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RE: [xmca] Re: Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)

Dear David,

I haven’t the honour to reckon myself among the people holding the same views as Nick Veresov, though I feel a strong need to defend at least some aspects of his position in your current discussion. I think that the opposition of your approaches is actually based on the banal terminological misunderstanding.
In the end of your post you cite the follows Nick’s text: “The book (the Psychology of Art) represents one of the few moments in which the author overcame his subordination to the principle of reflection." You object that “Thinking and Speech”, …is ALL ABOUT the replacement of lower, reflective psychological functions with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones” and ask Nick if he understands “the relationship of a word to its meaning” as “REFLECTION”?
I think that misunderstanding is based on false interpretation of term “reflection” and “principle of reflection”. In Marxist philosophy “principle of reflection” is regarded as a fundamental for any materialism approach. Nick Veresov as a graduate from Soviet High school probably knows it. So when he formulates that Vygotsky in his Psychology of Art overcomes his “subordination to the principle of reflection” he states that in this work LSV was definitely far from materialism and Marxism, and that at least in this work he was CONSISTENT IDEALIST.
You, in your turn insist that “Thinking and Speech” , …is ALL ABOUT the replacement of lower, reflective psychological functions with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones”.
First of all your use of term “reflective” has nothing to do with Veresov’s. He mentions “principle of reflection” (printsip otrazheniya = принцип отражения) while in characteristic of “lower, reflective psychological functions” LSV doesn’t mean that lower psychological functions can reflect something, but that they are based on physiological reflex, on stimulus-response mechanical principle. 
Your next statement that Vygotsky replaces this mechanical fiction (which can be regarded as psychical functions only from consistent Cartesian account) “with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones” is absolutely correct. But it means nothing but a strong statement that Vygotsky was not a Marxist, but was a CONSISTENT IDEALIST.
It’s easy to see that an opposition between your and Nick Veresov’s position successfully disappears.
And finally a few additional words about Vygotsky’s attitude to Marxism.
Lev Semenovitch was utterly sincere person who sincerely wish to build scientific, Marxist psychology. From this point of view he was very untypical as soviet researcher. Most of his colleagues concerning Marxism used “to give their finger behind theirs back”. Among the few exceptions from the rule we can number only Leontiev, Ilyenkov and Davidov.
But aspiring is not enough, it also takes adequate knowledge of the subject. Meanwhile Vygotsky’s interpretation of Marxism brings him to semiotic or conventionalistic dead end, takes him far from dialectics and materialism. 
You are asking Nick if he means “that the relationship of a word to its meaning is REFLECTION?” I can answer to this question from my part. This relationship means neither physiological reflex, nor philosophical reflection. It means semiotic blind alley which tries to replace objective, ideal representation or reflection of an object in the body of real tangible tool with entirely subjective (in bad part), empty conventional sign.
I know that current eclectic tradition of wide interpretation of Marxism allows to try to enrich it with any doubtfully new ideas adopted from modern popular philosophers.   But I rather think that respect to Vygotsky with his sincere attempt to build Marxist psychology demands from us not to repeat his unavoidable mistakes but to go forward not backward in our investigation.
Sasha Surmava

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Sunday, August 07, 2011 8:42 AM
To: Culture ActivityeXtended Mind
Subject: [xmca] Re: Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)

Dear Professor Veresov:
I was HOPING we would hear from you! You are quite right: your work is very much prior to both Mauricio Ernica and Fernando Rey, and although we all strongly believe in present-to-future development rather than simply past to present, it is really too much to expect you to cite authors that hadn't yet written when you were doing your work.
Similarly, though, I had no way of knowing that "Vygotsky Before Vygotsky" was published without your permission, so I don't think I need to apologize for citing it. I did read "Marxist and Non-Marxist Aspects" and although I didn't manage to get your new book, I look forward to reading it. I will always think of "Marxist and Non-Marxist Aspects" with gratitude because of the "stage" metaphor that you used.
. I guess I don't agree with you that early Vygotsky was non-Marxist in any important way. Psychology of Art welcomes Marxism as the only possible way of uniting "psychology from above" and "psychology from below", as well as "aesthetics from above" and "aesthetics from below". This militantly monist theme never leaves his work, and I think that is because he himself never turned his back on it.
As a Jew with nothing to lose but his shtetl, early Vygotsky had an important personal stake in the Bolshevik Revolution, as well as a solid philosophical and ideological committment that middle and late Vygotsky never abandoned (see, for example, "The Socialist Alternation of Man" from his middle period, and "Fascism and Psychoneurology" from his final days).
But if you read what I wrote (below) I think you will see that my remarks were not really personalist or ad hominem in any way. The proof is, perhaps, that you yourself are not really able to reliable attach them to the person for whom they were meant. 
The parts you are really objecting to (that is, the remarks about extravagant claims of priority and extreme claims about periodization) are really directed to the article under discussion. 
For tidiness, I just limit my examples to Rey's discussion of "Psychology of Art". 
p. 258: "Unlike other authors, I consider Psychology of Art to be the most significant work of this moment," that is, Vygotsky's early period. Many authors say this (Lindqvist, Ivanov, me, and MIT Press, who made it the second Vygotskyan work to be translated into English).
p. 258: "Few authors have analyzed the relevance of Psychology of Art and its improtance in articulating an understanding between Vygotsky's life and his work." Actually, few authors have not analyzed this; it is a standard part of all biographical accounts, from Yaroshevsky to Kozulin to van der Veer and Valsiner.
p. 259: "In Psychology of Art, Vygotsky constructs a new conceptualization and model for understanding psychology as a science." Actually, Psychology of Art is about something called the "aesthetic reaction" and it is explicitly written in a reactological idiom throughout. I don't think any book from Vygotsky's pen really deserves to be called thoroughly objectivist (as Rey says) but if I were looking for one, I would certainly consider early Vygotsky in general (e.g. Educational Psychology) and Psychology of Art (e.g. the chapter on Bunin's "Gentle Breath" which actually tries to show the effect of the story by counting the number of times a reader breathes while reading).
p. 259: "The progressive decline in Vygotsky's works between 1927 and 1931 on the seminal topics introduced in Psychology of Art such as imagination, fantasy, emotions and personality..." Psychology of Art is explicitly about soemthing called the psychology of the ARTWORK: all discussion of imagination, fantasy, emotions, and personality of artists is explicitly and very clearly subordinated to this IMPERSONAL psychology. On the other hand, that is not true of Vygotsky's preface to Piaget, which dates from 1930 and is very much preoccupied with the issue of whether fantasy is "autistic" or "realistic" or his volume "Pedology of the Adolescent", from the same period, which includes a very long chapter on imagination and creativity.
To give Rey some credit, his article has been, rather like "Vygotsky Before Vygotsky" rather poorly edited, so it is sometimes not at all clear what he is saying. For example:
p. 260: "Vygotsky did not understand psychological processes as being simultaneously social and individual, ideas impossible to develop at that time (???) but he remarked that we could study social reality through the study of individuals because they are configured through their social existence."  
p. 261: "For the first time in the history of psychoogy someone clearly defended the idea that social facts do not immediately become psychological processes." 
These statements seem completely contradictory to me. But never mind. Actually, in Psychology of Art, what Vygotsky is objecting to is the idea of COLLECTIVE psychology (Wundt but also Bekhterev and Bukharin and later Nazi and Nazi-like psychologists like Ach, Jaensch, Krueger, and later Jung). He is saying that this whole branch of psychology is not properly psychological at all; the individual is the "unit of analysis" for social psychology and not the collective.
p. 264: "Another important idea concretized in the Psychology of Art was Vygotsky's definition of the person as the subject of social psychology. He never pursued this very promising idea further, but one cannot fail to see the value of this work for a cultural-historical approach to subjectivity." Well, I don't know what to make of this, given that that the author considers a cultural-historical approach to be objectivist and wrong. But for the record, Vygotsky did not ever abandon his idea that the person was the subject of social psychology; it is right there in Chapter One and Chapter Seven of Thinking and Speech, written right before he died. Part of his objection to Jaensch (in "Fascism and Psychoneurology") is a militant defense of the the subjecthood of the individual in social psychology, you know.
Finally, what I really consider the most shocking sentence in the whole article:
p. 262: "The book (the Psychology of Art) represents one of the few moments in which the author overcame his subordination to the principle of reflection." Well, there we have it. Vygotsky, you see, never developed at all; he only degenerated. 
But....wait a minute. What about the WHOLE of Thinking and Speech, which is ALL ABOUT the replacement of lower, reflective psychological functions with higher, symbolic and semiotic ones? You mean that the relationship of a word to its meaning is REFLECTION?
David Kellogg
(Believe me, I do not look anything like this name!)

--- On Sat, 8/6/11, Nikolai Veresov <nveresov@hotmail.com> wrote:

From: Nikolai Veresov <nveresov@hotmail.com>
Subject: [xmca] RE: xmca Digest, Vol 75, Issue 5, Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Date: Saturday, August 6, 2011, 1:09 AM

Dear all. I have no idea why Kellog refers to my "article" "Vygotsky before Vygotsky" in respect to periodization. I do not have an article called "Vygotsky before Vygotsky", I have the book "Undiscovered Vygotsky" (1999) which provides the periodization. The "article" Kellog refers to is terribly abridged Introduction of my Ph. D. theses. Somebody put it in Internet without my permission.  Everybody who are able to read my book (I hope there are some) can easily see that (1) I do not emphsize any negation and do not stress ABSOLUTE difference between the early Vygotsky and middle Vygotsky. In my book I do something absolutely opposite trying to find the links between the periods. (2) I do not split off early Vygotsky from Marxism. Everybody can easily see my approach in my paper "Marxist and non-Marxist aspects of the cultural-historical psychology of L.S. Vygotsky"   (http://ojs.statsbiblioteket.dk/index.php/outlines/article/viewFile/2110/1873) (3)  I do not stress that I am THE FIRST to make the distinction. On the contrary, in my book I undertook an analysis of all other periodizations existed at that time (just to remind that the paper of Mauricio Ernica David Keelog refers to, was published in 2008 which is ten years AFTER my Ph. D. Theses). So I do not think it is OK to make conclusions about colleagues' works using expressions like "extravagant claims of priority and extreme claims of periodizationon" on the basis of short and abridged fragments of texts. It is always better to read the book before criticising its abstract. I have an impression that Kellog's attacks have no serious grounds and are based on his own (mis)interpretations which, in turn, can mislead the people. I also think that we have to avoid the criticism of personalities and concentrate on the content.
Nikolai Veresov    

> 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).
> Â
> b)Â Â Â  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.

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