Ktismatics

12 April 2007

Temporal Unveiling

Filed under: Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 10:23 am

Being human means being in the world with one another. It also means being in time. The present dominates everyday life, enmeshing and engaging us in a complex medium full of things, events, other people, activities, settings, and so on. The present exceeds our ability fully to come to grips with it. Besides, the individual’s temporal horizon always overflows its bounds; past and future intrude on his interpretation of the present. Each person’s interpretive framework is shaped largely by the sociocultural context into which he is born and his individual history. But life leans into a future of potential, uncertainty, and eventually death: this future horizon beyond experience also shapes the way an individual interprets the present.

The medium in which we live day to day isn’t just an array of raw stuff. Human culture and a multitude of individual conscious agents organize the stuff, linking it structurally and dynamically into meaningful patterns that extend across the world. It’s like an extremely complex verbal and nonverbal language spoken by the world. The individual can never master this language because he is embedded in it, part of its grammar and syntax. The individual can become partly aware of the language that speaks him — the norms, expectations, social interactions, and behavior patterns that shape his life. Most often this awareness results from a glitch, a kind of structural anomaly revealed when the individual finds himself out of sync with the medium he lives in. Traces of the anomaly may register as an emotional or behavioral reaction that clashes with the world and that is not immediately available to conscious understanding or verbalization. The client’s individual reaction is like a finger pointing to the world. The analyst’s job is to follow the pointing finger back to the anomaly that triggered the client’s reaction, bringing it into awareness.

The past shapes the present. Instincts that had survival value to our forebears in the evolutionary environment may or may not prove adaptive in the contemporary world. Our perceptions and understanding are shaped by the particular time and place we were born into, equipping us with a shared interpretive framework that seems like “second nature” to us. Each person’s individual history and experiences also influence the ways he interprets subsequent events, resulting in idiosyncracies in the framework that are persistent and unique but that can also be stereotypic, repetitive, inflexible. Battles fought in the past can leave scars, and the psychological battlements survive in the form of frequently-rehearsed and ritualized personal “creeds” by which we explain to ourselves why things are the way they are. The analyst, by aligning his horizon with the client’s, can expose components of the client’s interpretive framework that he carries with him from the past. By leading this joint exploration in an interpersonal context of trust and care, the therapist can help the client loosen up his framework, making it possible to experiment with alternatives.

The future also shapes the present. There’s a forward lean to life, a sense that events are always in the process of unfolding. The void looms before us, beckoning us toward the protean emptiness that is also the wellspring of pure potential. Desires and interests push us in uncertain directions toward unknown ends. Ideas are taking shape; we can’t quite grasp things; we search for the right words; awareness is dawning but hasn’t arrived yet. We have an “aha” experience – or an “oh no” experience. What does it mean? We have no words because we have no understanding – yet. The therapist can help the client bring events to their resolution, transforming ambiguity into an awareness that can nudge or totally reshape the client’s interpretive framework.

The ways in which we interpret the world, other people, and ourselves are to a large extent unavailable to our conscious awareness. We may have repressed some of it, pushing it deep underground where it lurks like a malignancy until the therapist, like a surgeon inserting some sort of psychoscope into the client’s subconscious, illuminates it and burns it away. But for the most part our interpretive process is so rapid and automatic that we aren’t even aware we’re doing it. It’s implicit; it’s “second nature;” it “goes without saying.” Because we exercise our personal hermeneutic outside of conscious awareness we can’t think about it, talk about it, evaluate it. Through conversation, through the gradual alignment of interpretive horizons, through triangulating on the world together, the therapist and the client can make at least part of the client’s interpretive framework available for conscious consideration. Once it’s out in the open, the framework becomes subject to change.

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7 Comments »

  1. The past shapes the present. Instincts that had survival value to our forebears in the evolutionary environment may or may not prove adaptive in the contemporary world. Our perceptions and understanding are shaped by the particular time and place we were born into, equipping us with a shared interpretive framework that seems like “second nature” to us. Each person’s individual history and experiences also influence the ways he interprets subsequent events, resulting in idiosyncracies in the framework that are persistent and unique but that can also be stereotypic, repetitive, inflexible. Battles fought in the past can leave scars, and the psychological battlements survive in the form of frequently-rehearsed and ritualized personal “creeds” by which we explain to ourselves why things are the way they are.

    Sometimes I have thought that the “past” influnces us, interpreting the “past” to be raw history as I have experienced it. However, the influence of the past probably has less to do with my actual experiences and more to do with how I interpreted the experiences and how I invested meaning in those experiences. It is not so much the bare experiences and facts of the past that affect me, methinks, as much as it is the interpretations of those happenings that I impose upon them (or that impose themselves on me).

    I imagine you would agree with this exposition because it goes to your point of the therapist being a personal hermeneutician who seeks to engage the interprative framework of the client.

    So, perhaps we ask not, “Tell me about what happened….” Rather, what we really want to know is, “What is your perspective on these events.”

    Events are not happenings or experiences in history as much as they are moments of meaning and meaningfulness.

    With great fear and trembling I attempt to disagree with John, hoping not to launch a series of events that culminates in Another Post!

    Like

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 12 April 2007 @ 8:31 pm

  2. Since my response to a comment on the comment I received from here was posted at

    https://ktismatics.wordpress.com/2007/03/14/i-erased-you/

    and is likely to be lost in the mists of time, here it is again – who knows it might save some :-)

    My thanks to ktismatics for the comment on my blog post on “The Departed” in relation to Chomsky’s views on US foreign policy –

    http://nice-jours.blogspot.com

    which is also at:

    http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2007/4/8/152244/3726

    where it got a lot more comments – but I suspect that it and the comments on it there will be of little interest to the people who post comments here.

    However I recomend “Why Freud was wrong” Richard Webster,

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Freud-Was-Wrong-Psychoanalysis/dp/0951592254/

    and

    “Intellectual Impostures” by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Intellectual-Impostures-Alan-Sokal/dp/1861976313

    As for Christianity – try Nietzsche :-)

    Oh and of course read lots of Chomsky for some real enlightenment :-)

    Like

    Comment by Ted — 12 April 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  3. Jonathan –

    I disagree! Muahaha! Now what? Your blog or mine?

    When Heidegger talks about being-there, when Gadamer talks about sociohistorical context shaping the individual’s horizon, they’re referring to the effect of a shared cultural past on how the individuals within that culture tend to interpret phenomena. How that works isn’t clear — why suddenly can two guys think up differential calculus, why do parents all of a sudden seem compelled to name their sons Jacob and stop calling them John? Who knows for sure, but there’s something in the collective zeitgeist that influences individual perceptions of their own experiences.

    But I also agree that the way a person interprets events from his own individual past tends to perpetuate itself in the present. So a person may react to others the way he used to react to his parents as a child, and so on. Freud turned that whole parent thing into the central mechanism of personality development and neurosis, but clearly he had his own hangups. Still, the broader principle seems true enough: we land on a way of interpreting one situation and use it again and again to interpret other situations that come up, even if it’s not appropriate. The therapist has more direct access to the client’s reactions to more recent events. If these reactions seem ill-matched to the situation that provoked them, then maybe it’s a clue that the reactions were formed in some past experience and now are carried along beneath the threshold of awareness into new experiences. Is it necessary to trace the ill-fitting reaction all the way back to its source? That’s a more traditionally analytic approach. Or is it enough to identify and name the reaction in the here and now, then to explore alternative reactions to the more contemporary event? Maybe loosening up the structures in the present eventually gives the client some insights about alternative reinterpretations of past experiences. Interpretations of ast and present influence each other, and not always in a linear directin.

    And was it “Another Post” per se that makes you claim reluctance to disagree now, or is it your personal reaction to “Another Post”?

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 April 2007 @ 10:02 pm

  4. Ted –

    Hey, I think I can see you waving across the Baie des Anges over there in Nice. I like your photo of Garibaldi Square — I had a feeling it was always night in that square, but your photo belies that impression. Still, those dudes sitting at the tables look like creatures of the night waiting for the sun to go down, n’est-ce que pas?

    …but I suspect that it and the comments on it there will be of little interest to the people who post comments here. I detect a certain hauteur in your tone — which means you’re in the right place. We’ve not discussed Chomsky on this blog, except briefly with reference to the evolution of language. Your post observes that a lot of Americans don’t know who Chomsky is, but I suspect more know him for his political positions than his work as a psycholinguist, which is what made him famous in the first place in academe. Occasionally politics are discussed on this blog, most notably here and, on a continuing basis, here.

    Freud comes up from discussion from time to time, as does Nietzsche. It looks like the book you recommend traces Freud’s views to his Judeo-Christian heritage, which I think is part of the story. His whole id-ego-superego thing he inherits directly from Nietzsche, who proposed that the whole baroque architecture of the ego was an artifact of Judeo-Christian slave morality, where desires and will were driven back from fulfillment in the world and onto the self. Certainly Freud’s explanation of how people’s psyches are affected by their reactions to early childhood events is an example of his sociocultural milieu shaping not only his personal hermeneutic but that of a whole generation. I studied psychology in grad school, and never once did we read Freud. We did, however, read Chomsky.

    Sokal has appeared on this blog too, in this ode to Baudrillard post.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 April 2007 @ 10:33 pm

  5. Right. And it is an incestuous relationship between “my” meaning and the meaning that my culture has taught me to utilize: It is meaningful to go to oppose war, it is menaingful to find “true love,” it is meaningful to love your job, it is meaningful to live in a nice house, it is meaningful to go to church, etc. So whether I am forming my meaning/interpretation of events in a vacuum is certainly missing the point.

    All things are interrelated and connected. And yet I am an individual desire to break out of the connectedness and become a person with purpose.

    “I am Daaaavid! I AM unique!! I AM special!!!”
    A.I.

    “You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake.”
    Fight Club

    Like

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 12 April 2007 @ 10:40 pm

  6. We now have a multi-way mirror. The self, the other, the culture/society, the therapist. Does belief, cognition/consciousness sort of sit like a spider on this unstable web? I’m reminded of Whitman:

    And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
    Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
    Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,–seeking the spheres, to connect them;

    Like

    Comment by samlcarr — 21 April 2007 @ 6:55 am

  7. Sam –

    It’s good, that bit of poetry. The separateness of individual selves has probably been overstated in Western culture. Beliefs are in the head, but what is believed is presumably located elsewhere. And the beliefs in the head tend also to be shared and shaped by others around us. The same with cognition, ideas, paradigms. I do not believe that the self vanishes after all the other factors are considered. I also think uniqueness of individual perspective is something to be cultivated rather than dismissed as a symptom of our narcissistic culture. But I also agree with Nietzsche and Deleuze to an extent: that selves get grotesquely oversized — and sick — to the extent that flows between inside and outside, between self and others, gets blocked.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 21 April 2007 @ 10:46 am


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