PMTH NEWS                                    05/19/99

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As therapists our interest is for clients to be in control of their own destiny, to have agency.  Whatever we offer as "theapy" seeks to influence this archetype of human narrative, the duality between a sense of fate and the freedom to act differently.
Glenn Larner

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Glenn Larner Writes of Derrida

Last Saturday, SY Yusim suggested that we try to track down the work of Glenn Larner, and study his concept of the "para-modern."   Several people responded with interest.

What I was able to do was track down a list of seven recent articles or chapters by Larner.  I was only able, however, to locate one that I could read , but it is his most recent article.  And,  although Larner does not discuss his concept of the"para-modern" in this article it is possible to glean, I feel,  his interest is and his criticism of the postmodern.

Larner's inspiration comes from his reading of Derrida and especially Derrida's concept of differAnce and deconstruction.  He does not appear to be familiar with the work of Lyotard.  His notion of the postmodern appears to be based largely on Baudrillard's concept of the postmodern.  In my view, Bautdrillard sees the postmodern through eyes that that are nostalgic for realism.  Postmodernity becomes in his philosophy a negative space .  He talks of hyperreality, which is a blurring of the distinction between the real and the unreal, and he points to Disneyland to illustrate the "realer-than-real" of aspect hyperreadlity.  His is a critique of the superficiality and emptiness of popular, American culture.  When people are very negative of postmodernism, Ihave come to expect them to privilege Baudrillard's account of it.

In contrast, as some of you know, Lyotard has a much more positive, perhaps even utopian, picture of postmodernism.  Lyotard is not concerned with the superficiality of American culture.  What he sees (and it is not especially American culture that he looks to) is an exiting new way of conversing that he calls paralogy.  The new art of paralogy gives a new creative new voice to postmoderns within local communities.  It is a way of creating and discovering meaning and enhancing the social bond.

Whereas Baudrillard's vision of the postmodern is empty and forlorn, Lyotard's vision if optimistic and hopeful.  Although both see postmodernity as the disintegration of old patterns, Baudrillard sees this as a fragmentation of the self andLyotard sees it as the promising disintegration of the hold of authority to dominate our spirit.

Anyone who knows my work, knows that I follow Lyotard although I also look to Derrida, Lacan  and Wittgenstein to round out the literature that I see most relevant to therapy. This means, I see promise in postmodernity.  I do not long to go beyond it but, rather, to explore that promise.-- although I must say I feel it would be a mistake to settle too much into this promise.  There is always a new adventure beyond our horizon.  Still, for now, there is so much to be harvested from this Lyotardian dream that I scarcely give a thought to what is beyond it.

What about Larner?  Larner, in contrast to myself, is looking to Baudrillard for a picture of postmodernity, and hence, of course,  sees a need to move beyond the postmodern a he is defining it. Of course, he would want to move beyond senseless framentation of the self and an empty hyperreality.

But both of us are trying to exploit this new postmodern literature for the sake of a better vision of the therapy process.  And, except that we define the word "postmodern" differently, given our different paradigms of the postmodern, we are quite similar in our approach, at least with regard to Derrida -- or at least with regard to Larner's major points of this particular paper, which is the only paper of Larner's that I have read to date.

This paper of Larner's points to the importance of not simplifying our concept of the person in a way that he sees his version of postmodernism doing..  He sees postmodernism as trying to reverse the self-culture of modernity by creating an other-culture.  I think by this he means a culture that defends the oppressed and marginalized.  He sees this as a false dichotomy and I think  he argues quite compellingly. 

The argument hinges around Derrida's new call to the political self.  Larner explains (I have not read this literature of Derrida's myself) that Derrida's recent work argues that we cannot have an ethical relationship towards others without a sense of self.  What we need, however, is an ability to move back and forth between the focus on the self and the focus on the other.  This, Larner calls, a deconstructive concept of the self and it develops in the conversation.

Based on my reading of other works of Derrrida, this is not such a difficult concept as it sounds as first. It is what we all do when we try to decide if we are the problem, or the other person is the problem.  That is, we go back and forth in an ongoing study and revision of the boundaries as we say, "No, it's my fault," or "no, it's yours."  (And, of course, the issue is not merely focused on 'fault'.  We can also talk about credit and more.) 

If this boundary is loose enough then we are able to see it one way, and then the other, and see the truth in both. 

As I say, I have not yet familiarized myself with Derrida's more recent political writings, this does fit my picture of Derrida's concept of differerAnce and deconstruction.  For Derrida, the world around us is like an ambiguous figure.  I think of Wittgenstein's duckrabbit:

You look at it one way, and it's a duck.  You look at it another and it's a rabbit.  (book II, ii).

Writing anything down (so that it can be articulated without the presence of the author) suppresses one way of seeing, even though that way of seeing remains in the cultural unconcscious, or differAnce. Deconstruction is a way of bringing the repressed way of seeing back to consciousness.  That is, if one writes (publishes) an opinion, that opinion is effectively uncontested.  Say that's the rabbit.  The alternative way of seeing things, the duck, is suppressed from public consciousness.

Although it is not humanly possible to see both sides of things at the same moment, one can remember that one has a blindspot, that the other side is there in the shadows of consciousness (i.e.,  the differAnce) And, if deconstruction is available in the conversation, there is a movement back and forth between the two images of the world.

Moving back and forth between the two images , creates something that I liken to a three-dimensional vision, a richer image of the world and our experience than the simplified picture makes possible.  Larner talks about this process very well, in my judgment.  I think  it is the highlight of his paper.

And, so, Larner and I both support this Derridean vision of what therapy might strive for.  Where we differ is on the question of whether or not this Derridean approach is different from postmodernism.  I must say, that I believe Larner has Derrida on his side.  Derrida, I believe, has not read Lyotard generously.  But I believe that Lyotard's postmodernism is more than just compatible with Derrida and Larner's interesting reading of him.  Many others agree with me that Derrida is compatible with Lyotardian postmodernism.

My disagreement, then, with Larner is reduced, it seems to me,  to a difference to a difference in the use of the word "postmodern."  I believe both uses exist in the literature and that nothing would be more Derridean on either Larner or my part than to see the necessity of both images of the postmodern as part of the ambiguous resplendence of the world around us that we do not want to lose by a return to the simple and superficial.

See my paraphrase of Larner's article, Seen through a Glass Darkly, by clicking here.  I am also making available a segment of Larner's original paper paired with my paraphrase so you can judge the paraphrase.  The segment I have chosen is the segment I found most inspiring  Click here to see that segment.

A Paralogy Listserv 

I have found a list called "paralogy" -- although there is next to nothing going on there.  Still, I thought some of you might want to check it out.  Maybe you could start some discussion there.  I'm a member, but I plan to lurk.  Too much going on over here.

Here's what you do to join: Click the link at the end of paragraph, then go down to the bottom of the page.  You'll find a form at the bottom of the page right beneath a line of text that reads:

Paralogy: a discussion of literature, politics, culture the arts and contemporary philosophy! 

Type in your your email address and it will guide you through the rest.  I suspect there are people there waiting to talk about "paralogy" and just need some help in getting things started.  I doubt that these people are interested in paralogy as it relates to therapy, but they will have some related interest.


This is a past issue of 
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Threads in PMTH Conversation

1.Psychological testing 

We have had an spirited and active conversation this week on the topic of psychological testing (57 posts) , especially IQ testing, but also personality testing.  Most PMTH posters are skeptical about the value of testing, but there is a range of opinions here as to how skeptical we should be. 

But the postmodern concern about testing is generally a worry that the presence of a test will lead the public to presume that we are measuring attributes that exist only because we have a methodology for giving people a label.  It is easy to create tests and invent psychological objects they purportedly measure.  The fact that there is such a test does not mean that it measures something real.

In general, people seemed to feel that a more important qusestion had to do with whether or not tests were useful clinically.  Val Lewis provided
us with some interesting illustrations of how tests might be used within a postmodern frame.

2. A day in the life of a PMTH poster

Yesterday, for some reason, many of us posted a note telling everyone about our day.  It was Andy Lock who started us off.  His day was an adventure  in his country setting in New Zealand with mischievous goats, fruit trees to be purned, two young kids kids, and even an earthquake.  It is a wonder he got online to tell us about it  The favorite part of my day yesterday was reading and paraphrasing Larner,  but today I had computer hassles much like Judy Weintraub had yesterday.  (Will computers EVER become hassle free?) Val Lewis did student evaluations, and Graeme Kane did clinical work in his Australian setting.  Claire Robson was doing clinical work in the farm fields and Don Smith bicycled to work.

Inventing Idioms

I am myself inspired by the idea that we can invent indioms to allow people to communicate even when, originally, they did not have a common language game.  Creating a new term sometimes is a lot more than merely putting new labels on old wine bottles. At its best, it involves inventing wine bottles, maybe even inventing wine.

As Hershey Bell, a newcomer to PMTH, pointed out naming a new medical syndrome, such as "toxic shock" is not just a matter of finding something and naming it.  In his words, we have to ask:

[W]hy was the syndrome
discovered in the first place?  Because it truly exists as unique, or
because the discover saw it that way and then labeled it? 

Notice this disorder was probably happening for many years before anyone noticed it, and we could have gone forever without noticing and naming this syndrome.  How many other syndromes lurk in the murkiness of our blindspots?  Why did we see and name this particular one?  How did this particular syndrome wake up our minds and come outside of the murky, cultural differAnce ?

SY Yusim suggested that the acceptance of new terms might have to do with the utility of the new name, and probably the style with which it is presented. Even if someone noticed a new kind of syndrome, if it did not have practical importance to talk about it, a name would hardly catch on.  So what if in reality there are 15 kinds of common cold?  All caused by different viruses?  If they all need to be treated the same, why do we need different names for them?

Still, we simplify our picture of reality if we think only those forces that have names are real.  There are lots of forces operating in every situation and our puzzlement is sometimes caused by those forces that we have failed to recognize because we did not see a practical use for doing so -- even when that practical use was there.  We are like a people who think electricity is a trivial phenomena, related only to lightening and the static electricity that results from rubbing rubber on wool.  How could we know otherwise when the lightbulb had not yet been invented?

I think we have only scratched the surface to these sorts of observations about the way we name things.  Naming things is of more importance than we typically notice, and it is a process that often passes us by.  Names for things get slipped in under the cover of objective words when they are the force that controls world views as much as anything does.


Douglas Ingram criticizes the way in which traditional psychoanalysis relies on "metanarratives" (Ingram,p.183)  What are the metanarratives of psychoanalysis?  In my opinion they are primarily the the Oedipal parables that tell us it is our human destiny to have minds stamped with the sexist stamp that Freud imagined to be inevitable (Shawver, pp. 373-377).

So, what does Ingram propose?  Basing his suggestion on Bollas' notion of a "personal idiom" Ingram proposes we construct microdialects.  That is, is he suggests we create a small lexicon of terms to be used with particular therapy clients .  The idea is that we harvest these terms by observing idiosyncratic words and uses that the client naturally seem to prefer. 

For example, a client might refer to her most unattractive clothes as "my stuff."   This is hardly a common way of labeling "unattractive clothes,"  but it gives the therapy a label for this  significant topic (with this client) to be brought up and studied.  Moreover, since it is already the client's word the therapy can incorporate this term in the microdialect without requiring the client to learn a new term. 

Developing a distinctive microdialect is important, Ingrams explains because "I believe that what actually occurs in good therapy is unavailable for discussion and review [in unusuccessful therapy] because there is no legitimate discourse for reporting it" (Ingram, p.184)  If the client thinks in terms of her most unattractive clothes being "stuff" then it assists the discussion process to call it just that; the microdialectic provides words for relevant discourse.

Microdialects, then, are a form of speaking in the languae game of the client, and hence,  I feel it is , a form of "generous listening."  Generous listening is not just listening.  It is learning to talk in the other person's language game.  Unless we can learn to do this, and do it well, I feel, often be talking past each other.

Language Constraints

Another topic that hit a few chords on PMTH last week revolved around the question of language constraints.  What kind of language can we invent?  Can I call my puppy a "kitten"?  What if some perverse streak were to infect my speech so that I called everything by an odd name?  What would be the consequence of that?

It would be very confusing, of course.  One might invent a few new terms, but it would boggle our minds to simply change the meaning fo everything.  Jerry Shafer rightly notes that Wittgenstein is particularly skeptical of our ability to make sense if we change our language arbitrarily.  Wittgenstein says, after all

Can I say "bububu" and mean "If it doesn't rain I shall go for a walk"?-It is only in a language that I can mean something by something (38)

And his point is that we cannot use just any sound we want to mean anything at all.  Still, langauge gets created, and words evolve.  We even  make up rules as we go along (83) -- and this explains, Wittgenstein suggests, in the crazy organization of our language.  It explains why 

18....Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses
with additions from various
periods; and this  surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.

Lluis Botella's Work

It has come to my attention that my article to Lluis Botella's work last week did not have a working link to take you to the main page.  So, if you want to find out what this subscriber has been up to, and feel shortchanged from last week's mishap, you should click clicking here.


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