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

I sent David's comments to Rene van der Veer, and part of his reply included a shot (attached) of what translators and editors have to go through in moving LSV and others into what today we'd call a book or article. Pretty daunting.

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces+smago=uga.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+smago=uga.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Friday, January 01, 2016 6:44 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Yasnitsky and Van der Veer: Mythbusters!


Of course, when you read a translation, you are not reading the writer, or at least not the writer in large letters; you are reading the writer in small letters; that is, the translator. When we finished translating "Thinking and Speech" into Korean (which we did from the French and Italian translations, because our Russian was no good, and because we could see, from the very first chapter, that the English was no good either) one of our best translators quit the team with the bitter comment that none of us knew any Russian (true) and some of us knew very little Korean, or at least very little literary Korean (also, alas, true). We've worked pretty hard to overcome both of these problems, and next month we'll bring out our seventh volume of Vygotsky's works in Korean.

Years ago I was rather astonished when I heard Eugene Subbotsky describe Vygotsky as a poet, since I too had read him entirely in translation and had (wrongly as it turns out) come to think of him as quite clumsy, maladroit, redundant and wordy. But I have come to see that Subbotsky was
right: there are certain wordings in Vygotsky, like the idea that the child is "intertwined (interpersonally) and interwoven (socially)" that have wings; that overleap both languages and soar. As Vygotsky says, there is a kind of thinking without words that only thinking with words can bring about.

So when you read Vygotsky in English you are reading the thinker and not the writer. There are certain advantages to that, which you should be very conscious of as a teacher of foreign languages and as a foreign language learner. The whole point of the first part of "Thinking and Speech" is that the thinker and the speaker are really two diferent creatures, and even in the second part we can see that they are two radically different persona, even where they partake and participate in the same personality. By standing aloof for a moment from the language of expression, we can get a certain critical distance, a sense of the overall shape of the thoughts.

And in fact that was the point I was trying to make: "Thinking and Speech"
was not Vygotsky's final word (there will never be a final word, thanks to people like you, Henry), and it was not even his finished word, and its very unfinished quality is, I think, also responsible for the fact that LSV doesn't list either HDHMF or Tool and Sign in any of his "Greatest Hits'
(though, significantly, Tool and Sign IS in the references to the first edition of Thinking and Speech). This patchy, unfinished quality makes the sheer brilliance and consistency of the ideas all the more remarkable.

I would like to think that our clumsy translations also have the effect of throwing the spotlight on the grace and coherence of Vygotsky's thinking, but I know that unfortunately this probably isn't the case; I imagine there are lots of people scribbling imprecations against Vygotsky in the margins of their Korean translations which really ought to be directed against us. There can really be only one excuse for what we did.

It is the same excuse that Mike, Sylvia Scribner, Vera John-Steiner and Ellen Souberman have for issuing a compilation under Vygotsky's name.
Yasnitsky and Van der Veer admit that no deception was involved, and their main complaint is that the process of compiling it is not sufficiently transparent to be made reversible, but of course the same thing is true of almost any compilation and indeed coauthorship quite generally--we only know which chapters in "Ape, Primitive, Child" are by Luria and which by Vygotsky because of Vygotsky's complaints about Luria's Freudianism in his letters, and there is no way for the reader to know which of the revolutionary revisionist ideas in this book are Van der Veer's and which are Yasnitsky's!

Of course, we have different standards for writers of historic stature than we do for each other, and that's perfectly okay, so long as we keep in mind that at the time "Mind in Society" was published, Vygotsky was not generally considered a writer of historic stature: his publication list in English was considerably shorter than Mike Cole's. Today it's just too easy for people to forget that the difficulty of publishing Vygotsky in the West was actually far greater than that of publishing him in the USSR for most of the twentieth century, thanks to the very real totalitarianism exercised
(increasingly) by commercial publishing. Yasnitsky and Van der Veer do have the grace to acknowledge that "Mind in Society" started the Vygotsky boom that made it posssible for Yasnitsky and Van der Veer to start their revisionist revolution. We can't really fault historians for not knowing what to do next. But we can fault them for forgetting that people back then didn't know what we know today.

In the end, I think that's the only excuse for doing translations, good or
bad: Nobody else will, or nobody else will do it as well. To be fair, I should say that there WERE no less than two other teams translating Thinking and Speech into Korean when we went ahead and published; one was a very well-funded team of Russian professors at Korea University and the other had an official contract with MIT Press--but the latter used the Hanfmann and Vakar translation into English and the team of Russian professors--incredibly--used the Minick translation! So I am very glad we went ahead and published ours, imperfect as it is. As Tagore says, Ekla Chalo Re:

If they answer not to your call walk aloneIf they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,O thou unlucky one,open your mind and speak out alone.If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,O thou unlucky one,trample the thorns under thy tread,and along the blood-lined track travel alone.If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,O thou unlucky one,with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart,and let it burn alone.
(Translated from Tagore's Bengali by Tagore himself--but was it back

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

PS: While we were working on Piaget's response to "Thinking and Speech" I wrote to MIT Press to get permission to translate it into Korean. I learned that the original French manuscript had been lost, and that the translator, Francoise Seve, had had to reconstruct it from a typescript, part of which could only be reconstructed by back translating from English to French!


On Sat, Jan 2, 2016 at 6:36 AM, HENRY SHONERD <hshonerd@gmail.com> wrote:

> 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
> >>
> >

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