Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Strong and Weak beats: Performing knowledge

A musical interlude in my exploration of knowledge... In thinking about semiotics, I've been rethinking my interest  in semiotic approaches to music. The core of these approaches is a two-stage approach to looking at the notes: a syntagmatic analysis (which is basically looking at the distribution of regular patterns over time), and a paradigmatic analysis, which is identifying the higher-level patterns in the piece. Thus we get a double articulation, and hence an approach to what might be a connotative experience (although the semiotic analyses I've seen rarely explore what this might actually mean). Below is an extract from Nattiez's syntagmatic analysis of Debussy's Syrinx:

What a semiotic analysis of music highlights is double articulation in general. So whilst we might talk about the 'content-form' of knowledge, that content form has a double-articulation (distribution of marks on the paper, higher level formation of words, etc); in a person, there is double-articulation in the form of phonemes that make up the sounds of words. So these double-articulations (and the connotative processes associated with them) are recursive.

It's all looking rather more complicated!

But hang on. What do we perceive? If, as I have argued elsewhere, what we experience is a flow of disruptions, exhortations and coercions, and from that flow we vicariously create models of each other, all we are talking about is how these disruptions, coercions and exhortations are constructed - or performed. Sitting in a lesson - whether good or bad - is a process of tuning into a skilled performance working out how it was done. It may be like listening to a musical performance. We hear the whole score, but we may be aware (depending on how much knowledge we have of the performing process) of how the overall impact of the score is produced: there are plenty of clues. The fact that we have the capacity to mimic complex performances suggests that there is some mechanism which relates an experience to its means of production.

And because this is the only way we or anyone else can 'perform knowledge' in a 'good performance' we will attend to those aspects of the performance which we might wish to reproduce. If the overall effect of a 'bad performance' leaves us feeling unsatisfied, we will not bother.

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