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[Xmca-l] Re: The ideal head

I keep thinking that the title of the thread should really be changed. But
our group here in Seoul has been translating Vygotsky's lectures on
pedology, and a central theme of the lectures is, believe it or not, the
ideal head. Vygotsky, who is a teacher with a very fine knack for striking
images, wants to convey the idea that development is not a matter of
developing this function or that one, but rather a matter of proportion,
that is, the relationship between functions. So he keeps reminding his
students how the head, the limbs, and the torso change in proportion and in
their relative weight as the child grows. The same thing is true within the
body--the various glands of the endocrine system rise and fall like
governments, and sometimes one gland which relies on the help of another
gland to rise for power discovers, like the bourgeoisie, that it has
prepared its own grave-digger (e.g. the pituitary and thyroid glands, which
are trying to depose the thymus, rely on the sex glands which eventually
bring about their own overthrow).

Vygotsky warns students against constructing a picture of development in
which one psychological function simply replaces another. He points out
that when "affective perception", which is supposed to be the first
differentiated and dominant function in early childhood, seizes power, it
has no rival, because none of the other functions are differentiated yet.
Then, when "memory", which is supposed to be the most rapidly developing
and therefore predominating function in the preschooler, takes command, it
must necessarily share power with perception (which is now internally
differentiated, between emotion and sensation); a "deposed" function
doesn't somehow de-differentiated itself. And in later years, according to
Vygotsky, it is no longer necessary for a function to seize power for it to
become differentiated, simply because the process of reconstructing the
interfunctional relations each time a new function predominates works to
"repel" functions by subtracting the linking function (affective
perception, memory) which once inked them.

I think we can see from this that Vygotsky doesn't have in mind a simple,
linear timeline in which one function replaces another, or one leading
activity replaces another, or one neoformation replaces another. In fact,
the crisis Greg is referring to is the Crisis at Seven, which Martin very
aptly described as the crisis of the differentiation of inside the ego and
its outside. (I must ask Martin where he got that wonderful description of
the age periods!) Vygotsky gives a number of symptoms, as he does for each
crisis, and the one he gives for this one is particularly fetching: it is
the child who has learned to play-act, but doesn't really have a specific
role in mind, and just enjoys talking with a squeaky voice, or waddling
instead of walking, or some other affected but not actually descriptive
form of behavior. Vygotsky even points out that the humor of Charlie
Chaplin depends largely on the assumption that a person could grow into
adulthood WITHOUT passing through this stage (and therefore having the kind
of immediacy of emotion that we observe in five year olds all of his life).

When I was in art school in China, we had a similar exercise. The
professors wanted to show us that the discovery of proportion in painting
children was a very late discovery in art. We were told that the ancient
Greeks considered the ideal head to be exactly one eighth of the body
height (and according to the archaeological record, the Greeks
themselves were only about seven heads talll, although their statues are
usually eight heads in eight). Because of the influence of Greek art, we
see that children throughout a great deal of Western art look like small
adults, with physiques that Vygotsky would call "eunuchoid" (that is, pin
heads and very long arms and legs, like the celebrated castrato
Farinelli). One of da Vinci's brilliant contributions to art was to paint a
Madonna and child where, because Mary's head is almost the same size as
Jesus's, Jesus actually looks correctly proportioned for a child.

This summer we are working on teaching mathematics to kids who love to
draw. So one exercise we are going to do is having them work out the
correct formula for drawing ideal heads from a child's age. In case you
don't know it, it is:

y = 9 (H - 4)/2, where "y" is the number of years, and H is the height of
the child in heads.

Interestingly, the average person today, thanks to improved nutrition since
the time of the ancient Greeks, is almost eight heads tall. So we have,
Nietszche to the contrary not withstanding, managed to become not what the
Greeks were, but rather what they wanted to be.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 11 August 2014 11:39, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com> wrote:

> Martin (and others),
> I would love to hear another exposition of the 6 yr and 12 yr crises. So if
> you could put together a couple sentences of what you were trying to
> articulate, that would be much appreciated.
> And as a provocation, I'll throw my two cents into the ring (aren't mixed
> metaphors wonderful? Word-play as double stimulation?).
> My thinking is greatly influenced by John Lucy's work (but please note that
> this is my interpretation of his work!). John is quite influenced by
> Vygotsky but he is an unorthodox Vygotskian and departs in many ways from
> how many read Vygotsky, but he hews very closely to the importance of
> language developments leading other developments (and some would call him
> unorthodox for that reason).
> So here goes. The crisis at 6 years (John puts it at 7-9 years, a broader
> range b.c. let's face it, development isn't even across large populations)
> is a transformative crisis in which the child comes to see the world in an
> entirely new way. The child grasps that there is a whole other world out
> there that is transposed on top of the actual world that of bodies and
> houses and trees and things, and they realize that this social world is
> highly consequential. The first part of this involves the development of an
> ability to understand that things can be other than they are. At the most
> basic level, this involves the ability to understand that people don't
> always speak literally. Sometimes they can say things in ways that are
> opposite to the words that are coming out of their mouths. That's an
> important first step to understanding that there is a world behind the
> words that are uttered. Second is being able to understand that these
> non-literal meanings have consequences. Being able to understand the true
> meanings behind the words is a really impressive feat (we humans can be
> rather obtuse beings). These developments throw the child into a world that
> is totally foreign to them - a bit like a two dimensional being suddenly
> finding themselves in three dimensions (cf. the movie Flatland). The child
> must learn to make their way in this land, and to begin to navigate through
> these three dimensional social worlds.
> As for the 12 year transformation, the essential idea is that the child at
> this age begins to realize not just that there is this three dimensional
> social space, but also that they can position themselves with respect to
> that space. I think of this as the development of "voice" (Bakhtin) - in
> which the child begins to gain the ability to play with their presentations
> of self so as to manage their voice. Holden Caulfield is the hero of this
> crisis - a boy who is fixated on the possibility of people not being their
> "real" selves. Authenticity becomes a central theme of this crisis, and
> this is further developed in themes of being true to oneself (e.g.,
> Hamlet).
> Anyway, that is a poor stab at trying to articulate another explanation of
> the 6 yr and 12 yr crisis. But I mostly offer it as a way of provoking
> others to give their explanations.
> -greg
> On Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 5:52 PM, Martin John Packer <
> mpacker@uniandes.edu.co
> > wrote:
> > Did I drop the thread of this topic? Or did things get resolved? I looked
> > to see if I might send some writing I've been working on that summarizes
> > LSV's account of stages, but it's way too rough.
> >
> > Martin
> >
> > On Aug 10, 2014, at 6:38 PM, Huw Lloyd <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >
> > > On 30 July 2014 18:30, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > >
> > >> Martin,
> > >> Vygotsky's Problem of Age is a difficult essay. I wonder if you could
> > say a
> > >> bit more about the crisis at 6 (7,8?) years and the one at 12 years?
> The
> > >> others are fairly self explanatory but those two are a bit more
> > >> complicated. Among other things, it isn't clear what is different
> about
> > the
> > >> crisis at 2.5 and the crisis at 6.
> > >> -greg
> > >>
> > >>
> > > Greg
> > >
> > > See Leontyev's paper, The Theory of the Development of the Child's
> Psyche
> > > in The Development of Mind: Selected Works of A. N. Leontyev (pp.
> > 361-362)
> > >
> > > https://www.marxists.org/archive/leontev/works/development-mind.pdf
> > >
> > > Best,
> > > Huw
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >>
> > >> On Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 6:44 AM, Martin John Packer <
> > >> mpacker@uniandes.edu.co
> > >>> wrote:
> > >>
> > >>> Though in other texts he wrote of adolescence as such a time of
> crisis
> > >>> that the whole stage should be considered a transition. In the
> lectures
> > >> on
> > >>> child development Vygotsky describes the following crises:
> > >>>
> > >>> Birth: the child is differentiated physically
> > >>> 1 year: the child is differentiated biologically
> > >>> 2.5 years: the child is differentiated psychologically
> > >>> 6 years: inside & outside of self are differentiated
> > >>> 12 years: actual & possible selves are differentiated
> > >>>
> > >>> Martin
> > >>>
> > >>> On Jul 28, 2014, at 6:36 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
> > >>>
> > >>>> Francis, most of the crises which Vygotsky mentions in
> > >>>> http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/1934/problem-age.htm
> > >>>> are associated with childhood before school. (It is an unfinished
> > >> work).
> > >>>> Andy
> > >>>>
> > >>
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > >>>> *Andy Blunden*
> > >>>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
> > >>>>
> > >>>>
> > >>>> FRANCIS J. SULLIVAN wrote:
> > >>>>> ...
> > >>>>>
> > >>>>> In any case, I wonder if Vygotsky considered whether schooling
> itself
> > >>> might
> > >>>>> be responsible, at least partly, for the child's apparent
> alienation
> > >>> from
> > >>>>> schooling at these moments.
> > >>>>>
> > >>>>> Francis J. Sullivan, Ph.D.
> > >>>>>
> > >>>>
> > >>>
> > >>>
> > >>>
> > >>
> > >>
> > >> --
> > >> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> > >> Assistant Professor
> > >> Department of Anthropology
> > >> 883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> > >> Brigham Young University
> > >> Provo, UT 84602
> > >> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson
> > >>
> >
> >
> >
> --
> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Anthropology
> 882 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> Brigham Young University
> Provo, UT 84602
> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson