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[Xmca-l] Mediating Activity and Mediated Activity



I'm reading a chapter by Janette Freidrich in the collection "Vygotski
maintenant" published in 2011. It's an imaginary dialogue between Buhler
and Vygotsky on the former's theory of language and the latter's criticisms
thereof, very cleverly written in INDIRECT SPEECH so that Friedrich doesn't
have to waste time trying to imitate the voice of each or pretend that she
knows the exact wording of each argument. Friedrich begins with Hegel's
distinction (from the LONGER Logic, the one that I've never read) between
mediating activity and mediated activity.

Mediating activity is what Vygotsky talks about using the quote from Hegel
in HDHMF Chapter Two: it's when your role is essentially bystanding, when
you use one force of nature, more or less in the natural state, against
another.For example, you arrange the downspout of your house roof gutters
so that it bores a hole in a piece of limestone. Or you hang your wet
laundry on a tree branch and let the sun dry it out instead of trying to
wring it dry yourself..

Mediated activity is in some ways the same, but in others completely
opposite. It's the same in that you are using one natural force against
another, but it's opposite in the sense that your role is not bystanding;
you are yourself one of the forces of nature. For example, instead of
arranging the downspout, you make a chisel or a drill of some kind to bore
a hole in a piece of limestone and sculpt it into a flagstone or a
tombstone. Or you beat the laundry dry with a tree branch instead of just
hanging it there.

Friedrich points out that in Vygotsky's early work (e.g. "The History of
the Crisis") Vygotsky speaks of psychic tools--he is treating ALL activity
as "mediated" rather than mediating. But in HDHMF, we know that he
CRITIQUES this point of view, precisely because it equates the sign and the
tool. Now, you might think that the sign even more like mediated activity
and even less like mediating activity than the tool. After all, sign users
are not bystanders; they are even more intimately and intensively and
deliberately involved as subjects than tools. But that confuses the sign
user with the sign itself. It also ignores a key difference between
mediating activity and mediated activity--which is that in mediating
activity the force of nature is allowed to act according to its own
properties. When I use a word, I do not try to transform it from a sound
into something else; or rather, if I do, then I get something that is less
obviously language and more like onomatopoeia.

While I read, I am listening to Beyoncé's new album "Lemonade", which is an
attempt to take a force of nature (the sour lemons of a husband's
infidelity) and to transform it into something larger than life or twice as
natural (the eponymous lemonade). It's an uneasy cross between a mediating
activity ("for colored girls who have considered suicide | when the rainbow
is enuf", where 20 imaginary characters are used and Ntozake Shange simply
stands back) and a mediated one ("Black Macho and the Myth of Superwoman",
where Michelle Wallace tries to use her own experiences alongside a
traditional academic approach). Beyoncé can't quite figure out whether she
wants to do this as a mediating choreographer for an ineffable everywoman
or as a mediated activity by the one and only Pasha Bey.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University
Status: O