A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen

A mix of posts on gesture, HCI, perception or robots and some personal information.

A Nice Gesture by Jeroen Arendsen RSS Feed
 
 
 
 

[Mail] Is Gesture a Principle?

Budapest - July 2006 (source)

Dear Jeroen,

I am enjoying your blog. You have just the right balance of visual interest, short articles, humor and a great deal of knowledge lurking about behind the scenes. This is what my blog should do, but it gets mired in earnestness and I don’t blog regularly.

With a colleague I am writing a book on what we call the principles. To be a principle something should be manifest at all levels and its withdrawal would make the universe as we know it collapse. This is a very modest project as you can see. An example of a principle is attraction: molecular bonds, gravity, sex, magnetism, planetary orbits, obsessions, addictions, flies and shit, money and misers. The list of attractions is infinite. Principles have the interesting quality of being evident only in their manifestations. You can’t see, hear, smell, touch or taste an attraction but they are everywhere and you constantly experience them.

My colleague, whose concept this is, believes that gesture is a principle. I am wrestling with the question. One problem is that gesture seems to be interpretive and communicative, so it seems to be for the human and animal realm. But, when I look at plants, flowers and trees each seems to have unique and characteristic sets of gestures. A prickly pear cactus, for example, has very different gestures than a Rembrandt tulip. My writing desk has scalloped ornaments, and curvaceous entarsia. These, it seems to me, have gesture, as does the grain of the walnut. At some point pattern seems to achieve lift off and take on what I can only call gesture. If you look at this portrait by Rubens, you can see gesture in the clothing, the feather on the hat and the background.

Does this use of gesture make sense to you? Is gesture only in the eye of the beholder and the intent of the gesturer? Can a marble cornice have gesture? Does gesture seem so fundamental that you could call it a principle?

Cheers,

Geoffrey Thomas

3 Responses to “[Mail] Is Gesture a Principle?”

  1. 1
    Jeroen Arendsen:

    Dear Geoffrey,

    Thank you for your kind words and here are some of mine: You look great with a wig! What a wonderfull idea to bring music alive in your theater.

    And good of you to write too. It is the raison d’etre of my blog; to come into contact with people and talk gesture. I found your questions and thoughts quite stimulating to read and consider. So I will add some of my own hoping it will help us both further.

    Regarding the visibility of principles: I can ’see’ a magnetic field, for example by visualizing it with iron filing on a paper. One could say that I see only the manifestation but what does that mean? Do I see other things more directly?

    Is not attraction but one example which happens to be a word for a
    relational concept, and therefore not an object itself? Other relational concepts, such as obediance, superiority, ownership, love, etc, can also not be seen. Are they principles too?

    Is gesture a principle? I think the universe would definitely not collapse if there were no gestures anymore. I also think you have it correct if you state gesture exists in the eye of the beholder and the intent of the gesturer. That is exactly how I see it. It sometimes exists only in one of the two, as a semi-gesture. I have to admit that I believe plant gestures only exist in the eyes of a small group of beholders. I do not believe there is an intention to communicate in plants. At least not more so than
    my body cells intend to communicate the location of a problem to my white blood cells.

    When it comes to made objects, like a desk or a painting, it may be
    different. The maker of the object may have had intentions that are still visible in the object. But aren’t these just as much visible in every part of the painting, and not merely in the very expressive ones?

    Kind regards,

    Jeroen Arendsen

    ps. Can I put your letter on the website? I like to keep an open archive of these discussions.

  2. 2
    Geoffrey Thomas:

    Dear Jeroen,

    I was pleased to receive your response. You are welcome to put the e-mail into the open archive.

    While working on this book it is extremely helpful to discuss the ideas and get reactions and feedback. Among other things, this should help us avoid stupid mistakes, adjust course after errors have been identified, discover what people don’t understand and anticipate criticism. Therefore, I am quite happy to get your feedback.

    Let me respond to some of your thoughts.

    Regarding the visibility of principles: I can ’see’ a magnetic field, for example by visualizing it with iron filing on a paper. One could say that I see only the manifestation but what does that mean? Do I see other things more directly?

    I would still maintain that you are not seeing the magnetic field. You are seeing its effects in the pattern of the iron filings. This distinction, it seems to me is valuable and helps us to see underlying relationships

    Is not attraction but one example which happens to be a word for a
    relational concept, and therefore not an object itself? Other relational concepts, such as obedience, superiority, ownership, love, etc, can also not be seen. Are they principles too?

    Attraction is not an object, nor are any of the principles objects. So I am unclear what you mean by calling it an object. As I look at my list of principles I see that many, if not most of them, are relational. Your insight is stimulating, but I will have to chew it over a bit. I would put obedience, superiority and ownership under the umbrella principle of hierarchy. Love. Well, that’s a hard one. First of all we have the enormous problem of defining love. My colleague, however, defines love as paying attention. Most people are unhappy with that definition, it seems to them to be lacking in warmth or flavor, but this definition is easier to work with than most definitions. I suspect that love combines many principles. I don’t know how we will treat love yet.

    Is gesture a principle? I think the universe would definitely not collapse if there were no gestures anymore. I also think you have it correct if you state gesture exists in the eye of the beholder and the intent of the gesturer. That is exactly how I see it. It sometimes exists only in one of the two, as a semi-gesture. I have to admit that I believe plant gestures only exist in the eyes of a small group of beholders. I do not believe there is an intention to communicate in plants. At least not more so than
    my body cells intend to communicate the location of a problem to my white blood cells.

    I am relieved that my definition coincides with yours, since you have spent a great deal more time and thought studying the matter. The fact that gesture is not irreducible or absolutely indispensable at the level below animal life bothers me. This is why I wonder if it is really a principle. The fact that interpretation is also an aspect of gesture is worrisome. My colleague is indisposed due to ill health, so he can’t join in this discussion at the time.

    There are a number of ways of looking at the plant question. You are probably correct that plants don’t intend to communicate, because it is problematic to ascribe intentions to plants. Plants do, however, communicate through color and scent, among other means. I wonder if anyone has researched how their movements (gestures) attract animals. I take the notion of seeking out gesture in plants from an 18th century point of view. The Affekt of each plant was something an artist might have studied and employed. Affekt is related to attitude. I submit that if you look at plants for gesture and attitude you will notice many interesting things. This business is of course quite interpretive, but you are in the business of interpretation after all.

    Speaking of the 18th century there are two books on the subject of rhetoric and gesture that are extremely interesting. You probably know them, but I will send the names just in case:
    Chironomia or, a Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery by Gilbert Austin
    Theoretische Lessen over de Gesticulatie en Mimiek… by Johannes Jelgerhuis

    I love the illustrations in the Austin and have learned some of the gestures. In the back is Grays’ Elegy with a very precise guide for which gestures to use for each line of the poem.

    When it comes to made objects, like a desk or a painting, it may be
    different. The maker of the object may have had intentions that are still visible in the object. But aren’t these just as much visible in every part of the painting, and not merely in the very expressive ones?

    I think you are correct, especially in the case of the Rubens painting. His use of the brush was highly gestural and the dynamic surface of the painting is surely a result of how the paint was applied.

    Your reference to white blood cells has given me an idea. Perhaps gesture is a subset of the larger set of information communication. All organic life is constantly involved in exchanging information. Perhaps this is the principle.

    Here are two more ideas of what might be called gesture:

    Explosions are nature’s grandest gestures. These range from the tiny puff of a dandy lion releasing seeds, to a geyser erupting. a volcano exploding to tornadoes slamming into cities to the unfathomable holocaust of a supernova explosion.

    Spoken language is full of sonic gestures, which bring the language alive. Without them language sounds flat, unexpressive and lifeless. The word wow has a curve with rising and sinking pitches, like why. Diphthongs modulate the pitch and color of words: my, may, fire, sound, few, tone and join. Many words begin with an upward scoop, a rising pitch like in uh, uh.

    Jeroen, thanks again for your reply.

    A question: is there a mathematics of gesture?

    Cheers,

    Geoffrey

  3. 3
    Jeroen Arendsen:

    Hello Geoffrey,

    You stated:

    Attraction is not an object, nor are any of the principles objects. There are a number of ways of looking at the plant question. You are probably correct that plants don’t intend to communicate, because it is problematic to ascribe intentions to plants. Plants do, however, communicate through color and scent, among other means. I wonder if anyone has researched how their movements (gestures) attract animals.

    I take the notion of seeking out gesture in plants from an 18th
    century point of view. The Affekt of each plant was something an artist might have studied and employed. Affekt is related to attitude. I submit that if you look at plants for gesture and attitude you will notice many interesting things. This business is of course quite interpretive, but you are in the business of interpretation after all.

    That is a stimulating train of thoughts there. I have sofar paid little attention to the Affective (?) side of gestures. Usually I do value a distinction between communication via a willing ‘giving of information’ and an unwilling ‘giving off information’ :-) The plant cannot help being red and luscious, I think. I did a bit of studying on plant movements, and reported my findings sofar on the blog.

    Speaking of the 18th century there are two books on the subject of rhetoric and gesture that are extremely interesting. You probably
    know them, but I will send the names just in case:
    Chironomia or, a Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery by Gilbert Austin
    Theoretische Lessen over de Gesticulatie en Mimiek… by Johannes Jelgerhuis

    Yes, and no, so thanks for the references. I am currently also reading a paper on the work of Engel: It is written by Sara Fortuna and published in Gesture (vol 3:1). It mostly deals with Engels ‘Ideen zu einer Mimik’. Given your interest in theatre it should be nice.

    Explosions are nature’s grandest gestures. These range from the tiny puff of a dandy lion releasing seeds, to a geyser erupting. a volcano exploding to tornadoes slamming into cities to the unfathomable holocaust of a supernova explosion.

    I may want to grant a plant intentions, but can ‘nature’ have them too? Or can it for that matter ‘give off information about its emotions or state of mind?’

    Spoken language is full of sonic gestures, which bring the language alive. Without them language sounds flat, unexpressive and lifeless. The word wow has a curve with rising and sinking pitches, like why. Diphthongs modulate the pitch and color of words: my, may, fire, sound, few, tone and join. Many words begin with an upward scoop, a rising pitch like in uh, uh.

    Why call that gesture? You are referring to speech fenomena, aren’t you? There are many that refer to speech as being ‘articulatory gestures’ but that then includes the words themselves. But I found some interesting leads in remarks by Chomsky that I am putting on my blog that have bearing on it. I think.

    Jeroen, thanks again for your reply.

    Same here, I enjoy corresponding. It helps me think.

    A question: is there a mathematics of gesture?

    Well, there are those who try to do gesture recognition with computers and for this they rely on mathematical analyses. But what do you mean exactly?

    Best, Jeroen

Leave a Reply

Categories

RSS My Del.icio.us Links

Archives

RSS Books in My Library