RE: Response to Steve G on EVI and Bakhurst - The annotations

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sun May 16 2004 - 00:05:05 PDT


Please allow me to play off a sentence you wrote to develop my thinking
about the ideal. I am really only using your formulation as a foil to work
with, not to criticize you.

I get the impression from the following passage that the material is
identified with the objective and the ideal is identified with the subjective.

Eugene wrote:
In my view, a sociocultural activity unites the material and the ideal as
>the material and the ideal (the object and the subject) being transformed in
>the activity to achieve our goals (that become also transformed in the

This sentence, especially where it says "the material and the ideal (the
object and the subject)" seems to me to suggest the "plain" materialist
position, which can be found in Marx, Lenin, etc. It is quite normal for
any of us who have been strongly influenced by traditional Marxism to say
this kind of thing almost out of habit. This manner of speaking runs
deeply. And on some levels it is perfectly correct. But it also has major
contradictions which need close analysis. And most importantly, this
formula fails to help us understand human cultural activity and individual
human cognition historically and developmentally.

I believe the plain materialist formulation, which the mirror metaphor is
often used to illustrate, is an obstacle to moving forward in cultural
psychology and individual psychology.

A new way to understand these major categories seems essential. EVI helps
us along this new path but we have to blaze more of it ourselves. Your
studies and applications of Bakhtin's ideas are part of this process. We
need to study Vygotsky, Leontiev, and many others with this in mind. I
think your reference to "the sociocultural activity unites the material and
the ideal .... [which are] being transformed in the activity to achieve
our goals" very much points us in the right direction.

Andy's reference to ideality as a "third side" helps to draw this new
picture we are developing. I think he correctly generally identifies the
correct categories. In addition to culture in general - cultural
artifacts, processes, meanings - Andy refers, on one hand, to (I think)
social institutions and socio-economic forms of activity, and on the other,
(also I think) individual cognitive activity, what EVI referred to as
individual consciousness and will.

Listing these three sides, using a mixture of terms:
1. socio-economic institutions/processes - community institutions
2. individual cognitive activity - consciousness and will
3. cultural artifacts, processes, meanings - activity

Just for clarity, in case my interpretation is off, Andy said:
"Yes, but in emphasising the "third" (i.e., cultural artefacts etc) do not
minimise the other two - the Individual who introduces all the will, need,
feeling, strength, etc., the truly *active* one, and the Particular, i.e., the
specific forms of activity, organisation, etc."

The "third" in the above list is what is new. The first, socio-economic
institutions, and the second, individual cognitive activity, at least
superficially, fall into the traditional categories of plain materialism -
respectively, socio-economic institutions can be considered
material/objective, and individual cognitive activity can be considered
ideal/subjective. How true this is deserves more discussion. But the
paradigm is commonly understood. What EVI calls "popular" materialism
would advocate this kind of division. Mirror metaphors, among others, fit
right in here.

What is new about this "third" is that unlike the first two, it cannot
easily be relegated to either category - the category of the
"material/objective" or the category of the "ideal/subjective." This is
where plain materialism becomes undialectical and unable to comprehend
clearly. Materialism and scientific thinking must develop to a higher
level to handle this problem.

Cultural artifacts and processes clearly have materiality. And as material
objects and processes, they are clearly objective. But they also have a
special kind of subjectivity that is clearly not individual. They are
objective in relation to the individual but they also reflect this special
kind of subjectivity. So they have both objectivity and subjectivity.

But what kind of subjectivity? This is what EVI calls the ideal, or
ideality. But it is not an individual process or phenomena. It is a
collective process. In one place EVI speaks of collective
self-awareness. Throughout his essay, he speaks of the ideal. In several
places, he links the ideal closely to the idea of culture.

I can't emphasize enough that this third category - which includes cultural
artifacts, cultural processes, cultural activity - is comprised of both
materiality and ideality, as Mike has been explaining for some years, and
who taught me this essential concept. Materiality, of course, can exist
independently of any human influence, but ideality can only exist if it is
embodied. Such embodied objects have a dual nature - they have their
material properties, and they have their ideal properties (their

In this context, we can use "ideality," "meaningfulness" and "cultural
meaning" fairly synonymously. But we cannot freely say these things are
"just subjective" or "just objective," because they are both. Similarly,
we cannot speak of a cultural artifact as "just material," because it also
contains ideality or cultural meaning. And so on.

For this reason, the generalization that the material is objective and the
ideal is subjective, if my reasoning is sound, is actually false. Our
advancing knowledge of culture and activity precludes this now outworn
position of plain materialism. A new materialism is needed for this task.

Or, at least, as I see it at this point. My understanding is transforming

What do you think?

- Steve

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