Heather Kerr

Therapeutics: some notes for a project...

In making these notes I find myself going back to things I've written/made. I encounter embarassments, but I want to put that feeling to work in the context of a new project. I am trying to imagine working with an aim or motivation that I regard as the "proper monster" of research: therapy. In other words, I want to take seriously Bob Hodge's utopian program for research in the "new Humanities" ("Monstrous Knowledge: doing PhDs in the new humanities" Australian Universities' Review 2 (1995): 35-39; p.37).

	Be open to the monstrous - take especially seriously those problems, beliefs 
	and experiences that are annulled by (`quaint,' `naive,' `unthinkable' in terms 
	of) a dominant discipline, whether they are intractably personal or 
	contaminated by the disreputable demotic or popular, by passion or anger or 
	delight, by the desire to change the world or to dream a new one.

	Be transdisciplinary - follow the curves of a folded disciplinary space, seeing 
	what disciplines are necessarily super-imposed in the common space of 
	your problematic, what the new centre of gravity is that is formed by the 
	intrusion of this density of layered disciplinarity, what is the emergent 
	structure of the transdisciplinary formation.

	Detect the shadow - work with the old prohibitions as well as the new 
	knowledges incorporated into the `field of the true' and made visible by the 
	juxtaposition of disciplines; especially the proper monster, the unspeakable, 
	the forbidden Other of a given discipline.

Perhaps one way to imagine this therapeutic monstrosity is simply to recognise the presumption that to write/make is to be involved in "the business of placing and voicing the subject." In what I'd just call Cultural Studies writing the inscriptive "I" of discourse has taken up residence in the academic essay as a no-longer-problematised marker of reflexivity. Recently I read Jane Yellowlees Douglas's essay "Will the Most Reflexive Relativist Please Stand Up: Hypertext, Argument and Relativism (Ilana Snyder, ed. Page to Screen: Taking Literacy into the Electronic Era. Allen and Unwin, 1997: 144-62). She cites the following remark: "We need to explore more forms of literary expression whereby the monster [reflexivity] can be simultaneously kept at bay and allowed a position at the heart of our enterprise" (p.144). I'm trying to imagine a project that will enact this double effect, to give the reflexive technique an affective dimension, to risk giving "therapy" this un-belonging/settled position at the heart of the enterprise. In order to sketch what this project might entail, I need to recapitulate some earlier embarassing reflexivity, and then place that work in a pedagogic context.

When I came to put these notes together I planned to include a link to my first attempt to imagine the space of electronic writing practice, a script of a talk given at Ngapartji, a local multimedia centre, in 1997. In that work I described an HTML project called "Fictocriticism: dream mother" (still unfinished) and deployed the Bachelardian oxymoron "intimate immensity" to conceive of the electronic writing space as an environment well suited to the compressed intensities of poetry and the surrealist conjunction of image and text. The electronic environment was to be a resource for contemplation. I imagined this as an alternative or parallel aesthetic, probably secondary to the proliferation of hypertext narratives online. I am now faced with a number of embarassments that I want to use. Firstly, the lecture script was no longer archived but the "test for deletion," the temporary, first attempt, the all too monstrous fictocritical poem "dream mother" <www.ngapartji.com.au/writers> had made itself at home. I remember using the experience of a few classes in HTML coding as the occasion upon which to begin the "task of mourning." Something about the protracted technical labour worked both to disguise and enable this anguish. The result has all the clunky effects of an adventure in "occupational therapy." 1997 turned out to be full of (embarassing) technical feats of grief. What they showed me was the ethical requirement of using our particular feelings as a model for "technologies of the self" that, however "quaint, naive," or "disreputable," can turn us towards others.

I think "mystory" is a good example of modelling relays between registers, which is an important requirement of looking past yourself. Obviously the resources of hypertext writing offer another medium for such relays. When I work with undergraduates on electronic writing practice I include hypertext and multimedia work in an array of techniques. In my Honours level subject "Studies in the Essay: Poststructuralist Writing,"for example,the aim of the course is to ask

	how poststructuralist models of partial, situated knowledges and multiple 
	speaking positions have changed our understanding of the object and 
	practice of criticism in the "New Humanities." What does the discipline of 
	"English" contribute to the practices of paraliterature, para-aesthetics, 
	fictocriticism, postcriticism, mystory, and hypertextual/electronic writing?  
	What are the politics of text and commentary when "mastery" is suspect 
	and "liberation" in doubt?

I usually add what Du Plessis would call "female aesthetic" ("For the Etruscans"), or what might also go by the name of French Feminisms, to that cluster of models and methods. I like students to find their own point of departure, to write about what matters to them and to find a form to say it, all the while grappling with the big Cultural Studies questions of "who can speak? What can they say?" (Everything in the shadow of the "modesty" tropes familiar in post- criticism). In their electronic writing practice or in what is often simply a design for a work, I tend to ask them to imagine it as a modest but passionate enterprise, something like Paul Hetherington's model of the "scrapbook" as prototype for (it would seem) a hypertextual mystory ("Re-inventing the Storyteller: Multimedia as a Creative Tool." The Book Idea, Papers from the second national book summit, National Book Council, 1995, 26,27). And, as they are to work in what I think is a more poetic than narrative technique, I ask them to think less about endless story and more about text/image conjunctions and the various rhetorics of the web. I ask them to think about the different functions and effects of links, just as we also consider the different functions and effects of the spaces between fragments in a textual collage/montage. And we have to think about what kinds of critical vocabularies are appropriate in the electronic environment (lately Nicholas Burbules' essay "Rhetorics of the Web: hyperreading and critical literacy", in Snyder, Page to Screen, 102-122, has been useful for thinking about both techniques).

So what about this "therapy" effect? Obviously some students choose to work on difficult and potentially embarassing topics; illness and the status of "experience" in feminist discourses; depression and its debilitating/enabling connection to producing good grades; dependencies; abuses; intolerable dreams; conflicted sexualities; all these have been the focus for mystorical work. I have in mind "therapy" as metaphor; perhaps even "therapy" as a metaphoric way of labelling the familiar post-Romantic critical paradigm. When I imagine the electronic work as a vehicle for contemplative thought I have to admit that I have simply imported a kind of Kantian (or should that be Hegelian?) aesthetic into the electronic environment. By this I mean that the category of "contemplation" is a characteristic of the "therapeutic" dimension of institutional "literary" education: the promotion of a self-conscious interiority as part of the formation of autonomous ethical subjects. As with "English" so would "electracy" be expected to function as a course in aesthetics understood as a "technology of the self."

I have in mind here Ian Hunter's work on aesthetico-ethical traditions (for example, "Aesthetics and Cultural Studies" in Grossberg, et al, eds. Cultural Studies, 1992:347-67; Rethinking the School 1994), especially his treatment of the dialectical tension between "thought" and "feeling," in the "literary exercise." Two aspects come to mind: the incitement to recognise oneself as a split subject, and the encouragement to heal this division between the sensuous and the analytic modes in a "work on the self" aimed at an unreachable goal of personal and aesthetic reconciliation. I want to keep in mind Hunter's suggestion that we recognise the limited and effective emancipatory potential of the "literary" classroom, a "supervisory media" grounded in a "complex pastoral relation between teacher and student ("Four Anxieties About English," Southern Review 29.1 (1996): 4-18: 6). Further, I want to reflect on the possibility that "classroom" electronic practice in specific context of the "English" discipline today is also witness to the more general conjunction/convergence of this pastoral, "aesthetico-critical" tradition (extolling pleasures and desires) and a much older linguistically oriented rhetorical pedagogy (extolling competencies for vocational or civic purposes). When I compare the examples of Burbules and Brent's "rhetorics of the web" with my model of the electronic writing space as a space of contemplation, or with Ross Gibson's claim that he's "interested in a meditative potential for the CD-ROM...quite literally...something like poetry" (interview in Practice 3: 1998: 4), I recognise the polarities between which our practices oscillate: "between the linguistic and the literary, the civic and the introspective, the vocational and the personal" (16). I have merely subsumed electronic practice into an aesthetico-ethical paradigm that can easily accommodate Bachelard's phenomenological "intimate immensity" on the literary/introspective/personal axis. But rather than flee this (modestly embarassing) recognition, I have wanted this "therapeutic" tendency to start work in another direction. I decided to look at the urge to "make a difference" for others that is the more acceptable and public aim of various emancipatory discourses taken up by students in the "literary" classroom (especially postcolonialisms, and often feminisms, for example).

Wanting to keep the "monster" of reflexivity at bay and simultaneously to allow feelings a position at the heart of the enterprise, I have been writing about the interplay of technique and feeling in Cultural Studies writing focussed on black/white relations in Australia. I have examined the allegorical impulses that attend the aesthetics/ethics of textual collage, discursive bricolage, and kinds of montage effect. I have asked what might be the relationship between this "cut and paste" technique and the recent turn to "tone" or "affect," in particular the search for a "poetics" that might supplement mimeticist discourse"? I have examined some examples of writing that seems to reject the spatialities of montage for the affective imperative of "elegy" and have argued that the apparent "anti-method" of "feelings" is intimately connected to its formalist partner, montage. The extravagance of the elegaic is the proper monster of "cut and paste."

My aim was to explore the ways in which white commentators choose to represent their desire to "meet the Other face to face," as Levinas puts it. I focussed this work on representations of the conjunction of a black woman and a white baby in two recent essays (Gail Jones, "Thaumotropes," in The Space Between: Australian Women Writing Fictocriticism, ed Kerr and Nettelbeck, Univ of Western Australia P, 1998: 98-114. Rod Moss, "Elegy," The UTS Review 3:2 142-8). Jones's reflexive commentary on her childhood dream/fantasy of having an Aboriginal mother, together with Moss's un-selfconscious expression of grief for an Aboriginal friend (photographed holding his daughter), clearly resonate for me as images of simultaneous un-belonging/dwelling. I see this turn to "affect" as an extension of the principled stance of the engaged (post)critic.

I have been working on ways of bringing the "embarassing" category of therapy into work on what I've been calling "melancholy histories." These would be relays between the discourses attached to "technologies of the self" and those attached to postcolonial thought, (post)identities. So I have decided to start looking at the writing coming from the school of "Narrative Therapy," and to conjoin this with the therapeutic metaphoric described by Leela Ghandi in her critical introduction to Postcolonial Theory (Allen and Unwin, 1998: 1-22).

	If postcoloniality can be described as a condition troubled by the 
	consequences of a self-willed historical amnesia, then the theoretical 
	value of postcolonialism inheres, in part, in its ability to elaborate the 
	forgotten memories of its condition.  In other words, the colonial aftermath 
	calls for an ameliorative and therapeutic theory which is responsive to 
	the task of remembering and recalling the colonial past.  The work of this 
	theory may be compared with what Lyotard describes as the 
	psychoanalytic procedure of anamnesis, or analysis - which urges 
	patients "to elaborate their current problems by freely associating 
	apparently inconsequential details with past situations  -  allowing 
	them to uncover hidden meanings in their lives and their behaviour"...In 
	adopting this procedure, postcolonial theory inevitably commits itself to a 
	complex project of historical and psychological "recovery."  If its 
	scholarly task inheres in the carefully researched retrieval of historical detail,
	it has an equally compelling political obligation to assist the subjects of 
	postcoloniality to live with the gaps and fissures of their condition, and 
	thereby learn to proceed with self-understanding. 

While it might ask a bit much of "theory" to do all this therapeutic labour, this project is enacted in a quite literal way on a number of fronts. I have been reading, for example, "Other Wisdoms, Other Worlds: Colonisation and Family Therapy" ( a special issue of the Dulwich Centre Newsletter 1 (1993)) which documents the sharing of stories between Canadian, New Zealand, Pacific Island and Australian Aboriginal/First Nation peoples, including the "collision of meanings which take place when we try to impose our notions of Western therapy on indigenous people" (3). I want to start looking more particularly at the different ways in which Aboriginal Australians tell their stories in electronic media. I want to think about the ways in which a therapeutic ambition is manifested in this "contact zone." Especially the way white people take up enabling roles, transferring technical how-to rather than suggesting what to make/say. It seems important to pay attention to the potential "collision" of aims, contexts, technologies.

In fact this "colliding" effect was a feature of one of the first works about "contact" that I saw: Simon Pockley's thesis, "The Flight of Ducks " Pockley's work is a kind of mirror image of the material I want to examine, in the sense that here the stories of Aboriginal experience on the missions in the early part of this century are only imaginable, left unspoken, in the gaps between the vast array of archival material documenting anthropological/ethnographic survey work undertaken, in part, by Pockley's father. "The Flight of Ducks " is a kind of mystorical enactment of an oedipal relation, on the one hand attempting to redeploy the genre of the "epic " in a postmodern context, on the other scrupulously archiving the email correspondence with Aboriginal communities. Along with some Aboriginal commentators, my students tend to find the convergence of painful histories with Pockley's agonistic relation to the father highly problematic. For all Pockley's best efforts at introducing "warnings " about "culturally sensitive material, " my students ask why he shows any of it at all. This is a debate I will have to enter into elsewhere. On this occasion I want to recall that "The Flight of Ducks " lead me to ask what kind of presence, what kinds of stories Aboriginal people are telling in electronic media?

I had read about Heather Goodall "s project, a CD-ROM version of "Angledool Stories, " a collaboration with Aboriginal community members from north west NSW. In her reflexive essay she remarks "I am attempting to find out how useful `new technologies' such as IMM might be in addressing some of the problems I have found so persistent when working on Aboriginal-white colonial relations " ( "Working with History: Experiments in Aboriginal History and Hypermedia, " The UTS Review 2.1(1996): 43-57; 45). I had visited the Cockatoo Creek exhibition at the South Australian Museum, in which an anthropological expedition of the 1930s is recontextualised by the addition of specially commissioned new paintings, maps, objects from the same region. On one wall the archival material, including an old film of tool making and hunting practices, in the middle of the room a huge floor-map painted by current members of the Cockatoo Creek community, and on the other wall a data-projector for the CD- ROM "Yanardilyi Cockatoo Creek " (Tanami Network 1998). I had sent my students to experience this space and to explore the concurrent exhibition of Aboriginal nets in order to start imagining the shape of their electronic work, literalising their metaphors, using the net as an object to think with.

In the exhibition of Aboriginal nets I was drawn particularly to an old photograph of an Aboriginal man looking directly, even blankly at the camera, a heavy looking, open meshed net draped over his head and body. This was described as a communal task of mourning undertaken for the man whose net it had been. Thinking about that image (suspecting I should resist any identification with it), thinking about Pockley's site, and exploring the kinds of work that use metaphors of colonisation as (epic) allegories of knowledge, I want to remind myself that the therapeutic dimension of a phenomenological ethics has been articulated already. "To meet the Other face to face means I must leave my egocentricity behind... "

	To allow the Other to be means to let someone speak independently, 
	apart from any other aim we have in regard to that person.  We cannot 
	place the Other in our own light, and incorporate the Other into our own 
	story... (Steven Gans,  "Levinas and Pontalis: Meeting the Other as in a 
	Dream. "  The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other, ed. 
	Bernasconi and Wood, 1988; 86)

It seems very difficult for the white commentator, the teacher, the therapist, to resist this "casting ", this "incorporation. " Goodall seems awake to this, even if Pockley can't follow through on its implications: we have some "other aim " that destroys the "possibility of meeting." I think this incorporation of the Other into our own story has happened in Josie Arnold's project, described in an essay in Practice 2 (1997): 19-26 ( "Cyberfeminism: Colonising Cyberspace with Feminist Poetics"). Describing her CD-ROM project "Oz 21: Australia's Cultural Dreaming," Arnold speaks of a convergence between French Feminist theory and "Aboriginal mapping " in a model of cyberfeminism. A further development is an electronic writing space (not available last time I looked), described by Arnold as "a cyberpost for writing towards reconciliation with Aboriginal people ". This is in response to Mick Dodson's unchallengeable ideal that white people must yearn for reconciliation as much as Aboriginal people. The idea is that fictional writing relating white people's ideas about reconciliation is available via " http://www.ld.swin.edu.au/LSM201 " (26). (See also the on-line essay "Cybercolonisation is women's business: Writing as a feminist in the new electronic medium" and another useful essay on "teaching and learning in on-line mode" also on the Swinburne "staff" site).

The silence that the white commentator/critic, however modest, may have to tolerate is a silence that would come with listening (not the silence of the "failure to speak out" that is politically inappropriate in the postcolonial discursive context). In "The Other and Psychotherapy" (The Provocation of Levinas, p.14), John Heaton offers a formulation that I want to think more about - as a model for the "rhetorics of the web," for the kind of interrupted stories suggested by that photograph of the mourning net, and for the idea of a silently-listening- postcritical modesty approriate to the white commentator for a while. (Heaton is quoting Levinas, Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, p.170).

	The said thematizes the interrupted dialogue or the dialogue delayed by 
	silences, failure or delerium, but the intervals are not recuperated.  Does 
	not the discourse that suppresses the interruptions of discourse by 
	relating them maintain the discontinuity under the knots with which the 
	thread is tied again?

I want to spend some time listening to the stories Aboriginal people have to tell. I am still getting to know the range of material that comes to hand when you ask "Where are all the Aboriginal Homepages?" In two important essays John Hobson offers an analysis of "the current Indigenous Australian presence on the WWW" and some "Strategies for Building an Indigenous Australian Cybercommunity: The Koorinet Project" Linked to the very comprehensive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander WWW Resource Directory are over 250 sites (thanks to Russell Smith for research assistance on this project). It seems useful to remember that "identity" is a kind of trope: " identity tends to hypostasise meanings, to freeze them, by suggesting that core meanings resist changing context."

	On the Web, such associations tend to draw lines of connection through 
	pages, from different countries, like a net unifying the surface multiplicity 
	of Web content and contexts.  Beneath the particular instantiations of 
	such an association is a figure of interwoven unity and 
	commonality... (Burbules, "Rhetorics of the Web," p.115)

As a metaphor for a kind of "dwelling," the homepage seems to offer a place of "relatedness" a "belonging" that is necessary in the context of a history of forced homelessness. (An aside: this metaphoric is regularly examined in relation to diasporic communities on the web, but I haven't read anything about this in the context of Australian politics yet. Even an outline for a doctoral thesis in Politics recently submitted for assessment failed to mention electronic imagined communities in relation to "Aboriginal Representations of Political Identity." It might be possible to put Ken Gelder and Jane Jacob's Uncanny Australia (Allen and Unwin, 1998) to work in regard to this un-homeliness.)

In the context of my interest in electronic practices as technologies of the self, the contemplative paradigm, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems relatively unimportant in the Aboriginal uses of the medium, though Blakkweer, <www.culture.com.au/scan/boomalli/blakkweer/frames.html>, does some good work with aesthetico-ethical self-consciousness and identity politics. Pekin Yalkin is another site engaged with questions of representation in electronic media. The trope of "identity" enables the Resource Directory to effect a series of linkings, temporarily making a "dwelling" that is "the necessary and sufficient context for analytic  -  therapeutic or ethical relatedness" (Gans, in The Provocation of Levinas, p.88). The Resource Directory of Aboriginal sites might be a place for listening to local and particular instances of what postcolonial theory and psychotherapeutic practice are asked to perform: "both seek to subvert and transform cultivated violence into living celebration" (Gans, p.83).

Using the Directory it is possible to move between the melancholy histories of settler-culture missionary zeal and Aboriginal school projects in which junior students write about coming to know and represent their experience of those histories.

In the light of these stories, my model of electronic writing space as a poetic and surreal aesthetic of "intimate immensity" seems helpfully reduced to a more modest applicability. Embarassing, or irritating, to find an essay in which this model is advanced as an alternative to the narrative focus of  "narrative therapy": "Unique Outcomes or Intimate Immensity" (Carole Kayrooz, Dulwich Centre Newsletter 2 (1992): 35-40. Her essay privileges the aesthetic as a transcendental category, an "art" opposed to the "craft" of therapy. I would rather be reminded that the local and provisional technologies, the craft-work of story, theory, hypertext, poetry, therapy, postcolonialism, the English literature classroom, can be modestly, provisionally, temporarily effective. But they are ethics, practices, protocols, and therefore will bear repetition and transformation in differing contexts and for differing needs. Techno-evangelists, aesthetico- transcendentalists (and even, as Hunter argues, critical pedagogues) should at least recognise that there are "Problems with the Missionary Position." When making electronic mystories and other projects it seems, at this stage of my research at least, that Aboriginal work is more interested in the rhetorical, civic and vocational axis of the pedagogic scene. I notice too that their work avoids the accusation of deploying electronic environments for the purposes of what Margaret Morse calls "salvage anthropology which seeks to preserve disappearing behaviours and decaying or dispersed artifacts" ("Nature Morte...," Immersed in Technology, Art and Virtual Environments, ed Moser and MacLeod, MIT Press, 1996, p. 203). Instead they represent "behaviours" and "artifacts" that we are invited to see being put to work in the present, <www.nexus.edu.au/Schools/ernabella/web/c3.htm>.

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