[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Bahktin question

thank you David:

Here is my thinking.  It germinated as a result of your post pertaining to 
the word 'free' and the question about conceptualizing math.

First off, let me ask you to enter an imagination of waking one day and 
losing the memory of your role, the names and roles those you associate 
with but you retain knowledge of language and the function of language. 
Disorienting?  Yes, indeed!  Of course literature uses this juxtaposition 
numerous times to the benefit of the audience learning to look at the 
world through naive (perhaps not the right word) eyes.  But due to 
chronotopes the naive person can navigate social settings somewhat 
competently.  However, free of prejudices and emotional baggage that 
people carry about, this naive individual has the freedom to impact what 
is essentially preconceived notions.  In essence I am trying to say that a 
chronotope can expand or constrict a person's conceptual understanding. 

This is not a chronotope but when David Kirshner used the explanation of 
N=-1 and an odd number of Ns results in a negative and an even number of 
Ns results in an even, I need no further explanation, that rule applies to 
my conceptual understanding.  Much is the same for dialogues that happen 
in time and space, for most adults few words are needed when understanding 
our roles and the duties (wrong word?) expected of us in those particular 

Yes, Vygotsky does not define development but I believe that is on purpose 
because it is an undefinable concept.  It means different things depending 
on the time and place.  I like your pumpkin analogy : )  I agree David 
that Wittgenstein is probably the closest in providing a glimpse into how 
people conceptualize and socialize.

Perhaps this is too rambling and disorienting to make sense but I am 
always one to dangle my participle.

what do others think?

David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
05/04/2009 06:50 PM
Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"

        To:     Culture ActivityeXtended Mind <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
        Subject:        Re: [xmca] Bahktin question


Yes, powerhouse is the word! I never know what to make of Bakhtin. The 
devil and Christ are THIS close--except that Vygotsky, with his belief in 
conceptual hierarchy, development, and the power of abstraction, is the 
son of Man and the angel of God, and Bakhtin, with his Chagall-like power 
to turn the whole house on its roof, is really old Nick.

About a year ago, Mike and Andy and I were struggling with Chapter Six of 
"Mind in Society", and Mike expressed some annoyance with the fact that 
Vygotsky doesn't ever really give a definition of "development". The 
"definition" of development turns up again in the part of Chapter Six of 
"Thinking and Speech" which we are translating into Korean this morning. 

Here (6.4 in the 1956/1982 version, although it's part of 6.3 in the 
original 1934 version) Vygotsky clearly says that learning is simply the 
exercise of a given function and development is conscious awareness and 
mastery of that function. But that's only true with this particular 
developmental stage. It's a definition that really doesn't make sense at 
earlier stages (e.g. infancy where there is essentially no practical 
consciousness to speak of) or at later ones (e.g. adolescence where 
conscious awareness actually becomes part of the dilemma rather than part 
of the solution). 

I think that with Vygotsky, and also with Bakhtin and Volosinov, the usual 
Aristotelian rules of exposition are somewhat turned on their heads. I 
think our Russian friends recognized that a definition is really just a 
very short kind of story about a particular word and that VERY often it is 
SO short that it is really circular (e.g."Once upon a time in space there 
was a kind of time-space called a chronotope").

So to break the circle, they set off with a bunch of words that other 
people have used in this particular situation. In the course of their 
adventures, they often find that these words become hollowed out; they 
lose the specific content they originally had and they become filled with 
a very different content. Andy calls this "critical appropriation", and 
sometimes he refers to "immanent critique"; it seems to me that they are 
two moments of the same adventure.

You can see Vygotsky doing this with "development", and also with 
"spontaneous concepts", and with the whole slew of terms for preconceptual 
formations we find in Chapter Five (heaps, complexes, pseudoconcepts, 
etc.) By the time Vygotsky is done with them, they are unrecognizeable; he 
has hollowed them out like a pumpkin and placed his own candle inside, 
grinning at us in the darkness.

I think Bakhtin is really setting out with two different sets of baggage. 
On the on hand, he's got the formalists' distinction between "plot" and 
"skaz" (roughly, the story, and the way the story is told, but as you will 
see in Bakhtin's hands they are merged into a kind of plotskaz, maybe a 

On the other he's got Einstein's notion of "space time" as a continuous 
set of four dimensions, and in fact they ARE completely continuous, 
because as Mandelbrot points out there are fractional dimensions (1.2 
dimensions, 1.3 dimensions etc.) in between.

It's also relativistic in another way (that is, a NON-Einsteinian way, 
although of course Holquist doesn't recognize this). It's something that 
does not pre-exist words but gets talked into being in the course of a 
particular narrative. In this way it's more to do with skaz than plot, but 
it has to do with the abstract geometry of skaz rather than merely the 
narrator's intonation and affective attitude.

Consider the way that action movies are strctured. Because they rely a lot 
on lower psychological functions (especially involuntary attention) they 
have a camera change every three seconds or so. The plot, therefore, has 
to be sequenced (skazzed) like a TV commercial or a piece of hardcore 
pornography: one damned thing after another followed by the premature 
ejaculation of money by the consumer. 

This is the "chronotope" that Bakhtin calls "adventure time". There is 
essentially no time between adventures, and as a result no reflection and 
no development. For all the pretentious talk about "I must destroy you in 
order to make you indestructible", Wolverine is the same adamantine figure 
at the beginning as he was, er, well, before the beginning.

Fortunately, there are other kinds of chronotope that privelege 
reflection, critical awareness, and conscious mastery, and for Bakhtin the 
Dostoevskian novel is supreme amongst these. Because the author ABDICATES 
control of his main character, it becomes possible for the author and the 
reader alike to fully contemplate and contest his every move and even his 
inability to move; his thoughts and his inability to think them. Above 
all, it becomes possible for the character to develop, as if in real time.

The problem is that Vygotsky, Bakhtin, and their friends recognize that 
the good old Aristotelian definition is a lot closer to adventure 
time-space than it is to Dostoevskian time-space. Definitions are not the 
place to begin; they are something that has to emerge in a rather 
Wittgensteinian way, when you go up to somebody on the street and tap them 
on the shoulder. 

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list