Aesthetics, PCP and broaders issues in general.

Mancuso, James C. (
Mon, 18 May 1998 17:12:34 -0400

Hello all:
Recently, several postings have taken up the matter of whether or not
personal construct psychology has been used to discuss aesthetics.
Such discussions should provoke a very broad response from those of us
who have identified ourselves as elaborators of personal construct
We should first recall the extent to which literary and artistic
Critics, in general, flocked to Freudian theory in order to explain the
workings of aesthetics.
Why have critics and commentators failed to respond similarly to
personal construct psychology?
Those literary and art critics who call themselves deconstructionists
have prompted the recognition that artistic work is, after all, a means
of presenting one's construction of some aspect of the putative world --
constructions which the artists often have failed to recognize as
constructions, and than have proceeded to perform as though they were
presenting the world with powerful insights into the way that the world,
particularly the social world, REALLY works.
For myself, I have generally been very unhappy with the tendency to
proceed that far, and the fail to go on. Other important questions now
need to be asked. In what way did the artist develop the constructs
system which allowed him/her to present constructions which are regarded
as aesthetically pleasing, or innovative? Why has it taken so long for
the general position of constructivism to become prevalent in
discussions of artistic activity? Why do many people fail to experience
pleasure when exposed to a work that many others construe as
aesthetically pleasing.
In effect, one should raise questions about the functioning of
personal constructs systems as individuals attempt to relate to artistic
activity. In attempting to put together a paper on the connections
between Luigi Pirandello and personal construct psychology, I ran across
the text of the dedication speech which was made when the Pirandello
received the Nobel Prize, in 1934. I think that it would be fascinating
for her anyone working with personal constructs psychology to read what
Per Hallstrom said in making the presentation. Those of you who use the
World Wide Web will find those comments at the URL:

One of the underlying constraints on wider use of personal construct
psychology in efforts to interpret a broader range of issues, I believe,
stems from the reluctance of personal construct psychologists to branch
into areas other than those traditionally assigned to the roles of
applied psychologist. One of our colleagues on the net recently pointed
out, for example, that there have been very few efforts to use personal
construct psychology to discuss political issues.
In another context, someone questioned my constant use of personal
construct psychology as I discussed an issue about which we were
exchanging ideas. My response was along the line that if one could
discuss all kinds of human conduct in terms of psychoanalytic
constructions, why have we not succeeded in creating the conditions in
which the constructions of personal construct psychology are equally

Now that I have safely reached the point of being a rather carefree
retired professor, I have indulged an old interest of mine by taking up
study and writing about the immigration of Southern Italians and
Sicilians to the USA. In doing this I have read a great deal about what
is commonly called assimilation by the sociologists. As I reviewed this
literature I find it very weak, from a psychological standpoint. The
questions I would raise are, basically, questions about what happens to
the personal construct system as the carrier of one culture attempts to
make adjustments in the presence of another, dominant culture,
particularly when the members of the dominant culture assumes
superiority as a part of their construction of their culture.
I think that any personal construct psychologist who would read the
literature which I have read would need to agree that the long string of
books and articles which have taken up issues of "multiculturalism" have
failed to take into account the workings of the construct systems of
those who are generally called "marginal persons." Most commonly, when
writers do attend to the issues of the personal psychological
functioning of "marginal persons" the writer might say something about
As I see it, the emphasis on stress and its consequences lead to
unproductive constructions such as "black rage," or psychologically
meaningless constructions such as "alienation." Functions other than
stress underlie the adjustment process; and personal construct
psychology can offer useful formulations about those functions.
I am sure that if personal construct psychologists were to become
involved in discussions about aesthetics, persons at the interface of
two cultures, the failure of revolutions, etc. they would make a major
contribution to the discussions. I recently read a review of a book
which makes the startling (???) claim that the productivity of different
societies can be explained by "cultural differences!!" Big deal so
how do "cultural differences" (whatever they are???) effect the
individuals who decide to invent computer operating systems or
transistors??? Enter the personal construct psychologist (I hope)!
In the effort to stimulate such involvement, I am going to "stick my
neck out," and submit for public discussion a paper that I have written
in which I attempt to discuss the ways in which persons at the interface
of two cultures achieve psychological balance. I used as case studies
two exceptional persons who happened to have reached the nadir of their
careers at the University of Washington, in Seattle --Henry Suzzallo and
Angelo Pellegrini.
The paper can befound at the URL address:

In the not too distant future I will put several other papers, one
which will deal with my analysis of Luigi Pirandello's use of
constructions which I believe are directly related to the basic
assumptions of personal construct psychology.
I will look forward to receiving any reactions which I might get from
other psychologists. I also hope that my efforts will stimulate other
personal construct colleagues to attempt similar writing ventures.
As usual, I expect that we should have some entertainment from our
continued interactions on these kinds of matters.

James C. Mancuso        Dept. of Psychology
15 Oakwood Place        University at Albany
Delmar, NY 12054        1400 Washington Ave.
Tel: (518)439-4416      Albany, NY 12222
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