Re: [xmca] Subject: Verb, Object

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Fri Dec 28 2007 - 16:13:46 PST

Thanks for that note, Mike; it was really NOT so long (in comparison to the glop I write, just for example!). Actually, Leontiev himself keeps reminding me that he and his generation were tested in ways that make it very hard for our largely untested generation to pass judgment upon their judgment.
  The other day I was reading Chapter Two of Activity, Consciousness and Personality and I came rather testily upon his account of how when we are using an instrument we do not pay nearly as much attention to the border between the hand and the instrument as that between the instrument and the object.
  Leontiev's example is a surgeon using a probe to find and extract a bullet from a wound. And I suddenly have an image of Leontiev at forty, having just defended a Ph.D. thesis on the unity of emotion and thought...up to his elbows in somebody else's bullet wound, and working with Zaporozhets on a book on how to restore your facial expression when your face has been shot off. It's enough to make anyone into a Lysenkoist, just out of the sheer weary hope that somehow the hardwon lessons of each generation can be passed on without all the damnable suffering.
  A propos, Andy. I read through Billet, and I also read Stetsenko AGAIN. I knew that your article was in some sense a rejoinder to them, maybe even a critique. But, to go back to Tony's point about the way we categorize a sign (and why not an activity?) being dependent on the PURPOSE of categorization, it's a little hard for me to see why Billet can't be right about hairdressing, and Hegel wrong about history (which did not end, fortunately for all of us, with the vicious Prussian militarism that he thought was its natural outcome). In some cases we want to pay attention to the INDIVIDUAL subject and in some cases to the corporatist one.
  Right now I'm trying to write materials for my graduate class on "integrated skills" next semester, and I have decided that the traditional distinction between "knowledge" and "skills" has really got to go; the notion of "knowledge" (vocabulary, grammar rules, pragmatic know-how) is a nasty bit of dualism that leads straight to psychometrics, and the notion of "skills" is clearly based on the kind of objectivism that you are attacking.
  But language is, as Volosinov says, a "neutral sign" (he didn't mean ideologically neutral; he just meant that language had to be promiscuous enough to be usable in almost any field of human endeavour, unlike, say, musical notation or mathematical symbols). So there are always some areas of language where the distinction between knowledge and skills is bound to be relevant. Just look at Mike's spelling!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Fri Dec 28 16:15 PST 2007

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