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[xmca] Bladeless Knives Without Handles
A few belated comments, some of them appreciative but mostly quite critical, about Fernando Gonzalez Rey’s “Re-examination of Defining Moments” and his notion of sense.
a) Both Rey and Veresov (in his article “Vygotsky Before Vygotsky”) emphasize NEGATION in their periodization: they stress absolute differences between the early Vygotsky (interested in art, literature, imagination, creativity, emotion, and personality) and middle Vygotsky (interested in completely unrelated notions such as history, culture, mediation, tools, symbols, and internalization). I think there is indeed a very important distinction to be made, but I think it is more like the distinction between explanans and explanandum than either writer would like to admit. For example, isn’t an artwork a kind of instrument? Doesn’t art work involve the use of both tools and symbols? It is more than a little suggestive that both Rey and Veresov appear to distinguish a “real” Vygotsky concerned with individual development from a false, objectivist and institutionalized Vygotsky concerned with Marxist psychology and (to link this thread to the
last discussion article) the Soviet social project. Rey does take this project much further than Veresov, and tries to split Vygotsky away from cultural-historical psychology altogether (whereas Veresov simply tries to split off the early Vygotsky from Marxism).
b) Both Rey and Veresov stress that they are the FIRST to make this distinction (and thus ignore each other, as well as writers (Mauricio Ernica, Gunilla Lindqvist) who have made similar points in a less ambitious, less absolutist and (as a result) more acceptable fashion. For example, van der Veer and Kozulin have taken into account the clear examples of reflexological terminology in “Psychology of Art” (even idiots like me! See “The Real Ideal” in the LCHC discussion papers pigeonhole); actually the whole work uses as a unit of analysis an “aesthetic reaction”. Oppositely, there are those pesky works by Vygotsky himself, e.g. “Imagination and Creativity in the Adolescent” which came out in 1931 at the very nadir of Vygotsky’s supposedly “objectivist” period. Of course, knowing how hard it is to get published in MCA, I quite understand the temptation to make extravagant claims of priority and extreme claims of periodization.
Still, I can’t help but wonder how it is that our respected, (even feared!) reviewers could so easily have had the wool pulled over their eyes!
c) Rey appears to me to be trying to establish sense as a psychological category rather than a linguistic one, that is, as a matter of belief and identity rather than speaking role and reference. I agree that simply putting in culture between the subject and object in the form of an objective tool-like “meaning” will not work; the historico-cultural project founded by LCHC was to examine differences in cognition made by culture, and not simply material artefacts. I also agree that calling both tools and symbols "artefacts" (ideal or material) does not do anything other than to account for them historically and genetically; it doesn't, for example, help to distinguish them functionally and structurally. But I don’t think that trying to de-historicize and de-culturize sense will work either, for a very simple reason: there is no such thing as sense without established (historic-culturally established) meaning, just as there is no
meaning-making without actual sense, without mentally reconstructing the mind of the interlocutor.Psychological sense without (historic-cultural) meaning and meaning without sense are both both meaningless and senseless.
It seems to me that sense without historico-cultural meaning is a bladeless knife without a handle. That is because sense is not simply part of the user-friendly handle of a word; it is also inherent to the way that it is interpreted by the interpreter.
Similarly, meaning is not simply part of the environment-friendly “blade” of the word: it is inherent to the way the speaker dissects the reality he has gathered, hunted, and brought home (Whorf, of course!).
Last night (well, the night before last now), my wife and I returned to Seoul. Our suitcase arrived in baggage claim with a yellow plastic lock that played a pleasant ringtone, but was accompanied by a plainclothes policeman who notified us that our bag had been identified as containing a dangerous weapon.
About four days ago, coming down from the mountains in Western Sichuan, we passed through one of the villages of the Tushan people, who, until about a generation ago, were a nomadic forest tribe practicing slash and burn agriculture to supplement a diet of hunting and gathering.
The area is now a panda reserve. So the government has endeavoured to persuade the Tushan to settle in villages like the one we passed through, called Bai Ma (although I noticed that there were still slash and burn plots dotting the mountainside around the village).
The villagers, erstwhile hunters and gatherers, don't really know how to make a living, so they flag your car down and try to sell you stuff. I bought about a kilo of their yellow plums, obviously gathered in the forest and very tasty, and my brother-in-law found some watermelon knives he liked, which had sheaths made of the horn of some animal and hilts beautifully sculpted with the profile of an old man.
The Tushan insisted that the old man was Genghis Khan, a man some of them claim as an ancestor. (Of course, 8% of Asian men are descended from him, but it is also said that he died of dysentery contracted in the Gansu town of Tianshui [literally, “heavenly water”!])
When we left for Seoul, my brother-in-law looked at the old man on the handle and decided one of them would make a good present for my father (a.k.a. Genghis Khan). But the customs official who took it out of our suitcase only had eyes for the blade: scimitar shaped and about twenty centimeters long. (Who knows, maybe Genghis Khan was really trying to cut a watermelon with it, and the blade slipped.
My poor brother-in-law had forgotten the most important difference between tools and symbols, and also between meaning and sense, between social usage and personal use; one, but only one, can be used in an autocentric way. Or not, as the case may be.
--- On Sat, 7/30/11, Larry Purss <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Larry Purss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [xmca] Fernando Rey's exploration of "sense"
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Saturday, July 30, 2011, 9:00 AM
The word "sense" is a KEY word in Fernando's article.
I want to bring in Martin's notion of "ontological tropes" as a way to
reflect on this key term in his exploration of the ontology of learning. He
suggests that six themes or six different ontological tropes that account
for an understanding of learning as a change of the KIND of person as well
as a change in the structuring of knowledge.
1) the person is constructed [RE-constructed]
2) in a social context
3) formed through practical activity.
Martin suggests these 3 themes are well developed within the exploration of
learning as a change of the person. However, it is the next 3 themes which
I believe can be elaborated to deepen Fernando's notion of "sense".
4) Formed in relationships of desire & RECOGNITION [this is where I believe
John Shotter's writings add depth to the conversation]
5)that can split the person [schools emphasize on "abstraction" and
objectivication as ways of knowing make CONTRADICTORY demands and create a
split in our experience of "sense".
6)MOTIVATING [moving] the search for identity and character formation. The
child as "student" MUST RESPOND ACTIVELY in either alighnment or
opposition. What we call ATTITUDE is THIS ACTIVE STANCE towards the
institutional situation of development. This stance IS an ontologically
DETERMINATIVE stance. Schooling is ALWAYS ABOUT "attitude" formed in
relations of recognition.
It is these last 3 themes of the SUBJECTIVE aspect of our development as
persons that the term "sense" is exploring.
What do others think?
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