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Beyond PostmodernismReview - Beyond Postmodernism
New Dimensions in Clinical Theory and Practice
by Roger Frie and Donna Orange (Editors)
Routledge, 2010
Review by Kerrin A. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Feb 15th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 7)

Beyond Postmodernism is contributing to what Zygmut Bauman puts the following way: "Postmodernity does not necessarily mean the end, the discreditation, or the rejection of modernity. Postmodernity is no more (but no less either) than modern mind taking a long, attentive, and sober look at itself, at its condition and its past works, not fully liking what it sees and sensing the need to change" (Bauman 1990, Modernity and Ambivalence, p.272).  Consequently, the "beyond" in the book title initially evokes less the question of how the postmodern "spirit" still has to be even more radically demanded, but rather it reconsiders a rehabilitation of certain modern or rather pre-postmodern ideas and concepts of psychoanalytical theory and practice. Actually, this is taken into account by almost all contributors, therein aiming "to understand psychoanalysis as relational in a positive sense" (Orange p. 232). Respectively, the reader is navigated through the Scylla of postmodern critique on classical psychoanalysis and the Charybdis of its very limits, while the general idea is to draw the picture of a moderate view on psychoanalysis beyond the meta-theoretically pitfalls of postmodern radicalism.

As Donna Orange states in her postscript, the general aim is to acknowledge that there are "elements or forms of human life we must take seriously", that there are phenomena like "suffering and trauma", and concepts like "agency, self-experience, mutual understanding" (p.231) that were not always all adequately captured by most of the postmodern psychoanalytic theories.

 Beyond Postmodernism contributes to a clarification especially of psychoanalytic relational variants and its philosophical roots. The book is divided in two main sections: The first section addresses the impact and limits of postmodern thought on psychoanalysis, while the second addresses the issue of a reassessment of psychoanalysis "beyond" postmodernism, thereby exploring the merits of remembering core concepts and ideas of continental philosophy in their potential to counterbalance some unfavorable consequences from an all too enthusiastic affirmation of the postmodern turn in psychoanalytic theory and practice.       

Roger Frie emphasizes in his introduction the "lack of clarity within psychoanalysis about what modernism and postmodernism actually mean" (p.3) and is consequently positioning both in lights of their historical and philosophical context, which is followed by a detailed analysis of the postmodern turn that sets a good starting point even for the not so "postmodern bible-versed" reader. Frie characterizes the relational accounts of psychoanalysis in contrast to classical accounts as based on the assumption of mutuality, which is characterized as principally underestimated in the classical tradition. The skeptic might nevertheless object, that although classical accounts seem to be rather relatively deeply pre-structured by an asymmetrical relationship between therapist and patient, it nevertheless cannot be thus easily claimed that they are exclusively resting on a "one-person psychology" (p.12); at least not with respect to the interplay of transference and counter-transference, which is in principle an expression of solid mutuality.        

 Morris Eagle -- who is refreshingly critically to the relational position -- explores "how the informal empirical claim that insight, self-knowledge, and learning truths about oneself may not be as effective as was thought" (p.29) is transformed into an enlightenment-dethroning philosophical position arguing for the impossibility of discovering truths about our minds. The claim of "tallying with what is real" (Freud, 1917, p. 452) in the patient provokes a discussion of the chances and shortcomings of (co-)constructivism in particular. Eagle rightly points out that we have to carefully distinguish between the doubts in the legitimacy of classical psychoanalysis in lights of truth-finding on the one hand, and the radical claim that there is nothing at all to be discovered about a patients mind on the other. Granted the difficulties and uncertainties of the interpretative enterprise we do not have to adopt the radical variant of (co-)constructivism in psychoanalysis. The latter rests on the idea of an analytic interaction as totally organizing the patient´s mind through interpretative construction, including skepticism of a pre-organized mind and relatively stable patterns of behavior in the patient. With reference to Stephen A. Mitchell who has paradigmatically claimed that there is nothing corresponding to the phrase "in the patient´s mind for either the patient or analyst can be right or wrong about" (Mitchell 1998, The analyst´s knowledge and authority, p.16), Eagle nicely questions this position. According to Eagle it can rather be addressed that certain claims of the relational account stressing radical co-constructivism may provoke fatal asymmetrical interaction between client and analyst:  Even with respect to the critique of an analyst´s privileged access to the truth about a patient´s mind, the "new views" are not prima facie immune to the authoritative style associated with classical psychoanalytical metapsychology. Moreover, it is shown that by refuting a relatively stable intrapsychic and interactional pattern in clients, the importance of analysis of transference becomes pointless, for "it is not clear what the meaning of transference would be and why it would have any special role if the mind were organized by each new intersubjective relationship" (p.36) as it is held by proponents of constructivism. One might infer from this well-balanced discussion that the potential of exploring the client´s fluid mental states moreover should also be reassessed with respect to provoking tendencies of neglect of the client´s ongoing life "outside" the therapeutic realm. The "universe parallel" to the psychoanalytical setting is a source of meaning. There are likely to be something like stable patterns of behavior, as well, for it is often with respect to the rigidity of behavioral patterns, that persons become clients. The chapter ends with a discussion of the parallels between the role of truth in certain psychoanalytic viewpoints and in specific approaches to historical accounts. It is convincingly concluded that the psychoanalytic enterprise under co-constructivist signs can sometimes turn into "a business of creating, not understanding the patient" (p.49).   

 Jon Frederickson is concerned with a critique of Harry Stack Sullivan´s constructivist concept of the self, which already anticipated the postmodern shift in emphasizing on the idea of the decentered, fragmented, or multiple self. It is the idea of multiplicity that inspires Frederickson´s Heideggerian answer: According to Frederickson, the real problem of conceptualizing multiplicity rests on a conflation of "a representation of the ontic with the ontological dimensions of personhood" (p. 53), this is, mistaking the former for our general "being in the world". This conflation impregnates the therapist-clients-relationship: Instead of relating to the patient´s being, one is just relating to mere representations of the patient. This however is contrary to the psychoanalytic relational goal, which according to Frederickson can be summed up as devoted to help "change the patient´s relationship to her being" (p. 66, italics Frederickson). By additionally stressing the works of David Levin, Frederickson characterizes individual experience in virtue of its pre-reflective and bodily dimensions, as allowing for what Levin called "openness- to- Being" (Levin 1985, The Body´s recollection of Being, p. 290), which seems to have the integrative potential to root multiplicity as "ways of being we body forth in the world" (p. 66).      

Judith Gus Teicholz elegantly differentiates clinical emphases within the co-(constructivist) account, as normally shared by both Kohutian self-psychology and relational psychoanalysis. Teicholz illustrates how the relational embracement of "difference" can be contrasted with the emphasis on intersubjectivity, mutuality of influence, shared attunement, etc. as important concepts of self-psychology. With reference to the caregiver research and the neuroscientist perspective, it is explained that the Kohutian child is relational from birth on, i.e. has the relevant capacities proclaimed by self-psychology, e.g. emotion regulation capacity with respect to the caretaking person. This rather seems to point towards an integrative perspective according to which the postmodern emphasis on difference is an additional aspect of a healthy development within dyadic patterns. Moreover, we can state with Teicholz, that "the very unpredictability of the dyad leaves the door open for psychic change" (p.86). It is the possibility for change: to change the quality of experience (which is the unconscious in terms of a Kohutian understanding as opposed to the Freudian conceptualization of it as distinctive psychic entity, p. 86) -- that sets in for reconciling a modernist and postmodernist theory of self-development.           

Heward Wilkinson suggests poetry as a working paradigm for understanding psychotherapy, as well as that "psychotherapy is itself a kind of poetry" (p. 92). Wilkinson argues that one can explore the relevance of Derrida´s work on psychoanalysis in relying on poetry, which itself is added to the list of deconstructive concepts. Accordingly, he refers in his outline of a Derridian psychotherapy to William Blake´s "The Sick Rose" (Blake 1977) and respectively delineates six core themes in Derrida´s work, which are then reconsidered as evoking elements of Blake´s poem. With reference to Daniel Stern´s work, Wilkinson argues for a further exploration of enactivity: Unlike the standard psychoanalytic use of the notion of enactment, his notion is creating rather the "space for the realigning of enactments in the standard psychoanalytic sense" (p. 94). The notion of enactment refers here to the "lived experience" (p. 100) alluding to the Derridian idea of teleiopoesis (p. 107). One implication of enactivity is that "the analyst cannot avoid being wholly implicated in the analysis he or she seeks to objectify" (p.107) consequently calling for a general sensitivity to enactive context of the psychoanalytic setting, which now is centering around the import of the immediate and vivid flux of the analyst-client interaction. While the application of enactivity to psychotherapy and poetry alike can be easily grasped -- "it is the realm of the work and its process", and while the focus must lie on "how we reflexively address the process as such" (p.108) -- Wilkinson does not miss to emphasize the "vast and complex" scope of his expanded version of the notion of enactment (p.107). Valuable is Wilkinson´s application of his analysis of praxis in discussing two clinical vignettes, which are aerating the compactness of thought in his contribution.       

Highly recommendable to the reader is Donna Orange´s richly referenced and careful exploration of the "art of living dialogue" between constructivism and hermeneutics as the main philosophical roots of the relational position. While constructivists are devoted to deconstruction and interpretation of the interactively co-constructed meaning, hermeneutics centre on dialogic understanding. Orange elegantly reconstructs the import of early and late Heideggerian thought as a source for both positions, which are paradigmatically enfolded along the lines of a Derrida vs. Gadamer-scenario: This functions as a hanger for her reflection about a possible reconciliation with respect to the dialectical dynamics of both positions, as something that can be made useful for contemporary psychoanalytical thinking. Orange concludes that "constructivist skepticism needs to be tempered with a strong dose of hermeneutic passion for understanding" (p.130). Hermeneutics is seen as the needed counterbalance to constructivist skepticism, and is characterized as a valuable philosophical resource for a commitment to understanding and caring in therapy. In arguing not for an exclusively hermeneutic approach, but rather in outlining the merits of mutual correction of both sources of relational thinking, Orange shows how objections to constructivist relationalism can be convincingly answered, while it is also her outline of the ethics of understanding that especially makes this a remarkable contribution.      

Robert D. Stolorow grounds his relational perspective on the inextricable intertwinement of emotional experience and intersubjective contextualization, thereby criticizing the tendency of classical psychoanalysis to favour a Cartesian dualistic perspective and celebrate the "myth of the isolated mind" (p.144). Stolorow counters this in drawing on Heidegger´s (Heidegger 1927, Being and Time) analysis of the basic structure of our being (Dasein) to generally argue for a contextual perspective on human situatedness. The notion of Befindlichkeit (attunement) -- the affective modus of being -- is used to bridge the proclaimed Cartesian experiential split of mind and world. In focusing on affective world disclosure the notion of Being-with (Mitsein) is revealed as a felt awareness of "emotional kinship in the same darkness" (p.158) with others. While this sense for one´s vulnerability is linked to emotional trauma as a constantly impeding and a constantly present condition, as something "built into the basic constitution of human existence." (p.152), Mitsein captures the idea that human beings are not merely "isolated adventures" (p.155). Respectively, solicitude (Fuersorge) pre-structures human existence and transports a specific notion of authenticity. Stolorow´s conceptualization of trauma and his alluding to the concept of caring enrich the discussion of the relational view in this book and deepens the analysis of Heidegger´s import for contemporary psychoanalysis.

Roger Frie´s second contribution aims at a clarification of psychological agency, by drawing on its conceptualization e.g. in Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, Harry Sullivan, and Charles Taylor. With reference to Anthony Giddens (Giddens 1984, The Constitution of Society), who paradigmatically argues for agency in light of an inherent interdependence of subject and context, the need for an adequate concept of agency is addressed. The inadequacy lies solely in the construction of agency as a "Cartesian artifact" (p.176). In contrast, the new idea is that action is a process of meaning-making, and that the psychoanalytical subject has to be brought in line with an idea of personhood: persons are more than just "living enactments of their contexts" (p.176), so that analysis cannot exclusively rely on this causal pattern of context (cause) and action (effect) to grasp the full idea of meaning-making as central for human agency. Consequently, reductionist tendencies of context analysis must be countered by a new sensitivity for personal meaning-making processes, which occur "despite the continual fragmentation and dislocation of human experience" (p.176). Frie argues for agency as "vitally important concept for psychoanalysis and the politics of change" (p.176), i.e. for a notion that holds on to personal freedom of choice, to the capacity to change one´s point of view, and to take responsibility. This is exactly what is needed to put the subject as person "back to discourse", back into a sphere that opposes recognizable tendencies of postmodernist self-undermining, especially when it comes to the therapeutic relationship in particular.     

William J. Coburn reminds us of the need for a psychoanalytic complexity perspective that can take into account the idea of an individual mind and help to "contextualize those minds in broadening our understanding to the sources and origins of our emotional experience" (p.196). Once more it is the Heideggerian Befindlichkeit that here bridges the modern/postmodern conceptualization of the self: Instead of the obsessively continuing dichotomies of modern vs. postmodern views of the self and self-narrative, an alternative psychoanalytic paradigm can be established. It refers to a differentiation of three interrelated "levels of discourse" -- phenomenological description, interpretative understanding, and meta-physical/explanatory assumptions -- allowing for a more fine-grained analysis that for instance takes into account the possibility of a reconciliation even of opposing claims with respect to this dimensional differentiation: While in the metaphysical/explanatory sense one might for instance reject the free will, individuality or free agency, one might nevertheless take it into account as something context- dependent experienced by subjects on the phenomenological level. Additionally, this complexity-informed attitude is characterized as clinically useful for expanding "one´s sense of one´s unbidden personal situatedness" as well as "engaging one´s finite freedom" (p. 197, italics Coburn).

Anthony Elliott explores subjectivity "beyond" the Freudian constitution of the self with reference to the ideas on primary repression and identification in the works of Jean Laplanche and Julia Kristeva that can be further refined from Elliott´s point of view: According to Elliott both, Kristeva´s and Laplanche´s accounts of the constitution of the unconscious through primary repression can be objected in developing a psychoanalytic account, which instead of overemphasizing the "inside/outside-boundary" stresses "an elementary dimension of subjectivity formed in and through primary intersubjectivity". Respectively, it is suggested to order "psychic interiority within intersubjective boundaries of shared, unconscious experience" (p.209). Essential to this is Elliott´s claim for "rolling identification", which is defined in terms of a "representational flux of the unconscious" (p.209) permitting "human subjects to create a relation to the self-as-object and pre-object relations" (p.202). Accordingly, such primal identification has to be explored as characteristically operating "through representational wrappings of self and other" (p.208). The concept of rolling identification marks a shift from activities of self-reference and representation towards a more elementary form of intersubjectivity. Elliott concludes that "the role of unconscious representation" has to be correspondingly re-located in "primary intersubjectivity" as the very "condition from which we might imagine self, society, politics and ethics anew" (p. 218). Although Elliott´s reflections could probably have been made more transparent for the reader, they are commendable in directly addressing the import of psychoanalytic theorizing about intersubjective unconscious.    

Arnold H. Modell´s essay explores the "hard problem" (p. 220) for relational theory, this is, how meaning is constructed between two separate, relatively autonomous minds. Inspired by Mikhail Bakhtin´s idea that meaning is always "a matter of translating the (combined) experience into an altogether different perspective, into new categories of valuation" (p. 221), this is also true for the psychoanalytical dyad. The latter is an asymmetrical one, insofar as "being the recipient of the communication of feeling rather than the one who´s expressing the feeling allows the recipient a greater degree of freedom of interpretation" (p. 224). Modell construes this function in both directions: we can be aware of whether the other person is attending or not and whether we enter into the other´s subjectivity or not. Accordingly, cases of indifference towards the analyst and absence of feeling paradigmatically appear as cases of non-communication due to a "state of unrelatedness" in therapy. This resembles the Heideggerian idea of "being alone in the presence of the other" (p. 224). These states of being relatively unrelated are regarded integral to relational theory, given the underlying assumption "that aspects of the therapeutic relationship are features of ordinary life" (p. 227), so that we "need to re-establish our separateness from the other" (p. 229) from time to time also within the therapeutically realm. This, however, rests on the assumption that one can only become a subject in relation to others. Becoming one´s self thereby sometimes has to be respectively analyzed in virtue of communicative gaps due to the momentary "illusion of omnipotent self sufficiency" (p. 229) and may also be accompanied (or ironically even expressed) in trying not to become "a subject by impeding the other´s knowledge of one´s self" (p. 229).       

To summarize: Beyond Postmodernism echoes that what actually is there has to be reflected with respect to an already enrolled "beyond": This could be ideally constitutive for contemporary psychoanalytic meta-theorizing, substantiated in a commitment to critique of (its) certainties. Generally, there neither seems to be a fixed place to measure psychoanalysis in virtue of the "great beyond", nor does an exclusively relational perspective guarantee ultimate progress in particular; rather it might be the constant actualization of an open space of possibilities for (interdisciplinary) thinking on psychoanalytic theory and practice -- a spirit transported in Beyond Postmodernism -- that makes this book a solid source and recommendable reference for those interested in new ways of thinking about psychoanalysis à venir.    


© Kerrin A. Jacobs


Kerrin A. Jacobs is postdoctoral research fellow in the Animal Emotional II project at the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrueck (Germany).


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