PMTH NEWS                                                                                           11/17/99
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... a human being has more than she can know, 
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Where is  Richard Rorty?
Lois Shawver

Well, he is looking over our shoulder, I think.  At least now and then, it seems.  I have no idea exactly how little or how much.  I have heard from him but still I cannot tell if he will eventually join us with his powerful voice.

But regardless, it is our privilege, I think, that he would come here to listen to what we have to say.  And, maybe, one day he will speak with us ... until then we PMTHers will just wait and talk and listen and go wherever our paralogy will take us.

And, in our enthusiasm for the work of this philosopher that many here respect highly, Tom Strong offers a "Review of a Review" for the PMTH collection. Click here to read it.

And throughout the week many anote studied the applicability of Rorty's concept of stubbornness for therapists?  Should thrapists be stubborn?  Well, maybe, Katherine Levine told us, in cases of incest and such.  These may need a stubborn voice on a temporary basis.  It is not just a matter of standing up to opposing forces, said Val Lewis.  It is a matter of sticking to the story invented by one's originality, even when others do not understand.  Judy Weintraub agreed.

Wittgenstein, Lyotard and Auschwitz
Lois Shawver

The atrocities of Hitler's World War II holocaust resulted, so it is commonly estimated, in the slaughter of somewhere between five and six million Jews!  About one-third of these died in the gas chambers in Auschwitz.  The term "Auschwitz," in fact,  is sometimes used to represent the whole gigantic holocaust that happened at the hands of the Nazis.

Many older Jews today have direct memories of this period.  Nevertheless, today, there are increasing numbers of revisionist historians   They will tell you that the numbers who died in Auschwitz are greatly exaggerated, or even that the story of all these deaths is not true

To a Jew who believes in the horrible reality of the Nazi atrocity, the denial of Auschwitz only deepens the wound.    It there is anything worse than Auschwitz, it is that the reality of Auschwitz should be forgotten it.  Just imagine it, the young and ignorant descendents of people slaughtered like cattle go shopping in malls and sway to the beat in a rock concert -- all without a reflection of the tragedy of what happened just a little over fifty years ago.

It was in this context, that PMTH subscriber Jerry Shaffer asked those of us who read Lyotard what Lyotard thought about Auschwitz.   I drew a deep breath.  I am one who is inspired by Lyotard.  Shall we tangle Lyotard in this controversy, I thought?    Shall I confront this issue with Shaffer who is much more critical of Lyotard than I am?  The path down this conversational lane looked rocky to me.

And Shaffer's comments in that early post did not ease my mind.  He seemed to tie revisionist historians  who contested the reality of Auschwitz to a criticism of both Wittgenstein and Lyotard.  These two Jewish philosophers are my heroes.  They were not revisionist historians themselves. They believed in Auschwitz.  How could Shaffer be shown? He seemed to begin with such his inquiry with such doubt.

Let me show you how Shaffer's initial post stated his concerns.   (Remember when you are reading this note that "language games" is a term of Wittgenstein's that Lyotard builds on.  Many postmodern authors consider it one of the most powerful of contemporary philosophical concepts.  I am no exception.)  Here's how Shaffer argued:

 Auschwitz transcends "language games"
or "forms of life."  It is absolute injustice.  It challenges all forms of Relativism, be it linguistic, cultural, historical, ethical, or social
constructionistic. It is not just that the Nazis had their own local and provisional discourse, their own language games, and we have ours, "differends" all over the place, different meanings which need to be negotiated.  It is
not just that we and they play by different rules and who are we to impose our rules on them?  It is not just that our "pagan voices" differ from
theirs, requiring generous listening on both sides.  It is a fact that six million Jews and more than that number of Gypsies, Catholics, Protestants, and countless others died hideous deaths, a brute and ugly fact, that transcends
language, meanings, metaphors, poetry, ambiguity, and verbalism.

Oh, my! I said to myself, "How can I deal with that?"  That is eloquent.   So it felt to me that Shaffer was demanding I give up my postmodernism or I would be supporting the Nazi revisionists who denied the horrors of the holocaust. 

I pulled out my dog-eared copies of Lyotard and began to re-read. Judy Weintraub joined me. We were both seemed to be burning midnight oil.  What did Lyotard think of Auschwitz? That was the question.  It was surely something complex, and it had something to do with differends.  I used to know this.

After a night and a day of re-reading Lyotard, and reading Weintraub's posts as well, this is what I came up with.  Take it for what it is worth. It is based on a re-reading of Le Differend - although Lyotard writes about this matter in a number of places.

How Lyotard Thought of Auschwitz

Like Shaffer, Lyotard (now deceased) was highly disturbed by the revisionist treatment of Auschwitz.    In Le Differend (p.3) Lyotard tells us that he has analyzed "thousands of documents" in order to tackle this problem that the revisionists present us with,  the problem of the revisionists doubting the very reality of Auschwitz.

Beyond that, Lyotard's words are fairly complex, so, for simplicity of reading, let me put my account of what he says in paraphrase, speaking as if it is he that is explaining his views.  Do keep in mind, however, that it is only me speaking.    Lyotard is dead and all of his writing is in French.

But this is my fantasy of how he would respond to Shaffer's question.  I am imagining him talking to all of us in PMTH, and to you, too, in a lecture hall.  He considers us all his students and knows a little about the way different ones of us think.  I imagine him telling us:

Like Wittgenstein, I , "Jean-Francois Lyotard" believe that language is organized around different language games.  This just means that people learn to use words one way in one context and to use them very differently in other contexts.  The odd thing is that we seldom notice that we switch in and out of different meanings, or senses of the words,  as we change language games.  This causes different kinds of problems for us.

One kind of problem was "philosophical confusion."  This was the focus of Wittgenstein's study.

I on the other hand, am mostly concerned with the way in which language game confusions result in enormous injustices.  Jerry Shaffer's concern with how I think about Auschwitz shows that he sometimes shares the kind of concerns that have preoccupied me all my adult life, even before I read Wittgenstein.  But I believe Wittgenstein has helped me clear my head a bit about the problem of revisionist historians.  My student Judy Weintraub also seems to share my political concerns, although I'm not certain she focuses on the same ones I would.

But my student, Lois Shawver, on the other hand, seems more or less blind to the issues of injustice.  I am frustrated with her writing at times because of that.  However, I am pleased to see that she finds a new arena (psychotherapy) to explore, using my shoulders to stand on.  My shoulders are broad enough for her to do that, and this really in the spirit of how I want my philosophy to serve my students.  I want all of you to be able stand on my shoulders and look out to your own horizon.  That is what is postmodern about my philosophy.

But I am getting off track.  What I am supposed to be talking to you about it my view of Auschwitz and how that relates to language games. 

Shaffer, like you, I am very passionate about this issue of Auschwitz, and please don't let your ear turn to tin just because I am using the word "language game."  The etymology of phrases makes them difficult to adapt, and it is the language that is more equipped, I feel, to take us to a better understand of Auschwitz.  We need this phrase to show the world how unfair revisionist histories are to us.

Revisionist historians have confused language games.  History is never an experimental fact to be validated within the language game of science.  There may be some historical evidence, but it is never enough to give proof, especially, perhaps of Auschwitz because all who would testify have been killed.

But history is not proven in a laboratory because history is not the facts that were but the memory and story of those facts that live in the minds of those determined to remember.  Jews today are determined to remember. We know that the reality of Auschwitz will fade from the human mind if we forget.  We carry the legend of that tragedy and a revisionist history does not touch that memory.

An analogy: if someone comes into a woman's room at night and rapes her, but leaves without a trace, the trauma of that rape does not evaporate.  It lives in her mind.

So the trauma of the tragedy of Auschwitz lives in the Jewish mind.  No revisionist history can destroy it.  And I believe that it is only by pointing to the mistake of trying to validate history as one validates in science that we can find an answer, or an idiom, in which to reply to the revisionists.

So, what do we do with the living reality of the memory of Auschwitz?  I suggest this:  We remember that the reality only lives in memory and we keep the memory alive between us, to bear witness to what we know in our hearts is true.  And that we do not wilt under the pressure of those who would try to show us that we do not have scientific truth.  That is the wrong language game of legitimation here.  Instead of legitimating this memory of Auschwitz with science, we need to legitimate it with our paralogy.  That is, we legitimate it by telling the story, by keeping the memory of Auschwitz alive in the minds of those who hear.

Here is my advice Professor Shaffer.  Take it for what it's worth.  Continue to speak about Auschwitz, but more important, continue to listen to what people have to say about it.  Even the revisionists have their role in keeping the subject alive.  Would you have brought up the question if you had not been outraged by them?  They are so outrageous that even the American people like Shawver can see through them.  Learn to use their very outrageousness to remind the world of our tragedy.

If you speak, and listen, speak broadly and listen well, Auschwitz will not fade into the black hole of all the other terrible things that you living humans have already forgotten.

That's what I imagine that Lyotard would have said to us if we could still hear him, and he could still speak.

What do I have to say about Lyotard's criticism of my "apolitical" concerns?  It's not the time to say more than what Val Lewis said about this.  She said:

I think it is important to not confuse the thinking about issues on a philosophical and somewhat distanced level with those of having a moral stance on a personal level. 

In other words, one can do both passionate reflection on Auschwitz and philosophize about other issues, too. It is not just one or the other. Tom Strong seemed to agree and he talked, eloquently, I thought, about the importance of finding ways for different cultures (and language games, perhaps) to accommodate each other and co-exist.


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Lynn Hoffman Speaks in New York

Hurry, or you'll miss her!

Lynn Hoffman will speak on a Communal Perspective for Family and Relationship Therapies this Friday at the East Side Institute.  If you can possibly attend, you should.  Hoffman, who is a frequent conversationalist on PMTH, has become an important voice that can help us find a gateway out of modernist thought. 

She will be speaking in New York on Friday, November 19th.  Click here to get details

Betraying Your Teacher
Lois Shawver

Permit me to use the word "teacher" to refer not only to the person who runs an institutionalized classroom, but anyone who is being treated as a teacher.  This includes, perhaps especially, the author's of books.  But a person does not become a teacher, in this sense, because of what the teacher does but rather because of how the student relates to her.

In this sense, postmodern authors have often been my teacher.  The question in my mind is:  How must a person read or  study the works of another person in order to claim that person as a teacher. But how does a student turn a person into a teacher? Is it by memorizing what the teacher says? If not, what else is there? 

What else there is for students is to work creatively within play of the teacher's text. 

Lyotard gives himself permission to work within the play of the teacher's words.    In the book, Just Gaming, Lyotard explains that he has been a student of Levinas but that he, Lyotard, betrays this teacher.  He puts it like this: 

I was saying that I was betraying Levinas because it is obvious that the very way in which I I take over his doctrine or his theory, or his description of the prescriptive, is alien to his own. 

Don't let this colorful word "betray" distract you.  Lyotard is not saying that his betrayal involved a violation of a commitmentto his eacher.  What he is saying is that he took over the Levinas doctrine, stepped inside it, blurred the boundaries the concepts a little, and worked creatively within the resulting frame.  He worked to improve Levinas, to make it make more sense or serve a different function.  The result is not exactly Levinas, but it is inspired by the reading of Levinas.  It caries the trace of Levinas. This is "betrayal" in the sense we might "betray" the architect's intent when we change our bedrooms into an office.   Perhaps this betrayal escapes ethics.  Do you think so?

Still, may well be surprised if a teacher does not condemn betrayal.  But listen to Nietzsche give permission for his students to "betray" him.

One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.

The teacher who hopes to live in the minds of her students must learn to allow the students to betray her.

How does it feel to be the teacher who is betrayed?  Not always good.  Can you hearthe sigh in Derrida's voice in the quote below?  Derrida, who often speaks of the way he betrays his teachers, talks of how it feels to be betrayed himself by a student.  He says it is interesting 

to analyze closely what happens when a text you write comes back to you in one form or another. What does it mean: "to come back"?  It means that another makes use of it or cites it.  I've had this happen to me.  ...All of a sudden someone puts a text right in front of you again, in another context, with an intention that is both someonewhat yours and not simply yours.  Each time it happens, it is a very curious,  very troubling experience. It can reconcile you with what you've done, make you love it or hate it. There are a thousand possibilities.  Yet one thing is certain in all this diversity, and that is that its never the same.  What is more, even before someone cites or reads it to you, ...the text's identity has been lost, and it's no longer the same as soon as it takes off, as soon as it has begun, as soon as it's on the page.  By the end of the sentence, it's no longer the same sentence that it was at the beginning.  Thus, in this sense, there is no echo, or if there is, it's always distorted.   Perhaps the desire to write is the desire to launch things that come back to you as much as possible in as many forms as possible.

The teacher that understands student betrayal will not object.  Unfortunately, criticism of the teacher is often confused with betrayal.  Criticism picks at the text and leaves it in destroyed and in fragmented disarray.  It judges the teacher's system in wholes, accepting or rejecting the whole. Betrayal of the system steps within the system andrepackages it.

I read something about this by Cris Kinman talking of this.  I believe Kinman had in mind a particularly profound aphorism of Nietzsche's that seems to capture it all:

The philosopher supposes that the value of his philosophy lies in the whole, in the structure; but posterity finds itsvalue in the stone which he used for building, and which is used many more times after that for building -- better.  Thus it finds the value in the fact that the structure can be destroyed and nevertheless retains value as building material.

The trick is to learn to betray and not become merely a critic.  To do this, one must master the the teacher's building blocks so that onecan rearrange them(Derrida, 1976, p.24)

What do PMTHers say about betrayal of the teacher?  The postmodernism in PMTHis showing.  Katherine Levine said,"I think it is a poor teacher who is never gone beyond.  I think believing that makes me feel not so much betrayed when a student doesn't see things"

Tom Strong asks us to think about the elasticity of the teacher's phrases.  If a teacher makes her phrases more elastic, she can tolerate more stretchng of her concepts. 

Judy Wintraub, today,tries to carry theconversation further by studying the concept of "distortio"of the teacher's text.

Today's Quotation
Lois Shawver

I decided to use a quote from Mel Snyder in today's heading.  Snyder likes to think poetically, and I feel this phrase captures a thought worth our pondering.  What we say is not exactly what we know, and what we know is not exactly what we have.

Her phrase reminds me of some of the passages towards the end of Wittgenstein's early work, the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus.  Wittgenstein said:

There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.
Wittgenstein, #6.522

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them.  (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
Wittgenstein, #6.54 

Passages like this suggest that Wittgenstein's postmodernism was dormant but alive even in his early writing. Can you hear it?  It is the underlying melody that tells you that meaning will not let you pin it down. Rather, even when a text hoists you to a higher understanding, even then, there is a way in which it's wrong.

In comes the  Rescue Troops
Lois Shawver

Let me tell you that for the past few weeks I have begun to feel a bit weighted down by all I do on PMTH, and I shared my burden to a number of my PMTH friends.  As a result, several lovely people have come to my rescue.  I don't know what will be come of it in the long run, but I am encouraged. 

First, a group of people agreed to be my advisory council.  I am pleased to announce that Sheila McNamee, Andy Lock, Tom Strong and Katherine Levine will form a council that will help PMTH be written in a way that will serve the needs of professors.  Let me tell you that they have the ability and all the permission that I could give them, to join in the creative aspect of this venture as well.  We on PMTH have many balls in the fire.  I am so pleased to have this council.  I have hopes that it will improve the quality of PMTH NEWS and also that it will make it more useful not just for PMTH, but for students everywhere.  A new purpose, as I see it of PMTH NEWS, is to make these radical postmodern ideas more accessible to those who have not philosophy broadly or have any experience with authors like Wittgenstein, Lyotard, and so forth.

And, if the council were not enough, I am thrilled to welcome Tom Strong to the task of actually writing for PMTH NEWS.    He has promised to do at least a little writing.  Nothing could please me more. 

Strong has a fabulous voice that is always evolving.  I hope that he not only covers our conversations, gives us his picture of what we have said, but that he also feels inspired to tell us a little of the things he reads.  But that comes later.  He, too, like me, has only so much time and he makes his voice heard in many arenas at the present.

At any rate, we will hash out things like this with the brand new PMTH NEWS council, all professors that use PMTH NEWS in   their teaching.  If you decide to do this, too, please do write us. For now, send your remarks to me.  Just click here to have a mail form with my address already included.

Oh, one other thing.  Since other authors will be joining me on this page, I have decided to include the names of the authors who write these articles.

Postmodernism in Texas

One of the leaders in postmodern therapy innovation is Harlene Anderson and the whole Houston Galveston Institute.

Would you like to explore their website?  Click here to do so. It might inspire you to visit.  Notice, that they offer training.  The Houston Galveston Institute is associated with a form of therapy that many of us call CLS (for Collaborative Language Systems).  If you cannot go there for a visit, and the website inspires you, you might look at Anderson's inspiring book: Conversation, Langauge, and Possibilities: A Postmodern Approach to Therapy.  Check it out at Amazon.

Your Question for the Week


Do you know...
it was who defined "postmodernism" as 
an incredulity towards Metanarratives?
Click Here!

A Conference on Qualitative Research

Are you looking for ways to escape modernist methods of research?  Then you will certainly want to join with others who share your interest.  Consider starting the millennium off with a visit to a conference on Qualitative Research.  Click here  .


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