[xmca] Acmeism vs. "Toolforthoughts"

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed Jun 13 2007 - 17:31:32 PDT

Yes, it's very useful to have the Biblical scholarship, on top of all the excellent Russian scholarship that Anton and Mike's Moscow seminar have brought to this question.
  Here's some rather amateurish Quranic scholarship to go with it. There was a controversy in the ninth century between Islamic scholars who said that the Quran was eternal and therefore coexistant and contemporaneous with God and those who said that the Quran had been created by God and that although both were eternal God nevertheless somehow pre-existed the Quran.
  The dispute was, of course, resolved with violence rather than logic, just as similar disputes over Trinitarianism were in Christian lands. Those who took the apparently illogical position that although both were eternal, one nevertheless pre-existed and created the other simply contended that the others were covert polytheists (because if the Quran is contemporaneous with God that makes it into a kind of a God, just as the invention of Jesus and the holy spirit makes Christians into covert polytheists).
  I think this is why Islamic fundamentalists still use "monotheism" as a synonym for true Islam. I mention all this because I think the controversy points to what is really at stake, which is not the Jewishness of Vygotsky but rather his Spinozism and his sympathies for Acmeism (rather than Symbolism).
  When I said "Mandelstam's epigraph" I didn't mean to suggest that Mandelstam had written the poem. I was referring to the fact that Mandelstam chose the Gumilev quote as an epigraph to his essay on the word. My question was really what Mandelstam (and then Vygotsky) would see in this quotation from John, given that it was, as Anton points out, a CHRISTIAN version of the creation by the author of the Blood Libel, and a defense of a purely man-made, word-based religion. (Man uses the word to create a god in his own image, and to create a creation in the image of man's creation of language!)
  Mandelstam and Gumilev were Acmeists, and at the beginning of the Revolution their main rivals were the Symbolists. It is common to portray the difference as being something like "optimistic futurism vs. pessimistic neo-hellenism", with the Acmeists in the latter role and the Symbolists in the former.
  But I think it also has to do with whether you see tools and symbols as different or whether you attempt to amalgamate them as "toolforthoughts". This in turn leads us to the point that Anton was making about whether the word or the deed is primary, or whether they were, like God and the Quran, contemporaneous and co-evolving.
  The Acmeists definitely saw tools (utvar) as primary and symbols as derivations, and even to some extent debasements. I think that's what Mandelstam means when he talks about how the broom demands a holiday. For the Acmeists, the meaning of a broom is not thinking but sweeping. That's why Mandelstam upbraids the pot for thinking it has "absolute significance" unconnected with cooking; once we assume these things, we are no longer living in a Hellenistic home, where all the utensils of life have an Epicurean value connected to their use; we are turned out into a "druidic grove".
  In contrast, the Symbolists took a "toolforthoughts" position. Symbols existed from man's very beginning just as the Quran existed alongside God. It is fairly obvious how this is consistent with "In the Beginning was the Word". It is also clear that this is what Mandelstam is attacking when he complains that a word is not a thing but a process, and that its meaning is not like a translation of itself (because translations do not pre-exist words).
  Where does LSV stand? In Chapter Three of "Thinking and Speech", LSV has already DENIED that the child's first words can be interpreted as either thinking or speech; he says that there is no such thing as a "holophrase" and that the child's first words are completely of a piece with the child's actions in a given situation (p. 98). At the beginning of "Psychology of Art", he takes a very strict Spinozist view, that all of man's "spiritual" life can be seen as an "extension" of his material life, just as his words are an extension of his deeds. (I agree that Vygotsky's Jewishness is relevant here, as long as we understand that Jewishiness includes Spinozism and monism, something that of he Jews of Spinoza's time did not at all accept.) And at the very end of "Thinking and Speech" he reminds us that "in the BEGINNING was the deed (not the word)".
  Each of those three positions finds LSV closer to the Acmeists than the symbolists. But that was only the beginning, of course!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
  PS--Anton...what do you make of Vygotsky's criticisms of Chukovsky in Psychology of Art (p. 170)?

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Received on Wed Jun 13 17:34 PDT 2007

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