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[Xmca-l] Re: [Xcma-l] In Defense of Vygotsky [Perezhivanie cannot determine the personality]

Dear Annalisa:

Yes, you are right--there are watchers who are benefiting. In
particular, I am watching as the discussion gradually seems to come
over to two points that were initially pared away but which I find
essential to the whole puzzle. And there too you are right--they are
historical and theoretical, first of all Leontiev's "politically
expedient" support for Stalinism (and consequently his rejection of
genuine Marxism, and even basic Darwinism), and secondly the question
of whether personality stands alone as the object of psychology.

First of all, I don't know of the circumstances of Leontiev's writings
on the environment any more than Andy does. But the split between
Vygotsky and Leontiev is well documented. We have letters, in which
Vygotsky first tries to convince "A.N." of the importance of
consciousness and fails (in 1931), where he remarks to Luria the
importance of trying to convince Leontiev, the "breakup" of the
original group in 1931 (a heartbreaking letter) and then Vygotsky's
much more reserved letters to Leontiev just before his death (May
1934). All of this in "In Memory of L.S. Vygotsky: Letters to Students
and Colleagues", Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol.
45, No. 2 (pp. 11-60), See also Anton Yasnitsky's Ph.D. work:


I feel as you do, that under the circumstances, the criticisms of
Leontiev and P.I. Zinchenko and others were acts of betrayal, similar
to what Lysenko did to his old professor Vavilov, the would-be founder
of modern Soviet genetics. But I also think that the best we can do
now is to try to locate and counter the long term effects upon our
understanding of Vygotsky's ideas. It seems to me that there are (at
least) three:

a) As Kozulin has remarked (and Andy came very close to admitting),
Leontiev made "activity" into both the object of investigation and the
explanatory principle. This is essentially what Leontiev himself
accused Vygotsky of doing with "perezhivanie", and it is indeed a form
of circular reasoning: activity is explained by activity itself. This
revisionism is a long term effect because very few people who use
activity as a unit of analysis realize that although activity is made
up of action and nothing but, action is not simply a microcosm of

b) Leontiev and Zinchenko (and later Wertsch) rejected word meaning as
a unit of analysis for verbal thinking as "idealist". This has meant
rejection of what to me is Vygotsky's most important and lasting
contribution, something he shares with Volosinov, which is the
discovery that the developed mind has a semantic structure rather than
a "behavioral" or "cognitive" one. This revisionism is a long-term
effect because it has divided Vygotsky in two, particularly in the
anglophone world (a Vygotsky of "Mind in Society" which scarcely
mentions language and one of "Thinking and Speech" which scarcely
mentions anything without mentioning language).

c) Leontiev's concept of development is Lamarckian and not
Darwinian--it cannot involve the nasty surprises of real development
(e.g. the crisis, which Leontiev explicitly rejects on p. 362 of his
book Problems of the Development of the Mind).This is a long term
effect because it has been taken up by the so-called "Neo-Vygotskyans"
(see Karpov's book, "The Neo-Vygotskyan Approach to Child
Development", CUP 2005). Leontiev embraced Lysenkoism, and never
renounced it; and in the twentieth century, you cannot write
scientifically about development without a scientific understanding of
modern genetics that is incompatible with Lysenkoism.

The second, theoretical, issue that you raise actually follows on from
point a). Why isn't "perizhivanie" a circular construction the same
way that "activity" is? The answer is that it is--if you use
perizhivanie to investigate perizhivanie--or even some kind of
mega-perizhivanie called "personality". But of course that isn't what
Vygotsky does at all.

a) First of all, in Vygotsky's essay perizhivanie is a unit of
analysis for a very specific problem: differentiating the contribution
of the environment from the contribution of the child in the
understanding of experience. Perizhivanie includes both in a very
simplified form: the emotional response of the child to the
environment. At the same time, however, it is not circular because it
is an open system--open to the contribution from the  child's
hereditary endowment (which as Vygotsky says in the lecture on
heredity can actually change as the child develops) as well as open to
the various contributions from the child's cultural endowment that
Leontiev and his followers insisted were the alpha and omega of

b) Secondly, personality is not so much a "mega-perizhivanie" as a
"meta-perezhivanie", since, as Vygotsky makes very clear in the last
chapter of the History of the Development of Higher Mental Functions,
personality is really only half of the unit he posits for child
development, the other half of which he calls "world outlook". What is
the difference? It is tempting to say that the difference is that one
is more subjective and the other more objective, but it's not really
reducible to that. I think, if I had to point to a single criterion
for differentiating the two, I would say that "perezhivanie" is
retroleptic, looking back to emotion and reflecting upon it, while
"world outlook" is proleptic.

c) Thirdly, Vygotsky's theory of development is a second order theory:
the means of development itself develops. So you notice that in the
lecture on the environment, he begins with a very short passage on
perezhivanie but then segues almost seamlessly--so that you scarcely
notice it--into a discussion of sense and signification in word
meaning. To me, this suggests that the development of personality is
eventually subsumed (or sublated, if you prefer) by something
else--the development of verbal thinking. This is rather hard for us
to accept; we all feel as if we are basically personalities and
nothing else. But of course the personality must come to the end of
its useful life sometime, in much the same way that Vygotsky's spoken
lectures were subsumed by his written speech at the moment of his

Let me just finish by saying that I was a bit thrown by the ref to the
Bildungsroman too! But I think Andy is referring to Goethe's "Life of
Wilhelm Meister" or perhaps to "Elective Affinities" (which is where
Vygotsky probably got the spiel about the water molecule, though John
Stuart Mill uses it too). Andy's ref, like his idea that personality
is the object of psychology, is too narrativistic for my taste--I
think that the mind does indeed have a semantic structure, but that
semantic structure is really more like a dialogue than a text. A
narrative without dialogue is a little like the sound of one sock
puppet clapping.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 27 October 2014 11:38, Annalisa Aguilar <annalisa@unm.edu> wrote:
> Hi Andy,
> Thanks for some additional information.
> Yes, "political expediency" (PE) is an understatement to be sure, from the sound of it. I don't know if I can imagine myself to denounce my own beloved teachers in order that I may live and be promoted. The idea makes me quite ill, and certainly more sympathetic to Leontiev.
> However, the challenge seems to be that we must tease away the PE aspect to try to clear the view to the generation of the theories (or divergence thereof). If that isn't reasonable, let me know. I do not mean to be reductive and minimize the political issues in any way.
> I am merely attempting to go slowly over this so that I gain a clear picture of the collision of ideas and the apparent wreckage and what pieces were retrieved and extended upon.
> So I suppose there are a few things I would enjoy clarity about.
> First is historical:
> How much do we know that is factual in Leontiev's motivation to deny the theories? What is speculative? This is not a flippant two questions. What I mean is are there contemporary documents (or any other documents that come after Stalin's death, or any other time) that discuss this parting of the ways and motivations for doing so? Is this Leontiev paper all that we possess?
> What do you mean that the differences show through, despite the PE factor? We cannot fully remove the PE factor, I know, but how much does it explain the "real differences" if it is clouding the view?
> Second is theoretical:
> I understand perezhivanie is experiential, specific to the individual in question, based upon the person's genetics, level of development, emotional awareness, and intellectual ability at the time of the situation (event), but importantly that the perezhivanie is also inclusive of aspects of the environment itself and how the environment exerts force on the person (combined or in interaction with the more personal or "internal" factors).
> [I'm afraid I was lost at the reference to the autobiography. Goethe is beyond the limits of my knowledge at this time. :) ]
> Furthermore, that the development of the person is not necessarily a "summation of all perezhivanies." If only because a single experience can radically change a person's makeup entirely, whether for good or ill. That a single "unit" can possibly transform the entire whole? (I'm thinking for example the impact of PTSD. I hesitate to resort to a pathological example, it just what seems to illustrate the best about experiences affecting the whole).
> However I agree that my personality is the manifest expression of the "collection" of all my experiences, I'm not sure if I could say "summation," since this sounds mechanical in nature, rather than systemic.
> Kind regards,
> Annalisa
> ________________________________________
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> Sent: Sunday, October 26, 2014 7:39 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: [Xcma-l] In Defense of Vygotsky [Perezhivanie cannot determine the personality]
> Annalisa,
> I don't know exactly when the ANL document was written or where/if it
> was published originally, but it was certainly after LSV's death and
> before ANL's death (i.e. some time 1935-1975), most likely during
> Stalin's time. "Political expediency" somewhat understates the issue. A
> convincing denunciation of  a colleague's theory was very often a matter
> of life and death. Which is not to say that the honourable choice may
> not have been to speak the truth and take the consequences, rather than
> lie and enjoy promotion. In that sense, this document, being dishonest,
> is not the ideal medium for understanding the real differences between
> these two former comrades. Nonetheless, I think the real differences
> show through.
> On the question of units. The idea is that a person's character develops
> through a series of experiences. Each experiences adds a new
> sensibility, a new aversion, a new preference, a new insight, etc., so
> from that point of view a person's character can be understand as the
> product or sum of a series of such experiences, as for example, when
> someone writes their autobiography, especially if they follow in the
> Goethean tradition of Bildungsromanen.
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *Andy Blunden*
> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
> Annalisa Aguilar wrote:
>> Hi Andy,
>> I must explain: Since I hadn't read the entire paper, I was searching
>> for the 8 points in the first half of the paper, which is The
>> Prosecution half. This is to say the "8 charges" you had indicated in
>> your post, are actually listed in the second half, the Defense half.
>> So I suppose the structure threw me. (Sorry to create any confusion, all!)
>> But I'd like to continue my exercise openly, as it appears there are
>> watchers who are benefiting. So here goes (I will go more slowly and
>> not flood the list).
>> #1) The charge by Leontiev (Ad. 4): Perezhivanie, as a manifestation
>> of the whole personality, cannot be the determinant of personality.
>> One nagging question: Vygotsky, while living (as I understand), had a
>> large social group in which they openly discussed all of these
>> theories. If Leontiev was privy to this community, how could he not
>> have understood the points concerning perezhivanie? It is not that I
>> accuse Leontiev as being obstinate or thick (that would be an easy
>> thing to do), but that I want to understand how could he have missed
>> this if there were other parties available to discuss the nature of
>> Vygotsky's perezhivanie? The community must have discussed these
>> concepts without Vygotsky present, among each other. Am I wrong in
>> this thinking?
>> I don't think Vygotsky was like Jesus with confused disciples. It
>> seemed that he treated his students as equals and that he himself
>> benefited from their input to the theories.
>> If I may, I position this question with the imagination as-if Vygotsky
>> and Leontiev were here on this list discussing various theories, as we
>> are here. There was a lot of discussion going on, sharing and the like.
>> Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't these lectures on perezhivanie
>> happen earlier in the decade of time Vygotsky graced us? Or am I mistaken?
>> I suppose I am attempting to answer the question, How did Leontiev not
>> understand perezhivanie as a determinant? And perhaps in gaining an
>> answer to this question, we might learn something about *teaching* the
>> concept of perezhivanie?
>> Of course it is possible that this was entirely caused by political
>> expediency. But if that is the case, how can we know this?
>> But to the content of the charge: "Perezhivanie, as a manifestation of
>> the whole personality, cannot be the determinant of personality."
>> I am having a hard time discussing perezhivanie as a "fragment of the
>> whole." If only because fragment means "a part of", and I don't think
>> "unit" is necessarily a material thing, but also an abstraction like
>> the whole is an abstraction.
>> For example: The water molecule metaphor. (I hope we do not reduce the
>> molecule to hydrogen and oxygen and begin flames on the list). In our
>> perception, we *imagine* the molecule. We know that molecules exist,
>> just like we know that the ocean exists. But when we perceive the
>> ocean, it's also not a perception in its entirety, but completed in
>> our imagination like the molecule is, and this is why I feel the unit,
>> seen as a fragment, seems problematic.
>> If we want to study the nature of oceans we want to study the nature
>> of water, since water is the material of the ocean. Also, the water
>> molecule is the unit we must use to understand the behavior of the
>> water. And so the molecule becomes the unit of analysis.
>> If the metaphor works, the ocean is the ideal, and final form. Can we
>> say that the water molecule determines the nature of the ocean? It
>> seems so, since the behavior of water (as indicated by the nature of
>> its molecule) will reveal significantly the nature of the ocean,
>> moreso than dividing the ocean into fragments, and I'm not sure how
>> one would divide the ocean into fragments, anyway!
>> BTW, I am proposing this metaphor because we know that LSV used the
>> metaphor of the water molecule himself, though I don't think he spoke
>> of oceans, just water. Still, I wonder if it works?
>> Kind regards,
>> Annalisa