Re: Aesthetics, PCP and broaders issues in general.

Charles Smith (
Wed, 20 May 1998 20:50:43 +0100

At 03:42 20-5-98 -0500, you wrote:
>Charles Smith wrote:
>>Firstly, I personally think you are a bit dismissive of psychoanalysis. The
>>discourse promulgated by Freud, of the individual freely constructing his
>>her identity (ego) in a socially constrained world, has pervaded
>>psychological thinking throughout the 20th century, both popular and
>>academic, and including PCP.
>Not at all. I was trained on psychoanalysis, and I respect Freud's
>writings -I still find them useful to understand a lot of things (like
>meaning of dreams, jokes, and lapsus linguae). But I also think that there
>are lots of pages written about nothing -which have no meaning; like all
>that stuff about "metapsychology" and "economic explanations" of behavior.
>And also I believe that the "cultural interpretations" psychoanalysis offers
>are too simplistic and too rooted on the "sex-and-law" stuff -but that's
>another story! I don't want PCP to become a "general theory of
>everything" -from the therapy room to international politics and the like.
>If we do, maybe we'll find ourselves trying to explain the whole of human
>affairs with a couple of generalities, vague statements and uncompromising
>>If we look for a wider value of PCP, most theories of aesthetics, from
>>onwards, are basically associationist, so in principle you can use PCP to
>>analyse the connections in my aesthetic constructs, finding perhaps that I
>>connect Van Gogh's use of perspective with the futility of life, or the
>>taste of red wine with rasberries. But this is superficial (providing no
>>explanations of why I make these associations) and purely verbal. I cannot
>>explain the impact on me of the slow movement of Brahms' Bb string quartet.
>>It relates to something pre-verbal and intangible.
>I don't find it superficial. The constructs which give meaning to our lives
>are frequently not verbalized -but you can still reconstruct them with
>words. Something is lost, I agree -but something is found! And maybe art is
>an exploration on the perennial problems of mankind -love, understanding,
>death, the meaning of life. About "using PCP to analyse the connections", I
>find your example similar to the laddering procedures -and the final
>constructs you get after laddering are not "superficial" but deeply rooted
>in the person's structure.
>>Lacan (a post-Freudian theoriser) talks of signifier-signified chains, in
>>which words, of course, are socially based, and always signifiers of
>>something else. Thus, if I could speak of what the Brahms signified, then
>>that word itself would only be another signifier. At the end of the chain,
>>the signified is lost, or so knotted with the signifier that it cannot be
>>separately expressed. And discussing music in terms of this verbal chain
>>sends the question of its significance along a route of social meanings
>>which may not be helpful. This theory tells me nothing about my taste - but
>>at least it explains why all theories of taste are ultimately speculative.
>Pierce and Wittgenstein pointed out something very close -that we live
>inside a world of words, and that we can't rest over an external "reality"
>to ultimately validate them. Speculative? Are not every single theory and
>proposition speculative in some way?
>>I don't know if this helps. In principle I'm saying that I think PCP can
>>(and should) form a basis to examine the overt, tangible and verbal aspects
>>of wider issues such as aesthetics as they affect the individual, but it
>>can't address the more fundamental questions.
>I'm not so sure about it -PCP (or anything!) being incapable of account for
>the "more fundamental questions". To begin with, what questions are these?
>Is it that the "profound" questions are not verbal? We can't claim that
>we've found "the" truth; but we can surely look for it.
>Any comments?

Firstly, thanks for your thorough response to my brief thoughts. I had only
wanted to say that when we raise our flags and shout "psychoanalysis is
dead, long live constructivism" we need to be aware that we are travelling
much the same journey. I can only agree that many psychoanalysts (and
particularly Freud) have taken some strange detours.

The examples I gave of the associations I make with Van Gogh's perspective
and the taste of wine are both words I have read in leaflets - in an Art
Gallery or on a wine list. They are socially available material for me to
adopt or not, depending on whether I think they validate my own experience.
I think my remaining concern is that we might analyse associations but never
really understanding the origin or nature of aesthetic experiences, or what
it is they validate. It may be that it is all social in origin, or it may
not matter if it is 'real' to me. Let me know if you are ever near
Manchester and we could do some brief research.



PS My wife tells me we are wasting our time; Tolstoy has said all there is
to say on aesthetics.