PMTH NEWS                                    06/02/99

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[K]nowledge is not a truth existing exclusively in a person's head, but a socially interpreted event constructed through relationship and conversation.
Glen Larner, p.425

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Val's Visit to Oakland

Val Lewis arrived from half way around the world last Sunday.  She came from Australia, where it was just turning winter to my house in Oakland, where it was just turning summer.  My house was a a stop on the map as she waltzes around the state visiting this person and that.  Finally, in a week or so, she will land at her daughter's house.

So, what's it like meet with someone you have been friends with in cyberspace, to stare each other in the eye?  It's always someting of a surprise, and something of a miracle.  No less so with Val.  I like her, and you would, too.  We laughed together and talked about silly things, and we also talked about PMTH things.  Yesterday we had lunch and shared a skepticism about the meaningfulness of most psychological research.  We talked about this for an hour and a half, and then we went shopping.  Today a friend is to pick her up and tomorrow she will be on her way. 

But, right now while I'm writing this, she is looking through a Xerox of one of Glen Larner's papers (that she read on the plane) identifying quotable passages to put at the top of the NEWS.  She stops me every moment or so to read this passage and that outloud.  She just said, "He writes very nicely."  In a little while I'll go over them and select the quote that you'll find at the top of the page from the collection she has identified.  Postmodern collaboration.  Right?

Val is Coming to Town!

This week I am going to receive a personal visit by Val Lewis!  Oh, the age of computers!  It is all so unreal.  Meet someone on the net who lives halfway around the world and all of a sudden you're friends.

And so it is with Val Lewis.  But our story is more than a little strange.  We met six months or so ago on the net.  She was in Australia, the place she now calls home.  I was in Oakland, California, where I reside.  And we met out here in the World Wide Web of cyberland.

But the strange thing is that years ago, many years ago, in fact, Val and I were grad students together at the University of Houston.  Still, neither of us remember each other.  Now, Houston is a big school, but not that big.  And I know that I was not the silent type, and I'd wager Val Lewis was not either.  Nevertheless, we have no recollection of each other at all.

That was many years ago, and my hair is now nearly white.  Will Val and I look at each other and suddenly recall?  My guess is no, but it's just a guess.

I'll let you know.  All day next Tuesday I will spend the day with her.  Wednesday, I will post a short article on this topic in PMTH NEWS, but otherwise I am now switching to a summer schedule for the NEWS. 

You will hear from me every two weeks through the summer about philosophical issues.  But if people visit, you'll hear more often.

And, watch out.  Val is not the only one coming to town.  Aren't summer vacations grand!

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 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, Baudrillard 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 hyperreality.  His is a critique of the superficiality and emptiness of popular, American culture.  When people are very negative of postmodernism, I have 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 exciting 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 and Lyotard 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 fragmentation 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 at 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 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.


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

Our Conversational Threads

I told you that I was going to go two weeks before writing another article for PMTH NEWS, except for a brief one on Val's visit, but I'm going to tell you a little about our conversations, anyway -- although I must say I only have a few minutes so forgive me if I leave out quite a few topics we have discussed.

1. Lacan 

We are gearing up to have a discussion about Lacan.  This topic was suggested by PMTH subscriber Sadeq Rahimi .

Those of you who want to join our discussion might pick up something on Lacan to read.  Lacan, himself, is difficult to start with, but you might at least look at it.  There is something to be gained just from glancing at it.

I know that a couple people here are also accessing my article on Lacan, and I hope that several more will join to read it.  Click here fore the reference.

2. Is postmodernism a relativism?

I have always been inclined to say that postmodernism  is not a relativism, but that, of course, depends on how you locally and provisionally define both "relativisim" and "postmodernism."  I tend to; define postmodernism as Lyotard does, that is, as an incredulity towards metanarratives.  And I tend to define relativism as the ancient sophist Protagoras did, so that truth was always relative to the individual, my truth is not your truth, kind of thing. Apparently, there are several definitions of each floating around.

For example, Tony Michael Roberts thinks of relativism after Richard Rorty....But that is all I am going to tell you about this for now.  Next week, if this topic continues, I'll add to this account.

In the meantime, perhaps you can ask yourself: Is Postmodernism a kind of relativism?

3. What makes generous listening hard and easy?

Quite a few people joined us to discuss the question of what makes generous listening hard or easy.

Oh, my.  I must go.  Someone in my waiting room.

Our Conversational Threads

Conversation in PMTH last week continued to revolve around Glenn Larner's seminal work which consists of a set of papers we are gradually reading. So far, I have only read two, one I paraphrased for you last week (Through a Glass Darkly), and one that was the focus of our discussion this week, (the Real and Illusion). SY Yusim has offered his notes and a summary of this second article which I will make available to you as soon as I have his permission to do so.  Don't wait for next week.  I'll have it up before then if he's willing.  Just page down to this spot in the news and see where to click.

In the meantime, I am offering a paraphrase (with the original) of the last section of the Real as Illusion paper. And I'll tell you a little about some of the issues this paper has raised for us.

1. Is the term "paramodern" interesting?

Val Lewis was interested in the term because it seemed to offer a way for people to accept some of postmodernism without being committed to it all. Tom Hicks felt this kind of personal selection of what was good from both modernism and postmodernism was itself postmodern.  Judy Weintraub agreed with Hicks and Lewis. 

Still, all three people, and everyone else who posted on the topic, seemed to want to avoid turning postmodernism into a dogma that people are afraid to betray.  The only question is whether we need a new term to do that. 

(In my view, the reason Larner thinks postmodernism is regularly turned into a metanarrative is that he is thinking of a Foucaultian or Baudrillardian school of postmodernism.  Many PMTHers tend to define their postmodernism in terms of Lyotard and Wittgenstein, as does Goolishian and Anderson, as well as Newman and Holzman.)

2.  Have Goolishian and Anderson made a metanarrative out of CLS theory?

CLS, theory is the name that Goolisian and Anderson gave to their philosophy of therapy.  It stands for Collaborative Language Systems.

As perhaps you know, CLS theory suggests that therapists take a "not-knowing" stance to avoid exerting undue influence or power over the client.  But the puzzle we have talked about here is whether it is possible that this postmodern, "not knowing" stance could, itself,  be turned into a metanarrative.  This would be the case, I believe, if CLS proponents held that "not-knowing" is the only good stance for a therapist to take.  If CLS therapists were to say this, then they would be doing exactly what Lewis worried about in the topic above. 

Well, does CLS turn its own "not-knowing" stance into a metanarrative?  More specifically, does the CLS therapist exert power by trying to be not-knowing?  Does it force the client to be knowing?  Would CLS require all therapists to be not-knowing?

Larner seems to think CLS does exert such power.  Larner says, CLS therapists who 

attempt to escape power or cybernetics into a post- cybernetic non-interventive hermeneutics takes us further into it.

Yusim, who has an indepth background with CLS and remembers working extensively with Harry Goolishian,  is not so sure.  He thinks that Goolishian has often been misinterpreted as being more doctrinaire or authoritarian about not-knowing than he was. I responded saying that while this may be true, this did not mean that followers of Goolishian and Anderston have avoided always turning CLS into a metanarrative.
I suspect Yusim agrees, but I haven't heard yet.

3.  So what if CLS becomes a metanarrative?

Well, if it becomes a metanarrative, then it will embrace what Larner called "comic paradoxes".  Does that worry you? 

Hicks reflected the position of many here saying we can live with these paradoxes. Shaffer was not so sure.
However, he seemed accepting of Tony Michael Roberts argument for accepting a theoretical system with paradoxies.  I think this argument is pretty good. Click here to see what you think of it. 

I agree with these folks in a way, but I am also inclined to emphasize, with Judy Weintraub, that there is no reason to turn CLS into a metanarrative.

4. Can CLS avoid becoming a metanarrative?

But Larner talks as though CLS cannot avoid becoming a metanarrative in theory.  Sure, he says, its practice may avoid this modernist problem, but maybe not its theory.  (Granted, he says this, in different words.  He says that it is deconstrutable and I believe that it is deconstructable only if it is a metanarrative.  For now, let's suppose I'm right: Metanarratives are always subject to deconstruction, but other kinds of theories are probably not.)

So, we should ask, even if Yusim is right and Goolishian and Anderson have avoided turning their theory into a metanarrative, have other people done this?How can that be avoided?  As thinking therapists, how can we avoid turning CLS theory into a metanarrative.

Jerry Shaffer had a useful suggestion.  He suggested we avoid turning CLS into a metanarrative by treating CLS "not-knowingness" as an attitude, not as a philosophical principle.  His idea,  I believe, is that  our "not-knowingness" is a result of an  incredulity that might be caused by many things, but however we come to this incredulity, it is not through a tight deduction from a logical system.  Postmoderns, having seen the excesses of modernism, have simply grown skeptical about these over- generalized totalizing claims about how things are or how should be.  It sounds to our ears like selling snake oil.

So, I like Shaffer's suggestion.  I also think it is consistent with Lyotard, and if you have read this newsletter long, you know I think highly of Lyotard.   In my judgment, Lyotard is not saying that we should be postmodern.  He is not urging us to be postmodern.  He is saying that we are.  We have (or rather many of us have) simply grown incredulous of overgeneralized metanarratives. 

As a result of our postmodern incredulity , we do not look for a therapy theory that is logically flawless.  We look for something that inspires us and seems to work.  And, even more importantly, because we are incredulous, we want to find a way to remain open to new ideas. 

Who knows, maybe the next idea will be worth treating as a metanarrative -- but don't count on it. 

5. Somethings other than Larner

Is Larner's paper all we talked about last week?  It is true that we focused last week on the issues raised by Glenn Larner, but there were a few stray notes.  For example, Graeme Kane posted a note that might interest you on a very different topic.  You know that many of us on PMTH question the standard diagnostic categories of mental illness.  Kane told us about an article that suggested the weakness of the diagnostic category, ADD.  Click here to read Kane's summary of this article.

And Craig Smith posted an enthusiastic note about a great article on family therapy.  I haven't read it, but judging from Smith's enthusiasm, it is worth doing so.  It is:

Mills, S. D & Sprenkle, D.H. Family therapy in the postmodern era.  amily Relations; Minneapolis; Oct 1995; 

Some Thoughts on Derrida

We have been studying Glenn Larner's paper and central to his paper is his reading of Derrida.  I believe it is a standard reading of Derrida and, if we're going to think about Larner's work,  it is worthwhile taking a glance at the work of this philosopher.

He is the father of the concept of "deconstruction" and his school of thought is called "deconstruc-
tionism." Although he is typically classed as a postmodern thinker he, himself, rejects this label.  Still, you might see that there is a relationship between his own work and that of Lyotard, who represents one standard, at least, of the concept of "postmodern."  Derrida deconstructs what Lyotard would call "metanarratives."  Derrida is, therefore, incredulous of metanarratives -- so in Lyotard's sense of "postmodern" he is postmodern.  The two were close friends, and although they sometimes argued philosophically, I feel that their arguments were the arguments of people who largely agree.

If you are new to Derrida and want to learn something about him,  you need to begin by knowing that his writing is notoriously obscure. You are well advised, I feel,  to begin by reading something more accessible about him.  A good place to begin might be with a short online introductory essay on Derrida that Mary Klages has made available.I think it is quite good, and it will just take you a few minutes. 

Notice, that she begins by telling you that Derrida says that you can't make non-provisional, definitive statements without their being deconstructable -- and that, nevertheless, the deconstructionist acts as though nothing is wrong.  Let me add to that that this "acting as though nothing is wrong" is only one step of what Derrida calls his "double reading" procedure.  The other step involves exposing the paradoxes with the deconstruction itself.  Still, the deconstructionist continues to talk within the system that contains the paradoxes.  Derrida calls this "inhabiting the metaphysic".  Deconstruction works from within the system, he tells us, not outside it.  This means, it is not a protest, not a resistance that would dominate with another model.  It works for equalizing the system by keeping all models in play.

I think this need to work within the system is relevant to therapy dialogue and the whole notion of "protest."  It raises interesting questions, at least. 

Therapy is often conceived as a way to change one's life.  If it tried to do that by admonishment, or by protesting that the client needs to change, then therapy would not inhabit the client's system of thought.  Derrida would say that such a outsider reaction to the system could not deconstruct it.  One might suppress the offending system of thought, but not expose its limitations, its paradoxes.

If he is right, then inhabiting the client's system of thought, or playing the client's language game, is essential for any useful shift in understanding.  These thoughts are reminiscent of Doug Ingram's paper on learning to speak within the client's personal idiom, or microdialectic

Also, if you want to read something else introductory on Derrida, please consider reading my own paper, 
What Postmodernism Can Do for Psychoanalysis.

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