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[Xmca-l] Re: Fate, Luck and Chance



David and all,
I am translating a text from Spanish to English that is consequential in the same way that translating Vygotsky from Russian to English is consequential: certain people are passionately interested in the meanings and care very much if the translation is well done. As I do the translation and follow the chat I ponder interpretation of discourse and translation from one language to another as being on some kind of continuum, rather than different processes. I understand that Vygotsky said that learning a second language was a sort of requisite for understanding one’s mother tongue. Translating from Spanish to English may be child’s play compared to going between languages that are very much different, but I am struck by how often idioms and metaphors that are perfectly clear to me in Spanish stump me in trying to find the apt expressions in English. A lot! That sets me to wondering if translating “academic” language is so entirely different from translating poetry or literature in that metaphor and idiomaticity abound all around. 
Henry

> On Nov 19, 2014, at 2:56 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmailcom> wrote:
> 
> Last weekend, like most of the population of Seoul, I left the city to
> go down to the countryside. It's the traditional moment when people go
> to their ancestral home, meet with members of the whole family, and
> make a whole truckload of cabbage into kimchi for the winter, dividing
> it up for all the members of the extended family to take home, so I
> went to visit some old friends and look at new paintings (as well as
> eat the new kimchi before the fermentation has taken the crispness
> from the cabbage and the bite from the garlic and red pepper).
> 
> As we were scrabbling for parking spots outside a popular noodle
> restaurant, I used the Korean word for "fate" to mean "luck", and
> everybody laughed, because I had inadvertantly implied that my
> ancestors had somehow designated that particular parking spot for us.
> I still maintain it was not my fault--the two terms are quite similar
> in Korean, and even in English they are rather hard to separate out
> semantically without referring to concepts like "subjective" and
> "objective".
> 
> Many thanks to Andy for the posting Chapter Two of the History of the
> Development of the Higher Mental Functions. It is an incredible roller
> coaster ride, but I have always believed that it is the most important
> thing on fate, luck, and chance--and even on language--that Vygotsky
> ever wrote, even though it hardly mentions language at all.
> 
> As I noted earlier, Vygotsky doesn't use the term "artifacts".
> Instead, he uses the term "rudimentary functions" to describe things
> like drawing oracular lots, tying mnemonic knots, and notching sticks
> to calculate numbers. Of course, these are, genetically speaking,
> artifacts: they are artificially made.
> 
> But I think for Vygotsky what is important is not what is
> self-identical and constant but rather what changes. That's why he
> rejects the "logical category" approach to classifying both signs and
> tools as mediating activities, and that's why he insists that the
> precise genetic, functional, and structural relationship of tools and
> signs has to be worked out.
> 
> So I think for Vygotsky what is important is the change in function.
> That's why he calls them "rudimentary functions" and not artifacts,
> and that's also why he insists that they have utterly lost the
> commanding, "fateful" authority they once had. In LSV's example from
> Tolstoy, Pierre Bezukhov forgets all about the message of the game of
> Solitaire he is playing to decide whether to stay in Moscow and kill
> Napoleon or join the Russian Army and be killed! We use these as games
> of luck and not as conduits of fate.
> 
> It seems to me that at least some of the recent kerfuffle over Andy's
> statement that the "objective" is what is seen as not changeable
> through discourse by a given discourse community can be seen
> similarly. Pierre's decision is--quite literally--changed through the
> trivial discourse of his sister, because he recognizes that the
> outcome of the game is only luck, not fate.
> 
> Such a change was not possible for the practitioners of "decimation":
> When a Roman commander wanted to punish a legion, he counted on this
> fingers, and if he pointed to you with his second pinky, you were
> bludgened to death, and you called it fate, not luck. These were
> people who necessarily took the distinction between subjective and
> objective more seriously than we do, but to a certain extent their
> distinction beteween fate and luck is the rudimentary form of our own
> distinction between the subjective and the objective.
> 
> How does Pierre, and how do children, see that what they take as fate
> or magic or even skill is simply chance? Of course, the answer is that
> some of them never do: I am always a little astonished by my own
> ability to attribute a successful class to my own semi-divine
> erudition and conversely to blame an unsuccessful one on a diabolical
> conspiracy of sultry weather, late subways, and other people's ill
> temper. But I think that Vygotsky would find the idea that the child
> on his own simply sees through the idea of fate and luck and replaces
> them with the notion of chance rather intellectualistic: like the
> scene in the Wizard of Oz where Toto knocks over the curtain and
> reveals the Wizard as a wizened old circus balloonist speaking through
> a megaphone.
> 
> I  prefer to think that language plays a vital role: the child learns
> to see that things that are made of language can be unmade by
> language, and in so doing tranforms fate into luck and then into
> chance. But the process is not a single revelation, and it comes as
> part of a much broader discovery that includes the ability to
> internalize almost any social discourse as a kind of mental grammar
> that is more individual, more autonomous and more "subjective".
> 
> And so I think that Andy's formulation, although the butt of some
> ridicule by good people on this list who could not actually quote it
> correctly (I'm looking at you, Martin) is really correct: "objective"
> just means that something is seen as not subject to change by a
> discourse community, even where that discourse community consists of
> just me and my lonely self. That's why Vygotsky says that the
> 'internal" is simply the psychological, and the external the social.
> 
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies