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[xmca] In-betweenly (Duet in Counterpoint)

Sorry, Huw--I didn't see this. My new connection to xmca seems to be generating a lot of bounces.


I like the dialogue format: as you say, it is counterpoint: you are singing contralto and I am going to baritone.

CONTRALTO:  I can't say I have a problem with the phrase.  Mediation can refer to the
process of participation and regulation.  Though I think you're perfectly
right to point out errors of a metaphysical treatment of it.

BARITONE: I guess I have a problem with phrases in general, or perhaps with phrasing. I love the suspense in reading Vygotsky, the fact that (e.g.) in the second chapter of the "History of the Development of the Higher Psychic Functions" he says he's going to talk about "rudimentary functions" and then he doesn't actually give you an example until sixty paragraphs later. I love the fact that in the fourth and fifth chapters when he wants to introduce a "fourth step" of the self-control of behavior by cultural means (beyond Buhler's stages of "instincti", "habit", and "intelligent solution"), he just calls it "fourth step". Actually, I think he never really gave this great book the (rather immodest) name "the History of the Development of the Higher Psychic Functions"--that name was probably just taken by the Soviet editor from the first five words of the first sentence, a practice Vygotsky himself NEVER followed and which is in many ways the very opposite of his real naming practice.


 I love the fact that in "Child Development", when he doesn't know what to call something, he just says "neoformation". Or the fact that he never actually decided on a name for his type of psychology (although he ruled a number of names out, including "psychology of the higher functions", "Marxist", "instrumental", and "cultural" psychology). I think that what all of this means is that Vygotsky truly practices what he preaches when he says (with Tolstoy of course) that the word is only ready when the concept is. And sometimes not even then.


Yeah, I guess mediation can refer to the process of participation and regulation. But when it does that, it's a STRUCTURAL descriptor, or at best a FUNCTIONAL description. What I am looking for is GENETIC EXPLANATION. That is why "mediated" is a past participle; it's not "mediating". And that's exactly what is missing here. Mind is not "mediated" until the fat lady sings. 


CONTRALTO: If you wanted to hold mediation constant, as an interface and as a
particular form of regulation,  then it seems that the agency would be
distributed.  You could then observe how the agency moves and is taken up
for a fixed form of mediation.

BARITONE: When you say "hold mediation constant", you sound a distinctly Saussurean note: a snapshot, an arresting of time. When you say an "interface" you are imply that mediation is a membrane between inside and out. But we are told that the mind ITSELF is mediated. Of course, that is true at the end of development: everything that we find in the higher psychological functions of the mind gets there through mediation. But what about the other stuff? What exactly was there before all that mediated stuff arrived?

CONTRALTO: Personally, I don't see gestalts as being undifferentiated.


BARITONE: No, they are completely differentiated--at the end of development. But the whole Gestaltist account of development is precisely that they are undifferentiated at the beginning and they become progressively differentiated. Otherwise, Gestaltism cannot recognize development at all, since nothing can really exist outside of a Gestalt. So the only way for development to take place is that Gestalts begin by being undifferentiated. I think, actually, this is why Vygotsky ultimately REJECTS Gestaltism: Vygotsky insists that differentiation happens because of things happening to the Gestalt from the outside (specifically, the very non-Gestalt, SYNTHETIC and even SYNTACTIC form of organization that is language).


What I really meant is that the Gestalists--and specifically the Wurzburgers--sat in the same class, listened to the same teachers (Kulpe and later Wertheimer) and even worked in the same labs and the used the same instruments and were on the same side of a number of controversies (Buhler and Ach were on the same side of the dispute between Marbe and Wundt). But Gestalt included both Nazis (Ach and Folkelt) and their victims (Selz, who was interned at Buchenwald and then died in a cattle car on the way to Auschwitz, Lewin who had to leave behind everything and take refuge in Iowa, Kohler, who refused to give the required Hitler salute to start and end his classes, and left Germany when his students were harrassed by stormtroopers after every class, Buhler, who was mysteriously interrogated for six weeks and then left Austria never to return.)


Most of this was about Jews. Much of it was about politics (Kohler was not a Jew).  But some of it was about psychology--I think that when we look at Ach and Lewin's discussion over "will", we have to admit that Ach is looking for some kind of "determining tendency" outside the self, in the task itself, and that idea of will imposed from the outside is precisely what Lewin will not allow. Similarly, I think that when Vygotsky insists that instinct and habit are different precisely in their heritability, in their permeability to outside influences, he is writing not only about Hitler, but also about Lysenko.


CONTRALTO: I suppose the
point really is whether the author, and reader, have a developed notion of
system.  System as some form of aggregated blob is insufficient.


BARITONE: Yes, exactly. Sometimes counterpoint means perfect harmony.


impression is that "commognition" serves to highlight the lesser known
conceptual aspects of communication, e.g. communication of a virus.  Again,
the main thing is system and systemic change.

BARITONE: Lewin's reply to Ach is that outside and inside are really not so different. But if you believe that then you have to recognize that cognition is a form of communication just as communication is a form of cognition.


I love the ambiguity between your singular subject and your plural complement: "the main thing IS system and systemic change", where these two things are really just one. Perhaps, actually, we should sing this little duet at two different tempos--an adagio and an allegretto.

David Kellogg

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

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