Re: [xmca] Subject: Verb, Object

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Wed Dec 26 2007 - 22:08:13 PST

A mythological metaphorical reflection:
  In the beginning was the Instrument/Word (Verb)
  and so the Heavens (Subject)
  and the Earth (Object)
  were created.
  And isn't it notable that in subject-verb-object formulation, the verb is the only term that refers to a type of word, while both subject and object aren't a type of word at all but necessarily nouns or their palimpsests (pronouns). Such a difference, at least for me, casts doubt on any claim that such a formulation constitutes a concept. Besides, what happens with SOV languages? Beyond that, haven't linguists abandoned this formulation for Topic-Comment and other formulations?
  Further, I must admit that I really loved diagramming sentences idn 5th grade.

David Kellogg <> wrote:
  Dear Andy and Mike:

Here's what I've got out of the discussion so far (though I don't expect Andy to agree with any of this!):

a) The "subject" is in bad shape, rather like the "hollowed out" middle class. On the one (extreme) hand, individuals appear to have virtually no agency. On the other (even more extreme) hand, the agency market as been well and truly cornered by large corporations and nation-states. There is almost nothing in between: movements, communities, neighbourhoods and even families have been either sublated or extirpated.

India is a particularly horrible example of this: community, caste, and even religion have little meaning outside a "communalist" (really statist and corporatist) ideology. I'm not sure if "nation" ever meant much of anything!

b) The origins of CHAT lie in a concern for the subject because the human psyche is what we theorize. However, we theorize it by relating it to "activity" (I have some problems with this bit, as you've probably noticed), and of course ANL (but not LSV) theorized "activity" as chiefly object-oriented. For this reason, there is an objectivist bent in much early CHAT which leaves us somewhat at a loss to explain how individuals might exercise agency, particularly under capitalist conditions where the market has been cornered by corporatist, statist, or communalist entities.

ANL's work on "Activity, Consciousness and the Personality" contains a lot of evidence of this. Notice how indignantly he rejects the idea that what children learn is to play "the role" of a son or daughter or student (p. 104). But it is very hard to see how else they could learn what their "mission" is!

c) The solution is to re-colonize social theory. In order to this you go back to Hegel. Here you remind us that that the subject can be seen "from above" (the universal), "from below" (the individual), but also "from the in between" (the particular).

Because I teach grammar, I think of this as three sentences, each having a different position on LSV's "measure of generality" (Chapter Six of "Thinking and Speech"):

1) Do you like apples? (the universal)
2) Yes, I'd like an apple. (the particular)
3) That juicy red one, please. (the individual)

We are not looking at three different apples or three kinds of apples, and we are certainly not three three different speakers or three different hearers. The apples are the same, and so are the people; only the way of thinking about them has changed. In the same way "subject" can be individual AND cultural AND social at one and the same time.

But this is why I think it MATTERS that for ANL mediation was objective and external and linked to tool-using labour activity while for LSV it was two edged, external-internal, and linked to something that was individual AND social AND cultural, namely word meaning. It seems to me that ANL's version is ineluctably OBJECT oriented, but LSV's is not. Subject-Verb-Object, the paradigm for ANL's unit of analysis, is really just ONE kind of sentence, and it turns out to be not a very common kind, not even in English.

I agree that it is VERY interesting that Hegel tells us that there are three paradigmatic kinds of mediation and not just two (tools, signs, and CHILDREN). I also agree that this shows a rather unusually materialist bent, and it makes me believe that Marx really did find the old man standing on his head.

But it's for precisely THIS reason I find ANL's apparent Lamarckianism and Lysenkoism so disquieting. Look at this:

"The principal progress in development of the brain made snce the coming of modern man has apparently been that the function of fixing the dynamic structures built up has been gradually corticalized, i.e. the role played by subcortical centres in relation to the accumulation of species biological experience has been transferred to the cortex, the organ of ontogenetic experience. (...) While one has to speak, first and foremost, of the formation of hereditarily fixed constructions, these changes are not produced by biological heredity at the level of man but in the process of assimilation described above, which also constitutes the mechanism of social 'inheritance'. (...) Man's psyche is thus a function of the higher brain structures that arose in him ontogenetically in the course of his mastering of historically mouled forms of activity in relation to the human world about him; that aspect of man's development which is physicologically expressed in the reportudction,
change, an complication of these structure in succeeding generations, is also the process of the psyche's historical development." (pp. 324-325, "Problems of the Development of Mind")

I would MUCH rather leave the "dynamic structures" outside the brain altogether (the "supercortical features" that Luria and Bella talk about!) than to have to subscribe to the idea that what we learn changes the shape of our cortexes and these cortexes get inherited by our children. That's objectivism made flesh.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Dec 26 22:10 PST 2007

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