Foreword – Kenneth J. Gergen
From Lois Holzman's Performing Psychology: A Postmodern Culture of the Mind (Routledge 1999).
It is sometimes said that the truly creative work in any discipline takes place at the borders-- by those who understand the conventions governing the interior but who also understand something else. It is at the borders that we also find individuals who are sufficiently free from the tyranny of the normal—the pattern of expectations, obligations and swift sanctions within the core of most disciplines-- that they can risk innovation. Fred Newman is just such a border dweller. Newman is deeply conversant with traditional paradigms of psychological inquiry, but with other things as well. For him, such inquiry must first be seen within the context of the philosophical tradition from which it was spawned, and must simultaneously be sensitized to the challenging transformations within philosophy since the period of psychological inception. Further, for Newman it makes little sense to pursue psychology without situating it within the political and social order. Again, the political and social context giving psychology its start in life has radically changed, and these changes should be reflected by transformations within the field. Newman's immersion in philosophical, political and social deliberations is finally complemented by a deep dwelling in the realm of aesthetics, and particularly the dramatic arts. For Newman, a psychology that fails to be informed by the expressive, the passionate, the ludic, and the communicative dimensions of aesthetic life is something much less than a full psychology.
In certain respects one may see Newman's professional life in terms of his travels across these various borders, and his concerted attempt to explore new potentials—new ways of understanding knowledge, methodology, and conceptual work on the one hand, and the place of the psychologist within historical, political, cultural, and aesthetic context on the other. These explorations have also been accompanied by a singular willingness to take risks—to move from talk about ideals and alternatives to precedent-breaking action. In building a community-based institution, generating an alternative form of therapy, forming a political party, writing and producing plays, organizing forums for public debate, and countless other innovative projects, Newman and his colleagues have surprised, unsettled and antagonized. At the same time they have placed into orbit a galaxy of new stars—images, institutions, and practices against which we can fruitfully compare our traditions and ask for more.
One might say that in his crisscrossing borders Newman has indeed created a new land for visitation and illumination. In the present volume he is joined by his colleagues, Lois Holzman and Dan Friedman, to give us a glimpse of recent installations. We are confronted with probing questions concerning the nature of psychology's subject matter, the status of traditional science in a postmodern world, the process of therapy and diagnosis, the relationship of theater to human development, and finally to three short plays that delightfully and powerfully transform theory into practice, practice into drama, and. drama again into the realm of the theoretical. For me one of the chief contributions of this work lies in its shift away from the traditional view of the person as living within a private psychological world, attempting desperately and often in vain to understand and communicate with other subjectivities. Rather, we are invited to see the individual not as separated from the social surrounds, but as integrally interrelated. Drawing sustenance particularly from Wittgenstein and Vygotsky, Newman sees us as intimately tissued with each other; psychology and social practice are one. And if psychological functioning is essentially the living out of social practice, then psychological action is essentially performance. With this turn, we gain new and significant purchase on the metaphor of life as theatre. Yet, for Newman entertainment is scarcely the only goal for life theatrics. We are speaking here on the one hand of the full flower of human potential and on the other of challenging the social and economic conditions that suppress these potentials.
I have joined Newman in writing one of these chapters. The experience was both stimulating and enjoyable. Yet, in the end what was perhaps most important to me about this and other encounters with Newman is his response to our points of disagreement. For me the litmus test of any body of ideas resides in the way these ideas are embedded in practice. Joy is easily derived from a community of shared ideas and practices; the more difficult challenges emerge when differences are encountered. It is in these dances of difference that I came most fully to appreciate the performative movement as crafted by Newman and his colleagues. My voice of difference has neither been ignored nor annihilated. Rather, it has been treated as an integral part of the play. Without difference there is scarcely drama, and without drama what is life as theatre?