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RE: [xmca] Re: Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)
Dear Professor Surmava:
First of all, thanks very much for a thoughtful (and, I hope, USEFUL) reply. At the very least, it produced some childish delight at my end, because I'm studying Russian and I am now able to tell who is writing from the Cyrillic.
In that highly metaphorical sense, your name in Russian DOES "reflect" Russian-ness, just as my name in English "reflects" the fact that I am anglophone. At this very highly metaphorical level, language also has other reflective properties: for example, nouns "reflect" objects because like objects they tend to take number and sometimes gender but not tense. Stories "reflect" subjective experience because they tend to go from beginning to end as experienced rather than from end to beginning as they are heard.
Vygotsky is certainly interested in this very metaphorical, "top-down", things-into-ideas kind of reflection. Now, as you point out, this sort of reflection is no more Cartesian than it is Kantian. It has nothing to do with seeing an image in a mirror, or projecting a silhouette on a screen. It's not reflection in anything but a highly metaphorical sense, and "refraction" (Volosinov) or even "translation" would be a better metaphor.
I think we disagree a little bit about whether this sense of reflection can be said to be a Marxist sense. I think it can be, and my reasons really have nothing to do with modern "analytic Marxist" philosophers; I fully share your horror here. My reasons have to do with the philosophers of Vygotsky's own time, particularly Volosinov, but also with Marx and Engels themselves.
I think saying that language "reflects" an external reality is, if we overlook a little metaphorical hyperbole, consistent with the way Marx writes about language ("practical consciousness for others and then for myself"), with the way Engels writes about dialectical philosophy ("a reflection within the thinking brain"). I am not even sure it is inconsistent with the way Lenin writes about reflection.
I also think there is a more material, more "bottom up", sense in which tools and signs "reflect" the material conditions of their use. The blade of the knife "reflects" the two-sided task we give it: it is narrow where it must cut slices into the meat and it is broad where it must divide it into slabs. The handle of the knife "reflects" the hand that must grasp it, just as the word "handle" contains the word "hand" (in English).
Symbols too "reflect" their origins in this structural sense. The use of stops "reflects" the physiognomy of the vocal tract, sounds like /d/ and /t/ owe "reflect" the existence of an alveolar ridge behind the teeth where the tongue can rest, vowels tend to be voiced (except for a few very rare instances, e.g. Japanese) because of the way the vocal cords work, and most languages use DOWN intonation as a default as a reflection of the fact that the air pressure in the lungs decreases as we speak.
The problem is that BOTH the top-down AND the bottom-up senses in which language "reflect" the world are rather low in their specific weight in meaning by the time man gets around to differentiating higher level psychological functions from lower-level ones. Retinas reflect objects in a pretty literal way, but words "reflect" the vocal tract in only a trivial, incidental way and the contents of the mind in only a metaphorical way: the main relationship is no longer one of "reflection" in anything but...well, anything but a philosophical sense.
Actually, I think I do understand the philosophical sense in which you and Professor Veresov use the term "reflection". I didn't have a Soviet high school education (but of course, neither did Vygotsky). However, I did read "Materialism and Empirio-criticism" in high school and I suspect that was Vygotsky's source too. "Reflection" was Lenin's way of insisting that reality got here first, and that human perception and conception arrived late. I agree with Lenin, and I'm sure Vygotsky did too.
But I don't think this very broad, philosophical sense of "reflection" is specific enough to help us understand concrete psychological phenomenon (for example, the way in languages are learned). The idea that language is simply "conventional" or a "semiotic dead end" (which is true enough if you accept Saussure's version of language) rather confirms this, I'm afraid. It certainly does lead to a spectacularly vulgar theory of how artworks are formed, and I don't think Vygotsky was vulgarian.
I think it's much more helpful to assume that language "translates" reality into a new medium, the way a painting or a sculpture gets translated into poetry or prose. That is what "Psychology of Art" is describing, but it's also what "Thinking and Speech" is on about (e.g. in the discussion of the translation of a psychological subject into a grammatical one).
I don't think that Vygotsky was anti-Marxist in believing this, any more than he was anti-Darwinian in taking a Marxist rather than a Darwinian view of human history. I think Vygotsky believed that different time scales require different units of analysis, and just as the Origin of Species is an adequate explanation of phylogenesis but not sociogenesis, Capital is a fully adequate account of capitalist sociogenesis...but not ontogenesis.
By the way--the quotations I used were not from Professor Veresov at all. They were all from Fernando Gonzalez Rey's paper, currently under discussion, and I am pretty sure that Professor Veresov would not agree with very many of them.
--- On Sun, 8/7/11, Александр Сурмава <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Александр Сурмава <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: [xmca] Re: Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)
To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sunday, August 7, 2011, 6:16 AM
I haven’t the honour to reckon myself among the people holding the same views as Nick Veresov, though I feel a strong need to defend at least some aspects of his position in your current discussion. I think that the opposition of your approaches is actually based on the banal terminological misunderstanding.
In the end of your post you cite the follows Nick’s text: “The book (the Psychology of Art) represents one of the few moments in which the author overcame his subordination to the principle of reflection." You object that “Thinking and Speech”, …is ALL ABOUT the replacement of lower, reflective psychological functions with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones” and ask Nick if he understands “the relationship of a word to its meaning” as “REFLECTION”?
I think that misunderstanding is based on false interpretation of term “reflection” and “principle of reflection”. In Marxist philosophy “principle of reflection” is regarded as a fundamental for any materialism approach. Nick Veresov as a graduate from Soviet High school probably knows it. So when he formulates that Vygotsky in his Psychology of Art overcomes his “subordination to the principle of reflection” he states that in this work LSV was definitely far from materialism and Marxism, and that at least in this work he was CONSISTENT IDEALIST.
You, in your turn insist that “Thinking and Speech” , …is ALL ABOUT the replacement of lower, reflective psychological functions with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones”.
First of all your use of term “reflective” has nothing to do with Veresov’s. He mentions “principle of reflection” (printsip otrazheniya = принцип отражения) while in characteristic of “lower, reflective psychological functions” LSV doesn’t mean that lower psychological functions can reflect something, but that they are based on physiological reflex, on stimulus-response mechanical principle.
Your next statement that Vygotsky replaces this mechanical fiction (which can be regarded as psychical functions only from consistent Cartesian account) “with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones” is absolutely correct. But it means nothing but a strong statement that Vygotsky was not a Marxist, but was a CONSISTENT IDEALIST.
It’s easy to see that an opposition between your and Nick Veresov’s position successfully disappears.
And finally a few additional words about Vygotsky’s attitude to Marxism.
Lev Semenovitch was utterly sincere person who sincerely wish to build scientific, Marxist psychology. From this point of view he was very untypical as soviet researcher. Most of his colleagues concerning Marxism used “to give their finger behind theirs back”. Among the few exceptions from the rule we can number only Leontiev, Ilyenkov and Davidov.
But aspiring is not enough, it also takes adequate knowledge of the subject. Meanwhile Vygotsky’s interpretation of Marxism brings him to semiotic or conventionalistic dead end, takes him far from dialectics and materialism.
You are asking Nick if he means “that the relationship of a word to its meaning is REFLECTION?” I can answer to this question from my part. This relationship means neither physiological reflex, nor philosophical reflection. It means semiotic blind alley which tries to replace objective, ideal representation or reflection of an object in the body of real tangible tool with entirely subjective (in bad part), empty conventional sign.
I know that current eclectic tradition of wide interpretation of Marxism allows to try to enrich it with any doubtfully new ideas adopted from modern popular philosophers. But I rather think that respect to Vygotsky with his sincere attempt to build Marxist psychology demands from us not to repeat his unavoidable mistakes but to go forward not backward in our investigation.
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Sunday, August 07, 2011 8:42 AM
To: Culture ActivityeXtended Mind
Subject: [xmca] Re: Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)
Dear Professor Veresov:
I was HOPING we would hear from you! You are quite right: your work is very much prior to both Mauricio Ernica and Fernando Rey, and although we all strongly believe in present-to-future development rather than simply past to present, it is really too much to expect you to cite authors that hadn't yet written when you were doing your work.
Similarly, though, I had no way of knowing that "Vygotsky Before Vygotsky" was published without your permission, so I don't think I need to apologize for citing it. I did read "Marxist and Non-Marxist Aspects" and although I didn't manage to get your new book, I look forward to reading it. I will always think of "Marxist and Non-Marxist Aspects" with gratitude because of the "stage" metaphor that you used.
. I guess I don't agree with you that early Vygotsky was non-Marxist in any important way. Psychology of Art welcomes Marxism as the only possible way of uniting "psychology from above" and "psychology from below", as well as "aesthetics from above" and "aesthetics from below". This militantly monist theme never leaves his work, and I think that is because he himself never turned his back on it.
As a Jew with nothing to lose but his shtetl, early Vygotsky had an important personal stake in the Bolshevik Revolution, as well as a solid philosophical and ideological committment that middle and late Vygotsky never abandoned (see, for example, "The Socialist Alternation of Man" from his middle period, and "Fascism and Psychoneurology" from his final days).
But if you read what I wrote (below) I think you will see that my remarks were not really personalist or ad hominem in any way. The proof is, perhaps, that you yourself are not really able to reliable attach them to the person for whom they were meant.
The parts you are really objecting to (that is, the remarks about extravagant claims of priority and extreme claims about periodization) are really directed to the article under discussion.
For tidiness, I just limit my examples to Rey's discussion of "Psychology of Art".
p. 258: "Unlike other authors, I consider Psychology of Art to be the most significant work of this moment," that is, Vygotsky's early period. Many authors say this (Lindqvist, Ivanov, me, and MIT Press, who made it the second Vygotskyan work to be translated into English).
p. 258: "Few authors have analyzed the relevance of Psychology of Art and its improtance in articulating an understanding between Vygotsky's life and his work." Actually, few authors have not analyzed this; it is a standard part of all biographical accounts, from Yaroshevsky to Kozulin to van der Veer and Valsiner.
p. 259: "In Psychology of Art, Vygotsky constructs a new conceptualization and model for understanding psychology as a science." Actually, Psychology of Art is about something called the "aesthetic reaction" and it is explicitly written in a reactological idiom throughout. I don't think any book from Vygotsky's pen really deserves to be called thoroughly objectivist (as Rey says) but if I were looking for one, I would certainly consider early Vygotsky in general (e.g. Educational Psychology) and Psychology of Art (e.g. the chapter on Bunin's "Gentle Breath" which actually tries to show the effect of the story by counting the number of times a reader breathes while reading).
p. 259: "The progressive decline in Vygotsky's works between 1927 and 1931 on the seminal topics introduced in Psychology of Art such as imagination, fantasy, emotions and personality..." Psychology of Art is explicitly about soemthing called the psychology of the ARTWORK: all discussion of imagination, fantasy, emotions, and personality of artists is explicitly and very clearly subordinated to this IMPERSONAL psychology. On the other hand, that is not true of Vygotsky's preface to Piaget, which dates from 1930 and is very much preoccupied with the issue of whether fantasy is "autistic" or "realistic" or his volume "Pedology of the Adolescent", from the same period, which includes a very long chapter on imagination and creativity.
To give Rey some credit, his article has been, rather like "Vygotsky Before Vygotsky" rather poorly edited, so it is sometimes not at all clear what he is saying. For example:
p. 260: "Vygotsky did not understand psychological processes as being simultaneously social and individual, ideas impossible to develop at that time (???) but he remarked that we could study social reality through the study of individuals because they are configured through their social existence."
p. 261: "For the first time in the history of psychoogy someone clearly defended the idea that social facts do not immediately become psychological processes."
These statements seem completely contradictory to me. But never mind. Actually, in Psychology of Art, what Vygotsky is objecting to is the idea of COLLECTIVE psychology (Wundt but also Bekhterev and Bukharin and later Nazi and Nazi-like psychologists like Ach, Jaensch, Krueger, and later Jung). He is saying that this whole branch of psychology is not properly psychological at all; the individual is the "unit of analysis" for social psychology and not the collective.
p. 264: "Another important idea concretized in the Psychology of Art was Vygotsky's definition of the person as the subject of social psychology. He never pursued this very promising idea further, but one cannot fail to see the value of this work for a cultural-historical approach to subjectivity." Well, I don't know what to make of this, given that that the author considers a cultural-historical approach to be objectivist and wrong. But for the record, Vygotsky did not ever abandon his idea that the person was the subject of social psychology; it is right there in Chapter One and Chapter Seven of Thinking and Speech, written right before he died. Part of his objection to Jaensch (in "Fascism and Psychoneurology") is a militant defense of the the subjecthood of the individual in social psychology, you know.
Finally, what I really consider the most shocking sentence in the whole article:
p. 262: "The book (the Psychology of Art) represents one of the few moments in which the author overcame his subordination to the principle of reflection." Well, there we have it. Vygotsky, you see, never developed at all; he only degenerated.
But....wait a minute. What about the WHOLE of Thinking and Speech, which is ALL ABOUT the replacement of lower, reflective psychological functions with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones? You mean that the relationship of a word to its meaning is REFLECTION?
(Believe me, I do not look anything like this name!)
--- On Sat, 8/6/11, Nikolai Veresov <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Nikolai Veresov <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [xmca] RE: xmca Digest, Vol 75, Issue 5, Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)
Date: Saturday, August 6, 2011, 1:09 AM
Dear all. I have no idea why Kellog refers to my "article" "Vygotsky before Vygotsky" in respect to periodization. I do not have an article called "Vygotsky before Vygotsky", I have the book "Undiscovered Vygotsky" (1999) which provides the periodization. The "article" Kellog refers to is terribly abridged Introduction of my Ph. D. theses. Somebody put it in Internet without my permission. Everybody who are able to read my book (I hope there are some) can easily see that (1) I do not emphsize any negation and do not stress ABSOLUTE difference between the early Vygotsky and middle Vygotsky. In my book I do something absolutely opposite trying to find the links between the periods. (2) I do not split off early Vygotsky from Marxism. Everybody can easily see my approach in my paper "Marxist and non-Marxist aspects of the cultural-historical psychology of L.S. Vygotsky" (http://ojs.statsbiblioteket.dk/index.php/outlines/article/viewFile/2110/1873)
(3) I do not stress that I am THE FIRST to make the distinction. On the contrary, in my book I undertook an analysis of all other periodizations existed at that time (just to remind that the paper of Mauricio Ernica David Keelog refers to, was published in 2008 which is ten years AFTER my Ph. D. Theses). So I do not think it is OK to make conclusions about colleagues' works using expressions like "extravagant claims of priority and extreme claims of periodizationon" on the basis of short and abridged fragments of texts. It is always better to read the book before criticising its abstract. I have an impression that Kellog's attacks have no serious grounds and are based on his own (mis)interpretations which, in turn, can mislead the people. I also think that we have to avoid the criticism of personalities and concentrate on the content.
> a)Â Â Â Both Rey and Veresov (in his article â€œVygotsky Before
> Vygotskyâ€ ) emphasize NEGATION in their periodization: they stress
> absolute differences between the early Vygotsky (interested in art,
> literature, imagination, creativity, emotion, and personality) and
> middle Vygotsky (interested in completely unrelated notions such as
> history, culture, mediation, tools, symbols, and internalization). I
> think there is indeed a very important distinction to be made, but I
> think it is more like the distinction between explanans and
> explanandum than either writer would like to admit. For example,
> isnâ€™t an artwork a kind of instrument? Doesnâ€™t art work involve
> the use of both tools and symbols? It is more than a little suggestive
> that both Rey and Veresov appear to distinguish a â€œrealâ€ Vygotsky
> concerned with individual development from a false, objectivist and
> institutionalized Vygotsky concerned with Marxist
psychology and (to link this thread to the
> last discussion article) the Soviet social project. Rey does take this project much further than Veresov, and tries to split Vygotsky away from cultural-historical psychology altogether (whereas Veresov simply tries to split off the early Vygotsky from Marxism).
> b)Â Â Â Both Rey and Veresov stress that they are the FIRST to make
>this distinction (and thus ignore each other, as well as writers
>(Mauricio Ernica, Gunilla Lindqvist) who have made similar points in a
>less ambitious, less absolutist and (as a result) more acceptable
>fashion. For example, van der Veer and Kozulin have taken into account
>the clear examples of reflexological terminology in â€œPsychology of
>Artâ€ (even idiots like me! See â€œThe Real Idealâ€ in the LCHC
>discussion papers pigeonhole); actually the whole work uses as a unit
>of analysis an â€œaesthetic reactionâ€ . Oppositely, there are those
>pesky works by Vygotsky himself, e.g. â€œImagination and Creativity in
>the Adolescentâ€ which came out in 1931 at the very nadir of
>Vygotskyâ€™s supposedly â€œobjectivistâ€ period. Of course, knowing
>how hard it is to get published in MCA, I quite understand the
>temptation to make extravagant
claims of priority and extreme claims of periodization.
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