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[xmca] Redundancy in "Tool and Sign"
The version of "Tool and Sign" that is printed in the Vygotsky Reader (van der Veer and Valsiner, 1994; can be downloaded for free from Andy's Vygotsky site on MIA) has eliminated many MANY pages of redundancy in the interest of readability.
At first I thought this was a good idea. But the other day it occurred to me that this was exactly the reason given by Hanfmann and Vakar for eliminating nearly HALF of Thinking and Speech when it was translated into English.
Anton has pointed out that compilations like "Mind in Society" performed an extremely important function: without "Mind in Society", I would not be reading "Tool and Sign" today.
But Anton ALSO pointed out that this function really lies in our past now. Vygotsky is here, and he's not going to disappear, at least not as a name. The real danger now is that the Vygotsky everybody is reading will bear no resemblance to the Vygotsky that Vygotsky wrote.
Anton even pointed out what we need to do about it: produce an edition of Vygotsky's work that is authoritative and annotated, like the sort of thing done by the Freud Society and the Jean Piaget society.
That means going back to see if the redundancies are really redundancies. And the answer is YES and NO.
Here's an example:
Chapter Two: Такие функции, как произвольное внимание, логическая память, высшие формы всприятия и движения, которые до сих пор изучались в изоляции, как отдельные психологические факты, теперь в свете наших экспериментов выступают по существу как явления одного порядка .
Chapter Three: Такие функции, как произвольное внимание, логическая память, высшие формы восприятия и движения, которые до сих пор рассматривались изолированно, как частные психологические факты, выступают в свете наших экспериментов в качестве явлений одного психологического порядка,
In other words (roughly):
Chapter Two: Functions such as arbitrary attention, logical memory, highest forms of sensation and motion which until now were studied in isolation as separate psychological facts, now in light of our experiments emerge as actually phenomena of one and the same order.
Chapter Three: Functions such as arbitrary attention, logical memory, higher forms of perception and movement are still considered in isolation, as isolated psychological facts appear in the light of our experiments, as the phenomena of one psychological order,
This is just an example! Actually, there are several pages of this, where Vygotsky and Luria simply uptake what they said at the end of the previous chapter. You can see that the idea is repeated--but not word for word.
It's not just "Tool and Sign" either. There is a moment in the middle of Chapter Six in Thinking and Speech when Vygotsky appears to begin the whole book all over again from the very beginning (6-2-28).
So what's going on? I think what is happening is that Vygotsky has a PHENOMENAL but memory for words. He carries around GREAT chunks of almost completed text in his head, and uses them in lectures, internal seminars, discussions, and also on paper. When he sits down to write, the argument comes out almost, but not quite, word for word. And then he forgets what he said and says it again, SLIGHTLY differently.
What is to be done? I guess what we are going to do (in the Korean version of this book) is to go ahead and print the redundancies, but set them off in a different font so that the reader can skip them if he or she so chooses, following the principle that in an authoritative addition all of the changes to a historical text have to be reversible by the reader so that the original authorial text is recoverable by the reader.
And then annotate it! That's really the fun part. Here's what I really think Vygotsky's getting at in this passage. Imagine looking at an actual scene (say, a night-time view from your balcony).The ability to distinguish the distant background from the proximal foreground is a natural function. A small child or even an animal could probably do the same thing in much the same way.
Now imagine looking at van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. The ability to distinguish the distant background from the proximal foreground is no longer given; it must be learned. We know, for example (from experiments that I have done here in Korea) that small children can find it difficult to distinguish the reflection of the lights in the water from the lights on the horizon, and the lights on the horizon from the stars in the Big Dipper. An animal would certainly not treat this as a real scene or even a picture of a scene.
Finally, imagine reading a text (e.g. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, where the hero has to pick out a light on his one-time lover’s dock amidst the night-time stars). When we read a text we are easily able to discern the main characters from the minor ones (we can pick out Gatsby and Daisy from a host of lesser characters, such as Wolfsheim, Dan Cody and even Nick Carraway, the narrator, who is not actually a central character). But a child could never do this, even if the child could read (nor could an animal if we showed the animal a movie). The child would assume that the narrator is a main character, because being able to tell the figure from the ground is a skill that is fundamentally transformed when it is structured in words.
Vygotsky thinks that these are NOT co-existing and qualitatively different functions (which is what Thorndike thinks). Nor are they one and the SAME skill (which is what the Gestaltists think). Instead, the thinks that they are different moments in the cultural formation (note: formation, and not evolution) of the child’s personality out of words.
We can see that this has DIRECT relevance for the argument that Vygotsky is going to make years later in defense of GENERAL, LIBERAL education (Herbart), where one GENERAL skill such as grammar, mathematics, and foreign language learning can have a radical effect on many others . (See Thinking and Speech, 6-3-23~27). No wonder Vygotsky likes to repeat himself--there is an AWFUL lot there to assimlate, and none of us are going to get it the first time.
Vygotsky liked to say, "In the beginning was the deed. But that was just the beginning, you know!" For me, in the beginning, there was "Mind in Society" (where you can actually still find this bit of text if you look hard enough). But that was just the beginning.
Seoul National Univesity of Educaiton
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