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[Xmca-l] Palimpsests and Pentimentoes

In 1989 Chris Sinha wrote a thought piece criticizing Vygotsky for the 19th
Century idea of time that he used. According to Sinha, this involved
"layers of time" corresponding to the phylogenetic (biological-natural),
the sociogenetic (historico-cultural), ontogenetic (child developmental)
and what we call microgenetic today. (Vygotsky himself did not use the
term, "Aktualgenese", which was already popular among Gestaltists--he
preferred "obuchenie", or "teaching/learning", Halliday uses "logogenesis"
or sometimes "semiogenesis"). These layers of time were laid down like
geological strata, one on top of the other.

Of course it's possible to find this geological metaphor in Vygotsky,
although when we do it is always attributed to other, earlier, scholars.
Although it is often positively referred to, Vygotsky was extremely
critical of the "recapitulationist"or "biogenetic" view of time that was
derived from it by Haeckl in the field of evolution and by G.S. Hall in the
field of child development. Ontogeny is an analogy for phylogeny (just as
geology presents an analogy for phylogeny), but that means it does not
recapitulate it, and in many ways presents us with the exact reverse
(because the end of development is present before the child's eyes during

Sociogenesis is not built over the biogenetic like the twelve cities of
Troy that Schliemann unearthed. Instead what happens is that sociogenesis
domesticates phylogenesis. The auroch is domesticated as the cow, wild
grasses become cereals, and of course humans themselves are made into
household animals, which is what leads to the next form of time,
ontogenesis. I think, next to this view--which is the view that Vygotsky
presents in his lecture on the environment--the idea that history consists
of moments of the incarnation is Spirit/Dasein, is a diaphanous disguise
thrown over Hegel's "Philosophy of History".

But precisely because there are qualitative differences--and even
revolutionary reversals--in the arrows of time at these different levels,
it seems to me that we cannot use the domestication metaphor at the level
of ontogenesis (as the Nazi psychologists tried to do with their notions of
selective breeding), and we cannot use the child rearing metaphor at the
level of logogenesis (semiogenesis) either. Just as we have to say that
ontogenesis is not a kind of fast-forward sociogenesis, we have to say that
learning/teaching is not a kind of fast-forward child development. Instead
of a "layer" of learning laid on top of development, we need to think of
learning/teaching as a form of semiogenesis: not a geological stratum, nor
a sequence of embryonal stages, nor a city on a hill of ruined cities or
even a palimpsest, but precisely the reverse of ontogenesis, with the
"finished form" external to the child's eye. Semiogenesis is more like a
pentimento--a painting with the incomplete sketches not at all present to
the eyes but hidden beneath the polish of the final layer.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

"The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling with
Vygotsky, Halliday, and Shakespeare"

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