Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Whose Story Is It, Anyway? an Interdisciplinary Approach to Postmodernism, Narrative, and Therapy

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Whose Story Is It, Anyway? an Interdisciplinary Approach to Postmodernism, Narrative, and Therapy

Article excerpt

This essay examines the increasing influence of postmodern thinking in literary studies and psychology. It explores, both theoretically and through case studies from both fields, the increasing convergence between the two discourses.

Postmodernism is often characterized as provoking a sort of "anything goes" aesthetic, a relativistic chaos, an abandonment of shared ideals. However, beyond this frequently derogatory reaction, postmodernism suggests a multiplicity of more constructive meanings. For many critics, the term provides a convenient, if problematic, rubric for social, economic, and cultural trends that in many respects represent a resistance to various forms of constraint--social, artistic, and otherwise. In this synoptic essay, we examine what we take to be promising possibilities offered by postmodern insights and their thematic convergence in our distinct fields: psychotherapy and literary criticism. More specifically, we explore the ways in which what might be called the democratization of interpretation in our two disciplines expands the audience for non-expert readings, namely those of readers and therapeutic clients.

As scholars working in very different areas, we are intrigued by the convergence of metaphors in contemporary literature (including literary criticism) and psychotherapy as the disciplines have, over the past few decades, increasingly attended to the historical and cultural dimensions of meaning-making. It is probably fair to say that psychology, a discipline where positivism still reigns supreme, has been slower than literary studies to recognize the complexity of textual interpretation. However, contemporary psychological theory displays a growing interest in the linguistic aspect of psychology, suggesting some striking thematic overlap between postmodern theorizing in psychology and much contemporary literary criticism. These include, among many others, a mutual interest in subjectivity, narrative and textuality, and social construction.

In this essay, we propose that, contrary to the depiction of postmodernism by its detractors as symptomatic of an era of post-industrial malaise and aimless moral relativism, there is much that is hopeful and even therapeutic in its developments. After laying out some of the contributions and controversies associated with postmodern theorizing in these two fields, we ground them in the discussion of two specific texts: one the "text" of a therapeutic client's life, and the other Timothy Findley's novel Headhunter. We argue that postmodernism's embrace of multiplicity and contingency opens texts to alternate interpretations that may be beneficial to clients and readers alike; and, furthermore, that this emancipatory potential may be problematized but certainly not rendered invalid by postmodernism's emphasis on relativism and indeterminacy.

For some time now, psychology and literary studies have been in the throes of a remarkable upheaval, a re-examination of their basic premises. A central feature of this sea change is the critique of positivism and empiricism--a movement away from essentialist and foundationalist premises. In literary studies, under the influence of reader-response criticism, semiotics, deconstruction, and various other strains of literary theory, the emphasis has shifted from literary "works" and their authors to "texts" and their readers. In the process, interpretation has become democratized and relativized, no longer the revelation of a fixed, immutable, transcultural significance.

This trend is also evident in contemporary psychological theory--not merely in Lacanian poststructural psychoanalysis, but also in a range of social constructionist, narrative, and discursive movements that replace scientific metaphors with a literary sensibility. However, our interest here extends beyond the textual dimension that increasingly links these two domains. We also highlight their shared challenge to traditional hierarchies and to the authority of their respective expert interpreters, the psychotherapist and the literary critic. …

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