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[Xmca-l] Fwd: Alex Kozulin's notion of three planes of understanding

 I think Mike's right (if we bar his "idiocyncratic" spellings and his
tendency to say LSV when he actually means ARL). Luria DOES see LSV
has overcoming the explanatory/descriptive divide; that is certainly
the gist of the passage that I cited, and to the extent that this
divide reflects in a direct way the classical/romantic split, LSV is
not, in the eyes of Luria, or Mike, or even me, a romantic scientist
at all. He transcends romantic and classical science by "setting
aside" the dispute.

But of course the divide between descriptivists like Dilthey and
Husserl on the one hand and explanationists like Bekhterev, Pavlov
(and why not Watson and Thorndike) on the other doesn't directly
reflect the divide between romantic and classical science. This is a
point that Mike also makes with great aplomb when he says that the
former is a trace of German romanticism (and the latter, I might add,
has more than a whiff of merciless French rationalism). First of all,
the great divide is much older. we already see it in the split between
Vico's principle of "verum factum" (that is, man only knows what he
creates, so the social is more describable and more knowable than the
natural) and in merciless Cartesian reductionism. Secondly, it is
younger: we still see it in the split between "learner-centred" and
"learning-centred" pedagogics in language education (just for

The point I want to make is similar to the one that Martin made in his
MCA article on the relevance of Vygotsky and the Historical Meaning of
the Crisis in Psychology, when Martin points out that Vygotsky's
initial solution to the crisis is to cut idealism from materialism and
throw out the former entirely. When we overcome a split in the
struggle of ideas, we don't always go about it impartially, the way
that a parent mediates between two quarreling siblings. When Vygotsky
set out to overcome the split between idealism and materialism in
psychology, he set out as a dedicated partisan of one side, namely the
latter. It was only through a process of struggle with idealism that
he came to recognize that the idealists were just as right about the
triviality of the results of materialist psychology as the
materialists were right about the purely speculative and ultimately
non-explanatory nature of idealism. From there it was a hop, skip, and
a jump to the momentous realization that the so-called "materialists"
too suffered from atomism--that is, from an individualistic psychology
centred on the human body.

So I think Luria was right--that Vygotsky set out to overcome the
divide between romantic and classical psychology as a militant
partisan of the romantic side. Somebody like Vygotsky would be no more
"neutral" in the struggle between Gestaltism and reductionism than he
was in the struggle between communism and fascism. But I also think
that even before the struggle began, Vygotsky was steeped in
classical, explanatory, and even atomistic ideas (after all, he was
trained in the school of Bekhterev, and "Psychology of Art" is
essentially an attempt to EXPLAIN the "aesthetic reaction"), and, far
earlier than anybody else, Vygotsky realized that romantic and
classical approaches were essentially right about each other--they
were both inadequate--and that they would have to be combined by
transcending individualistic psychology altogether.

That's what I see in LSV's work on Hamlet. The romantic view of Hamlet
is Goethe's; Hamlet as Goethe, as Coleridge, as hero-poet. Gordon
gives this view artistic form when he makes the play a monodrama. The
classical view of Hamlet is almost Aristotelian: Hamlet is morally
blameless, but marked by a fatal flaw, which is one that we all share,
and whose contemplation is therefore terrifying, the way that watching
your own corpse rotting away would be terrifying. Stanislavski gives
this view shape when he makes it a historical drama. The problem is
that both are profoundly individualistic views; neither can show us
how Shakespeare tweaked the "aside" into the soliloquy, and how this
allowed him to transcend the "Revenge" play by re-inventing
inter-psychological terror becomes intra-psychological horror. Only a
social-historical view of Hamlet can really do that.

I've also been re-reading Halliday's wonderful volume on the language
of early childhood (The Language of Early Childhood, London:
Continuum, 2004). He begins by rejecting the big split that made the
whole twentieth century one big "lost decade" for linguistics:
naturalism versus empiricism. Both are atomistic, individualistic, and
both argue that language is "out there" to be acquired or
"constructed" rather than construed ("figured out"). He argues that
learning the mother tongue is figuring out a SECOND language--that is,
the child has a language system "for himself" worked out, and must
abandon it in order to learn a language "for others", the result of
which is a language "for myself".

Yes, there is some Hegel in there, but also some Spinoza. And,
although he only cites him occasionally, Halliday is a very assiduous
reader of Vygotsky!

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
Status: O