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[Xmca-l] Re: Yasnitsky and Van der Veer: Mythbusters!



David,
Yes, it makes sense to me too. It at least partly explains why my comments in the margin of my copy of Speech and Language I bought so many years ago can still evoke my irritation at Vygotsky, who, it turns out, is not the author I thought he was. Another part is my own constantly gaining and losing my grasp on a coherent socio-cultural bead on the here and now, very much connected to the pulses of this chat. Funny how then and now inform each other.
Henry
 
> On Dec 31, 2015, at 4:35 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
> 
> Thanks, David! :)
> All makes sense to me.
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> *Andy Blunden*
> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
> On 1/01/2016 11:00 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
>> Or not. So, you thought you knew your Vygotsky, did you? Here are seven
>> facts you've always believed about Vygotsky that are...well, more or less
>> right, actually, according to Yasnitsky and Van der Veer's "Revisionist
>> Revolution in Vygotsky Studies", due to come out on Routledge in the new
>> year.
>> 
>> 1.  Stalinist science was highly centralized, clique ridden, ritualistic,
>> deliberately esoteric and impractical, parochial, and given to cults and
>> personality. Sounds familiar? Now, lest you think that I am making an
>> unfair comparison between Stalinist Russia and today's relatively benign
>> and bucolic academic atmosphere, note that Anton's revolutionary
>> revisionist point in this first section is precisely that: the present day
>> reputation of Vygotsky is based on a very centralized, monolithic
>> interpretation of his work, drive-by citations and padded reference
>> lists,an almost complete disjunction between high theory and more or less
>> banal practice, a geographical focus in just a few centres in Russia and
>> the West, and a foundational myth of a doomed Moses, who saw the promised
>> land from the mountaintop and knew he would never set foot there. Is the
>> comparison unfair? Not at all. If anything, the problem is that it is too
>> obvious to count as revision, much less as revolution.
>> 
>> There is, however, another problem, or rather two other problems. The first
>> is that myths are not entirely fiction--it is not a myth but a medical fact
>> that L.S. Vygotsky died of tuberculosis in June of 1934, and it is not
>> really much more far fetched to say that he died without ever knowing that
>> in eight decades he would be translated into the Korean language and widely
>> read by school teachers in South Korea. The second is that mythbusters are
>> themselves mythic figures; that is, they take certain historical facts and
>> construct narratives around them, in this case the narrative that the
>> previous narrative was constructed around incorrect facts or that it was
>> constructed around correct facts which have been grossly misinterpreted in
>> some way. So....
>> 
>> 2. There never was a Troika or a Pyatorka: instead, the "Vygotsky School"
>> was a loose network of scholars who came and went, joined and drifted away,
>> spread across three cities (Moscow, Leningrad, and Kharkov, although the
>> loyalty of the Kharkov centre is in doubt). This section, based on
>> Yasnitsky's Ph.D. work, is--unlike the first section, which manages to be
>> both sensationalistic and naive--both nuanced and closely argued. But of
>> course for that very reason it tends to undermine the claims of the first
>> part of the book. And at the same time, it ignores the most obvious
>> evidence that there really WAS something like a Pyatorka--the fact that
>> Vygotsky's own letters referto the Pyatorka, and the fact that the Pyatorka
>> held meetings, internal conferences, etc, None of this contradicts Anton's
>> main thesis, which was that the "Troika" and the "Pyatorka" were convenient
>> constructs (exoteric as opposed to esoteric ways of understanding) for
>> thinking about the history of the Vygotsky school even while it was
>> happening. But it also doesn't answer the question I have always had about
>> the use of the term "Troika". For Trotskyists (and, as Anton points out,
>> there is clear evidence that Vygotsky has strong pro-Trotsky sympathies),
>> the term Troika has very bad connotations: it referred to a bureaucratic
>> bloc between Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev to oust Trotsky from power in the
>> year following Lenin's death. .
>> 
>> 3. Thinking and Speech", far from being Vygotsky's magnum opus, is an
>> unfinished and highly uneven work, cobbled together from materials which
>> really fit rather poorly, during the months immediately before...and
>> after...Vygotsky's death. I think anybody who really knows the chronology
>> of the composition of Thinking and Speech will not find this controversial;
>> the facts are well known, and only serve to throw the coherence and power
>> of the work into greater relief (and also, incidentally, to undermine the
>> popular idea--which Yasnitsky and Van der Veer DO subscribe to--that there
>> are three very different Vygotskies believing three very different
>> foundational ideas at work in the years 1926-1934).
>> 
>> So of course this is not really revisionist and revolutionary enough for
>> Yasnitsky and Van der Veer. Beyond this, they try to claim that the works
>> that Vygotsky thought were important are NOT the works that we read today,
>> and the works we read today are NOT the works that Vygotsky held dear. They
>> found their argument on Vygotsky's own lists, compiled at three times
>> during his life, of his own works. The problem is that two of these lists
>> are part of job applications, and anybody who has ever done a job
>> application knows very well that you list things that your potential
>> employer will find impressive, and these are usually quite far from being
>> the works that you yourself value. Sure enough, by this standard,
>> Vygotsky's most important work is his first one: "Educational Psychology",
>> which is surely his most uneven and least visionary, closely followed by
>> "Imagination and Creativity", which was, as the authors quite correctly
>> point out, a work of popular science (and includes references to textbook
>> writers and agony aunts who wrote for the Soviet papers).
>> 
>> Weakest of all are Yasnitsky's claims about the History of the Development
>> of the Higher Mental Functions and Tool and Sign, to wit, that the former
>> was a fabrication by the Soviet editors cobbled together from two unrelated
>> texts and the Russian version of the latter the result of a benign forgery
>> by Luria and the popular medical writer Elkhonon Goldberg.
>> 
>> First of all, there is strong evidence INSIDE the text of HDHMF that it was
>> conceived and written as a single work: there is a conclusion which goes
>> back to the beginning, which remarks on the order in which it was conceived
>> and how it differs from the order it was written, and how the chapters fit
>> together. More importantly, the first part DOES lay out the problem, the
>> approach and the research method followed in the "special studies" of the
>> second part, just as Thinking and Speech was to do years later. is is
>> really weak stuff: they
>> 
>> Secondly, as Yasnitsky himself admits, the wonderful story of benign
>> forgery (actually back translation, not a rare occurence in recovering
>> historic manuscripts) does not actually explain what it is supposed to
>> explain, which is the recurrence of several paragraphs, not word for word,
>> but very nearly so. Yasnitsky explains this by adding a kind of Ptolemaic
>> epicycle: there were TWO translators, and the editor didn't bother to read
>> what he was editing, so there was some redundancy. The only authority for
>> this story, which seems so much less probable than the alternative
>> explanation that this is simply another instance of Vygotsky's tendency t
>> repeat himself more or less verbatim in places, is Elkhonon Goldberg ("The
>> Wisdom Paradox: How Aging Actually Benefits Your Brain", and other must
>> readings in psychoneurology for aging jet-setters), and an anonymous
>> blogger (neither source seems very well disposed to their erstwhile
>> professor, Luria). Of course, the mere fact that a story is highly
>> improbable and that the sources are somewhat jaundiced do not mean that it
>> is not true; but in a work devoted to mythbusting, it should mean that it
>> is...well, possibly mythical.
>> 
>> 4. Vygotsky died with an unfinished book on consciousness clearly in mind.
>> This much too should be have been already very clear to any careful reader
>> of Thinking and Speech. But this is in fact the most exciting part of the
>> book, and the only part of the book which really does offer completely new
>> evidence (it is also the only part of the book which was not written by
>> Yasnitsky or by Van der Veer). You may disagree with a lot of what
>> Zavershneva has to say about Vygotsky's supposed Nietszcheanism and his
>> rejection of "word meaning" as a unit of consciousness in favor of "sense"
>> (which is, after all, a type of word meaning). You may question, as I did,
>> whether "perizhevianie" is really intended as a substitute, and if so up to
>> what point it is a substitute for word meaning. Above all, you may wonder
>> what the relationship between THIS unwritten work and the other unfinished
>> works that Vygotsky left us might be ("Teaching on the Emotions" is
>> mentioned, but there is hardly any mention at all of "Child Development").
>> But this is the part of the book where you are most likely to learn
>> something. It's also the part of the book where we see the most Vygotsky
>> inedit--unpublished Vygotsky.
>> 
>> 5. Vygotsky has been poorly translated, and he didn't write either of the
>> English language books for which he is famous. The facts are depressingly
>> clear: the 1962 version of "Thought and Language" is something like half of
>> the original, with all the Marx and Lenin (and also the "redundancies",
>> which for Yasnitsky are the proof of the inauthenticity of Tool and Sign)
>> cut away by editors. "Mind in Society" was not a book that Vygotsky ever
>> wrote but instead (like much of Aristotle, like all of the New Testament,
>> like the Quran and like de Saussure's "Cours", a compilation put together
>> by students and students of students (e.g. Mike). I think what the
>> revolutionary revisionists ignore is the dialectic of that process: "Mind
>> in Society" was designed to, and did in fact, overcome the significant
>> omissions of Hanfmann and Vakar's translation: they saw that they could
>> bring back some of Vygotsky's Marxist roots, and that is exactly what they
>> did. Yasnitsky and Van der Veer acknowledge that this book, whether by
>> Vygotsky or not, was the book that started the Vygotsky "boom"; the real
>> question we have to ask is--what can we actually accomplish with the energy
>> that "Mind and Society" unlocked? What happens when the rubble of the boom
>> stops bouncing? Previously, our "revolutionary revisionists" suggested
>> archival work,authoritative editions, and so on, and of course that is
>> certainly very much to be desired. But it also ignores the exoteric nature
>> of the boom and does nothing to overcome the gap between theory and
>> practice noted in point 1) above.
>> 
>> 6. The results of Luria's Central Asian expeditions were suppressed in
>> order not to inflame resentment among the USSR's national minorities. This
>> too is extremely well known to people who read Luria's own preface, as well
>> as those who followed the horrible story of the quasi-official denunciation
>> of Vygotsky and Luria (see point 7 below). And it turns out to be...well,
>> more or less true, although Laman and Yasnitsky manage to cloak the truth
>> in anachronistic phrases like "affirmative action" and "political
>> correctness" which only show how very little they understand the concrete
>> realities that Luria and Vygotsky actually faced. The really objectionable
>> part of this section of the book, though, is the accusation that Vygotsky
>> is a vulgar Marxist who believed that the change in the relations of
>> production, without any education, was enough to create concepts in the
>> minds of Uzbeks. There is no evidence for this in any of Vygotsky's or
>> Luria's texts, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. (Luria repeatedly
>> refers to the effect of schooling). Note that Lamdan and Yasnitsky do not
>> raise a number of key issues:
>> 
>> a) Vygotsky at one point in HDHMF, Chapter Two, criticizes those who take
>> experiments out of the laboratory and do anthropological fieldwork with
>> them and calls this method absolutely unjustified. Does this explain why he
>> did not personally take part?
>> 
>> b) In fact, Luria's experiments were quite similar to what people like
>> Rivers had done in New Guinea--they were not at all unprecedented; they
>> were in fact part of a recognized and continuing tradition in
>> cross-cultural psychology (c.f. Glick and Cole, and also recent work on
>> chimps and children in Africa). This ethnographic tradition WAS politically
>> suspect, and for good reason. Is this why Luria refers to it sparingly, and
>> why Koffka is rather unsympathetic to Luria's (largely foregone)
>> conclusions?
>> 
>> 7. Vygotsky's work was never officially denounced by Stalin himself, but
>> instead was subject to an informal ban, which did not prevent him from
>> being favorably cited in the twenty years between his death and the first
>> publications in Russia. Well, this isn't exactly myth-busting. Stalin was
>> not particularly well-read; his most critical comment on Vygotsky would
>> have been something along the lines of "Who?" But this really is both
>> sensationalistic and naive: it is sensationalistic (and anachronistic) to
>> imagine that Vygotsky's work was famous enough at his death to deserve the
>> kind of explicit suppression that, say, Trotsky, Bukharin, Radek, or even
>> Vavilov suffered. It is naive to imagine that the two almost fact-free
>> articles published against Vygotsky in the years after his death were
>> somehow not part of an orchestrated campaign against his work (which began
>> WELL before he died--why is there no discussion of the 1931 decree on
>> pedology in Leningrad, something that Vygotsky himself mentions in Thinking
>> and Speech Chapter Six?)
>> 
>> As Kozulin remarks in a remarkably well-tempered preface, this is a
>> dangerous book--not so much to the reader, but to the writers. The danger
>> is that that Yasnitsky and Van der Veer run the risk of busting a gut
>> rather than busting myths, making revolutionary revisionism out of their
>> firm grasp of the obvious embroidered with material that is anything but
>> obvious. When that happens, we get something that is neither a gorgon nor a
>> minotaur but more like Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest":
>> something like a monster without being a myth.
>> 
>> David Kellogg
>> Macquarie University
>> 
>> 
>> 
>> , and even (in designed to undo some of those cuts.  Like Aristotle, Jesus
>> Christ, and Muhammad, Vygotsky didn't write or at least didn't edit the
>> books that made him famous. The problem of course is that Vygotsky didn't
>> know that he was Vygotsky; he thought he was just "me". and de Saussure,
>> Vygotsky did not
>> 
>> 
>> 
>>    So you thought you knew L.S. Vygotsky! Well
>> 
>