A student of literature, philosophy, and esthetics, Vygotsky plunged into psychology at the age of twenty-eight, and died of tuberculosis ten years later. A prodigal reader, he felt equally at home with commentaries on Shakespeare's tragedies, the philosophy of Hegel, and clinical studies of the mentally retarded. A profound theoretician, he was also a man of practise who founded and directed a number of research laboratories, including the first Russian Institute for the Study of Handicapped Children. As Stephen Toulmin so aptly remarked, Vygotsky carried an aura of almost Mozartian giftedness. And yet he lived in times that were hardly favorable to Mozarts.
Evidently he wrote a book in 1925 called The Psychology of Art, as it is about my two intertwined fields and was written our of life in Russia in the 1920s, I have got to get my hands on a copy. Kozulin observes, and I may paraphrase:
Vygotsky never believed that psychological inquiry should be considered as a goal in itself. For him, culture and consciousness constituted the actual subject of inquiry, while psychology remained a conceptual tool, important but hardly universal.I need another book to read, as my mother would say, like a hole in the head, but I am finding it fascinating and can comfort myself that it is school related even while I am really just reading it to enjoy myself.
Vygotsky was primarily interested in the development of language in its relation to thought. Language and speech occupy a special place in his s psychological system because they play a double role. On the one hand, they are a psychological tool that helps to form other mental functions; on the other hand, they are one of these functions, which means that they develop in the context of one's culture.
Vygotsky observed that preconceptual, and even mythological thinking not only is characteristic of children and the mentally ill, but also forms the basis of the everyday, normal reasoning of adults.
I also began The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox yesterday evening. I needed an entertaining and cozy read and Middlemarch was not going to do it. The hyperbole that grace the cover of this 2-inch-thick paperback compare Cox to Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and the Brontes. Cox is a scholar, writer, and editor of literary Victoriana and burst onto the scene with this fictional work of his own a couple of years ago. It skillfully evokes his period of expertise while not falling prey to becomming an exhibit. It is little wonder so many readers have raved about The Meaning of Night if the first fifty pages are any indication.
Take the opening:
After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.
It had been surprisingly - almost laughably - easy.
And then a short while later:
For you must understand that I am not a murderer by nature, only by temporary design and necessity - a justified sinner. There was no need to repeat this experimental act of killing I proved what I had set out to prove: the capacity of my will to carry out such a deed. The blameless red-haired stranger had fulfilled his purpose, and I was ready for what now lay ahead.The budding psychologist in me says, 'yeah, right.' And so Cox establishes the driving force of this mock-Victorian epic of revenge. What I am enjoying most are the rituals Cox has created to seduce you into the world of his tale. The story is couched as an anonymous confession, written in the 1850s but discovered in 1948. It features a 'copy' of the original title page, an 'introduction' by an academic authority on Victoriana, and the story itself is liberally footnoted. While this might break the stream of one's reading to offer contextual information on the one hand, these footnotes, whether truthful or invented, are themselves part of the fictional universe. Its a theatrical framing device - like Bertolt Brecht's alienation effect. Hard core Brechtians might claim otherwise, but I have always found that attention to the artifice is useful in drawing an audience more deeply into the universe of the fiction because, if even the interruptions are part of it, one's belief becomes more imperterbable. It is the opposite of asking the audience to suspend one's disbelief - it rather invites one's belief. "Here is a manuscript," says the author. "Here are the circumstances under which it was discovered. I am the man who found it." This is all fiction. And then, as you read, up pops the frame - "Don't forget that this is a story," say the footnotes, but in the meantime the fact that this is a novel by a contemporary writer named Michael Cox has been buried three layers beneath the artifice of the frame. It is a device I have enjoyed using in my theater and opera productions because it doesn't take the audience's faith in the fictional world for granted and also because if the creator is imaginative, these devices are fun for the audience. This reader is certainly enjoying the way Cox has invited him into the world of The Meaning of Night at any rate.
The Ragazzo and I are off to the Met this afteroon. Doctor Atomic is by contemporary American composer John Adams and is about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atom bomb. I've been looking forward to this one.