re: transparency and paradigms

Robert Parks (
Wed, 15 May 1996 11:28:20 -0400

Dear Wendy and Lois and Gary,

The dialogues you have been developing are quite interesting and worthwhile.

Gary's questions to me (and to Wendy) were interesting, answerable, and
some seemed to point in interesting, productive directions. I think the
tension introduced by the questions is less about who is constrained by
paradigms (not a mortal sin, I hope, since we may need some constraints to
make sense in community and communication... syntax constrains.. but almost
any syntax will do....), and more about how to both interpret and create
productive theoretical discourse. Lois has kindly and wisely directed us to
the interpretation of dialectic.

On the creation of dialogue and dialectic: negations aren't fun, but they
can be better incorporated if we recall the meaning of dialectic. The crude
model of a conflict of opposites, with the better side winning a battle, is
simply not dialectic at all. Dialectic can be better approached from
metaphors such as the transformation of a seed into a tree - the "seed"
must be negated in order to become a tree. Its true "nature" can only be
understood in terms of its potential or telos. (I'm conscious of my use of
metaphor. Are you sure you want to call my earlier metaphors "hyperbole",
Gary? Are they so extravagant and exaggerated? I hope not. I find Lakoff
and Johnson, "The Metaphors We Use", and Johnson's later work on metaphor,
to be worth going back to sometime.) In a discussion, both of the
interlocutors are transformed by the questions asked. Answers may be
offered by those who have been over a similar route. It doesn't seem that
these answers are transformative, however. Only the questions get at the
conditions of construction. I suppose the psychoanalysts would find this
quite obvious. I guess I enjoy being stimulated to recover the obvious in
interesting ways.

On the postmodern problematic - e.g., the process of deconstruction (which
Gary perhaps has assimilated from literary theory) - may be seen as
analagous to Zeno's paradox. When we uncover the fundamental ambiguity of
texts (of all kinds) we have the problem of constructing a text which
communicates this perspective. When we view others' paradigms, we have the
problem of where we stand for the viewing. Perhaps we will never escape
from the labyrinth of language as long as we are embedded in systems of
human communication (communities). Taking ourselves out of these
communities is one approach to the paradox (Zen and the art of
archery/wandering/motorcycle maintenance, etc.). Another approach may be to
empathize despite its theoretical problems (become the target) and act
despite the difficulty in knowing what to do (shoot the arrow).

I am reminded of the potential usefulness at this point of Marx's concept
of "praxis". Wendy's (and Gary's) expressed concern for injustice and
suffering in the world point to the costs of postmodern disengagement. When
you are THERE ... in the path of a hungry child, the demand for action
isn't so emotionally difficult. We just do it. Feed the child. When we know
about the child, but at some distance, our response is more emotionally
complex, laden with questions about the practice of life in a world that
allows unnecessary starvation. Praxis is a concept that attempts to capture
the intersection of our interpretations and our actions. In some ways,
perhaps, it is the inverse of Kelly's psychology built on anticipations of
the future - a "construct" as a plane of anticipation. Come to think of it,
that may be why I like the approach. Understood this way, the problematic
that is being discussed might be understood in terms of how to create
theoretical constructs that anticipate and interpret the reproduction of
the unjust social formations of capital, as well as the reproduction of the
transformative movements of opposition. Is such a direction possible in an
interaction among psychologists and social scientists? I have wondered, and
have found only limited confirmation of the construct of the psychologist I
derived from reading Erich Fromm.

Thanks for the questions to reflect on....

Bob Parks