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

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sat Nov 05 2005 - 07:24:12 PST

Thanks for the extensive and informative help with the idea of subjectivity,
Andy and Victor.

I will not reply extensively here both for the practical reason that I am
heavily pressured to
engage in local work and because it seems to me that it is important to the
discussion to hear
more from Anna and others who have much to say on the topic.

Just one orienting comment. While academic concern about using the term,
subjectivity, may be
co-extensive with the discipline of psychology, my own concern is to
understand the varieties of
its use, and their warrants to knowledge, from the humane sciences more
generally. CHAT in my
interpretation is ineluctably (sp?) an interdisciplinary re-combination of
what became the social/behavioral
sciences "vs" the humanities in the late 19th century.

Academia murdered to dissect. I am pretty certain that to get a more
informed future, to participate in the
creation of a spiral of development, we need to return to the past and
reconstruct/construct an alternative
approach that is more adequate to our current historical circumstances. The
alternative is a circle that is
getting more vicious by the day.


On 11/5/05, Victor <> wrote:
> Mike,
> Regarding the second issue.
> Andy took the words right out of my mouth:
> "But it is one of those unanswerable problems of life. I think it is
> coextensive with the history of psychology, isn't it? To know what someone
> is thinking, the first and best requirement is to be another human being".
> Even so I'll add a few observations of my own.
> In a sense human sociality is based on a sort of "mind-reading" if you
> will.
> Ilyenkov in "The Concept of the Ideal" appears to be citing directly from
> the works of John Dewey and G H Mead when he writes:
> When speaking of value-form as the ideal form of a thing, Marx by no means
> accidentally uses the comparison of the mirror: "In a sort of way, it is
> with man as with commodities. Since he comes into the world neither with a
> looking glass in his hand, nor as a Fichtean philosopher, to whom 'I am I'
> is sufficient, man first sees and recognises himself in other men. Peter
> only establishes his own identity as a man by first comparing himself with
> Paul as being of like kind. And thereby Paul, just as he stands in his
> Pauline personality, becomes to Peter the type of the genus homo."
> [Capital,
> Vol. I, p. 59.]
> And then
> Consciousness only arises where the individual is compelled to look at
> himself as if from the side - as if with the eyes of another person, the
> eyes of all other people - only where he is compelled to correlate his
> individual actions with the actions of another man, that is to say, only
> within the framework of collectively performed life activity.
> Actually, of these ideas have their origin the concept of reflection
> (the relationship to oneself as to "another") developed by Fichte and
> Hegel.
> However, while Fichte and Hegel regarded reflection as a function of human
> Consciousness and Will, Marx and the Americans, though using different
> paths
> of reasoning, concur that the origins of reflection are in fact in the
> voluntary coordination of activity that given the highly socialized
> origins
> of individual behaviour necessarily characterizes all human collaboration.
> Research by Symbolic Interactionists such as Goffman, Gottschalk, and
> McPhail show that on the most concrete levels of interaction, i.e.
> face-to-face confrontation, the participants are continually collaborating
> in the "personalities" they develop in the course of the interaction.
> While
> this material certainly suggests that states of mind are sufficiently
> socialized mutually readable by correspondents in direct interaction, the
> level of observation and analysis though useful in dealing with certain
> issues is too fine to be useful in a comprehensive analysis of social
> life.
> On the other hand, the evidence that human activity even on the most
> concrete levels is sufficiently social to be regarded as "mutual mind
> reading", suggests that the problem you raise is not inherent in the
> material, but is rather a problem of the relation of theory to practice.
> The idea here is that the practical purposes of research will have
> considerable effect on the kinds of relationships determined and data
> collected. Thus the object of das Kapital, the projection of the likely
> development of the capitalist system of production determines the concepts
> developed, the division of labour and differential relations to
> production,
> commodities and commodification, and the labour theory of value among
> others. Since the problem of the development of capitalism is about an
> organization, i.e. an object, that represents and embodies the interaction
> of subjective agencies within the universal system we call the capitalist
> mode of production, these subjectivities will be "universal capitalists"
> and
> "universal proletarians". If we were to decide that the purpose of our
> investigation is to project the future developments of, say, American
> capitalism, the subjectivities we would describe and analyse would be
> somewhat more concrete, the American capitalist, the American proletariat,
> and, in this day and age we most likely would have to expand our array of
> subjective participants in American capitalism to various economic elites
> and working classes outside the US. As Andy has put it the subject is
> merely the simultaneously individual, particular and universal knower and
> actor, and his specificity or level of abstraction will depend on the
> specificity or level of abstraction of the practical problem addressed in
> our theory.
> Scientific theory, unlike practical labour, is constrained by the
> discursive
> logic by which the practical problem is determined and analysed. It is
> tremendously useful for developing a collective conscious understanding of
> abstracted process, but far inferior in sensitivity and comprehensiveness
> of
> labour practice in realizing concrete problems. An experienced machinist,
> teacher, or politician will always be able to cobble together a more
> effective response to a concrete situation than will the best trained
> engineer, educational theorist or political economist, but he'll be hard
> put
> to describe just how he did it. The utility of science is not in its
> direct
> practical effectiveness, but in its effectivity in transmission of tested
> practical information within the community. Thus the scientific
> determination of subjectivity, though more publicly informative than
> personal experience, will hardly ever even approximate the capacity of the
> experienced teacher, politician or psychologist in dealing with
> subjectivity
> at its most concrete.
> I've wandered all over the place, so I hope this all makes sense
> 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
> regard,
> 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
> Moscow,
> 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
> utopian
> 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
> of
> 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
> these
> same people were considered dissedents and clearly felt themselves in
> opposition. The authorities wanted to close down the project and teach the
> blind
> 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
> "subjectivity."
> 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
> uses
> 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
> whose
> psychological states/perceptions/elements of consciousness/....... his (it
> was all hims at the time) research-partner was, in collaboration with the
> subject,
> 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
> autobiography,
> 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
> introduced
> 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
> Malagasy
> 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
> written?
> Thanks if you have read this far.
> mike
> 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
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> >
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