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

Dear Professor Surmava:
Thanks for the very considered, considerate, articulate and well-articulated response. I am tempted to call it a very Russian one, but of course my sense of what Russian-ness is not nearly as subtle, well-differentiated, and...well, RUSSIAN as yours.
What I really meant was simply that the CYRILLIC of your name was a non-symbolic signifier of your Russian-ness. It's non-symbolic because it doesn't have a conditional one-to-one "contractual" relationship between wording and meaning; it applies to all wordings rendered in the Cyrllic alphabet (even my name, written in Russian, looks Russian to me). 
So I think it "reflects" Russian-ness in quite a different way than contractualism or convention. Contractualism (conventionalism) is transient; it applies only to the moment into which we enter the contract (the "state of the chessboard", as Saussure liked to say) and for the duration of the contract. That's not true of historical relationships like this one: they begin long before their official launch date (pre Saint Cyril) and they go on operating long after their sell-by date. 
Contractualism is conditional; it depends upon the various functional goals of the contracted parties. That's not true of the relationship between a script and a spoken language; we often see that the rise of a script is the result of exaptation, the borrowing of a particular form (often. as in the case of Russian, religious) that evolved for one purpose and its application to quite a different one (usually secular) and that the switch from one function to another is anything but conditional.
Finally, contractualism is content-independent; in theory, we imagine that any human script can express the sounds of any human language more or less well, but in practice we find that, as Halliday likes to say, a given speech gets the writing system that it deserves, in the long run. There is a good reason (that is, a historically tested reason) why Chinese is not written in an alphabet, and why the Latin alphabet is so poorly suited to Russian transliteration.
I guess I feel that Marxism is both vast in scope and precise in abstraction; it can include many social and psychological phenomena as well as exclude many careless generalizations (e.g. to biology, as in Lysenkoism). Marxism, as a method, can include both the (metaphorical) use of the word "reflection" (in the sense that Cyrillic "reflects" spoken Russian) and the brilliant synthesis of a genetic, functional, and structural explanation that we find in books like "Thinking and Speech" and "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language" (that is, the sense that things are the way they are because they do what they have to do, but they do what they have to do because of the way they have been). 
It seems to me that Marxism includes "reflection" in a genetic and historical sense. Lenin is just saying that reality got her first, well before we did, and our consciousness of that reality is therefore not a priori. We may not feel that way; we may feel that consciousness is simply "given" (by whom? And more importantly, to whom?).
But that sense is really an illusion, just like the feeling of weightlessness that our own bodies have to ourselves. When my wife tries to drag me out of bed in the morning before I have had my morning coffee, she is acutely aware that my body does have weight and that this weight is quite prior to consciousness.
I don't think that Lenin is saying that the mind reflects anything in a functional sense or a structural sense. Functionally, and structurally, the Marxist response to the "mirror" metaphor for mind is is rather closer to that of Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng. It is said that the fifth patriarch, when he was dying, wrote the following poem:
The body is a Bodhi tree
The mind is like a mirror
So sweep them daily, keep them clean
And let no dust appear!
To which Hui Neng, whose job it was to sweep the temple grounds, wrote:
The body is no Bodhi tree
The mind is not a mirror
Neither one can be swept clean
For where can dust appear?
When dust appears on my books, it does not in any way obscure what they say (or, as we say in French, what they "veut dire"); their meaning is made of that ideality of which Ilyenkov speaks when he says that the idea of a wooden table contains not a single atom of carbon. 
So it seems to me that "reflection" is not a function of the mind, nor is reflectiveness part of its structure; it is far truer to say that the meta-functions of the human mind lie in human discourse and therefore that the structure of the human mind lies close to that of textual meaning.
One of these books, which I have right next to "Thinking and Speech", is Voloshinov's "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language", and here too I think the word Marxism is apposite. I don't really care who wrote the book; but I am more inclined to think that the author was an earnest young linguist who had dabbled in Rosicrucianism and read Vygotsky than that it was a garrulous one-legged literary critic who had dabbled in Russian Orthodox mysticism and read Rabelais.
It seems to me that Voloshinov is arguing that reported speech is the way that it is because of what it does (both reflect an utterance and reflect upon the utterer). He also points out that what it does has changed over history: it has gone from uncritical, authoritarian monologic assertion (what we find in ancient monuments) to rationalist monologism, to rather more critical dialogism, and finally to a complete refusal of any objectivity to the narrator. 
And it seems to me that Marxism is a method that is simultaneously historical, functional, and structural: it holds that human artefacts (including texts) are the way they are because of what they have to do, but what they have to do depends on their history and changes a lot in the course thereof. 
By that criterion, both "Thinking and Speech" and "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language" are Marxist texts, not only because of who their authors were (whoever their were) but because of their methodological structure and also because they perform Marxist tasks (viz. offering a materialist but nevertheless dialectical explanation of the history of language studies to the early twentieth century and establishing a historically materialist prolegomena to the history of human consciousness). 
Of course, not every approach that synthesizes genetic, functional, and structural data is a Marxist one, and in particular I think that methods which assume that what is important at one genetic period remains important throughout history are highly suspect. It is actually for that very reason that I am suspicious of all contractual, conditional, and conventionalist accounts of language: I think they are really only accounts of the language of contracts, conditions and conventions.
I don't even use the term "natural laws", which in addition to assuming lack of change, and equivalence between regularities that are literally without any exceptions and those (such the laws of language) where meaning involves the constant negotiation of exceptions, is something between an oxymoron and an outright contradiction in terms. Depending on how metaphorical we want to be about the word "law" or the word "nature".
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies   
I see, reading over your generous reply, that I have rather rudely ignored some of your interesting questions. So let me just quote your words, and put in my rejoinders, in dialogic form. (Huw does this a lot, and although it's sometimes hard to figure out who is saying what, it's always worth trying!)

Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote:

"You are probably right that language is often examined from “highly metaphorical level” and looking from this “high” level the relationship between a noun and its object sometime looks like “reflection”. But can you explain what is mechanism of this reflection? Banal association between sign and its denotatum? Than what are the law and the intrinsic measure of such association?"
DK: Nouns are a good example. Yes, for young children, there is a banal association between a noun and a thing; it is little more than a name, and the name is little more than a way of getting the child's sticky little hands on the thing. 
For older children, the noun is a generalization, but not yet an abstraction, and this is one reason why the nouns in my data base of child language tend to be concrete, and children of a certain age become very conscious of number and gender in nouns. 
For adults, though, even a name is an example of a concept: we tend to say things like "You know, she's one of those people who...." which is not something that very young children ever say. It actually turns out that very small children are quite bad at metaphor, and they are apt to respond to "I would like to propose a toast" by looking around for the bread.
Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote: 
"Can we find in this association something objective, something that lies beyond our subjective will, beyond our arbitrariness, beyond convention?"
DK: Yes, but the objective element keeps changing, doesn't it? For the young child it's a physical object. For the older child it's an experienced grouping of some kind. And for the adult it's a concept, which is, thanks to its ontogenetic and sociogenetic history, not exactly arbitrary, and therefore not entirely conventional or contractual. 

Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote: 
"Can you give a tiny hint to explain how a little child starts to reflect or idealize objective world in his/her thinking in the process of learning to use these verbal signs?" 
DK: It seems to me that the child does it the same way I do it: generalizing and abstracting. But even before that, of course, there is a "natural history" of signs: the foot, the footprint, and a whole range of onomatopoeic expressions that children are extremely fond of and which remain as fossils in adult speech. 
Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote: 
"Or thinking per se is not necessarily mediated with verbal or any other signs?"

DK: No, not necessarily. If I hear a loud noise and I jump, there is probably some kind of thinking going on somewhere. But VERBAL thinking is necessarily mediated by signs; that's one reason why it's a lot slower.
Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote: 
"Nota bene: Vygotsky NEVER explains what he means as “low psychic functions”, so one can only guess, from the context of his texts that “low psychic functions” is nothing but an aggregate of mechanical reflexes which the Lord knows how are attributed as psychic."
DK: I assume he meant exactly what other people of his time who used the term meant, though. It's a distinction which can be found in standard medical psychologies of the time (e.g. Kretschmer 1916). But the medical psychologies give it an anatomical basis, and Vygotsky is trying to give it a social-semiotic one.

Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote: 
"Surely implements have some symbolic quality – they represent their objects – but this representation is not something arbitrary, but entirely objective, something that fundamentally arises from their tangible form which was formed in the process of object oriented activity. Thus a bird’s wing represents air and flight and this representation, which has nothing to do with any arbitrariness, is just what Marx and Ilyenkov meant as ideal representation."
DK: But form reflects function in words too. Just as birds wings may either be adapted for gliding or for self-powered flight, words may depend on the environment or include their own source of power. For example, our everyday words tend to be short and morphologically simple, while our scientific words are longer and morphologically complex. Nouns and verbs carry their object reference in their persons, but deictics and demonstratives do not. Long sentences are more polite than short ones, and commands are highly stripped down and streamlined in very much the same way that a bird's wing is. And of course, function reflects history in turn.
Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote: 
"It is significant that Vygotsky stumbles along such type of representation when a child involved into the experimental game of renaming objects rejects some of such renamings. Thus he/she easily approves renaming of a chair into a train but he/she affectively rejects renaming  a lamp into a table, or a knife into a chair. Vygotsky didn’t find a better explanation of this ultimately interesting phenomenon than to say: “Experiments show that both in play and in speech the child is far from consciously realizing the relativity of the sign operation or of the arbitrarily established connection of sign and meaning” (“Tool and symbol…”). He obviously failed to take into account this phenomenon as a key to the most intimate mechanism of formation of human consciousness. So if we need an example of "semiotic dead end" we have no need to leave psychological field for Saussure’s linguistics because Vygotsky’s psychology gives us an excellent
 example of the same conventionalist genre."
DK: Vygotsky's failure is not obvious to me at all. In his lectures on play at the Herzen Pedogogical Institute, he clearly does realize that the child's activity has a lot to do with whether he can play horsie with a stick or a matchstick or a card or a table. 
But Vygotsky is very clear that we are looking at something that develops, and that later on, the older child really is able to make anything into anything. So the activity-oriented semiosis you are talking about is only one stage in the process that he is talking about; in order to play horsie with a table rather than a stick, you have to be able to abstract away the leggedness of the horse and then re-attach it symbolically.

Александр Сурмава <avramus@gmail.com> wrote: 
"I do think that such very strict philosophical (≡scientific) concept as “ideality” (“reflection”) is deep enough to help us understand concrete psychological phenomena (for example, the way  languages are learned). Surely if it is really strict, not vague. 
DK: And I perfectly agree. The problem is change and development. The way in which a footprint reflects a foot is different from the way in which a shoe reflects a foot. And the way in which the word "foot" accomodates a foot is also rather different from the way the word "pedicure" conforms with it. 

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