PMTH NEWS                                    04/28/99

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Stories that know they are stories keep us safe, if anything can, from the stories that do not know they are stories. 
John Morss,  153

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John Morss' Book

 I just finished reading an interesting book by John Morss called Growing Critical.

Morss is a clear and engaging writer and if you are trying to master the literature on postmodernism, you would do well to read his works.  In this book, however, he is primarily focused on one metanarrative, the metanarrative of natural development that does not pay attention to the social construction of that development.  That is, he deconstructs theories of development that do pay attention to the way in which the direction of the "developmental" change is fostered by cultural forces. 

He does a marvelous job in reviewing the relevant literature on this metanarrative.  I particularly like his summary of the way in which Freud (and Lacan) sat on what might be called a postmodern fence, sometimes endorsing the metanarrative of development and sometimes escaping its closure.

I will try to give you some more ideas from his text next week.  You will be interested to learn what he has to say about the work of Fred Newman and Lois Holzman.

Our Conversational Threads

PMTH is a very active list.  Right now we are averaging about 27 posts a day.  Many of these posts are long and in depth studies of serious postmodern topics.

1. Kant

A major topic on PMTH this week was the role of Kant in Lyotard's postmodernism.  This topic was brought up by Julie Varvaro's comments, encouraging us to consider Lyotard's Kantianism, especially with regard to the notion of paralogy, whereas many of us, certainly myself (Lois Shawver), had been emphasizing Lyotard's Wittgensteinianism.

Although numerous philosophical types pulled together to study this issue (Jerry Shaffer, Tony Michael Roberts, Don Smith, Tom Strong, Nick Drury and Judy Weintraub), I believe no one felt convinced (at this point) that Kant influenced Lyotard's notion of paralogy, at least not in a direct way. 

Although the word "paralogism" goes back to the writing of Aristotle, I think this term was probably invented by Lyotard (how postmodern to have invented a term), and this term seems to have only a family resemblance, at best to the established concept of paralogism.   Perhaps it should be thought of as a kind of bricolage

2. Differends 

Another hot topic on PMTH last week had to do with differends, what they were, and how they related to metanarratives and dominant discourses.

There may have even been a few differends on PMTH last week, with several people using terms differently and thus arguing at cross purposes or denying each other a language for making complaints.

When this happens, there seems to be a flury of posts, not only on PMTH, but elsewhere, too.  Does this mean that differends are good for paralogy? Judy Weintraub and I spent some time deliberating about this issue last week. 

What do you think?  Are you concerned that avoiding differends will result in stilted or empty discussions?  (Weintraub seems inclined towards this concern) or are you like me, someone who tries to douse differends with deconstructive words  in order to keep the paralogy flowing.

3. Generous listening

Suppose you're a liberal therapist and someone tells you he is a "sexual addict" even though he only masturbates three times a year.  You shake your head in disbelief that he would call this "sexual addiction." Then he goes on tell you that he wants you to help him overcome this addiction. Suppose you not only believe it is an acceptable level of masturbation but that the client would be much better off if he would learn to accept this in himself.  What do you do?

This dilemma presented a lively topic of discussion on PMTH last week even though nearly everyone more or less agreed as to what they would do.  First, most PMTH therapists would explore the meaning of "sexual addiction" and try to understand what this meant for this particular client.  If the wish to stop masturbating continued, however,  most PMTH therapists would assist this process.

Consider another dilemma: What if your client believed she should be beaten when she "misbehaved" and you found this an objectionable idea.  What would you do?  I liked what Tom Hicks said when he told us, "one can disagree with the client, and say so, while simultaneously helping them develop and maintain a unique conversational postion." Claire Robson interpreted this as I did, and she said, "Tom, I appreciate what I see as your two voices, which allow you to both listen to [your client] and to maintain your own voice."

4. Legal Responsibility

As I write this, a new flury of posts are occurring on the topic of therapist responsibility in this postmodern age.  Do we need to report imminent suicides?  Should we?  We are thinking about it.

More on this next week.

 For Your Reflection

Never seen a Narrative Therapy session?   Want read a transcript? Click here.  When you get to the site, page down a little bit.

This is the kind of therapy invented by David Epston and Michael White.  I think it  is a very political form of therapy.  As you can see, when Narrative Therapy works, the client emerges ready to resist the forces in the world that make them feel bad about themselves. That sounds very political to me.

How NT clients fight the forces that oppress them is controversial.  Should it be with protest?  That's the question we addressed recently when we talked of Kathleen Stacey's article talking about alternatives to protest and Karl Tomm's alternative version of NT.

It is a question worthy of your thought as it is still unsettled in our conversations.

This is a past issue of 
to visit the most recent issue 

A Paraphrase of Lyotard

I think the last two pages of Lyotard's essay, The Postmodern Condition, are particularly important for us.  The outline a postmodern politic.  I am providing you with my paraphrase and some associated excerpts.

Wittgenstein on Sense
Wittgenstein instructs us in a postmodern sensitivity to the different senses of terms.  Here is an example of his demonstrated sensitivity to different senses:
577.  We say "I am expecting him", when we believe that he will come, though his coming does not 'occupy our thoughts.'  (Here "I am expecting him" would mean "I should be surprised if he didn't come" and that will not be called the description of a state of mind.)  But we also say "I am expecting him" when it is supposed to mean: I am eagerly awaiting him.  We could imagine a language in which different verbs were consistently used in these cases.  And similarly more than one verb where we speak of 'believing', 'hoping', and so on.  Perhaps the concepts of such a language would be more suitable for understanding psychology than the concepts of our language.

I believe it is this kind of sensitivity to language, to the different senses of terms, that we must awaken in ourselves if we are to avoid the traps and closures of modernist thinking.

 The PMTH Search Engine

Starting sometime later today this search engine should start picking up more recent PMTH NEWS.  When I installed it on 03/17/99, I understood the search engine would be automatically reindexed to pick up new information on the PMTH NEWS website.  Not so.  It was waiting for me to reindex it.

But now I have done that and learned how to do it, so the PMTH website will have more uptodate information available in its searches.

And, every now and then one of you write me personally to ask where an article on something is.  If you can recall any of the terms in the articles, you should be able to find it in the search engine.

Try it if you haven't done it.  Put in the name of a concept you want to research.  Or put in the name of an author that you would like to study.  Or put in your own name, if you're a frequent poster on PMTH.  .

 The Roots of Postmodernism

I want to suggest that there are two roots of postmodernism: 

Poststructuralism and postpositivism

Poststructuralism grew out of the critique of Saussure in France.  Derrida was the  pre-eminent poststructuralist, although Lacan was an important transitional figure towards poststructuralism. and, arguably, became poststructuralist rather than structuralist. 

Poststructuralism tends to be obscure and difficult to read.  Partly this is because poststructuralists talk a lot about French theorists who are not very accessible, especially to an English speaking audience.  Partly it is because many poststructuralists have believed that it is better to be obscure, to make the reader work to understand, because in working to understand they understand more.

Postpostivism , I am suggesting, is  the other root of postmodernism.  Postpositivism is largely English and it centers (although not exclusively) around the work of later Wittgenstein.  It is a rejection of positivism and the positivist  project of making language more precise and more capable of functioning as a logical calculus.  Postpositivists tend to be much clearer writers than poststructuralists.  They use more ordinary sounding language and speak in shorter and more standard language forms.  One school of postpositivism is even called "ordinary language philosophy."

Poststructuralism and postpositivism come together, it seems to me,  in the flowering of postmodernism.  I am aware of several books that that bring them together (cf. Derrida and Wittgenstein by Garver & Lee, 1994 and Wittgenstein and Derrida by Henry Staten, 1984). Lyotard also seems a bridge to me between postmodernism and poststructuralism.  He references Derrida's ideas and learns from them.  He takes something of his style from the poststructuralists,  but he builds primarily, I think, off of the shoulders of the postpositivism of Wittgenstein.  This negotiation of a common language game between two different systems has made his work distinctive and  particularly powerful, in my opinion. 

Another Tool

I have added another tool to our site, although I have not added it to our toolbar.  You can find it at the bottom of this website, just above the counter.  It's a webring.  A webring is made up of a group of web authors who collaborate to bring surfers to our sites.  The webowners share something of a common philosophy or purpose. 

Our particular webring is a postmodern one.  It is called the Everything is Postmodern Webring. .  All the web authors who belong to this webring have postmodern sites.  If you go to the bottom of the page and click on the webring you will be taken to another postmodern site that is a part of this webring.  A similar tool is on the front page of all the sites that you will go to.  We are the fifteenth site to become a member of this webring.


just one site of many in the Everything Postmodern Webring
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