Re: [xmca] Vygotsky on Identity?

From: E. Knutsson <eikn6681 who-is-at>
Date: Thu Nov 22 2007 - 14:44:47 PST

Identity ... personality - tricky words...

Eric Ramberg wrote some interesting things a couple of months ago (?) on this
issue - apparently mesmerized by the unexpected prospects of not having a
"personality when I am by myself…":

"Personality surely develops as a social formation but once formulated I
do not believe it is only a social entity that results from group
activity. Human personality is far more sophisticated then being able to
be whittled down to the social and cultural interactions a person has in
their life."

Eric is "greatly interested in reading what the current Russian scholars have
to say," and Mike confirms that "there has been a lot of attention in Russian
psychology to ‘the subject’ or subjectivity."

The very translation of the Russian term ‘lichnost` (“personality”) seems
to be surrounded by uncertainties. According to the Russo-American scholar Oleg
Kharkhordin (1999), the difficulty in translation stems from the richness of
meanings of the word ‘litso’ in contemporary Russian. As Kharkhorkin has
pointed out, the Russian term for ’person’ (litso) has several meanings,
related to some extent to the original translations of the Greek word prosopon,
or the Latin word persona. Lichina was a medieval term linked to litse,
designating the masks of the Russian popular minstrels (skomorokhi), who
were denounced by the Church for their pagan rites and plays, hence the
term’s derogatory connotation. The word could also mean the image or
depiction of a human. A seemingly simple word ‘lik’, in the sense of
“depiction” and “image,” is registered only in 17th-century sources. A
completely etymologically unrelated ‘lik’ meaning “a choir” (likovat’, to
sing, to rejoice), existed since the 11th century, lik in the meaning of
“image” is an homonymic later creation (according to Barkhudarov, Slovar’
russkogo iazyka). Russian lexicologists seem to agree that the term
lichnost’ appeared in the middle of the eighteenth century but acquired
its modern meaning only in the middle of the nineteenth. One of the later
creations is oblik (in the sense of outward appearance), which was also a
frequently used term for an entity revealed during the purges. This word
was most often used in Bolshevik discourse in the stable expression
moral’nyi oblik, “moral character.”

Several scholars have pointed out a startling similarity of the practices of
the Communist Control Commissions and monastic disciplinary practices and the
practices of ecclesiastical courts which followed the tripartite Orthodox canon
law process to denounce, to admonish and, if necessary, to excommunicate.
Among the Josephites the individual monk had been under constant
surveillance by a core group of ‘bigger brothers’ who enforced
congregational discipline. The Russo-American scholar Oleg Kharkhordin
suggests that the Soviet collective was structured on the model of a
virtuous Orthodox congregation and that these practices soon pervaded
every social body so that every lichnost’ lived under the tyranny of a
multitude of sanctimonious bigger brothers. The rejection of the
personality cult (kul’t lichnosti) was just an extreme case of this
general tendency. Although there is a difference between the organically
grown Gemeinschaft of the Russian tradition and the state-created
collective, it was less the imposed discipline in the collective which
irritated its members than the suspicions, the informers and the
artificial and arbitrary reconstructions of social life.

According to A. Buss ("Russian Orthodox Tratdition and Modernity", 2003:186),
"Russians have traditionally believed that their country is the land of
the one and indivisible truth (pravda, which means both truth and justice)
which can be discovered only by the community as a whole. There is in
their tradition no concept of a relative truth or of the possibility of
many aspects or versions of the truth. Laws or even a constitution
achieved by a compromise between independent and autonomous individuals or
parties may therefore seem of inferior value to them; they may be useful,
but they are not pravda."

There was, according to Kharkhordin, a transition from analysis of
“essential class features” to the analysis of the self, revealed in
demonstrated deeds in all spheres of life, perhaps facilitated by the
discovery that establishing the class essence does not guarantee the
loyalty of the Party member. Starting from the 1933 purge one of the main
subversions was seen as dvulichie and dvurushnichestvo, as
“double-facedness”, “double-handedness” and “double-dealing.” Apparently a
check of outward appearances did not reveal double-dealing enemies. They
had two faces, and the hidden one was to be unveiled by the analysis of
actual deeds. Therefore, a search for a true self hidden under the outward
appearance of loyalty also contributed to an emphasis on the revelation of
inner, invisible qualities. Analysis of demonstrated deeds sought to
uncover something more profound than outward features: certain hidden
psychological states were to be imputed as the source of observable

By the 1970s, the transition from revealing a certain visible essence of
the individual to an inner hidden self was already complete. This inner
structure of the self was revealed by observable deeds and captured by the
word lichnost’.


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Received on Thu Nov 22 14:45 PST 2007

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