Re: [xmca] Word meanings making up "Personality"

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Mon Feb 25 2008 - 01:23:05 PST

I have always taken it that by "unit of analysis" is meant the abstract
concept of the thing, as outlined in Hegel's Logic. I agree that "unit of
analysis" pertains to a specific set of problems which have arisen and
resolves them in some way, by creating a new concept of a "thing" which
then becomes the starting point for resolving that series of problems with
a new science. As you say, the "unit of analysis" or Begriff, is relevant
only to that foregoing series of problems, and a "universal unit of
analysis" would be God.

At 12:43 AM 25/02/2008 -0800, you wrote:
>Thanks for the very challenging response, Heidi. I'll do my best to give
>you something equally challenging for your response to the response!
> I think that when LSV argues that "word meaning" is a unit of analysis,
> we need to ASSUME that he is not arguing that it is a universal unit of
> analysis. For example, I've got some data on my desk from BARELY
> linguistic three year old children. "Word meaning" is barely a unit, much
> less a unit of analysis.
> The same thing is true of analyzing the behavior of drosophilia or of
> whole nations and civilizations. Word meaning doesn't make sense here.
> What DOES make sense, at least to me, is the following METHOD:
> a) We need to find a UNIT OF ANALYSIS. This unit has to make sense in
> terms of the thing that we are analyzing AND in terms of the purpose of
> the analysis. It has to be a functional, and a functioning, whole. It has
> to be irreducible. For drosophilia, that unit might be "activity". For
> nations, that unit might be "class". For civilizations, that unit might
> be "nation" (if we are talking about modern or bourgeois civilization for
> example). Or not (if we are analyzing an ancient civilization or if we
> are looking at civilization with an eye to philology). For language
> growth in children, it seems to me that word meaning is quite workable,
> and activity is somewhat problematic, particularly when we consider
> adolescents (because as LSV points out, imagination and fantasy are not
> particularly reducible to activities). In some ways, "play" is a more
> suitable way of looking at child activity, and play is not reducible to
> some form of stunted adult activity (as Leontiev claims).
> b) We need to isolate within that unit of analysis two counterposed
> ELEMENTS. All units must have these elements to one degree or another,
> even if one is almost invisible or merely potential. The two elements are
> defined relationally, and cannot really exist without at least the
> potential other; that is why they are elements and not units. For
> example, within activity, there might be a tension between subject and
> object, within the commodity it might be between use value and exchange
> value, and within words it might be between "smysl" (pragmatic meaning)
> and "znachenie" (semantic meaning). Within play I believe the two
> counterposed elements are imaginary situations and abstract rules, and
> that all forms of play have these two elements in common.
> c) We need to look at how the RELATIONSHIP of the two counterposed
> elements changes over time. The elements may at first seem completely
> merged. For example, when we look at verbal nouns like "being" or even
> "sleeping" it is quite difficult to discern a subject and an object.
> Similarly, when goods are just beginning to be used as commodities, it is
> hard to discern their use and their exchange value. Words like "Hey!" and
> "Hello!" do not seem to have any semantic weight other than their
> pragmatic use, and children who play with their food do not appear to
> distinguish an imaginary situation or an abstract rule (although their
> behavior may be very gestural and regular). One element may then clearly
> "emerge" from the other. For example, in "I sleep" or "I laugh" we can
> see a very clear subject. Words like "this" and "that" have definite
> pragmatic (context sensitive) meaning (smysl) although their semantics
> are constantly in flux. Role play games like "house" or "cowboys and
> indians" or "war" have clear imaginary situations although the rules are
> negotiable. At some critical point, however, all of these relationships
> can then be reversed. For example, money and stocks are pure exchange
> values, scientific concepts have clear semantic meanings, and games like
> chess are dominated by abstract rules rather than imaginary situations.
> d) We need to understand that development is UNENDING, that the means
> of development itself develops. The endpoint of these transformations is
> simply the starting point of new transformations: whole sentences become
> elements in larger units called texts, games become elements in artistic
> and cultural life, etc. It seems to me we also need to understand that
> development develops the unit of analysis itself; that is essentially
> what we mean when we say that development is transformative and
> revolutionary and not simply accretive and incremental, and that is why
> there cannot be a single unit of analysis (e.g. activity) for all the
> different levels of analysis.
> To me, THIS is more or less what LSV takes away from Marx's Capital
> (and of course Hegel). I would say it is a bit more than just "a model to
> learn from" and more specific than merely a "philosophy". To tell you the
> truth, I don't think it is accurately described by calling it a skill or
> a technique, either. "Method" seems about right to me.
> I'm not against "dualism" per se. I think that when I talk to you,
> there is a dualism: you and me. I even think that when I talk to myself,
> there is a dualism. Not only that, I think that there is a real dualism
> between lower functions and higher psychological functions. But the
> dualism of mind and body, or "self" and body, I reject; it seems to me
> another version of body and soul. By suggesting that the "self" is a kind
> of imaginary friend, or a cyber-avatar, or simply the result of
> multivarious and poly-perverse linguistic performances, I'm suggesting
> the kind of surgery that LSV wanted to perform on idealistic psychology.
> I don't think I am "detaching" self from life's relations of essences.
> I am rejecting the whole thinginess of a self; I am saying that it is a
> piece of cyberspace, an illusion created by various linguistic
> performances that I give, rather like the illusion created by many
> computers simultaneously recreating the same website on their screens. It
> looks like there really is a "thing" out there that all the screens are
> looking at. But there isn't.
> You invite me to 'please read in the article from "Vygotsky described
> these stages" up to "has received the rank of general from its
> department"'. Why, I'll do better! I'll reread the whole LSV text for you!
> Actually, LSV is NOT talking about the ascent to the concrete at all.
> He is parodying the glorious career of various tropes in psychology (e.g.
> the Pavlovian reflex, the Freudian libido, the Gestalt, the personality).
> He points out that they begin a limited explanations for rather limited
> facts. They are then promoted to the administration of various adjoining
> facts and their explanatory power is stretched very thin, according to
> the principle that everyone is promoted from a job they do well to a job
> they cannot really handle.
> Finally, they cover the WHOLE of their domain (psychology) at which
> point they cease to explain ANYTHING. If the whole mind is a reflex, you
> cannot explain it in terms of reflexes, and if the psyche is nothing but
> libido, then saying that it is made up of libido is tautological.
> Similarly, Gestalt becomes purely DESCRIPTIVE and not EXPLANATORY as soon
> as the explanans is the size of the explanandum, and it makes no sense to
> say that personality is explained by personality. That is why it's very
> important to discern elements within the unit of analysis that are not
> coterminous with the unit of analysis, why we cannot explain, for
> example, word meaning as "thinking" or as "speech".
> When the unit of analysis becomes co-extensive with the domain, it
> behaves a little like a country whose market has become saturated, whose
> workers no longer have the buying power to sustain capitalist profits. It
> has to invade other domains and explain them. So we have the application
> of reflexes to physics, and the discovery of psychoanalytic tropes in
> literature and anthropology, Gestalt in philosopy and "personality" in
> animals. At THIS point, LSV says, it is time to retire--that's why he
> says "it receives the rank of general from the department". I'm afraid
> that this is NOT ascent to the concrete; it's more like descent to Gogol.
> I guess I think that the "self" is a little bit like the idealist
> psychology that is so obsessively concerned with it. Martin's point is
> really that LSV does NOT suggest a "synthesis" of idealist and objective
> psychology. LSV wants us to cut off idealist psychology. He does this by
> really REVERSING the relations between psychology and sociology; he does
> it by saying that we do not begin by explaining the self and then use it
> to explain society--we proceed the other way around. But as soon as we do
> this, we discover that the "self" is not really a stable thing at all;
> it's more like a moving interface between social ideology and personal
> ideology.
> Let me give you an analogy: the novel. In the 18th Century, we had the
> rise of the novel which told the story of the rise of a particular self:
> Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, Pamela, Clarissa, Charles
> Grandison. By the late 19th century novels tended to talk about the
> LIMITS of that rise: Anna Karenina, Tess of the D'Urbervilles,
> Middlemarch. Lukacs uses this to talk about the rise and fall of the
> bourgeois epic.
> There are some problems with this. First of all, it suggests that
> novels are going to disappear, and they show absolutely no sign of doing
> so. It also doesn't do a lot to explain why novels read the way they do
> (why, for example, they are longer than the longest poems, or why they
> seem so very concerned with thoughts and conversations rather than
> adventures and deeds).
> Bakhtin has a better idea: he sees the novel as being just a name for
> what is "new" in literature, and what is "new" in written literature is
> always the moving interface between spoken language and written language,
> in every epoch represented by the novel (as opposed to poetry). That's
> really what I meant by trying to demystify and materialize the self as
> just another kind of "interface". I meant that it is just the point at
> which inner speech becomes outer speech, in the same way that the novel
> is the point at which spoken language becomes written language. That's all!
> You really mustn't take too seriously all those stereotypes and cliches
> that Paul attributes to me, Heidi! I didn't write ANY of that stuff about
> the "new man" and people becoming masters of their own destiny. Mind you,
> I'm not disowning it; I have met many people who DID dream like that and
> talk like that and they have always been people I admired intensely,
> people I have wished to be like, and even talk like.
> It's just that the actual data I have to work with doesn't look very
> much like children taking control of their language and their fate. This
> morning I got up and put Gounod on the CD Player and sang along with good
> old Faust:
> "Je suis avec ce breuvage
> Le seul maitre de mon destin!"
> Except Faust was holding the chalice of poison (and then the elixir of
> life). All I had was a cup of good strong coffee.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Mon Feb 25 01:24 PST 2008

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