“Evald Ilyenkov’s Philosophy Revisited” (English, German and Russian Edition) by Vesa Oittinen
Paperback: 372 páginas
Editor: Kikimora Publications
ISBN-10: 9514592638
ISBN-13: 978-9514592638

I was really glad (even confused in this “post modernistic” age of nonsense and “alternate facts”) when I noticed that Ilyenkov’s Philosophy was being reevaluated/reborn. I got a bit more hopeful about a book I have been dreaming about: “Our ideas and our minds: from Plato to Ilyenkov” (part of which was already drafted by himself ;-)). His work, like anything with true value, was loved by some, hated by other, disregarded by no one who knew of it. He, some sort of maverick engendered by the “best genes” of the “society as integral, wholesome unit” classical tradition in German Philosophy (especially Hegel and Marx (German was one of his Ls) and from that point of view he read/interpreted Spinoza and Descartes), considered himself to be a Marxist-Leninist and Lenin “a son of the West” (statement, which like many other, had its crucial core of truth to it and wasn’t taken as an odd joke by the policing and political apparatus of the status quo. He was deprived of his academic seat).
Even though Consciousness Studies have become the thing du jour, among the philo of mind kinds of folks you don’t hear many (actually no one!) crediting Russian/Soviet era philosophers for thoroughly explaining to us what the mind-body link is all about, especially Ilyenkov, Vigotsky, Luria and Lotman, but, also, Leontiev and many other belonging to the critical Zeitgeist of the Soviet shestidesiatnik intellectuals, told us clear and loud that it is: -our semiosis- (Veresov’s article: pages 135 and 140 and throughout the book). Ilyenkov went as far as explaining to us that Hegel suggested how you could actually prove it: using corpora research. Yes, I know it sounds more than half way off that you could prove something which nature is not physical or logical, but essentially semantic/philosophical. Reread Ilyenkov with an eye out for the passages in which he writes about Hegel’s view about the intra- and intertextuality that the concept of the general entails.
Something, which is quite “illogical”, hopeless, and, yet, hopeful in a broader sense (and here I am not talking about “isms”, but humanity) is that they were “rough rooming” a tight space with the “official, party-line philosophy”, working under quite adverse conditions, including Stalinist-type persecution during those times, however the best gringos with “their freedoms” seem to have been able to come up with have been those Pavlovian/Skinnerian/Delgadian preposterous ball shoot embraced by social-control psychologists and, of course, police and politicians about the mind being an illusion; so-called “AI”; that “computers should be granted ‘human rights'” (not the people they kill in their “signature strikes” based on algorithms); “the Gaia hypothesis” (the Universe has some sort of Hegelian gringo spirit) and “pragmatism”, which to me is not an honest philosophy but more like some sort of “white-man-burden” self-serving ideation. As what seems to be a balancing act, I hear that “the West” has lately owned the socio-historical methodology.
The text would have greatly benefited from some very basic editing and proofreading. At times you would find the same sentence written three times (including errors (page: 162)). I am not proposing an “Ilyenkov for dummies” kind of book, but the teacher in me tells me that ideas were not clear enough for “the general public” in times when Ilyenkov’s philosophy would be very clarifying to “We the people”. The whole book should have been written more in the style of Andrew Chitty’s excellent piece: “Social and Physical Form: Ilyenkov on the Ideal and Marx on the value-form”. I would suggest to all philo of mind, corpora research and “AI” kinds of folks to, at the very least, read this book.
In total the text contains 20 articles (including the foreword; a brief, nice and true introduction by Vesa Oittinen and one in Russian by Ilyenkov himself): 14 in English, 3 in Russian and 3 in German. Being it about Ilyenkov, I would have bought that book even if it was written in Sanskrit, but I think Ruslania for the next editions should tidy up, expand and consider, at least to translate to English the articles in Russian and German; better yet, offer at least the three versions of the book! I hear that Ilyenkov’s philosophy is highly regarded even by old world cultures like the Japanese. That would facilitate translations. I went to school in Germany, but the few days I spent visiting Saint Petersburg were not enough to learn Russian. It is not everyone who would learn Russian to be able to read the work of all those no-nonsense philosophers in their mother tongue. I would suggest actually starting every chapter with his actual writings (or a summary) and then the opinions, discussions of later scholars. Next time, “Debt: the first 5,000 years”‘ David Graeber should be invited to give an anthropological account of social relations not mediated by money, about which Ilyenkov wrote, as well.
Ilyenkov’s mocking of Kant’s “Ding an sich” thing (pun intended) was rightly brought to task and the de-Saussurean signifie[d/r] dichotomy (or his cannibalization of such ideas by old world cultures) was reevaluated, contextualized. Kant, who hopelessly appealed to our sense making abilities, rationality and morality warned us about the dangers of armamentism. We humans have been “glorified” (“damaged” some other people would say) with the kinds of ridiculously metabolically expensive cellular freaks that set apart Plantae from Animalia (neurons). That is why we have politicians, celebrities and royalty; watch TV; hear “‘God’ telling us things”, … “One of these days” (as the song goes) we/humankind (taking along Nature) will “return to dust” by ourselves, destroying the ecological very fine and complex negentropic balance that propitiated life on earth and herewith destroy all forms of life within what seems to be 13.4 billion light years away (current farthest reach of telescopes looking out into the “big bang” nonsense). There will be no biological life, no consciousness, … but the physical reality on which it supervenes would not have even “noticed” any of it at all, nor could it “care” if it did. We would have destroyed all forms of de-Saussurean signifie[r]s as they would meaningfully relate to us. No one will ever know about “the trees that fell in our anomalous, little-frt tiny section of the forest of the Universe” anyway. There will be no more forests, minds or worries, language or philosophies. Still there will be matter, gravitational and EM waves zipping carelessly through the Universe, …: “Dinge an sich”.
My path towards “Ilyenkovian enlightenment” started when I was still a teenager at the school of Physics at the University of Havana/Cuba. We were solving a simple problem about kinetic energy and someone forgot to multiply (1/2) to m*v^2 but got the right result anyway (because it was a common factor across the equation since the potential energy/height was constant). One of our great teachers (Medel) then mentioned as a marginal comment that: “there was nothing wrong with using that expression for the kinetic energy, that at some point in the history of Physics its (syntactic expression) was written like that!!!” That idea blew my mind! How on earth could the syntactic expression of a concept “change” (sure, words’ meanings and written forms do change, but physically grounded concepts?!?), “have a history” (actually, a downright interesting one!). Then I noticed that even the syntactic expression of the concept of distance has “changed”, that the history of its “change” goes back to Euclid’s very “the Elements”, the qualms many Mathematicians had about the V postulate ever since and the many attempts at “proving” it, debasing its status (such obsession about “an esoteric subtlety” over millennia which philosophers took as “utter nonsense” (BTW, we Mathematicians were right!)). Similar “changes” you will even notice with the evolution of the musical scale … and Yuri Lotman told us that the same also happens in societies (about which I am not too convinced). For whatever reason those matters kept bouncing around my head (I didn’t even know there was a thing called “semiotics”) until for totally unrelated reasons, about a decade later, I met a University professor (School of Philology’s Redonet) who at the end of our nightlong, dense conversation, right before going back to work the next morning, took a small book out of his briefcase and gave it to me, telling me to read it. I briefly looked at it (a “MIR” Publishing House book translated to Spanish) and then I realized that it was about some Marxist philosopher, so, I quietly put it down and took that professor’s suggestion as part of the whole nonsense of suggesting to me “to forget about Physics, Math, coding … and ‘write'” (we don’t need any more “footnotes to Plato”, nor do I have protagonistic complexes strong enough to believe that “writings” by me or anyone else would make any difference. Pretty much all has been said and written already, we just haven’t understood and probably won’t ever understand it!). Some other day I was angry and as a way to diffuse my anger somehow, I picked up that book and … Great Lord! I haven’t been able to put it down ever since! I then wondered how did that professor know that “I needed to read that book” (was he able to somehow “read my mind”? ;-)) and discovered that Ilyenkov was, more than revered, worshiped by many of my friends, none of which liked “communism” but were able to still see the good in those largely underrated Russian/Soviet philosophers. I have read books from authors such as Chaplin’s own autobiography, Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” and Orwell’s “1984” that have explained my life to myself. Ilyenkov explained to me my mind. To me he is my Elegua (the African Yoruba deity, patron of all paths, one’s own meaningful steering of one’s life). I don’t totally, 100% agree with the ins and outs of his philosophy, (nor do I with all articles in this book: How on earth could there be “technologies of truth”?, “theory of mind” has a very specific meaning in consciousness studies, …) but he is such an honest philosopher and brilliantly wrote his ideas in a way that he even helps you see exactly where and how you would disagree with his philosophy. In fact, just by questioning Ilyenkov I am greatly helped towards explaining my own ideas “in one or two sentences”: page 85 (citing Ilyenkov’s Dialektik des Ideellen (Muenster 1994) page: 71 (my translation from German)): “… the primary difference of a thinking object from the way any other object would move, which was clearly enough seen, but was not fully understood by Descartes and his followers, is given by the fact that the thinking object actively creates the form of its movement (its trajectory) in space in relation to other objects”. Ilyenkov had that Spinozean-Piagetian way to identify consciousness “simply” as the “movement” of thinking objects in the space which we share with non-thinking ones (non-living objects and Plantae (I would not exclude “inferior” animals)) by means of, -through- the engineering and social technologies (such as a the level and language) we have created. I may not fully get his point, but I find that idea so “simple” that to me it amounts to saying that you could “read someone’s/people’s mind” by observing, “patterning” and crosscorrelating their actions and/or -fully- determine what they think by doctoring what reaches their perception, which is one of the fundamental tenets in the mindset of the “watchers” in the 24×7 social-control, “if you have nothing to hide …” panopticon we live in nowadays, likely to not only detrimentally influence the mind of individuals, cultures and society at large, but also bring the worst out of themselves. Yet, you would be discarding the crucial dialectic between the inner and outer intersubjective (respectively :”reflective” and “expressive”) dialectic, -always conscious- in one way or another, enabling the immer werdende characteristic of one’s own self through our semiosis maintaining an intrinsically mutual balance between both aspects. That dialectic is the core of valuation (monetary, semantic or any other kind). Es gibt keine Chomskyan “körperlose Seele” oder “‘morphologisch’ (in the sense of being fixed) Schemata im Gehirn” (I would admit, however, that the capacity to -functionally- establish higher order associations, on which our ability to generalize supervenes, is innate to neurons/nervous systems (I think that is why our fingers/thumb and lips are disproportionately overrepresented in our cortical homunculi and why they are related and overlap)).
Reflections and expressions always happen in tandem from our socially established norms (such as using money) to our most private conscious states (one’s own dreams which ideas we learned socially), intrinsically manifesting at every stage their semiotic de-Saussurean-like signifie[d/r] dichotomy. Athenians invented democracy as a transparently and directly open way to fully manage their society in order to defend themselves from the hugely more powerful Persian empire and testable brain activity is accompanied by our private dreams’ ideations. As culturally pointed out by Mathematicians, the many visually-motivated, mistaken attempts to prove the V postulate in The Elements, were not only “personal” but also part of the Mathematical Zeitgeist. The inextricability of both intersubjective aspects of our semiosis happen even across species. We were able to communicate just fine with anaerobic beings we had never seen before and which ecology would have thought of as impossible, living under extreme physical conditions (aphotic depth of the oceans, no oxygen, excruciatingly high temperatures and pressure around the thermal vents of the mid-Atlantic ridge), which biology in general and nervous systems in particular are very different than ours (Earth Story The Deep: youtube:RIQ9ttnJQWQ&t=41m20s). There is nothing bio-chemically specific or exclusively human about consciousness. In fact, all things considered, social animals such as ants are way smarter than we are (measurably tested as the ration of neurons/ganglional cells to what they are able to accomplish).
My favorite articles were Jantzen’s, Friedrich’s and Knuuttila. The only article I didn’t quite like was David Bakhurst’s in which he put on his detective coat and tried his “mind reading” skills (and some “mind reading” at that!). We all know Ilyenkov committed suicide (generally speaking, I don’t agree with such decisions for more than one good reason), yet, that book was not about his certainly interesting autobiography, but his work. Recycling memes: “it takes a giant to stand on the shoulders of giants …, not in their way”. I bought and studied Bakhurst’s book about Ilyenkov/Soviet Philosophy anyway, which I found much better than his article.


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