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Re: [xmca] catharsis and category

DISCLAIMER: Andy (privately) asked me to comment on this issue, so here it, and 
please forgive my intrusion. Frankly, I am not too much in the context of your 
discussion, but from what I somewhat superficially gather, the discussion is 
about the two words -- category and catharsis -- and how they apply to Vygotsky.

CATEGORY is a really very weird word that appears in the formulation of the 
so-called "general" or "main" law of human development in Vygotsky's History of 
Development of Higher Mental/Psychological Functions. As far as I remember, 
Nikolai Veresov has built a long line of discussion of arguably Vygotsky's idea 
of, roughly, "psychology as drama" on the basis of his interpretation of this 
word in this specific Vygotsky's text as a "dramatic collision". I had been long 
thinking about Veresov's argument before I came to final conclusion that I do 
not buy this story of "drama" and "collision" of Vygotsky. The reasons are:

* I have been looking for a dictionary -- a contemporary or an older one -- that 
would support Veresov's claim that category obviously meant a "collision", but I 
failed to verify it. Not to mention the fact that this claim does look quite ... 
how should I put ... novel for me, a university-educated person with a degree in 
Humanities, more specifically, in Languages and Literary Studies. Thus, to me 
"category" in Russian is just the same it is in English: Russian "category" 
means a... "category" -- surprise, surprise! :)

* in another text, written and -- way more importantly, unlike   History of 
Development of Higher Mental/Psychological Functions -- published by Vygotsky, 
Pedologiia Podrostka [Paedology of the Adolescent] (1931), he not only drops the 
idea of one "main" law, but talks about 3 (three) laws that in my mind look more 
like the description of the three stages of the historical development of 
Vygotsky's theory rather than the three consecutive laws of human development (I 
believe it is clear that the two are not the same). Incidentally, this fragment 
from Paedology book was published in the six-volume collection in Russian and, 
thus, translated into English, so -- feel free to check it out

* then, in this work of 1931 Vygotsky preserved his earlier "main law" although, 
as far as I remember, reformulated it as the second law, and in almost identical 
phrasing as the one that can be found in the History of Development of Higher 
Mental/Psychological Functions no reference to any "category" is given. To me, 
this means that the word was not important to him and can hardly be considered 
as a term

* Finally, the manuscript of   History of Development of Higher 
Mental/Psychological Functions itself, as our recent and ongoing study shows, 
(a) was never titled this way by Vygotsky, (b) was not on the lists of his "most 
important works" that Vygotsky compiled on a couple of occasions, and even I 
would claim (c) was fabricated by the editors of the 1982-84 edition of the 
six-volume Vygotsky's Collected Works, unwittingly translated into English "as 
is" by Plenum Publishers in 1980-1990s

All this makes me think that we can easily disregard the word CATEGORY as it 
applies to Vygotsky and quit speculating on this topic.

I will be way briefer on the topic of CATHARSIS. From what I remember from 
University courses in Classics, coming from the Greek word for "white", the term 
quite prominently features in Aristotle (and everywhere else after *magister 
dixit*), and also appears in Vygotsky's Psychology of Art. The work is 
interesting indeed, yet, written mostly during pre-Moscow period of Vygotsky, 
i.e. mostly likely in Gomel' in 1917-1924 (and, possibly, somewhat polished in 
Moscow in 1924-1925), it is hardly related to any any "cultural-historical" 
psychology that is of interest to us as long as Vygotsky's theory is concerned. 
Also, one has to keep it in mind that Vygotsky of the Psychology of Art uses the 
term quite idiosyncratically, and seems to be trying to maneuver between 
contemporary psychological, physiological, and literary theories at the same 
time. Therefore, I would also let CATHARSIS rest in peace in Vygotsky's 
discourse "where it naturally belongs", namely, the discourse of the Psychology 
of Art of 1925-26. Quite indicative is the fact that the word never appears in 
Chapter 7 (the last one) of Vygotsky's Thinking and Speech (1934) where he 
seemingly returns to the discussion of the topics of literature, art -- in the 
context of psychological research on ... well, see the title: thinking and 
These are just my two cents,

----- Original Message ----
From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
To: Huw Lloyd <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com>
Cc: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Sent: Thu, June 9, 2011 9:50:36 PM
Subject: Re: [xmca] catharsis and category

Thank you Huw. Very encrouaging. "Resolution" seems to capture a lot of it.

I have consulted the OED On-line for "*category*" and found nothing surprising 
about its meaning, as used by Aristotle and Kant and in mathematics, more or 
less meaning "class" but extendable to abstract concepts. But what OED did tell 
me, which adds yet another intriguing thread to the puzzle, is that its Latin 
roots mean "predicament," and in olden days, "category" used to be translated as 

Now "predicament" here is related to "predicate" as in subject and predicate, a 
key metaphysical distinction for Aristotle and dialectics generally, but it 
forces me to reflect on the relation of "predicament" - and therefore "category" 
- to "situation", as in "social situation of development," which I have always 
said, based on how Vygotsky uses the term, should be understood as a 
"predicament," but in the common usage of this word as a situation or trap, from 
which one must make a development in order to escape.

*Catharsis*, according to OED is the Greek word meaning "cleansing" or 
"purging," which is of course what is commonly understood by the word. With 
reference to Aristotle is means "the purification of the emotions by vicarious 
experience." Vicarious!? The Freudian usage you referred to (thank you), Huw, is 
"The process of relieving an abnormal excitement by re-establishing the 
association of the emotion with the memory or idea of the event which was the 
first cause of it, and of eliminating it by abreaction."  This sounds very much 
like how I have understood Vygotsky to be using the term!!

All that is fine. A true detective story, as Anton says! But what is the Russian 
word which is a unity of these disparate concepts??!!



Huw Lloyd wrote:
> On 9 June 2011 08:24, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net 
><mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>     I have been watching Nikolai Veresov's videos on vimeo. I refer to
>     No. 2 in particular: http://vimeo.com/groups/chat/videos/10226589
>     In this talk, Nikolai is explaining his view of the development of
>     Vygotsky's theory of the development of the high mental functions
>     through the appropriation of social functions, and in doing so, he
>     appears to be mistaking the English word "category" for the
>     English word "catharsis."
> I think that there is an issue with the English (Freudian) use of "catharsis" 
>that refers to expression without genuine influence, which a) I don't think is 
>cathartic and b) not what was intended in psychology of art, i.e. achieving, or 
>identifying with, a genuine change (or resolution), even if only a resolution of 
>a staged performance (identification), or some other art.
> This notion of "real" catharsis then becomes more related to the notion of 
> In my studies and thinking I have been happy with Nikolai's use of the term 
>category and it's relation to stage.  With respect to plan/plane correspondences 
>there are several overlapping aspects, which seem to be quite precisely captured 
>by this otherwise ambiguous term (joint context, intention and topological 
> The dramatic conflict (category) has correspondence with (distributed) 
>self-organisation.  The social participation of emotionally led behaviour leads 
>to structured forms of participation, e.g. acquiring new coordinating structures 
>in the process of achieving one's goals.
> Huw

-- ------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: 
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

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