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

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jun 07 2007 - 03:56:28 PDT

fyi, much better prices for Psychology of Art at
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Peter Smagorinsky
The University of Georgia
Department of Language and Literacy Education
125 Aderhold Hall
Athens, GA 30602-7123 /fax:706-542-4509/phone:706-542-4507/

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Wednesday, June 06, 2007 7:44 PM
To: xcma
Subject: [xmca] "Psychology of Art" and "Literature and Revolution"

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
  "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
  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
  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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