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Re: [xmca] Re: xmca Digest, Vol 45, Issue 53
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Re: xmca Digest, Vol 45, Issue 53
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- Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2009 00:06:18 -0800 (PST)
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Dear Professor Veresov:
My country, South Korea, is a rather strange place. Professors tend to dress like businessmen here (in blue suits, sometimes grey, with pinstriped shirts and expensive neckties, gold watches are not unheard of).
But we don't actually write business letters; even the class timetables I get from the dean generally begin with polite remarks about my health, cautionary words about the weather, or reminiscences about the last dinner we had together.
These preambles are not pointless, and they are not simply polite. They are a way of establishing who is saying what to whom; a recognition that everything has to be interpersonally contextualized to have any meaning at all.
My point was that I knew your work, and that I knew you had a great deal to contribute to the debate on periodization, but that I also knew that you were chiefly concerned with periods OTHER than the period from 1932-1934.
This is the main period where Vygotsky talks about a "unit of analysis" and analysis into units. And sure enough, as Mike points out, it is a period of intense preoccupation with word meaning, particularly with the "tearing away" of word meaning from the "phasal" properties of language, by which Vygotsky means the phonological properties, the part which Andy calls "material" (Thinking and Speech, 1987: 223).
Thinking and Speech was called a monograph by Luria (on p. 359), despite the double title and despite the fact that its composition spans over half of Vygotsky's whole career. I think Luria is right; it IS a monograph; the topic of Vygotsky's monograph is neither "thinking" nor "speech" but rather the conjunction "and" that links them. For Vygotsky, that "and" is consciousness, and the "microcosm" of that consciousness is the meaning-laden word.
I think the process of differentiating the purely sensory aspects of words from their ideality is why self-directed speech is so important (Chapter Two), that is why the creation of interfunctional relations is actually more important than the independent development of the functions themselves (Chapter Three), that is why the merging of preverbal thinking and pre-intellectual speaking can present a model for the development of every higher mental function (Chapter Four), that is why the replacement of "visual-concrete images" by "abstract relations" is the foundation of conceptual thinking (Chapter Five); that is why foreign language learning and concept formation are the archetypes that Vygotsky has in mind for the zone of proximal development (Chapter Six) and it is why thinking is only realized in the word (Chapter Seven).
As you can see, I think that the idea that word meaning is the irreducible unit of consciousness permeates every single chapter of the book which was, intellectually, Vygotsky's last will and testament, even though (for that very reason) it cannot be considered "typical" or "characteristic" of his work (merely its culmination).
You asked me for a text, and like Mike I felt rather overwhelmed, because so many references seemed to cry out. How to choose? Where to begin? And what to cut?
What I did was to cite the last THREE paragraphs of Thinking and Speech. Of course, like a Korean academic letter, these paragraphs have to be contextualized; we have to know who is saying what to whom.
The last three paragraphs have to be read as the culimination of a book, and even of a life, and the last six words have to In the same way, the last six words have to be read as the culmination of those paragraphs; we cannot simply cut them into an epigraph without making them epigrammatic and consequently banal.
But (and this was the point of my pointless preamble) you are in a better position to recontextualize the text than almost anyone else. I assumed (from your name, and also from your remarkable erudition) that you read Russian. So I felt reasonably confident that you could place this: "Осмысленное слово есть микрокосм человеческого сознания."
It is found on p. 347 of the Labirint edition (2005), which is a reprint of the 1934 edition that Vygotsky actually supervised. In English, it means that the meaning-laden word is a microcosm of human consciousness. I think that the word "microcosm" means, here, an irreducible, but fully complete, unit.
Seoul National University of Education
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