Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Supplements of the Self: Tracing a Deconstructive Humanism

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Supplements of the Self: Tracing a Deconstructive Humanism

Article excerpt

Influenced by the philosophy of Derrida, the authors present deconstructive humanism as a postmodern lens for humanistic counseling. In this article, the authors describe the basic elements of this perspective and offer initial implications for counseling practice.


At first blush, humanistic counseling has little to do with postmodernist philosophy. Heidegger's (1947/2008) reproach of humanism, Derrida's (1981) challenge of the self as the locus of meaning, and Foucault's (1994) observation that man is a recent creation and will soon "disappear again" each render the role of human experience untenable. Indeed, postmodern philosophy often entails an antihumanistic posture and a shift toward broader social and cultural contexts. Human feelings, thoughts, and experiences seem lost in the discursive shuffle, swept up in a system of signs and meanings that restrict the range of personal possibilities.

Alternatively, postmodern philosophy offers diverse and fragmented stories concerning the nature of the self and the role of human experience. An anti-humanist version of postmodernism, although certainly evident in select philosophical texts (see Foucault, 1994), does not represent the last word on the subject of the self. Indeed, Derrida's (1967/2011) deconstructive philosophy exhibits traces of Husserl's (1913/1999) phenomenological explorations of the self. Despite the prefix "post" designating a break or divergence from the modem emphasis on a human essence, the self does not wholly disappear from the postmodern narrative. Human experience, within specific postmodern writings, remains present, yet opened up to others, social practices, cultural contexts, and the environment.

The term postmodern has been used to describe advances in art or architecture, an anything-goes caricature of human subjectivity, or French avant-garde intellectualism. To prevent misunderstandings and to curtail the scope of the current endeavor, we chose to formulate our thesis for a postmodern humanism in the oft-referenced yet sorely misunderstood postmodern philosophy of deconstruction. Deconstruction radically opens up the self to myriad interpretations and experiences as consistent with postmodern thought, but at no time does it completely close or empty out the humanistic conception of self. Using the analogy of cracking a nut, Caputo (1997) wrote, "Wherever deconstruction finds a nutshell--a secure axiom or a pithy maxim--the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquility.... One might even say that cracking nutshells is what deconstruction is" (p. 32, emphasis in original).

Delving into the philosophy of deconstruction skips to the end of a lengthy text in the history of philosophy. To do justice to the concept of deconstruction, a comprehensive background in the progression of philosophical ideas is warranted. However, space and time constraints preclude an adequate historical articulation in the current manuscript. Suffice it to say that Derrida's (1981) account of deconstruction unfolds on the heels of Husserl's (1913/1999) meditations overcoming the subject/object dichotomy and Heidegger's (1927/1996) explorations of being-in-the-world, which likewise transcended the dualistic paradigm. When Derrida enters the scene, the Cartesian ego--or the self who masters private thoughts, emotions, and cognitions--is a relic of the past, at least in the philosophical world.

Counseling, at least as it is conceived, developed, and practiced in the United States, inherited Cartesian dualism between mind and body, self and world. The self is understood as an isolated individual containing thoughts, feelings, and values that are "locked up" in his or her head, which must be accessed in and through the counseling process. Husserl's (1913/1999) descriptions of the intentional connections that interweave the self and the objects of experience are markedly absent in counseling theory and practice, and Heidegger's (1927/1996) notion of "worldhood" has barely scratched the surface of Cartesian solipsism. …

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