Sunday 1 January 2023

1920s-born existential therapists. 1. Martti Siirala. Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 278 (22 January 2023)

Existential therapists born in the 1920s

Centenary seminars

1. Martti Siirala

24 November 1922 – 18 August 2008

‘Who are you? Could it be that you might be...?’ 

Might Daseinsanalysis become Diahermeneutics?

Anthony Stadlen

assisted by Aleš and Šárka Wotruba

conducts by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 278

Sunday 22 January 2023

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Martti Siirala

Martti Siirala was one of the worlds great original existential psychotherapists. He and his wife Ann-Helen came from Helsinki to London on his 80th birthday (24 November 2002) to conduct Inner Circle Seminar No. 63, devoted to his work. Today, a little belatedly, we celebrate his centenary (24 November 2022) by focussing on his penetrating critique of a central aspect of Daseinsanalysis.
The composer Jean Sibelius was buried in 1957 by Martti Siirala’s brother Aarne, a theologian and pastor. Paul Griffiths wrote (The Times, 30 August 1983) that Sibelius discovered that symphonic composition entailed not making statements but asking questions’; and it was said that Martti Siirala wrote as Sibelius composed. Siirala himself confirmed this to Naomi and Anthony Stadlen in Helsinki in 1998, saying that Sibelius’s way of composing and his own way of writing were like the Finnish language, approaching all beings with a ‘humble but passionate’ questioning: ‘Who are you? Could it be that you might be...?’
But, according to Siirala, ordinary language and especially psychological language, in whatever tongue, is all too easily used to grasp and dominate: to commit violence’ rather than approach with questioning and wonder. In this seminar we shall consider in detail one of his examples, from his 1980 paper, On malignant violence: Where to look for hope in reaching its roots, in From Transfer to Transference (1983, Helsinki: Therapeia Foundation, p. 137), where Siirala writes of the
‘violent elements in the absolutist claims for Daseinsanalysis to a direct access to the phenomena in an adequate, undistorted way.
He does, despite this, acknowledge that Daseinsanalysis
has however essentially contributed to the unreducibility of human bodily existing.

How seriously should we take this forty-three-year-old criticism of Daseinsanalysis by Siirala? Was it true of pioneers such as Medard Boss or Gion Condrau? Is it true of some, or all, Daseinsanalysts today? If true, can this be remedied, or is it a necessary consequence of the basic assumptions of Daseinsanalysis?

Today, we shall explore evidence that Siirala’s warning should be taken seriously, as individual Daseinsanalysts do sometimes lapse, explicitly or implicitly, into the ‘absolutist claims’ that he terms ‘violent’; but we shall suggest that, far from this being a necessary consequence of the principles of Daseinsanalysis, it is an unnecessary betrayal of their true, enlightening potential.

What are these absolutist claims’? Not all is necessarily as it may first appear.

Gion Condrau was invited as the central figure of the Fifth Conference of the Society for Existential Analysis (SEA) in 1992. He explained that trainees in the Zürich Daseinsanalytic Institute were examined on their ability to analyse dreams: without meeting or communicating with the dreamer, without being told the dreamer’s associations to the dream, and without being told anything else except the reported dream and the dreamer’s age and sex.

Sarah Young questioned this in Existential Analysis:

‘Ultimately it must be for the dreamer to decide on the meaning of their dream. So why this exercise?’
Condrau’s reply was unequivocal:
‘If we did, indeed, base our thinking on the idea that the dreamer decides on the meaning of his/her dream, this would open the doors wide to a subjectivistic phenomenology. Isn’t it precisely the essence of neurotic (or psychotic) perception, namely not to be able to distinguish phenomena from personal prejudices or projections?’
This may appear, at first sight, to be an obvious confirmation of Siiralas assertion that the Daseinsanalyst makes a violent and absolutist claim to direct access to the phenomena’. But let us look more closely. Anthony Stadlen reminded both existential therapists and Daseinsanalysts of this exchange in his obituary of Condrau in Existential Analysis and Daseinsanalyse in 2007. But, as recently as 2018, at the 30th-anniversary conference of SEA, a senior existential therapist was still lecturing that Freud and Jung imposed their interpretations but Boss encouraged dreamers to find their own interpretation. This, in the light of what Condrau wrote as quoted above, appears, prima facie, to be the opposite of the truth, especially when one considers that there is a school of thinking on dreams that does trust dreamers, even ‘neurotic’ ones, to discover the meaning of their own dreams. One would expect existential therapists to be attracted to such statements as the following:
Well, what do you do if I make an unintelligible utterance to you? You ask me, don’t you? Why should we not be allowed to do the same thing, ask the dreamer what his dream means? [...] So the dreamer himself should also tell us what his dream means.’
Unfortunately, the man who wrote this was Sigmund Freud, and existential therapists ‘know’ that he is not ‘existential’, and should be ignored. (One student who boasted never to have read Freud received official permission to continue to ignore him and not to read him even while attending a class on Freud in a course on dreams at Regents College.) Freud proudly insisted, in fact, that his was the first dream theory where the interpreter did not claim to be able to decode dreams and inform the dreamer of the dreams meaning. 
Existential therapists tend to imagine that they are in sympathy with the daseinsanalytic paradigm, often without much knowledge of what it is. Their sentiments are, in fact, often closer to the psychoanalytic paradigm which they believe they have rejected, again without having adequately studied it.
In Boss’s first dream-book, The Analysis of Dreams, he asks:
‘Or are there perhaps in reality no dream symbols at all?’ (‘Oder gibt es am Ende in Wirklichkeit gar keine Traumsymbole?’)
Boss insists that when the dreamer of the paradigmatic dream in this first dream-book, the ‘strange dream of an urn’, interprets the urn in her dream as a ‘symbol’ and so, in Condrau’s words, ‘decides on the meaning of her dream’, she is wrong.
Boss writes as if we all know that Freuds dream theory was a theory of symbolism. But Freud also, in his original theory in the first edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, largely rejected symbolism, though few notice this.
Freud did come, under the influence of Stekel, to concede, with reservations, that symbolism and symbols played a minor part:
They allow us in certain circumstances to interpret a dream without questioning the dreamer [...] But do not let yourselves be seduced by this. […] Interpretation based on a knowledge of symbols is not a technique which can replace or compete with the associative one. It forms a supplement to it […].
Symbolism remained, for Freud, an ‘aid’ or ‘auxiliary method’ (‘Hilfsmittel’). ‘Existential’ authors, and Boss, often give the false impression that symbolism is central in psychoanalytic dream interpretation. Thus, in Hans Cohn’s misleading caricature: ‘Psychoanalytically the umbrella might be seen as an erect penis displayed at an inappropriate time.’ But in fact, for Freud, it was the method of asking the dreamer for his ‘associations’ (a poor translation of ‘freier Einfall’ [what freely falls in’]) that was central, whereas for Boss and Condrau ‘associations’ were a distraction from the dream itself, which they claimed could be understood without any help from the dreamer.
To summarise: it may appear from the above that, prima facieBoss and Condrau did indeed make an absolutist’ claim, as Siirala said, to privileged direct access to the phenomena.
But this does not logically follow. To declare that a particular interpretation is wrong is not necessarily to imply that one has access to the only right interpretation, or to a truth that transcends the need for interpretation. In the Talmud, Tractate Berakhot, twenty-four different interpretations of a certain dream are all declared to be right, but some interpretations are regarded as definitely wrong. One particular wrong interpretation of another dream is shown to bring disastrous consequences for the interpreter.
However, Alice Holzhey, from within the daseinsanalytic tradition, independently made the same criticism as Siirala, almost in the same words:
Martin Heidegger in the Zollikon seminars conducted with Medard Boss defined the phenomenological method as “essential vision” and thus made it easy for authority-persons to claim “essential seeing” for themselves.’
Holzhey claimed that Boss followed the later Heidegger in allegedly abandoning, as was widely supposed, the hermeneutics of the early Heidegger of Being and Time. Hermeneutics essentially is the study of interpretation. So Holzhey was saying that Boss, following Heidegger, was abandoning interpretation as such, in favour of ‘essential seeing.
But Heidegger explains in his Dialogue on Language in On the Way to Language (1959) that, while he does not use the term hermeneutics’ in his later writings, he is as committed as ever to its profound meaning, though this is ‘rätselhaft’ (‘enigmatic’). He speaks of ‘hermeneutics’ repeatedly in this ‘Dialogue’, and also a number of times in the Zollikon seminars themselves, where, for instance, in the seminar of 23 November 1965 he laments that Husserl’s and consequently Binswanger’s idea of ‘consciousness’
‘prevents clear insight into the phenomenological hermeneneutics of Dasein’.
Professor Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, one of the world’s greatest Heidegger authorities, demonstrates in his book, Weg und Methode: Zur hermeneutischen Phänomenologie des seinsgeschictlichenen Denken (1990), that Heidegger’s later work, no less than his earlier, was hermeneutic.
And Condrau writes in his books, Sigmund Freud und Martin Heidegger (1992) and Daseinsanalyse (1998, 2nd ed.), that daseinsanalytic therapy is ‘phenomenological-hermeneutic dialogue’.
Siirala’s and Holzhey’s reproaches about ‘violent’ and ‘absolutist’ claims perhaps have greater weight when we recall that Daseinsanalysis was conceived by Heidegger, Boss, and Condrau as medical. Stadlen  demonstrated this in ‘Medical Daseinsanalysis’ (Existential Analysis 16.1, 2005). We have already discussed this in a number of Inner Circle Seminars. Medical science seeks to identify a ‘disease’ with a definite, unique diagnosis; but the phenomena discussed in psychotherapy, and in particular in Daseinsanalysis, are within the realm of social phenomenology. If one does not make the presumption of illness, the phenomena call not for diagnosis but for dialogue and dialectic: the interplay of interpretations which never fetishises one interpretation as final. 
And here there really is a problem, on which we shall focus today. Heidegger, from his earliest lectures more than a hundred years ago to his last seminar fifty years ago this year, quite distinctly disparaged dialectic. (Though we shall have to investigate today just what he meant by dialectic.)
The philosopher Oskar Becker reported that Heidegger added to his prepared text for one of his earliest lectures, in 1919 at Freiburg University, a statement that philosophical dialectic is ‘diahermeneutics’ (GA58, 263). This sounds like a promising description of what therapeutic Daseinsanalysis might in due course become. But Heidegger seems never to have mentioned it again, although in Being and Time he does describe phenomenology as logos (discourse, conversation), in the middle voice, revealing phenomena; and this might seem as if he were affirming dialectic. But Heidegger, early and late, distrusts and denounces dialectic, whatever he means by this. This has been comprehensively documented by Francisco J. Gonzales in his book Plato and Heidegger: A Question of Dialogue (2008). A few examples may convey something of Heidegger’s distaste for dialectic.
In Being and Time Heidegger calls dialectic a genuine philosophical embarrassment’ (Sein und Zeit, 25) and ‘superfluous’, and in his 1923 lecture course Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Facticity he says it is ‘double-sidedly unradical’, a ‘madame for the public whoring of the spirit’ (GA63, 46).
In the Zollikon seminar of 10 March 1965, Heidegger said:
Within phenomenology, neither are conclusions drawn, nor are dialectical mediations allowed. 
At the end of Heidegger’s very last seminar, in 1973 in his Zähringen home, he says, in answer to a question from Jean Beaufret (GA15, 400):
‘[...] if it is correct that “dialectic is a genuine philosophical embarrassment” as Being and Time says, [...] tautology is the only possibility for thinking what dialectic can only veil.’
It will follow, says Heidegger, that Parmenides, with his tautological thinking, is more profound and essential than Heraclitus.
Heidegger’s disparagement of dialectic did not go unnoticed by the pioneer Daseinsanalysts. Condrau in his important book Daseinsanalyse (1998, 2nd edn) quotes, apparently approvingly, from an article by HeideggerZeichen’ (‘Signs’), in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 21 September 1969 (GA13, 211-2):
‘Dialectic is the dictatorship of the questionless. In its net every question is smothered.
Clearly, this evaluation of dialectic is radically at odds with that of Jean-Paul Sartre, R. D. Laing, and Aaron Esterson. Are they talking about the same concept?
In The Madhouse of Being’ (2007), Stadlen urged Daseinsanalysts to acknowledge Laing and Esterson’s dialectical family studies in Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics (1964), grounded in the philosophy of Sartre’s Critique de la Raison Dialectique (1960), as a contribution to Daseinsanalysis complementing Heidegger’s Zollikon seminars with which they were contemporary.
However, in the light of Heideggers disdain for dialectic, it is hardly surprising that Daseinsanalysts have continued to ignore Laing and Esterson’s family studies, although Condrau in Sigmund Freud und Martin Heidegger (1992) had mentioned Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson’s Pragmatics of Human Communication (1968).
How can Daseinsanalysts ever make sense of what goes on in families if they are not able to think dialectically? How can they understand Esterson’s account, in The Leaves of Spring: A Study in the Dialectics of Madness (1970), of Sarah Danzig’s being invalidated as ‘schizophrenic’ because, alone of her family, she is attempting to ‘reason dialectically’, meaning, contra Heidegger, to question?
Esterson wrote:
The dialectic is not hidden, however. On the contrary, it is perfectly open, for, in a sense, it is the rationality used by every person all the time. But this is true only in a sense. For to reason dialectically means to reason aware of the pattern of reasoning. And its very openness causes it to be overlooked. In so far as it is a mystery, it is hidden in a clear light, for its pattern is to be found in the clarity that reveals and conceals it.
It is not just a matter of understanding families in family therapy or groups in group therapy. It is not possible to understand an individual client in individual therapy if one does not know what goes on in families or in groups or, in general, between people. And to understand what goes on between people requires, in Sartres and Estersons sense, dialectical reason.
In todays seminar, we shall ask, as did Gonzales in his neglected paper Why Heidegger’s Hermeneutics is not a “Diahermeneutics’ (2001), why Heidegger did not develop his early glimpse of a possible Diahermeneutics’, in which hermeneutics and dialectic would surely be united, not opposed.
We saw, above, that Heidegger in his last seminar in 1973 asserted that if dialectic is an embarrassment for philosophy then Parmenides is more profound and essential than Heraclitus. But his final sentence of this final seminar is (GA15, 400):
‘If one is able to read Heraclitus from out of the Parmenidean tautology, he himself then appears in closest proximity to the same tautology, he himself in the entrance to a single way which gives access to Being.’
This grants to Heraclitus, and, since Heidegger has just explicitly linked Heraclitus with dialectic, it appears to grant to dialectic a validity if read in ‘proximity’ to Parmenides’s ‘tautological thinking’ and, presumably, to the goddess Aletheia (truth, unconcealedness). Is Heidegger at last, at the very end of his life-long  quest, conceding that dialectic’, if seen in the light of Aletheia, may not be such an embarrassment’ after all? 
In any event, may not Heidegger’s last words in his last seminar suggest to us, if not to him himself, a possible reformed Daseinsanalysis, worthy of the scrutiny of a Siirala? May we not renew Daseinsanalysis through, or as, Diahermeneutics, the word that Heidegger coined in passing at the start of his long journey but never mentioned again? Is this the stone the builders forgot?

We are privileged that the Daseinsanalysts Aleš and Šárka Wotruba will attend this seminar. They both attended the last year, 1969, of Heideggers Zollikon seminars in Medard Bosss house; and Aleš was subsequently in training analysis with Boss himself. Their direct evidence will be of incalculable assistance to our investigation.
It is hoped that, as well as those curious about Martti Siirala and about Daseinsanalysis, other Daseinsanalysts will attend this seminar and defend the honour of their profession by addressing his criticism frankly and rigorously, whether endorsing it or disputing it, or taking an intermediate position. Your contribution to the discussion will be warmly welcomed.

Note on previous Inner Circle Seminars on Martti Siirala
This is our third Inner Circle Seminar devoted to the work of Martti Siirala.
Twenty years ago, on his 80th birthday, 24 November 2002, Martti and his wife Ann-Helen Siirala came from Helsinki to London to conduct Inner Circle Seminar No. 63, devoted to discussion of his lifes work.
Six days later, on Saturday 30 November 2002, Anthony Stadlen contributed a long lecture, The Profound Logic, to the two-day celebrations of Siiralas birthday in the architect Alvar Aaltos Finlandia Hall, Helsinki.
Martti Siirala died on 18 August 2008, and the reminiscences and celebrations continued late into the night after his funeral in Helsinki.
On Sunday 23 January 2011, Ann-Helen Siirala again came to London, as did Martti Siiraladaughter Marja-Liisa Siirala. Both assisted Anthony Stadlen in conducting Inner Circle Seminar No. 159, Existential Pioneers, 4. Martti Siirala.
Ann-Helen and Marja-Liisa Siirala will not attend Martti Siiralas centenary Inner Circle Seminar No. 278 today in person but Ann-Helen has translated most of an unpublished paper of her late husbandon which we may draw.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £140, others £175, some bursaries; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250

For further information on seminars, visit:

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.

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