Re: [xmca] Antirecapitulationism and the Logical Impossiblity of Social Progress

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Thu Apr 03 2008 - 16:23:01 PDT

Take good care, Professor John-Steiner. (We met once in New York; I'm an old friend of your son's!) Over here in Korea they would dose your pneumonia with strict rest and ginseng. They would also VISIT you a lot, though; something anglophones don't do when someone is ill (dim cultural-historical memories of the plague?).
  Another source of support for the separate "roots" of thinking and speech is Halliday, who begins his volume on Nigel's progress TWELVE DAYS after Nigel's birth, when Nigel cries from the pain of an abcess until Nigel's mother notices, and then stops crying even though the pain continues. From this Halliday concludes that experience and expression are already differentiated.
  He does NOT conclude that one derives from the other. Because the crying ceases before the abcess disappears, we cannot say Nigel's crying is an outward expression of his abscess, and because the abcess precedes the crying, we cannot say the abcess is cried into existence. I think that's why Halliday, who has an explicitly Vygotskyan conception of consciousness as a form of social being from the get-go, is not afraid to talk about "inner" experience and "outer" expression as distinct but linked; there are other, more dialectical, distinctions between experience and expression than categorical ones, and there are other, more dialectical linkages between inside and outside than causation.
  I think Professor John-Steiner's remarks on timing thought pauses (and distinguishing them from speech pauses) are very a propos. I would only add that I think separate data corpora have to be amassed for individual subjects. With ALL these "indexical" and "iconic" phenomena (pausing, intonation, gesture, eye contact), the amount of inter-individual variation is going to mask the the intra-individual variation that will tell us about affective and cognitive changes. But in this I don't think that pausing is actually different in principal from vocabulary and grammar: I find that the use of words like "this" and "these" as opposed to "it" and "they" are also highly variable; it's only some content words that are invariable in meaning and application, and these are statistically infrequent.
  When I first read LSV, being somewhat thick, I assumed that his interest in quipus was similar to my own interest in abacus use among young Chinese children internalizing math lessons. Now, of course, I know better. What really got LSV going was precisely the fact that the quipus had to be memorized by the runner; it was a completely idiosyncratic and individualistic form of mnemonic, with completely unique and unrepeatable relationships to meaning. It was the written equivalent of pausing, intonation, gesture, or eye contact.
  Despite ALL this evidence that uniqueness and variability rather than systematization and stability is the root and branch of meaning making, we can still find conservative and implicitly recapitulationist positions, that depend on static and stable ideas of cultural tools, even in literature that is in other ways very close to our hearts. I came across the following in Yuri Karpov's book "The Neo-Vygotskyan Approach to Child Development", p. 19:
  "Vygotsky held that, being products of human culture, psychological tools should be taught to children by representatives of this culture. Indeed social progress, in general, comes about when every new generation receives, ready-made, the essence of knowledge accumulated by previous generations."
  Gadzooks! So ontogeny merely recapitulates cultural history.That would explain the logical impossibility of any social progress whatsoever.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Thu Apr 3 16:24 PDT 2008

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