Saturday, March 27, 2010

Is Stolorow's Intersubjectivity Intersubjective? Philip Ringstrom in Tampa Bay

Philip Ringstrom delighted the intimate group -- particularly students in attendance from the Tampa Bay Institute of Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc (T-BIPS) who are learning to think critically-- with his critique of Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange’s Worlds of Experience (2002) on Sunday, March 21, 2010 at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. (TBPS). An interesting juxtaposition for Tampa Bay, as Stolorow had recently (Jan 2010) discussed his work in Tampa, this book was currently being read at T-BIPS. Ringstrom also contrasted these authors, who write as if with one voice, to Relational authors who, celebrating difference, write in separate voices.

Stolorow, et al had a theory of intersubjectivity which posited that it was not trauma per se which proved traumatic but instead the absence of attuned responsiveness, along with feeling shamed for one’s reactions to trauma, which proved traumatic. Ringstrom claims that Stolorow, as a result of experiencing his own personal trauma and finding no comfort in the attuned responses from others, had a crisis of theory: Stolorow distinguished attunement not supplied with attunement not felt. Ringstrom thinks Stolorow has a hidden moral agenda, when, after turning to philosophy, particularly Heidegger, Trauma and Human Existence(2007) splits the world into those who have been traumatized, their absolutisms shattered (brothers and sisters in darkness) and therefore, consequently, the only ones awakened to authenticity, and those who have not been traumatized and therefore continue to live in delusion. Stolorow finds the two incommensurable.

Ringstrom finds this incommensurability at odds with intersubjectivity, for intersubjectivity, per Stolorow et al, says all is contextualized. Likewise, if Stolorow et al had previously seen as normal delusions which are protective after the shattering of absolutisms, how now, when these delusions are shattered, do traumatized people become the only ones who are normal/authentic? And if only those who are traumatized can supply, in a kind of twinship, attunement to other victims of trauma, Relational theorists might ask how then does Stolorow’s intersubjectivity confront difference? While Stolorow sees twinship as a consequence of trauma, Ringstrom asks what becomes of Kohut’s idea that there exists an innate longing for twinship? (He refers us to Ilene Philipson’s Pathologizing Twinship.) Ringstrom adds that twinship is also a cult dynamic, splitting ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and sees the us/them mentality as a failure (see Benjamin’s work) of intersubjectivity.

Instead, Ringstrom considers a part of what is traumatic to include the unimaginable. In Heidegger’s being toward death, there is an awareness of death, and the question is whether, at the end of one’s life, one has lived an authentic life or not. Ringstrom referred to the paradox eloquently described by Irwin Hoffmann: that death is both a necessary boundary to ascribe meaning to life and renders life meaningless. Ringstrom cautions against confusing this death anxiety with death trauma. The audience, too, noted the difficulty of taking personal experience and generalizing it to a theory.


Robert said...

I didn't claim absurdly that the worlds of traumatized persons and normals ARE incommensurable. I claimed that these worlds are "FELT TO BE ... incommensurable" (p. 15) by traumatized persons. Ringstrom falsely attributes the dichotomy,"normals versus traumatized persons," to me, neglecting to mention that it was originally formulated by a severely traumatized patient, as described in a little vignette (p. 14). Is this good scholarship or sophistry?

Dr K said...

Sophistry it appears. Your point is very clear Dr Stolorow. Felt to be is the key phrase- Its a shame that so many experienced what might have been an enlightening class were relegated to smoke and mirrors.