Posting, posting …

When I became a teacher of English as a foreign language I crossed a strange yet seemingly absolute boundary. I had, a year previously, graduated with a doctorate in Scottish literature from the University of Glasgow, an institution which at that time (the late 90s) was embracing theories and philosophies with a proliferation of “posts” – postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, even postfeminism and postmarxism. I was entirely and happily wrapped up in these continental ways of thinking, eventually producing a thesis which appropriated more than a couple of them, but I don’t think I seriously imagined I would ever become a professional academic in this field. I probably treated the whole experience as an enjoyable intellectual exercise with little currency outside of certain adventurous university departments.

Of course, in one aspect at least I was right. After a year’s post-doctoral drifting, I decided to do the CELTA and try my hand at another way of working with the English language. Although it took a while to sink in, I had now crossed a frontier into a world in which language was viewed in a strikingly different way from that encouraged in my academic training. Here there were no posts, no questions about ideology, about misrecognition; in place of radical doubt about the integrity of the speaking subject, I found unapologetic humanism; in place of psychoanalysis I found cognitive linguistics and other scientific discourses; in place of de Saussure I found Chomsky. On the other side of the line, Chomsky had been roundly mocked. Now I found those thinkers I had read and re-read – Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, mainly – being given similar treatment. Above all, I had entered a world in which the idea that language unequivocally represents a reality external to it, that the intentions of a speaker can be unambiguously understood by an interlocutor, were notions whose truth-value was never even questioned.

I did not object; I started to suspect, but I kept my mouth shut. There were still the few doubts I had about the validity of the thinking I had studied: although I found myself returning to it more and more often, I kept it from others for fear of ridicule, of being classified as an obscurantist. I risked a little poststructural critique in a Diploma essay on the UK’s language requirements for citizenship, and got away with it, but I left it at that.

The views of one of my best tutors at Glasgow, Drummond Bone, neatly encapsulated my position: deconstruction (the branch of poststructuralist philosophy most associated with Derrida)  is what happens when you put the microscope on language. When you pull back a bit and look at things more pragmatically or common-sensically, the rules change, much like when scientists move back from the subatomic level to the realm explained by classical mechanics. Students didn’t want or need linguistic quantum theory, I reasoned, they wanted to know how to express themselves. It was my job to help them achieve that – not to complicate the very concept of self and self-expression.

However, my own recent thinking about some of the dominant discourses in ELT – in particular humanism but also scientific rationalism and the new, purportedly revolutionary languages of edtech and adaptive learning – has led me to tighten the microscope once again. In this at least, my reading now feels like something that could lead to some interesting writing. A post on truth on Steve Brown’s blog, and a subsequent discussion between myself, Steve and Geoff Jordan about the validity of a poststructuralist approach to predominant modes of thinking in ELT, have been the spur to this blog: an attempt to find a productive space for deconstructive analyses of our industry, the ways it represents itself and the competing discourses which criss-cross it. In so doing, I guess, I am looking for a way to bridge that gap I unwittingly crossed when I took my CELTA, to think my way through this and other irreducibly grey areas.

In the next post I will revisit the comments section of Steve’s blog and try to clarify what I understand by the many posts which have popped up in this one.

Neil McMillan, August 2014, Barcelona.

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11 thoughts on “Posting, posting …

  1. Hi Neil

    You’re post is tantalising, like a trailer for a really interesting programme that doesn’t say when it’s coming on. I am very much looking forward to reading your coming posts, though I am disappointed to learn that in the literature department of Glasgow University the work of Noam Chomsky is ‘mocked.’ I had dared hope that a more open-minded spirit of enquiry was to be found at one of our most distinguished centres of learning.

    I think Derrida would be intrigued that while you contrast his approach and others akin to it with scientific discourse you then employ an analogy in which deconstruction is explicitly compared to laboratory practice. Is this the sort of thing Derrida means when he says that texts are always already deconstructing themselves, subverting their own binary oppositions? I certainly don’t intend this as an objection; after all, if Derrida is right (and if I am right about Derrida) then it’s a straightforward inevitability. Perhaps I shouldn’t say ‘you contrast …’ and ‘you employ …’ Perhaps I should say, ‘your text contrasts …’ Or perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. Perhaps I should say, ‘the text with the name ‘Neil McMillan’ appended to it contrasts …’

    I think that Derrida would also find unobjectionable the claim that for any binary opposition the privileged relation between one term and the other will not necessarily always be the same within different contexts, cultures and traditions (after all, I imagine, traditions, like texts, are always already deconstructing themselves and the first stage of a deconstruction, if I’ve read him aright, is the reversal of the two terms re their relative privileged status.) Might it not be that the mockery you found evinced in the literary theory community by Chomsky’s work indicates that the tradition Chomsky represents is, for them, the repressed other of their own tradition? We laugh, I’m sure I remember Freud saying somewhere, at what we fear.

    A final remark; people who, like me, believe that language ‘represents a reality external to it’ (although that’s not exactly how I’d put it if I was asked to give a full account of what I think is going on)) rarely, if ever, in my experience, imagine that it does so ‘unequivocally.’ We believe that it does so on the not unreasonable grounds that, despite all the difficulties, communication appears, after all, at least some of the time, to be possible. We acknowledge, though, I think, that problems and paradoxes abound. It’s true that people often talk as though they believe there’s an unproblematic relationship between speech and the world but then so, I think, in the baker’s, do you. It may be that the old antagonism between analytical philosophy and what is sometimes called the continental tradition is something of a phony war, that if Derrida and Searle had each paid a bit more attention to what the other was saying then the acrimony in their exchange could have been avoided. I hope so. I’m looking forward to finding out.

    All the best to both you and Irene (oh, and hearty congratulations to you both on your wedding)

    Very fond memories

    Patrick

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  2. Patrick, it’s great to hear from you and thanks for the congratulations as well as the comments. The idea of you being a reader/commenter of this blog is very encouraging for me. Let’s hope I can deliver on the tantalising part and that you’ll want to keep commenting.

    On Chomsky, I completely agree that mockery does not sit well with ‘open-minded enquiry’ but I think it’s indicative of how philosophical or other intellectual debates can easily get dragged down, becoming subject to types of argumentum ad hominem grounded in insults and mockery – even gossip. You mentioned Derrida-Searle – what sticks in my mind from that debate was Searle citing something Foucault had been heard to say about Derrida, that his writing was “terrorist obscurantism” or something like that. You would honestly expect a little more sophistication, wouldn’t you?

    But this is what I hope will be one of the themes I look at on this blog – the reliance of discourses which otherwise claim to be rational, scientific or philosophical on distinctly non-rational (if not irrational), unscientific and unphilosophical defence tactics.

    Chomsky was mocked in the English lit department at Glasgow for the universalising foundations of his work, for what was seen as his denial of the social in favour of the innate, and for the naïve political position he put forward in his debate with Foucault. But such was the atmosphere at the time – traditional literary critics within the department were also being marginalised, to the extent to which I came to relish one tutorial I had with a rare and unrepentantly conservative professor, whose name escapes me, but who had the temerity to take on many of the ideas we were being fed by the poststructuralists. He was one of the few who really pushed us to think through what we were saying, and to keep in check any sweepingly dismissive attitudes some of us were beginning to cultivate.

    Interesting anyway that Derrida, a philosopher (and not a literary theorist as is often claimed) held much more sway than Chomsky, a linguist, in a literature department. I’ll wager that Derrida was much less influential in philosophy departments at that time – you would know – but suffice to say that the philosophy department at Glasgow was mocked for that, too. There was a certain element of turf warfare going on which is probably symptomatic of the paradigm-shift that was taking place, or at least attempting to insert itself.

    I don’t think I, or the text with my name appended to it, explicitly contrasted Derrida’s approach with scientific discourse but there’s the whole crisis of intentionality for you. But yes, poststructuralist thought is nothing if it cannot also acknowledge and unpack the repression of the other in its own claims to, if not truth, then paradigmatic dominance in any particular field. When oppositional and reductive tactics are used, the critic tends to become very much like the thing s/he criticises. Anyway, the return of the repressed you deftly identify in the analogy between laboratory practice and deconstruction is something I’d also like to return to, to turn over, to see what turns up. Geoff Jordan has already drawn attention to a curious episode in which Derrida used a similar analogy, between the concept of a centre with no privilege and the Einsteinian constant, and was subsequently shot down for it – by scientists, of course, although I’m not suggesting they were necessarily wrong (http://canlloparot.wordpress.com/sla/postmodernism/). Then there is Kevin Gregg, whose defence of “scientism” against “postmodernism” in SLA I’d like to look at in the next post. So as well as the repression of the other of poststructuralism, there is the repression of the other of scientific discourse, the need to put down, to ridicule, to rid ourselves of discourses considered improper and indeed damaging to the ends we are trying to pursue.

    I love your example of the baker’s, especially because I now do my bakery shopping in Catalan, and have a very real crisis of communicative intentionality almost every time I go in. But even when we buy our pastries in our native language, how often are we faced with a delicacy for which we don’t know the name, for which our descriptive powers fail us – how often do we point, “two of them please, one of those – not those, these – and what are they called? Well, give me six”. If spoken language alone was enough to refer to the external reality of the baker’s we would not need our fingers.

    But I feel the question of the existence or not of external or objective reality, or whether or not words really refer to it, is something of a red herring. I’ll leave it with Johnson’s famous refutation of Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialism. When told that Berkeley’s argument was irrefutable, Johnson kicked a stone and announced “I refute it THUS!” Would there have been any refutation without language, without bringing the objective reality of the kick at the stone back into the slippery realm of signification? Then there’s the fact that all this was reported by Boswell …

    What I take from your closing comments is a welcome reminder of the inadequacy of absolutes – and I think that’s what I was trying to get across in describing the line I crossed when I started teaching. In the same way that your belief in the power of language to represent does not preclude a certain complication of that belief, does not exclude the equivocal, the belief of scientific realists or rationalists in the pursuit of truth does not necessarily make them absolutists, blind to the forces at play in their own paradigm, ignorant of other pursuits, other ways of pursuing, other truths. In that sense, if I can avoid then the type of phony war you mention and go some way towards complicating the oppositions my first post raised, then so much the better.

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  3. There’s certainly a lot of food for thought in your comment on my comment. I don’t really know where to begin, though am sure that, wherever I begin, it will never end. I’d like to confine myself for the time being, if you don’t mind, to Johnson’s response to Berkeley’s immaterialism.

    ‘I refute it thus,’ being a sentence, is vulnerable to misinterpretation, or (mis)interpretation. Equally the kick, being intended to illustrate something, is similarly vulnerable, is equally a signifier. However, I believe I can make a good guess at what Johnson meant. He meant, I think, something like this:

    ‘When I kick a stone I experience a certain sensation (one of pain in my toe). As do you (Are you honestly inclined to deny this?) The best explanation of this by far is that I do actually have a toe, in which there are nerves, and that the stone is hard and heavy and that the nerves are such that in the event that they impact with a hard and heavy object they give rise to a causal chain of biological events that culminates (amazingly, mysteriously, for sure) in a sensation. How a sensation can arise from a series of brute physical events is indeed utterly mystifying, but, still, we both know that it does and that if this is indeed the best explanation of the phenomenon then we are entitled to draw the following conclusion; that my toe, and the stone, on the existence of both of which the explanation depends, do in fact exist (or, at the very least, must be supposed to exist if we are to avail ourselves of the best explanation, and surely, as humans, we do wish to avail ourselves of the best explanation.)

    Am I totally wrong? Are you utterly perplexed by my account of what Johnson was getting at, or do you indeed recognise my understanding of it as being substantially equivalent to your own? If the latter, then, somehow, amazingly, meaning, it appears, can after all sometimes survive the perils that face it in its conveyance. As it happens, Johnson’s response misses Berkeley’s point, but still I think you can perfectly well understand my explication of the view he was expressing and you can also recognise that that interpretation is indeed the best explanation of his action and its accompanying sentence (Are you honestly inclined to deny this?)

    I feel impelled to underscore my point by reasserting a distinction that Derrida seems to me to wish to undermine; that between literary effects and straightforward semantic meaning. It is of course true that translating literary texts, which avail themselves of such things as metre, rhyme and idiom and so on, is highly problematic and that there’s no clear-cut way of deciding whether one translation of a literary text is better than another. Nonetheless, when a Scottish child learns that two and two are four and when an Italian child learns that due e due fa quattro, though the words are different it is not meaningless to assert that they are both learning the very same thing. Indeed, I’ll go further and say that it it is not only not meaningless, it is true to assert that they are learning, or at any rate being taught, the same thing (Are you honestly inclined to deny this?)

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  4. I said it was a red herring, but since you want to fish for it, let me say as unequivocally as I can that I do not or cannot deny the objective reality of stones, toes, pains and quantities of things – although now that I say it, is there any objective measure of pain? I digress – I have not denied it, nor have any of the poststructuralist thinkers I am familiar with, to my knowledge, ever denied it. I would deny, or at least question two things: 1) that there is any meaning inherent in objective reality outside of our more or less successful or satisfactory attempts to refer to it, to describe it or explain it; and 2) that this is the most important question which faces us. You seem to be evoking the typical (and I believe trivial) accusation that poststructuralism is a form of wilful humpty-dumptyism, that is, that reality can be whatever I say it is, and there’s nothing you can do to prove me wrong (hence the tone of your daring me to deny all of this!)

    My purpose in citing the Johnson and Berkeley anecdote was to locate the denial or proof of material reality in a different debate, to suggest that it may have more to do with the clash between realism and idealism than rationalism and poststructuralism. Also, to play around a little – the anecdote demonstrates the existence of material reality in the radical absence of any material reality – without the stone, the toe (or in fact the foot), the kick, Johnson, Boswell – all are absent. Derrida’s argument is that writing (and by a deconstructive reversal, speech) can function in the absence of the writer, in the absence of referents, in the absence of the audience for whom it may have been originally intended. This makes the meaning of any writing fundamentally undecidable, or rather entirely contingent on a host of factors which may permit a satisfyingly univocal reading or more or less equivocal ones. You feel you can “make a good guess at what Johnson meant” – despite the fact that Johnson is not the author of the anecdote – but there will never be any way of verifying this outside of the conventions of the intentionalistic, rationally logical reading you offer, i.e. insofar as other readers also accept or share the premises of your interpretation.

    I am not going to argue with your reading of this anecdote (neither am I “perplexed” by it, as I understand and share, to a certain extent, the contextual and conceptual framework within which you are reading it), but I will say that I didn’t read it this way; pain goes unmentioned in the text, although understandably you infer pain from the size of the rock and the strength of the kick (“striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it”), yet I was more taken with the rebounding – it hadn’t occurred to me that he felt pain, I suppose I imagined he was wearing steel toe-capped boots. I thought the proof of reality (or more properly, the refutation of immateriality) was in the observable physical reaction of a moving object bouncing off a stationary one (perhaps the “alacrity” with which B describes S’s reaction primed me for this, B’s careful syntax, the italics of the impact thus (which I replaced with capital letters) – the refutation and the style in which it’s said are difficult to separate). Anyway, if Johnson was in pain it didn’t prevent him “walk[ing] down with me to the beach, where we embraced and parted with tenderness, and engaged to correspond by letters”.

    From a traditional perspective our interpretations really aren’t that different. But when your reading locates the proof of existence in pain, a sensation, you locate the refutation in something which seems a little more subjective and slippery – I ask again, is pain objectively measurable? Can it be faked, exaggerated, imagined? Can it appear as if from nowhere, without the impact of foot on stone? Also,can’t pain have a comic effect? Were Johnson to have howled or crumpled with pain, wouldn’t the strength or indeed force of his refutation rebounded somewhat on him – or indeed, on Boswell, that most admiring of biographers?

    “Somehow, amazingly, meaning, it appears, can after all sometimes survive the perils that face it in its conveyance”. I don’t think meaning is originary or transcendent, it does not survive anything, it has not been passed down from Johnson via Boswell to you or I – it is produced as an effect of your or my interpretation, and accepted or not as a correct interpretation within a mode of reading aimed at uncovering the objective reality represented by a symbolic system, a symbolic system governed by an author/authority (Johnson or Boswell) and which you already regard as transparent or referential, and an objective reality you already believe in. Just as 2+2=4 has meaning as part of a rigid symbolic system, a system dependent on shared assumptions, the same system taught to your Scottish and Italian child. Anyone denying the truth of 2+2=4 is changing the rules of interpretation of that system – of the integrity of the 2 (e.g. 2 drops of liquid + 2 more may produce 1), the additionality of the +, the equality of the =. I have no interest in doing that, I (of course) accept the logic of this symbolic system which allows me to participate in quantification and exchange, e.g. at the baker’s, or that leads me to understand that when I teach one hour of class followed by another hour, that makes two hours, and yet I’m supposed to accept that the value of those two that comes to me on payday is something less than it really is, even discounting the subtractions to which it is subjected by the state.

    I said all this was a red herring, and here’s why I think it is. The accusation that poststructuralist thought is guilty of humpy-dumptyism is a denial of its ethical force, of the fact that it is was born in an atmosphere of political struggle. I feel it’s at its best as what Todd May calls a tactical philosophy, picking its battles, inserting itself into discourses whose masking of their own radical undecideability is a violent gesture, an attempt to obliterate the other or others. I will maintain that what both symbolic systems I mentioned above have in common is their ability to be disrupted, but I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from disrupting them – at least not as they stand; if we were to get into a debate about arithmetic and quantification in relation to education, to exam results, learner outcomes and to funding models, you yourself might feel like disputing the truth produced by following mathematical operations.

    I would like to claim or reclaim the political or ethical force of poststructuralist thinking, the current within poststructuralism which allows a rethinking of anarchism, for example, or democracy, or that offers new lines of attack against discourses which mask their own partiality in their proclamation of truth. The ELT discourses I wish to address on this blog – humanism, scientific realism/rationalism and technological progress – are not, I really don’t think, totalitarian, but they all dominate our industry, they define and limit much of what we do, and they all, I feel, attempt in some way to suppress or reject that which is other to them. In particular, and perhaps most interestingly, they contest and conflict as well as support each other. I will not be the first to criticise them – I simply hope to offer criticism from another angle, criticism which will only prove efficacious insofar as any reader feels that there is something there to be affirmed, deniable as this will almost certainly be to others.

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  5. Maybe this isn’t especially relevant but I’ll run it up the flagpole anyway. In primary school, I remember, I was told about a penny farthing bicycle. The main thing I was told was simply why it was called that. What I was not told, and what for thirty years I didn’t even think about, was why on earth someone would make a bicycle like that. Then, last year, I was introducing the passive voice to a group of students and using material which, as is conventional, took as its topic area the invention of various familiar objects. Somebody asked about the invention of the bicycle and, vaguely aware that the bicycle cannot be attributed to any one inventor, I found on Google a number of pictures of bicycles over the years. It was while looking at these that it dawned on me why penny farthing bicycles were made the way they were, that what had previously been to me a historical oddity revealed itself to me as an engineering solution. In doing this, it seems to me, I grasped an idea, an idea that had its origin in another human mind, and while the mind in question was certainly absent the idea was very present (else how could I have grasped it?)

    A penny farthing bicycle is, among other things such as metal and rubber, a product of human intelligence. In coming to understand why penny farthing bicycles were the way they were I grasped the intention (in the everyday rather than in the phenomenological sense, though I think the phenomenological sense must include the everyday sense) of the person, or people, who designed it. That person, faced with a world subject to the same basic physical constraints as that with which I am faced (constraints admirably described by Isaac Newton), had arrived at a solution to a certain problem Now, I understood that solution, where before I had not. A bicycle, I think, is not a sign. Its purpose is not to communicate, but rather to facilitate travel. Yet I found in my considerations of it the operations of an intelligence akin (though greater, since I hadn’t had to come up with the thing but merely to appreciate someone else’s ingenuity) to my own. I cannot account for this in any way other than by saying that there is in the penny farthing bicycle embodied an idea, which, after many years of being aware of the existence of such bicycles but not thinking about why they might be thus, I then one day grasped. This idea I take to be phenomenologically present, not absent, in the bicycle, though its originator is certainly absent, indeed dead. A bicycle is not writing but if an idea may be embodied in a contraption then why may one not be in a phonemic or a graphemic system of representation?

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  6. And, if the issue is ethical and political rather than epistemological then the mockery of Chomsky is especially scandalous. Chomsky is tireless in his efforts for social and political justice. Most of the rest of us (you, me , Derrida) much less so, though we all try.

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  7. I love your reading of the penny farthing, but I don’t see how your last question works. “A bicycle is not writing” (yet your reading suggests it is, or that it’s something that can be written on), “but if an idea may be embodied in a contraption” (i.e. represented) “then why may one not be in a phonemic or a graphemic system of representation?” What I tried to show in my previous reply was that ideas are always embodied, represented, produced in systems of representation. Have we come round to the same way of looking at things?

    Your reading brings up several key things – that the authorship of the bicycle-as-invention is unclear (as Wikipedia has informed me, not even the Penny Farthing itself could know for sure who its daddy was); but that the bicycle-as-invention is a work of artifice; that this artifice was not designed to communicate, but to travel, and yet it communicates something to you (in Spanish, “comunicar” can signify communication or travel; “una zona bien comunicada” is an area with lots of transport links (and let’s hope, bicycle lanes)); that presence has absence as its condition (and threat- what I would question is that you have truly “grasped” this presence); that the bicycle embodies, represents in concrete form the genius of its inventor(s), or rather, its bits of metal and rubber are also a space, a body on which meanings can be inscribed. Do we see evidence of God in the beauty of his creation, or do we inscribe God there?

    The Penny Farthing spoke to you in a way it probably didn’t speak to people at the time of its fame – it (again according to Wikipedia, I apologise) had previously been known as “the Ordinary” – presumably because it was the only one you saw around. Your reading/writing of the Penny Farthing is situated in a historical moment which allows the placing of the bike in a line of development – equally it comes from a perspective which admires the aesthetics of machines, of contraptions – not only in a consumerist sense, but as aesthetic appreciation of a practical solution, much as words like “elegant” are used to describe mathematical formulas.

    Have you read Graeme Obree’s autobiography? The story of the invention of his “Old Faithful” DIY track bike, persecuted by the cycling authorities, would fascinate you.

    Bicycles speak to us, or we write on them, I’m really not sure which way round to look at it. On the one hand, I am impotent in the face of the noises they sometimes make, indicating imminent mechanical breakdown … I am ignorant of their language. On the other, in Barcelona, when I see someone riding a public bike or “bicing” (“Boris Bikes” as they’re called in London) I feel a sense of solidarity, I read its owner as a comrade; similarly with anyone on a beaten up bicycle; those fannying around on fixies at red lights I read disdainfully as “modernillos” (hipsters) although the fixies themselves fascinate me – I am an aging wannabe modernillo; and finally flashes of orange bikes in the distance warn me that a large, slow-moving group of guided tourists is coming, probably taking up both sides of the cycle lanes, and I’d better get my finger on the bell.

    All of which suggests that it can be difficult to separate a bicycle from its owner as well as its inventor(s), which brought to mind one of my favourite bits of Flann O’ Brien’s The Third Policeman. Beckett was also very interested in bikes, but it’s O’Brien, or rather his bicycle-obsessed Sergeant Pluck, who’ll get the last word in this comment:

    “‘People who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles. […] And you would be flabbergasted at the number of bicycles that are half-human, almost half-man, half-partaking of humanity.'”

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  8. This is certainly very entertaining and your remarks about the meaning(s) of ‘communicar’ are richly illuminating when read alongside the opening paragraphs of Signature Event Context, and, yes, ‘ideas are always embodied … in systems of representation.’ Nonetheless, I still want to say that the sentence,

    ‘A large powered wheel allows a vehicle to travel a relatively large distance with only a relatively few rotations of its axis,’

    embodies the same idea as that which I found, in my lightbulb moment, embodied in the form of the penny farthing. Dramatically different embodiments; same idea. The same idea can be embodied also in other languages, as well as in diagrams and in all sorts of systems of representation. The idea, then, must have an existence that is independent, somehow, of any one of those systems, though, granted, it cannot make its way in the world with the aid of none of them. True, what I am suggesting appears to have the consequence that ideas are immaterial entities that are entertained by immaterial minds, though they can only be communicated between minds by being encoded in material stuff such as phonemes and graphemes, as well as in things, such as bicycles which, unlike phonemes and graphemes, do not have communication between minds as their function. It seems from your original post that you were somewhat surprised to find widespread in the ESOL world, ‘unapologetic humanism.’ I’m afraid it’s starting to look like all I have to offer in its place is outright platonism. Rereading this paragraph I find that I did actually use the phrase, ‘the form of the penny farthing.’ Embarrassing but I’m going to stick with it because nothing else that I can think of explains how ideas can be translated from one form of expression into another. And ideas can be translated from one form of expression into another. Nazi military plans, first described in German were translated into code which was transmitted to officers in the field to be translated back into German. This code was intercepted by the allies and then, at Bletchley Park, with great ingenuity, translated again back into German, and then into English. This process of multiple translation had some rather dramatic real world consequences, consequences which, I believe, can only be explained by supposing that there is an equivalence between the original German input, the intermediary code, and the English output, (i.e. by supposing that the content therein is in some important respect the same, that translation of content is possible) I won’t ask that you tell me whether you wish to deny this since, yeah, maybe that is a bit rude (sorry), but only observe that supposing you don’t then our disagreement may lie only in differences between our preferred modes of description, that we may have, indeed ‘come round to the same way of looking at things,’ or that we always had the same way of looking at things but because of different reading had different preferred ways of describing that way of looking at things.

    Anyway, your post is mostly a statement of what we should expect from future posts. It’s a bit unfair of me to carp at this early stage. After all, I can certainly heartily agree that ESOL discourse is crying out for sustained critical scrutiny. Its current state is frankly a disgrace. With that in mind, please don’t allow me to detain you any further.

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    • Thanks Patrick, and of course please do share this – it’s a public blog after all, and one I imagine with quite a limited potential audience, so please spread the word(s).

      I imagine we’ll have further opportunities to come back to this discussion – as you said before, once we start there’s little stopping us – but at least now I’ve had time to write a second post, which I’ll publish tonight or tomorrow. Hope it still interests you in spite of (or perhaps because of) your platonist standpoint – although it is very poststructural/postmodernist (I’ll get on to this) to acknowledge the epistemology from which you speak!

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