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Jonathan Lear

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
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Created: August 25, 2003
Latest Update: August 25, 2003

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Index of Topics on Site The Wolf Man and "Knowingness"

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, August 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This teaching essay is based on Jonathan Lear's Open Minded, Harvard University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-674-45534-7 (pbk.) I'm rushing to get this up for the first weeks of class, and have no time to search out the book, so these notes are from my head. Please use them accordingly and be sure to check that my memory is accurate, should you need to cite or use this material.

Jonathan Lear is a psychiatrist, a Freudian. And he is also a member of the Chicago group on Twentieth Century Thought. I hope to eventaully review all of his book, even his newest book, which just came out, on the site. But . . . At any rate Lear in Open Minded critiques our "need to know," our sense that there is always a rational answer, an answer period, an explanation. He retells the story from Freud of the "Wolf Man." The Wolf Man was going to therapy, and for some inexplicable reason became very agitated during therapy and attacked his therapist. I think he tried to bite him, but no matter. The real problem was that in psychoanalysis one is supposed to get in touch with the unconscious and begin to understand why influences and lived experiences from long ago still shape our behavior out of our awareness. By dredging these things up from our subconscious we can face them and, so to speak, slay our dragons.

Now, the Wolf Man, who was going through psychoanalysis and dredging up his memories, was confronted with this inexplicable reaction to his therapist. I don't recall the therapist's reaction, but I presume he should have been a tad miffed if he really were bitten. But no matter. Jonathan Lear's point is that the poor Wolf Man struggled and struggled to understand why he attacked his therapist this way. He came up with innumerable improbable explanations of what someone in his past must have done to him, and how that someone must be linked somehow to the therapist, and so on, and on, and on.

Jonathan Lear's point is that there are some actions, amongst which lunging at our therapist which are unconscious, not rational, and don't need to be rationalized. We sometimes call them "knee jerk" reactions. Who knows why we do them. We just do. The poor Wolf Man doesn't have to back and spend all this time to find a rational reason for his irrational behavior. It was irrational. It was a knee jerk response. And we can get on with the data we have that is rational, and stop trying to fit everything into the rational box. You know, like think outside the rational box.

Since I teach neither psychology nor psychoanalysis, I've always been very comfortable with that tiny memory of what Jonathan Lear had to say about the Wolf Man. But when I went out to give you references on the Web, having failed to find my copy of Jonathan Lear's Open Minded, I found a Wolf Man so different from the one I remembered I began to think maybe I should just start out with my own story of the Wolf Man. My story makes a lot of sense when you come to think of it. Lots of what we do isn't rational. We don't do it for a particular reason; we come up with those reasons later.

A teacher once accused me of having a "reason" for eveything I did. Well, of course, I did. Why would I bother to do it, if I didn't have a reason. I scoffed at her. Until I thought about Jonathan Lear and the Wolf Man, and how hard it is sometimes just to accept "what is." When trying to figure out the mind, or the soul, or theology, or philosophy, we need to look for rational connections. But sometimes we need to let go, to just do, to just seize the moment for itself. We are more than our rational choices; and I don't want to miss that.

Now, I obviously have to go find Jonathan Lear's Open Minded and see where my story came from. jeanne

References:

"Listen," Remarks the Wolf-Man By Sarah Arroyo. On The Deleuze & Guattari Conversation,Concerning Rhetoric and Composition. Backup

The Splitting of the Man Moses and the Rift in His Ego A comment on Freudís work on Moses, his text on the splitting of the Ego and the case of the Wolf Man. Summary. In English, German, French.

<Prescription written by Freud for the Wolf Man's wife.