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[Xmca-l] Re: now out in paperback

This is account, regarding Vygotsky's fluency, is from Haenen (1996, pp

"There is a point concerning Vygotsky's personality that needs special
mention.  Being a psychoneurologist and a medical practitioner, Gal'perin
(1986a) got the impression, that in a certain respect there was something
pathological about Vygotsky.  He was in an unusual way, exceptionally
verbally gifted.  If, for example, he had dictated some texts, they could
be published straight away, after minimum correction.  This explained why
he published such a large list of titles in just one decade of being a
psychologist.  That was only possible because he dictated so much and these
manuscripts could directly be sent to the publishers.  From this it is
evident that he had an exceptional command of intellectual speech.

However, according to Gal'perin (1986a), there was something curious about
Vygotsky's verbal giftedness.  Gal'perin had once read at Luria's a note
written by Vygotsky himself in which he wonders what kind of primitivism he
is suffering from and what is happening to his senses.  At the end of the
1920s, Vygotsky used the term 'primitivism' in his defectological writings,
in which he first gave a general outline of the cultural-historical
approach.  He considered primitivism the inability to use certain cultural
tools (see Van der Veer & Valsiner, 1991, p. 73).  Apparently, Vygotsky
felt himself somehow blocked in his cultural development, because the
following occurred.  When he saw a depicted or displayed representation of
something, he didn't understand  anything about it.  He could say what he
saw, but he had no grasp of the reference, the meaning or the quality of
it.  On the other hand, if he had to tell somebody else about this very
representation, he came up with more than that person could see in it.
With him, everything emerged in speech!

The same happened with music.  Music meant nothing to Vygotsky on  hearing
it.  On the contrary when he read something about works of music, the words
he spoke sounded better than the works on paper.  According to Gal'perin
(1986a), this aspect of Vygotsky bordered on pathology, because it was not
explainable as merely one-sidedness.  You speak of one-sidedness, when one
personality trait is more strongly developed than another.  With Vygotsky,
however, it was more a question of the complete absence of something.  In
Gal'perin's view, it was something like agnosia, but that wasn't really it
either.  Vygotsky knew, for example, that a particular object was a chair.
But that chair held no meaning for him; if he put it into words, then he
could tell you everything about that chair: the history of it, the part it
played in the life of the man who sat on it, etc..."

Personally, I consider the business of determining exactly what someone
wrote, or said, as an imperative to be already a capitulation to
understanding.  Instead of understanding one hankers after what someone has
said, what the signs are rather than the meanings --- what time the clock
says, rather than what time really is, what the professor has said, rather
than what is speaking the professor.

I came to Vygtosky's thought and speech/language with an array of
thought-problems (which are inherently not about signs) and as such it was
a pleasure to read.


On 28 January 2015 at 12:17, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu> wrote:

> Annalisa, thanks for your thoughtful response here, and generally since
> joining this conversation.
> Your consideration of LSV's difficulty as an author provides many
> possibilities. I can't remember if "indifference to readers' sensibilities"
> was a line I got from a source, or one I made up based on sources. If
> "indifference" is the problematic term, then I'm sure something more gentle
> could be identified.
> I'm not too good at mind-reading, so don't think I can speak to LSV's
> motive, even if claiming his indifference, or however you might
> alternatively phrase it, suggests that whenever I wrote those lines, I
> thought I could. So I need to get out of the business of attempting to
> explain his motives, only the outcome: Most people agree that reading
> Vygotsky is pretty challenging, and for those of us who speak no Russian
> and rely on translations, often unreliable.
> I will offer another contextual factor in addition to others I've
> suggested (He wrote quickly and prolifically because his illness might end
> his life at any time; he wrote by hand or dictated and did not appear to
> revise, a problem that I've also heard contributed to difficulties in
> reading Piaget--from Irving Sigel, I think, before he died.) This latter
> problem, I suspect, was exacerbated by terrible paper shortages in the
> Soviet Union. One of the most remarkable testaments to this problem
> concerns Bakhtin and his insatiable tobacco habit. During one severe paper
> shortage, he began rolling cigarettes out of his written manuscripts, thus
> depriving us of his whole corpus. (I think this story is related in the
> introduction to Speech Genres and Other Essays.) So even if Vygotsky had
> been inclined to revise, he might not have had the paper to do it with.
> Complicated stuff! p
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:
> xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Annalisa Aguilar
> Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 6:34 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: now out in paperback
> Hi Peter!
> Thanks for your very robust and bursting reply. Here's my reply in kind
> and kindness.
> I do not disagree with anything said about the difficulty we all face when
> we face the texts we have inherited from Vygotsky. So for this train of
> thought pulling away from the quay, I'd ask you leave that concern on the
> platform.
> What I troubles me, I suppose, is the notion that he "was indifferent to
> his reader's sensibilities." I don't believe that that is a fair
> representation of the historical facts, and perhaps all we are doing is
> arguing about interpretations of the history and the facts, and that is
> certainly fair game.
> However, what I see in Vygotsky, when I think about Vygotsky and his
> texts, is a great comet in the sky ready to burn out at any time and the
> faster he writes the brighter he burns.
> What I cannot help but see, employing my top-down-thinking sensibility, is
> that Vygotsky may not have been interested in inner speech of children
> _just because_ it was an intriguing phenomenon uncovered by Piaget, that it
> was the "cool hot topic," as we might say in today's vernacular. Could it
> be that Vygotsky had a *personal* interest in inner speech? that this was
> the shape of his own thought? an awareness and understanding of his own way
> of thinking? Perhaps the writing that he left behind was not written down
> as indifference to his readers, but because he knew he lived in a time and
> space in which the light might go out in his life at anytime. Perhaps the
> man didn't want to lose that thought which would lead to the very next
> thought and the train that would reveal more amazing vistas of the
> countryside of thoughts.
> In other words, the man was in a hurry to see a man about a dog.
> Or if I might decode that metaphor as I mean it: all his own work began as
> inner speech, as a technique to capture his own thought. The written
> fragments we have before us are archeological remains of these flights of
> thought. He wasn't indifferent, it's just he wanted to interact privately
> with himself, a kind of inner speech.
> As I write this myself I suddenly thought, perhaps the writing was nothing
> more than a tool to help him think, like the Einstein and the chalkboard.
> And maybe when Vygotsky first began the practice of writing down his inner
> speech, he thought he'd have more time to decode, but as it became nearer
> the day for his comet to leave our orbit, he couldn't stop the train to
> revisit past stops, the train was fast in motion and what motivated him was
> to get to his destination rather than considering where he'd already been.
> Late trains have few opportunities to dilly-dally.
> Is it possible for us to look at his commentary about inner speech in
> children, and then "decode" his own writing? I don't know! But it was a
> thought of mine I'd had while reading your text.
> I also wonder, naively of course, whether the shards of his writing are
> actually carelessness, but "formlessness" ?
> Here's another emerging thought: Could this formlessness have been a
> possible obfuscation for political reasons? To my mind, if that were true,
> such political reasons cannot be justly rendered as indifference, but a
> whole heck of a lot of care and carefulness.
> These are not claims I make strongly, but rather thinking out loud, to
> offer that Vygotsky did not seem to me in any way a muscular academic
> speaking to his own tribe with a devil-may-care attitude for everyone else.
> What saddens me is that your phrase promulgates that kind of idea, at least
> it did for me, and this possibly creates further obfuscation, something of
> which we require less not more. My heartfelt wish is that you might reflect
> on other possible reasons why the writing came to us in the forms that they
> have.
> At first we can think, "Confounded these hieroglyphics!" or we can instead
> look closer and realize there is actually a Rosetta stone before us. If so,
> it means we have some decoding work to do, and that is just the way it is.
> But we also have a responsibility to make those who come after us
> understand why it is Vygotsky must be handled with care. That seems to be
> something you and I share when thinking about his writing.
> But it was the affect effect that I had, a little disruptive "Oh my!" when
> I'd read your interpretation that included this word "indifference," for I
> think if you look to his character, "indifference" would be the very last
> word I would use to describe him.
> Kind regards,
> Annalisa