"With fronds like these, who needs anemones?"
Or: Anne's Adjacent Thinking...
April Fool's Day, 2004:
Emergent Meaning/Emergent Literature/Emergent Pedagogy
William Blake, "The Ancient of Days," reproduced by Francois Pelletier and Sebastien Vincent
Emergence = a perspective and story-telling genre that is distinctively characterized by efforts to make sense of observations on the presumption that there is no architect, planner, or intentional "first mover" (one anticipating future outcomes) nor need there be any conductor.
Nope, this one won't work for the making and interpreting and teaching of literature....
A good metaphor is good enough. No it's not.
Has emergence solved my problems?
Not really, but it has helped considerably, both metaphorically and empirically.
And more to play with: literature is continuously productive of what is new, by re-organizing what has been into new-yet-similar forms (Forbidden Planet takes off from The Tempest, West Side Story is a new version of Romeo and Juliet, etc. etc. etc.)
Michel Serres (via Jim Wright):
..."noise" as the source for what is new, the place where meaning we haven't yet recognized may arise, if we know how to attend. In "The Origin of Language," Serres speaks quite strikingly about successive levels of interpretation, in which each level functions as a "rectifier" or "filter" integrating what is "noise" on the level below into "information" on the next one up...sure sounds like emergence to me.
And more to play with: literature may be defined as the place where this "rectification" occurs....
Jim Marshall, regarding "Sparse Distributed Memory":
And the most to play with: this makes me think of puns....
what connects hair and hare? tapas and topless?
what is the logic of the association between them?
what is the intermediate concept linking both?
[Late-breaking adjacent addendum:
Ted's 3/31/04 Visual Culture talk on "Striped Deception:
The Genetic Architecture of Butterfly Wing-Pattern Mimicry":
consider the adjacency of signifiers, topographically,
and how one might "step" through design space from one signifier to its "neighbors"(cat->bat->bag...)
What I can use/what works (so far:)
Emergent Meaning/Literature/Pedagogy is an unending process guided (but not determined) by the interactions of thoughtful agents, who leave traces of their interaction on the environment (in the form of literature and its interpretations), which are picked up and re-used by others (in the form of literature and its interpretations). What I can emphasize, using this rubric, is the rule-guided unpredictability of the process and its outcome, as well as the "neighborliness," or "adjacency," or "family resemblance" (thanks to Wittgenstein, via Christine Koggel, in the Beauty Symposium. This is also what Paul, long ago, called "bounded variance"--an infinite range of possibilities w/in limits: i.e. there are countless ways to be a tree...but none of them are shrubs.)
I. Emergent Meaning
A little language play to begin:
What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?
Why couldn't the pony talk?
What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?
Why-and-how do those puns work?
What is the logic of their working?
In what ways might this be called an "emergent" process?
Cf. Jonathan Culler, On Puns: The Foundation of Letters I> (1987, pp. 1-16):
the interest of etymologies lies in the surprising coupling of different meanings.... Etymologies...give us respectable puns, endowing pun-like effects with the authority of science....Etymologies show us what puns might be if taken seriously: illustrations of the inherent instability of language and the power of uncodified linguistic relations to produce meaning....etymologies, like puns,...are instances of speakers intervening in language, articulating relations....intently or playfully working to reveal the structures of language, motivating linguistic signs, allowing signifiers to affect meaning by generating new connections....
Not surprisingly, in both the realm of puns--relations between signs in a language at a particular moment--and the realm of etymology--relations between signs from different periods--there is no dearth of people anxious to control relations, to enforce a distinction between real and false connections....the exploration of formal resemblance to establish connections of meaning seems the basic activity of literature; but this foundation...depends on relations...is a function of practices of reading, forms of attention, and social convention....
Punning frequently seems...a structural, connecting device...to offer the mind a sense and an experience of an order that it does not master or comprehend....we are urged to conceive an order.....Insofar as this is the goal or achievement of art, the pun seems an exemplary agent....
(Thanks to Eric Raimey:)
puns make it clear that the boundaries involved [whether competence-performance, knowledge of language or knowledge of the world] are both highly mutable and indefinite ....perhaps we need to revise our statements about...those aspects of language that we have predicated on them....paranomasia gives us evidence both of speakers' awareness of the systems of language and for their understanding of how these systems interconnect.
In a perfect pun, a single phonological entity is to be understood as representing two distinct lexical items. In an imperfect pun, one phonological entity stands for a phonologically distinct but similar entity, the two representing two distinct lexical items....divergences might be argued to follow from differnces between perception and production. But much remains unexplained....
pun's perfidious status as an aberrant element within the linguistic structure....Puns play with meaning....they give the wrong names to the wrong things--and they disturb the proper flow of communication....in confusing sense and sound...normal rules governing etymology and lexicography are temporarily suspended while speculation and fancy roam free.... puns...subvert the one-to-one relation between signifier and signified...fracture the sign....the word can mean two or more things. It is because it ambiguates meaning that the pun disturbs the system of communication by which meaning is conveyed....the interpretative process...ultimately restores priority to the serious business of making sense, to showing what a pun finally means....a freak coincidence...becomes a causal and motivated connection...is presented as lexically appropriate...Once limited to a certain point, the pun becomes masterable and pleasurable.
Both keynotes are sounded by Margaret Drabble, The Radiant Way (1987):
Esther's mind moved quickly, apparently at random; she had a habit of introducing subjects and growing bored, within minutes, of the interchanges she had herself provoked....she was reading and annotating by her own interleaved systems, a system which had evolved from her inability to concentrate fully on any one topic for more than ten minutes. It had thrown up some very challenging cross-references in its time, and she was at the moment pursuing a connection between the nature of quattro-cento pigmentation, and licenology as a method of dating the antiquity of a landscape: a gratifyingly pointless and therefore pure pursuit which enabled her mind...to hover about the abstraction of a particular shade of green-blue....pale, delicate, hard, metallic, heavenly, shocking, suggestive green-blue....It expressed both distance and presence; it was both of the background and of the sharpest proximity. An enigmatic colour, speaking of metaphysical corespondences. Signifying nothing but the search for itself. But an essential shade....Esther...made a note...and read on, waiting for some little current to leap from one open page to the other, from one lobe of the brain to the other, and to ignite a new twig of meaning, to fill a small new cell of the storehouse of her erudition. She was content with twigs and cells, or so it seemed. Sometimes, when accused of eccentricity or indeed perversity of vision, she would claim that all knowledge must always be omnipresent in all things,and that one could startle oneself into seeing the whole by tweaking unexpectedly at a surprised corner of the great mantle. At other times she conceded that her interests were pointless but harmless. I am not ambitious. I do not seek answers to large questions, she would say....I prefer precision, Esther would say. (22, 78-79)
Esther is the random-generator of connections and in her friend Liz (just before her party begins) is driven contra-wise by the desire NOT to know, to be surprised:
As she sat there, she experienced a sense of what seemed to be preternatural power. She had summoned these people up, these ghosts would materialize, even now they were converging upon her in their finery at her bidding, each of them wiling to surrender a separate self for an evening....The dance would be to her tune....It would be a large assembly....Surely this night the unexpected would happen, surely she had summoned up the unexpected. She had, of late, felt herself uncannily able to predict the next word, the next move...had felt in danger (why danger?) of too much knowledge, of a kind of powerlessness and sadness that is born of knowledge. For these reasons, perhaps, was it that she had decided to multiply the possibilities so recklessly, to construct a situation beyond her own grasping? A situation of which not even she could guess the outcome? Had she wished to test her powers, or, a little, to lose control and stand aside? To be defeated, honourably, by the multiplicity of the unpredictable, instead of living with the power of her knowingness? With the limits of the known?....(8-9)
II. Emergent Literature (and Literary Theory)
The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories
"A Very Short Introduction to Literary Theory," aka Reading The Cat in the Hat Comes Back
Moby-Dick (The First One Hundred Pages...):
Cultural Capital or (and? because?) Entropic Force? Universal Acid?
Moby-Dick -- Three Hundred Pages Into the Quest; or, Risking a Few Meanings
The way in which this process operates, in the making of literary forms,
was well explained in A Symposium on Beauty
Posting by Dorothea Leichert, Beauty and Economics:
I have a suspicion that aesthetic pleasure is a biological phenomenon which rewards us for remaining in situation with economic possibilities, with the right kind of mix between organization and disorder. These ideas were triggered when I heard that movements in ballet came from fencing movements (a similar parallel holds for dressage. The parallel would be that in either pattern you want to avoid movements that could throw you off balance and would be hard to correct. From my own experience drawing I also know that initially I seem to be concerned in striking some kind of dynamic "balance" on the page....I would hypothesize that most systems who are undergoing healthy changes show certain patterns of variability which are in a mid-range between order and disorder, and that we may have developed our aesthetic sense as a reward system to learn to be attracted by them and avoid others with characteristics of catastrophic change....the dialectic between order and change would also be a powerful motivator for learning: we integrate data into a pattern, then start to get bored by it as we get used to it and take the next step of looking for a new pattern, but still influenced by the context of our previous experience.
A similar process works in the evolution of new genres and new fields of study,
as explained by Michael Tratner (11/03 e-mail):
the outlier, in literary history, that matters is the one that somehow generates a whole series of object similar to itself....a text that stands as simply 'different' from all the others around it (in a period, in a genre...) is not very important unless it somehow provides a pattern for repeated variants....for a surprising text to be readable to many different minds, it must have some regularity, and for it to generate the desire to be read by many persons, it has to provide something 'unusual' that is at the same time repeatable...for a text to be both surprising and regular/original and influential it has to interact not only with the norms for texts, but with the questions being debated about texts at that moment: the surprise that is also regular or predictive....
It was a useful strategy/concept for me to use
in a recent department "discussion" about "what constitutes literary study":
Jonathan Kahana (3/17/04 e-mail):
I heard a very interesting paper at last week's Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference...on the concept of failed film genres...working with a model that sounded a little like the model from biology you were laying out....talking about the absorption of one genre into another, or more precisely, the influence of one genre on another in the struggle between genres for definition. The example was a 1930s subgenre that no one recognizes as a discrete generic entity today, and which bears features of the gangster film, the "fallen woman" film, the social problem film, the musical...The name she gave to this effect of influence of border-trangression was the "adjacent" genre. Actually, I suppose it's really an essentially plural concept: you have to have adjacent genres, plural, for the effect to occur. Of course, genre criticism always points out (or represses the knowledge?that genres are never hard-and-fast; but I like the idea that there could be a way of talking about the point at which the line between, to use yor language, a tree and a bush becomes a little unclear.
Now the way to go meta with this question would be to ask: is there a difference between the bounded variance model and the kinds of objects it can explain and model drawn from the study of literary or cinematic genres? For film historians, the 1930s is an interesting time because the industry is in economic crisis, and the proliferation of genres is one way (it has been suggested) to stimulate and cultivate an audience. At what point would these economic and cultural questions be non sequitors in thinking about the relationship between a tree and a bush? And vice versa?
Jonathan Kahana (3/18/04 e-mail):
Oh, and there's also that beautiful phrase from Trinh (from, I think REASSEMBLAGE): "speaking nearby." (I think, in context, it's an explanation for her refusal to answer the question "what is your film about?"; her response is something like, I'm not speaking about the topics of African women, African culture, I'm speaking nearby those topics.)
And while we're on the topic of citation...a film scholar named Thomas Schatz...is the source of the 'adjacent genres' theory. When I have a moment, I'll go look for the soruce.
...that brings to mind another disciplinary and cultural wrinkle: the urge to credit the individual intellectual sources of ideas--same instinct in the sciences as in the humanities? Different from culture to culture...? Dutch colleagues looked [@ an American film scholar] like he was nuts: what do you mean, "our projects"? We're a department: we're going to figure out together what we'll work on. We don't have individual "projects."
Emergence gives me a way of talking about the unpredictability and sociality (=unpredictable BECAUSE social) creative process (within boundaries...). What I can say so far (in the language of this working group) is that literary analysis is the making of new stories out of the stories we have preserved; the most useful of those are continuously generative of what is new. The WAY such new stories get generated is an emergent process: it involves alteration between contraction and expansion ("an outlier provides a pattern for repeated variants") as interactions in the environment leave traces (in literature) which are continuously picked up (in literature and literary theory) and re-combined in new configurations.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899)
Chinua Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness,"
Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987.
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1958)
Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now (1979)
(or: Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847),
mediated through Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (1988)
explains the generation of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)
(The Bible, Shakespeare...)
Herman Melville. Moby-Dick (1850):
"Call me Ishmael..."(18)
He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab.... I felt impatient at what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then...."my boy, he has a wife--not three voyages wedded,--a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man has a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; striken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!" (78-79)
"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last...." (1)
Sena Jeter Naslund. Ahab's Wife; or, The Star-Gazer (2000):
(Moby-Dick as re-told through the eyes of a 19th century feminist,as imagined by a 20th c. feminist--)
III. Emergent Pedagogy
The dynamic nature of this process is even more obvious in the consideration of the "text" that is the classroom....
when last heard from, in November, I was using the image of the "semi-lattice,"
from Christopher Alexander's "A City is Not a Tree" (1965)
as a compelling argument for emergent pedagogy:
sociality increases possibility that you will encounter newness, be led into novel path
what this metaphor hadn't given me was the role of the teacher, as sharer of information,
facilitator of the awareness of interdependence, but also as pruner/ cleaner-outer-of-over-crowded spaces
this is where (in some good company) I've gone since:
I.Emergence As A Contemporary Conceptual and Pedagogical Perspective
...our roles can be quite profitably re-imagined in the perspective of distributed organization. As one element of an interactive system, the teacher has the task of nudging, facilitating and directing a process of emergence, rather than creating organization de novo. Teachers can play a distinctive role in the further evolution of what occurs in the classroom, if we recognize, permit and appreciate the extraordinarily generative capabilities of a system that is not pre-planned. Taking emergence as the norm rather than as something to be fought against, we can then add properties of anticipation, planning and information sharing, and so maximize the effectiveness of the educational environment.
Emergence is significant not only for thinking about the dynamics of interactions between students and teachers, but for understanding how each of us functions as an individual. Brains, which constitute the agents in the emergent system that is the classroom, are themselves well-described as emergent systems....
From these basic principles of emergence and the brain as an emergent system, several additional pedagogical principles follow:
II. Case Study: An Account of Payoffs and Difficulties
III. Assessment: A Matter of Re-thinking Judgment
A pedagogical approach that identifies learning as the product of local interactions between unique, independent agents raises some interesting questions about how to assess what has occurred. Who determines what the outcomes of the learning are? ...it seems to us antithetical to the notion of a director-less system to belatedly invoke a "director" to dictate what the outcomes should have been. To the extent that both teachers and students take responsibility for determining the outcomes of learning, that those outcomes are indeterminate, and that knowledge emerges from the distributed system of the classroom, how can outcomes either be articulated beforehand or evaluated afterwards?
The benefits of an emergent approach accrue not only to the individual, but manifest themselves at the group level. This means that certain aspects of knowledge reside only at the level of the group. In addition, an emergent approach may frequently lead to better functioning--more efficiency, co-operation, equality of participation--of the group.
Frequently, when we think about goals for, and assess the accomplishments of, our classrooms, we either neglect such group outcomes altogether, or try to discount their unpredictable nature. We worry about how individuals will fare....Group-level thinking may be even more rare in the process of assessment: We tend to evaluate our students individually. We judge our own success and the success of our students largely by how each has performed independently, rather than focusing on how well each one has done within the interactions of the group, or how the group itself has progressed as a whole.
Conventional assessment also focuses on how well students have mastered (that is, can report back) particular content. But emergent pedagogy has a different orientation: content becomes the product of unique interactions, which may take students far afield of their ostensible task. In addition, the learning objectives of an emergent approach have less to do with content than with process, growth and development. The specifics of what is taught are often secondary to the acquisition of learning methods and processes of inquiry....
Some of the most exciting outcomes of emergent styles of pedagogy may be particularly tricky to evaluate. The marvelous paradox of the emergent approach is that it facilitates both independent and collaborative thinking, teaching students to initiate and sustain their own learning through interactions with others who enrich and stimulate their learning environment. But such important and valuable outcomes are difficult to assess, particularly over short periods of time. They are likely to be most evident across greater spans of time; they may only be apparent in future behavior, rather than in any particular product which emerges during a given class session.
Certain benefits of emergent approaches may be tangible, but difficult to measure. Others may not be even reportable, or accessible to consciousness. Such developments may only be evident in current or future behavior, or may make themselves known only indirectly in other attitudes or behaviors. Given this, we have several suggestions for the assessment of emergent approaches. First, it seems important not to give up goals or objectives, but rather to see them as flexible and open to constant evaluation. By making goal-setting itself an emergent process, both students and teachers can have constant access to goal formation and revision.
On-going, in-the-moment reflections on learning may ...provide a richer forum for assessment than a more traditional end-of-process, product-focused assessment.... Emergent approaches also seem to call for the evaluation of developmental process rather than assessment of retention of particular content. This type of approach is consistent with a current movement known as "dynamic assessment." According to this approach, the most accurate evaluation of students occurs through the observation of their learning process. In this type of approach, students are given some sort of baseline measure, and then taught a new skill. Assessment involves an ongoing evaluation of how students responds to the instruction and, more importantly, how they apply this newly acquired skill to a new problem....
Emergent approaches also seem to call for student input in assessing their own progress. "Progress" may sometimes only be discernible in those that are living it, not to those who are observing it. One objection to the idea of student assessment is a current body of research suggesting that students are poor at assessing their own learning. Some research has shown that college students are frequently overconfident in their estimations of their own performance....However, we do not think that the accuracy of self-assessment in emergent approaches has been tested empirically. While students may not be accurate in evaluating the cognitive aspects of learning ("how well did I learn this?"), no one can dispute their accuracy in reporting their attitudes. Such attitudinal changes are important outcomes of emergent approaches. Listening to student voices in assessment is in keeping with a progressive movement to give greater weight to student voices in educational reform ...
However, some aspects of "progress" in emergent approaches may not be evident to students. Evaluation should include some measures of actual behavior, although the effects of learning on behavior may only become evident with the passage of time. Assessment should not be limited to the time frame of the learning experience itself, but should extend to some reasonable future time.
Assessment in an emergent system should also include multi-dimensional; it is not reduceable to a single rubric or axis. Indeed, the evaluator may even have difficulty articulating the standard used to judge progress. (We have all had the experience, as instructors, of "knowing it when we see it.") A chief argument against this tacit approach to grading is that it is somehow unfair or mysterious, but even our most "objective" way of evaluation entails a tremendous amount of subjectivity. It is our experience that when this type of subjective evaluation occurs within the context of a rich process of dialogue, trusting interaction and openness to input, both faculty and students are more than satisfied, because we have mutually authored a shared tacit understanding of the work we have done together.
V. A Natural Classroom Structure? Some Conclusions...
...intellectual inquiry can be understood as an intelligent response to exceptions, to the conflict generated when what is expected to happen does not. The compelling argument for emergent pedagogy is that all the individuals in our classrooms are themselves emergent systems, designed to explore, and designed--if one direction of exploration fails--to back up and try a different direction. Such blockages can always be productive, if they are understood as invitations to try a new path. Our job as teachers in such a system is two-fold: to create rich environments, so that multiple possibilities are always available; and to function as a node for sharing information among our students, so that they are aware of such possibilities. Sociality increases the possibility that novel approaches are always at hand....
Return to Working Group on Emergence