[Multiple language practices] is what the postmodern world is all about. Most people have lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative. It in no way follows that they are reduced to barbarity. What saves them from it is their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic practice and communicational interaction.
The Postmodern Condition p.41
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Last month in the PMTH online community, there was well over a thousand emails. There was some debate. At times it might even have called a dispute. It certainly was not a flame war. But we have very different positions and understandings. What holds us together so that our disputes do not disintegrate our group is, I feel, a certain respect for the reality of the opposite point of view, and a desire to keep on talking, to continue the paralogy. Some language moves would stop the paralogy. For the most part, we have been able, so far, keep an awareness of that. Shouting your message no longer means much when the listeners stop listening. Someteimes, we learn that the hard way as Lyotard (see the quote above) says.
So, what did we talk about?
The main topic conversation continued to be the violent attack on the US as well as the declaration of war and the subsequent crisis. Before this crisis, I remember someone saying some months ago that, with postmodern "relativism" on PMTH, nobody here would actually claim their point of view was better than anyone else's. I don't know about us making such a claim, but clearly people on PMTH have championing their own points of view and I, myself, feel that this championing of view is very postmodern. Picture the emails flying and people critiquing each other's points, but doing so with considerable civility, sometimes a difficult to sustain civility, but nevertheless, very much there. We have not declared war on each other -- but we have partaken of an email storm.
In reviewing this email storm I have decided it makes sense to organize people's viewpoints along three basic conceptual models of the crisis and the crisis aftermath. Neverthless, as you might imagine, this is a bit of a simplification. Still, in the interest of providing a coherent overview let me see if I can describe the three conceptual models that I think I detect. I have ordered these models only according to my perception of their popularity, but there were a fair number of conversationalists that spoke from within the different models, and many people modified the basic model with their own distinctiveness.
Model 1: The US is basically the victim. It was more or less minding its own business when a surprise adversary came out of the blue and slammed our own jet airplanes into major buildings killing thousands of people. This attack was so vicious and so obviously deliberate that one can only imagine that the adversary would have wanted to kill more of us. The subsequent happenings, that is the anthrax scare and the various protests against the US only mean that the US needs to defend itself against a thoroughly dangerous enemy.
Model 2: The US is basically the enemy. According to this model, the US has a long and somewhat secret history of exploiting and brutalizing the people of weaker and less fortunate lands. Such heartless brutality has created a world force of against the US, a force of hatred and violence. This force is so strong that it will surely destroy the US unless the US surrenders its power to stronghold on the rest of the world. The only chance for peace according to this model is that the US stops warrior aggressions and the victims of US aggressions are merciful.
Model 3: The battle the US is fighting is being staged. There has been a conspiracy between the Bush tribe and the terrorist tribe that has been used to create a media spectacle for the two tribe's collaborative purpose. Thus the west must accept that it has already fallen, that American values have already been sacrificed, and there is nothing to lose in this country worth having. Or, perhaps, the east must accept this, or both. Either way, what is involved is a thorougly contrived spectacle.
I believe that each of these models have their own logic, their own way of reasoning. For example, if you assume model 1 and that the US is mainly a victim, then it is only right and fair to strike back because fighting back is acceptable self-defense. But if you accept model 2, that the US is mainly the victimizer, then it is unethical for the US to fight back because this would be hurting the victim. And, in model 3, the only thing that makes sense, it seems, is a certain jadedness, or a certain nostalgia for the age of innocence when ideals were more evident as to the way things are.
Let me declare my own preferred model up front, so you can keep an eye on any bias on my part that I let through. I am basically a model 1 person, that has begun to see some truth in models 2 and 3. That is, when September 11 happened, I had my head in the sand reading epistemological texts. Now, I am out in the light and trying to figure out what is going on. Over and over I say to PMTH, "I am trying to own and live with my ignorance". This is not some kind of postmodern relativism. It is real ignorance.
Ignorant about certain things, but I'm a scholar. That is, I like nothing more than reading and writing and trying to figure things out by a kind of comparison of texts. I resist one voice messages of people who insist I accept their truth. Even if their message is right, I don't accept it at first, especially when their message is based on a kind of philosophical theory that I have come to call, with Lyotard, a "metanarrative." That skepticism, I think, and perhaps also the ignorance, is what makes me postmodern. If yo'ure postmodern in this way, too, then you can look over my shoulder as I write about it here. But, take it with a grain of salt until you compare it to other texts. After all, I am only me, Lois Shawver, and everything I write, always, is from my vantage point.
Back to my story. So, in PMTH, we have been discussing the 911 war and most of what we have said revolves around these three models. Most of what I said does, too.
And, I could have quoted myself within the Model 1, but let me quote
George Spears when he reasoned a bit sarcastically within model 1:
In other words, Spears is saying, along with Model 1, that the United States is the victim here, and we have to get out and fight our adversary, or lose.
George Spears was joined in model 1 conversation by Katherine
Levine when she said,
In contrast, Nick Drury often spoke within model 2, talking about
anti-US sentiment in what (sounded to me to be) supportive of anti-Americanism.
I read Val Lewis, as also working within the model 2 when she made this
And, another anonymous model 2 comment was,
Let me give you a sample of someone writing within Model 3:
Tony Michael Roberts just said, to the amazement of my more-or-less
model but postmodern and incredulous mind:
Well, for me, and for others not ascribing to Model 3 thinking, this just doesn't clarify things at all.
There is still a touch of postmodernism in Roberts account if you can glimpse, as I sometimes do, that Roberts is not completely certain of his theory.
Nick Drury put his postmodernized version of model three thinking nicely
when he called it a "fantasy." He said:
Come to think of it, Drury may have a mix between model 3 and model 2, and maybe Roberts was a mix of all three - but I told you this scheme of models was a bit of a simplication.
Still, the underlying structure of the conversation, as a battle between models, seems clearly there. It is the postmodernism that prevails, the hint of doubt we sometimes feel, that makes it possible for us to talk, when we can, to a certain degree.
That, and the ease with which people can slip between models with impunity from the group. That is, in most adversarial conversations, people situate themselves carefully in one model or another and the game is one of wnining over the adversary. In a postmodern conversation, which I am calling paralogy, it's not a zero-sum game. That is, winning doesn't mean the other loses. Lyotard, PMC, p.67) because the quest is for the conversation to continue and to continue to generate new ideas.
So, for me the most distinctive postmodern post here may have been a
comment by Joe Pfeffer when he said,
Probably, it's a little much at time for us to manage, but, so far,
we are managing well enough. What's well enough? We're still
talking, and everywhere you look, there are signs that we still care what
each other says.
Sitting here in my chair in California, the war seems very surreal. Everyday life continues more or less as usual. I walk my dog, people nod and say good morning.
But off in the corner of my mind I am aware that something is profoundly diferent. The threat of war, and the presence of war in Afghanistan are always with me, even, in a sense, when they are not. The war speaks out to me when I turn on the television, pass a news rack, listen to a friend, drive in my car with the radio on. The war is there, and yet it's not, in California. We are waiting for the bridges to blow up, even as I speak, yet, in some weird sense, it's quite a beautiful day. The birds are singing. It's very surreal.
I believe it is different for people living in New York, with the sound and smell of the New York Trade Center constnatly there to remind them so that there is no place to go out with the dogs and have a nostalgic memory walk down pre-September 11 America.
That's my view of the war at this point, in America.
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I don't know if readers here came to my party on the AFT list last month, a party thrown by the journal, Association of Family Therapy, that published my recent article. If you came, you know it turned out well, with all of up on the author's pedestal pontificating while we drank imaginary tea - I kid you not.
Special thanks to Enid Comer whose comments suggested to me we have such a party on the pedestal, and especially my fabulous editors, David Pocock and Eddy Street. Thanks, also, to Chris Evans, John Hill, and Arlene Vetere for helping host the party, and to John Hills, Myrna Gowner and Maria Nichterlein for serving as excellent readers. It was a real party. Thanks to everyone for coming.
If you weren't able to come, then perhaps you would still like an online copy of the paper that this event was about. It was about an imaginary teaparty between Wittgenstein and Lyotard out at a patio table with two family therapists, Jack and Jill. The reference is:
Shawver, L. (2001). If Wittgenstein and Lyotard Could Talk with Jack and Jill: Towards a Postmodern Family Therapy. Journal of Family Therapy. 23, 232-252.
For a while you can access a pdf version the text that you can read with Acrobat software if you click here.
Also, look for Myrna Gower and myself to collaborate in an upcoming
column in the Journal of Family Therapy.
Watch for a published conversation that we call a "paralogue" between
Tom Strong, Joe Pfeffer, Judy Weintraub and myself in the journal New Therapist.
As soon as I hear from the journal and know when the the article will come
out, I'll post it here, even without a brand new PMTH NEWS.
Has PMTH stopped talking about therapy?
Well, it has put it on a backburner while we discuss the war, but there
are signs all over that the issue of how to do therapy in this postmodern
realm is still on our minds. But the energy has seemed to be for
the past two months on the war, and trying to understand it.
Woops! I just ran out of town. I will have to wait until tomorrow to tell you what Ken and Mary Gergen say in their latest newsletter on "postmodern geriatrics."
In the meantime, in case you're not familiar with their newsletter, and want to read an older version, do
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See the picture? That's a picture of Edward Said, internationally renowned literary and cultural critic,and Professor of literature at Columbia University.
Now, let me tell you a more in-depth answer as to who this man is. Keep his picture in your mind, though, because Edward Said is likely to become an important voice in the scholarly community as all of us try to understand what happened to America on 09/11.
This is because Edward Said is an American-Palestinian who published a widely read book in 1978 called "Orientalism." Orientalism is all about the east-west dichotomy, and it talks about it in a way that seems to shed light on the American war.
So, you ask, what is "orientalism"?
Edward Said documents the development of this image in a very compelling way. He starts in the times of ancient Greeks and brings us up to the present, quoting well chosen orientalist texts to show the evolution of this schism-making picture. Reading his examples, I could see a image of the east emerge in ancient Greece, exotic and different, but alluring and even exciting. That's how the construction of the image began, so Said tells us. And it has evolved from there, creating our current situation, with the east on one side and the west on another.
"Orientalism", Said patiently explains,
And, here's the important point: Mesmerized by the biasing picture that the east and the west now accepts, the western world is seen as superior to the east. The countries are superior because, so the picture tells us, the people of western lands are superior to the ones from the east. And the real problem is not just that the east seems inferior to the west, but that the east, in their colonial position, came to see themselves as inferior to the west. Like Negroes in the south in the early part of twentieth century, the communities of third- world Islam learned to genuflect to the image of the master.
But that is past history. People of the Arab world are now reading the work of this Arab-American who has been publishing mostly in the Arab world since the nineteen-eighties. The East, according to Edward Said himself, have taken this book on "orientalism" as an anti-western document, something that helps them open their eyes to the Uncle Tomism of the western culture
My own reading is that is the Arabian reading is not a correct one. Mr. Said apparently agrees with me when he tells us that Arab readers often think that "to criticize Orientalism, as I did in my book, is in effect to be a supporter of Islamism or Muslim fundamentalism."
But, he continues,
As I said, I definitely agree with Said's self-assessment of the meaning in this book. Orientalism is not a book that tries to take sides. If anything, Edward Said, in my opinion, tries to serve as an intellectual ambassador between the east and the west. His message is that, through orientalism, humanity has split itself between an east and a west, simplifying each.
This is the best thing I have read to give me a sense of the history of this American War. I was not looking for a political history or military history (which too often dominates the social construction of history). I wanted the subtle psychological and language history that is behind the present conflict and predicament that looms so large in my life, and yours, perhaps, today.
If you are an American scholar, and you haven't read Edward Said's book,
Orientalism, you definitely should. It will help you "orient" yourself
as you deconstruct your "orientalism."
Less you think that Said is a an obscure figure, let me give you a closer
image through the memory of a PMTH subscriber that once had lunch with
Edward Said. Here is the account of Mr. Said through the words of our own
Reading this note, Tony Michael Roberts responded:
George Spears added:
See how interesting it is, hanging out on PMTH? I hope some of
what I treasure here comes through this newsletter for you.
Jean Baudrillard is a pretty big name in postmodern circles, but, personally, I have never found his work inspiring. Always, I would read a few chapters, then sigh and say to to myself, "is this his only theme? Why read more" And, then, inevitably, I would lay the book down and read something else - but always wondering what it was that I was missing.
This central theme of Baudrillard that I think prevails seems summed
up to me in a passage I once underlined. It is by Baudrillard's interpreter,
Douglas Kellner, who tells us that according to Baudrillard the
Every time I turn to Baudrillard (do a web search if you wish) that is what I see him saying, too. Everything he writes is pointing to the way in which America (or sometimes Europe) has been seduced into trivial concerns by fantasy realms like Disneyland. He is talking about the way in which videogames and soap operas are more real for Americans than the bread and butter on their table.
"Okay, okay," I always say to myself, each time as I again put the book back on the shelf for a later reading -- always with the sense that there may be something there that I am still missing.
So, my ears perked up last week when a PMTH colleague of mine, Tom Strong, had an opportunity to hear Baudrillard talk. "When you've heard him," I said to Strong, would you tell me what he said? And Strong said "Sure."
Good. Maybe a report of a talk could give me a better clue to this author, I said to myself. I know Tom Strong, and I trusted his evaluation of what Baudrillard had to say.
So, let me take you with me from this point, as I received and studied Tom Strong's note. I have inserted my little comments throughout to explain my thoughts as I struggle to solve the mystery of Baudrillard's hidden message.
Strong said to me:
He spoke on these serious events of September 11? That's different
Globalization? Creating a single economy? The man who complains that we Americans think more about Disneyland than we do about reality? The man that says we have lost reality and replaced it with the "hyperreal." I was encouraged.
I went back to reading Strong's note.
In other words, he is complaining that globalism turns everything into a one-size fits all. Disneyland for everyone? Hyperreality for everyone? Is globalization, I asked myself, an attempt to send fashion designer jeans and Kentucky Fried to the villages around the world? Is Baudrillard complaining that we westerners are trying to build a hyperreality world that hides the struggle of different world views, different values, from the surface?
We can't fit the world's people into the American mold? The world's
people won't let us? Is that what he is saying?
I think I get it. Baudrillard was saying that the violence of 09/11 was a way of preventing the one-size fits all society. It is not so much that he is complaining that America chills out watching football, but that we want to do that without noticing that we are imposing our lifestyle as a symbol of goodness all around the globe. And there are people in the world that don't want life reduced to football and Disneyland, to hyperreality. They have other visions that prevail for them.
I can see that defining "good and evil" universalizes. If I get you to accept my definition of what is good, say my definition of what is good literature, you'll be agreeing with me. Our consensus eradicates our difference. Defining good and evil is a technique of universalizing or totalizing. And, if I understand what Baudrillard is saying, he thinks that the world won't sit by for it. America has defined, perhaps, Kentucky Fried as good food, and those who prefer something else do not want to live under our definition of what is good.
So, maybe Baudrillard has more to that is relevant to PMTH discussions
in this post 09/11 time than I had thought. Strong would know.
Here's what he said:
Very interesting, but that's not quite the end of the story. I also found this article of Baudrillard just now that I want to share with you. You can find it on the web at: <click here>
In this article Baudrillard speaks directly to our issues since September
11, even though the article was written, if I'm not mistaken, before the
end of Serbian/Bosnian conflict. Here is a passage that article
seems to click for me, what Baudrillard is saying that is not overly trivial.
Here's a quote:
That is, according to Baudrillard, all Europe is trying to protect itself by surrounding itself by Serbian-type people, white people, western people, distancing themselves and dominating the likes of Bosnian moslems who, in their turn, demand that the borders of "white Europe" be redrawn. And they must be redrawn, to the Moslems, otherwise, Baudrillard tells us
But, it seems to me, this prediction did not turn out. In fact, if I understand things right, America joined with Europe to prevent the Serbs from snuffing out the life of the Bosnians!
So, again, I say to myself, maybe I have to read more of Baudrillard, I say to myself as I put his book back on my shelf, once more, its mystery still intact.
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