Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Seeing Our Selves. Raymond Tallis conducts Inner Circle Seminar 250 (9 June 2019)

Seeing Our Selves

Raymond Tallis
conducts Inner Circle Seminar No. 250
introduced by Anthony Stadlen
Sunday 9 June 2019
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Raymond Tallis 
Raymond Tallis is one of our best-loved invited speakers. Today he conducts his sixth Inner Circle Seminar (his first was on 2 December 2012).

He has shown in five profound Inner Circle Seminars that he is one of the world’s leading demystifiers of what he calls the ‘neuroscience delusion’ (‘neuromania’) and the ‘intellectual plague of biologism’ (‘animalism’). His ruthless, good-humoured exposure of reductive natural-scientism continues the tradition of Heidegger and  Szasz, for example, but is utterly his own. Psychotherapists are free to choose to go on pretending to be ‘validated’ by ‘neuroscience’; but their work, such as it is, sometimes radically transforming and helpful, sometimes best passed over in silence, speaks for itself, and no pseudo-scientific ‘validation’ can disguise this.

Raymond Tallis is one of the select few who affirms and advocates the devoted use of devotedly human language to depict and describe the human world and human relationships.

In his book Logos Professor Tallis exposes the absurdity of the argument that evolutionary biology or neuroscience show that our thinking is merely a function of our bodies-as-objects-for-science and therefore can have no truth-value of its own unless it is in some way itself derived from evolutionary biology or neuroscience, which are taken to be ‘objectively true. But those sciences are themselves human creations, and therefore, by this argument, not ‘objectively true. Professor Tallis remarks that those who use this argument are worthy successors of the Cretan of old who said all Cretans were liars.

In todays seminar he focusses on the so-called problem of the self . 

Raymond Tallis writes about todays seminar:

‘Many, perhaps most, contemporary philosophers and psychologists are suspicious of the idea of the self, dismissing it as either a hangover from the soul discussed by theologians or from discredited Cartesian thought. The seminar will address these concerns. It will then develop a notion of the self and of personal identity. While this will encompass memory particularly autonoetic memory and enduring psychological faculties and traits, the role of self-affirmation will be emphasized. The account of the self will also emphasize the irreducibly interpersonal dimension of the self: how selves and worlds are mutually constructed.

For an account of how Raymond Tallis writes his extraordinary books, see his article ‘My writing day: In my favourite pub, the staff turn down the speaker in my writing corner’, in The Guardian Review of 29 April 2017:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/29/my-writing-day-raymond-tallis

Raymond Tallis was a Professor of Geriatric Medicine and consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly. He has published two hundred research articles in the neurology of old age and neurological rehabilitation, as well as a novel, short stories, three volumes of poetry, and thirty books on philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art, and cultural criticism. He has received many awards and honorary degrees. In 2009, the Economist listed him as one of the world’s twenty leading polymaths.

Nicholas Fearn wrote in The Independent:

When Kirsty Young was asked to name her favourite guest on Desert Island Discs, the rock star Paul Weller was beaten into second place, for her own luxury item would be the writer Raymond Tallis.

Raymond Tallis, whose fifth Inner Circle Seminar this will be, kindly confirms that our seminar structure, in which dialogue is of the essence, enables him to communicate and reflect on his ideas. He wrote, after his first Inner Circle Seminar, The Intellectual Plague of Biologism, on 2 December 2012:

The seminar was for me an incredible experience. I have never previously had the opportunity to discuss the topics we covered in such depth with a group of people who came at it from such different angles but in a way that I found illuminating. I learned a lot. It was a tremendous privilege.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

Laing & Esterson. 12. What have we learned? Hilary Mantel and Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 249 (19 May 2019)

Laing and Esterson
Sanity, Madness and the Family
50 Years On
12. What have we learned from the eleven families?

Dame Hilary Mantel   Anthony Stadlen
conduct
Inner Circle Seminar No. 249
Sunday 19 May 2019
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Aaron Esterson
R. D. Laing



Hilary Mantel

This utterly straightforward book is still not understood today, especially by ‘professionals’.

But Hilary Mantel, who gained courage to become a novelist through reading it when she was nearly twenty-one, understood it. She urged readers: ‘Just read the simple words the people speak.’ In eleven seminars we have had a unique opportunity actually to hear and discuss with Hilary Mantel herself ‘the simple words the people speak’, from Estersons tape-recordings of his conversations with the families in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and from Anthony Stadlen’s reports and recordings of his 21st-century conversations with surviving members of the family.

In her first Reith lecture Hilary Mantel discusses the relation between the historical novelist and the historian.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/03/hilary-mantel-why-i-became-a-historical-novelist

She brings to our seminars the unique genius of an historical novelist who sees far more profoundly than the rest of us the implications of the known historical facts but does not present invention as history. Each seminar has begun with her wonderful reflections on what is given in the text of the book. She has no privileged access to the cases. She learns what Stadlen has discovered as an historian only as do the other seminar participants, when he reports or play recordings of his interviews with surviving members of the family half a century later and explore Estersons original library of tape-recordings on which the book is based.

Nine of the original eleven women diagnosed schizophrenic are now dead; but Mantel recalls Auden:

... the crack in the teacup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

She could have also have quoted Eliot:

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

I spoke to five of the supposedly schizophrenic women and many of their surviving relatives in the twenty-first century.

Why is this nowadays rarely read or even referenced book of 1964 so important? It is, after all, absent from almost all discussions either of the family or of schizophreniaThe extremely rare discussions of it patronise it, as if they had long passed beyond it; but without having begun to understand it, let alone catch up with it.

And yet it is so simple.

It is true that R. D. Laing and Aaron Estersons research, reported in this masterpiece of 1964 and continued by Esterson in his profound The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics of Madness (1970), was a concrete embodiment of the complex theoretical work of their most advanced and radical contemporaries of the 1960s: Jean-Paul SartreCritique of Dialectical Reason and The Question of MethodThomas SzaszThe Myth of Mental Illness; and Martin Heidegger and Medard BossZollikon Seminars.

Sartre highly esteemed Laing and Esterson’s work on families. Szasz had enormous respect for Esterson; he thought this book was on a higher level than Laing’s other books; he also thought Stadlens research following up the eleven families important. Heidegger would surely have loved the book, though it is unlikely he knew it; it embodies that straightforward openness and humanity he tried to convey in his Zollikon seminars, though he might well have asked: Why drag in Sartre? Professor Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann of FreiburgHeidegger’s personal assistant whom he entrusted with editing posthumously his 102-volume Collected Works, and his wife Frau Dr. Veronika von Herrmann, particularly admire Laing and Esterson’s work. But almost all Daseinsanalysts, existential therapists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists  and of course psychiatrists – ignore it.

But the book is essentially simple. What did Laing and Esterson say that was so simple: too simple for ‘professionals’ to understand?

We believe that the shift of point of view that these descriptions both embody and demand has an historical significance no less radical than the shift from a demonological to a clinical viewpoint three hundred years ago.

Thus they introduced their great phenomenological descriptions of eleven families of ‘schizophrenics’. But, more than fifty years on, the ‘clinical viewpoint’ still reigns supreme. ‘Existential’, ‘Lacanian’, ‘Laingian’, ‘humanist’, ‘person-centred’ therapists and a galaxy of similarly impressively titled psychoanalysts and psychotherapists love to call themselves ‘clinicians’.

The great and the good, including younger members of our royal family, seek ‘parity’ for ‘physical’ and ‘mental health’. This is well-intentioned but confusing. Indeed ‘it is good to talk’ – but not in this mystifying, pseudo-scientific language. 

Have Laing and Esterson been proved wrong? They wrote:

Nobody can deny us the right to disbelieve in schizophrenia.’

Why, then, do most psychiatrists and psychotherapists claim Laing and Esterson said ‘families cause schizophrenia’? They can not have understood, if they have ever remembered, if they have ever read, the first sentences of the second edition (1970) of the book:

There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion.’

Hilary Mantel wrote that ‘the simple words the people speak’ in Laing and Esterson’s book gave her, when twenty years old, the courage to write her own books, which have been internationally acclaimed. Her introductions to the seminars in this series have enthralled participants with their sensitive understanding of, and deeply perceptive insight into, each family in turn.

As she has written:

Some of us need a little push, before we recognise we have the right to pick up a pen. In my case it came from a book by the psychiatrists R. D. Laing and Aaron EstersonSanity, Madness and the Family... The people in it seemed close enough to touch... Each interview is a novel or play in miniature. So many of these family conversations seemed familiar to me: their swerves and evasions, their doubleness... For most of my life I had been told that I didn't know how the world worked. That afternoon I decided I did know, after all. In the course of my twenty-one years I'd noticed quite a lot. If I wanted to be a writer, I didn't have to worry about inventing material, I'd already got it. The next stage was just to find some words.

Hilary Mantelat least, had no difficulty understanding what Laing and Esterson were talking about:

All the patients profiled in the book are young women. I know their names are pseudonyms, but over the years I've wondered desperately what happened to them, and if there's anyone alive who knows, and whether any of them ever cut free from the choking knotweed of miscommunication and flourished on ground of their own: Ruth, who was thought odd because she wore coloured stockings; Jean, who wanted a baby though her whole family told her she didn't; and Sarah, whose breakdown, according to her family, was caused by too much thinking.

(http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/sep/06/1)

Anthony Stadlen, through his historical research, is able to answer some of Hilary Mantels questions.

Laing and Esterson wrote:

Surely, if we are wrong, it would be easy to show that we are, by studying a few families and revealing that schizophrenics really are talking a lot of nonsense after all.

Stadlen accepted this challenge. He studied the very same families they studied. In these seminars we have been able to judge whether the very same supposed schizophrenics’ they studied really were talking a lot of nonsense after all’. 

If Laing and Esterson were not wrong, then, as they say, we can begin to make sense of what psychiatrists, by and large, still regard as nonsense’. If we have been able to do this in most, if not all, of these eleven cases, what does this say about psychiatry, which has scarcely begun to understand this book?

In this second series of seminars about the families (the first was ten years ago, to mark the 40th anniversary of the books publication) we have succeeded in understanding them at a deeper level. Perhaps we shall resume, with a third series of seminars to mark the 60th anniversary, in 2024...

Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, mineral water, Durrants rock included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

Heidegger’s First Lectures (Freiburg, 1919). Zollikon Seminars. 12. Final Seminar (18 and 21 March 1969). Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 248 (24 March 2019)

Heidegger’s First Lectures (Freiburg, 1919)
A 100th-anniversary revaluation
‘So my seeing and that of a Senegal Negro are fundamentally different.’

Heidegger’s Seminars (Zollikon, 1959-1969)

A 50th-anniversary revaluation
12. Final seminar on 18 and 21 March 1969
‘The book lies here next to the glass. But how are two human beings, standing together, together?

Anthony Stadlen

conducts
Inner Circle Seminar No. 248
Sunday 24 March 2019
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Martin Heidegger   Medard Boss
Feldweg, Messkirch, 1963
Martin Heidegger with his son Jörg
                                            
      

100 years on, we explore Martin Heidegger’s very first course of lecturesTowards the definition of Philosophy, in the 1919 War Emergency Semester at Freiburg UniversityHeidegger anticipates his epochmaking Being and Time (1927) by wondering ‘Is there something?’ and exploring the ways in which he, his students, ‘a farmer from deep in the Black Forest’, and ‘a Negro from Senegal suddenly transplanted from his hut’ might experience his lectern.

50 years on, we also explore the last of the seminars Heidegger conducted between 1959 and 1969 in Medard Boss’s house in ZollikonHeidegger asks: how do things and human beings differ in their being together’? (In November we start a new 10-year cycle, studying the Zollikon seminars 60 years on.)

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Subscription: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, berries, nuts, mineral water included; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
                  Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

Laing & Esterson. 11. The Lawsons. 50 years on. Hilary Mantel & Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 247 (10 February 2019)

Laing and Esterson
Sanity, Madness and the Family
50 Years On
Family 11: The Lawsons

Dame Hilary Mantel   Anthony Stadlen
conduct
Inner Circle Seminar No. 247
Sunday 10 February 2019
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Aaron Esterson
R. D. Laing



Hilary Mantel

This utterly straightforward book is still not understood today, especially by ‘professionals’.

But Hilary Mantel, who gained courage to become a novelist through reading it when she was nearly twenty-one, understood it. She urged readers: ‘Just read the simple words the people speak.’ In eleven seminars we have had a unique opportunity actually to hear and discuss with Hilary Mantel herself ‘the simple words the people speak’, from Estersons tape-recordings of his conversations with the families in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and from Anthony Stadlen’s reports and recordings of his 21st-century conversations with surviving members of the family.

In her first Reith lecture Hilary Mantel discusses the relation between the historical novelist and the historian.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/03/hilary-mantel-why-i-became-a-historical-novelist

She brings to our seminars the unique genius of an historical novelist who sees far more profoundly than the rest of us the implications of the known historical facts but does not present invention as history. Each seminar has begun with her wonderful reflections on what is given in the text of the book. She has no privileged access to the cases. She learns what Stadlen has discovered as an historian only as do the other seminar participants, when he reports or play recordings of his interviews with surviving members of the family half a century later and explore Estersons original library of tape-recordings on which the book is based.

Nine of the original eleven women diagnosed schizophrenic are now dead; but Mantel recalls Auden:

... the crack in the teacup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

She could have also have quoted Eliot:

And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Stadlen spoke to five of the supposedly schizophrenic women and many of their surviving relatives in the twenty-first century.

Why is this nowadays rarely read or even referenced book of 1964 so important? It is, after all, absent from almost all discussions either of the family or of schizophreniaThe extremely rare discussions of it patronise it, as if they had long passed beyond it; but without having begun to understand it, let alone catch up with it.

And yet it is so simple.

It is true that R. D. Laing and Aaron Estersons research, reported in this masterpiece of 1964 and continued by Esterson in his profound The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics of Madness (1970), was a concrete embodiment of the complex theoretical work of their most advanced and radical contemporaries of the 1960s: Jean-Paul SartreCritique of Dialectical Reason and The Question of MethodThomas SzaszThe Myth of Mental Illness; and Martin Heidegger and Medard BossZollikon Seminars.

Sartre highly esteemed Laing and Esterson’s work on families. Szasz had enormous respect for Esterson; he thought this book was on a higher level than Laing’s other books; he also thought Stadlens research following up the eleven families important. Heidegger would surely have loved the book, though it is unlikely he knew it; it embodies that straightforward openness and humanity he tried to convey in his Zollikon seminars, though he might well have asked: Why drag in Sartre? Professor Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann of FreiburgHeidegger’s personal assistant whom he entrusted with editing posthumously his 102-volume Collected Works, and his wife Frau Dr. Veronika von Herrmann, particularly admire Laing and Esterson’s work. But almost all Daseinsanalysts, existential therapists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists  and of course psychiatrists – ignore it.

But the book is essentially simple. What did Laing and Esterson say that was so simple: too simple for ‘professionals’ to understand?

We believe that the shift of point of view that these descriptions both embody and demand has an historical significance no less radical than the shift from a demonological to a clinical viewpoint three hundred years ago.

Thus they introduced their great phenomenological descriptions of eleven families of ‘schizophrenics’. But, more than fifty years on, the ‘clinical viewpoint’ still reigns supreme. ‘Existential’, ‘Lacanian’, ‘Laingian’, ‘humanist’, ‘person-centred’ therapists and a galaxy of similarly impressively titled psychoanalysts and psychotherapists love to call themselves ‘clinicians’.

The great and the good, including younger members of our royal family, seek ‘parity’ for ‘physical’ and ‘mental health’. This is well-intentioned but confusing. Indeed ‘it is good to talk’ – but not in this mystifying, pseudo-scientific language. 

Have Laing and Esterson been proved wrong? They wrote:

Nobody can deny us the right to disbelieve in schizophrenia.’

Why, then, do most psychiatrists and psychotherapists claim Laing and Esterson said ‘families cause schizophrenia’? They can not have understood, if they have ever remembered, if they have ever read, the first sentences of the second edition (1970) of the book:

There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion.’

Hilary Mantel wrote that ‘the simple words the people speak’ in Laing and Esterson’s book gave her, when twenty years old, the courage to write her own books, which have been internationally acclaimed. Her introductions to the seminars in this series have enthralled participants with their sensitive understanding of, and deeply perceptive insight into, each family in turn.

As she has written:

Some of us need a little push, before we recognise we have the right to pick up a pen. In my case it came from a book by the psychiatrists R. D. Laing and Aaron EstersonSanity, Madness and the Family... The people in it seemed close enough to touch... Each interview is a novel or play in miniature. So many of these family conversations seemed familiar to me: their swerves and evasions, their doubleness... For most of my life I had been told that I didn't know how the world worked. That afternoon I decided I did know, after all. In the course of my twenty-one years I'd noticed quite a lot. If I wanted to be a writer, I didn't have to worry about inventing material, I'd already got it. The next stage was just to find some words.

Hilary Mantelat least, had no difficulty understanding what Laing and Esterson were talking about:

All the patients profiled in the book are young women. I know their names are pseudonyms, but over the years I've wondered desperately what happened to them, and if there's anyone alive who knows, and whether any of them ever cut free from the choking knotweed of miscommunication and flourished on ground of their own: Ruth, who was thought odd because she wore coloured stockings; Jean, who wanted a baby though her whole family told her she didn't; and Sarah, whose breakdown, according to her family, was caused by too much thinking.

(http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/sep/06/1)

Anthony Stadlen, through his historical research, is able to answer some of Hilary Mantels questions.

Laing and Esterson wrote:

Surely, if we are wrong, it would be easy to show that we are, by studying a few families and revealing that schizophrenics really are talking a lot of nonsense after all.

Stadlen accepted this challenge. He studied the very same families they studied. In these seminars we have been able to judge whether the very same supposed schizophrenics’ they studied really were talking a lot of nonsense after all’.

Today we study the eleventh family, the Lawsons, with their daughter Agnes, who had been diagnosed schizophrenic

If Laing and Esterson were not wrong, then, as they say (in connection specifically with the case of Agnes Lawson), we can begin to make sense of what psychiatrists, by and large, still regard as nonsense’. If we have been able to do this in these eleven cases, what does this say about the psychiatry of the 1960s? But, more to the point, what does it say about the psychiatry of today? Has it really begun to understand this book?

In this second series of seminars about the families (the first was ten years ago, to mark the 40th anniversary of the books publication) we have succeeded in understanding them at a deeper level.

We shall have a concluding, stocktaking, twelfth seminar on 19 May. And perhaps we shall resume, with a third series of seminars to mark the 60th anniversary, in 2024...

Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, mineral water, Durrants rock included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857  +44 (0) 7809 433 250
E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.

Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling. 2. John Lippitt and Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 246 (20 January 2019)

Søren Kierkegaard
Fear and Trembling
Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio (1843)
2. Tuning up

John Lippitt and Anthony Stadlen

conduct
Inner Circle Seminar No. 246
Sunday 20 January 2019
                
Søren Kierkegaard   
Abraham and Isaac
Rembrandt





















Professor John Lippitt is Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Religion at the University of Hertfordshire and Honorary Professor in the European Philosophy and History of Ideas research group at Deakin University in Melbourne.  He is one of the world’s authorities on Kierkegaard, and especially on Fear and Trembling. He is the author of many books and papers on Kierkegaard, including the pellucid and comprehensive Routledge Guide to Fear and Trembling (second edition, 2016).

We are honoured that Professor Lippitt is co-conducting a number of our eight seminars on Fear and TremblingToday he will guide us in depth through the extraordinary section Tuning up’ in which the narrator imagines four different existential dramas as Abraham rides out with Isaac to sacrifice him and (although this is only relatively rarely mentioned in the secondary literature on the book) a corresponding set of four dramas in which a mother weans her child from her breast in four different ways.

This is the second of a subseries of eight all-day seminars devoted to this one short book, which is much cited and quoted, as well as misquoted, by existential and other therapists, but sometimes with little understanding of, or even relation to, the text, let alone the Biblical text it discusses. For example, the notion of a knight of faith’, taken from this book, is often solemnly applied to a client in psychotherapy, without recognition of the comic resonances of Don Quixote in this description of Abraham, who set out on a donkey to sacrifice his son; and without awareness that in the Hebrew of the Biblical story there is no mention of ‘faith’ or ‘obedience’, but only of ‘trust’ and ‘listening’. Again, it is very rare for those who appeal to, or try to apply, the argument of the book to take account of the fact that its author insisted that its pseudonymous narrator should not be taken as representing his own position. These eight seminars are an attempt to remedy this situation.

Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric, by a certain ‘Johannes de silentio’, was published in Copenhagen on 16 October 1843. Our eight seminars, the first of which was on 14 October 2018, thus celebrate the book’s hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary.

The actual author was, of course, Søren Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855), as he acknowledged in A First and Last Declaration’, the further postscript that he, in his own name, added to Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs (1846), itself purportedly written by his pseudonym Johannes Climacus. But Kierkegaard insisted:

... if it should occur to anyone to want to quote a particular passage from the books, it is my wish, my prayer, that he will do me the kindness of citing the respective pseudonymous author’s name, not mine.’

Johannes de silentioJohannes Climacus, and the other pseudonyms are like characters in a drama written by Kierkegaard. He called it ‘indirect communication’, a dialectic of different possible perspectives through which the reader is invited to work out his or her own point of view. Much commentary on Fear and Trembling and the other pseudonymous works is therefore naive and misleading, because it ignores Kierkegaard’s urgent request that their pseudonymous nature should be respected.

Kierkegaard was the thinker who introduced, sometimes through this or that pseudonym (as he said, with the left hand), and sometimes in his own name (with the right hand’), the word existential’ to convey the project of thinking with the whole of one’s being, as an ‘existing’ thinker, rather than constructing a ‘theory’ or ‘system’, which yet another pseudonym, Anti-Climacus’, said in The Sickness Unto Death (1849) was like building a fine house in which one does not live.

Ludwig Feuerbach also sometimes used ‘existence’ in this sense, but his project was to secularise religious thinking, whereas Kierkegaard’s primary aim was to affirm authentic religion as irreducible to social ethics.

But Kierkegaards idea of authentic religion differed from everybody elses. He had utter contempt for the Danish Church and for Christendom, as he called it. For him, religion meant something radically individual. But his vision of the individual was the very antithesis of an encapsulated, isolated, unsocial, worldless, reified self’. Rather, as Anti-Climacus put it in The Sickness Unto Death, the self’ of a true individual was a relation which relates itself to its own self’; it was that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self, while ‘resting in the [divine] power that established it’ and, as Kierkegaard insisted in his own name in Works of Love (1847), loving friends, family, spouse, children, neighbours.

Fear and Trembling is itself a foundational document for existential thinking. 

Rainer Maria RilkeLudwig BinswangerKarl JaspersFranz KafkaPaul TillichLudwig WittgensteinMartin HeideggerJean-Paul Sartre, Abraham Joshua Heschel, W. H. Auden, Martin Luther King, Jacques Derrida, and many others acknowledged their indebtedness to KierkegaardOthers, such as Martin BuberEmmanuel Levinas, and Albert Camus, grappled with him but could not avoid him. The meaning of Kierkegaard’s pseudonym’s interplay of interpretations in Fear and Trembling, and the interplay of this interplay with the positions of his other pseudonyms, has also been the subject of a continuing comprehensive conversation by generations of theological, philosophical, and psychological scholars for one hundred and seventy-five years.

Wittgenstein, himself generally regarded as one of the most profound thinkers of the 20th century, held that Kierkegaard was ‘by far the most profound thinker’ of the 19th century. However, Ernesto Spinelli, widely regarded as a leading existential therapist, has recently denounced Kierkegaard’s ‘dangerous folly’ in apparently admiring Abraham’s ‘self-evident lunacy’ in Fear and Trembling. This is in line with traditional clinical-psychiatric thinking, for example the psychiatrist Abraham Myerson’s 1945 diagnosis that Kierkegaard was ‘a psychiatric case’, whose writing was ‘a schizoid and certainly utterly incomprehensible presentation by a mind which is quite deviate’.

Are these important demystifying insights into a pretentious and over-rated writer? Or is the existential tradition here degenerating into abject capitulation to uncomprehending psychiatric reductionism?

Fear and Trembling is a ‘dialectical lyric’ on the Akedah, the Biblical account of Abraham’s ‘binding’ of his beloved son Isaac (Genesis, 22:1-19), fundamental for all three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The meaning of the Akedah has been debated and disputed for thousands of years by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and (more recently) atheist thinkers. (The Qur’an does not name the son, and there has been debate in Islam as to whether it was Ishmael or Isaac, though today it is generally held to have been Ishmael.) Today, the Akedah is chanted from the Torah scroll in synagogues at the Jewish New Year, with great precision, though it is open to anyone to propose an interpretation of its meaning; in Christianity it is held to prefigure the crucifixion of Jesus; and in Islam animals are sacrificed round the world on Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) to commemorate Abrahams sacrifice of a ram instead of his son. The Akedah has been the basis of many great works of art, music, drama, and poetry. 

Kierkegaard emphasised that the sole purpose of his entire vast authorship, both direct and pseudonymous, was religious, though he fiercely denounced institutionalised religion (such as Danish 19th-century ‘Christendom’) as a corruption and perversion of living existential religion. But ‘existential’ therapists in particular routinely ‘secularise’ his writings, as Binswanger did in his discussion of The Sickness Unto Death in The Case of Ellen West. Is this a betrayal, purporting to reduce the religious to the secular-social-ethical in precisely the way that Johannes de silentio is criticising in Fear and Trembling? Or is it a clearing away of the religious rubble to reveal the human truth of these masterpieces?  

One of Heidegger’s most important early courses of lectures was on The Phenomenology of Religious Life (1920-21). But existential therapists often disparage the religious experience of their clients and are not open to its phenomenology. We shall try to show that Kierkegaard’s work is, among many other things, a fundamental investigation of the existential phenomenology of individual, non-institutionalised, religious experience, indispensable for an unprejudiced understanding of both our religious and our non-religious clients.

In eight seminars, of which you may attend any or all, you are invited to explore in depth the rich variety of interpretations of both the Akedah and Fear and Trembling and their relevance for the practice of psychotherapy; and perhaps to arrive at your own interpretation(s).

Venue: Durrants Hotel, 26–32 George Street, Marylebone, London W1H 5BJ
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; coffee, tea, Durrants rock, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
                  Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857     E-mail: stadlen@aol.com
For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools, and universities.