[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[xmca] Capriccio

Weirdly, I think one of the very best treatments of "inner form" vs. "outer form" of words is in Richard Strauss's great opera Capriccio, now playing "Live at the Met" and available on line from the BBC for the next seven days:
In the story, "inner form" is represented by MUSIC while "meaning" is represented by TEXT. The demotic version of the debate comes from an "amusement" composed by Antonio Salieri for a kind of operatic contest between himself and a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Both men were challenged to write a one-act for the Emperor. Mozart did "Die Schauspieldirektor" and Salieri, apparently struck with writer's block, wrote a piece on whether he should begin writing with words or begin writing with music.
It was a hot question at the time, because Rousseau and Rameau (both composers and both philosophers) were essentially asking the N. Ia. Marr question, that is, did human language begin with MUSIC (intonation and stress) or with WORDS (that is, consonants, vowels, vocabulary and grammar), the elements that Vygotsky later calls "phasic" and "semantic".
What happened with the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri became the stuff of legend. It eventually made its way into Pushkin (who wrote a one act that had a big effect on Vygotsky) and Rimsky-Korsakov, only to be vulgarized and Freudianized by Peter Shaffer for the movie (see Eugene Matusov's article in the current MCA!)
But what happened with the phasic and semantic elements? Which one predominates in the opera, and which in life? Ah...for that, you need to listen to the opera. True to life, it begins with music, and ends with speech. 
Flamand:Die Klänge der Natur singen das Wiegenlied allen Künsten.
Olivier: Die sprache des Menschen allein ist der Boden dem sie ensprießen. 
Flamand: Die Schmerzensschrei gin der sprache voraus! 
Olivier: Doch das Leid zu deuten, vermag sie allein!                               
(Flamand: The sounds of nature sing at the cradle of every art.
Olivier: But human speech alone is the soil from which art germinates.
Flamand: The cry of pain preceded speech!
Olivier: But only words can explain it!)
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
PS: The comment from the Met is that the end of the opera is non-trivial. This ignores the title, not to mention everything that comes between the title and the ending. 
The whole point is that the ending is trivial; without triviality there can be no ending at all. 

--- On Sat, 4/23/11, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:

From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Discussion of T&S
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Saturday, April 23, 2011, 6:01 PM

Hi Steve,

Good questions, and I won't claim to have all the answers.

> One question to ask: What is Vygotsky's distinction between the meanings of the terms "unit" and "unity"?

Somewhere in his excellent triangulated translation, David K notes LSV using two distinct words for unit and unity, if I remember correctly. I'll look for that passage.

> A second question:  In these various descriptions of the unity-pairs that compose word meaning, was it Vygotsky's intention to suggest that they are essentially synonymous, that is, are they referring to essentially the same processes?

My reply to this question will not, I think, surprise you. My interpretation continues to be that LSV refers to a unity where two phenomena (often processes) come together to form something new which has properties different from both of them. To return to the familiar analogy, hydrogen and oxygen form a unity in water, which is a liquid when they are both gases. So no, the two terms are not synonymous. 

Or perhaps your question is whether each *pair* of processes is synonymous with each other pair? If that is the question, then I would say, not necessarily. The claim that word-meaning is a unity of thinking and speaking is not the same claim as saying it is a unity of generalization and communication. I think it varies from case to case.

> A third question: This one relates to the discussion of the "psychological aspects" of word meaning.  In each of these unities, there appears to be both a material and ideal aspect, or more roughly, both an external and internal aspect, or put still another way, both a social and a psychological aspect.  Was this Vygotsky's intention?
I find this third question the most interesting. My reading is that in writing of word-meaning LSV was focusing our attention on a material artifact - spoken language - and arguing that it carries a form, an ideal aspect. I suspect that this is the implication of his use of the notion of word-meaning that is so disorienting. There is a Platonic tradition, continued by Kantianism and cognitive science, that can only understand form, the ideal, as something imposed on matter by mind; as the shape given to objectivity by subjectivity. This is Husserl's meaning-constitutive act of consciousness, for instance. But you remember our discussion of Ilyenkov's text, "The concept of the ideal"? I'll permit myself one brief quotation:

"Of course, it would be absurd and quite inadmissible from the standpoint of any type of materialism to talk about anything “ideal” where no thinking individual (“thinking” in the sense of “mental” or “brain” activity) is involved. ... It does not follow from this, however, that in the language of modern materialism the term “ideal” equals “existing in the consciousness”, that it is the name reserved for phenomena located in the head, in the brain tissue, where, according to the ideas of modern science, “consciousness” is realised."

In borrowing (for it's clear he didn't invent it) the notion of word-meaning as the inner form of the word, LSV is, it seems to me, proposing that there is an ideal side to language that is in noone's head (or mind; or consciousness). The child has to develop in order to be able to grasp this external ideal.

That means that ideal/material doesn't map neatly onto external/internal, or social/psychological. Word-meaning is 'internal' to the word, but is social and objective - or at least intersubjective - and so external to the child. At least at first. It is also why word-meaning is not concept, because for LSV at least (as I read him) concept is an element of the individual thinking that the child slowly becomes capable of. Perhaps this is why Anna, who wants to locate thinking in social, communicative activity, if I understand her correctly, does not see a distinction between the two (word-meaning and concept). But I'm pretty sure that LSV does. 


xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list