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Re: [xmca] On Marxist and non-Marxist aspects of the cultural-historical psychology of L.S. Vygotsky by Nikolai Veresov
I'm accompanying my father on a lecture tour of Korea, so I'm not in Seoul right now and can't access my library. But if you look at the very last page of Vygosky's unfinished "Child Development" manuscript (in Volume Five of the Collected Works) you will see a crucial and very concrete difference that LSV had with the so-called "Marxist" psychologists, especially Zalkind.
He complains that the "Marxist" psychologists INSIST that the crisis is "externally determined" by which they mean that they depend on SES, class, schooling, etc. Vygotsky argues that these "external factors" cannot be proximal, sufficient causes, because they cannot explain the precise TIMING of the crisis. So he says that the bourgeois psychologists (the Western psychologists) must be right; the crisis must be internally caused.
But he ALSO says the bourgeois psychologists are WRONG insofar as they consider the crisis to be BIOLOGICALLY caused. That is NOT the sense in which Vygotsky is using the term "internal". For Vygotsky, "internal" means semiotic! But in what sense can we say that MEANING is internal--since the things that are meant are really OUTSIDE the brain/mind?
Say I want to understand a drama that is showing on Korean television. One way to do this is to study the Korean language, to study Korean culture, and to treat the drama as semiotic material. Another way of trying to understand it would be to take the television apart and look at the cathode ray tube or the lcd screen or whatever and figure out how it works.
The point is that the mind--as mind--is made of signs, not neurological impulses. Even to the extent that the mind/brain can be said to be made of neurological impulses, those neurological impulses have to be considered as signs, not as reflexes.
Now, signs are things that stand for other things, things that are actually outside the brain.So the conclusion is simple. Undoubtedly, when somebody goes into a booth and votes, or when they go into a store and spend money, or when they go into a classroom and learn, SOMETHING happens in the brain. But if you want to understand what is happening in the brain, you need to look outside the brain.
I think LSV uses terms like "internal" and "external" NOT in the sense that we understand them (e.g. "social" vs. "biological"). I think he means to use them to point to the inside and the outside of a single process, a semiotic one. It's the same sense in which the pronunciation of a word is the "outside aspect" and the semantics of the word are "inside it".
Vygotsky's friend Mandelsham wrote:
"It is most convenient and in the scientific sense most accurate to regard the word as an image; that is, a verbal representation. In this way, the question of form and content is removed; assuming the phonetics are the form, everything else is the content. The problem of what is of primary significance, the word or its sonic properties, is also removed. Verbal representation is an intricate complex of phenomena, a connection, a 'system'. The signifying aspect of the word can be regarded as a candle burning from inside a paper lantern; the sonic representation, the so-called phonemes, can be placed inside the signifying aspect, like the very same candle in the same lantern."
Mandelshtam, O.E. (1977) Austin: University of Texas Press. Selected Essays. (Translated by Sidney Monas.), p. 77
Seoul National University of Education
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