Transformational Reversal: Notes and questions in response to a proposed methodological application

Transformational-Reversal-of -Conflict-Situations

Under preliminary stage discussion here will be Heward Wilkinson’s paper (personal correspondence, 2018) (see above) with specific focus on his proposal for the methodological application of transformational reversal.

Five main questions surfaced for me as I closely read the thoughtful and considered paper on transformative reversal and its brim-full of literary examples of a methodological application, transformative reversal. What is perhaps quite interesting about ‘TR’ is not that its application might be applied to interventions into personal crisis or collective conflict, but that it may present a method to do both in coincidence.

The questions I pose below, are, I hope, in direct relation to examples put forward in the aforementioned paper. Below I will seek to briefly address some overarching points about personal crises and collective conflict situations (as things worthy and deserving of critical thinking). It is hoped that each of the five points raise one or more questions that may be used for discussion purposes. I will list each point according to where I located each idea in the original paper. I trust the reader will tolerate the slight elements of repetition which this strategy produces in the service of an analysis of the paper on transformative reversal – or ‘one-eighties’ as the young and the hip would have me say.

  1. I find myself curious about whether, and, if so, to what extent it is “… necessary for everyone to come to understand the process [of TR], or is recognition by an articulate and creative minority enough?” While equality of opportunity is a self-evident truth, though a truth still requiring much further expansion, there is a necessity for equality of opportunity in nearly all families, groups, institutions, and societies with serious ambitions toward encouraging a mannered, civil, educated, and law-abiding population. Two neologisms will be used in the service of a demarcation between what I will call here Power-sakers (i.e. as those that seek power for power’s own sake) and Vocationalists(i.e. those that seek to facilitate others with authority, that is, elucidate, educate, develop and nurture). Fuller, more mature discourses and meta-discourses have been dedicated to these major themes countless times, namely, qualitatively different approaches to the dyadic connection obtaining from authority/power and power/authority: this is the stuff of political science; power relations and power differentials; the search for advantage to variously unveil, unravel or beguile one’s interlocutor. Power differentials as well as differentials in intentionality ought to be recognised between those seeking power for power’s sake and those whose vocation it may be to share with others what they glean from the anaclitic of formal learning and experiential learning to build better social worlds. What is less clear is how those aforementioned populations (i.e. families, groups, institutions, and societies), across written history and beyond, could have realised or adopted collective learnings, had it not been for a relatively small minority of vocationalistsinstructing and advising in the processes and practices of rites and ritual.The role of the vocationalist has always been, I think, to elucidate and educate, to explicate and to develop others, in the rites and rituals of social concern. Basic needs are met within these rites and rituals, which perform a vital function in the hegemonic, accepted historical norm of governance with the consent of governed. One has only to recall the traditional, legal and charismatic forms of authority (see Weber) to which I am also referring as something by no means to be conflated with an enactment of power for the sake of power. Questions arising here concern how high modernity and the vocationalists might encounter each other, and in this encounter how the latter might protect and preserve a valuable position and role in the collective realm for their wards, their students, and their children? Is it the role of the vocationalist to protect others from the clutches of would-be power-sakers, whose task would be made easier by the dissipation of interest in vocation or vocationalists? And, if so, might it also fall to the vocationalist position and role to prepare themselves and learners for what comes with and after high modernity?
  2. I am curious and fascinated by what is freighted by the term liminal space. Liminal space is that which I will define as both psychological and social spaces of threshold, they are milestones of lived experience, they are spaces which mediate and provide a conduit for the betweenness of lived experience; they are spaces between the register of Mystery (i.e. the unknown, the unheard, the untold, Otherness), and the register of a phenomenological nature (i.e. from objects to their essences as things; see eidetic reduction). Liminal experiences do not ordinarily exceed to mystery, nevertheless, mythological liminal experiences frequently transgress freely between worldly and preternatural states. Liminal experiences supervene on liminal spaces. For example, Putnam illustrates that water supervenes on H20, or better perhaps, Freud’s ego functioning supervenes on id-functioning. Liminal spaces make possible liminal experiences and liminal experiences assist the personal mind to engage in a meaningful way with collective phenomena and collective noumena. These liminal spaces are known to us through phenomenological investigations (e.g. see Husserl or Heidegger; see ontological). By contrast, there are liminal spaces where the deontic modality operates, which I shall now seek to define. The deontic modality of language may be defined as expressing a locutor’s duty or obligation to signify modal auxiliaries, such, as ‘ought’, ‘should’, and ‘must’, showing varying degrees of commitment attaching to the performance of certain actions (see Simpson, 1993). The deontic mode is a performative feature on the continuum of commitment from permission /’may’/ to obligation /’should’/ to requirement /’must’/. In the locutory performance of situating commitment, in liminal experiences, one uses the deontic modality. Contrary to the deontic mode of locution, epistemic modes express a speaker’s degree of confidence, certainty, or probability in the truth of a proposition stated; it is realised by the modal auxiliaries such as ‘could,’ ‘may,” ‘must,’ ‘might,’ ‘should.’ (see Simpson,1993).For example, in psychotherapy, the epistemic mode might serve the therapists understanding of confidence and certainty (what one thinks one knows) in the locutory act on a spectrum of liminal experience ranging from, specifically, contentment to discontentment. In more general terms, in relation to both lived experience and liminal space, the deontic mode and the epistemic mode work together to recapitulate liminal experiences of commitment/non-commitment certainty/uncertainty across two continuums; that is, of probability, from uncertainty to possibility to certainty to logical necessity. Liminal spaces beckon to us from the space between personal and collective, conscious and unconscious competence gained through performatives in liminal space. One could say, therefore, that liminal spaces mediate the totality of human experience. Further, that absences of such liminal spaces could lead to disenchantment, discontentment, or even malaise. Where does thought of liminal space originate? Myth and folklore would have us look to points of personal crisis or social tension or collective challenge, times of great moment, rites or shifts from which the personal and/or the collective will be transformed forever. In every case the liminal involves a symbolic sloughing off (death) and symbolic renewal (birth), in every case, a mirroring of Nature is re-enacted, an isomorphism with the universe from our personal vantage point within a cave (sic) — as Above so Below. It is here in the liminal space between deep-time, evolutionary epochs of biological Nature, the Archetypes, that the subject of social enactment, in acknowledgement and acceptance and complicity and approbation, symbolically touches the veil of mystery. In that space between the personal and the collective the personal mind meets, symbolically, with a close approximation with that which gives all things Form. For better or for worse, the liminal space aids the personal mind, assisting, nurturing, killing, renewing; all are births of sorts, all are deals or bargains with the unavoidable forfeiture of our true collective nature — as the wretched animal who has become consciously conscious of his own limits and hates the fact — in that liminal space s/he is thus thrown into the continuum of significance, of communication: from sound /’utterance’/ to language /’enunciation’/ to symbol /’mark’/ to sign /’signifier’/):

“Our forefathers regarded as a prodigy the passage of the Alps: first by Hannibal and, more recently, by the Cimbri; but at the present day, these very mountains are cut asunder to yield us a thousand different marbles; promontories are thrown open to the sea; and the face of Nature is being everywhere reduced to a level.” Pliny the Elder

“Quite a lot of our contemporary culture is actually shot through with a resentment of limits and the passage of time, anger at what we can’t do, fear or even disgust at growing old.” Dr Rowan Williams

“I liked the idea of creating a new pop-culture, folkloric hero character that I created with ‘Django’ that I think’s gonna last for a long time. And I think as the generations go on and everything, you know, my hope is it can be a rite of passage for black fathers and their sons. Like, when are they old enough to watch ‘Django Unchained”?    Quentin Tarantino (yes, I know, popular culture!)

Here one of many possible questions centres on how best fostering and educating populations in human understanding, with special attention paid to liminal spaces—the spaces between—can be understood in the face of diminishing rituals and rites of passage within many cultures in the here and now and what comes after high modernity?

  1. I am more than a little curious about the present difficulty in thinking about the term genius. It is a singular term, sure, or is it? Genius is a term conferred upon those of the first water. It is also that which, in the deontic mode of committed certainty, some feel very strongly cannot be conferred on oneself. Some might choose to use the term to nudge and perturb. If so, one would certainly have caught onto the tail of a peculiar beast. But what, one might ask, lies behind the self-anointed design of an enrage peculiar beast? One might argue that using the term sparks attention and create involvement; one might also argue that that genius is a device to bring about a personal transference neurosis; one might also argue that genius might be the sine qua nonof discipleship (something psychoanalytical thought has struggled to detach from with varying degrees of success). In the latter case of psychoanalytical discipleship, what role might fall to the First Follower, or the chosen? Further, what psychological effect might discipleship have on the genius in terms of affective presentation? Separate to those thoughts, associated with the self-styled genius in mind, is perhaps a question concerned with whether, and if so to what extent, genius might also identify itself with specialness. Recognised geniuses (e.g. Abraham, Moses, Gautama, Jesus, Aquinas, Shakespeare, Newton, Mozart, Einstein, Goethe, Freud, Jung, Nietzsche, Feynman) each appears to wish to avoid associating themselves with specialness – rather it is that if they do stand above, it is only, a consequence of standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. Cases to the contrary (e.g. Dali, Mussolini, Trump) with strong identifications with personal specialness are also clear examples of an implicit deontic stratagem (a degree of commitment to certainty known to psychiatry as narcissistic personality traits). That being noted, genius has not always freighted the connotation we have today. A favourite example of what the term genius formerly freighted can be found in the art of Durer, most especially, for those interested, in his masterpiece engraving, Melencolia I (1514). Durer’s genius is positioned as an angelic putto (child) hovering above the individual in possession of the artistic temperament. Genius, thus imagined, from the Classical mind up to the Medieval mind, was squarely a boon derived from the well-spring of the melancholic temperament (black bile). Black bile was held, we may recall, as the humor with the symbolic connection to the Earthly and the mundane. Melancholia to this way of thinking, was an indicator of a personal relation to causes environmental, dietary, hygienic or lifestyle. This melancholic way (depressive?) of thinking about genius becomes more relatable to the contemporary onlooker; perhaps never more so when one takes in the news media, schooling, the workplace and conflict hotspots – as I’m writing I am mindful of the dreadful tragedy in El Paso, where more than twenty innocents lost their lives to a deontic young man, while in London a French boy of seven has been thrown off the tenth floor of the Tate Modern Museum by a seventeen year old for unfathomable reasons. Can the genius become impelled by a world-weariness or deep concern or pathos or ennui? It would appear so. Can the deontic genius be driven to destruction by an existential context of angst? I don’t see much more difficulty. I feel that I see issues for discussion arising centred largely upon individualist deontic narratives (perhaps, individualistic deontic specialness). So let’s be clear about the differences in the social space between individualists and individuation, that is, where the latter refers more or less to a Becoming in the context of others. Let’s centre upon stubbornness and its epistemic transformation into determination. Let’s centre upon the deontic commitment to certainty and the epistemic prospect of introducing better communication strategies from primary education onwards into lifelong learning. Then again, such centring of attention would require a forum or fora would it not? Further, by forum or fora, I do not believe that social media pages are an adequate replacement for the face to face encounter. Nor do I see reasonable grounds to suppose that social media pages can have any success in differentiating between Content and Process. (Anyone else remember Yalom (The Yalom Reader) talking about how in the face to face he used the front and back of his office rug to simply explain the difference between content and process to clients?)
  2. I am very curious about the term enactivity, as I understand the term, from a psychotherapeutic standpoint. How might enactivity take place across social collectives? Is this enactive collective mode associated with, or somehow contingent upon, feedback systems? Indeed, could it be that enactivity has at its base a sine qua nonof reflexivity utilising feedback? If so, what is the relation of reflexivity to enactivity? Reflexivity can be defined a few ways. Reflexivity from the standpoint of criticism aimed at the philosophy of science (i.e. contested objectivity by subjective subjects), is not the focus here, though that vein is quite contemporary in some circles of learning. Rather it is the aspect of reflexivity seen from the personal and collective, I would venture, which acts upon collective spaces as feedback (e.g. Action 1 -> Reflection/feedback mechanism -> Action 1 modified). Reflexivity can thus be understood as a 2nd order process of taking reflection on action and turning that action into better actions with which to build better social worlds. (I am quite aware that our Heward has undertaken doctoral research and post-doctoral research into the subject of enactivity, and so I will follow his lead on this important subject.)
  3. Eventually, each individual finds themselves treading the same path of questioning laid out by Nietzschean psychology. So I am fascinated and enduringly curious about one of the most useful questions Nietzschean psychology poses to his readership during his middle period of writing (e.g. Daybreak, Human all-too Human, The Joyous Science) (Ger. Fröhlich Wissenschaft can be translated into English as either Gay or Joyous Science say scholars in the field). Nietzschean psychology gives us one of the truly great thought experiments ever posed: What if you had the knowledge that every action you make or will ever make would be eternally repeated by you? Would not the awe and terror provoked by a thought of such magnitude inform, or impel, you to act differently?

a. There is an ambiguous repudiation of metaphysical opposites (Either-Or) giving way to a more reflexive way of thinking, in coincidence, there is still a valuing of psychological opposites as generative and necessary features of lived experience (Both/And).

b. There is a distaste for metaphysics as it is seen by Nietzschean psychology as the principal method by which the deontic mode and epistemic mode (i.e. non-commitment/commitment and certainty/uncertainty) gain purchase in the fears and anxieties of the personal and collective mind under the stewardship of influential power-sakers. For Nietzschean psychology false dichotomies originate from and are sustained by upholding metaphysical opposites in the personal and the collective mind.

c. Psychological opposites are made more accessible to the collective social world through metaphor and myth and storying lived experience. Nietzsche has found a way to confront the personal unconscious with the collective unconscious; this sublime confrontation with mystery in-itself (the unknown, the unheard, the untold) takes place in the liminal space afforded by mentalisation to challenge deontic certainty (depth psychologies acknowledge and follow mentalisation techniques in clear debt to Nietzschean psychology).

d. There is an escape from the static (read arboreal) single-stem version of metaphysical Truth, and a shift to a plural, dynamic (rhizomatic) concern with truths, such as, What-one-might-become as well as What-we-might-become. Is this a purely secular viewpoint, not necessarily.

e. For sake of expediancy, I choose not to engage with the metaphysical problem of using one metaphysical argument (i.e. Becoming, as plural) to displace another metaphysical argument) (i.e. Being, as static) (for those so inclined, please see those very clever chaps, Derrida and Adorno)

f. There is a new path available, as one faces the magnitude of the eternal repetition of one’s actions. Previously held core-beliefs on commitment-with-certainty, that is, the manifestation of ideals imposed at any cost onto or into the collective mind, may give way to commitment-with-uncertainty, that is, latitude and flexibility onto or into the collective mind: and this is, I think, a novel discovery by Nietzschean psychology. It is a discovery of personal affirmation positioned, in psychoanalytical terms, as a point for the personal consciousness to make an accommodation between itself and the magnitude of a confrontation with the collective unconscious. This personal affirmation speaks to the sovereignty of the individual. The personal can now choose and make choices: to affirm wisely, to affirm wildly, or even affirm foolishly. – Yet, with such affirmations of personal sovereignty also comes responsibility. The invitation to affirmation ought not be misunderstood as a simplistic call to “Do-as-thou-wilt”.

Reflections in conclusion:

A word or two on the problem/s which can result from BOTH an absence of liminal space AND the trajectory of conceit of specialness, using deontic illustrations of commitment to certainty: Nietzsche laboured to shut the door to immature readings by his goofy sister Elisabeth and her ne’er-do-well husband, one Bernhard Förster, as they and power-sakers sought to portray her brother’s legacy as-if a militaristic architect of Fascist thought (“Do-as-thy-wilt” writ large) and all-round pin-up boy for Fascist ideologies. Thankfully, yes, thankfully, Bernhard committed suicide by poison in June 1889. Unfortunately the poison Bernhard used was not strong enough to dispose of the raft of “Do-as-thy-wilt” apologetics which abounded without redress on the back of Nietzsche’s total incapacity to reply as his life’s work became subverted to suit the militaristic politics of systemic racism, industrial-scale death and destruction. And yet, “… there is no question that [Nietzsche] was unequivocally antagonistic toward what he understood as anti-Semitism and anti-Semites” writes Robert Holub (see Holub, 2015: p.125; cf. xiv, p. 208), and this overlooked fact has been evidenced on many occasions by scholars in many excellent sources.


Paul Wadey, Capel St Mary

7thAug 2019


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