RE: reduxed Rommetveit

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Mon Aug 23 2004 - 07:15:47 PDT

Just an attempt to respond a little bit to Mike's post on the Rommetveit article. I hope by the end you ask yourself, "Why did he write that anyway?"

2. I thought the differing interpretations of Mr. Smith's activity were
interesting. I did not understand the "approaching from mediation versus
understanding from motivation" question Michael raises. I did not understand
the reason for bringing in Leontiev nor the reason for attributing Leontiev's
views to Stanislavsky.

All right let me try and explain a little bit further here, both what I mean about the difference between meaning and experience (and the motivation of experience) and why I feel we are much better off concentrating directly on experience (and by extension question the relevance of the concept of mediation). I did start to formulate these ideas reading Dewey, but they are no means monolithic. There is an excellent discussion (just ending I think) on how Dewey merged experience with meaning of the Dewey List. If anybody is interested they might want to stick their head in there.

Why is Stanislavsky so important to this discussion? Stanislavsky worked mostly with Chekhov (for obvious reasons) but I have an easier time with Ibsen (both part of the realist movement in theatre), so let me use Ibsen as an example. Let's go back to what one of my theatre professors claimed was a turning point in not only theatre, but Wester society. In A DOLL'S HOUSE Norah tells Torvald she is leaving him and she is out the door (if you haven't read A DOLL'S HOUSE it's probably find, that's enough to know - along with the fact that it left a couple of hundred Norwegians sitting in the theatre going WTH.) The first impulse of the audience I think would be to look for the meaning in the act. That is because theatre to that point had not really traced real human lives but had more or less offered a narrative of human tableus, kind of passion plays of humanity (maybe I'm not being that clear here). The point though is when Norah left it was a true human action. If you tried to find the meaning behind the action (worse, if the actor tried to portray the action so that the audience could figure out the meaning) you were kind of lost. "What does it mean?" was not the relevant question. "Why did she do it?" was the relevant question. What the actor had to get the audience to understand about Norah's act, because it was a real human act in the most genuine sense of the word, was why she actually did it. If you go back through the play itself it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Playwrights can't really put that type of motivation into plays that only last a few hours (although some of Ibsen's plays do go on). They can only offer clues through the story. But analyzing why somebody did something demands a great deal more than cues and people trying to figure out the meaning of those cues.

So what actors have to do is go back and figure out what the underlying motivations for those cues are, do what Stanislavsky referred to as scoring the play. There was an acting workshop in New York I once attended where an actor lectured on this. He explained that one time he had a single entrance in a play, but in order to understand that entrance, why the character was doing what he was doing, he went back and created an entire life for this character leading up to this point, dressed like he felt the character would dress, act in certain situations like he thought the character would act. All this to try and get the audience to try and ponder why it is the character was doing what he was doing in his short time on stage.

One more thing about theatre related to mediation. Before the realist movement and Stanislavsky actors were more or less mediators between the author and the audience. They gave meaning to the author's words. I think one of the things Stanislavsky was attempting to do was break down this system of mediation. I think he saw the actor as having a direct relationship with the author through the character (so actually with the character), and he saw the actor as having a direct relationship with the audience (not through the character because the actor was supposed to be the character). The idea that the actor was mediating the words of the author was true, but mostly irrelevant for the theatre experience.

Now Leontiev. Actually my argument is that Vygotsky took this idea from Stanislavsky (which I think is indisputable) and applied it to a concept of human experience very close to Dewey's (which is very disputable, but I think I can make a good argument). Leontiev then took the concept of motivation from Vygotsky (I don't know if he read Stanislavsky directly) and while it maintains some of the same qualities it loses others because Leontiev had other fish to fry.

So what does all this have to do with Rommetveit and co-authorship? Because I want to question when we follow Rommetveit's ideas concerning Mr. Smith, are we asking the wrong question? I want to suggest that if we ask what does it mean that we are looking backwards, at something that already happened, and we may be missing the point all together of the action from a human, problem solving perspective. If we ask why did she do it, we are looking forward, and getting a better grasp on how and why Mrs. Smith's wife is facing problems in the world.



3. As I tried to raise with my own pointing to the michotte and heider
examples, I did not understand how these examples entered into the coauthorship

I do not understand how invoking co-authorship is a political.

In short, there is a lot I do not understand about this article. But I believe
that the emphasis on meaning potential as a range of meaning-making
possibilities is helpful, that it does not exclude motivation, and that
it points to a unit of analysis very much like joint-mediated-activity
which I find congenial.

I was challenged by the idea that experiments which I thought defied the idea
of co-authorship might be so interpreted, and led to think about how a
psychology of the "second person" could be empancipatory.... not a term
I have used.

Rommetveit himself is self-questioning. The last paragraph of the article
is clear about this. to what extent does the social penetrate the individual
even under conditions where we think it does not?

Anyway, if we will soon have a new voting booth up and less general articles
to consider for discussion. And besides, we will all be back at work. Too
bad we cannot be playing while at work and versa visa! :-)

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