Re: [xmca] Paulhan, Volosinov, Mandelstam

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Thu May 31 2007 - 19:46:03 PDT

I do not have the relevant texts to answer your questions, David, and hope
someone does. Having been email restricted for 3 weeks it will take time for
me to get back into the discussion. I will seek to find help from Russian
colleagues, but perhaps Anton has already answered all this.

On 5/24/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> I've found the original article by Paulhan that was Vygotsky's source for
> "sense" and "meaning" (smysl and zenachenie). Kozulin's right: it's
> "Qu'est-ce que le sens des mots?" in Journal de Psychologie: normale et
> pathologique.
> It's all here: the distinction between "sense" and "meaning" (Paulhan
> says "signification"), the idea that the latter is the most stable and
> socially shared zone of the former, endless examples from Napoleon, and of
> course the conclusion about the earth and the solar system.
> But Paulhan really doesn't believe in his own distinction. First he
> says:
> p. 289: ˇ°Le sens dˇŻun mot, dans son acceptation la plus large, cˇŻest
> tout lˇŻensemble de faits psychologiques que ce mot e/veille dans un esprit,
> et que la re/action de cet esprit ne rejette pas, mais accueille et
> organise.ˇ± (The sense of a word, in its broadest acceptance, is all the
> psychological facts which the word evokes in a mind which the reaction of
> the mind does not reject but instead accomodates and organizes.)
> On p. 293 he contradicts this with a story about an acquaintance of his
> for whom the name "Scipion" evokes a plate of scrambled eggs, not, according
> to Paulhan, part of either the sense or the meaning of the name.
> On p. 304 poor Paulhan is totally stumped by the expression "beyond
> words", or "beyond my power to express" or "inexpressible", because these
> expressions do very clearly evoke a psychological fact which many people
> share, and therefore, contrary to what the words actually say, they have
> both sense and meaning. But if they say something OTHER than what they
> mean...?
> On p. 305, he argues that the sense and also the meaning of "furious"
> stems from PAST experiences of fury. Presumably, then, the meaning of
> "death" stems from our past experiences of death?
> Moving right along (p. 318-319) , Paulhan decides that lies do not have
> any meaning. But if they do not evoke a stable, socially shared zone of
> sense how can they be effective as lies?
> By the end of the essay, he has abandoned his distinction altogether, as
> when he says "comment vous portez-vous?" in which he claims the word
> "porter" has lost all "sens", though it does give a vague impression of
> geniality. Apparently what he means is that they've lost all meaning; he is
> simply using "sens" in its French sense, to mean "meaning". Similarly, he
> claims that words like "machin" (thing) and "affaire" (business) have no
> "sens", though they clearly do have sense. The distinction plays no role
> whatsoever in his full length monograph "La double fonction du langage"
> published only one year later.
> Why did Vygotsky pick up this distinction when Paulhan couldn't even
> wait to finish his essay before he abandoned it? It goes entirely against
> sociocultural theory in putting the psychological before the
> cultural/historical--on the one hand, all the psychological impressions
> evoked in a mind, and on the other the impressions that become socially
> shared through an entirely mysterious process of selection.
> Here's what I think. Paulhan's distinction between "sens" and
> "signification" is a very loose fitting garment. In its folds, Vygotsky was
> able to hide two much more important thinkers who were dangerously close to
> home.
> First of all, Volosinov (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Harvard
> University Press, 1973). Volosinov's distinction between "tema" and
> "zenachenie" is clearly MUCH closer to what Vygotsky has in mind. Like LSV,
> Volosinov talks about the idea of a language that has only one word (but in
> Volosinov it's a cave man, not a language larning child). Like LSV,
> Volosinov links this to "complexive" thinking (p. 100). Finally, the
> clincher: Volosinov provides, on p. 103, the IDENTICAL example from
> Dostoevsky of the six drunken workmen who have a conversation using a single
> (unprintable) word, and the beginning and the end of the quotation exactly
> matches Vygotsky's use of it four years later on p. 271 of Thinking and
> Speech).
> Secondly, Mandelstam. Mandelstam bequeaths a number of important ideas
> to Thinking and Speech. For one thing, there is the unity of opposites, the
> inseparability but non-identity of the thinking properties and the speech
> properties of the word. For another, there is the idea of that the word is
> the completion of an act, specifically of an act of verbal representation.
> And for a third, there is the whole idea that a word is a "tool for
> thought".
> In his 1922 essay "On the Nature of Words" (from whose epigraph Vygotsky
> took the Gubilov citation that ends Thinking and Speech) Mandelstam says:
> ˇ°The word in the Hellenic conception is active flesh that resolves
> itself in an event. Therefore, the Russian language is historical even in
> and of itself, the incessant incarnation and activity of intelligent and
> breathing flesh.ˇ± P. 69
> ˇ°In Hellenic terms, the symbol is a utensil, and therefore any object
> drawn into the sacred circle of man can become a utensil; and therefore a
> symbol too.ˇ± P. 75
> and perhaps most importantly:
> ˇ°It is most convenient and in the scientific sense most accurate to
> regard the word as an image; that is, a verbal representation. In this way,
> the question of form and content is removed; assuming the phonetics are the
> form, everything else is the content. The problem of what is of primary
> significance, the word or its sonic properties, is also removed. Verbal
> representation is an intricate complex of phenomena, a connection, a
> ˇ°systemˇ±. The signifying aspect of the word can be regarded as a candle
> burning from inside a paper lantern; the sonic representation, the so-called
> phonemes, can be placed inside the signifying aspect, like the very same
> candle in the same lantern.ˇ± P. 77
> (Mandelstam, O.E. 1977 Selected Essays. Austin: University of Texas
> Press.)
> Mandelstam is an Acmeist, and the Acmeists were an interesting mixture
> of Modernism and Romantic Hellenism. So he uses the Hellenistic version of
> "tools for thoughts" to overcome the Christian dualism of having physical
> sounds that create impressions on the mind that we find in Paulhan (who was,
> after all, a protestant minister). This idea of tool use is congenial to
> LSV's argument that signs are tools that cut both ways, towards the
> environment and also towards the self.
> But why wouldn't he cite Mandelstam directly? Well, of course, he
> doesn't cite Volosinov by name either, And Mandelstam had just written his
> "sixteen line death sentence" the poem known as "The Kremlin Mountaineer"
> which directly accused Stalin of engineering the Great Famine.
> ("Written" is perhaps overstating the case; according to Mark Willis,
> Mandelstam never wrote the thing down and only eleven people actually ever
> heard him recite it. Unfortunately, one of them was apparently a fink.)
> But Vygotsky DOES cite Mandelstam at the very beginning of the final
> chapter, in the epigraph from Mandelstam's "swallow", to which Vygotsky
> appends Mandelstam's actual name (at least in the Minick and Kozulin
> translations).
> Two questions:
> a) Does the original 1934 Soviet version of "Thinking and Speech"
> contain the references to Mandelstam and Gumilov? Does the 1956 edition?
> b) If not, when did it appear and how?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Thu May 31 20:47 PDT 2007

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