Guiding Fragments : projects that Halliday could not complete

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)32_Refereed conference paper (no ISBN/ISSN)

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2019


TitleThe Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Annual Conference 2019 (ASFLA 2019)
LocationUniversity of Sydney
Period1 - 4 October 2019


During his period of being very unwell, Michael Halliday did manage to jot out and discuss a number of themes which had animated his thinking over decades. But unlike so much he achieved in writing and lectures, these topics were not realized. He was hopeful that others in our research community might find these themes worth reflection, and possible development. Unfortunately, the guiding fragments he left were slight, and puzzling in a number of ways. We have no doubt that Michael discussed the issues with many colleagues around the globe, and we welcome a chance to bring the advice of others in on our seeking a better understanding.
In this session, we consider 3 examples:
1) The difference between the merely ‘abstract’ and the function of ‘abstraction’ in verbal art and verbal science. This is in fact derived from the broader issue of “the knight’s move” in text and cultural representations: how does one create a renewal of engagement with experience, or with a profound problem in life or science? How do such renewals take place? These questions are crucial in that they marked a point of theory in which Halliday saw his own work on grammatical metaphor in a relationship of ‘complementarity’ with Hasan’s depiction of “symbolic articulation” in verbal art. Perhaps MAKH was emphasizing the fact that, through the ‘3 times of text’ (phylo-onto-logo genesis), the text has been “twice-cooked” under the sociosemantic pressures of textual organization and novel ideational configurations (for instance, in science, any emerging potential to measure a phenomenon and define ‘it’ through equations).
2) The texts of the great revolutions – the crucial documents which reveal the cultural patterns involved in the English Civil War; the French Revolution; the Chinese Revolution; and the Russian Revolution. Halliday saw the American ‘Revolution’ as an event of a different kind. A number of Michael’s own books on these revolutions indicate the historians whom he regarded as most helpful in this investigation of ‘semohistory’.
3) The ‘great detectives’ (Brother Cadfaell; Sherlock Holmes; Poirot…) and certain structures in film were also a means of understanding the ‘knight’s move’ and conceptual innovation. This is a particularly open topic, and ideas from all around might help in bringing this connection out into a practical form. Halliday is one of many semioticians and luminaries fascinated by these directions in human culture (eg. Vygotsky; Luria; Eco; Sacks).
In 2 illustrative talks we will be focused on issues 1) and 3): we set out from brief summaries of Hasan’s approach to verbal art (using her notes on Kenneth Slessor and Robert Frost: see below) before opening up the discussion of metaphor specifically in relation to grammatical metaphor, innovation, and recent ideas from neuroscience about “The Poet’s Voice in the Making of Mind”(the title of a 2016 volume by the psychiatrist Russell Meares). By poet, detective, or scientist, phenomena can be dramatically reconstrued through metaphors which have consequences for the ways we manage the world…this is to say, through metaphors which re-dimensionalise our selves as human beings - beings endowed with “meaning potential.”

Citation Format(s)

Guiding Fragments : projects that Halliday could not complete. / Butt, David; Webster, Jonathan.

2019. Paper presented at The Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Annual Conference 2019 (ASFLA 2019), Sydney, Australia.

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)32_Refereed conference paper (no ISBN/ISSN)