Re: [xmca] question

From: Eirik R. Knutsson (
Date: Sat Dec 23 2006 - 11:13:39 PST


It seems that I forgot to give you the full notes on further suggested

Lotman, Y. M. Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. London,

Lotman's and Uspensky's work is to my knowledge only available in Russian,
first published in 1977.

The binary model could serve to explain the Russian claim that there's no
room for more than one kind of (Orthodox) Marxism in Russia, and why the
Western, plurivocal/polyphonic approach tends to be considered as sheer

The historian Boris Groys could also be recommended. He has done some
interesting research on the Russian Orthodox obsession with rituals.
Die-hard classifications of Vygotsky as a pure Marxist may be seen as a
modern day expression of this obsession :) Please correct me if I'm wrong.


> Eirik,
> This is certainly an interesting suggestion. I'll follow up your reading
> recommendations.
> It would explain why so many of my ideas seem to end up in axiological
> limbo! :)
> Martin
> On 12/22/06 8:00 PM, "Eirik Knutsson" <> wrote:
>> Martin,
>> It seems to me that the Russian historians Yuri Lotman’s and B. A.
>> Uspenskii’s model, according to which Russia represents a binary
>> system of
>> thought throughout its history, i.e., a collective division of the world
>> into positive and negative axiological spaces, may be of some interest
>> in
>> this respect.
>> According to the Russian binary model or system of thought, acts are
>> considered either good or bad/evil, behaviour either sinful or
>> sacred/holy, no intermediate positions being permitted (as in the
>> Western
>> tradition). In the (medieval) hereafter, there was either heaven or
>> hell.
>> In the orthodox world, there was no concept of purgatory.
>> Thus, the Western system of thought, according to Lotman & Uspenskii, is
>> tertiary (consisting of three key components), while Russia represents a
>> binary model. These differences are longue durée expressions of
>> medieval
>> cosmologies and systems of thought. In medieval Western Europe, all
>> actions and ideas could be perceived as either bad/evil-good, sinful –
>> holy/sacred or somewhere in between, in a neutral intermediate
>> axiological
>> space. In the hereafter, the tertiary system corresponds to heaven –
>> purgatory – hell. The Western neutral intermediate space (or position)
>> results in a dynamical system of thought. New ideas are allowed to be
>> introduced beyond the dichotomy of good and bad/evil.
>> Within the Russian binary, static system of thought, new ideas were
>> considered according to absolute dichotomies (good-evil/bad,
>> sinful-holy/sacred etc). Hence, in the Russian binary system of thought,
>> new ideas, when on rare occasions embraced, were transformed into
>> absolute
>> terms and dogmas. Real change in a binary system of thought like that,
>> is
>> only possible through a revolutionary reconsideration of all values.
>> Such
>> reassessments of all values are evident throughout Russian
>> (intellectual)
>> history. According to Yuri Lotman, only one, dominant idea can exist at
>> one time in Russia, while the West represents a plurivocal, or
>> polyphone,
>> continuum.
>> BTW, the Swedish scholar Per Arne Bodin has done some useful research in
>> these matters (cf. his “Russia and Europe: A Cultural-Historical
>> Study”,
>> Stockholm 1994).
>> Eirik K.
>> -----------------------------------------
>>> Sasha,
>>> I agree entirely that an interpretation of Marx will always be from one
>>> or
>>> another stance. It seems to me that there are large differences between
>>> Marx
>>> scholarship in the west and that in Russia. When you say, for example,
>>> that
>>> there is there is only one school of Marxist philosophy in Russia that
>>> strikes me as both a strength and a weakness. My knowledge of Marx is
>>> without a doubt far inferior to yours, but I hope that it has been
>>> richened
>>> by exploring a little how Marx was read by people like Lefebvre,
>>> Sartre,
>>> Merleau-Ponty, and read back into Hegel by Kojeve, Hyppolite, Lukacs,
>>> and
>>> others. I'm not trying to sound erudite; my point is that Marx's texts
>>> are
>>> ambiguous, plurivocal, and any attempt to determine the real Marx, or
>>> decide
>>> once and for all how Marx related to Hegel, for example, is an endless
>>> task.
>>> Marx's writings have been called "a breathtakingly luxuriant but
>>> tangled
>>> forest."
>>> For example, the interpretation that Marx had already 'inverted' Hegel
>>> has
>>> been much contested. To think that there is merely a rational kernel to
>>> Hegel is a matter of debate, to say the least. To call the 1844
>>> manuscripts
>>> preliminary in anything other than a literal sense is to repeat a claim
>>> that
>>> has been much challenged.
>>> But let me defend myself a little: Engels used the term "historical
>>> materialism," while Marx did not (though I think Kautsky coined it).
>>> Lenin
>>> wrote of "dialectical materialism" in Materialism and
>>> Empiricocriticism.
>>> Stalin is not worth defending, I agree. To paint HM as true and DM as
>>> false
>>> does not get me very far in trying to understand what Vygotsky was
>>> doing
>>> with these terms, with the texts they came from, and thus to see what
>>> can
>>> be
>>> teased out of the tangled forest of Vygotsky's own writings.
>>> For example, my question to Joao was based what seems to me evident
>>> (though
>>> I'm willing to be corrected): that Vygotsky himself drew a distinction
>>> between HM and DM, and on my reading he judges them both positively.
>>> Yes, Vygotsky considered himself to be a Marxist. But what that meant
>>> to
>>> him
>>> then, and what it means to us now, are not self-evident matters.
>>> Reading
>>> Vygotsky's texts here in the US in one way I am at a disadvantage
>>> because
>>> the culture and context are so different from his. But from another
>>> point
>>> of
>>> view this makes it possible to try to liberate a potential from his
>>> writing
>>> that might not otherwise be accessible. I am not a Marxist (in any
>>> direct
>>> sense) but I do want to develop his ideas. If you are correct that "if
>>> we
>>> want develop Vygotsky¹s ideas
>>>> and if we appreciate his conscious position we can do it only basing
>>>> on
>>>> Marxist approach"
>>> then scholarship on Vygotsky in the west is in deep trouble!
>>> One last thing- you also suggest that:
>>> prevailing attitude towards LSV as to ideal example of Marxist
>>>> dialectical logic
>>> While I would say that this is actually a very rare attitude to
>>> Vygotsky
>>> in
>>> this country.
>>> Martin

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