Re: [xmca] review of Italian translation of Thinking and Speech: In defence of van der Veer and Mecacci

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Fri May 30 2008 - 12:15:59 PDT


I have not been able to find Mecacci's email so far, but perhaps you could
enlighten us
on the major, meaning-shifting differences between the 1934 and 1982 Russian

I am also curious about your view on the translation of Myshlenie as
Thinking rather than
Thought. Seems like it could to either way and a case could be made for the
noun form
rather than the verb. Its an issue we discussed a lot in the mid 1990's with
no clear

On 5/30/08, Anton Yasnitsky <> wrote:
> > On Thu, May 29, 2008 at 4:05 PM, David Kellogg
> > <>
> > wrote:
> > > I think what the review says about the Italian translation is simply
> > > wrong.
> I think what this comment says about van der Veer's review is simply
> wrong. I feel it is my sad duty to correct this misrepresentation of the
> case and, specifically, address several dubious or even totally false
> statements.
> 1. > > Kozulin's (re-)translation into English is based on the 1934
> > edition, not the later editions.
> Wrong. Kozulin did say that "this new translation is based on the 1934
> edition of Myshlenie i rech', etc", but perhaps made realy bad use of this
> edition. Thus, on the same page adds that "substantial portions of the
> 1962 translation made by the late Eugenie Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar have
> been retained" (Kozulin, 1986, p. lvi), which, to me, makes the
> translation quite unreliable. Finally, comparison of the texts shows that
> Kozulin's text is at times quite different from Vygotsky's 1934 text (I do
> have a copy of this 1934 text and did compare the two).
> 2. > > It's also quite contradictory and unconvincing in other ways. For
> > example, it claims that Piaget was probably familiar with Vygotsky's
> work
> > simply because Vygotsky had written a preface to his work.
> ...
> > > There's a language barrier here that we are still up against; as far
> > as we know, Piaget did not read Russian well (I read somewhere that
> Piaget's copy
> > > of the 1934 edition of "Thinking and Speech" was apparently unread
> > when he
> > > died). Yes, he corresponded with Luria and even received letters from
> > > Vygotsky, but they were probably in French. No English or French
> > translation
> > > of "Thinking and Speech" existed.
> Generally, interrelations between Piaget and Vygotsky is a fairly obscure
> topic and a recent article by Susan Pass (2007) unfortunately does not
> clarify the issue at all. For this reason, I suggest that we first need to
> have a look at "convincing argumentation" by Mecacci. What van der Veer
> says is that "Meccacci convincingly argues that this statement is wholly
> unlikely in view of the fact that, among other things, a) Piaget
> corresponded regularly with Vygotsky's close collaborator Luria since the
> early nineteen-thirties, and b) Piaget wrote himself a foreword for the
> Soviet edition of two of his books, which also included a lengthy critical
> introduction by Vygotsky".
> According to van der Veer, Mecacci discusses "Piaget's claim that he had
> not acquainted himself with Vygotsky's critique until 1962" but not the
> availablity of translation of Vygotsky's book. Thus, I personally doubt
> that the language of correspondence between Luria and, possibly, Vygotsky
> with Piaget has anything to do with Piaget's possibly being acquainted
> with Vygotsky's critique. For instance, as we now know, in 1935-36 Luria
> was preparing a memorial volume for the late Vygotsky, and Piaget was one
> of those who agreed to contribute (King & Wertheimer, 2005, 270-279). In
> his letter to Luria, Piaget wrote (in my second-hand translation from
> Russian): "Let me tell you how deeply I am saddened by the [new of the]
> death of Vygotsky about whom you told me so much and who--I know--takes
> such a [prominent] place in psychology", etc. (Vygodskaya & Lifanova,
> 1996, 331). This is all hypothetical, and we do not have a statement by
> Piaget that he knew of Vygotsky's criticism of his work, but I believe it
> is highly unlikely that Piaget who, according to his letter, was quite
> well familiar with Vygotsky's work, was not aware of his critique of his
> works.
> Anyway, my point is that van der Veer is not THAT "contradictory and
> unconvincing" is it may seem to somebody.
> 3. > > What is written about the Russian editor is very contradictory. On
> > the one
> > > hand, we are told he was responsible for distortions of the text. How
> > could
> > > we know, unless we had access to some ur-text BEFORE the 1934 edition?
> > As
> > > far as I know, no such text exists.
> Answer: from the editor himself.
> Kolbanovsky, in his Editor's preface (1934) to the first publication of
> Myshlenie i rech' on different occasions remarks that the work of Vygotsky
> can not without reasonable doubt be regarded as "the expression of
> Marxist-Leninist theory in development of the problem of thinking and
> speech" (p. iv), and that "sometimes, in critical and experimental studies
> by Vygotsky, particularly in his early works, digressions from
> consistently materialist perspective, some infatuations [uvlecheniya] and
> mistakes occur" (p. v). Then, Kolbanovsky concludes that he attempted to
> preserve the word of Vygotsky as is and made only the "most necessary
> corrections".
> Back to van der Veer's review, the author states that "Kolbanovsky changed
> some of the wordings to make the book more palatable for the ideological
> leaders". This is highly hypothetical and conjectural, indeed, yet most
> likely given the historical and social context of Vygotsky's posthumous
> publicatiion.
> 4. > > According to Levitin, he played a heroic role. Kolbanovsky was at
> > first
> > > dispatched to dispatch Vygotsky and on meeting the man realized his
> > genius
> > > and ensured publication of the work after his death, even though he
> > probably
> > > knew the risks better than anyone else.
> According to [an interpretation of] Levitin, indeed.
> 5. > >After publication (which as we
> > know
> > > contained some much more dangerous passages than simply references to
> > > pedology and testing) Kobalovsky disappeared.
> First, "Kobalovsky" was in fact Kolbanovsky.
> Second, he did not disappear. On the contrary, in 1936, when the Communist
> Party degree on "paedological perversions" came out, V.N. Kolbanovsky was
> the Director of the Institute of Psychology in Moscow--from 1932 and until
> 1938 (Nikol'skaya, 1994). Even after 1938, when Kolbanovsky was displaced
> from the directorship and K.N. Kornilov was again appointed the Director
> of the Institute, Kolbanovsky did not "disappear" and remained one of the
> top figures in the official Soviet psychology. For the list of Kolbavsky's
> publication please see .
> Third, on the role of Kolbanovsky and his "heroic role" in the history of
> Vygotskian legacy. Please consider a fragment of Kolbanovsky's
> presentation during one of the "public discussions" of Vygotsky's
> scientific contribution that was organized in 1936 at the Institute of
> Psychology immediately after the decree on paedology:
> Kolbanovsky: "What is wrong in the system of L.S. Vygotsky? It is his
> initial methodological perspective, that is, his cultural-historical
> theory. Is Vygotsky a Marxist in this respect? Obviously he is not... What
> do I think about this theory? I would say that I never identified this
> theory as Marxist or approaching to Marxism. But if we look deeper into
> the roots of the theory itself [we will see that] it requires now most
> profound critique as an anti-Marxist theory, as a theory that does not
> exceed the boundaries of the bourgeois understanding of the history, and,
> is, therefore, essentially hostile to Marxism" (cit. by Vygodsky &
> Lifanova, 1996, p. 143).
> 6. > >So how is it that he is
> > now
> > > responsible for distortions?
> This must be a rhetorical question, eh?
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Received on Fri May 30 12:17 PDT 2008

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