselves.
  4. Desires can be satisfied according to a culture. Maslow’s argument here does not account for different cultures having different intrinsic needs, but rather that the means for satisfaction (of esteem for example) might vary. The claim is that the needs are universal.
  5. Desires may express multiple motivations. A desire for sex might merely represent a biological urge, but it might also represent a need for love or esteem.
  6. An individual’s state affects motivation, and is affected in turn.
  7. Motivations preclude others. Motivations are never ending.
  8. To list all drives is a fallacy. The idea of doing so implies that drives are equal and independent.
  9. Should focus on motivation and needs rather than behavior alone.
  10. Animal instinct is different from human drives, which require learned behavior.
  11. Environmental basis is at odds with motivation. Behavior theory needs situation theory in order to make sense.
  12. Occasionally, the organism is not whole, but disjointed when in a stressed state.
  13. Motivations relate to achievable goals.
  14. Role of impulses (Freud’s id) is unknown.
  15. Motivation should be studied in healthy people.

A Theory of Human Motivation

This chapter is about the famous heirarchy of needs. At the base are physiological needs, which are unusual because of their atomicity. Basic needs are atomic because the need for a certain salt concentration in the bloodstream is entirely separate from the need for a certain concentration of sugar. Classic examples of basic needs are breathing and hunger. The point of physiological needs is that they are prepotent, taking priority over others. It is notable that, as described, hunger as described is very different from appetite, but rather an urgent and terrible need for sustenance.

Above physiology is safety and then belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization. It is still important to understand these needs in terms of their potential absence. There is a strong differentiation between higher and lower needs, especially basic needs. When lower needs are unfulfilled, or frustrated, the higher needs lose value. It is suggested that while needs form a definite heirarchy, their tradeoffs are somewhat complex, and relate to health and accustomization. If higher needs are frustrated, then lower needs are taken for granted. Satisfaction of needs leads to overall health, and each level of satisfied needs is a level of mental health.

Maslow renders his model as a system of percentage scales of needs, where if one need is satisfied, another emerges, and all needs decay at certain rates.

If one need is satisfied, then another emerges. This statement might give the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 percent before the next need emerges. In actual fact, most members of our society who are nomal are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time. A more realistic description of the hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy of prepotency. For instance, if I may assign arbitrary figures for the sake of illustration, it is as if the average citizen is satisfied perhaps 85 percent in his physiological needs, 70 percent in his safety needs, 50 percent in his love needs, 40 percent in his self-esteem needs, and 10 percent in his self-actualization needs. (p. 100-101)

This is not preciesly the same model, but the description given here has dramatic resemblance to needs in The Sims.

Higher and Lower Needs

An interesting point here is on the issue of ethics. Referencing Plato’s diverging horses, Maslow instead asserts that higher needs are themselves horses. Motivation theory does away with the sort of moral quandary that involves dissociated and diverging elements of identity.

The Expressive Component of Behavior

Motivation theory is at odds with expression. If every individual is fraught with needs that require satisfaction, expression is much less important. Maslow presents a possibility that expression might be a need, but if that were the case, then it would definitionally not be expression. He continues to explain a difference between expressive and coping behaviors. Coping is a motivated behavior, while expression is not. He explains a suite of differences between the two, but not really why expression occurs. The suggestion seems to be that expression is manifested in need gratification, in the absence of frustration. So if needs are not frustrated, then the approaches to gratify those needs may be expressive.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMaslow, Abraham
TitleMotivation and Personality
ContextUseful as a comparison against The Sims
Tagsspecials, psychology
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Magnetic Fields

[Concerts] (10.18.08, 7:38 pm)

Audrey and I went to see the Magnetic Fields last night. It was really great. My goodness can Sam Davol play the cello. The concert was a really unusual experience. It was a sit down experience at a symphony house in Atlanta, which is extremely different from most concerts we are used to visiting. The crowd generally was full of young, white, straight couples. I don’t know why this seemed so strange, because Audrey and I are a young, white, straight couple. Still it was very odd. It seems like we should have had much more representation from the gay community here, what with Stephen Merritt being gay and all…

The music itself was really good, a joy to see in person. It wasn’t as intense as other things we’ve visited, but that cool self-conscious detachment is part of the experience, I suppose.

At the beginning of the concert, there was a surprise visit by Stephen Hearst, who read a bunch of very silly short stories and played a few very short, very silly songs. Check out Songs for Newsworthy News if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Andy Clark: Being There

[Readings] (10.15.08, 9:35 pm)


Clark’s work serves several goals. The first of which is a review of contemporary Artificial Intelligence as applied to robotics and neuroscience. Clark’s second goal is a critique of traditional symbolic AI and the notion of disembodied reasoning that pervades it. The brain, body, and world all tie together in a densely connected network that is impossible to untangle. Thinking and learning are strongly rooted in the mechanics of the body and world. These systems are adaptive and pattern based, not symbolic. Clark specifically criticizes projects such as Cyc, which attempt to build a filing-cabinet model of the world by extensively cataloging each relation and bit of information.

One of Clark’s first examples of embodied reasoning is the cockroach, which is an efficient and well adapted creature, and has a bare minimum of computational reasoning in its tiny brain. This computation is directly tuned to the roach’s physical environment.


Clark critiques the use of symbolic reasoning in towards the application of embodied problems. In relation to a simulated world, where everything is symbolic, the situation gets rather hairy. Clark’s preferred approach may be to avoid simulation entirely, but that is not an option here. Nonetheless, he has several points of merit that are applicable in the simulation of systems.

Clark repeatedly emphasizes that creature behavior evolves in relation to the physical environment as well as its physical body. Brains are messy systems that leverage as much as they can off surroundings and affordances. They are not planned, but are highly adaptive and responsive systems.

With this in consideration, it should stand to reason that the most successful AI simulations of people are ones in which the characters leverage their environment as much as possible. The Sims leaps immediately to mind, since most real logic is represented in the objects in the environment as opposed to in the Sims themselves.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorClark, Andy
TitleBeing There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Back Together Again
Tagsembodiment, ai, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Susan Bassnett: Translation Studies

[Readings] (10.15.08, 9:33 pm)


This book gives an overview of translation studies. According to Bassnett, it is a relatively new field which has received very little formal recognition (nor respect either) until fairly recently. The book attempts to introduce the reader very quickly into the scope of depth, nuance, and complexity caused by the dilemmas of translation. Bassnet is concerned primarily with developing a postcolonial understanding of translation, freed from notions of dependencies and hierarchy. Also discussed is the role of translation in history and varying theories of what is important in a translation, and whether translatability is possible at all. Little attention is paid to adaptation, but the theories of translation discussed are fairly applicable.


Translation studies serves to assemble a fragmentary world. It enables a nomadic navigation of sources, the translator connects language and ways of life. (p. 1) There is a joint portrayal (in the 1990s) of the translator as a force for good vs. a suspect. The image of the latter seeks to impose power relations through textual production and access. Postcolonial translation study encourages an equal relationship between the author and translator, greatly elevating the translator as a respected contributor to a text. (p. 4) Translation may be seen as a transaction between texts and cultures. This is between space; carrying the burden of meaning of a culture. Cited from Homi Bhabha. A set of studies called “polysystems theory” developed by Itamar Even-Zohar and Gideon Toury shifted to a process/system oriented understanding of texts and culture. Translation is not only a communication, but a continuation of a text through time. (p. 6) Sherry Simon claims that language does not merely mirror reality, but shapes it; and translation aids in that shaping. Translation studies must challenge ideas of what happens when a text is moved between languages. (p. 10)

Translation studies begins to differ in its interpretations as a product vs a process. The classic feudal metaphor (of the SL) is consistent with colonialism. “There are two positions, one establishing a hierarchical relationship in which the SL author acts as a feudal overloard exacting fealty from the translator, the other establishing a hierarchical relationship in which the translator is absolved of all responsibility of the SL text are both quite consistent with the growth of colonial imperialism in the nineteenth century.” (p. 13)

Bassnett discusses J.C. Catford’s 1965 study on untranslatability. He distinguishes translation and transference. Translation consists of substitution of SL meanings for TL meanings, where in transference, SL meanings are implanted into the TL text. This is a distinctly semiotic take on the situation. We can look at Jakobson and J. Levy for references on this?

Categories of translation studies: 1) History of Translation; 2) Translation in TL culture; 3) Translation and Linguistics; 4) Translation and Poetics. Translation has the burden of evaluation carried with it. Value judgments are implicit in the desire to translate. “For if a translator perceives his or her role as partly that of ‘improving’ either the SL text or existing translations, and that is indeed often the reason why we undertake translations, an implicit value judgment underlies this position.” (p. 18)

Bassnett overviews some theorists. Sapir: Languages are different realities. Lotman: Language is a modeling system. Whorf: Language and culture are interdependent. Jakobson on translation: *rewording, *translation proper, *transmutation. To Jakobson, all poetic art is technically untranslatable. Nida describes a process diagram of decoding and recoding: 1) Source language text; 2) Analysis [parse, decoding]; 3) Transfer [meaning that lies inbetween, nonverbal]; 4) Restructuring [encoding, choice happens here]; 5) Receptor language translation. (p. 23)

Ludskanov: Semiotic translation is a matter of process and operations. Sassure: there are syntagmatic and associative relationships (horizontal and vertical): The signified value that represents a cultural object may be equivalent across cultures, but the role and significance of the object may not. Terms may denote the same physical objects, but the relevance and connotation of said objects may vary over cultures. (p. 26) In this vein, there are types of equivalence of meanings. Popovic has 4 types. 1) Linguistic equivalence; 2) Paradigmatic equivalence; 3) Stylistic equivalence; 4) Textual/Syntagmatic equivalence. Nida defines two types of equivalence, formal and dynamic. Dynamic equivalence aims for an equivalence of effect (***). Popovic understands there as being an invariant core between translations and a source text. This aspect is especially relevant for adaptation. (p. 33)

Translatability is deeply connected to human experience. Mounin claims that 1) Unique personal experience is untranslatable; 2) The base units of two languages are not always comparable; 3) Communication is possible when account is taken of the respective situations of the speaker and hearer / author and translator. So, communication is possible, but what is that? J. Levy: The translation process to attain the most effect (most equivalence of meaning) with the minimum of effort (or distortion or awkwardness) implies a minmax strategy. (p. 42)

Historically, translation begins to pick up prominence with the Romans, who were interested in incorporating culture from Greece and other conquered areas. Greek was the cultured language, and educated Romans knew the language. Thus, translations of Greek texts were expected to be read in context of the original sources. Translation became a matter of style as opposed to enabling comprehension. This is very similar to matters of adaptation, since adapted works are often viewed in context of each other. It also enables an extra subversive dimension to translation, to highlight or emphasize certain aspects of the original text. (p. 50)

With medieval translation, aspects of value began to emerge. Translations were horizontal if both the SL and TL had a similar value, these moved texts within “equivalent” cultural systems. Other translations could ve considered vertical: ones which brought elevated material (such as Latin texts) into a vulgar or common audience. These approaches brought to translation the dilemmas of loss and accessibility as studied by Bacon and Dante. (p. 57)

In the 1800s, translation and texts became an issue of property and ownership. The original was considered to have significantly more worth than the translation. The value of the translation was in the ability for the original to be marketed to a larger audience. This mirrors very closely the use of intellectual property in modern times. The approaches to translation developed here (at extremes are Longfellow, who is interested in content rather than style, versus Edward Fitzgerald, who is interested in liveliness) can be seen in adaptations of game IP. Both of these views carry elitism, one in which the source is infinitely superior to the translation, and the other in which the translations are haute exotic specimens of original texts. Some bullet points on colonial translation: 1) The SL text is de facto pre-eminent over any TL version; 2) Translation is a means of encouraging readers to return to the SL original; 3) Translation is a means of helping the reader become a better reader of the original; 4) Translation is a means for the translator to offer his own pragmatic choices to TL readers; 5) Translation is a means for upgrading SL texts because it is at a lower cultural level. (p. 74)

In approaching translation as a process, one must examine how texts are read. Reading a text necessitates taking a position on it, and the translator is necessarily a reader, so some position taking is necessary. There are several means of doing such: 1) The reader focuses on the content as matter, picking out the prose argument or the poetic paraphrase; 2) The reader grasps the complexity of the work and the way that the levels interact; 3) The reader deliberately extrapolates one level of a work for a specific purpose; 4) The reader discovers elements not basic to the genesis of the text and uses the text for his own purposes. (p. 80)

On period translation. Necessarily, human experience may extrapolate, but…. “The greatest problem when translating a text from a period remote in time is not only that the poet and his contemporaries are dead, but the significance of the poem in its context is dead too. Sometimes, as with the pastoral, for example, the genre is dead and no amount of fidelity to the original form, shape or tone will help the rebirth of a new line of communication, to use Maria Corti’s terms, unless the TL system is taken into account equally. With the classics, this first means overcoming the problem of translating along a vertical axis, where the SL text is seen as being of a higher status than the TL text.” (p. 85-86)

Translation may be used as a device to scaffold new moral/value/cultural systems onto an existing source text. This may be especially interesting when a source text is known and the product is viewed in this context. Such translations may be fairly subversive or revelatory about the nature of such texts. (p. 110) In translating prose, Bassnett emphasizes an importance on looking at prose as being part of a larger system of text, whereas naiive translators may attempt to plod along linearly. To combat this, Bassnett urges us to think of portions of prose as units. This sounds very reminiscent of unit operations. These originate from Hillaire Belloc, who describes units as means of blocking out translations. (p. 117)

Bassnett concludes with leaving a great deal of material uncovered, since the field is so great. One of the closing discussions concerns dramatic translations, which are especially interesting due to their cultural, physical, and spectacular nature. Bassnett suggests that it is assumable that there exists a structure of performability that is physical and independent of language. (p. 123)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorBassnett, Susan
TitleTranslation Studies
Tagsspecials, translation
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon
Next Page »