THREE. Perspectivism, pragmatism, group analysis

Foulkes wrote little on his philosophy, and what there is dispersed and suggestive rather than systematic (Cohn, 1996). This is consistent with a man who travelled light regarding theory and whose pragmatic approach resulted in his keeping a distance from any overarching viewpoint. Dahlin (1991) contends that, "Foulkes might have not felt the need for a covering metatheory. Consequently, he never composed one and left the problem to his followers" (p. 28). Is this a weakness, the consequence of an absence of theory, or a strength, a refusal to be bound by the omnipotence of "one" theory? This chapter favours the latter view, seeing it as advantageous that Foulkes did not anchor group analysis to a master perspective or any single foundation, but by the same token, group analysis cannot be a theoretical and nor can it afford complacency about its existence and need for development (Weegmann, 2004b). Unfortunately, perhaps, group analysis moved rather slowly away from its parent discipline, psychoanalysis, in its quest to develop new models of understanding and languages with which to characterise group life. Foulkes' loyalty to psychoanalysis, even "loss of nerve", may have inhibited attempts to draw upon other potential models or to exploit them more fully (Dalal, 1998; Stacey, 2003). If group analysis stands in need of new developments and ways of conceptualising and researching its practice, then philosophical perspectives are one way of prompting this.

Several commentators have explored links between group analysis and philosophy, the first major attempt being that of de Mare (1972). Since then, other connections have been examined, such as the compatibility between Foulkes' ideas and those of the existential-phenomenological tradition (e.g., Cohn, 1996; Cohn, 1997; Diamond, 1996; Gordon, 1991; Maglo, 2002), links to Bakhtin's philosophy of dialogue (Pines, 1996a; Zinkin, 1996), and to Wittgenstein's philosophy of language (Cooper, 1996; Wyse, 1996). So far, however, no one has addressed what group analysis could learn from the philosophies of Nietzsche and Dewey, a surprising fact in the light of the interest that has been shown in the links between such thinkers and individual psychoanalysis (e.g., Goldberg, 2000, 2002 & 2007; Mace, 1999; Orange, 1995; Rorty, 2000).

As one of the nineteenth-century "masters of suspicion", Nietzsche came to see the whole enterprise of philosophy as interpretation (Deutung) and moving picture, rather than a special view or privileged vantage point (Ricoeur, 1970). In this sense, Nietzsche was a profound radical and sceptic, his image of philosophy different to the classical romance of philosophy as "mirror of nature" and its quest for "true representation" (Rorty, 1980). Dewey's pragmatism is equally far-reaching. Although "pragmatism" has acquired connotations of expediency and mere practicality, Dewey rejected divides between theory and practice and did not think that by rejecting supposed "ultimate foundations", philosophy would usher in a mirror opposite of "anything goes"; we still need, in his view, rigour and the demands of what he called "warranted assert-ability". Here, I characterise Dewey's approach as one of "principled, reflective inquiry", which, like Nietzsche's perspectivism, has a rich import for understanding the psychic life of therapeutic groups.

Nietzsche's perspectivism

The human intellect cannot avoid seeing itself in its own perspective forms and only in these. We cannot look around our own corner. (Nietzsche, 1882, p. 239)

Nietzsche's output is extensive, as are the many traditions that have engaged with this work (see Sedgwick's 1995 overview, and Stern's 1978 introduction). We shall confine ourselves to Nietzsche's perspectival view of knowing and being, a fraction of his output, even though it can be argued that the perspectival spirit pervades his work as a whole, however inconsistent in his use of it he might have been. In biographical terms, Nietzsche dramatically displaced the perspective of his family and social heritage—the Christian religion, the world view of his zealous Protestant pastor father, and the expectation that he, too, would follow in the paths of the several clergymen in his family ancestry. In this regard, his famed ability to deconstruct the dominant rationalist and theistic paradigms of his time could, in part, be viewed as a personal struggle for self-invention/repair, a will-to-be-different (Arnold & Atwood, 2000; Hollinsdale, 1996; Hoover, 1994). Nietzsche (1882) was acutely aware, however, that as human beings move away from the familiar, structuring horizons of life (e.g., a religious outlook), anxiety follows, expressed exquisitely in relation to his own anti-Christian project: "Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained the earth from its sun? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all direction? Are we not straying as though through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of an empty space? Has it not become colder?" (p. 119).

Nietzsche had no patience with classical metaphysical doctrines, including the distinction between a "phenomenal reality" (mere appearance) and a supposedly "transcendental reality" (essential order) which lies behind it. He believed that philosophers had set themselves apart, stationed themselves in contemplative isolation, "before life and experience ... as though before a painting which is once and for all time unrolled" (1881, p. 19). There can be, he argued, no abstract "problem of knowledge", but only the production of knowledges in the plural, which are bound up with use and the wish to master some domain of reality. Coplestone (1965) clarifies Nietzsche's notion about human desires to impose order on chaos, ordering the world: "reality is Becoming: it is we who turn it into Being, imposing stable patterns on the flux of Becoming. And this activity is an expression of the Will to Power" (p. 183). In this sense Nietzsche privileged transience, contingency, multiplicity, and flow, above the fixed and categorical; in his view, it is only through human, linguistic activities and forms that we are lured into thinking this is the one picture, the true word, the real world. Perspectivism refuses such stopping points and conclusions, no "world left over once you have taken away the perspective" (Nietzche, 1967a, p. 567). Hoover (1994) advances the interesting idea that Nietzsche reverses Locke's famous thesis, in so far as it is not the mind but the world that is tabula rasa, awaiting our constructions, our "scrawl". In this view, every thought is part of a living perspective on the world, an exegesis, and each word is dependent on another, a further view, a "prejudice", if one will, which we cannot get out of in order to find the one "true" perspective. Thus, for Nietzsche, "There is only seeing from a perspective, only a 'knowing' from a perspective ." (1887, p. 107).[1] Hence, convinced about processes of "becoming" and the role of "will" in shaping the world, Nietzsche radically displaced the classical philosophical, static notion of "reality".

Axiomatic to Nietzsche's approach is the idea that experience of is an experience from and that this from, this "somewhere", is inscribed in perspective. As all interpretation issues within perspective, he saw no possibility of an external viewpoint or of a correspondence with ultimate reality. To say this, however, does not mean that all perspectives are equal; a pragmatist before pragmatism, as it were, Nietzsche maintained that some perspectives are better, simply more useful, than others. Context and aim ("will") are paramount, so that whereas poetry is of no value to the building of a bridge compared to engineering, engineering offers no praise in its final, aesthetic form, unlike poetry (Hatab, 1999). Perspectives are more than mere cognitive frames, as existence and the passions of daily living are intimately bound to them. Humans are constructed within perspectives, multiple meanings, which are continually shifting, overlapping, and transferring around us (Granier, 1985a). All human activities and distinctions have an interpretive character, so it is not merely a question of different ways of seeing, but also of different ways of being, the "perspectival character of existence" (Nietzsche, 1882, p. 239). We construe with passion, we hold on to myths, and we fight within perspectives, holding possessively to our version of "truth". Further, we do not hold to perspective in isolation, but in opposition and contrast to perspectives held by others; Nietzsche's enigmatic, often reductive "Will to Power" concept is still a relational term, signaling obstacles, fields of force, and overcoming.

Nietzsche was deeply drawn to the role of models, metaphors, and the inherently "concealing" effects of language, linking this to how human practice constructs life, the matters that we live by (Nehamas, 1985). Philosophy had, he argued, always used, but denied, its basis in metaphor and figural representations. Nietzsche rejected simple oppositions of concealed/revealed, literal/literary, which, in his view, stemmed from a nostalgic desire ("will") for the "true word" and "thing-in-itself" (Derrida, 1976; Kofman, 1993; Nietzsche, 1886). Language is integral perspectival equipment, cementing human self-images and fictions: "In all our language we give expression to our relative view of things and project that view onto life" (Houlgate, 1986, p. 47; emphasis in the original). Metaphor is constitutive, not secondary, and so language infinitely thickens perspective to the point at which perspective appears inevitable and eternal. The metaphorical is seen and experienced as literal, whilst the "forgetting" or dying of old metaphors is regarded as the result of perspectival shifts which renders a previous view obsolete (Kofman, 1993; Rorty, 1989). It is through such processes that dominant meanings come to reign, the power of the actual. As Nietzsche (1967b) poetically asserted, "What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations that have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten they are illusions; they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metals and no longer coins" (p. 467).

  • [1] Nietzsche"s perspectivism is, of course, open to challenge, not least because of his inconsistencies. Houlgate (1986) explores this and poses the apt question, does Nietzsche regard his own (Dionysian, irrationalist) perspective as the privileged (even if, in societal terms, an "untimely") one? Danto (1980) presents an analysis of the radicalism and inherent tensions of Nietzsche's perspectivism.
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