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[xmca] RE: xmca Digest, Vol 75, Issue 8, Re: Bladeless Knives Without Handles (David Kellogg)

Dear David.
Thank you for the questions - to discuss the content is what I wanted to find here.
Here are my answers and comments. They are mostly about "Marxist
and Non-Marxist Aspects of the Cultural-Historical Psychology of L.S.
Vygotsky" (Outlines 2005, No. 1)

> > p. 32: “Any attempt to find a cultural-historical theory amidst the
> > pre-1928 writings of Vygotsky would be futile.”

is scientific theory? There are different definitions, yet I am sure you agree that a theory is not just a number or
collection of general ideas and abstractions. 
Theory should have (1)the subject-matter
(2) the system of main interconnected concepts explaining this subject-matter
(3) the system of principles of analysis of this subject-matter (4) general law
(laws) and (5) the research method. 


is cultural-historical theory (CHT) from this perspective? This theory is the theory
of cultural development of higher mental functions of human beings. Cultural-historical
theory is the theory of DEVELOPMENT. All main concepts of CHT are related to
development (zone of proximal development, social situation of development,
source of development, general law of development and so on). 
On the contrary,
in Psychology of art there is no such term “higher mental functions”. 
The book
is devoted to the analysis of aesthetic reaction, which is clearly shown in
its Preface and subtitle. 
On the other hand, there were some ideas in
Psychology of Art which were developed by Vygotsky in the cultural-historical
theory later, but separate ideas are not the theory. 
Cultural-historical theory
did not appear before 1928, whereas some ideas did. That was what I tried to show
in my book (by the way, the book is available in Internet now). 

> > I note that this overemphasis is partially contradicted on p. 43, where you
> > say "We may add than (sic) the cultural-historical theory of the development
> > of higher mental functions worked out by Vygotsky in 1927-1928 was an
> > attempt to overcome the traditional dualism in the psychological explanation
> > of mind.”

Yes, let
us come to the content. Look: Vygotsky:
“Development is not simply a function which can be determined entirely by X
units of heredity  and I units of
 It is an historical  complex, 
which  at any  stage reflects  its past content. In other words,  the artificial  separation 
(DUALISM in Russian text!, Vol. 5, p. 309) 
of heredity and environment
points  us in a fallacious
direction;  it obscures  the 
fact that development  is an uninterrupted
process which  feeds upon  itself; 
that it is not a puppet  which 
can  be controlled  by jerking 
two strings” (Vol. 2, p. 253). 

think that the idea of the social as a source of development of higher mental
functions was an attempt to overcome the dualism in understanding 
of mental
development. Of course, the problem of dualism is deeper (it took many pages in
my book to discuss this problem), yet I would like to say 
that in my opinion
there is no contradiction between these two statements of mine. 
In my book I
tried to show that to overcome the dualism was one of the main ideas which led
Vygotsky from one stage to another. 

> > But mostly I think the overemphasis on a break is contradicted by
> > Psychology of Art, where I do find, particularly in the last part, the
> > eminently cultural-historical idea that art is a tool of social emotion,
> > that art is an individuation of a social emotion in much the same way that a
> > sense is an individuation of meaning. This is explicitly contrasted to the
> > Bukharinist idea that art is the socialization of an individual emotion.

approach is that discussing the evolution of Vygotsky’s views we have to have
in mind the complexity of this evolution. 
Some ideas which appeared in early
writings disappeared in the later ones and were not included into the theory
(for example, consciousness as the reflex of reflexes), 
some ideas which appeared
in early stages were reconceptualised and included into the theory (for
example, the idea of sign mediation appeared in 1925-1926 in defectological
some of the ideas appeared during the last period (for example, ZPD)
and could not be found in the early stages. 
So, cultural-historical idea of art
as a tool which you refer to, is the idea, not the cultural historical theory. 
I agree, this idea was developed by Vygotsky in later stages, but the idea is
not the theory. There are no theories without ideas, there are ideas which are
not theories. 

> > Again on p. 32, you have this to say:
> >
> > “In contrast to the widespread discussions in the literature of the
> > ‘classical’ Moscow period when the cultural historical approach appeared
> > (1928-1934), the earlier stages in the development of Vygotsky’s theoretical
> > views are generally presented as being of no serious significance.”
> >
> > This seems unfair. 

agree. However, I meant mostly Russian researchers of that time. On the other
hand, if you compare the number of publications in English in 2002-2005 you can
clearly see that most of them were about cultural-historical theory, not of
Psychology of Art. Of course, Psychology of Art was not neglected, I just
wanted to say that this period was underestimated from the point of view of
DEVELOPMENT of Vygotsky’s thought. I wrote directly – "earlier stages in the
development" (p. 32). Really, there were not so much papers explaining the
development of his ideas from Psychology of Art to “History of development of
higher mental functions”, for example. The key word of my message was “development”.  

> > a) Why do you think that "Tool and Symbol" is an incorrect translation? I
> > think that all symbols are signs, but not all signs are symbols. However,
> > Vygotsky and Luria are really interested in speech, which is a symbolic sign
> > (rather than, say, an indexical one like a footprint or an iconic one like
> > an actual foot).

I have
two reasons. (1) Because the Russian title is Tool and Sign (Orudie i Znak),
znak is sign, symbol is simvol in Russian. If Vygotsky himself entitled the
paper “Tool and Sign” it should be translated as Tool and Sign, right? 
(2)See:  “basic and most general  activity of man that differentiates  man 
from animals  in the  first place, 
from the aspect of psychology,  is
signification,  that  is, creation 
and use of signs. 
We are using this word in its most literal sense and
precise meaning. Signification is the creation and use of signs, that is,
artificial signals” (Vol, 4. P. 55). 
Please note that Vygotsky uses here the term
znak – sign.

> > b) You list as "non-Marxist" influences on Vygotsky the following writers:
> > Florensky, Sorokin, Blonsky, and Meyerhold. That's a pretty mixed bag by any
> > standard: Florensky was a Russian Orthodox monk, Sorokin, if I have the
> > right guy, was a minister in the Kerensky government and later founder of
> > the sociology department at Harvard, Blonsky was Vygotsky's colleague, and
> > he certainly considered himself a Marxist, and of course, Meyerhold was the
> > founder of the Moscow Theatre and a member of the Bolshevik Party.

I am
sorry, I think that it is a kind of misunderstanding here. What I wrote was: «It was not only Marxism which influenced Vygotsky» (see the
first page of my article). “Not
every thought of Vygotsky could be attributed to his famous theory, and what is
more, there are some traits  within his
theory, which are mistakenly identified as exclusively Marxist (p.32). “Vygotsky’s
philosophical orientation was wider than Marxism” (Ibid.) “NOT ONLY Marxism”
does not mean non-Marxism. Of course, for Marxists it means “non-Marxism” :), but
not for me, because I am not a Marxist. To say that «his philosophical
orientation was wider than Marxism» does not mean that he was not a Marxist. By
the word “orientation” I mean erudition, competence, knowledge. By the way,
philosophical orientation (competence) of Carl Marx was wider than Marxism, but
he was a Marxist, right? As for the list of “non-Marxist influences” which you
find “a pretty mixed bag by any standard” I should say that the list I give in
my paper is here: “Rather than I. Pavlov or Marx it is V. Soloviev, N.
Berdiaev, A. Belyi and the Russian symbolists, A. Potebnya, W. Humboldt, W.
Shakespeare, O. Mandelshtam, V. Shklovsky, Yu. Aikhenvald, G. Shpet, P. Blonsky
and many others who form his social and cultural environment and act as participants
in his scientific dialogues” (p.32). Do you have objections?  

> >  But what
> > makes you think that Florensky and Sorokin had any influence on him at all?

Sorry, this is not the point. I
wrote that “the view of cultural signs as psychological tools and as the organ
of an individual was widely discussed in Russian non-Marxist philosophy at the
beginning of the twentieth century (p. 45). I did not say that Florensky and
Sorokin had direct influence on him (I think, however, they did). I said that “In
claiming that the use of signs leads humans to a completely new and specific
structure of behaviour and the creation of new forms of culturally based mental
function, was Vygotsky closer to Marx than to non-Marxist P. Sorokin? At the
same time, in claiming that the cultural sign is a means of social
communication, was Vygotsky closer to P. Sorokin (who wrote that “connection of
the individuals with the same symbols connects them to each other”) than to Marx?
(p. 45). I also wrote “some traits in Vygotsky’s theory, traditionally
considered Marxist – such as the concept of the social origins of mind or sign
as psychological tool – also might have (SEE – MIGHT HAVE!) deeper and wider
roots in the works of Shpet, Florensky, Blonsky, Sorokin and Meierhold". I am
sorry for possible misunderstanding, my point was to say that to make
conclusions about Vygotsky’s Marxism on the basis of several selected ideas
might be inadequate.    


However, the general question
of my paper was: “When we speak about Vygotsky and Marxism we should ask what
kind of Marxism we mean? Is it the Marxism of Marx or the diametrically opposed
Marxisms of Althusser and Habermas? Perhaps we mean the Marxisms of Trotsky or
even that of V. Lenin? Most likely we mean the Marxism in the spirit of E. Ilyenkov?
(p. 32). By the way, Bukharin, whose views you see as explicitly contrasted to
Vygotsky, was a Marxist, the member of the Communist Party and one of the
leaders of the Party, the member of the Central Committee. According to your
logic, if I understand it right, Vygotsky views (opposite to Marxist
Bukharin’s) are not Marxist. David, there is no canonical Marxism, there are
various and contradicting each other Marxisms and Marxists, including Maoists
and Trotskyites, are permanently in the process of discussion which of them is true
Marxism. I think you agree that my question (What Marxism do we mean?) is
important, otherwise it does not make any sense to discuss the relations
between Vygotsky and Marxism on serious basis. Declarations are not enough in
this particular case.

Thank you. I apologise for my
awful English.

Nikolai (you can call me Nikolai if
you like).

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