Re: [xmca] Ilyenkov in A Stetsenko's articles

From: Victor (
Date: Sat Nov 05 2005 - 00:29:52 PST


Regarding the first issue:

You've virtually read my mind. In my latest response to Martin, while
listing the kinds of valuable practical research possible to CHAT, I was, in
fact, thinking about the importance of developing effective models for
teaching people with out of the ordinary organically influenced faculties:
Autism, Asperger syndrome, extreme dyslexia and dyscalculia and so on.

I've had some personal experience with some of these extraordinary faculties
and close contact with others, students, family members and others. I've
yet to find out-of-the-ordinary organic faculties that completely inhibit
the development of personality, but they certainly do have considerable
impact on the personality developed.

Naturally, the effective factor in this regard, other than the special
faculties themselves, is the material and social context of the effected
person. Cliff Geertz in _Local Knowledge_ (1983) contrasts the treatment of
organically unusual individuals by Navajo communities with those practices
characteristic of educational practice in the US of the 1950's and 60's. In
Navajo communities observed by Geertz, unusual individuals, normally
regarded as disabled in our educational system, are commonly afforded
considerable respect and even awe. Unfortunately Geertz does not go into
sufficient detail on the effect of the special roles accorded these
individuals among the Navajo to enable much more than a notation of the
difference, however, it certainly suggests that organic disabilities and the
social relations they imply are social-historical rather than inherent in
the unusual organic faculty. The Blind-deaf person, reduced to a
pencil-making machine, is certainly less likely to develop a rich and
extensive personality than, say, one who has had the opportunity and help in
developing means for adapting to, say, an academic environment, but I have
my doubts if he is ever entirely depersonalized and I would hardly regard
the state of his personality to be exclusively the function of his organic

Another example of serious inhibition of the development or expression of
personality, may be found in the social depersonalization of extremely
oppressed peoples, be they black slaves in the antebellum plantation economy
of the Southern States of the US, Jews, Gypsies and other "undesirables" in
the work and extermination camps of Nazi Germany, or the prisoners currently
incarcerated in the Guantanamo detention facility. To the argument that
these examples are inappropriate since they involve people with a personal
history and with learned skills, etc., I would propose that a totalitarian,
intense, and sustained policy of depersonalization quickly disposes of these
backgrounds and produces the same effect that might be found in the normal
casual treatment by normal educational systems of that population we call
the "disadvantaged". I bring this up because here there is plenty of
evidence (including some I've collected) that monolithic models of social
practice even in these extreme circumstances simply do not accurately
represent the concrete interaction between oppressors and oppressed, that
even here exceptions to conventional practice are rife and may even develop
into special subcultures of "humanization" within universal contexts of

 Three points:

  1.. Unusual faculties, blind-deafness among them, are at least for
socialized man important but never the exclusive components of the
socialization of unusual persons. The fact that diverse communities may
develop different social conventions for relating to such persons is a clear
indication of the dialectical relation between the "organically" special
properties of individuals and social practice in the historicity of the
social integration of biologically unusual persons in the community.
  2.. Even in circumstances where convention does encourage extreme
depersonalization of certain others, social practice is never a determinant
of concrete practice and individual cases contrary to practice will
inevitably emerge, some of which may become particular "islands" of human
sociality within the sea of oppressive dehumanization. This too suggests
that dehumanization or depersonalization, whatever its origins is a
historical development, and that discordant subjective activity even under
general conditions of extreme social stress inevitably modify the totality
of normative social relations and may become sub-communal practice and even
evolve into universal practices that supplant dominant forms of social
 QED: I see the laudable project of helping the Blind-Deaf to adapt to the
most complex aspects of modern civilization as test of the capacity of
developed educational method in transforming some of the most prejudiced
against social groups into highly adapted members of the most developed
forms of modern community, but hardly as an acid test for the development of
personality in general.

Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mike Cole" <>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
Sent: Saturday, November 05, 2005 4:18
Subject: Re: [xmca] Ilyenkov in A Stetsenko's articles

A very helpful intervention, Viktor. For me, too, the interpretation of
Ilynekov in the paper was a point where, as I commented to Anna in another
I diverged from her presentation. Here I would like to raise two points,
noting that others are implicated by the later discussion involving you,
andy, and
martin, and hoping that Anna and others will contribute here as well.

First, I always thought it very important that Ilyenkov was so involved with
the Blind Deaf. I met him only once, when I was in Moscow with my daughter,
and we participated in an excursion of Zagorsk with him, Davydov, Zinchenko,
and their friends. (I can't recall if Felix Mikhailov, who is ailing in
was there, but Felix's close connection both to Evald and Suvarov and the
blind-deaf community is, I think, relevantly symptomatic). This was a
project in the truest sense of the word: If, one is not born a personality,
but becomes one owing to the joint activity with others in the recreation of
human life,
then a project to enable children experience blind-deafness to become phds
and live independently in Moscow is both a utopian project and an acid test
theory. At first this project was celebrated in the USSR-- it was features,
for example, in their glossy self promotion magazine. But by the 1980's
same people were considered dissedents and clearly felt themselves in
opposition. The authorities wanted to close down the project and teach the
deaf to make pencils in sheltered workshops. This, and the involvement of
other late vygotskians in preschool education, "defectology," rehabilitation
research, etc always reminds me of the idea I associate with Marx (ref?)
that progress is made in the garbage heap of history. Yet Ilyenkov was
distrusted by
many as a Stalinist. What a razor thin line to tread and no wonder that
alcohol was used to dull the pain of the cuts the razors caused.

Second, and on a very different tack. I would really appreciate help
understanding warrants for claims about another person or group's
I am a member of modern academic culture, so of course I have a general idea
of what the term means from its uses, as in Anna's paper, but in cultural
studies more broadly. But, perhaps because of my training as a behaviorist,
or perhaps because of my training as a student of Alexander Luria's, many
of the term make me nervous, and that extends to Anna's paper and your
discussion with Martin (for whom the term is more comfortable, I believe --
Please, Martin, Anna, Andy, Mary, and others join in here).

Danzinger recounts how it came about that a researcher in a German
laboratory in the 1880's-1990's came to be called "the subject," the person
psychological states/perceptions/elements of consciousness/....... his (it
was all hims at the time) research-partner was, in collaboration with the
trying to obtain "scientific evidence" about. In simple terms, it was the
problem of how you could know what someone else was thinking/feeling.

Luria writes about his disillusion with various attempts to solve this
problem. He specifed, in The Nature of Human Conflicts, and again in his
a method in which the researcher created a situation where s/he and the
"subject" were coordinated in a cultural medium. The behavior of both was
voluntary, not reflexive. Once they achieve highly coordinated joint
actions, the researcher introduces a highly selected change into the
situation and
determines if this change results in a change in the coordinated actions of
the "subject." ONLY when there is selective, predictable, DIS-coordination
of the coordinated joint activity is there a warrant for a claim about the
other person's thought/feeling.

Peg Griffin and I sought to extend this idea into the diagnosis and
remediation of reading difficulties of children with, I believe, reasonable
success. Bruner and
others used it, without acknowledgement or recognition of its general
importance so far as I know, in studies where, for example, infants are
first habituated
to a series of stimuli while their "signature" rhythmic sucking is recorded
and then a small change of interest (phoeme, visual configuration...) is
to see if the suckig is disrupted.

I can give other examples from rare, but naturally occuring events I have
participated in.

But in general, what are the warrants for claims about another person's or
another people's subjectivity? Last night on National Public Radio I heard a
Palastinian and other people writing "in diaspora" speak of the fence as
huge influence on his feeling of being walled out of his own country. The
people from various parts
of Africa rioting in Paris are clearly outraged over their treatment by the
French and I see their anger in their actions. But what can I claim to know
about their
subjectivity (their anger is objectively visible to me)? What can my
daughter, who has lived in Eastern Madagascar at various periods in her
life, gotten
extraordinarily ill from helping grow rice in swamps, participated in cattle
sacrifice, grieved at the death of her Malagasy ancestors, know about
subjectivity? Behind my back,the BBC is showing anyone who will watch the
subjectivity of Latin Americans outraged at American policies. What can I
know about their subjectivity other than its external manifestations?

This is not a known answer question. I would appreciate help in coming to
terms with the use of this term. I believe it must be used with great care
and the
possibility of claims being incorrect. Luria wanted to be able to
distinguish what people said from what they "felt." In Anna's paper, the
terms subjectivity
and intersubjectivity are central. What is being meant by what is being

Thanks if you have read this far.

On 11/3/05, Victor <> wrote:
> Anna,
> On the issue of object relatedness in CHAT:
> It has been for some time now that the CHAT model has appeared to me to be
> to be so strongly objectivist in approach that it was difficult to
> impossible to utilize it for the analysis of conflicts inherent within all
> forms of social organization.
> My area of interest is mostly in organizational systems in which conflict
> is not only inherent but so salient a feature of social interaction that
> is
> impossible to ignore subjectivity as a active force in the formation and
> development of the system, e.g. in economics and politics. As long-time
> student a sometimes teacher, my impression of the classroom situation and
> of
> educational systems in general (subjects more often discussed here in this
> forum than economic and political relations) has ever been one of conflict
> and precarious compromise where the unifying socio-cultural system is
> often
> more evident by its weaknesses rather than by its strengths. In general my
> impression of CHAT theories of the educational system have been notably
> lacking in the determination of the unity of the system as a function of
> the
> concatenation of the operation of many conflicting wills. I would surely
> welcome a CHAT that addresses more attention to the operation of
> subjectivity and intersubjectivity in the accounting of the outcomes of
> social interaction.
> On your paper:
> Most of your paper concerns the works of Leont'ev and Vygotsky. Leont'ev's
> works I've read only a few times and so I'll have to accept your
> commentary
> on his works as is. I agree with your comments on Vygotsky with a few
> reservations that are not important to your main thesis so no discussion
> on
> his work is called for here. However, your description of Ilyenkov's ideas
> concerning the relation of object to subject and on the significance of
> subjectivity in the development of social life appear to me to be
> seriously
> in need of correction.
> Ilyenkov's discussion on the relation between subject and object though
> widely distributed throughout his works, is the especial focus of his "The
> Concept of the Ideal" (1977) and of Chapter8, "The Materialist Conception
> of
> Thought as the Subject Matter of Logic", of Dialectical Logic (1974).
> Ilyenkov is certainly not an easy writer to understand; his logic though
> very good is often unsystematic, he peppers his works with unexplained
> allusions to material that he does not cite, and his treatment of critical
> concepts is often diffident and even hidden. Another difficulty of
> Ilyenkov's works is that much of his writing is in a Marxist-Leninist mode
> that's special to the language of revolutionary communist literature, and
> is
> quite different from the language of academic philosophy. The result has
> been in my view an array of egregious misinterpretations of Ilyenkov's
> works, especially by Anglo-Saxon academic philosophers without much
> grounding in dialectical analysis. The idea that Ilyenkov's works tend
> towards objectivism and towards a neutral contemplationist concept of
> scientific endeavor are precisely among the errors disseminated by these
> recent interpretations of Ilyenkov's works.
> Ilyenkov's concrete formulation of the meaning of the ideal in "The
> Concept of the Ideal" does refer repeatedly to one of the properties of
> the
> ideal as being "significant objects". However in this very same article
> Ilyenkov also reiterates in a number of passages that the comprehensive
> meaning of the term, ideal, is the necessary dialectical unity of the
> significant object and of subjectivity. The ideal object is described as
> only the embodiment of conscious, willed activity, i.e. subjectivity, and
> that subjectivity is no less an essential component of the ideal than the
> object that represents it. But this is not all.
> When, in his 1977 article, Ilyenkov finally gets around to describing the
> difference between the Marxian and Hegelian concept of the ideal
> (paragraph
> 93, 103, and here and there in between), he finds it in their respective
> theories of the genesis of the ideal relative to subjectivity. His
> argument
> in brief runs as follows:
> For Hegel subjectivity, the notion, i.e. subjective cognition, and
> objectification are the prerequisite conditions for the emergence of the
> ideal, the ideal being the consequences of the development of categories
> of
> knowledge.
> For Marx (and Ilyenkov), subjectivity, the object, and the ideal develop
> simultaneously as the outcome of the special conditions of human
> sociality;
> the voluntary (in the sense here of non-instinctive) collaboration of
> mostly
> if not entirely socialized individuals for the purpose of producing the
> means for satisfaction of collective and individual needs.
> Ilyenkov infers from this that while for Hegel objectification is an
> embodiment of pure activity in the ideal object, Marx regards the embodied
> activity as labour or productive activity. The importance of this
> difference
> is not very evident in the 1977 article, but examination of Ilyenkov's
> interpretation of labour activity in paragraphs 44 to 51 (sorry I do not
> have a paginated version of the book) of chapter 8 of Dialectical Logic is
> very instructive in this regard. Here he makes the point that labour, i.e.
> the creative interaction of the agent with natural conditions, is never be
> entirely encompassed by the objectification of the activity (in paragraph
> 51). In effect Ilyenkov is saying here that subjectivity can never be
> entirely subsumed by the object and as such remains a significant element
> in
> the prosecution of human sociality whatever the concrete conditions of
> that
> sociality.
> What didn't Ilyenkov write: That which he could have and perhaps should
> have written?
> For Hegel the objectification of subjective activity, i.e. the notion,
> does not in itself produce the ideal. The ideal only is realized when the
> objectified notion or acquired concept, first negates Life, i.e. the
> actual extant conditions which are the prerequisites of the formulation of
> the objective concept, and then joins it in the realization of desirable
> (good) outcomes. For Hegel the acquired concept cannot be one with life,
> because formulation and employment of the objective concept is implicitly
> informed by the yet unsatisfied subjective goals of the agents of the
> concept.
> The Marxian concept of the ideal (as interpreted by Ilyenkov) has no real
> need for the counterpoising of the objective concept to Life, it has a
> much
> more material target, namely the social practices from which it emerges
> and
> of which it is a representation. This need not be understood to mean that
> the formulation of an ideal is necessarily a broad rejection of current
> communal practice, it can be quite a modest affair such as the
> representation of the "legitimate" rules of a game, the right price for a
> dozen eggs, and the proper way to eat peas with a fork. The ideal is
> invoked
> when an agent, individual or collective, mobilizes an objectified concept
> to
> change the extant practices of others to realize a social or material goal
> that she wants satisfied. The outcome of her employment of ideas will be
> dependent on complexes of material factors, of production, of organization
> and the co-existence of other invoked ideals, but this is a different
> problem altogether.
> Why didn't Ilyenkov write this?
> 1.. The "idealist" bogeyman: The presentation of a fully practical theory
> of the ideal must posit that the ideal is not only a consequent of social
> practice, but at more concrete levels of analysis must be regarded as a
> prerequisite of social practice (see chapter 2, section 3 of Dialectics of
> the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital (1960) for more details).
> An
> explicit presentation of the reciprocal effect of the ideal on social
> relations would have provided his intellectual and political opponents
> with
> powerful arguments for labeling him as an "idealist".
> 2.. Border conditions and focus of analysis: Ilyenkov was very fastidious
> of the "border conditions" of his work. Most of his efforts were devoted
> to
> the elucidation of the later works of Marx and of Lenin's theoretical
> works.
> The focus of these works is nearly entirely on political economy, and on
> political economy writ large. Subjectivity finds a place in these works
> either as descriptions of the rational activity of generic members of
> classes or as descriptions of the social activity of groups. When Ilyenkov
> approaches the "borders" of the system of the relations of production, the
> issue of the historical development of the forces of production in see
> chapter 2, section 3 of Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in
> Marx's Capital, or the "borders" of the abstract theory of the ideal, the
> relation of the individual to social organization in "The Concept of the
> Ideal" he draws back and "hands over the subject" to others. Ilyenkov is
> surely aware that borders between subjects of analysis are relative, in
> dialectical theory the relations of all concepts are essentially
> conditional
> and relative rather than causal and absolute, so his fastidiousness is
> unlikely to be a matter of research domains consecrated by professional
> custom. It is more likely that this fastidiousness reflects Ilyenkov's
> regard for theory as a function of practical goals, and that his decision
> to
> limit his theorizing to the social interactions of collectivities and to
> the
> theory of political economic states is the outcome of his practical
> research
> aims rather than a universal law of theory.
> 3.. The political limitations on conflict theory in the USSR: From the
> point of view of all established elites, including the academic elite,
> Marxist theory has all the endearing features of atomic weaponry. The
> unity
> of subjectivity and objectivity implicit in the dialectical approach to
> culture and history has produced a theory of society that is inherently
> dynamic. It presents society as fundamentally unstable and changeable
> without respite. Stalinist theoreticians, and not only Stalinist Marxist
> theoreticians, worked very hard to modify Marxist theory (including
> effecting changes in the population of Marxist theorists) so as to "stop"
> the dialectical process with the formation of the Soviet Social Republic.
> The critical implications of Ilyenkov's theory of the ideal (as well as
> his
> studies in dialectics in general) for the official ideology that social
> development ends with the establishment of the Soviet State were not lost
> on
> the political authorities of his day, and he hardly was permitted to go as
> far as he did.
> As I see it Ilyenkov was hardly an "objectivist" theoretician. A reading
> of his two major works; Dialectical Logic (1974) and Dialectics of the
> Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital (1960) show Ilyenkov as
> severely
> critical of "contemplationist" theory and a firm, consistent partisan of
> theory as a function of practice and of practice as the test of theory.
> Ilyenkov is hardly reticent in declaring his own objectives; paragraphs in
> Chapter 8 of Dialectical Logic and his articles "Activity and Knowledge"
> (1974) and "From the Marxist Point of View" (1967) clearly indicate of
> what
> he thought the current task of theory should be; the critical review of
> the
> failures of the Soviet bureaucracy in realizing the aims of socialism and
> the development of means to correct them.
> Thanks for the article,
> Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
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