Re: [xmca] Chukovsky-Vygotsky

From: Kellogg (
Date: Sat Nov 11 2006 - 22:05:20 PST

Dear Mike:

The hostility between Vygotsky and Chukovsky is, I think, quite a story, and it's almost completely untold. Yes, there is some stuff available on the web, but my feeling is that there's a lot more to it. Here's my contribution, for what it's worth

Well, to begin there's the famous footnote to Esthetic Education, on p. 270 of Educational Pedagogy, to wit:

"So fashionable and, now, so popular a work as Chukovskii's Crocodile, like all
of Chukovskii's stories for children, is one of the better examples of this perversion of children's poetry with nonsense and gibberish. Chukovskii seems to
proceed from the assumption that the sillier something is, the more understandable and the more entertaining it is for the child, and the more likely that it will be within the child's grasp. It is not hard to instil the taste for such dull literature in children, though there can be little doubt
that it has a negative impact on the educational process, particularly in those immoderately large doses to which children are now subjected. All thought of style is thrown out, and in his babbling verse Chukovskii piles up nonsense on top of gibberish. Such literature only fosters silliness and foolishness in children."

I've always felt that was a little harsh, since I have liked what little I've read of Chukovsky (remember, I have no Russian). But when I read Chukovsky's book, "From Two to Five" I realized that the feeling was mutual.

 See Chukovsky's comments about the Kharkov school (Vygotsky and his students) in the year 1929 (p. 188 of From Two to Five), Chukovsky's disparaging reference (p. 127) to pedagogues from Gomel (Vygotsky's hometown) and Chukovsky's attacks on "leftism" (p. 130 passim).

Part of this antipathy is probably Chukovsky's not very well concealed anti-semitism. Yale University Press recently published his diary, and there are coy hints of anti-semitism throughout.

On 215, for example, we read that he goes to visit Krupskaya about the "pedagogue's" criticisms of "Crocodile" and succeeds in thoroughly offending her. He is consoled by Demyan Bedny, with the following words, which he quotes approvingly: "Have you noticed that the opposition is 1) all Jews and 2) emgres? Kamenev, Zinovyev, Trotsky. Trotsky will announce any day now, 'I'm going abroad', but we Russians have nowhere to go. this is our country, our spiritual property". (Both Demyan Bedny and Chukovsky were slated by Trotsky in "Literature and Revolution".)

On p. 281 of the diary, Chukovsky says his hatred for Trotsky is "an aesthetic viewpoint: his hair, his weak chin, his cheap provincial demonism--he's a combination Mephistopheles and court clerk."

Interestingly, on p. 161 of the diary, Chukovsky worriesthat he might turn out to be Jewish himself--his mother is of good Ukrainian peasant stock, but he is illegitimate and doesn't know who is father was. He needen't have been concerned, of course; you need a Jewish mother to be a real Jew.

Howevery, I think there is more to the Chukovsky-Vygotsky antipathy than racial hatred and Chukovsky's finely tuned instincts as a future Stalinist hack. Chukovsky believes that semantic meaning is learned partly by flouting it; no sooner does the child learn the meaning of a horse than the child is flouting it by talking of saddled flies and flying horses. Vygotsky shares this view, but for rather older children; he believes that imagination is something that comes to the child from the outside, through social practices such as imaginary play.

I think I want to take up your suggestion to continue the dialogue on forgiveness in a separate thread, possibly even under a new subject line, because it occurs to me this morning that it might indeed be possible to have recontextualization without decontextualization, and that to a certain extent that is exactly what is involved in metaphor.

David Kellogg

Seoul National University of Education


Some refs:

Chukovsky, K. (2005) Diary 1901-1969. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Chukovsky, K. (1928, 1963) From Two to Five. University of California Press: Berkeley.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1997) Educational Pedagogy. Boca Raton: St. Lucie.


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