Reading Kinesis in Pictures

Spolsky, Ellen 1996. Elaborated Knowledge: Reading Kinesis in Pictures. Poetics Today 17(2): 157-180.

Artists make use of their own kinesic knowledge and count on our understanding of it. But body language does not always reinforce knowledge available in other modalities, say, in language. As in other aspects of communication, conflicts are common between what can be known by observation and what may be known by other modalities. These conflicts are not errors but are a systematic aspect of the way we construct knowledge. The gaps between modalities are the necessary ground for human flexibility and creativity. (Spolsky 1996: 157)
Hmm. This seems to approach something like an epistemology of nonverbal communication. Kind of like what I'm trying to do. The bit about creativity seems perfectly suited for my project of... uh... oneiroception?
We often see how people feel. Our assessment of what someone tells us may depend less on their words than on a kinesic intelligence by which we judge intentions and sincerity. We learn a lot by looking at others and by drawing analogies between their bodies and our own. (Spolsky 1996: 157)
Aww, shucks. I was hoping for this to get more epistemological than in the abstract but "intelligence" hints at an I-have-a-PhD-after-my-name-on-the-cover-of-my-book-but-the-book-itself-is-really-dumb kind of vibe.
I have been interested both in specifying distinguishable competencies and in exploring how these separate ways of knowing interrelate in the process of interpretation. I assume the modularity of mind: the mind/brain is a heterogeneous collection of processors or modules, each suited by evolution to respond to a particular form of energy. (Spolsky 1996: 158)
I'm fine with specifying competencies and exploring the process of interpretation... But forms of energy? This throws my bullshit-o-meter on the blitz.
Virtually all understanding is based on incomplete information, and is thus inferential. The brain makes a judgment - an interpretation - based on the information available to it from different sources. (Spolsky 1996: 158)
Wat? This is some quack-ass cognitive theory right here. You can recognize this kind of discourse by its cosmic generality and not being applicable to really anything.
The quantum advantace of the organism of having a variety of windows on the world, even when those windows produce gaps that must be filled inferentially, is that those gaps are the loci of creativity. (Spolsky 1996: 158-159)
Casually dropping Cicero's metaphor. At this point I'm only continuing because I want to see how the author approaches kinesis in pictures. Though I should have guessed from the metaphorical use of "reading" in the title that this was not going to be credible.
The gaps in the system - the places where inferences must be constructed - are sites of productive indeterminacy in all brain functions. (Spolsky 1996: 159)
In a way this nonsense is even beautiful. Although I may never find out what is meant by this poetic allusion to whatever, it's nice to see so many intelligent-sounding words in a row. It has a calming effect of lulling you into a blissful non-understanding.
A reader's access to literary texts, however, also depends, for example, on the ability to construct visual images, and then to draw analogies and inferences from those images as well as from words. An account of a reader's ability to produce mental imagery in response to words will clearly be an important aspect of a theory of receptive competence. (Spolsky 1996: 159)
Finally something that makes sense. This is very obvious, but nevertheless necessary.
If we can see how people feel, we can imagine how they look, and then how they feel, from descriptions in language of how they look. (Spolsky 1996: 159)
Uh... Yeah... Wat.
Human kinesic intelligence is our sense of the relationship of parts of the human body to the whole, and of the patterns of bodily tension and relaxation as they are related to movement. (Spolsky 1996: 159)
Tension and relaxation seems related to comfort and discomfort but I don't know of any studies in this regard. Similarly, I'm not aware that anyone has studies specifically tension and relaxation as such (or as related to movement). It may be that Bateson 1968, Gardner 1985, Sacks 1984 and Jackendoff 1987 do shed light on this.
By extension, our kinesic intelligence is called upon to help us understand two-dimensional pictures or icons, from Rembrandt's sad prophet to the international traffic sign for a school children's crossing. We also use it to produce mental imagery. (Spolsky 1996: 160)
It is foremost used, though, to understand three-dimensional movement. The connection with mental imagery is certainly valid, but the question is how it produces mental imagery.
Recognizing the facial and bodily gestures of other people is dependent on the kinesic sense, altough these are also conventionalized within cultures. Both folk wisdom and academic opinion agree that reading another person's body language is a powelful mode of knowing about that person. Students of nonverbal communication assume that kinesis provides an extra way of knowing that reinforces or disambiguates verbal messages. This belief is probably a result of the assumption that kinesis is less open to conscious control than other modes of expression, and therefore that it delivers a kind of direct truth. I can guard my tongue, but may not have such control over my smile. (Spolsky 1996: 160)
I'm losing trust in this author's use of "kinesis" - it can seemingly be connected with anything (kinesic fact, kinesic memory, kinesic whatever). And myths about "reading body language", such as the statement about "direct truth" merely reinforces myths.
Identifying kinesthetic representations in painting as separate from other aspects of visual understanding (i.e., understanding the meaning of a painting by its references to earlier painting), would be (and here I am sympathetic with Bryson's aims) appropriate what Elaine Scarry has called "the interventionist impulse of materialist criticism" (1988: xi). In her introduction to Literature and the Body she makes the case for a consideration of bodies in the aftermath of an idealist criticism which, in its emphasis on the nonreferentiality of language, promoted a view of artistic production as inconsequential. She claims, then, that attention to the body is therapeutic: "The body is both continuous with a wider material realm that includes history and nature, and also discontinuous with a wider material realm that includes history and nature, and also discontinuous with it because it is the reminder of the extremity of risks entailed in the issue of reference" (ibid.: xxi). Attention to the kinesic/somatic aspects of communication should further the ingestigation of whether and how art and art criticism can work to diminish those risks. (Spolsky 1996: 161ff)
Memo: read Scarry's Literature and the Body.
It is part of our bodily intelligence to be able to distinguish between stable and unstable positions - that is, between postures which, because of the relative alignment of body parts, can be maintained indefinitely, and those which cannot. The latter are, ceteris paribus, interpreted as being part of an action and thus as having a before and after, and usually as having a cause/or an intention as well. Giving attention, say, to a book on one's lap, can be seen as a comfortable and thus relatively stable position. Stretching an arm up and away from the body will generally be interpreted with an explanatory motivation: as reaching for something, perhaps. We know, for example, that when one changes the focus of one's attention, the head moves first, and the torso only afterwards, to align itself more comfortably with the head. (Spolsky 1996: 162)
Actually somewhat useful and/or interesting points.
Since recognition of body orientation and facial expression does not, apparently, prevent the emergence of different narrative explanations, the original hunch of so many - that bodily knowledge is less subject to conventionalization, and is therefore less ambiguous - is here shown to be an oversimplification. The different readings of this painting reveal both identity and difference. (Spolsky 1996: 164)
This is something I was wondering about when reading Ricoeur on hermeneutics. Namely that there may be two orders of meaning involved in such interpretation. The first scratches the mere surface - so-called "bodily knowledge" enables us to recognize and perhaps categorize the facial expressions, gestures, poses, etc. but it takes a second order to interpret the full significance of the first order elements. This involves the context of the situation as well as other factors reaching beyond the immediate context of the situation, even such brute factors that involve time and space. That is, for a full account it is not enough to recognize the emotion nor the immediate context but perhaps the mood, personality, life-history etc. of the subject.
Manfred Clynes, in his early work on the relation of muscle state to emotion, acknowledges that "a sentic state can be expressed in a variety of modes - from tone of voice to gestures using many different parts of the body" (1977: 27). (Spolsky 1996: 164ff)
Why is this the first mention of this guy I've come across? His "sentics" seems to signify "biocybernetics of emotion communication" (based on the title of his 1973 paper). May it be that he is neglected because he added another special term? (Like Roger Wescott with his ceonetics.) There's almost nothing on him on JSTOR (apart from two reviews about his work on music). I got one paper through EBSCO, so I can at least check him out. Spolsky is referring to Sentics: The Touch of Emotions.
Michael Argyle et al. (1981: 286) says that the averted gaze functions to protect one from intrusion by cutting down on perceptual distraction while thinking. A direct gaze, then, is an appeal for interpersonal communication and implies the opposite of introspection. It implies nonthinking, noncognition, and thence, simplicity, openness, directness, lack of competition, and frankness as opposed to scheming or evasiveness. (Spolsky 1996: 168)
This feels like a forced opposition. More so because Argyle is dealing with gaze within interaction. I'm sure a direct gaze has other functions than the one put forth here, because here it is viewed foremost as a display, a sign.
So far, the evidence seems to support my claim that kinesthetic knowledge is not especially privileged in being less ambiguous than other kinds of knowledge. (Spolsky 1996: 168)
I'd argue that it's even more ambiguous than other kinds of knowledge. Mostly because it's non-verbal, thus by definition difficult to verbalize, describe, discuss, and to communicate clearly. The sciences dealing with nonverbal communication have demonstrated that the same phenomena may have more terms signifying it than there are fingers on both hands (e.g. the case of synchrony, mimicry, mirroring, etc. etc.).
[...] cultural manipulations of body image are centrally relevant, I believe, to Arbus's picture. She has chosen to pose a group of subjects who, by their allegience to the diealism of the nudist movement, assert their rejection of normative standards by which they would be considered fat and ugly. Their commitment is to resist a certain line of kinesthetic ideology and to insist that they are comfortable in their bodies. (Spolsky 1996: 171)
It is interesting how the author distinguishes kinesic knowledge and kinesthetic ideology. Knowledge = good; ideology = bad. But is it necessarily so?
I can conjure several narratives of conflict suggested by the disassembled doll in the presence of both directions for its construction and (in case you had any inclination to disobey) metadirections that insist you follow the directions. (Spolsky 1996: 172)


Post a Comment