[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] LSV on Hamlet

This is kind of a non-answer; I guess I think it's more interesting and maybe even more useful to speculate about when and why he STOPPED writing the essay than about when and how he STARTED.
Renee van der Veer says somewhere that there is no evidence that Vygotsky ever rewrote anything to make it more legible. That might be true, actually; I find that when I rewrite stuff I only succeed in complicating it, and my mind is nowhere near as subtle as Vygotsky's. 
But there's a LOT of internal evidence, in the Hamlet essay itself, that it was written, rewritten and re-rewritten, and that as a consequence all of the accounts you cite are really correct. Vygotsky, as I think he actually says somewhere, just wrote and thought a lot about this play and the result is a kind of palimpsest of ideas that occurred to him over nearly a decade.
First of all, there's some internal evidence. The Eichenbaum reference, for example, is as recent as 1924, which certainly reinforces the idea that he wrote it, or at least rewrote it, while ill in 1925.
But more interestingly, there is the structure of the essay as a whole. This obeys his usual lecture structure, where he sets an interesting problem, canvases all the unsuccessful solutions to it, synthesizes all of their strong points...and then knocks that one down too! 
Let's suppose that what we are REALLY reading is a kind of history of Vygotsky's OWN thinking on Hamlet. First, there is a kind of historicist appreciation that corresponds to his earliest thinking, when he was still in Gomel. Then this is overthrown for the sake of a formalist one that utterly denies that Hamlet has any character at all. You can see this kind of thinking in his "behaviorist" work on Bunin (also in Psychology fo Art).
At last there is his apparently inexplicable enthusiasm for Tolstoy's jaundiced, bilious reading...which I think he likes precisely because it is so completely cranky and crazy and obviously unworkable. (Orwell writes a quite hilarious essay about Tolstoy's reading of King Lear.) 
This is the final turn of the screw; Vygotsky's way of showing that by "synthesizing" the strong points all we've really done is to cancel them out, and we have to start all over again (it's quite similar to what he does in "The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology", as you point out in your MCA article).
So the structure of the essay is rather like that of Hamlet itself: Hamlet sets out to kill the king, and then the most completely contradictory "solutions" arise, each one presenting an obstacle to the resolution of the plot rather than a means of resolving it. In the end, the king is killed not once but THREE times (by poison, by sword, and by poison on the sword) but by then it no longer matters.
It's a rather dark, bloody version of one of those Jane Austen novels where the heroine (say, Emma Woodhouse) meets Mr. Right in the very first chapter but there has to be a whole book's worth of confusions and complications before they can actually marry. More importantly, it's a dark, bloody version of the way Vygotsky sets his psychological problems, works through the unsatisfying answers, and then kicks over the whole table and calls in the dogs instead of bothering to wash the dishes.
Just as this device allows Shakespeare and Jane Austen to shift the focus from action to thinking, using it in the Hamlet essay allows Vygotsky himself to shift the focus from art to the psychology of art. The problem I have is that we are left with the idea of a "psychology" of an artwork, a mind without an actual person. This is a little too much like the old formalist idea of a disembodied "device". 
I think if he'd rewritten the essay AGAIN, say, nine years later (around the time he wrote "The Teaching on the Emotions") we'd have something much closer to the idea of socially mediated affect as a complete reconstruction of individual affect, but nevertheless having no concrete existence other than individual feelings. 
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Sat, 12/26/09, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:

From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
Subject: [xmca] LSV on Hamlet
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Saturday, December 26, 2009, 12:52 PM

Can someone help me resolve what seems to be an inconsistency regarding LSV's writing on Hamlet?
Andy's invaluable website contains several chapters of the Psychology of Art, including chapter 8 on Hamlet. It notes that this book was published in 1925 but adds that it was written in 1917.


And Kotik-Friedgut and Friedgut (2008) say that LSV's "graduation thesis," titled "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare,” was later included in his The Psychology of Art. This thesis was written, they add, when LSV studied in Moscow at both Moscow University and Shaniavsky Free University. That was from 1913 to 1917.


But Van der Veer (2007) has it that while LSV wrote two versions of his masters thesis with this title, the first version in Gomel in Aug-Sept 1915, the second in Moscow in Feb-Mar 1916, it was LSV's *doctoral* thesis which became part of The Psychology of Art, which he wrote while confined to bed in 1925.

[Van der Veer, Rene (2007). Lev Vygotsky: Continuum Library of Educational Thought. Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-8409-3.]

So, two questions. First, which of these accounts is more accurate? And, second, if the masters thesis is not what appears in The Psychology of Art, is it available anywhere in English?


xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list