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Re: [xmca] A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes

When I was a freshman at the University of Chicago, we were sternly given three volumes of Trotsky's "History of the Russian Revolution" to read as part of the mandatory course "Great Literature of the World". 
I suppose this was mostly intended to impress upon us the sheer bulk of the intellectual commitment we were required to make. But we were permitted to enjoy the whiplash-like cut and thurst of the wit, we were enjoined to learn from the icy clarity of the style and we were entreated to pay no attention whatsoever to the history or the politics.
I am still reading it today. First of all, as my professor said, it is a brilliant piece of literature, in which individual experience (including that of the author, who insists on writing of himself in the third person) can be read as metonymic for larger historical events, in much the same way as characters in War and Peace serve, in exhausting themselves by pusuing their own ends, aims that are far larger and more inexhaustible. (And yet the events Trotsky describes walk on human legs, sometimes doddering and sometimes sprinting, occasionally stopping and even squatting, but always recognizably human.)  
Contrary to what my professor said, the history and the politics are an inextricable part of the literary qualities of the book. Each individual experience is presented as the endpoint of certain social processes as well as the starting point of new ones (for example, we are told that the "laboratory of the revolution" was not simply the Petrograd Soviet but the "brain of Lenin", and then given a meticulous account of the reasoning that actually launched the insurrection (reasoning which Figes writes off with the casual and historically untrue remark that the insurrection was "rammed through against the judgement of the Bolshevik leaders"). 
Let me end this somewhat far-fetched recommendation (to replace a book which you just ordered with another one that is three times as long) with a far-stretched reference to the other thread. Of course you are perfectly correct to remind Joseph Gilbert of the extremely important role of deaf people. 
The truth is that deaf people play a far MORE exclusive role in their own speech community than hearing people play in our own. Deaf people are less likely to be excluded by linguistic ignorance from our society as we must be from theirs. And there is very good evidence (from work by Stokoe and others, as well as the evidence of native American languages) that the first languages were every bit as much sign languages as they were sound languages.
I think what really galls me about the idea of "non-human interactants" and "direct perception" and "embodiment of meaning" is the ethics of the idea. Like the Russian revolution itself, Vygotsky's great project suffered enormously from external persecution. But since it was essentially an idea and not an institution , it could only really be overthrown from within. 
Of all of the threats to overthrow it, the most serious one has always come from the propensity to equate subject-object relations with subject-subject ones (activity theory, the dissolution of the distinction between tools and signs, the abstract reference to mediation which, as Mike points out, inevitably tends in an instrumental direction). 
The idea that a linguistic relationship is really a non-human relationship with a WORD or a THING and not a cultural, social, ideological relationship with another human being seems to me to be poured directly from this mold. It is precisely the phenomenological response to the word, the notion that the meaning of the word is reducible to its perceptual sonic effects on humans. It seems to me to be direclty akin to Cezanne's conceit that in painting Mont Saint-Helene, it was the mountain itself which was using him as a paintbrush.
This phenomenological reduction of words to sonorous things and of human beings to the objects of those things requires industrial quantities of what Greg so accurately refers to as "the labor of alienation" (rather than the alienation of labor). And yet still it cannot explain the difference between signalling and signification. It can only reduce the language user to the position of a natural object, a daffodil waiting for spring. 
And of course, for that very reason, it appeals to our own age, which is a historical moment when "culture", "society", "history" and even "ideology" are once again ideologically suspect and even linguists really prefer to think of humans as narrowly biological. If, in the twentieth century, lack of ideology was considered an ideology, in the twenty-first century, possession of an ideology is simply thought of as one more lack of ideology.
Trotsky, and Vygotsky, are both voices from that earlier and in some ways more far-seeing time. For Trotsky, the real link between the "brain of Lenin" and the Petrograd Soviet was in the human experience which both realized, and which both realized in both senses of the word "realization". Not reflected--that's what a mirror does. Not refracted--that's what a lens does. But realized. That's what we do!
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies 

--- On Sun, 6/3/12, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu> wrote:

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu>
Subject: [xmca] A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>, " (pazaroff2001@yahoo.com)" <pazaroff2001@yahoo.com>
Date: Sunday, June 3, 2012, 2:55 PM

To fill in one of the many gaps in my historical knowledge, I've ordered "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924" by Orlando Figes

Does anyone know anything about this account of the revolution? The one I recently saw on PBS really sounded like US propaganda. So I'd like to know if the Bolsheviks got off to a more positive start than was suggested by that documentary, as they call them.
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