Reading Texts: A Process of Discovering and Recovering Context
by Meenakshi Bauri
A research essay submitted to the Faculty of Graduate
Studies and Research in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the
degree of Master of Arts, School of Linguistics and applied Language
Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, September, 18,
This paper reflects a reading process. It accounts for what can happen
in an encounter between a reader and a text. Specifically, it is concerned
with exploring 'iconographic traces' of Bhartrhari's thought in Vygotsky's
Thought and Language and is a subjective account of an attempt
at understanding a text within a cross-cultural setting. The nature of
the inquiry juxtaposes the Eastern and the Western traditions, and touches
upon a very subjective experience about contextual absence.
To get at this process more clearly and look at it in more detail the
paper first indicates parallel ideas in the two texts Thought
and Language and the Vakyapadiya. This consists of an internal
dialogue with Vygotsky in the form of commentaries. Second, it questions
the conventional perspective of placing Vygotsky within a European context.
The paper proposes an alternate 'global perspective'. Third, it comments
on cultural and intellectual ties between the east and the West in search
for a historical grounding for the tracings of Indian thought in Vygotsky's
Thought and Language. Fourth, it gives a brief description of Bhartrhari's
theory of 'sphota'. The doctrine of sphota reveals Bhartrhari's philosophy
Synthesizing the reading experience the concluding remarks highlight
significant similarities and parallels between Vygotsky and Bhartrhari's
thought and also speculate upon a genealogical view of Vygotsky's ideas
tracing them to Bhartrhari's theory of Sphota.
Such speculation rests on the assumption that Bhartrhari's thought might
have found an expression in Vygotsky's scientific experiments.
This paper reflects a reading process as a subjective journey and is the
result of investigating the first dim stirrings of intuitive thought.
Chapter I: Introduction
The Problem and the Approach
Reading Vygotsky's Thought and Language I was reminded of the
Indian Philosophical tradition. I wondered, could it be that Bhartrhari's
Vakyapadiya served as the foundation text for Vygotsky's Thought
and Language? Since introductions and notes on Vygotsky and his text
did not contain any reference to Indian thought, I decided to investigate.
Thus began the reading process that would engage me on a most interesting
journey in the pursuit of knowledge. This paper is supposed to be a reflection
of this reading process.
The above question presented a crisis because, not only did it interfere
in the interpretation of Vygotsky's text according to the context outlined
by Kozulin, but it also brought to mind anecdotal references of the contribution
of Vedic ideas to modern science. There was a conflict between what I
was reading and my intuition, or in other words my inherited (cultural)
knowledge. My thoughts were, that it might be that Vygotsky took Indian
psychology seriously and was involved in testing the Indian theories of
language 'scientifically'? Rather than accept the dilemma as an idiosyncratic
interpretation, I pursued it as something to be investigated.
The process of reading was, to me a journey, the itinerary taking shape
as reading progressed through tours and detours, digressions and regressions,
the crossing of disciplinary boundaries, and reasserting them through
criss-crossing of references. Surfing through the multiplicities of meanings
of the text, I realized that a text could present itself very differently
to different readers. The beginnings of this paper lie in this realization.
In the writing of this paper, I engage in an act of theoretical and interpretive
self reflection, one that involves the text, as well as the reader in
a dialogical tension. I see this dialogical tension as a process of convolution,
which brings together the world of the reader, the text and the author
and gives the encounter new and alternative directions. The paper reflects
both aspects of my reading experience the ones that I am able to
put in order and articulate, and the ones that escape the rational and
lie in the realm of the impossible and the intuition, the reality that
language itself is incapable of capturing. As a solitary reader I had
inadvertently stepped into the world of contemporary research concerning
the role of the reader and the interpretation of texts. Such was the thrust
of the process of reading. This is not all; I realize that the writing
of this paper is hardly the end, but part of a process of self-actualization.
According to Indian thought, there are three ways to seek reality or unity
the yoga of devotion; of work, and of knowledge. In pursuit of
knowledge through reading, one can sometimes feel the reality behind the
words. (Dyne, n.d)
In general, this paper accounts for what can happen in an encounter between
a reader and a text. Specifically, it is concerned with exploring iconographic
traces of "Bhartrhari's" thought in Vygotsky's Thought and
Language, and is a subjective account of an attempt at understanding
a text within a cross-cultural setting. The investigation does not aim
to be complete, exhaustive, or conclusive. Neither does it fall in the
category of textual analysis. It does, however, propose to draw attention
to interesting parallels, and raise speculative questions. The purpose
is to try to articulate that dimension between the reader and the text,
where images and thoughts, consciousness and imagination seek a place
to rest. This however, is easier said than done. The actual writing has
had to address a complicated process where themes, concepts, cultures,
histories and traditions intertwine, clash and demand a resolution. It
places me at once along an East-West divide and amidst the most fashionable
of themes 'Postmodernism' with all its alliances of perspectives
such as: Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, New Historicism, and Semiotics.
The nature of my inquiry juxtaposes the Eastern and the Western traditions,
and speculates on some general, related questions, such as:
- Is it possible to explore further the 'context' within which Vygotsky's
Thought and Language operates and place it within a 'global perspective'?
I pose this question because, to get to the meanings of the text, the
reader has to recover and discover for oneself the context of the text.
- Can a genealogical perspective be established for Vygotsky's Thought
- Could Bhartrhari and Vygotsky become partners in a dialogue?
A full and comprehensive study of Bhartrhari's and Vygotsky's texts and
how they relate to each other, is beyond the scope of this paper and my
competence. My paper primarily reflects my reading process, and through
that exploration looks at tracings of influences on Vygotsky's Thought
and Language, and touches upon a very subjective experience about
contextual absence, or gaps in my understanding of the text as I first
The paper can be looked upon as that perspective which would never have
materialized had it not been for the method of inquiry. Self reflection
as that method, helped articulate the process of moving from an initial
intuitive discovery, to a patient and critical investigation. My knowledge
of Bhartrhari and Vygotsky grew out of the parallels between them, which
I kept finding with each new reading encounter. My endeavour has been,
above all, an act of learning. It is learning when one learns that it
is possible to share what one has learned, even if this means just posing
a question and exploring possible answers without arriving at a definitive
one. However, arriving or not arriving at definitive solutions is one
kind of reading process; another would be to regard the process of reading
as the coming together, and going apart of different streams of thoughts,
the ones that lead into the text and ones that lead out of the text onto
new trails a process that opens up the thinking of "unthought
of thoughts" to borrow the phrase from Heidegger.
The attempt throughout has been to remain true to reflecting a process,
in this respect a reading process, which is a dynamic embedded in so many
interconnected strands of intertextuality, that consciousness is never
at rest and language forever groping. Does a reader ever arrive at a unity?
Is the text ever really actualized? Is the self of the reader ever actualized?
Within a process there are no arrivings only indications.
How and Why the Inquiry Started
Reflecting on a reading process is not easy. Between the reading which
takes place earlier, in stages and with disruptions, and the later writing
of these reflections, is a process all its own. One has to somehow collect
thoughts and ideas and process them. In the writing of these pages while
I try to be as close to the first reading and the first reflections, I
nevertheless have to make changes in terms of selection and organization
based on later readings. The authenticity of a true reflection is somewhat
lost in the process. Reading Vygotsky stirred many questions and here
I will try to collect those which seemed important enough to initiate
further research and exploration. In doing so I may inadvertently overlook,
or discard other important or urgent questions, but such is the nature
of self-reflective writing.
Perhaps I can divide the questions into two categories: ones that evoked
connections with Indian philosophical thought, and others which made me
want to explore more about the times and people of the era in which Vygotsky
lived. In other words one set of questions led me to read more about Classical
Indian thought and Bhartrhari, the other led me to investigate the historical
and intellectual atmosphere of the times of Vygotsky. The two sets of
questions are however interconnected, one springs from the other, and
together they form the various strands of the process this reader engaged
The first day of class in graduate school, in which we studied Vygotsky,
while Prof. Medway (the instructor) was going over general introductions
to the course, explaining in the introductory lecture 'levels of speech'
in Vygotsky's Thought and Language, I was struck by the similarities
between Vygotsky's ideas and some of the readings I had been doing on
my own. I could not help exclaiming THAT'S Bhartrhari! (Bhartrhari
is a 5th Century philosopher of the Grammarian school of Classical Indian
Thought). So, I went to the library and checked out the book on Bhartrhari.
The book had not been checked out in ten years!
I tried to dismiss the similarities I found in the two texts reasoning
that similar ideas can perhaps be encountered in different cultures, and
that two philosophers could independently think along the same lines;
however, as soon as I acquired of Vygotsky's book and read the introductory
chapters, I could not help thinking that what I was reading related to
the verbal culture in which I was raised. The words that particularly
interested me were: thought, consciousness, and reality. Not having formally
studied Indian thought, I found it difficult to satisfactorily articulate
my feelings. The one thing that I felt vaguely sure about was that consciousness,
reality and action had Sanskrit parallels in the notions Sattva, Tamas
and Rajas. If Vygotsky was involved in exploring the concepts of Sattva,
Tamas, and Rajas then he was in company with the classical philosophers
of India who had made this a central focus of their inquiry.
As the class progressed through the different chapters of Thought
and Language, analyzing and discussing Vygotsky, I spent my spare
time reading Bhartrhari. It was not until we came to the 7th chapter of
Vygotsky's book that I decided to note points that appeared similar in
thought between the two philosophers. In the journal entries required
for the course, I mentioned the fact that there appeared to be more than
a slight correlation between certain ideas presented in Bhartrihari's
Vakyapadiya and Vygotsky's Thought and Language; however,
I found no mention of Vygotsky being acquainted with ancient Indian philosophy.
Two statements that Kozulin quotes from Vygotsky, helped me in my inquiry.
1. The resolution to the crises comes from the crisis itself;
Psychological inquiry is investigation and like the criminal investigator
the psychologist must take into account indirect evidence and circumstantial
clues which in practice means works of art, philosophical arguments,
and anthropological data are no less important (Vygotsky, 1997: xx;
I decided to follow Vygotsky's advice and do some armchair investigations
of my own. After repeated readings of the text Thought and Language,
I noticed the significance of Vygotsky's opening remarks in the author's
preface to Thought and Language:
This book is a study of one of the most complex problems in psychology,
the interrelation of thought and speech. We have attempted at least
a first approach to this task by conducting experimental studies of
a number of separate aspects of the total problem
Vygotsky does not claim these ideas have not yet been investigated; rather,
he says, "As far as we know, this problem has not yet been investigated
experimentally in a systematic fashion." The thought crossed my mind
that perhaps Vygotsky was investigating Bhartrihari's ideas experimentally.
This led me to focus my attention on classical Indian philosophical thought.
Interestingly, I played with the idea that a possible translation of the
title of Bhartrhari's Vakyapadiya could be 'Thought and Language'.
Vakyapadiya = sentence/thought speech word/language. Howard Coward
says, "nineteenth century and early twentieth century renewal of
interest in language in the west was influenced by scholars such as von
Humbolt, Max Muller, and Cassirer, all of whom gave considerable attention
to the Sanskrit Grammarian tradition"(1976: 115). For me, however,
this was enough to start thinking of a possible area of investigation,
scholarship in the 19th century especially as it relates
to Indological studies in the West.
I started looking for information on Indological studies in Russia, which
in turn led me to the German Philosophers. I kept a running list of personalities,
as I came upon them in my readings. I also tried to keep a short biographical
sketch on each one of the personalities with the hope that the information
I was putting together might reveal further connections and patterns.
The result was a fascinating array of personalities, and a curious connection
of histories that included not only European scholars, but South Asian
personalities as well. From the information that emerged I began to get
an idea of the period discourse of the times. The question that now emerged
was How does Vygotsky's Thought and Language fit within
the intellectual discourse of the period, which focused on the contributions
of Indological studies? Scholarly endeavour is closely linked to the social,
political, economic, and religious, ideas of the times; in other words,
consciously or unconsciously our culture exerts a tremendous influence
on our being.
Frank Kermode expresses this idea thus:
Our period discourse is controlled by certain unconscious constraints,
which made it possible to think in some ways to the exclusion of others.
However subtle we may be at reconstructing the constraints of past (or
foreign) epistimes, we cannot ordinarily move outside the tacit system
of our own (Kermode, as cited in Tuck, 1990, p. 96).
Following this line of inquiry, I was prepared to look at the wider discourse
of 19th century scholarship, in the hope of arriving at possible patterns
of thought, and lines of inquiry that involved the scholars at that time.
Studying the information I had collected so far, I learned that:
- The 19th Century was marked by European interest in acquiring, translating,
and interpreting Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Pali texts.
- Philosophers and scientists were deeply concerned with theories of
relationships between mind and brain.
- A genealogical perspective of works titled Thought and Language
could be traced.
I also tried to logically resolve the triangular connection of iconographic
traces of Bharthari in Vygotsky; Bhartrhari's text Vakyapadiya,
and Vygotsky and his text. When I read Vygotsky and I see "Bhartrhari"
(in a cultural sense), is Bhartrhari real or an illusion? I tried to rationalize
the problem as a problem of perception and inference. How is one to distinguish
the real from the illusion? The most common example of perceptual illusion
in Indian epistemology is that of mistaking a piece of rope for a snake.
If one sees a rope in the dark and thinks it is a serpent, is the serpent
real or false.
Within Indian thought, there are two views regarding the discussion on
'illusion' and 'the real' or 'appearance' and 'reality'. Both views belong
to the realist school of thought. The first view suggests that so long
as the illusion lasts, we see the illusory object existing in front of
us; we could not have mistaken the rope for a snake, unless we already
know what a snake is, i.e. unless we have seen the snake already. When
we see the illusory snake, we have the rope in view and remember the snake
already seen; but we do not cognize the difference between the two; therefore,
we take the object to be a snake. So the illusion is only this non cognition
(agraha, akhati) of the difference between the object seen and the object
remembered. The illusory object is not characterized as a non entity because
there is no positive error in illusion, and perception in fact
all knowledge is always true. Our consciousness cannot commit a
mistake. The second view suggests that knowledge cannot commit mistakes
by itself. The mere non cognition or non apprehension of the difference
between the rope in front and the remembered snake cannot explain the
positive perception of the snake in front. Our perception of the object
in front is of the form, THAT is a snake, and not of the form that and
the snake. It is not merely the non cognition of the difference between
the rope and the snake, but an identification of the 'THAT' and the 'snake'
that makes the perception an illusion. In fact, until later we do not
know the rope at all; so there is no question at all of the difference
between the rope and the snake being cognized or not cognized. What we
have is the 'THAT' the demonstrative pointing to the rope and to the snake.
So, we have mistaken the rope for another object, namely the snake. Here,
the object in front is identified by us, as an object remembered. This
doctrine is called the doctrine of the cognition of a different object
(viparita khyati) since the serpent is obviously different from the rope
( Raju, 1971, p.75).
The above views represent the realist and the pluralist (Mimamsaka) school
of thought. We generally think that in the above scenario, the snake is
false, it is only an idea; but according to the realists, it is real because
it is a remembered snake. If after realizing that the object in front
is a rope, we ask ourselves why we saw a snake instead, we shall find
that it is a remembered snake and, if we try we can trace it back to some
past perception of a snake. So, we are left with the statement: THAT is
real, the ROPE is real, and the SNAKE is also real (Raju, 1971, p. 75).
How does this line of reasoning tie in with Vygotsky? Perhaps in the
statement "THAT is Bhartrihari." The "THAT" is real,
"BHARTRHARI" is real, and VYGOTSKY is real. Within this logic
all such realities have importance. However, it is impossible to take
the argument further, unless we recover the context of Vygotsky and his
text. At the beginning of the chapter entitled 'Vygotsky in Context',
The bits and pieces we have been able to gather about Vygotsky's life
We do not know much about Vygotsky's life. He left no
memoirs, and his biography has yet to be written. That leaves us with
the task of putting together the scattered reminiscences of Vygotsky's
friends and co-workers (Kozulin, 1997, p. xi).
The above passage as well as Kozulin's remarks at the end of the same
chapter must be read critically:
This new translation is based on the 1934 edition of 'Myshenie i rech',
the only one actually prepared although imperfectly by Vygotsky himself.
In it I have sought to follow Vygotsky's line of thought as closely
as possible, departing from it only when it repeats itself or when the
logic of Russian discourse cannot be directly rendered in English. Substantial
portions of the 1962 translation made by the late Eugenia Hanfmann and
Gertrude Vakar have been retained. One last word., being well aware
that he was losing in his struggle with tuberculosis, Vygotsky had no
time for the luxury of including well prepared, references in Myshlenie
i rech. Often he simply named a researcher without mentioning any exact
work. At the same time, many of his references are now obscure figures.
Therefore to place Vygotsky's work in proper context requires explanatory
notes (1997, p,.lvi).
I couldn't agree more. I am left wondering if Bhartrhari the 5th Century
Grammarian and the author of Vakyapadiya is one of those 'obscure'
figures. The opening statements by Vygotsky and the closing statements
by Kozulin put Vygotsky's Thought and Language among other highly
interpretable texts, in the mind of this reader at least, and give considerable
impetus to the interpretive process.
In order to take a clearer and more detailed look at this process, this
paper proposes to:
- Indicate the parallel ideas presented in the two texts Thought
and Language and the Vakyapadia.
- Apply the framework of Widdowson's concept of the 'co-operative principle'.
Widdowson says, one might decompose a written passage into its constituent
points of interaction, building up sequences for later conversions into
paragraphs of written language (Widdowson, 1979, p.176): in other words,
convert a non-reciprocal discourse into a reciprocal version. If I apply
this principle to selected passages from Thought and Language,
where would they lead? What would they reveal?
- Review the literature, which formed a part of the reading process
with a focus on a 'global perspective' on Vygotsky.
- Comment on cultural and intellectual ties between the east and the
West specially, during the early 19 and the early 20th century.
- Give a brief description of Bhartrhari's theory of "Sphota".
The doctrine of Sphota reveals Bhartrhari's philosophy of language.
It assumes importance because Bhartrhari "rather than immersing
himself in mystical meditation, sets out to analyze the meanings of
words and the means by which such word knowledge is manifested and communicated
in ordinary experience" (Coward, 1976, p. 6).
- Examine aspects of the investigation and comment on the reader/text
The themes above have been organized into the following chapters. Chapter
1 serves as the introduction to the paper. It emphasizes the reflective
nature of my reading process and reveals how and why my inquiry started.
Chapter 2 deals with questions that arose while reading Vygotsky's Thought
and Language. It consists of my internal dialogue with Vygotsky within
the framework of commentaries. The format is informal to allow the dialogue
to unfold spontaneously and thus be more readable. Chapter 3 deals with
the question of perspective on Vygotsky and here I propose to put Vygotsky
within a 'global perspective', moving away from a Eurocentric approach
of placing Vygotsky strictly within the European context. Though all the
chapters reflect the directions of my reading process, chapters 4, and
5 specifically deal with readings related to European involvement with
the East; and an introduction to Bhartrhari and his theory of sphota respectively.
Chapter 6, the last chapter, presents a synthesis of my reading experience.
It presents examples of parallels between Vygotsky and Bhartrhari, which
surfaced during the reading experience; together with my concluding reflections
on the reading process a process, which consists of actualizing
both the text and the self of the reader. Just as the text needs a reader
to be actualized, so, too the reader needs the text to actualize the self.
Chapter 2: Quotes and Commentaries
The cooperative process
According to Widdowson, reading is an act of participation in a discourse
between interlocutors. It is regarded not as reaction to a text but as
interaction between writer and reader mediated through the text. This
interaction is governed by the 'co-operative process', where encoding
is a matter of providing directions and decoding a matter of following
them. In this interactional exchange what is actually expressed is vague,
imprecise and insignificant, it is satisfactory only because it provides
the interlocutors with directions to where they can find and create meanings
for themselves. Widdowson suggests that this kind of creativity is not
exclusive to reading but is a necessary condition for the interpretation
of any discourse. Spoken as well as written discourse, operate in accordance
with this co-operative principle (Widdowson, 1979, pp. 174-175).
The following is an attempt to outline the inner dialogue in which I
was engaged while reading Vygotsky's Thought and Language. Building
on the co-operative process outlined by Widdowson, this section constructed
in the form of commentaries, follows a tradition in which highly complex
and technical arguments are illustrated by excerpts of text followed by
commentaries either by the author himself or by others. The textual selections
Author's Preface; Chapter 1 The Problem and the Approach;
and Chapter 7 Thought and Word, are from Vygotsky's Thought
and Language 1997. The selections from the Author's preface;
and Chapter 1, follow the sequence as they appear in the text. This being
one of the reasons I've chosen these sections of the text. The above format
makes it possible for me to juxtapose the two schools of thoughts
East and West by presenting quotes from Vygotsky followed by my
commentaries. This format is an outgrowth of a reading process that naturally
lends itself to the dialogue/commentary style.
The framework is informal and as much as possible true to the original
reflections; therefore, it does not always follow the strictly technical
practice of citing sources and references, but presents thoughts as they
appeared. While the inner dialogue explores questions and ideas that surfaced
during the initial reading process, their presentation here in the form
of commentaries represents what I call the external dialogue. Through
commentaries this chapter reveals the dialogical relationship between
the author, the text and the reader bringing to surface the subjective
experiential process of the reader's consciousness.
Quotes and Commentaries
Quotes from Vygotsky's Thought and Language are presented in bold
print to distinguish them from other quotes; my commentaries and reflections
follow the quotes.
This book is a study of one of the most complex problems in psychology,
the interrelation of thought and speech. (Vygotsky, 1997,p .ix)
Vygotsky is represented as one of the classical figures in the history
of psychology. There is a vast amount of literature available about the
impact of his ideas on modern psychology, pedagogy, social sciences, epistemology
and cognition. He is recognized for creating the cultural-historical approach,
which is one of the leading psychological theories of the 20th century
on human consciousness (Veresov). It was within this context the
study of consciousness that we were discussing Vygotsky's book
Thought and Language in Professor Peter Medway's course on
Written Language and Cognition 29.545. While explaining the significance
of the book, professor Medway explained that the central point in the
book is that 'language is the means of thought and thought is a
derivative of language' (class notes- Sept. 17,1997). In my attempt to
understand the ideas presented in class, I read the book with a great
deal of interest. In his book Thought and Language Vygotsky outlines
his theories about the interrelation of thought and speech. In the author's
preface of his book, he says:
As far as you know the problem of the interrelation of thought and
speech has not yet been investigated experimentally in a systematic
fashion. (Ibid. , p. lix)
I read layers of meanings in this utterance. Does this mean that although
the concept of the connection between thought and speech was a part of
ancient philosophic discourse, this link had not yet found its way into
the scientific literature of the West? Could this be the reason that Vygotsky
sought to systematize it with his methods of investigation? Professor
Medway outlined five important streams or themes discussed in Vygotsky's
book Thought and Language:
- The connection between language and thought.
- Words as generalizations
- Development of speech into thinking.
- The role of instruction in development
- Concept development
Professor Medway also mentioned that Vygotsky was the first to do a psychological
investigation by conducting experimental studies regarding the interrelation
of Thought and Language. In the following passage, Vygotsky outlines
his thoughts regarding his experimental studies.
We have attempted at least a first approach to this task by conducting
experimental studies of a number of separate aspects of the total problem
such as experimentally formed concepts, written language in relation
to thought, inner speech etc. The results of these studies provide a
part of the material on which our analyses are based. (Ibid., p. lix)
By 'our analyses' I presume Vygotsky is referring to Luria and himself.
The meaning of "The results of these studies provide a part of the
material on which our analyses are based" is not entirely clear.
My question to Vygotsky would be: What constitutes the other part of the
material on which his analyses are based?
In his book, The Making of the Mind Luria talks about his research
and the importance of Vygotsky's contribution towards that research. According
to Luria, the theoretical foundations of much of the experimental work
of the time, were naive. Luria further states that the task of laying
the theoretical foundations for his experimental work fell on Vygotsky
whom he met in 1924. (Luria, 1979, p. 28-37). It follows that Vygotsky's
hypotheses provided the theoretical foundations to further Luria's experimental
studies; but what were Vygotsky's hypotheses based on? Did they constitute
the other part of the material on which his analyses are based?
Theoretical and critical discussions are a necessary pre-condition
of and a complement to the experimental part of the study and constitute
a large portion of the book. The working hypotheses that serve as starting
points for our fact-finding experiments had to be based on a general
theory of the genetic roots of thought and speech. In order to develop
such a theoretical framework, we reviewed and carefully analyzed the
pertinent data in the psychological literature. (1997, p. lix).
In this passage Vygotsky does not specify the literature which led to
the development of his theoretical framework. This is one of the reasons
that Vygotsky scholars today are trying to find a continuity in the development
of his ideas leading to a dominant theory, and exploring the web of influences
that contributed to this development.
We subjected to critical analysis those theories that seemed richer
in their scientific potential, and thus could become a starting point
for our own inquiry. Such an inquiry from the very beginning has been
in opposition to theories that although dominant in contemporary science,
nevertheless call for review and replacement. (Ibid., p. lix-lx)
Again Vygotsky does not specify whether the theories selected by him
for their scientific potential, fall strictly within the European tradition.
This question comes to mind for two reasons; first, because of Vygotsky's
opening statement "as far as we know the problem of the interrelation
of thought and speech has not yet been investigated experimentally in
a systematic fashion"; and second, because he says that from the
very beginning his inquiry was in opposition to the dominant contemporary
theories. Vygotsky calls for a 'review' and 'replacement' of these dominant
theories. I understand 'review', but 'replacement' would mean a substitution
by new and different ideas. Where did these new ideas come from? I am
reminded of Lemke's statement, in Textual Politics discourse
and social dynamics. In the section on Bakhtin and Heteroglossia,
He (Bakhtin) worked as part of a group of scholars in the period immediately
following the Russian Revolution, a time when Marxist ideas were widely
respected and when there was a temporary crack in the monolithic ideology
of European culture. In this period, Vygotsky began to ask about the
social origins of mind... (Lemke, 1995, p. 22).
Through my readings, I learned that this period is marked by an increasing
dialogue between the East and the West, specifically India and Europe.
In the 1920's and 1930's Vygotsky's ideas were sharply criticized and
his theory was condemned as a whole (van der Veer & Valsiner, 1993,
p. 374). Was it because of the Eastern influence that Vygotsky's inquiry
was in opposition to the dominant theories in contemporary science and
that his theoretical investigations and claims were called 'erroneous',
and 'eclectic'? Some critics also called it 'the exotic branch of Russian
Psychology.'(Vygotsky,1997, p. xliii & lv). What connotations would
one extend to the word "exotic"? It was also said that the theory
of cultural development did not represent Soviet paedology and psychology,
(van der Veer & Valsiner,1993, p. 380). Vygotsky's exact position
towards Marxism was questioned. Despite this criticism, he was praised
for his intellectual independence, and for his quest for synthesis. It
is said that as a result of his broad knowledge of international psychology
he could lead his ideas to a novel synthesis (Ibid., p. 393). The key
idea here is the idea of synthesis; but I wonder what the term 'International
psychology' denotes. Would the Indian Yoga system, which was the traditional
psychology of India in Bhartrhari's day, be included in a definition of
The author and his associates have been exploring the field of language
and thought for almost ten years, in the course of which some of the
initial hypotheses were revised, or abandoned as false. The main line
of our investigation, however, has followed the direction taken from
the start. (1997, p. lxi)
Exactly what does Vygotsky mean when he says 'from the start'? I presume
that it refers to his several years of research in this area and includes
his writings prior to the text Thought and Language; but what was
that direction that he took from the start? Is it what he says in The
Psychology of Art?
The first and most widespread formula of art psychology goes back to
W. von Humboldt; it defines art as perception. Potebnia adopted this
as the basic principle in a number of his investigations. In a modified
form, it approaches the widely held theory that comes to us from antiquity,
according to which art is the perception of wisdom, and teaching and
instruction are its main tasks. One of the fundamental views of this
theory is the analogy between the activity and evolution of language
and art (Vygotsky, 1925).
Further, from the same text...
The psychological system of philology has shown that the word is divided
into three basic elements: the sound, or external form; the image, or
inner form; and the meaning, or significance (Ibid.).
My interpretation of the above passage is as follows:
Vygotsky mentions Humbolt and Potebyna (also Schopenhauer elsewhere in
the text). One cannot think of Humbolt, Potebyna, or Schopenhauer, without
a connection to Indian thought. Also, Vygotsky talks about "the theory
from antiquity" but finds no need to specify, which theory from which
antiquity? He further mentions "the psychological system of philology".
The only psychological system of philology I know about is the yoga system
of Patan~jali. Coward mentions this specifically (Coward, 1976). Vygotsky
refers to Humbolt and the theory from antiquity; is it this direction
that he took from the start? This above quote is significant from yet
another perspective. Vygotsky emphasizes that teaching and instruction
are important in the acquisition of wisdom. Again this corresponds to
the path of knowledge, and the role of siksa or instruction and teaching
within it. In one short paragraph, Vygotsky has stated the main concepts
of the philosophical tradition of the East.
Vygotsky has been described as a prodigal reader, one who was known for
the acquisition of ideas from seemingly disparate fields. It is a pity
it is not possible to elaborate upon his research during this ten-year
period, in order to obtain a more personal account of his investigation
and a better idea about the range, depth and extent of his readings.
At the beginning of their book, van der Veer and Valsiner quote Vygotsky's
thoughts regarding creativity as a historically continuous process (1993,
p. xi). In the passage, Vygotsky says that no innovative scientist creates
ideas independently from the collective-cultural processes and cultural
history, and from the interpersonal relationships in which human life
is ingrained. Van der Veer and Valsiner talk about "intellectual
interdependency"(Ibid., p. 393), which brings with it the notion
of a cross-cultural embeddedness as well especially if Vygotsky
was interested in international psychology. This makes the idea of synthesis
a very important one because it brings into play the dialogic involved
not only within the local but a global perspective as well: a synthesis
of Eastern and Western thought; an attempt at translatability of cultures;
an example that theories do travel, and not only from the West to the
East, but also from the East to the West. However, such a dialogic is
missing in the literature on Vygotsky. Vygotsky is presented strictly
within the European tradition. This assumption seems an impossibility
considering the fact that Vygotsky was 'keenly' interested in the 'structuralist
revolution' as Kozulin states (1997, p. xiii). It has been established,
though often not acknowledged and explicitly stated, that Indian influences
found their way into European Linguistics through Saussure, who was a
professor of Sanskrit and the founder of European Structuralism.
In this work we have tried to explicate the ideas that our previous
studies contained only implicitly. We fully realize the inevitable imperfections
of this study, which is no more than a first step in a new direction.
(1997, p. lxi)
Perhaps by 'our previous studies' Vygotsky is referring to the ideas
in the passages previously indicated from his work, The Psychology
If one were to thoroughly explore the ideas of intertextuality and dialogism
as they relate to 19th and early 20th century intellectual history, it
would be difficult to ignore the wider context in which all dialogue of
this period was embedded. It is this wider context that is the object
of my exploration. The following passage from van der Veer and Valsiner
illustrates the point further:
all people involved in social discourse are co-constructors of
ideas. Their social worlds include a variety of concepts of heterogeneous
meanings. The individual makes use of some of these concepts and adjusts
their meanings in accordance with the context in which these meanings
are to be used. Other concepts may be actively rejected, or merely passed
by without their being integrated into the knowledge structure that
the individual is constructing. Nevertheless, even in the latter case,
the presence of these concepts in the social world of the individual
(and his mind) is a relevant part of the mindscape that leads to new
ideas. The emergence of a new idea takes place within an individual's
mind while he is participating in (immediate or deferred) social discourse.
Hence the personal achievement of novel ideas is intellectually interdependent
with the socially available and intellectual culturally organized raw
materials, concepts with heterogeneous meanings, innovation thus
necessarily occurs in the social context both the means (meanings)
and needs (goals set by the individual in the given task setting) are
at first suggested to him socially. These may later be transferred into
an internal psychological sphere thus a Tibetan monk contemplating
issues of jealousy in the isolation of his cave is involved in as much
a socially constructed endeavour as a psychologist leading a discussion
on the same topic at a conference (1993, p. 395).
I find this reference to a Tibetan monk and a leading psychologist curiously
interesting. By a stretch of imagination, the psychologist in question
could be Lev Vygotsky and the monk, Bhartrhari the 5th century Grammarian
philosopher! Going over my notes from Prof. Medway's class I came across
passages where Prof. Medway explained how an utterance is a plastic concept,
and a book represented a chain, a dialogic chain of utterances, that there
are no neutral utterances. Intertextuality in this sense is built up of
utterances of before; we are all engaged in a dialogic activity even in
private conversation (class notes).
Keeping this in mind, it is my assumption that the research from which
Vygotsky's hypotheses originated was a part of the larger discourse. I
see his work as an important contribution towards the translation and
translatabilities of theories an interesting mixture of intuition
and fact, East and West, science and spirituality, a true continuation
of his and Luria's work in the study of the cross-cultural development
of thinking! It is my speculation that the challenge his group encountered
was perhaps how to make a borrowed theory acceptable and applicable, palatable
to European consciousness; in other words, how to make it fit European
discourse. Outside of religious mysticism and culture specific limitations,
the Eastern philosophies offered a theoretical platform from which scientifically
possible hypotheses could be empirically investigated. Vygotsky's work
seems to chronicle the empirical experiments of the West against the philosophical
suppositions of the East, and Psychology, as Kozulin rightfully states,
offered the conceptual tool. The problem of thought and speech had always
been a central issue within Indian philosophic thought, and it was an
important topic of discussion in the intellectual circles of Vygotsky's
times. It is therefore logical that it became a focal issue of psychological
investigation. Perhaps Vygotsky was trying to compare and contrast the
progress made by the empirical scientific West with the theoretical suppositions
of the East. Or even further, perhaps he was exploring whether science
was capable of uncovering empirically within its methods, the realizations
contained within Eastern philosophies. What would such findings indicate?
to Part 2