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CHAPTER EIGHT: Towards a Bakhtinian Practice of Psychotherapy

Rachel Pollard Karnac Books ePub

… the embodiment of meaning in mortal flesh—is born and dies in the world and for the world; it is totally given in the world and can be consummated in the world … As such … it can be a hero. [Bakhtin, 1990, p. 111]

In this concluding chapter I will discuss how a more inclusive reading of Bakhtin, together with a qualified reading of Girard, could contribute towards finding a direction for a practice of psychotherapy inspired by Bakhtinian ethics. The dialogical aspects of Bakhtin have already been widely used to inform theory and practice in psychotherapy as discussed in Chapter Three. In this chapter I will focus on the other aspects of Bakhtin's thinking that I think are the contextual background in which the dialogical should be understood.

As previously discussed, there are many conflicting interpretations of Bakhtin and therefore when using his concepts in psychotherapy there is a need to be explicit about our own chosen interpretation. It is first necessary to return to the difficulties posed about the use of Bakhtin in psychotherapy theory and practice discussed in Chapter One. Two main questions emerged: given the uncertainty about the meaning of Bakhtin's most important concepts, how can psychotherapists justify the use of one meaning over any other? If there is an overall coherence to Bakhtin's works, can psychotherapists selectively appropriate particular concepts without distortion by removal from their wider context?

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CHAPTER FIVE: Interdividual Psychology and the Dialogical Self

Rachel Pollard Karnac Books ePub

In the last chapter I discussed some of the limitations of a Bakhtininspired dialogical model of consciousness for the theory and practice of psychotherapy. It was argued that a dialogical model is far from an exhaustive explanation for human consciousness and is therefore inadequate on its own as a model of psychotherapy. I argued that Girard's theory of mimetic desire offers an alternative account of consciousness that, while it sometimes contradicts, can also complement and supplement the dialogical account.

The dialogical approach is a discursive structural analysis of both external dialogue between people and inner dialogue. Bakhtin's later account of dialogism suggests that human speech cannot be other than dialogic and that even apparently monologic discourse is animated by a concealed or hidden dialogism: as Bakhtin (1981) said, ever since the first word was spoken, words cannot help but be interrelated to other words. However, just as Bakhtin's dialogical analysis of Dostoevsky's novels does not fully convey the complexity, depth or moral purpose of his writing, an analysis of dialogue in psychotherapy does not fully take account of the desires and the moral dilemmas with which the patient and therapist are struggling. What the patient communicates is always more than language alone can convey. In looking only at discourse, the dialogical approach tends to find binary oppositions rather than triangular relationships and significations of difference, rather than sameness. Bakhtin, like most literary critics, used non-literary disciplines as analytical tools to deepen his understanding of Dostoevsky. Girard, however, approached the novels themselves as a source of knowledge. He found that while Dostoevsky wrote about the same issues in his earlier works, his understanding of the motives and meanings involved in his characters’ behaviour deepened in the later works; this could be read as a critical commentary of his early work that reflects his own development as a writer (Douchemel, 1988).

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Bakhtin's Ethics and Psychotherapy

Rachel Pollard Karnac Books ePub

The previous chapter discussed how human interaction and communication is a complex but integrated phenomenon of which language itself is only a part. In focusing only on the dialogical in Bakhtin, psychotherapy misses the full significance of the contextual matrix in which dialogical consciousness is embedded in Bakhtin's thought as a whole, leading to an overly linguistic view of consciousness. The human body was a central and recurring theme in Bakhtin's thought, although he approached it from an ethical and philosophical perspective that is very different to the perspectives discussed in the last chapter. This chapter will discuss a theme that is widely seen as being common to all Bakhtin's writing, which is an ethics of interpersonal relatedness that is grounded in the principle of incarnation, i.e. the Word made flesh. In Bakhtin's thought dialogism is superior to monologism (PDP, pp. 81–82), closed systems of thinking such as abstract theory are inferior to those that are open as a result of human activity (Bakhtin, 1990, 194), the official is inferior to the unofficial, and dogma or fixed codes of any kind, from an ethical perspective, are inferior to the unique and unrepeatable concrete event (Bakhtin, 1993, pp. 23–24). Bakhtin (1990, 1993) is concerned with the particular rather than the general, lived experience rather than abstract ideals. Love and forgiveness in the context of the intimate I and Thou relationship, with what Holquist (1993) identifies as their associated themes of “authoring,” “responsibility,” “outsideness” and “participatory thinking,” are for Bakhtin far more important than the impersonal values of justice or fairness. Bakhtin would have abhorred the blanket generalisations about human subjectivity that passes for “scientific” research in clinical psychology and psychiatry.

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CHAPTER FOUR: Some Limitations of Dialogism as a Model for Psychotherapy

Rachel Pollard Karnac Books ePub

Bakhtin's dialogic conception of self and consciousness, in the context of the growing influence of discursive approaches in psychotherapy, apparently offers an optimistic alternative to post-structuralist accounts in proposing a less alienated account of human self-hood that, as Gardener (1998) argues, while being socially determined also possesses a degree of agency and free will. Rather than focus on the ways in which we are constrained and determined by language, Bakhtin seems to celebrate discourse in a way that suggests that the self has at its disposal the endless creative potential of language. His concepts of polyphony and dialogism apparently complement and inform contemporary progressive agendas of acknowledging, respecting and valuing human cultural difference and diversity.

As well as stressing the diversity of social and cultural life, Bakhtin and Voloshinov emphasise communication as a fundamental and defining feature of the human self and, by implication, the healing potential of dialogue, the intersubjective process of talking, listening, and creating meaning.

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CHAPTER SIX: Towards a Further Integration of Interdividual Psychology and Dialogical Consciousness via Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Linguistics

Rachel Pollard Karnac Books ePub

In the last chapter I discussed in greater detail how Girard's interdividual psychology could contribute to dialogical self theory, while acknowledging that a theory of desire on its own is not a sufficient or adequate basis on which to construct a model of human functioning that could usefully inform psychotherapy. I further argued that while the dialogical model and the interdividual model are complementary accounts that together have the potential for a greater understanding of human functioning and that although both are necessary, neither on their own nor in combination are sufficient. The linguistic turn in psychotherapy that conceives of the self as dialogical is reductive in that it offers a structural analysis of consciousness without adequately accounting for desire or motivation. The scope of interdividual psychology encompasses an apparently exhaustive range of human behaviour and subjective experience but is still inadequate in either accounting for or describing those aspects of human behaviour that are not governed by imitation, rivalry and, competition. In largely confining themselves to the symbolic realm of experience, both models could be said to perpetuate dualistic ways of thinking in that they do not take enough account of the fact all that human experience is embodied experience and therefore of human physiology.

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