[xmca] "Psychology of Art" and "Literature and Revolution"

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed Jun 06 2007 - 17:44:20 PDT

Dear Mike:
  Thanks to you, and to your Moscow seminar. I'm writing up some things on Mandelstam and Volsinov, and this will go into the footnotes. So LSV did get away with it after all!
  I am waiting, breath baited, for you and Tony Whitson to start "blogging" the "Psychology of Art" in this space, because it's a book I've long longed to discuss.
  Here are some starting observations, relevant (I think) to why LSV would want to go out on an art note in "Thinking and Speech".
  a) In some ways, the argument in the first chapter of "Psychology of Art" recapitulates "Literature and Revolution" (L.D. Trotsky, 1923-24). This was not a particularly brave thing to do at the time (Trotsky was still in the government, though just barely). But it was, in retrospect, something of a hostage to fortune.
  b) Like Trotsky, he begins by destroying the idea of art's complete independence from its social context. Interestingly, though, he uses this quote from Plekhanov:
  "To understand the dance of Australian native women, it suffices to know the role played in the tribal life of Australian aborigines by women gathering wild-growing plants. To understand the minute, however, it does not suffice to know the economy of eighteenth century France. We are dealing here with a dance that expresses the psychology of a non-productive class...Therefore the economic 'factor' yields it's place and position to the psychological factor. We must remember, however, that the emergence of nonproductive classes in human society is a product of economic evolution." (p. 13).
  c) This quotation from Plekhanov is also a hostage to fortune, albeit not quite so tragic as LSV's debt to Trotsky. On the one hand, it helps him make a very convincing argument (which Marx's comments on Hellenism also help him make) that art, while not entirely separable from social context, is not reducible to that context either. Like Trotsky, he will rely heavily on the Russian formalists to bolster this view later on.
  It also helps him suggests something very developmental--the EMERGENCE of non-productive art from productive art. And finally, it orders them in a way most congenial to Vygotskyan psychology, a "psychology of art" historically evolves from some kind of "sociology of art".
  But on the other hand--it CLEARLY suggests exactly the kind of thinking that he explicitly rejects here on p. 16 (I apologize for the long quotations, but it will allow people who haven't got the one or two hundred dollars that Alibris is asking for "Psychology of Art" these days to follow along):
  "Today one one would dare assert that an ancient bylina (a Russian popular epic) written from the words of an Arkhangel'sk fisherman and a Pushkin poem carefully corrected and edited by the poet, are the products of different creative processes. The facts testify to exactly the opposite. Accurate investigation reveals that the difference here is purely quantitative. the narrator of the bylina does not recount it in exactly the same way in which he received it from his predecessor.He introduces changes, cuts, additions, and he reshuffles wodrs and parts.Thus he becomes the author of that particular version using teh ready-made standards and cliches of popular poetry. Hence the notion that popular poetry is poetry is unsophisticated in the sense that it is created by an entire people and not by professionals (narrators, troubadours, storytellers) of artistic creativity applying a traditional, rich, and specialized technique to their craft and using it in exactly the same
 way as the writers of later periods is completely wrong. On the other hand, an author who puts down in writing the product of his creativity is by no means the sole creator of his work. Pushkin, for example, is not the individual author of his poems. He did not invent the methods of writing verse and rhymes or of construing a subject or theme in a specific way. Like the narrators of the byliny, he passes on the immense heritage of literary tradition which to a great extent depends on the evolution of language, verse wrtiing techniques, traditional subjects, themese, images, compositional subjects, and so on."
  d) How to solve the apparent contradiction between what this quotation says and what the Plekhanov quotation says? It seems to me that these two statements ARE reconcilable, if we understand that Vygotsky is setting up a dialectical "unit of analysis" fairly similar to ones we see later in his pedological work.
  action=meaning (rote repetition, babbling)
  action/meaning (role play and gesture)
  meaning/action (rule based games)
  imaginary situation = rules (a game of catch)
  imaginary situation/rules (a game of horsie with a stick, children playing "house")
  rule/imaginary situation (a game of chess)
  The analogy may seem far-fetched, but we find the same kind of method in his analysis of teaching in Educational Psychology, which was written at almost the same time as Psychology of Art (and is also explicitly indebted to Trotsky in several places, e.g. p. 347 and p. 350).
  On p. 49 (and again on p. 187) LSV discusses the "rickshaw driver" and the "tram driver", and the reversal of the proportions of physical motor energy and directing, organization and planning:
  physical labor = mental labor (hunting and gathering?)
  physical labor/mental labor (rickshaw pulling)
  mental labor/physical labor (tram driving).
  content provision = environment management (child's play)
  content provision/environmental management (tutoring, "scaffolding", DIRECT teaching of concepts)
  environmental management/content provision (public education)
  With these examples we can imagine a research program something like the following:
  materials = methods (Australian aborigines)
  materials/method (Byliny singer)
  method/materials (minuet-dancing, Pushkin)
  This scheme is rather good at explaining PAINTING:
  materials = methods (earliest calligraphy, Jiaguwen, Jackson Pollock)
  materials/method (aleatory painting, e.g. Song dynasty painters; indicative painting, e.g. Chen Rong, Rothko, conceptual art)
  method/materials (narrative paintings, oil painting, integration of text and painting we see in later calligraphic art in China, comic books in the West, Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein, graphic art)
  But LSV's plan is LITERATURE--
  fable (plot = form)
  short story (plot/form)
  psychological drama/novel (form/plot)
  But what is the inner tension within LSV's unit of analysis here? What is the force that through the green fuse will drive this flower? Isn't it something like "dialogue"?
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
  Xi'an College of Fine Arts (China)

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Received on Wed Jun 6 18:46 PDT 2007

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