PostmodernTherapies NEWS    01/20/03
(Also known as PMTH NEWS)

Postmodern questioning is not just for the sake of questioning. It has developed from a growing awareness that things are more complicated than they at first seem, and that simplistic stories about things have been used to justify regretable things, and a hope that some doubt and questioning can make the world safer for all of us.
Judy Weintraub
PMTH, 12/27/02

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Lois Shawver

Our International Crisis

Since the last issue of PMTH NEWS there have been many many conversations in the PMTH online community, only a small selection of which can I report here.  Our posts can count as high 80 or more posts a day and almost never fall between 25. 

A lot of our talks are on issues tightly related to therapy, but not all, and one of the issues that has commanded our attention of late is the global situation resulting from the conflict between the east and the west. 

This is not a topic that everyone on PMTH knows much about, certainly not me.  So as part of my study for the conversations I read several books.  Postmodernism is not only conversation between living people posting notes, I feel, but the conversation that readers have as they study multiple authors talking about the same topic.  The idea is that in doing so, one can develop one's own voice.

In the article beneath this one you will find my summary review of these three authors and some of their key works as they talk about Islam and its relationship to the west in our current international crisis.  Following that is my commentary.  Keep in mind that I am not a scholar in this field of religion and international relations.  Still, I think these authors provide me some good shoulders to stand upon as I try to figure out what's going on.  There, I will talk with you about what I have come to feel that postmodernism can offer our conflict ridden world.

Doubt, Perplexity and questions about the Limits of Our Knowledge

To your right, you will find three articles reporting on PMTH conversations.

* Postmodern Fictions
* The Death of Authority
* Returning to Our Postmodern 

As you will see, there is some continuity to this conversation, although we move around a little to related topics.  Modernist cultures see therapy as a science with confident answers.  The postmodern therapist is more likely to think that science provides answers for therapists, but postmodern therapists are more likely to ponder how the theraipst can operate with unsubstantiated knowledge.

Where I hope to See you

I hope to meet PMTH subscribers and readers atone of two places I plan to be::

1) I will be at a dinner hosted by the East Side Institute for Social Therapy where I will receive an honor.  Click here to read more.and receive an invitation from the director of the institute, Lois Holzman.   Hurry for this one.  The dinner is January 29, 2003.

2) I will present a 3 day seminar in Marberg Germany in early April.  Click here to read an article about this seminar by Klaus Deissler  The topic will be "Postmodern Practices and Theories."

Jonathan Diamond's Great Book
    Narrative Means to Sober Ends

Click here to read PMTH subscribers    Reviews of Diamond's book.

 Karen Armstrong and her Story about Islam
Lois Shawver

Karen Armstrong is a popular English writer and media person whose specialty is "religion".  Her personal story begins when she was seventeen years old and entered a Roman Catholic convent as a nun.  During her life as a nun, Armstrong was sent to study at Oxford and became, as a consequence,  a thoughtful writer.  When she  decided the demands of the church were more than she wanted to give, she departed the convent amicably, became a private citizen and began to write prolifically on religious topics.

Then, one particular experience that gave Armstrong the realization that was to greatly affect her under- standing of Islam.  In 1984, she was invited to make a television documentary series on the life of St. Paul.  Up until this time, Armstrong  explains, her intellectual world had been limited by Christian, and to some extent, Jewish lore, But while she was on location in Jerusalem to make this documentary, she came across Islam in the casual conversation of Jews.  She has said that she simply couldn't believe her ears how frequently and easily Jews called Moslems "dirty Arabs."  She couldn't believe that a people who had suffered so much from the oppression of racism would not be more sensitive to people from other cultures.

Through her years of subsequent study, Armstrong developed an increasing appreciation of Islam.  Today, she writes about it in numerous books in hopes of helping western people appreciate Islam.  She believes that Mohammad was a prophet and that his prophecy was divinely inspired.  Her views look into to the heart of the Moslem and she offers us advice from her gracious perspective.

The key context of her story starts with the glory days of Islam (1500-1700) during the Ottoman Empire.  In those days, the great empire wrapped itself around the coast of the Mediterranean, stretching far south into Egypt, west into Iraq and reaching north into Hungary.  Adding on the lesser Moslem empires the reaches of Islamdom were even grander.  And for the Moslems living within these extended boundaries, Armstrong tells us   "It was a period of triumph." (p.115)  This glorious Islamic culture of the Ottoman Empire  was seen as a natural thing that resulted from the way Moslems

lived according to God's law .  [Living according to God's law meant that Islamdom] would prosper, because it was in harmony with the the fundamental principles of existence.  The spectacular successes of the early Ottomans, whose legitimacy was largely based on their devotion to God's revealed law, seemed [clearly] to endorse this belief.

But, starting in the early 1700s, it became increasingly clear that the Moslem world was no longer prospering.  Armstrong says:

[Shortly, the Ottoman] people would become emasculated; deprived of their political edge, they became conservative and opposed any change.... Muslims felt that they were the champions of orthodoxy against infidels who pressed on all sides.
p.134, Islam

Then, at the end of World War i, when the Ottoman empire was thorougly crushed, Islamdom was merely the spoils of war to be divided up like so much pie by the infidel imperialists from the west. 

The powerful Muslim world [had simply] been reduced to a dependent bloc, and Muslim society has been gravely dislocated in the course of an accelerated modernization programme. 
180, Islam

And so it was that 

All over the [Islamic] world, people reeled under the impact of Western modernity, and ...produced the embattled and frequently intolerant religiosity that we call fundamentalism.  [And] as they struggle to rectify what [Moslems] see as the damaging effects of modern secular culture, fundamentalists fight back and, in the process, they depart from the core values of compassion, justice and benevolence that characterize all the world faiths, including Islam. 
p. 180, Islam 

Perhaps the most threatening of these extremist groups were the Wahhabis.  Their leader, al-Wahhab, was driven to his extremism, Armstrong explained,  in that he 

tried to create an enclave of pure faith, ... [and was willing to use ] aggressive techniques [ to do so]
p.135, Islam

Wahhism today may pose a danger to the western world, yet, over and over, Armstrong reminds us:  Even Wahhabi extremism is merely a perversion of the gentle religion of Islam.  Armstrong explains:

Western hostility towards Islam springs from ignorance...  Muslims want modernity, but not one that has been imposed upon them by America, Britain or France.  Muslims admire the efficiency and beautiful technology of the West, they are fascinated by the way a regime can be changed in the west without bloodshed [through an election].  But when Muslims look at Western society, they see no light, no heart and no spirituality.  They want to hold to their own religious and moral traditions and, at the same time, to try to incorporate some of the best aspects of Western society. 
p.185, Islam

So, what does Karen Armstrong think the west should do in this situation?  Armstrong advises her western readers:

Western people must become aware that it is in their interests...that Islam remains healthy and strong.  The West has not been wholly responsible for the extreme forms of Islam, which have cultivated a violence that violates the most sacred canons of religion.  But the West has certainly contributed to this development and, to assuage the fear and despair that lies at the root of all fundamentalist vision, should cultivate a more accurate appreciation of Islam....
p.187, Islam

I believe that reading Armstrong's books can be a useful part of any scholar's attempts to cultivate such an appreciation of Islam.  It has, at least, been part of such a project for me.  It left me with a picture that a strong and healthy Islam would make space for a plurality of beliefs -- and the idea that the Moslem could take what it most admired and incorporate it into Islam, but not other parts, well, that idea is highly postmodern. 

 Islam According to Stephen Schwartz
Lois Shawver

Another important author talking about Islam in our post 09/11 world is Stephen Schwartz.  Some people feel that Schwartz preaches hatred against Muslims.  But others point out that Schwartz is a courageous journalist who sacrificed his position on the Voice of America because he insisted in giving the Moslem militants air time.  Most interestingly of all, Schwartz is a Jew who has recently converted to Sufi, a particularly gentle form of Islam. 

And, whatever one thinks of him, today, Schwartz has emerged as one of the main commentators on the current conflict between the west and the east, one eager to tell his readers not only about the dangerous elements of Islam, but how greatly these dangerous elements contrast with the prevalent forms of Islam. 

Read one way, Schwartz simply  gives us a more alarming picture of the same story told by so many others, but the alarming slant Schwartz puts on this story is, of course, a difference that makes a difference.

I will quote from Schwartz' major relevant book, aptly named: Two Faces of Islam.  One face is the face of Sufism, the benign and gentle form of Islam that Schwartz embraces.  The other form Schwartz names is Wahhabism, the form that even Karen Armonstrong describes as aggressive.  (Wahhabism is known by the Wahhabis today as Salifism.)

Schwartz, like so many others, starts his story by talking to the readers about the great Ottoman Empire.  The image of this empire is a source of much pride in the Arab world, although the history of the Ottoman empire is almost unknown among westerners.  Iif a westerner does read about this empire,  it would make it easier to understand how disgruntled the Moslems are today with their situation.  Schwartz says:

How can we understand the reality of Ottoman life at the Empire's height?  Some of Ottoman religious and popular culture survives today in Bosnia... The mentality of Muslim Bosnia [has always been] deeply spiritual, and the country was famous for its Sufis....  [This  gentle Sufi culture] flourished alongside some of the most brilliant and nonconformnig rabbis in Jewish history.  [These cultures lived well together.] Balkan Muslims attended Christmas observances while Christians participated in the end fo Ramadan. 
The Two Faces of Islam

But what happened next was 

[T]he Ottoman empire ceased to progress.  Its long decline was aggravated by the economic and technological advances made by Christendom, which benefitted enormously from the wealth of the New World.  But the Ottoman stalemate also reflected the bureaucratic character of the [Ottoman] empire, as well as the isolated situation of the Turkish elite....
The Two Faces of Islam

And so the magnificent Ottoman empire began to fade:

The Ottoman Empire had fatal weaknesses.  Yet the deadliest challenge to its rule would come not from the artillery of Christian princes but from a fundamentalist movement among the Arabs [themselves]. The apocalytic, militaristic, and totalitarian cult called Wahhabism [emerged at this time in history and] would shed the blood of many fellow Muslims before eventually hurling a murderous challenge [on 09/11 in] to the Judeo-Christian World.
The Two Faces of Islam

Stephen Schwartz story of Wahhabism is a horrifying tale to the western reader.  For a very long time, Schwartz tells his readers, westerners were almost completely oblivious to Wahhabism.  This was, we hear, because:

Wahhabi violence was almost never turned against the encroachment of ...aggressive Christian power; the [Wahhabi] fanatics seemed concerned only concerned with destroying the Ottomans. 
The Two Faces of Islam

Wahhabism, then, was primarily understood as an internal threat ito Islamdom.

Muslim writers ...repeatedly denounced [the Wahhabis] as a tool of the British who sought the destruction of Islam.
The Two Faces of Islam

In the early 1800s, when the Ottoman empire was beginning to fail, the empire battled and suppressed the Wahhabis.  (p.81)  There were many books "eloquently expressnig the anger the Wahhabis provoked among traditional scholars." (p.81)  On the other hand:

Britain for its part encouraged the Wahhabis, with an eye to the eventual [Ottoman] collapse and division of Ottoman possessions.  This [use of Wahhabis] became a major aim of Western powers once it was clear the empire had been seriously weakened. 
The Two Faces of Islam

To protect themselves from collapsing under the control of the Ottomans, the Wahhabis, according to Schwartz, began a collaboration with the the House of Saud and, together, they would soon rule Arabia.  And so it was that the Wahabbis, these 

young sons of the desert who had emerged from a hopeless nothingness of petty rivalries and banditry, [youths] who viewed human life in terms devoid of sophistication or cosmopolitan under- standing.  They could not imagine learning from the rest of Islamic [culture], much less the rest of global society.  Rather, [these young Wahhabis] would teach the world about the emptiness in their hearts...
The Two Faces of Islam

Next, was a remarkable gamble the Wahhabis took to collaborate with both the British and the Americans to destroy what was left of the Ottoman empire.  The Wahhabi dream was to claim all of Islam for its own, all with the intent of wrapping Islam in complete fundamentalism. Why did the western world partner with the Wahhabis?  Merely because it was World War I, and Britain needed all the allies it could get.  Nevertheless, Schwartz tells us:

Had Britain defended [the gentler Moslem culture pf sufism,] Wahhabism would have remained an obscure, deviant cult...
The Two Faces of Islam]

Schwartz adds , dramatically:

The British seem never to have thought that [Wahhabism] which stripped Islam of its customary culture and impregnated [it] with separatism, supremism, and violence in the name of virtue...might someday launch a suicidal, destructive challenge to the Christian world.  Or perhaps they did not care...they were gambling with the future.  Eventually, the Wahhabis interpreted the failure of the Western powers to perceive their intent as a sign of the unbelievers' stupidity and as a license to continue swindling and otherwise taking advantage of them. 
The Two Faces of Islam

After World War I, the Wahhabis power continued to grow.  Schwartz says the Wahhabis developed a frightening form of jurisprudence at this time with horrible penalties for those who would stray from religious correctness, particularly amputation.  Very soon, the Wahhabis became the officlal religion of Saudi Arabia.  Then, when the middle of the century began to value oil, the capitalist west became the handmaiden to Saudi Arabia, and hence to nothing less than the handmaiden to the threatening and vionent culture of Wahhabism.

Schwartz condemns the failure of Karen Armstrong (whom you met above) to alarm westerners of our situation.  Schwartz says, 

Diminishing the extermism of the Wahhabis is...especially pronounced among historians [such as] Karen Armstrong, widely cited in the aftermath of September 11.
p. 119
The Two Faces of Islam

Schartz notes that Armstrong talks about Wahhabism, but, he also says, she refers to it in "mild terms.

For [Armstrong, the founder of Wahhabism] was a "reformer" who "tried to create an enclave of pure faith."  She describes the cult as it functions in Saudi Arabia today as 'a puritan religion based on strictly literal interpretation of scripture and early Islamic tradition," adding little to these benign phrases.
The two Faces of Islam

Americans, Schwartz tells us,  have been frightened by many things, including the communism and more moderate forms of Islams.  But, continues, westerners of all stripes should be most worried about Wahhabism because:

The face of Wahhabi Islam is a great deal uglier than that of a general Islamism, or Iranian anger at the West, or radical arab nationalism, or even of Soviet Communism, and [Wahhabism poses a] threat to peace and security of the whole world [that] is immensely greater.

Schwartz, as you can see, tells a pretty scary tale.  It scared me.  However, part of being postmodern is  remembering every narrative is only a partial story.  Recently, the same point was made by PMTH Nick Drury, Jerry Shaffer and Judy Weintraub (go to the top of the column to the right to see what they said).  These PMTH conversationalists explained that no historical account everything.  The postmodern who wants to be educated by what she reads, will simply have to read the works of more than one author. 

And so, let me take you to my reading notes of the third author, Akbar Ahmed, an author who is explicitly postmodern.

 Akbar Ahmed and 
his Postmodern Islam
Lois Shawver

Like the other authors I have talked about in this issue of PMTH NEWS, Akbar Ahmed is a  very readable writer.   In addition, he is also a distinguished scholar.  For example, his book, Islam Today was rated among the best nonfiction of the year by the Los Angeles Times. It is noteworthy for us, too, that he thinks of himself as postmodern  (see his book Postmodernism and Islam that I quote quite a lot from below.)  You should also know that Ahmed is a Sufi Moslem, that is, a moderate Moslem whose beliefs tend to be more intelligible to westerners are more traditional Moslems. 

Ahmed's  postmodern impulse was made clear in an interview.  In that interview, Ahmed explained the importance of western and eastern scholars talking together.  This, he believed, is our most hopeful path to resolve our current conflict.

."But," said the interviewer, "is the west in the mood to talk?  Isn't war inevitable?:  Ahmed answered:

 I think you're right... we have unleashed the dogs of war and there's nothing that's going to prevent [war] from happening. There's a great deal of anger in America - understandable anger - ... the ordinary American wants action - he's not in the mood for discussion or rational analysis

But how can talk be the answer if nothing will prevent war?

Well, perhaps it isn't completely inevitable, Ahmed backtracked. What can still prevent war is that the scholars can talk and then they can put pressure on the others.  But even here, he explained, there is room for cyncism because in Moslrm countries scholars are being silenced:

"What was once an occasional event -- silencing scholars -- increasingly has become a way of life in most Muslim countries.  From South Asia to North Africa, an entire generation of Muslim intellectuals is at this moment under threat: Many have already been killed, silenced, or forced into exile."

Well, then, what can be done? 

Moslems, Ahmed explains,  can start putting their own house togeteher so that Moslem scholars can speak and let their views known:  He tells us that Moslems putting their own house in order

 is very important, because if you do not do that, and you have external forces coming in, whether Americans or Europeans, then it helps people like Osama [destroy Muslem cultures] ...Muslims must [now] take their own destiny in their own hands and ask themselves "where are we going in the 21st century - Are we going to be societies which will be considered as outcasts by the world community, or are we going to live as genuine members of the world community?"

Moslem violence, Ahmed tells us,  is just not the answer.

[B]y blowing up these American embassies in Africa, and the U.S.S. Cole - allegedly - and of course now with these terrible incidents [on 09/11] that took place in New York and Washington, what [bin Laden] has done is he has set Islam or Muslim societies - or certain parts of Muslim societies - on a collision course with the West. 

But how can westerners talk with a silenced group of scholars?  Why should the west even try to engage with those silenced voices?

[because ] we have to... 

One author referring to Ahmed puts it this way:

This is not a "clash of civilizations," as some have claimed... [It is as Ahmed says ]  more a clash of misunderstandings.

The challenge now, then, is clear up our mutual misunderstandings through talk.

What are these misunderstandings?

Ahmed says that since the fall of the Moslem glory (the Ottoman Empire), the west has seen Islam as aggressive (Postmodernism and Islam, , p.96)  They think Moslems don't laugh (p.199) or of them being moralistic stick in the muds.

And the Moslem Easterners, what misunderstandings do they have of the west? 

Moslems see westerners  through the eyes of television consumerism and think of the west in terms of 

"junk food, clothes, leisure, rock music, television programmes, pop heroes, media celebrities.  [Whereas  islam has] a sacred prilgrimage place, Disneyland is [the counterpart for Americans, in the minds of Islamic misunderstanding.]" (p.99)
Postmodernism and Islam, p.99

What about the theory held by some westerners that the Moslem world has simply been oppressed by the west?.  Much  as Marx explained capitalism oppresses labor until the oppressed finally rise up to fight off their oppresors?  Ahmed says:

Economics [and financial deprivation are ] important. But the notion of honor or dignity is more important [for the Moslem at this time]. What you are seeing in many societies throughout the world is the reaction to perceptions of dishonor. Indignation results. If you talk to a Moslim, for example, he will discuss the loss of dignity and honor in Moslim communities. ...

So, the problem, according to Ahmed, is mostly a clash of mis- understandings.  We must learn to talk together if we are to rise out of the clash of war.  And, we must talk in a postmodern way.

What way is the postmodern way to talk?  PMTH subscriber Carlos Sanchez  made a comment that might give us a clue.  Sanchez said:

Postmodernism is in some way a game of patience.

I think so, too.  A postmodern conversation between the east and the west, therefore, would require not violence, but patience  Ahmed seems to agree.  He says:

In denouncing their victims through vulgar abuse, ...Muslims were themselves becoming like those they attacked; they had left behind the language of traditional Islamic scholarship and were adopting the [violent] idiom of the West.  [The proponents of 9/11] claimed to defend the Holy Prophet with their abusive anger.  The irony of defending a man who personified decency, patience, kindness and tolerance with vulgarity is lost on [such fundamentalist militants]..
Postmodernism and Islam, p.162

Ahmed adds:

Wjereas modernists sought not only to understand but also to change the world, postmodernists appear more modest in their aims: they wish to deconstruct it in order to understand it.
Postmodernism and Islam 

And, while Osama bin Laden talked to the west with the fire of weaponized jets, Ahmed suggests Islamic scholars concentrate on

explaining the gentle aspects of Islamic civilization - Persian paintings, Arabic calligraphy, Sufi mysticism
Postmodenism and Islam

And who are the scholars who are able to talk with the impatient and violent westerners?  Iff all the mid-easterns are silenced?  Ahmed says that they are the western Islamic scholars:

[T]here is emerging a new breed of Western scholars of Islam, born in the [old] tradition yet different in sympathy and style.

Such scholars may not be postmodernist in any conscious manner  [yet] they are certainly not [old style].  Their work is scholarly and fair; their aim is sympathetic scholarship, they have a need to know and understand; their methodology is impeccable; in the main they allow respondents to speak for themselves.  ...When they interject or interpret they do so with sensitivity. 

Postmodernism and Islam

Oh, if only such sensitive Moslems could gather with equally sensitive wetserners and talk together to deconstruct and then dissolve our clash of "misunderstandings."   Ahmed summarizes his postmodern vision like this:

What the postmodernist age offers us by its very definition is the potential, the possibility, the vision of harmony through understanding. 
Postmodernism and Islam

Now, isn't that a captivating dream?  Who says that postmodernism has nothing to offer world politics? 

 Commentary on 
Armstrong, Schwartz and Ahmed
Lois Shawver

There is a a certain theme that I detect in the writing of Armstrong, Schwartz and Ahmed.  It goes like this:

Most of Islam is exceptionally gentle, more gentle than the west.  This is so in spite of the fact that Moslems, even the most moderate,  feel a longing for their own culture to regain some of its glory and beauty.  Nevertheless, gentle Moslems are not inclined to try achieve supremacy through violence or through hook or crook.  Rather, they believe that living right will encourage Allah to give them a happier lot in life, and they are willing to try to study and discern the better path to follow to achieve that happier life.

Well, most Moslems are, at least as they are described by the scholars.  All three authors agreed that there is a fundamentalist group of that call themselves Moslems and that the rest of the Islamic world refers to as the "Wahhabis."  It is the Wahhabis that have gotten the attention of the west and have engaged it in a game fo war.  What the West seems to miss is that much of the Moslem world is their friend and would welcome to assist in non-violent ways (especially) to protect the world from the aggressions of the militant Wahhibs.

Schwartz seems to think that the most important thing for the west to do is to appreciate the danger of the Wahhabis and to not confuse it with the security the west could have with the presence of a free and properous Islam that was not dominated by Wahhabism. 

Armstrong, would like the west to approach this conflict by more awareness and information, by studying the work of scholars who write about the Islam from a point of view more informed by history and current day situation. 

Ahmed, on the other hand, in his postmodernism, would like to see the scholars themselves learn from each other through conversation, either wi the western Islamic scholars or, if possible  the currently silenced scholars of the mid-east.

To me, all these suggestions fit together.  It is time that the west learns about the factions and divisiveness in the mid-east and stops simplifying the situation by assuming all Moslems (or all foreigners with dark skin!) are dangerous to western people.

And it is time that we read and listen to the people in the west who have first hand experience with the Islamic culture and that we find ways for these scholars to enter into the western understanding of what is happening, in our tragic clash of cultural misunderstandings.   I believe the United States could host such conversations and award the authors (such as these three) who can write readably about them with attention and appreciation.  New paths can emerge out of difficult problems if thoughtful and informed people put their heads together.  At present, it sometimes seems to me, that the Western world is hiding its head in the sand and hoping that the President and his colleagues know what they're doing.  How much better  it would be if we could talk more among ourselves until the paths became clearer.



 Postmodern Fictions
Lois Shawver

 A recent conversation on PMTH had us talking about the way langauge always biases history.  Words are just not precise enough to picture things in realistic detail.  Moreover, every history tells only part of the story.  The whole story would take longer to tell than to live through.

This conversation started when Michael Coffey said he was struck by 

the idea that we can never escape discourse and get a god's eye view [and this inability to get a god's eye view] is one of the main themes through all of [both] post-structural and ... post modern texts.

And so Coffey, and some of the people who agreed with him, began to say that every story, every history, is a "fiction."

What did they mean by that?  Our postmodern therapist  but ex analytic philosopher, Jerry Shaffer,  pondered  the notion of "fiction" in this context. Shaffer seemed to think that calling all narratives a "fiction" was going overboard.  He explained his point by saying:

...some words  make a claim that goes beyond words to the world [itself].  Thus, if I say, "Men landed on the Moon," my words make a claim about a non-linguistic state of affairs in which men (not pieces of language) landed on the Moon...

Then, Shafer asked us:

Are you in agreement?

That was a good question.  Postmoderns often talk as though everything is a fiction, that nothing could be calld "true".  What about men landing on the moon?  Did the postmoderns on PMTH want to call that a "fiction"?

Very quickly, postmodern therapists began to speak up. For example,  Tom Hicks said:

I believe that a man, not a woman, went to the moon.
I [also] think all histories are partial histories..... told from some vantage point.  I think it is in this sense that All Histories are Fictions.

So, Hicks was using the word "fiction" in a special sense.  He was using "fiction"  to mean that the account is "not the whole exhaustive truth"  In the case of the moon landing, perhaps, we knew nothing about how the astronaut had a headache when he 'landed on the moon'  We didn't get the whole story.

But is something a "fiction" just because it doesn't tell every thing?  Maybe so.  At least,  Val Lewis made an interseting  convincing case when she reminded us that we have a precedent for calling  stories  "fiction"  even though the accounts contain elements of truth.  She explained:

We ...use the word "fiction" to describe novels that are based on historical
'facts' as they are recorded. Hence all the research into getting historical details as background for a historical novel. So, a novel about one of the astronauts who first landed on the moon could contain all that we know about the moon landing, thus having lots of "significant elements of truth" and still be classed as fiction.

Good point.  If you think about it, almost every story contains some elements of truth  The novelist may tell us, for example, that summer is hot in Texas.  That's true.  But, regardless, such a novel would still be considered  "fiction."  Fictions can contain some "truth". So, why not call all accounts fiction?

Hmmm.  But do we want to discard the distinction between truth and falsity altogether?  Wouldn't you like to save the distinction so you can learn from someone that it is just a fiction (a joke) that someone robbed your car?   No one could convince you it didn't really happen, if everything was equally "ficiton.'

What to do? 

Judy Weintraub suggested that we might avoid confusion if we used phrase "creative rendering" rather than "fiction." I liked that term.  It would be much less confusing, I thought, than calling everything a "fiction." 

But then Priscilla Hill reminded me that we would still not be able to contrast truth and fiction because even when we do speak of "truths" these "truths"  are often not verifiable. I thought for a minute.  Take a statement like "Everybody likes chocolate."   I might say that, and I might believe it is true, but how could I claim that to be "truth" rather than fiction?  How many of "my truths" are verified and solidly detemrined.  Maybe I should call them "fiction."

These are not idle observations for therapists to ponder.  In my experience as a therapist, clients are often concerned with discovering the "truth" and tehrapists are, too.  Did someone molest a child?  It would not be enough to maintain that we did not have the whole story, even that the the partial story was creatively rendered, or even that we couldn't verify the truth of it.  Still, we might want to distinguish truth and fiction in our minds and continue to look for evidence.

But, when we look closer, the truth is very often hard to tell.  So, my question is, is it good for us to try to maintain awareness of the shakiness of our "knowledge"? 

I'll come back to that topic in the third article in this series, returning to our postmodern predicament.  First, let me show you what we talked about next.

The Death of Authority 
Lois Shawver

Sometime in late December. I, (Lois Shawver), posted a note to PMTH that went something like this:

Lyotard talks of the death of the professor, Rorty talks of the death of epistemology, Barthes and Foucault talk of the death of the author, Derrida talks of the death of the book.  I believe that they are all talking about the same death.

How would you word it?  What is it being characterized by the death of the professor, epistemology, authors, and the book?  What's a term for that for all that?

Murray Dabby responded saying:: speaks to the death of  modernism to me, the death of the grand narrative, the death of authority. 

Sociologically speaking, I remember not long ago when the author, [and] the professor ...had profound status....   [Myself, I am ] a product of a working class  [family that was ] on its way to becoming middle-class family, I remember the notion of  becoming an author, or a professor as quite unreachable.   [But today I can see that] in many cases,  these folks can often be seen as other working folks, trying to earn a  living, [ as people] closer to having a trade than having gift. 

So, for Dabby, the guru status of the author and professor has faded.  In its place is a human being with limits who cannot see things from a God's eye view.

I liked the way Dabby put it.  Perhaps, gradually, the public is becoming disillusioned with the idea that there are people, authors and teachers, who have a greater than life wisdom to impart to us.

Alfred Treptow also offered his postmodern reflections Treptow said:

Is it possible that the reference to death could envelope the idea of 'death of that person's live contributions'? After the death of these great paradigm
shifters, we are left with valuable narratives to build on ... some sort of beginning / birth for us who must carry on searching?

What  I like about treptow's comments is that it seems to suggest that a living idea are subject to change in the hands of the generation to come.  Each generation builds off of the contributions from the past.  Derrida says as much himself (see the first chapter of Of Grammatology).

Judy Weintraub responded to my question, too.  She said

I think of this as the death of naivete about objectivity, the death of certainty [and perhaps] the death of fixed standards of judgment. It's an idea that there is never just one answer. 

I see the comments of these three PMTH people as giving us different sides to the same postmodern story.  No longer does it feel that someone else has the final answers.  We are becoming increasingly convinced that we can no longer rely on the wisdom of authority to tell us about things. 

So, the question is, if we don't have authorities to tell us what the truth is, what are we, as therapists to do?

 Returning to our Postmodern Predicament
Lois Shawver

The postmodern no longer believes in grand theories and narratives, no longer believes that histories tell us all that happened, and she notices that the closer she looks the more elements of fiction are included in every tale.

The question becomes how to live with this uncertainty and doubt.  Should we learn not to look behind the surface that convinces us?  Or shall we disorient ourselves by looking so closely that we see fiction everywhere?

But look.  Don't we all know that all accounts have a little fiction and a little truth?  Jumbled altogether in a way that is sometimes difficult to differentiate? 

If so, how is it we have gotten in this fix of thinking in binaries?  Imagining we have the whole truth?  Or that an account is only fiction, and not some complex weave of something in between? 

While I was pondering these matters, I somehow became strangely aware of something happening, occasionally, in some of my conversations.  Sometimes, I found myself forgetting and denying my doubt.  Whatever I am doing when that happens, it seemed to me that this kind of thinking of mine goes a long way towards explaining "thinking in binaries," that is,  thinking that there is no gray, or should be no gray, no doubt, no areas of ambiguity in any account.

I called this process of mine "polarization."   By that, I meant that something I had some doubt about I became less and less aware of my dubt as we talked.  I convinced myself that I had the whole truth.  And the more I became convinced that the other person was overly confident about their truth, the more convinced I became of mine - at least until later when my energy about the question at hand began to die down.

So, instead of looking only for truths and fictions I thought I would make a concerted effort to remember my doubts and perplexities and to include those in whatever I had to say.  I explained this idea to PMTH, and told them that I would be trying to perplexify my speech more, to reflect the doubts and questions I actually had.

Voices began to support my project.  First, I mused aloud one day saying, 

What prevents us from presenting our perplexity?  In a  world in which we cannot know very much about so many things, why do we so often take assertive and polarized stances ?  What is the social pressure to do

and George Spears responded sayihg:

It seems like it's the pressure to 'know'. We are culturally groomed to
'know'...and 'oh'.....such a dummy you are if you don't!

Then, Lynn Hoffman said:

Lois, I like your unpacking of a non-essentialist style, if that is what you are doing. 

Yes, that's what I was doing. 
And Hoffman wrote that the concept of "perplexifying" reminded her of Harlene Anderson's term "mutual puzzling".  Hoffman asked how we could promote this mutual puzzling with our clients (rather than informing them of "the truth").  She said:

I think one way is to
puzzle outloud with language that announces one's perplexity, or
perhaps simply by asking questions that do not contain their answers although they outline things that might be looked at.

That's good.  That sounds much like my statement of perplexity although I had been thinking more of doing this just with myself on PMTH.  But why not do it with clients, too?  Engage them in their perplexity?

Hoffman continued in another note talknig about Cecchin.  She said::

What struck me about his point of view was that it contrasted greatly with the traditional idea of therapy as a set of interventions. The idea of "perplexity" is in the same ball-park and is a real contribution. 

So, maybe this was a good idea, perplexifying my speech more, polarizing less.  Can I do this as an author?  I'm doing it now, but is it acceptable to readers?? 

Absolutely, I decided, at least it is acceptable to postmodern readers.  Both  Wittgenstein  and Merleau- Ponty write with a nod to their perplexity.  I always liked that about them.  If they can do it, so can I.

So, I have found a provisional answer to my postmodern predicament of having such shakey knowledge.  I will take pride in being aware of my perplexity.  I will try to notice it, and I will find a way to reveal it.  After all, so did Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty.

Is the langauge that I created to talk about it good enough?  Do others want to call this "perplexity"?  Of course, the answer was "yes" and "no."

Reit Samuels thought we might loosen the term "perplexity" and talk about the same or similar things with terms like:

"ambivalent,"  "being of several minds," "not knowing," 

However, And, Samatha Sands found something valuable in the term "perplexity.  She said::

For me, if I'm ambivalent about something I don't care much one way or the other. If I'm perplexed I'm definitely more concerned or interested.

I suddenly like all of these concepts, and  I am reminded of Sheila McNamee and Ken Gergen suggesting we learn to talk with two minds, showing our doubt to each other --  Saying, "I am of two minds about this or that."  This is rather like Riet suggested.

Finally, Val Lewis made an intriguing comment she added when she was talking about militant Islamics:  Lewis said:

The whole point of the Salafy\Wahhabi is that there is no perplexity. There is no generous listening either.

I don't know if owning my doubt and perplexifying my speech will be a profitable adventure, but so far it has worked very well for me.  I don't think I'm overdoing it.  I'll probably hear about it if I do.  I even like talking with perplexity in my speech.  I even have hopes, that it will increase my creativity.  After all:

When you bump against the limits of your own honesty it is as though your thoughts get into a whirlpool, an infinite regress: You can say what you like, it takes you no further. 
Culture and Value, p.76


Seminar with 
Lois Shawver
Klaus Deissler

I want to announce to the readers of PMTH NEWS a 3-day seminar with Dr. Lois Shawver in Marburg, Germany in the spring of 2003. The seminar will be presented in the context of the educational program in systemic therapy of ¨•viisa¨Ā (¨•viisa¨Ā is the German name for ¨•association of international institutes for systemic forms of collaboration¨Ā. ¨•viisa¨Ā is part of MICS = Marburg Institute for Collaborative Studies (see: and part of the German Association of Systemic Therapy (SG)).

The title of the seminar will be:

Postmodern practices and theories 
how do they make a difference to established forms of of consulting

Lois Shawver is one of the most prolific and acknowledged colleagues on the topic in the USA and in the international community; as the editor of PMTH NEWS and author of many relevant publications she will present her central concepts and guidelines for future-oriented practices of consulting.

The 3-day seminar will take place in Marburg, Germany, from April 3 to 5, 2003. Marburg is a picturesque and small city with a university from 16th century. One of its most famous ¨•sons¨Ā was Hans-Georg Gadamer, who died last year. Have a look at the Marburg web-site and get a feeling about how it may be in spring:

For a limited number of colleagues from abroad we have reserved the possibility of participation. If you are interested

An Honor for PMTH Host
Lois Shawver
Lois Holzman

As the new director of the East Side Institute, I (Lois Holzman), am pleased to share the news that our friend Lois Shawver is to be honored by us for her importantąĄand uniqueąĄwork.  The honor will be given at at our second  annual Psych Out Awards benefit.  (To read more about Psych Out, click here) 

All readers of PMTH NEWS, as well as PMTH subscribers, are invited to come and meet Lois Shawver and learn about the East Side Institute. 

The gala event will take place at the TriBeCa Rooftop in NYC on Wednesday,  January 29, 2003. 

In addition to Lois Shawver, the other honorees are: Olga Acosta, Ph.D. (a nationally recognized advocate for the creation of positive and effective mental health programs for children.)  Debra Pearl, C.S.W., (the director of the Long Island Center for Social Therapy and an inspired builder of the social therapeutic movement for 25  years.) Gloria Strickland, M.Ed., (a distinguished educator and founding director of  the New Jersey All Stars. )  Two social therapy clients are also being honoredąĄEmily Formanand Tim Neiman. 

Contributions are tax-deductible, as is a portion of the ticket price. 
Friend ticketąĄ$150; SponsorąĄ$250; BenefactorąĄ$500 

To purchase tickets or make a contribution, contact Mary Fridley, 
Sales Director, at 212-941-8906 or email by clicking here .

 Would you like to receive announcements?
Lois Shawver

If you would like to receive announcements for each issue of PMTH NEWS, click here and forward your request.

What is PMTH?

Lois Shawver

PMTH is a closed community for professional therapists, as well as scholars,professors and graduate students with specialities related to therapy. We keep our list reserved this way in order to have a special place for people who are concerned with doing good therapy to discuss their personal issues about therapy in some depth. We go to other lists to discuss things with people who don't fit this profile. If you want to invite one of us to a list you're on, there is a way to do that. Or, if you fit the profile for membership to PMTH, you can consider joining us. Whichever you want, you can write me, by clicking 


This will send a post to me, Lois Shawver. Tell me of your interest. If you are looking to join us, also give me a little information about yourself that tells me how you fit the profile for joining the PMTH online community. And, in either case, .tell me that you got the idea to write by reading PMTH NEWS. 

Send a Note to a Friend 
about PMTH NEWS?

Lois Shawver

Would you like to tell someone about PMTH NEWS? Just fill out the form below and click on the "send" button. The invitation that goes out will include a special link that your friend can click on to arrive at this site. 

Friends email: 

Your name: 


Postmodern Geriatrics
Lois Shawver
What's good about getting old?  In our youth oriented culture, it seems that youth is ideal.  Aging is what we do to avoid something worse. 

Howver, look at what Ken and Mary Gergen have to say about the joys of growing old. 

Click here

Our Sister Publications
Lois Shawver
I think I'll claim two sister publications since both of the editors are subscribers to PMTH NEWS, New Therapist and Janus Head.  I will list New Therapist first, since I have known the editor John Soderlund the longest , since myself and PMTH subscriber Tom Strong are contributing editors.  Let me say, too, that Strong has an interview of Allan Wade in the upcoming issue that, from the talk on PMTH, is likely to be particularly interesting.  New Therapist articles tend to be up close and personal.  As I have provided you with pictures of philosophers I talk about, so you will often find them in the New Therapist and their artists will capture your attention, too. 

In addition, yhowever, I want to give a special place, too, to Janus head, where Brent Dean Robbins is the editor.   You will see Brent's essay on Merleau-Ponty above.  Robbins is a new voice on PMTH, and I believe he has much to offer not only PMTH, but the postmodern community.  Also, his journal complements the New therapist.  Where the New Therapist is up-close-and personal, Janus Head is is deep and scholarly, taking you into the rich discussions that revolve around postmodern ideas.  If you are serious about familiarizing yourself with postmodernism, this is a hot journal to read. 

So, I hope you acquaint yourself with both.  Both stand on our postmodern frontier 

New Therapist

The September/October 2002 edition of New Therapist has just been published, selected articles and contents of which can be found on our web site at 

Entitled The Big Ideas Edition, it covers some applications and thoughts about therapy which attempt to cast our focus well beyond the one-on-one approaches which have dominated for the past century. 

From Arnold and Amy Mindell's Worldwork ideas, through the thought provoking ideas of Allan Wade on how we acknowledge our clients' resistance to violence, to a look at the ambitious Antidote project to enhance emotional literacy on a community-wide level, this is a rare collection of the bigger ideas emerging from the therapy world. 

As always, this edition is available for order online at the back issues order page, as are copies of all of the previous 20 editions of the magazine. click here
to order 

Or, if you'd like to subscribe to the magazine for a year from $46 (incl. postage), visit our subscriptions page by clicking here.

Janus Head:  Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts 

What is a ą®Janus headą∆ and why would anyone want to name a journal after it? 

Stone-carved reliefs of the face of Janus were often placed above doorways of old Roman homes, such as the one at Villa Madama at the foot of Monte Mario just outside Rome. Placed at the threshold, the image of the god conveys both a welcome and a demarcation of boundary. The visage of Janus is double, each face poised in opposite directions, a pliable symbol extending itself to spatial, temporal, political, and personal planes. The phrase ą®Janus-facedą∆ as it comes down to us means ą®two-facedą∆ or ą®deceitful,ą∆ but the original signification of the two-faced god meant vigilance and new beginnings, as we think of in the first month of the year, January. To quote from Bergen Evans' dictionary of Mythology, ą®It was a peculiarity of this god that the doors of his temple were kept open in time of war and closed in time of universal peace. They were rarely closed.ą∆ 

From its inception in 1998, Janus Head, as an interdisciplinary journal, has aimed to be that opened door at the threshold of a newly charged dialogue among the disciplines. Disciplines themselves are human demarcations, boundaries built across the phenomenal field, both opening up and closing off the thought of one disciplinary domain or another. The interdisciplinary space, then, is one that seeks to give rise to other, provocative modes of revealing, to freshen the blood of the disciplines by interjecting and crossing different bodies of thought, to give credence to various manifestations of truth in human knowledge and experience. This journal is dedicated to the exploration of ideas and images as they unfold through both analytical and poetic modes of language. Visual art has its say in this space as well, for the immediacy and visceral amplitude of the image is the aesthetic reminder of the power of silence between words, the dense nexus of meaning that resides in the imagination before language. 

Janus Head has published essays ranging a broad scope of topics, from Heraclitean philosophy to Kantian ethics, from Melville to Rene Char, from Heideggarean ontology to Derridean language studies, to name just a few. Poetry, the avant-garde as well as the quietly lyrical, takes an honored place in the journal, because it is in poetry, as one of our editors wrote in an early editorial, that Being and language fuse. Past contributors to Janus Head include Alphonso Lingis, Robert Romanyshyn, Claudia K. Grinnell, Margo Kren, Elizabeth Mesa-Gaido, Robert Gibbons, Ouyang Yu, R. Flowers Rivera, Jamie O'Halloran, Ernesto Grassi, Peter Caws, Frits Staal, Antoine Vergote, Evans Lansing Smith, Louise Sundararajan, Michael Sipiora, and Frank Edler. 

Janus Head is published biannually, on-line and in print. The journal publishes essays, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, art, and reviews. Annual volumes usually include one themed issue and one ą®openą∆ issue, which considers submissions on any number of topics. Online readership has grown to a number of 10,000 unique visitors a month. In addition to presenting the current issue in full, the website offers access to the archives of past issues, as well as an extensive resource page featuring over 300 links to other journals, a listing of conferences and events, and reviews of books and films. 

We encourage readers to view the current issue featuring the proceedings from the 2001 George Washington University Human Sciences Conference, Knowing Subjects: Human Lives, Human Worlds. Lewis Gordon, Jonathan Moreno, David Goldberg, and Virginia Held are among the writers contributing to this special issue.

Forthcoming in the fall is an issue centered on Magical Realism, featuring poetry by Virgil Suarez, Robert Gibbons, Todd Sanders, among others; and essays by Lois Parkinson Zamora, Wendy B. Faris, and Michael Wood. 

For more information, please write to:   or visit the website of Janus Head by clicking here.

Past Issues of PMTH NEWS
Available Here

Lois Shawver

If you think you would like to read past issues of PMTH NEWS, you would like to look over the table of contents of those past issues.  The Table of contents can be reached by clicking here and you can then link to the earlier issues you desire to read. 



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