Interpenetration: The Ins and Outs of Social Intercourse

In the previous essay, like in multiple essays before, I focused on Valentin Vološinov’s ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’. I was able to cover the second chapter of the first part of the book, as well as a large chunk the fourth chapter of the second part of the book.

In summary, it was established that theme is the thematic unity of an utterance, the upper limit of linguistic significance, whereas meaning is the lower limit of linguistic significance. Importantly, without one, you don’t have the other. In other words, they presuppose one another. You could say that theme is what is important in language for Vološinov as he is all about how language is used and how it keep changing as it is used. Then again, for him, there has to be something that locks people together, otherwise we have people just uttering nonsense to one another. In other words, the theme of each utterance is unique, indivisible and unreproducible, whereas meaning, nested in theme, is what is divisible, reproducible and self-identical. Theme needs to convey meaning, but meaning cannot be separated from theme, the thematic unity of an utterance. In short, on their own, words have no meaning. Other interesting bits include how he emphasizes the importance of intonation, not in a way what you’d expect, really, but how context comes to drive intonation, which, in turn, comes to drive theme and meaning, even on a single word basis (for example how flexible swear words can be). This all then linked back to how we come to talk to one another is context dependent, how people are part of this and/or that social group and certain hierarchical structures that come to influence their view of the world, how this and/or that item, thing or discursive object comes to appear in their circle of items, their purview.

Moving on, chapter three of part one is titled ‘Philosophy of Language and Objective Psychology’. In the abstract, inner speech is mentioned so this ought to get interesting. It was already covered, sort of, but not really, so I’m looking forward to going through this. Vološinov (25-26) kicks off with pointing that what he means by objective psychology is to be rooted not in physiology or biology but in sociology. More precisely, to avoid the terms he is using (namely ideology that he keeps repeating so often that it gets annoying), he (25) states that consciousness or conscious psyche is a sociological fact, not a physical or a biological fact. He (25) expresses this in order to point out that natural sciences are of no use here because the psyche is not a product of biology or physiology. Simply put, he (25) argues that, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, psyche is the product of external, not internal processes. To be clear, he (25) does add that it, of course, requires the individual, otherwise there’d be no psyche to discuss.

He (26) elaborates that what is known as inner experience, the subjective psyche, is the very same material reality of that of signs, that of language. He (26) warns not to take this to mean that there is nothing outside the inner experience, the subjective psyche. Indeed there is, as he (26) notes that just the human body involves a large number of physiological processes. It’s rather that our consciousness has no existence of its own, as he (26) goes on to point out. What is it then, if not part of human physiology or biology, the organism, or an entity of its own? In his (26) words:

“By its very existential nature, the subjective psyche is to be localized somewhere between the organism and the outside world, on the borderline separating these two spheres of reality.”

Again, he (26) adds to this, warning not to take this as meaning that it is simply a matter of situating this moment “between the organism and the outside world” because the moment, how you, me, everyone really, come to make sense of the world and ourselves is not a physical encounter but a semiotic one. In his (26) words, “the organism and the outside world meet here in the sign.” Very simply put, just as he (26) puts it, “[p]sychic experience is the semiotic expression of the contact between the organism and the outside environment.” What follows from this, as pointed out already in rejection of applying methods of natural sciences, is that “the inner psyche is not analyzable as a thing but can only be understood and interpreted as a sign.” In fancier terms, as he’ll come to address this, introspection is pointless, albeit only in the sense that one attempts to present the inner psyche, one’s own experiences as the expression of one’s experiences is always a representation, a sign of a sign, as he’ll (36) point out later on. For me, it’s you stepping outside yourself, as if that was even possible, to analyze you. What a pointless exercise! Not understanding that it is you who is analyzing you, going around in circles, not taking into account that your analysis of your condition is conditioned by you. Sad and funny, at the same time.

Vološinov (26) takes a detour to Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), a philosopher and a polymath. He (26) summarizes that for Dilthey:

“[I]t was not so much a matter that subjective psychic experience existed, the way a thing may be said to exist, as that it had meaning.”

More importantly, he (26) argues that, as I pointed out, we get nowhere if we do the opposite:

“When disregarding this meaning in the attempt to arrive at the pure reality of experience, we find ourselves, according to Dilthey, confronting in actual fact a physiological process in the organism and losing sight of the experience in the meantime – just as, when disregarding the meaning of a word, we lose the word itself and confront its sheer physical sound and the physiological process of its articulation.”

As you can see, he (26) reiterates the point I covered about theme and meaning in the previous essay. At this stage of the book, this may seem somewhat off, even contradictory as he (26) goes on to state that “[w]hat makes a word a word is its meaning” and “[w]hat makes an experience an experience is also its meaning” but it’s worth keeping in mind that, as he goes on to explain later on in the book, in chapter four of the second part, meaning is nested in theme and everything is contextual. As I pointed out in the summary part, that doesn’t negate meaning. What he is after is that just as language cannot be separated from context (otherwise it becomes meaningless), the inner experience cannot be separated from context. To repeat myself, you cannot step outside yourself, as if you were separate from yourself, in order to analyze yourself. That is just impossible.

Now, while Vološinov (26-27) agrees with Dilthey on that inner experience cannot be reduced to physiology, he disagrees with Dilthey on, pretty much, everything else, namely that “psychology must provide the basis for the humanities.” It’s just untenable for him, idealistic, that everything, including meaning, is grounded on the subject, the individual. He (27) finds it lacking because no provision is made to the social character of meaning. More importantly, for him (27), this builds on a poor, if not false premise, a proton pseudos, in which meaning is considered essential but it’s not explained what it is and how it is connected language. So, for him (27), Dilthey ends up using meaning as a handy analogy, as an explanatory figure, but ends up drawing false conclusions. So, as I pointed out, this all falls apart unless you address meaning, which Vološinov does, in particular, in chapter four of the second part of the book. Here I think it’s worth adding though that while that’s spot on calling something idealist, you have to careful with going the other way as well, otherwise you still end up going the idealist route, as discussed in the fairly recent essay on Marx that I wrote.

Right, as you might expect if you read my previous essay or read the book yourself, perhaps in a wonky order, then Vološinov’s objection won’t come as a surprise. I know I’m repeating myself, again, but he (28) puts this so nicely that I’ll indulge in this repetitiveness once more:

“If experience does have meaning and is not merely a particular piece of reality …, then surely experience could hardly come about other than in the material of signs. After all, meaning can belong only to a sign; meaning outside a sign is a fiction. Meaning is the expression of a semiotic relationship between a particular piece of reality and another kind of reality that it stands for, represents, or depicts.”

Or, more simply put (28):

“Meaning is a function of the sign and is therefore inconceivable (since meaning is pure relation, or function) outside the sign as some particular, independently existing thing.”

So, in summary, yes, inner experience does necessitate meaning, as argued by Dilthey, but it’s not something that springs from the subject, the individual. Simply put, it’s interindividual (hence relational/functional) because meaning comes about only through language or, more broadly speaking, semiosis. It’s probably not worth adding this, what Vološinov (28) goes on to state, here as this is rather basic for many linguists and semioticians, but I’ll do that anyway because it crystallizes the issue with language so well to those who are not familiar with linguistics and/or semiotics:

“It would be just as absurd to maintain such a notion as to take the meaning of the word ‘horse’ to be this particular, live animal I am pointing to.”

He (28) adds another example, one about apples (sadly, not oranges), noting how if that were the case, that there was such relation, then one would, for example, always also quite literally consume the meaning. So, in other words, without using specific examples, he (28) states that:

“A sign is a particular material thing, but meaning is not a thing and cannot be isolated from the sign as if it were a piece of reality existing on its own apart from the sign.”

What follows from this then is that (28):

“[I]f experience does have meaning, if it is susceptible of being understood and interpreted, then it must have its existence in the material of actual, real signs.”

He (28) argues that what follows from all this, up to this point with regards to experience, is that as experience is tied to the sign, any and all experiences are expressible, they have the potential to be expressed, be it in words, gestures, facial expressions or the like (hence why I refer to language/semiosis). Now, I’d note here that, aye, yes, that makes sense, yet, what one experiences is not necessarily expressed or expressible in a way that relays and conveys the experience to someone else. Then again, perhaps I’m getting too tangled up with how one goes about expressing that verbally and ignoring the nonverbal side of expression. Anyway, be it as it may, one way or another, he (28) emphasizes this connection because for something to be an experience, it must be somehow meaningful, hence his insistence of it having the potential to be expressed. In fact, he (28) is very adamant on this point, for a reason that resonates with what I’ve come across in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari when they elaborate their views on language:

“Thus there is no leap involved between inner experience and its expression, no crossing over from one qualitative reality of reality to another.”

I brought up Deleuze and Guattari because this reminds me of how they reject the view that language is instrumental, in the sense that it is something that we make use of to express ourselves, our thoughts and experiences, as sort of an afterthought (thinking preceding utterance). So, as heavily emphasized by Vološinov (28) here, that is not the case. All our experiences, all our thoughts, yours and mine, are linked to language or sense making, to put it more broadly. So, to briefly return to the earlier point, you need expression, language/semiosis, for there to be any experience before you even bring up the point out about how it is that you express those experiences. Simply put, expression is not something that exist separate from experience, nor the other way around. Sure, you may experience something in a way that differs from how you express it, say non-verbally followed by a verbal expression, but that’s still in the same realm or reality, as he (28) goes on to point out.

So, in summary, it’s all very material, even psyche, as he (28) goes on to list:

“Any organic activity or process: breathing, blood circulation, movements of the body, articulation, inner speech, mimetic motions, reaction to external stimuli (e.g., light stimuli) and so forth.”

He (29) even goes on to provide his own concise recap of this (btw, it’s something which, to my surprise, he keeps doing quite a bit in the book, every now and then within the chapters):

“In short, anything and everything occurring within the organism can become the material of experience, since everything can acquire semiotic significance, can become expressive.”

That said, (29) adds that while this is all well and good, as it’s about right, this is not all there is to a psyche or inner experience. It’s not just what occurs within the organism but also outside it once the psyche has developed and differentiated to an extent that it is able to make use of what else is there, subtly plying it, shaping it, refining it and differentiating it. This is what he (29) calls the semiotic material that is at one’s disposal in the extracorporeal social milieu once proceeds to express oneself outside oneself. This is the point where he (29) emphasizes the importance of inner speech:

“[I]t is the word that constitutes the foundation, the skeleton of inner life. Were it to be deprived of the word, the psyche would shrink to an extreme degree: deprived of all other expressive activities, it would die out altogether.”

To further emphasize the importance of this, he (29) reiterates that if language/semiosis is ignored, psyche, that is to say consciousness, is rendered into a mere physiological process rooted in an organism. It’s not worth repeating his objections here, considering he has gone through them already to the extent that here the text drags on a bit. Simply put, he (29) objects to ignoring the social aspect particular to humans.

Skipping certain other somewhat repetitive bits, Vološinov (29-30) aligns himself with functional psychology, namely a variant of it based on the work of Franz Brentano. He (29-30) is particularly interested in the content of the psyche. In summary, he (30) notes that in functional psychology (of its time, of course), there are two factors, the “content of experience” and “the function of any particular referential content within the closed system of individual psychic life.” The content factor is not psychic in nature. It is indicated as either “a physical phenomenon on which the experience focuses (e.g., an object of perception) or a cognitive concept having its own logical governance or an ethical value, etc.” It is, as you can see (30), very much just the content, the “referential aspect of experience … a property of nature, culture, or history” and therefore is of little interest to the psychologist as all that falls into the domains of various scientific disciplines. Simply put, as he (30) characterizes it, the content factor is what experience is. In stark contrast, the function factor has to do with what he (30) calls the “experienced-ness or experientiality of any content outside the psyche”. This is for him (30) exactly what the psychologist should focus on. It is the object of psychology. Simply put, he (30) states that if the content factor of psyche is the what aspect of psyche, the function factor is the how aspect of psyche. In other words, the psychologist, at least the functional psychologist, is not interested in what experience is, be it this and/or that, but how it is that one comes to experience this and/or that. In his (30) words:

“The psychologist … studies only how thought processes with various objective contents … come about under conditions supplied by any given individual subjective psyche.”

Note how he points out that this is about a process, one that isn’t universal. If we summarize all that has been covered so far, it’s also worth noting how this is not to be understood as the process being particular to the extent that it is individual, what people tend to call subjective. Okay, yes, it is individual and thus subjective but only in the sense that inner experience is never separate from expression, which, in turn, is never separate from experience (and so on, and so on). In other words, in his (30) view the psychologist studies how it is that this and/or that experience comes about, under these and/or those conditions that are markedly social.

He (30) points out that he aligns with functional psychology because while it, indeed, came out of idealism, it also exhibits diametrically opposite tendencies to interpretative psychology, namely that of the Dilthey type. As noted earlier (26), Dilthey is all about meaning being tied to psyche, about the unity of content and function in the psyche, as one might put it after his (30) formulation. As also noted (or foreshadowed) earlier (26), he (30) states that functional psychology goes the other way, not only keeping them separate in the psyche, drawing a clear line between content and function, the interface of the inside and the outside, but also situating the subjective psyche somewhere there, in between the two. For him (30), what results from this is a major shift in focus, away from what something is, as this and/or that, to how it is that this and/or that comes to be experienced by someone as this and/or that. This is, more or less, the point that I brought up in the previous essay, how, elsewhere in the book, he (21, 106) calls this the social or evaluative purview, how certain items (discursive objects in Foucauldian parlance) come to enter or exit the circle of items of this and/or that group of people.

While Vološinov (29-31) is, arguably, in agreement with functional psychology, in particular on how “the psyche is not to be identified with any physiological process”, he isn’t happy about how its representatives fail to express what it is then if not physiological and how they don’t address the role of language/semiosis in its emergence. Moreover, as they are unable explain what it is then, he (31) isn’t keen on how they fall back on idealistic conceptions of being, an autonomous subject (for example the Kantian transcendental subject). Simply put, not unlike the interpretative psychologists, the functional psychologists, nonetheless, end up using the subject as a starting point. As he (31) puts it, they tend to resort to appeals to “for a ‘transcendental consciousness,’ ‘consciousness per se,’ or ‘pure epistemological subject,’ and the like.” He (31) adds that they fail to address language/semiosis as they place it in the transcendental realm. In other words, you could say that they do make note of it, that it plays role, but they place it out of our reach because they are unable to address it properly (kind of like with what Kant does with space and time, as I’ve discussed in an earlier essay). The issue here is, of course, that we get nowhere if language/semiosis is not taken into account. Otherwise we end up having to resort to explaining psyche as emerging from physiology, biology or a transcendental subject.

To contextualize this with my own research and my own position in the world of academics, I realize that this may seem like drudgery, going back to these types of points about the role of psyche or consciousness, when I could skip it all, not be bothered with it, like most of my peers do, regardless of the discipline (except, perhaps, notably in psychology and philosophy) and be happy with it. Then again, as discussed by Vološinov (27), if I don’t address how it is that we experience the world, we risk failing to understand what the world is like. To put this in fancier terms, as expressed by Vološinov (27) when he mentions proton pseudos (πρῶτον ψεῦδος), if one starts with a false premise, one risks drawing false conclusions. As you might not be familiar with proton pseudos, in psychology, it appears in Sigmund Freud’s 1895 ‘Entwurf einer Psychologie’, translated into English under the title ‘Project for a Scientific Psychology’. It is mentioned by Freud (416) in part two, in ‘The Disturbances of Thought by Affects’, and translated as the first lie. If we take a look at a relevant dictionary, for example the ‘International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis’, Bernard Golse (1342) explains it as being related to how Aristotle’s theory of syllogism (see Prior Analytics, Book I), how one ends up drawing false conclusions from false premises:

“[I]f the premises are false, if there is an original error, then the conclusions must necessarily be false in spite of the soundness of the intermediary reasoning.”

I wanted to use Golse’s explanation of proton pseudos because his definition is not only concise but also makes note of intermediary reasoning. Now, syllogism is an everyday thing, so this is applicable to pretty much everything. The thing is that proton pseudos is not much of an issue in everyday life. We get proven wrong all the time, on this and/or that. It just happens. We often start with false premises and end up drawing false conclusions, only to be later on corrected by someone that our conclusions don’t hold because the premise was false to begin with. For example, you start with the premise that a certain person gave you certain look and after a fair bit of reasoning conclude that it means that the person likes you, perhaps even fancies you, only to be later on told by that person that that is not the case. Now, I don’t represent everyone on this, but such everyday mishaps, relying on false premises, are not biggies. Sure, if it is your first time misreading something, then it’ll probably sting a bit, even make you get a bit defensive about it. Anyway, people tend to get over such and move on in their lives, almost as if nothing had happened. There tends to be a certain humility to it, at least eventually.

To get back to my point about how this relates to my own work, I reckon I’m super keen on this issue. That’s why I get called ‘Mr. Theory’, the ‘Theory Guy’ and the like. People often fail to understand why I am so keen on this, probably because they assume that all thinking, all theory, is based on the same premise, the same image of thought (to put this in Deleuzian terms). For me, you always have to start from a premise, a foundation, a cornerstone, a plane (to put this Deleuzo-Guattarian terms). Even if you don’t state your premise, there’s always a premise. The problem with premises is exactly this. If your premise is false, your conclusions will be false, regardless of all the reasoning that takes place between the premise and the conclusions. To put it nicely, if your premise is off, you risk ending up with horse apples. So, in practice, say you wrote an article, some dry as alabaster 7000 words, and think you achieved something. Maybe. Maybe not. If your premise is sound, your intermediate reasoning is sound and so are your conclusions. Now that’s a big IF. If your premise isn’t sound, your intermediate reasoning may well still be sound but your conclusions end up not being worth the paper it’s written on (or the bytes on a drive). So, if I criticize someone, a peer or peers, for subscribing to the dogmatic image of thought, even if unwittingly, this is exactly why. For example, if you presuppose the autonomy of the subject, the individual, and base your work on that, you need to be aware that by doing so you may end up undermining everything you’ve done and all that intermediate reasoning won’t save you from the criticism you get for building on a shoddy premise, especially if you try to avoid the issue by indicating that theory is of little concern to you (or the like).

This issue becomes way more problematic when we take into account all the existing work that has been done under this or that premise. Those who stand to lose if their premise is shown to be false will, obviously, try their best to make the issue go away, not only by deflecting or diverting the criticism (as I pointed out) but also by doing their best to make the life of those who do not agree with them hard. For example, torpedoing people in peer review and in the allocation of research funding are handy ways of accomplishing such because they tend to involve anonymous assessment, meaning that you cannot get caught for misconduct. People who stand to lose are well aware of the issue. They know that if their premise were to be proven to be false, all their work done based on that premise would potentially be rendered worthless and their positions would be put into question. Why risk anything if you can make it so that it doesn’t come to that? Their premise might hold, there is that. Then again if it indeed does hold, then there is no need to resort to such underhand tactics. Surely it would be more noble to let people challenge your premise. Then again, I’m well aware that it’s just not practical. No one wants to risk their sweet gig, especially not the clergy.

Where was I before that tangent on proton pseudos? Right, so, for Vološinov (31) the problem with functional psychology is that its representatives tend to rely on Kantian views, thus giving primacy to the subject. He (31-32) moves on to address phenomenology, namely Edmund Husserl and those building on his works, labeling them as intentionalists (because intentionality is in a key role for Brentano and Husserl). He (32) characterizes the intentionalists, as well as the neo-Kantians (as a side note, one could actually call Kant a phenomenologist, as explained in an earlier essay), of the 20th century as antipsychologists. I acknowledge that I’m more than a bit out of my league discussing phenomenology (or phenomenologies) and this summary is bound to be a bit ham fisted but, simply put, Vološinov (32) locates the problem with intentionalists and neo-Kantians in the eradication of psyche. Assuming that I understood this correctly, as intended by Vološinov, based on what I know and can remember (feel free to correct me), in general, the issue is that while there is no Cartesian body/mind duality, phenomenology leaves no room for the discussion of psyche and its emergence. What follows from this is that it also eradicates the role language/semiosis in all this, which, well, rather obvious just doesn’t work for Vološinov (32-33) because the reality of the psyche is also the reality of the sign. As he (33) goes on to emphasize:

“[E]very outer … sign, of whatever kind, is engulfed in and washed over by inner signs – by the consciousness. The outer sign originates from this sea of inner signs and continues to abide there, since its life is a process of renewal as something to be understood, experienced, and assimilated, i.e., its life consists in its being engaged ever anew into the inner context.”

Only to (34) to repeat the same point in simpler terms with the use of examples:

“[T]here is no qualitative difference here in any fundamental sense. Cognition with respect to books and to other people’s words and cognition inside one’s head belong to the same sphere of reality, and such differences as do exist between the head and book do not affect the content of cognition.”

In other words, inner speech and outer speech are one and the same thing, well, sort of, and part of the same reality. He (34) explains this by noting that part of the problem is that we rely on a false dichotomy, placing individual and social in binary opposition when individual is, as it is generally understood “as possessor of the contents of his own consciousness, as author of his own thoughts, as the personality responsible for his thoughts and feelings”, a product of the social. Simply put, we like to think that we are autonomous thinking subjects, always in control, making rational choices, but, ironically, even that conception, how we like to think that way, is a mere a surface effect that originates beyond us. He (34) warns not to take this as him claiming that there are no individuals, that one isn’t physically separate from others, as that still holds for him. Instead, he (34) locates the issue of individual as pertaining to how it has become conflated with individuality, resulting in one concept already in force, the individual, being replaced by another concept, individuality. So, one starts with being physically separate from others, an individual, and then conflates it with how one is, what one has become, which has to do with individuality that is a social phenomenon, followed by asserting that how one is, what one has become is based on the physical separation from others. Vološinov (34) characterizes this move as quarternio terminorum, also known as the formal fallacy of four terms, which results in invalid reasoning.

I stated that inner and outer speech are one and the same thing, but only sort of because, after all, Vološinov does distinguishes between the two. With regards the former, he (34-35) states that:

“Meaning implemented in the material of inner activity is meaning turned toward the organism, toward the particular individual’s self, and is determined first of all in the context of that self’s particular life.”

This is what he (35) thinks the functionalists get right but adds that, as he pointed out earlier, they are missing the sociological aspect. So, he (35) is saying that it works two ways, in and out, inward and outward, and that it belongs to two systems that govern it, the unity of the inside, the organic unity, and the unity of the outside, the linguistic/semiotic or social unity. He (35) states that the system that pertains to the inside is marked by the unity of the biological organism, as well as “by the whole aggregate of conditions of life and society in which that organism has been set.” In addition, he (35) states that the system that pertains to the outside is marked by the unity of language/semiosis and governed according to its laws. There’s a bit more to this discussed by him (35-36) but it is borderline repetitive, so I’ll leave it for you to read.

As I hinted earlier on, Vološinov (36) moves on to address introspection, what he defines as a process of self-clarification and self-observation in which one attempts to understand one’s own inner signs, one’s experiences, through other signs (hence the comment he makes in the footnotes about introspection being about the sign of another sign). Now, earlier on I mocked this process and I stand my ground on this, regardless of whether he’d agree with me or not. As he (36) points out, I believe correctly, if we want to observe and study psyche, one’s experiences, the inner signs, it’s only possible through other signs; “[a] sign can be illuminated only with the help of another sign.” He (36) clarifies this with an example:

“I feel joy”

He (36) argues that this is a clear cut case of introspection. This is not an expression of one’s experience, in this case of one’s joy. This is just an afterthought, or so to speak. For him (36), a direct expression of one’s joy would be, for example:


In this case, he (36) argues that this is directly expressing one’s experience, even if it is arguably not the experience itself. He (36) adds that it is, however, introspection in the sense that as it is expressed it becomes possible to introspect it, to have that afterthought that one did just feel joyous. He (36) also lists a third possibility, somewhere in between the two:

“I’m so happy!”

This is what he (36) calls a transitional case as it involves introspection, turning on to oneself, yet it is partially colored by the immediateness of the expression.

I’m a bit torn here, pondering whether I was too hasty to dismiss introspection. Then again, I think that I should be stating, what I’m after, is that direct expression of one’s experience is fine but turning it into an afterthought isn’t because, as Vološinov (36) points out, it involves “no actualization of inner sign.” Anyway, to get somewhere with this, linking the inside, introspection, again to the outside, observation, he (37) indicates that no introspection is ever separate from observation, no inner signs are illuminated without the help of outer signs, hence his insistence and emphasis on the social aspect of psyche. He (37) argues that this results in making it impossible to differentiate between the two, the inner signs and the outer signs, probably because it is impossible to imagine a situation in which one wouldn’t engage in introspection, illuminating an inner sign with another sign, without observation, the outer signs that others have expressed to you at some stage of your life. This is why psyche, consciousness always involves social unity, not only organic unity.

In summary, Vološinov (37) argues that “[t]he understanding of any sign, whether inner or outer, occurs inextricably tied in with the situation in which the sign is implemented.” There is no way around this. It’s always situational, always contextual. Introspection, delving into one’s experiences, is only possible in the moment, in a specific social situation, because experience is always tied to that moment, in relation to everyone and everything, both in time and space. He (37) summarizes what happens if this is ignored:

“Complete disregard of social orientation leads to a complete extinguishment of experience, just as also happens when its semiotic nature is disregarded.”

This is because (37):

[T]he sign and its social situation are inextricably fused together. The sign cannot be separated from the social situation without relinquishing its nature as sign.”

After summarizing his views and his objections that pertain to language and psychology, he (37-38) returns to the problem of inner speech. He (38) notes that inner speech is particularly problematic because it is hard, if not impossible, to analyze it the way linguists analyze outer speech, utterances, be it, for example, in terms of lexicography, grammar or phonetics. Indeed, for instance, how does one examine the sounds of one’s inner speech, its grammar or its lexis, without jumping from inner speech to outer speech? Vološinov’s (38) answer to this is to address inner speech as inner dialogue with its units being what he calls “total impressions of utterances” that alternate with one another according to laws of evaluative or emotive correspondence or dialogic deployment, in part dependent “on the historical conditions of the social situation and the whole pragmatic run of life.”

He (38) clarifies these “total impressions of utterances” by exemplifying it with those moments when you fail to come up with the right word for this and/or that thing or phenomenon but do have a total impression of what it is that you’d wish to express. He (38) calls them the sort of tip of the tongue experiences where one fails to concretize the impression into a specific image. It’s when you know what the experience is but fail to put it into words for some reason. I know it has happened to me and keeps happening to me, yet it’s hard to explain, probably because it’s all about failing to put something into words. He (39) expresses his keen interest in inner speech but concedes that he has no idea how to tackle it, how to analyze it in a way that would be productive.

Wrapping things up, to end with a positive note, Vološinov (39) summarizes what psychologism and antipsychologism get right. He (39) argues that psychologism is correct in the sense that there can be no outer sign without an inner sign, no expression without someone to understand and experience that expression and, I would add, someone to express that sign. Then again, he (39) also argues that antipsychologism is correct in the sense that there can be no language/semiosis that is secondary to psyche. This is the conundrum, how can outer speech be a requirement for psyche when for speech to be understood it must also require inner speech? It is bizarre, that’s for sure. That’s, perhaps, why he (39) comments on it, noting that it is continuous interplay, working both ways, the inner becoming the outer while the outer becomes inner but never collapsing into the other, the psyche having an “extraterritorial status in the organism”, it being “a social entity that penetrates inside the organism of the individual person.” His (41) final words on this, in this chapter, is to characterize the interplay of the inner speech and the outer speech as interpenetration that takes place in the process of social intercourse. While it is perhaps evident already, considering that I noted already how he (39) views this interplay as continuous, he (40) warns not to think of this interplay as fixed or anyhow tragic as there is nothing inherently negative about the dynamic nature of language, even if it lends itself to all kinds of tragedies and horrors.

I reckon this chapter isn’t the best part of the book but I went through it because it sheds light on how Vološinov understands consciousness as social, emerging only through social intercourse as opposed to simply emerging from one’s biology or physiology. Now, it’s also worth noting that by emphasizing the social intercourse (interaction with others) Vološinov does not argue that biology or physiology doesn’t matter. It all does, but, for him, others tend fail to take language/semiosis into account when they either fall back to physiology and/or some ideal transcendental subject. With regards to particulars, this chapter is worth the reading because it includes the discussion of inner and outer speech, how experience is intertwined and colored by language (experience as a sign), introspection (how it isn’t experience but a sign on a sign) and proton pseudos (how one needs to be very aware of one’s premises in order to avoid drawing false conclusions, as well as to avoid wasting one’s time doing all that work that takes place in between). This chapter is only about fifteen pages and it includes things that I didn’t include (that may help you understand what he is after). It’s well worth reading and doesn’t take that much time either.


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