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[Xmca-l] Activity as Hyponym



Some of the confusion is mine, I'm afraid. It began with a very confusing
note I wrote yesterday. I was trying to explain a terminological problem in
CHAT. In Vygotsky and Volosinov, "meaning" is a superordinate term (a
hypernym) but it also a subordinate type of meaning (a hyponym):

            MEANING (znachenie)

meaning (znachenie)    sense  (smysl)

It seemed to me that the same thing has happened with activity:


              MEDIATING ACTIVITY

tool use (orudnie)            sign use (znak)


The problem is that we use "activity" for both tool use and sign use, or,
worse, we use "tools/signs" as a superordinate term (a hypernym) and as a
subordinate term (a hyponym).

Now you can see that these are two different mistakes. Conflating tools and
signs is one mistake, and using "activity" for both mediating activity and
for tool-bearing activity is a different mistake. But I confused them.

Haydi sometimes communicates with me off list (and in fact it's entirely
possible that this message was mostly intended for me) and I understand
what he says very well, because it is part of a longstanding discussion we
have been having about what Vygotsky means when he says "In the beginning
was the act".  To me, this means that the act is really only the beginning,
and we need to move on in our theorization. But to Haydi it really means
that the act is the basis of everything (and in particular the basis of
social activism, where counts is deeds and not words).

So here's how I read Haydi. But Haydi should correct me if I have him wrong.

HAYDI SAYS:

I said the dominant province of Vygotsky's work ; that means all through
> his works , he uses terms and expressions which denote or connote "action"
> : behaviour , operation , activity , work as labour proper and these are
> not things which might escape your good attention .

I READ: The reason why Vygotsky reiterates words like action, behavior,
activity, work and labor is that this is the basis of everything, including
language.

HAYDI SAYS: Then denial of action is denial of what Vygotsky has taken for
granted .


I READ: To try to dissolve the action component of sign use is to deny the
important role of action and to deny what is always there implicit in
Vygotsky's treatment of sign use: communicative action is not simply
communication (as it is in Habermas). More importantly, communicative
action is a form of action (as it is in Marx).

HAYDI SAYS: Vygotsky does have an unending love for word and literature ,
art in
> general ; Then we should not take him as being guilty because he either
did
> not have time or he did not want to deal with the analysis of "action" .
>

I READ: It is true that Vygotsky is fascinated by the word, most viisible
in Psychology of Art and other texts on the arts (e.g. the essay on the
dramatic art of the actor). But in all of these action is taken for granted
(see especially the dramatic art of the actor).

HAYDI SAYS: In his "Higher Psychological Functions" , he first talks about
an
> environment , he stresses that the environment necessitates use of tools
> even for the months-old child , then he elucidates in details the
influence
> of speech upon each function . It's my assumption that Vygotsky implies
> that when everything is in place , that is , when by the blessings of
> speech , all functions are ripe and rich and replete with influences ,
then
> the gown-up , adolescent , adult , man becomes ready to go fully for
> transformations . And I don't mean : word ends , action begins ; no linear
> advancement . through zigs and zags , heading towards will be the agenda .
>

I READ: The main message of HDHPF is that the higher psychological
functions are only RELATIVELY higher; they are still very much linked to
lower functions, and the link is of a genetic nature. But that doesn't
simply mean that the higher functions arise out of the lower functions; it
also means that they can transform the lower functions in their own image.
That is what happens: it's not the case that action just takes up where
words fail us, any more than it is the case that man's physical evolution
stopped when his cultural evolution began.

HAYDI SAYS I ask : is that the case that you think that Vygotsky thought
that with
> rich , ripe psychological functions a la speech influence , man was
> finished with everything to continue living ?? I'm afraid not ! Man now
had
> to take one very big step further , farther . To have ideals , to let them
> penetrate cycles of activities to provide products to satisfy needs
because
> the richest , ripest talk will not satisfy life needs .
>

I READ: Nor is it the case that physical evolution is there as a kind of
"Plan B" when our cultural Plan A fails us. On the contrary: what language
does is to allow potential action to become real. But even the richest,
ripest talk does not satisfy life's needs; it must be completed by action.

HAYDI SAYS: > Capitalism today though decaying , has opted for horrendous
deeds and
> wants to go ahead with these deeds through futile talks . Destructive
> arsenals are not for defense as coming from rich beneficial talks ; they
> won't wait for the United Nations' benevolent tribunes nor for the written
> files therefrom , either .

I READ: Capitalists are aware of this: they would like very much to
relegate the forces of progress to pure talk.


HAYDI SAYS:  The United Actions of all the oppressed peoples of the world
may wayward
> another big disaster !!
> and that requires already agreed upon talks ; otherwise no deed will be a
> crowned one !

 I READ: Oppressed people everywhere must understand that although
phylogenetically the deed is crowned with the word, sociohistorically,
things are the other way around: the words that have only been able to
provide a sketch of "the good life" in art must be crowned with the deed.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies