PMTH NEWS                                    07/21/99

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We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives - we can resort neither to the dialectic of Spirit nor even to the emancipation of humanity as a validation for postmodern scientific discourse.  But as we have just seen, the little narrative remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention.....
Lyotard, p.82

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Lyotard's Paradox

After a long stretch of busy posting days on PMTH, we had an unusally quiet Sunday.  I sent a post on Sunday saying that  I had spent it doing errands, but I had missed PMTH paralogy. Graeme Kane captured the spirit of Sunday with a post from his home in Australia saying that he "wondered if the internet had crashed in the northern hemisphere."

But he did not wonder long.  The next day I wrote a post about Lyotard's paradox, and it stimulated a flury of posts.

Lyotard's paradox is described in Samuel Weber's interesting afterword contained in Lyotard's book Just Gaming.  The paradox is that Lyotard applauds postmoderns for being incredulous of metanarratives, but in Lyotard's own system of thought he prescribes what might be taken as a metanarrative.  Lyotard prescribes that we create our conversations so that no one is systematically denied a voice.  Everyone gets to talk.  But, so Weber points out, this makes Lyotard the great prescriber.  He is controlling the conversation.  This is a paradox, Weber argues, because 

one is dominating other [language] games in order to protect them from domination.

Lyotard is the great prescriber, the argument goes, because Lyotard is prescribing with a dictator's voice that everyone be given a voice in the discussion..

This topic has great practical importance.  As Lynn Hoffman pointed out, we have, for example, 

mixed sex seminars
where the women shut up; argumentative debate where the shy shut up; staff meetings where the lowest paid shut up; therapy sessions where the children shut up. 

How do we change all of this?  How do we give these people a voice? 

It is not easy.  As Val Lewis pointed out.  Even when we do hear from the marginalized , it is typically from some dominant voice (adults, white males, etc.) who speak for the marginalized.  "Who will ever know?" Lewis said, what these people think?

And so, in a practical sense, we are as , Hoffman  says "smack up against [Lyotard's] paradox":   In fact, she tells us,

[s]ometimes, in trying to change these covert rules, you have to be a dictator. 

Her current solution is that she tries to solve this problem by putting a time limit on her "dictatorship.".  She controls things for a while when she sets up a conference, long enough to set up egalitarian rules that allow people to talk, then she sits back.  But whether this is successful is not always clear.

In summary, Lyotard's paradox is that in trying to arrange a world in which people can speak freely, it is very very easy to slip into the role of a dictator.  This is not just a theoretical paradox.  The problems it causes are quite practical for therapists.  It can be difficult to avoid violating the rights of the marginalized.

And all of this led to the next topic we discussed yesterday, how to fight metanarratives.  Skip down to the next article to read about that.

How to fight Metanarratives

Perhaps the real problem underlying Lyotard's paradox,  is not so much that there are other people out there who are silencing marginalized voices but rather that we ourselves who are thinking about these things are buying into certain metanarratives without realizing it

The problem with the silent minority voices, in fact, is not so much that marginalized people never get a chance to talk.  Of course, they do.  It is just that marginalized voices are seldom heard by the forces that shape policy. 

What prevents us from hearing the voices of the marginalized?  In many situations,it seems they can talk, but we simply cannot hear them.  We are made deaf to what they say because we (and this includes the marginalized themselves) have certain prejudices that make it difficult to hear what they have to say. These prejudices are caused, Lyotard suggests, by our unwittingly buying into, metanarratives

So, what do we do? We fight metanarratives in ourselves?  How do we do this?  That's another question.

Jerry Gale suggested stategies from Budhist practices.  In Budhist practices, so Gale explained each new idea has the power to

block out other thoughts, until a new thought competes and takes

And so one tries to develop a different relationship to each idea.  It is seen, it seems to me, as a kind of visitor to the mind that carries a story, not something one owns in a personal way.  Gale continued:

I remember a practice of attending to the arising of each thought without judgement and without holding it, until the next
thought comes, and to continue the observing -- and if one is aware
of observing the observing, that too is another thought to let go of.  This practice for me was one of seeing the illusionary and transitory nature of all thoughts and ideas.

That's one way way to fight our metanarratives.  However, it is also probably the case, as Manfred Straehele suggests, that we are never free of metanarratives.

Now, I hear you saying: if the postmodern is incredulous of metanarratives, why is there a need to fight them?  The answer is that we sometimes simply fail to see that we are making certain presumptions.  Once we recognize the presumption for what it is, we are incredulous, but we simply did not stop to notice.

And, because we are not always aware of our metanarratives, let me suggest another way to fight them.  We can fight them by learning to speak two voices.  With our pagan voice  we can say what we think, expressing spontaneous (mis)understanding that goes beyond the facts to try to make sense of things.  With another voice, a receptive voice, we can recognize the provisional nature of our thought, be self-critical and open ourselves up to challenges.

(Added footnote: Lynn Hoffman just posted a great article on how to fight Lyotard's Paradox.  It's too late for this edition, but, if she'll let me, I'll make it clickable right here in a few days.  I'll just remove this footnote and make a link to her ideas.)

Postmodern Architecture

I can hear you asking: What on earth does postmodern architecture have to do with postmodern therapies?  Well maybe something.  Listen, for example, to Nick Drury enthusing about an architectual idea he considers postmodern.  He says that he sometimes has an impulse to:

to rip all the internal walls out of my home. Somehow I want to make that space more flexible in the way it is divided up.  My pagan post-structuralist urge.
And then I recognise that this is happening in many newer homes today. 

This comment seems to have been a response to a point made that hallways were introduced into homes in the nineteenth century (see Laslett, 1973).  Can you imagine how different family life would have been if everyone had to traipse through other people's private space in order to find the restroom?  Of course, functioning toilets were unusual then, too (Muir, 1983).  And, of course, there are cultures still today where this is the case. 

If hallways and bathrooms change the way we live, then  the design of architectural space can have a psychological impact on our lives -- and so perhaps it is a relevant topic on this list.  Maybe.

Okay, then what is postmodern architecture?  Tom Hicks gives us some clear notes taken from his reading of Jim Powell's work on postmodernism.

Hicks's description of postmodern architecture was enough to capture my attention, but I wanted to know more.  Here is the way I have pieced it together.  The story begins with "modern architecture:"

Modern architecture thumbed its nose at traditional buildings that it criticized as using ornament in a frivilous way. 

In its place, modern architecture created buildings that were much simpler, often glass and steel. Look at the two examples I give you of modern architecture. First, there is the Chase Manhattan Bank  which seems to be almost entirely  a steel and glass box.  On the other hand, there is the Dulles Airport, which, while simple and functional, is also highly stylized and eye-catching.

But compare these with the examples of postmodern architecture.  Postmodern architecture breaks tradition but does not limit its ornamentation in the stark way we find in modernist buildings.  One example I have found of a postmodern building is an art museum  that shows ornate elements together with blocks of modernist  simplicity.  The other postmodern example is a , a Portland building  that creates a dramatic  design on its face with color.

In addition to modern and postmodern architecture, there is something even newer called "deconstructivist architecture."  (Somehow the word "deconstructionism" in Derrida has been changed in the architecture world to "deconstructivism" - and this change seems related to the distinction between constructionism and constructivism in psychology.)
(Click here for a related article.)

Deconstructivist architecture is even newer than the postmodern, but the only example I could find for you of a deconstructivist building turned out to be a joke.  It was really a picture of a building damaged in an earthquake. (Click here to see it. Page down when you get there)

But, supposedly, from what I read, deconstructivist architecture is pure radical innovation and it turns up its nose at the traditional elements that postmodern architects like to weave into their work.

Still, does postmodern architecture have something to offer us as postmodern therapists.  Edward Epp seemed to says "no". He said postmodern architecture

is far too much an intellectual reaction to "modernism" rather than 
[a] genuinely emerging/ evolving as ... style generated from deep, spiritual sources

Epp prefers his postmodernism in therapy, which he says:

allows so much latitude and freshness 

Michael Hjerth, on the other hand, proposed a new kind of postmodern architecture, one that works like a "shortcut over the grass," ignoring prescribed walkways.

What does this have to do with the time of day in PMTH circles?

How our homes and offices are structured has the potential to affect us in dramatic ways.  Shaking yourself loose from tradition enough to envision your surroundings in different ways sounds postmodern to me.  Perhaps someday there will even be postmodern therapeutic architecture.

Now, I have really made Epp laugh.

Want to Catch My Typos?

The first viewers of PMTH NEWS will be able to catch my typos.  I am going to put everything up each time PMTH NEWS is published without correcting the typos.  However, I plan to correct (most of) them and have a corrected edition up shortly.

So, if you want to laugh at some pretty funny typos, you better look quick.

For the time being, you can find most issues of PMTH NEWS published on alternate weeks on Wednesdays (depending where you are). I am writing this from Northern California, and I seem to publish about 2:30 or 3:00 California time.


Val Lewis Battles Metanarratives

As a side note in our discussion of our battles against metanarratives this last week, Val Lewis went out into the fields, to engage in warfare. 

The saga begins with her finding a site that complained about the quackery of postmodernism.  Lewis read the article, and found that it contained no evidence at all.  It was purely an opinion piece. Next, she wrote the webmaster saying that she thought the quality of the reasoning was not up to the standards of his site.  Then, the debate began. 

What I learned out in my study of the issues between Lewis and the Quackwatch webmaster is that the Quackwatch website (which you can reach by following the links below) is that Quackwatch is very wellfunded (at least it seems to be).  It is incorporated and employs no less 19 attorneys comprising its legal board!  And look at all the awards for excellence (mostly from medical organizations, I admit) that this site has received.

Do you think Quackwatch is a ploy of doctors to garner power and wealth?  Or are these doctors really concerned about your health?  Especially read the section called "Special Message for Cancer Patients Seeking Alternative Treatment"

Or navigate now to the PMTH site that links to Quackwatch and chronicles the correspondence between Quackwatch webmaster and PMTH subscriber Val Lewis.

Another Medical Site

For another medical site that has fewer awards than Quackwatch (by far) but seems much more useful to medical patients, click here.

Look at the excellent search feature for articles on new studies.  Do a search on an alternative treatment like "acupuncture," too, and satisfy yourself that articles studying the effectiveness of so call "alternative medicines" are not all negative.

The Dialogic Unconscous

Last week, Tom Strong, called my attention to a paper by Michael Billig called the Dialogic Unconscious, and at his suggestion, I downloaded the paper from the Virtual Faculty website..  (You can download it, too, by clicking here. )  Like Strong, I think this article is quite worth reading.  It generated about 25 posts here on PMTH, and that is a lot for an online article that is not being read systematically by agreement.

It's an intriguing article.  Billig talks about the impulse to be rude in our polite society.  His point is that we create the impulse (or drive) to be rude by instituting rules that require (or make us want to be) polite.  If we instituted rules that required us to be "rude", then perhaps we would suppress a desire to be thoughtful. 

That's a mindstretching idea.  Think of a parent  believing in the importance of 'tough love' and therefore telling kids negative things to get them to behave because that is what a tough love philosophy says you should do.  Can you imagine such a parent feeling secretly compassionate and wanting to be thoughtful and kind,  but deciding not to indulge in compassionate behavior? Using Billig's idea of a Dialogic Unconscious, this would mean that the tough love parent would acquire a dialogic unconscious of kindness, just because kindness was being verbally inhibited.

A similar but still different point was put forth by the History of Sexuality.  In that text, Foucault argued that by talking about the suppression of sexuality in the way the late Victorians (and Freud) did, these authors actually brought sexuality more into the conversation.

Somehow I believe these two ideas might click into a single profound point, but for now I will leave that for you to put together.

A New Column Coming Soon

Next issue of PMTH NEWS (or perhaps the next after that) will sport a new column being inauguraged by PMTHer Tony Michael Roberts.

I will let him surprise you with the content, but I will tell you it will be reachable through the toolbar to your left.

And, with any luck, there will be other new columns in days ahead.  (I should tell you that Roberts learned to write websites in order to do this.)

A Paraphrase of Ingram

A few weeks ago I published a paper by Douglas Ingram on paralogy in psychoanalysis.  Then, somehow we lost the article and several people wrote me, personally and privately, asking for it.  So, don't ask me why, I decided to add a paraphrase of Ingram's longish long article.

You can reach the paraphrase by linking here and if you click on any of the subject heads it will take you through to the corresponding subject head in the original article.

Next Issue of A New Magazine
Last week I gave you a review of a new magazine, New  Therapist, that might interest you.  This week I want to tell you what the next issue of that magazine will contain.The second edtion (July/Aug) includes features on:
* Tom Andersen: Keeping his words - An exclusive interview with the maverick Norwegian therapist who brought us the concept of the reflecting

* When clients kill themselves - The essential, comprehensive guide to coping with a client suicide.

* Selling therapeutic space - An examination of how you can differentiate your service to ensure your entire therapeutic package is more satisfying
to both you and your clients.

*  The seat of the matter - A guide to setting up your room and an irreverent look at some of the most fashionable seating in which to cover the buttocks of therapist and client this winter.

* Get listed: Therapy-related mailing lists are great ways of keeping an eye on what's happening in the therapy community worldwide.

Lynn Hoffman joins PMTH

PMTHers will be pleased to learn that they have been joined this week by Lynn Hoffman, a well known author in the field of family therapy.  Having talked with her privately since she has joined, I feel she is likely to enter into our conversations now and then.  I hope we manage to make her feel at home but also to lure her into a conversation about her ideas on family therapy.

And, if you haven't read Lynn Hoffman, you really should.  Her published writing is fun to read, sometimes delightful.

Her work also chronicles her ongoing study of her own changing beliefs about family therapy in a quite personal way.  For example, she has written about learning to do strategic therapy while secretly doing what she called "corny therapy."

Don't you wonder what "corny therapy" is?  Well, PMTHers, why don't you just ask her?  I plan to bring it up if you don't beat me to it.

John Morss & Lois Holzman

Notice a few brief comments by names John Morss  last week?  And a few others by Lois Holzman? Interesting to have them both posting at the same time.  Their posts slipped by each other without interaction, but Morss has some interesting things to say about Holzman in his book, (which reflects interesting things Holzman seems to have said about Morss' ideas at some prior time.)

You see, Morss is the author who radically rejects the notion of "development," while Holzman advances a distinctive notion of development -- and get this, Morss likes what Holzman says about development even though she and Newman make this a critical and positive term in their writing.  How can this be?

This puzzle is resolved only if we can explore what these two authors mean by the term "development".  It is true that Morss and Holzman have not often been around, especially at the same time, but Holzman has just finished her last book, and Morss seems to have a moment in his schedule, too.

Maybe, then, with your help, we can capture them on that topic.  Your assistance is requested.  Help me find out why Morss likes what Holzman says about development? 

PMTH Roundtable

Manfred Straehle is trying to arrange a roundtable of PMTHers in NYC.  If you live in New York or will be in NYC  in the near future, please contact him.  Click here to send mail

A New Magazine

A member of PMTH, John Söderlund,  is the editor of a brand new journal, New Therapist.  He was kind enough to send me an issue and I'll tell you a little about it. 

On the front is a drawing of Freud with a stern look on his face and a bubble over his head with the words 

Goot grief, all zis new stuff is driving me crazy!

Here is the first article that stares at you when you open the cover:

An Interview with 
Gianfranco Cecchin. 

The interviewer asks Cecchin, "You have lost some faith in the usefulness of diagnosis?"  Cecchin answers:

Oh, completely, now.  Diagnosis is only in the head of the therapist. 
Cecchin, p.7

He also says that we should not all do therapy the same way.  You'll have to read the article, though, to find out why.

I like what Cecchin  said about psychoanalysis:

Psychoanalysis became very useful as a source of stories.  It gave beautiful stories to make sense of what happens.  psychoanalysis became a problem when they began to believe what the stories were saying.

I'll let you read to see what he thinks of the art of deconstruction.

Then, there's an article on "The politics of survival in private practice"

A Book Review 

My interest was also captured by a book review Soderlund, himself, wrote on Michael White's new book, Narratives of Therapists Lives, published by Dulwich Centre Publications.  Mostly this is a quite positive review.  He says that this book is

about as fresh and candid an attempt to look at the interests of therapists as has been offered of late.

 But it is also a balanced review.  Soderland says of White

He might also be accused of not reflecting concertedly enough on his own 'unexamined assumptions' about healthy and authentic ways of being in the world...

All in all, the magazine is a pleasant read, even inviting.  Still, it fell short for me in one particular way.  Many of its articles are practical articles for therapists practicing in South Africa.  Of course, being a fledgling South African publication, that is to be expected, but I hope the future editions contain more material of worldwide relevance, such as the Cecchin interview and the White review. 

Even so, there is something here to pique  the  interest of  nearly every therapist -- so I recommend it.  And if you want to know more, I suggest you click here to the edtior.

The issue I am quoting from is:
New Therapist 1, May/June 1999.