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[Xmca-l] Re: now out in paperback

Message from Francine Smolucha:

Dear Peter and XMCA colleagues,

I must respectively disagree with the Peter's argument that understanding
Vygotsky's writings (akin to interpreting them) has to be left to elite 
Vygotsky translators (like Van de Veer). I prefer an approach that views 
Vygotsky for Everyman (and Woman). An analogy can be found with the way
anybody can find inspirational quotes from any great literature such as the Bible
or the U.S. Constitution/Declaration of Independence. Of course there are
those Biblical scholars, and scholars of Constitutional Law, who would look down
their noses at the common man's understanding of passages from these works.
It comes down to the difference between analysis and inspiration.

My pioneering translations of Vygotsky's three papers on the development of
imagination and creativity were done in the 1980's on my own. I was a graduate
student and community college professor (low status in academia).  My interpretations
stand on their own and are still viable today. For the record, I have found that
the interpretations of Vygotsky advanced by Van de Veer, Valsinar, Wertsch, Daniels,
 (and yes even Michael Cole) have been shaped by Leontiev's Activity Theory and the
Soviet era Russian psychologists like Vladimir Zinchenko. There are a couple
Russian psychologists who have concurred with my assessment - Elena Budrova told
me that my understanding was consistent with the El'konin approach to Vygotsky.
[I have also read El'konin's Psychology of Play in Russian - there is no published English translation] The El'Konin approach was suppressed in the Soviet Union by the establishment psychologists of Activity Theory.  Also, Tatiana Akhutina and I found we shared an understanding of Vygotsky based on our shared appreciation of Luria's work on the
prefrontal cortex.

I do agree with Peter in that scholarly works based on a Vygotskian approach need
to have citations, and a bibliography from several of Vygotsky's works (even better
citing Russian publications of Vygotsky's works.) This further establishes the scholarly
authority of the interpretation. Merely citing passages from Mind in Society is no longer

> From: smago@uga.edu
> To: xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
> Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:34:40 +0000
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: now out in paperback
> Annalisa, my apologies for recycling things I've already written. Perhaps the following helps with your question. From Smagorinsky, P. (2011). Vygotsky and literacy research: A methodological framework. Boston: Sense. Pp. 4-6
> Problems in Translation
> Reading extensively in Vygotskian scholarship seems critical to referencing him knowledgeably, given the challenges that Vygotsky's writing presents to the 21st Century reader. Among these challenges is the problem that most of his readers, particularly in North America, encounter him through translation. In Daniels, Cole, and Wertsch's (2007) collection of international papers outlining a Vygotskian perspective, a number of the contributors are fluent speakers of Russian. However, even those whom I consider to be conversant with Vygotsky's original writing-those whose publications are rife with references to works of Vygotsky that are only available in Russian-are cautious about their grasp of both the language and the concepts. 
> 	Michael Cole, who has spoken Russian for many decades, who lived in the for-mer Soviet Union during his internship with A. R. Luria, who served as co-editor and co-translator of Mind in Society (Vygotsky, 1978), whose leadership in the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition has helped to shape worldwide extensions of Russian psychology, who was the founding editor of the journal Mind, Culture, and Activity, and who has produced a number of foundational works in the Vygotskian tradition, wrote in response to my inquiry that "I have been writing jointly with [Russian Natalia Gajdamaschko] precisely because I feel so strongly the need for more than simple translation help in dealing with the meta-psychology and national ethos that is the relevant context for understanding the local words" (M. Cole, personal communication). James Wertsch, who has spent considerable time in the Soviet Union, Russia, and many former Soviet states where Russian remains the lingua franca, and who has translated Vygotsky into English (e.g., Wertsch, 1981), also backs off from claims that his knowledge of Russian could be termed fluent (J. Wertsch, personal communication).
> 	As someone whose only linkage to Vygotsky's Byelorussian  roots comes through my grandparents' origins in Vygotsky's hometown of Gomel, I read the qualifiers by Cole and Wertsch as cautions regarding any claims to understanding Vygotsky for those of us who speak no Russian at all. I rely on the translations of others, including those who express limited confidence in their own fluency. Most North American readers face this same problem, and so the challenges of reading a major thinker only in translation-especially translation that spans alphabets, cultures, concepts, and other formidable barriers-are thus worth reviewing here.
> 	At present there are abundant Vygotskian texts available to the English lan-guage reader: six volumes of collected works in publication, additional books from his oeuvre available (e.g., Vygotsky, 1971, 1997; Vygotsky & Luria, 1993), key texts subjected to multiple translations, and a major project now underway in Russia to make his entire output available to English-speaking readers. Yet Vygotsky remains a complex figure and difficult scholar to grasp, and for a variety of reasons. In his "Translator's Foreword and Acknowledgements" to The Collected Works, Volume 3, Van der Veer says, "I have not attempted to improve Vygotsky's style of writing although it was at times difficult to refrain from doing so. It is clear that Vygotsky . . . never rewrote a text for the sake of improving its style and readability. Hence the redundancy, the difficulty to follow the thread of his argument, the awkward sentences, etc." (p. v). 
> 	Meshcheryakov (2007) notes that Vygotsky produced 190 works within the ten-year span that comprised his career, many of which "were written very quickly, in almost telegraphic style. Some works remain unfinished. It is certainly possible that some of the works that were published posthumously were not yet intended for publication" (p. 155). Daniels et al. (2007) assert that "It is difficult to reconcile some of the writing from the early 1920s with that which was produced during the last 2 years of his life. These rapid changes, coupled with the fact that his work was not published in chronological order, make synthetic summaries of his work difficult" (p. 2). So in addition to the difficulty of the ideas Vygotsky produced, his rendering of them into text made for challenging reading, no matter how well-prepared the reader is.
> 	Even those with extraordinary fluency in Vygotsky's work typically consult others to help with their understanding. Van der Veer, a native of the Netherlands, relates in his translator's introduction to the Collected Works, Volume 3 that "After I had translated the whole volume [from Russian to English], I carefully checked my translation against the German and Spanish translations of the same volume" (1997, p. v). With five languages at play in his effort to translate Vygotsky's al-ready-difficult prose and concepts (German, Spanish, Russian, English, and Dutch), Van der Veer further enlisted feedback from a host of colleagues (mostly European) in order to amend Vygotsky's "sloppy" approach to citation by includ-ing appropriate references and footnotes to provide depth, detail, and clarification to the text.
> 	Van der Veer's (1997) meticulous approach to rendering Vygotsky into English suggests one key lesson to be learned from reading Vygotsky with any insight: that claims to understanding or implementing ideas must be undertaken with care and caution. I refer again to Van der Veer's work in underscoring the importance of reading more than just excerpts (or summaries of excerpts, or summaries of those summaries in textbooks) from Mind in Society in claiming a Vygotskian perspec-tive. In his review of an Italian translation of Thinking and Speech that post-dates any version of the text available in English, Van der Veer makes the remarkable point that 
> 	Unfortunately, neither in English nor in any other language has a reliable repub-lication of Thought and Language been available. Leaving aside the questions that can be raised concerning the original Soviet 1934 edition (Vygotsky did not see the book in print and the editor, Kolbanovsky, changed some of the wordings to make the book more palatable for the ideological leaders), we know that the later 1956 and 1982 Soviet editions were marred by many mistakes and plain falsifications. All of the existing translations into English, or any other language, took these unreliable later editions as their point of departure. As a result, readers unable to read Russian or find a copy of the original 1934 edition have had, until now, no authoritative text of Thought and Language available. (p. 83; cf. van der Veer, 1987, for a critical review of Kozulin's 1986 translation of Thought and Language, which to van der Veer is more properly translated as Thinking and Speech)
> 	I am impressed that Van der Veer is now sufficiently fluent in at least six lan-guages to read Vygotsky and then make this judgment; I am alarmed that he nonetheless states that "Vygotsky obviously preferred principled opponents, such as Pavlov, who made their own original contribution to science and invented their own scientific vocabulary to mediocre university professors, such as the present writer, who can only summarize what others have discovered" (2007, p. 37). If I'm not sufficiently daunted to learn that Van der Veer regards himself as a relative mediocrity, I cringe yet further when I realize that even though I've been referencing Vygotsky in my own work since the early 1990s, I probably am basing my understanding on inaccurate and incomplete translations. It becomes important, then, for me and no doubt others to engage with the work of Vygotskian scholars who have read his Russian texts in order to develop a clearer grasp of the ideas that I believe I am drawing on. 
> 	If problems of direct translation of Vygotsky's work were not enough of a chal-lenge, the fact that he did not necessarily pen his own texts presents another. His magnum opus, Thinking and Speech, was published in 1934, the year he died; he dictated sections from his sickbed, no doubt contributing to the text's notorious difficulty (Zinchenko, 2007). Further, some of what is published under his name is taken from his student's lecture notes or other stenographic records, undoubtedly with gaps in transcription and reformulation in expression (e.g., a set of lectures included in the Collected Works, Volume 5: "The Crisis of the First Year," "Early Childhood," "The Crisis at Age Three," "The Crisis at Age Seven"; Vygotsky, 1998b). Making definitive claims, as do Gredler and Shields (2004), regarding what Vygotsky did and did not say, is thus a precarious undertaking that even the most reputable U. S. Vygotskian scholars should attempt with considerable caution and temperance.  
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Annalisa Aguilar
> Sent: Monday, January 26, 2015 5:26 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity (xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu)
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: now out in paperback
> Wow!
> This book looks really cool! Thanks for bringing it to listserv consciousness, Peter!
> I did not know that Vygotsky was notoriously indifferent to his reader's sensibilities. I do not know what that means?
> Kind regards,
> Annalisa
> http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/lev-vygotsky-9781472504920/
> 12-18-2014
> ·
> About Lev Vygotsky
> Lev Vygotsky, the great Russian psychologist, had a profound influence on educational thought. His work on the perception of art, cultural-historical theory of the mind and the zone of proximal development all had an impact on modern education.
> This text provides a succinct critical account of Vygotsky's life and work against the background of the political events and social turmoil of that time and analyses his cross-cultural research and the application of his ideas to contemporary education. René van der Veer offers his own interpretation of Vygotsky as both the man and anti-man of educational philosophy, concluding that the strength of Vygotsky's legacy lies in its unfinished, open nature.
> Table Of Contents
> Foreword
> Series Editor's Preface
> Preface
> Introduction
> Part I: Intellectual Biography
> 1. Lev Vygotsky
> Part II: Critical Exposition of Vygotsky's Work 2. Early Writings 3. Creating Cultural-historical Theory 4. The Zone of Proximal Development 5. Cross-cultural Education
> Part III: The Reception, Influence and Relevance of Vygotsky's Work Today 6. Contemporary Educational Research 7. Conclusions
> Bibliography
> Name Index
> Subject Index
> Reviews
> "In this concise intellectual biography of L. S. Vygotsky, eminent Vygotskian authority René van der Veer has written an accessible account of the major periods of Vygotsky's career, reviewing the development of Vygotsky's thinking in plain and often witty language, a service of immeasurable importance, given Vygotsky's notorious indifference to his readers' sensibilities... This volume is straightforward and edifying enough for undergraduates, and stimulating and informative enough for those who have been immersed in Vygotskian scholarship for many decades." -  Peter Smagorinsky, The University of Georgia, USA,