[xmca] The Psychology of Art and the Social Mind

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri Jun 08 2007 - 02:27:41 PDT

It's not really a matter of picking nits (though, as they say in Tibet, if you don't pick them, they will soon cover you). The suspense is killing: what IS the relationship between the blind sparrow and the unspoken word, on the one hand, and the "Yule Season" and the dead bees on the other?
  Anton made the point, re Belyayev, that textology is really just the archaeological spadework of disenterring your author. LSV apparently thought these lines were important enough to risk endangering the publication of his last words, so they MUST be something he wanted us to read and understand.
  But what WAS he trying to tell us? Mike makes the point that words like "Hellenism" have long historical threads braided together: the Orthodox Church vs. the Catholic one, the Greek alphabet vs. the Roman one, and pagan world vs. the Christian one.
  Something else occurs to me. Valsiner and van der Veer, in their book on the "Social Mind", try to locate Vygotsky's roots in some fairly unlikely places, e.g. George Herbert Mead and Pierre Janet. But we've no evidence that LSV read Mead. He certainly read Janet, but so have I and I don't see the resemblance. Ditto Paulhan.
  We may be looking in the wrong place. I suppose it's quite natural for psychologists to look to older psychologists for precedents. So we get people who on the one hand make very much (over-much) of the fact that Piaget and LSV were once at the same conference (though apparently never actually in the same room), and on the other entirely ignore Chapter Two of Thinking and Speech!
  Suppose LSV's real precedents for his theory of the social mind lie well outside psychology? Suppose they lie in linguistics and literary criticism (which, like psychology and natural philosophy were not really separate fields back then)?
  The end of the 19th Century witnessed an extended renunciation of the Romantic Movement in literature and poetry (though not in painting or music, and I think it's not accidental that LSV largely avoids those fields). Linguists and literary critics all fled Romanticism in different directions.
  There were "traditionalists" like Eliot in England and Tolstoy in Russia. There were Hellenists like Nietzsche in Germany. The Russian formalists, and even the Saussurean structuralists can also be seen in this vein; their "abstract objectivism" was an attempt to put some ether between themselves and the "individualist subjectivism" of Romantic expressionism.
  All of these currents of literary criticism and linguistics had in common exactly what LSV lays out in Psychology of Art: the idea that there was a kind of social mind embodied in art that was independent of the individual artist. The psychology of a work of art is possible, for the same reason that social and cultural psychology are possible.
  True, Eliot located this external mind in "tradition", and Tolstoy in religion, Nietzsche in Hellenism, and the Russian formalists in technique, and Saussure in "la langue". LSV rejects all of these. What he accepts, however, is that just as artistic texts cannot be reduced to (social) contexts, they cannot be reduced to emanations of individual genius.
  No more can Vygotsky's conception of a social mind be reduced to his own genius, or even his encyclopedic readings in the psychology of his time. Marxism, yes; but why is LSV's so different from that of his "Marxist" peers? The textological search for the blind sparrow is not a wild goose chase, and the snow-covered hive is no white whale!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Fri Jun 8 03:29 PDT 2007

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