Chapter for: Bayer, B. and Shotter, J. (Eds.) RECONSTRUCTING THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SUBJECT, Sage Publications, London Ltd (final version: 10/13/96)


John Shotter

'... philosophy ought only to be written as a poetic composition' (Wittgenstein, 1980, p.24).

'... experience exists even for the person undergoing it only in the material of signs' (Volosinov, 1973, p.28).

'Any organic activity or process: breathing, blood circulation, movements of the body, articulation, inner speech, mimetic motions, reaction to external stimuli (e.g., light stimuli) and so forth. In short, anything and everything within the organism can become the material of experience, since everything can acquire semiotic significance, can become expressive' (Volosinov, 1973, pp.28-29).

'Actually I should like to say that... the words you utter or what you think as you utter them are not what matters, so much as the difference they make at various points in your life... Practice gives words their significance' (Wittgenstein, 1980, p.85).

Unlike computers and other machines, as living, embodied beings, we cannot be indifferent to the world around us. Without having 'to work it out', we continuously react and respond to it spontaneously, in a direct and immediate way, whether we like it or not. And, in so doing, in one way or another, we necessarily connect and relate ourselves to our surroundings. Certain sounds, smells, movements, physical shapes, etc., occurring around us, 'move' us; they 'call out' from us vague, but not wholly undifferentiated responses; we find 'movements' of this or that kind, originating from the others or an otherness outside of ourselves at work within us. Sometimes, we react with surprise or bewilderment to such events, occasionally, we fail to react at all. As a result, we are always in one or another kind of living, bodily relation to our circumstances, and such relations constitute the source of all our later, more deliberate activities. Indeed, we can follow Wittgenstein (1980) when he says that: 'The origin and the primitive form of the language game is a reaction; only from this can more complicated forms develop. Language - I want to say - is refinement, 'in the beginning was the deed'' (p.31) See footnote 1. In other words, what we do later, individually, deliberately, and cognitively, originates in what we do earlier, responsively, unthinkingly, and bodily. Yet somehow, in all our current disciplinary practices in the human and behavioral sciences, the way in which our immediate, bodily reactions necessarily relates us to our surroundings, has remained rationally-invisible to us.

As professionals, we have (mostly) ignored our embodied embeddedness in this routine flow of spontaneous, living, responsive activity See footnote 2. Not only have we let it remain unnoticed in the background to everything that we do, but we have also ignored its importance as a sustaining and resourceful setting that is always present in our attempts to make sense of and in our lives. Especially, we have failed to notice the occurrence within it of those special but in fact everyday events, those departures from the routine, which enable us to gain access, not only to the 'inner worlds' of certain kinds of social groups - the 'worlds' of mathematics, music, medicine, and literature, etc. - but also to the unique 'inner worlds' of the other individuals around us, including, sometimes, the bizarre worlds of those living in strange relations to their circumstances, utterly unfamiliar to the rest of us.

What I want to explore below, then, is the part played by those special spontaneous embodied reactions we 'invite' or 'call out' from each other, in us gaining access to each other's 'inner lives' or 'inner worlds'. And further, unlike our other studies in the social sciences, I want to suggest, that it is only in terms of what is unrepeatable, novel, playful, and poetic - the unique, first-person expressions in which people express themselves - that such responsive activity can be understood. Indeed, aspects of this previously ignored, everyday background flow of activity can be brought to our attention, and characterized - from within the activity itself - by the use of some special 'poetic' methods See footnote 3 (to be outlined below), whose importance has yet to be 'officially' recognized as a proper part of our professional practices. They are exemplified, for instance, in Oliver Sacks's (1985) own account of Dr.P - the man who mistook his wife for a hat - and later, I shall outline their nature by reference to that case. Here, I shall just add, that I call these methods 'poetic', as they are to do with novelty, with processes of creation {Gr poiesis = creation}, with 'first time' makings and with 'first time' understandings - with, as Bakhtin (1993, p.1) calls them, only 'once-occurrent' events. Through such events, Sacks not only gains access to the all-but- unimaginable world of Dr.P, but gives us an access to it also.

How is this possible? If, as professionals, we are to understand what it is that makes it possible for people to make their own, unique, unrepeatable, 'inner worlds' known to each other (and to us), we do not straightaway need, I suggest, another new theory. Something else altogether is needed. We must first ask ourselves, why the crucial, responsive, embodied phenomena have remained so long unnoticed and unacknowledged, and what is involved in us all coming to attend to them in the same way. For without a shared ability to 'see' the phenomena in question, directly and unproblematically, we cannot discuss them between ourselves or formulate agreed ways of studying them. Thus, initially at least, the kind of transformation involved, is not to do with new ideas, with anything cognitive in us as individuals, with seeing something differently, but with seeing something we have not seen before for the first time. It is to do with our whole way of relating ourselves to our surroundings, our relational way being in the world. To 'get' a grasp of the kinds of connections and relations between things required in a social constructionist approach, we need to embody a new relational practice, to change what we notice and are sensitive to (as well as what we care about, and feel are the appropriate goals at which to aim). In other words, we need to change ourselves, our sensibilities, the 'background' practices we have embodied that make us the kind of professionals we are. It is to a study of their nature that I first turn.

The invisibility of our embodied being and social embedding in our disciplinary practices

It is now a social constructionist commonplace, to accept the socially constructed, relational character of people's subjectivities, their selves, their identities, their 'structures of consciousness'... at least, in theory it is. In practice, however, particularly if we take our training in one or another academic discipline seriously, its meaning for us as disciplinary (or disciplined) professionals is less clear. What is it that we have been trained to do in practice that we must now, so to speak, 'undo'? To grasp what is involved here, we can turn to Foucault (1979), for very briefly, as he reminds us, a discipline not ''makes' individuals...' (p.170), it 'produces subjected and practised bodies, 'docile' bodies' (p.138), i.e., bodies which function in certain ways unthinkingly. And in particular, the modern academic disciplines - in which the central technique of disciplinary power is administered through the examination and the review (see Foucault, 1979, pp.187-192) - 'make' the quintessential modern, professional academic. To pass our exams, etc., we must come to embody unthinkingly all the background techniques, shared sensitivities and discriminations, all the desires and aversions, shared exemplars, and so on, as well as 'the will to truth' (Foucault, 1972), that are all a part of what Kuhn (1970, pp.181- 187) calls a discipline's 'disciplinary matrix.' Instead of matrix, I shall call it a discipline's 'evaluative stance' or 'evaluative sensibility.'

A crucial part of this stance is, as Foucault (1973, and 1979, pp.187-192) calls it, a discipline's 'gaze:' that is, a way of intently looking at its subject matter that is interwoven into its methods and procedures for gaining knowledge. In proving ourselves worthy of inclusion in the discipline of psychology as a science, we had to learn to see 'objectively', to see its 'subjects' as 'objects', as entities 'caused' or 'forced' to behave solely in accord with the limited influences allowed visibility in their circumstances. And in this way of 'gazing' at both others and ourselves, it is precisely our embodied agency and the special nature of our social embedding that have been rendered rationally- invisible to us. Indeed, as Foucault (1979) points out, while a discipline imposes upon those it studies a 'principle of compulsory visibility,' modern disciplinary power itself 'is exercised through its invisibility...' (p.187).

In other words, to be 'licensed' to operate in such a discipline as modern psychology, one must come to embody within oneself a tendency to ignore, not only one's own embodied academic and social skills, but also one's own professional circumstances - the economic institutions and power arrangements in which one lives, as well as the procedure-entwined-sensibitities making the exercise of one's disciplines possible. Indeed, one is sanctioned if one fails to do so! But if it is the case that disciplines have their origins in the disorderly, the playful, the passionate, feelingful, powerful, and the poetic, in short, in the unique and unrepeatable - as I shall claim below that they do - then it is these unrepeatable background events that are excluded. They are in fact rendered invisible by 'rules of exclusion' (Foucault, 1972, p.216) that are internal to discourse itself, 'rules concerned with principles of classification, ordering and distribution' (Foucault, 1972, p.220) See footnote 4. These are the usually unnoticed, background phenomena to which I want especially to draw our attention. Thus, in what follows below, while wanting to draw attention to the special discursive and dialogical nature of our socially embedded, embodied agency, I want also to draw attention to how, due to our embodiment, those around us - in their unique, novel, and unrepeatable, first-person activities - can 'call out' responses from us, spontaneously. And to suggest, that it is in the functioning of the poetic and playful, the singular and disorderly, in the only once occurrent event, that we can originate utterly new forms of life between us.

In so doing, I want to explore what strange new and unique changes are involved in us coming, not simply to talk, but to live, as social constructionists. For, as I see it, it is entirely possible to talk academically and knowledgeably 'about' a whole set of social constructionist concepts, in theory, while still embodying in our academic practices, the mainstream, essentially individualistic, separatist, Cartesian subjectivity or sensibility into which we have been trained, unchanged. For us, it still both represents how we are, and, how things are, for us! As a result, it is only too easy for us to talk and to think of ourselves as still seeking understandings in terms of inner, mental representations, in terms, that is, of theories! When new practices - new talk entwined ways of relating ourselves bodily to each other and our surroundings - should be our goal.

For instance, we often still catch ourselves thinking that when we talk of such 'things' as people's 'selves' or 'identities', their 'language,' 'thought', 'speech', or 'discourse', of 'perspectives', or 'frameworks', of 'power', 'knowledge', 'discourse', etc., we are all taking in the knowledge of what such 'things' are. Indeed, in seeking 'theories' to explain their workings, we act as if such 'objects' are already in existence 'out there' in some complete, finalized form, and that the way to change the world is by (often evidence based) arguments between us in seminar rooms or conference halls 'about' their proper description or interpretation... hence the vehemence of our talk in such places, for more than just our theories is at stake. But this way of proceeding - by us 'picturing' our circumstances to ourselves, because the real things of interest to us are in some way 'hidden' from us, and require discovery by research - 'stands in the way of us seeing the use of [our talk] as it is' (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.305). Beguiled by the tendency of our disciplinary discourses to 'form the objects of which they speak' (Foucault, 1972, p.49), we find it difficult to find our own, spontaneous, academic talk problematic. The self-induced invisibility of our own disciplinary procedures prevents us from noticing that our embodied sense of them, as being applied to certain 'objects', has been 'developed' not by such 'objects' imposing themselves on us but by us creating a 'sense of their objective reality' within our own disciplinary discourses. Hence, we talk 'about' those others we study as being, somehow, distinct and quite separate from ourselves, utterly unrelated in fact.

Monological and dialogical stances.

In Bakhtin's terms, this professional stance toward the others around us is a one-sided, or one-way, monological stance: that is, it is a stance in which we are, simply, bodily unresponsive to the activities of the others around us. While we may 'observe' their 'movements', we ignore any (evaluative) 'responses' that they, as other living, embodied beings, spontaneously 'call out' from us (or we from them): e.g., pity at their suffering, or joy at their successes. As Bakhtin (1984) puts it: 'With a monologic approach (in its extreme or pure form) another person remains wholly and merely an object of consciousness, and not another consciousness. No response is expected from it and could change anything in the world of my consciousness. Monologue is finalized and deaf to the other's response, does not expect it and does not acknowledge in it any decisive force. Monologue manages without the other...' (pp.292-293). In other words, from within this (traditionally 'scientific') stance, we are uninterested in interacting with the people themselves, and unconcerned with their concrete circumstances; we are only interested in collecting what they say 'about' themselves, their self-talk, as 'data'. We can then say that, for us, it is indicative of the nature of their inner states, or inner mental representations.

We could call this a retrospective-objective stance toward those we study, for we are concerned not with responding to what people are actually doing or saying now, but with looking back on what they did or said as a now completed process. And, instead of seeing their self-talk as playing a part in them living out their lives, we see it as separated from its surrounding context, and as conveying this or that kind of information about certain supposed objects or events hidden within their heads somewhere. Indeed, here, we would be testing our own 'explanatory theories' as to the meaning of their utterances, and writing 'about' our findings from within what we can call a disciplinary-representational genre. Where our 'cool', intellect-only form of response to them, is all of a part with the Cartesian sensibility into which, as modern, professional academics, we have been trained See footnote 5.

If, however, we are to live as social constructionists, then, instead of a dialogically unresponsive, Cartesian, monological stance, we must acknowledge and become sensitive to a whole new range of not-before-noticed dialogical and relational phenomena in our speech intertwined relations with others. Indeed, we must go on to develop both with our colleagues, and with our 'studied ones' alike, new shared forms of life, new practices, along with all the new kinds of wants, urges, impulses, and desires that such new practices might entail. And in particular, among the new practices that we must develop, I shall argue, is a whole new way of intertwining certain non- or pre-disciplinary See footnote 6, 'poetic' forms of talk in with our ways of interacting with those we study. For it is only talk of this kind that will allow us to get a grasp of their unique 'world', their unique 'inner life', as the individuals they are (in relation to us), in a way that does justice to the 'scenarios' it creates (cf. Volosinov, 1976, p.109, quoted above).

In responding to people's self-talk in this way, we could be said to be taking a prospective-relational stance toward it, seeing it as providing, not information, but different possible relational possibilities or opportunities of a 'poetic' kind. In it, we would be writing and talking 'with' them, rather than 'about' them; it would constitute a nondisciplinary-dialogical genre, i.e., a genre from which ordinary people's unique ways of expressing themselves - in saying 'I feel this', 'I think that', as well as their expressions of, say, joy and anger, and so on - were not excluded. It is this relational focus on people's immediate, embodied, first- person, responsive reactions to each other's words that is central to the 'social poetics' approach that I want to outline here (also, see Katz and Shotter, 1996). For, it is in the way that people's responsive utterances connect, link, or relate them with their (not always immediate) surroundings, that they 'point' or 'gesture' beyond themselves, toward their 'world': For people 'show' what their 'world' is for them, in their fleeting reactions to, and understandings of, what is occurring around them, in practice. And, in being irresistibly 'moved' or 'arrested' by their reactions, in finding ourselves spontaneously responding to their responses, that we are dialogically provided with an initial, crucial grasp of their unique world.

The trouble with a one-way, bodily unresponsive, monological stance, is that from within it, we are denied (or we deny ourselves) access to these two-way, dialogical and relational phenomena. Dialogically, due to our embodiment, besides sensing a responsive reaction in our surroundings related to all that we do, we also find our surroundings 'calling out' involuntary, spontaneous, responsive reactions from us. We look at another, they smile or frown back at us, and we 'go on' with them one way or another as result; if another cries out in pain, we cannot not respond to them in some way or another - our bodies are affected. Our embedding in this kind of involuntary, two-way responsive, social activity is of outstanding importance to us. For, through our continuous, unselfcontrolled, responsive reactions within such a flow of activity, we not only uniquely relate ourselves both to each other and to our circumstances, but, in continuing to responsively react, we also re-create See footnote 7 such relations, continuously.

Elsewhere (Shotter, 1980, 1984, 1993a&b, 1995), I have called such continuously creative activity, 'joint action,' for both other people's actions and the surrounding circumstances are just as much a formative influence in what one does, as anything within oneself: In our actions, we find ourselves just as much 'called' to act 'into' our surrounding circumstances (already partially shaped by the previous talk intertwined activities of others), as 'out of' any of our own inner plans, or scripts, or such like. Hence, the intrinsic appropriateness or relatedness of such responsive action always to its unique circumstances.

People's unavoidable, responsive, bodily embedding in their surroundings, and the way in which they 'show' the nature of 'their world' in their reactions, plus the way also in which we cannot not be responsive to them, is important to us here, interested as we are in practices that might enable people to reveal the nature of their own unique inner lives to each other. For, to the extent that our responsive reactions are related to our circumstances, to how we find ourselves situated, we reveal the 'shape' of our own unique 'inner world', as well as our relations to it, in our spontaneous, moment by moment, practical reactions to what, bodily, we take our circumstances to be. And we do this in a whole number of ways. For instance: we reveal the practical meaning of another's frown to us, 'in' our responsive reluctance to continue our relations with them; we reveal the practical meaning of a person's questions to us 'in' our responsive attempts to give them adequate answers; we test our partial understanding of a person's explanation in our responsive offerings to them of possible applications or elaborations of it; we show our disturbance in not being able to make sense of another's actions 'in' our being nonplussed by them, 'in' our not being able 'to follow' them; and so on. 'The fact is,' says Bakhtin (1986), 'when the listener perceives and understands the meaning (the language meaning) of speech, he (sic) simultaneously takes an active, responsive attitude toward it. He either agrees or disagrees with it (completely or partially), augments it, applies it, prepares for its execution, and so on... Any understanding is imbued with response and necessarily elicits it in one form or another: the listener becomes the speaker... Sooner or later what is heard and actively understood will find its response in the subsequent speech or behavior of the listener' (pp.68-69).

Thus, what some 'inner thing' is for us - a 'difficulty' raised by a colleague's remark, say, in response to a possible 'solution' proposed by us to a 'problem' - is revealed, not in how we talk about 'it' afterwards, in reflection, when no longer involved in any practical way in with our colleagues, but in how we talk 'of' it in the moment: 'it' will necessarily 'shape' the unique, moment-by-moment, responsive unfolding of our current interactions with each other. But, given our training in disattending from such phenomena, if we are to appreciate the practical meaning of these abstractions, we need a living example. Here I shall turn to Oliver Sacks's case of Dr P.

Dialogic, responsive relations and their elaboration in Sacks's account of Dr P.

Although the general nature of Oliver Sacks's (1985) account of Dr P. - the man who mistook his wife for a hat - is well-known. However, with our interest here, in the character of responsive- relational practices, attention to its details will present us with some remarkable phenomena. Indeed, I will argue in the next section, that it can provide us with a model for a whole new practice that, as I have already mentioned, can be called a 'social poetics', a practice in which our responsive understandings play a central part. For instance, straightaway, we can note that when Sacks met Dr P., he found that there 'was something a bit odd' (p.8) in Dr P.'s way of visually relating to him: 'there was,' he says (p.8), 'a teasing strangeness, some failure in the normal interplay of gaze and expression.' Later, Sacks came to think that 'he faced me with his ears... but not with his eyes' (p.8) - a hypothesis born out by other evidence, as we shall see. Indeed, as Sacks notes, 'instead of looking, gazing, at me, 'taking me in', in the normal way, [he] made sudden strange fixations - on my nose, on my right ear, down to my chin, up to my right eye - as if noting (even studying) these individual features, but not seeing my whole face, its changing expressions, 'me', as a whole' (p.8).

Indeed, as a potential sufferer of glaucoma, I have myself had a similar feeling of being depersonalized when I have had to go to have my eyes looked at by an ophthalmologist. For on such occasions, in looking at my eyes, the ophthalmologist is not looking responsively at 'me', but merely for possible symptoms visible in the properties of my retinas; and it is from his lack of responsiveness to me, to my changing facial expression, to my eye movements, and so on, that my feelings of depersonalization arise. So, although it is often difficult at first to say what the strangeness of an other's responsiveness to one's own being 'is' (if, that is, it is strange at all), there is no doubt that one can sense its existence: Indeed, we always seem to know if there is a lack of correspondence between the outgoing way in which we respond to our circumstances, and how we expect it to be responsively returned back to us. Such discrepancies are always apparent to us, even when only very subtle nuances are involved: I make a suggestion, my friend pauses (hesitates) for less than a second, but noticeably, before agreeing to it, and I know, in that pause, that she is probably reluctant in some way, to some extent, to go along with what I propose. I question her. She says she agrees, but isn't she perhaps pretending? So I search for the meaning of her pause in what she 'shows' me in her other responses to me as we go on. As Wittgenstein (1953) remarks: 'It is certainly possible to be convinced by evidence that someone is in such-and-such a state of mind, that for instance, he is not [or is] pretending. But the 'evidence' here includes 'imponderable' evidence... [Where] imponderable evidence includes subtleties of glance, of gesture, of tone' (p.228), i.e., subtleties that are nonetheless consequential. And one can become convinced of the correctness of one's initial judgment, not by being able to match the pattern of what one sees with a remembered schema in an instant, but by the degree to which one can 'go on' with the person, practically, on its basis. And this was Sacks's task with Dr P.: to 'go on' with him to a sufficient degree, as to be able to build up a grasp of what Dr P.'s strange 'inner world' was like, from a whole set of Dr P.'s responses in relation to both to Sacks's probes, and to other events.

In continuing his assessment of Dr P., Sacks asked him to describe some of the pictures of whole scenes in a copy of National Geographic Magazine. Dr P.'s responses were again very curious, says Sacks: 'His eyes would dart from one thing to another, picking up tiny features, individual features, as they [his eyes] had done with my face. A striking brightness, a color, a shape would arrest his attention and elicit comment - but in no case did he get the scene-as-a-whole. He failed to see the whole, seeing only details, which he spotted like blips on a radar screen. He never entered into relation with the picture as a whole - never faced, so to speak, its physiognomy. He had no sense whatever of a landscape or scene' (p.9).

Later, on a visit to his home, Sacks presents Dr P. with some of his own family photographs: by and large, he recognized nobody, neither his family, his colleagues, or his pupils. He recognized a portrait of Einstein, by picking up the characteristic hair and moustache; his brother Paul, from his square jaw and big teeth; and one or two others from their special features. But, 'he approached these faces - even those near and dear - as if they were abstract puzzles or tests. He did not relate to them, he did not behold. No face was familiar to him, seen as a 'thou', being just identified as a set of features, an 'it'' (p.12). Indeed, Dr P. had no problems with such abstract features at all: presented by Sacks with a glove, and asked: 'What is this?' He described it thus: 'A continuous surface... infolded in on itself. It appears to have... five outpouchings, if this is the word' (p.13). He could match it to an abstract schema, but he did not know how to 'go on' with it: he saw no relation between it and a hand. Only later, when by accident he got it on, did he exclaim 'My God, it's a glove!' Previous to that point, even when prompted by being asked if it might fit or contain a part of his own body, he was quite unable to identify it.

On the basis of this and other evidence, Sacks concluded that: 'Visually, [Dr P.] was lost in a world of lifeless abstractions... [He] functioned precisely as a machine functions. It wasn't that he displayed the same striking indifference to the visual world as a computer but - even more strikingly - he construed the world as a computer construes it, by means of key features and schematic relationships. The scheme might be identified - in an 'identi-kit' kind of way - without the reality being grasped at all' (pp.13-14). Visually, Dr P. was relationally 'unmoved' by the things around him, they did not 'call out' any responses in him linking him to his surroundings in some way. Dr P.'s deficit seemed to be due to right brain damage. His abstract and categorical, left brain functions seemed to be intact - a remarkable conclusion, given that 'one of the most entrenched axioms or assumptions of classical neurology... [is] that brain damage, any brain damage, reduces or removes 'the abstract or categorical attitude' (in Kurt Goldstein's term),' says Sacks (1985, p.5).

Dr P.'s way of relating himself to his surroundings was revealed, not so much in one of Sacks's 'official' tests, as in when the tests were over, and Mrs P. set a meal of coffee and a spread of little cakes. Then, what was revealed was that: 'Hungrily, hummingly, Dr P. started on the cakes. Swiftly, fluently, unthinkingly, melodiously, he pulled the plates towards him, and took this and that, in a great gurgling stream, an edible song of food' (p.15). In other words, Dr. P related his activities to each other within a musical rhythm. Then, a peremptory knock at the door interrupted the flow, and Dr P. seemed suddenly lost, bewildered, no longer as if at a table laden with cakes. However, his wife poured him some coffee and, in responding to the smell (earlier, he had shown he could recognize a rose by its smell), he became related to his circumstances again See footnote 8; the melody of eating resumed. As a result of this 'accidental' but crucial observation, Sacks suggests that Dr P. had - without realizing it, of course - come to compensate for his 'deficit' by making music (which had been at the center of life) his whole life: 'I think that music, for him, had taken the place of [the visual] image. He had no body- image, he had body-music: this is why he could move and act as fluently as he did, but came to a total, confused stop if the 'inner music' stopped' (p.17). Indeed, if his students sat still, he could not recognize them; while if they moved, he would cry, 'That's Karl, I know his body-music' (p.17) - just as, of course, we recognize people from their 'voice-music' over the telephone, or the deaf-blind Helen Keller could reputedly recognize people by their 'hand-shake-music' up to two years after first meeting them. But without access to the 'musicality' of people and things, their body-music, the 'rhythms' that 'called out' from him his next step, so to speak, Dr P. was lost; he did not know his 'way about' in his surroundings.

Thus, about Dr P., Sacks concludes that '... he could not make a cognitive judgment, though he was prolific in cognitive hypotheses. A judgment is intuitive, personal, comprehensive, and concrete - we 'see' how things stand, in relation to one another and oneself. It was precisely this seeing, this relating, that Dr P. lacked.' (Sacks, 1985, p.17). As Wittgenstein (1953) puts it, the understanding that he lacked is precisely 'that understanding which consists in 'seeing connections'' (no.122).

The practice of a social poetics

There is something very special, then, in Sacks's way of relating himself to Dr P. With our interest in new, relational practices for coming to an understanding of the unique 'inner worlds' of other individuals, Sacks's conduct (and his account of it) illustrates a number of important points for us. For the fact is that, as a result of his responsive involvements with Dr P., Sacks comes to a grasp of an 'inner world' that is, as he himself says, so strange that, literally, it is all but unimaginable to him. And furthermore, he tells us of it! How is this possible? How can Sacks be 'told' by Dr. P of a world to which he has never before had access? And how can he convey a 'sense' of that strange reality to us? For, as he says after his first meeting with Dr. P in his consulting room, 'I could make no sense of what had occurred, in terms of conventional neurology (or neuropsychology)' (Sacks, 1985, p.10). And he had, he says, to think again, and 'to see [Dr.P again] in his own familiar habitat, at home' (p.10). But even then, after giving him a number of standard tests at home, 'the testing... told me nothing about Dr.P's inner world,' he says (p.14). Or at least, the tests only told him negatively what Dr.P could not do. What they did not do, is tell him postively how Dr.P nonetheless still managed to relate himself to his circumstances in some way. Yet clearly, Sacks did gain some access to it: indeed, as we have seen, it was the eating 'hummingly' (p.15) episode that was crucial (and I will return to it in a moment).

So what is Sacks doing here, what is his practice, both in his relations to Dr. P, and in his relations to us, his readers? Clearly, he begins by paying attention to that in Dr.P's behavior which 'moves' or 'touches' him in some way, directly; he attends to Dr. P's strange way of relating himself to him. Thus Sacks begins by bringing into the foreground - both in his relations to Dr.P and in his relations to us, his readers - what those, in their search for regularities and causes, would usually leave in the background. That is, he both adopts a prospective-relational stance toward both Dr.P, and to us. Taken together, all these moves, along with his use of contrasts and comparisons, and his use of a first-person, nondisciplinary-dialogical style of writing, contribute toward the practice, as I have already suggested, of a 'social poetics.'

Let me emphasize the importance of first-person expressions here, and their function in the expression of people's unique inner worlds: Sacks writes in the first-person, out from within his own involvements with Dr.P, talking both of Dr.P's responses and reactions to his (Sacks's), behavior, and of his own evaluative reactions to Dr.P's behavior. He talks of the 'teasing strangeness' (p.8) of Dr. P's gaze, of Dr.P 'seeming baffled' (p.9) in the shoe- episode; and so on, and, by the use of various 'as if' constructions, Sacks also gives us a 'sense' of what these strange involvements were 'like' for him. Let me list some of these 'as if' constructions: Dr.P's looking at Sacks's face was 'as if [Dr.P was] noting (even studying) [my] individual features, but not seeing my whole face...' (p.8); while his looking at a beach-scene was 'as if the absence of features in the actual picture had driven him to imagine the river and the terrace and the colored parasols' (p.10); or, 'he functioned precisely as a machine functions' (pp.13-14); and so on. These metaphorical 'as-if' constructions enable us to rehearse what such circumstances might be like for us, they allow us to relate something very unfamiliar to us to what is familiar.

Here, then, Sacks has no way of telling us 'precisely' what his initial experience with Dr.P actually was. Indeed, he did not himself know its nature. Yet he does have some access to it: his initial access to it, as I have already mentioned, is as a 'strangeness' that begins with him finding Dr P.'s way of looking at him odd. But what the particular nature of that strangeness 'is', is not at first clear: 'I'm not sure that I fully realized [its nature] at the time,' says Sacks (1985, p.8). Yet, vague and unformulated though its nature was, Sacks clearly noticed it as 'a failure in the normal interplay of gaze and expression,' a perturbation, a difference in the taken-for-granted, background flow of responsiveness usual between normal people. It was a unique beginning, a sense of a radical otherness at play in him that Sacks had never encountered before See footnote 9, a 'first time' event.

I draw attention to the initial importance of Sacks's living, embodied sense of Dr P.'s 'strange' style of interacting, to point to the way in which it hermeutically 'set the scene', so to speak, for the whole of the rest of Sacks's investigation of Dr P.'s strange 'inner world'. For, just as in our other encounters with other unique individuals - where, from their vague smiles, frowns, hesitations, and puzzled looks, etc., as well as what they say to us, we must come to a precise grasp of their meaning - so here too, beginning with this initial, embodied sense of Dr P.'s oddness, Sacks must come to a precise grasp of the meaning of Dr P.'s responses to him. He must try to make the vague, global, indeterminate way in which Dr P.'s behavior initially 'moves' him, more determinate in some way. And this is possible, for, although the evidence involved is 'imponderable' (see Wittgenstein's comments above), from within his involvement with Dr P., Sacks already knows its 'oddness' to be of a special, consequential kind. Thus, he must try to relate the way he finds himself 'moved' or 'moving' in response to Dr P.'s strangeness, to what is familiar to him. And it is from within that 'odd' involvement that he begins to explore the details of its nature, by testing and interrogating Dr P. in both some well-known ways and, as we have seen, in some 'accidental' ways also.

It is this emphasis on the living, embodied, gestural aspect of people's social practices, and the direct and immediate, sensuous responses that they call out of us, that gives us a clue as to how non-informational, 'poetic' events can give us access to worlds utterly unfamiliar to us. Their function is not so much to help us see, in contemplation, the supposedly true nature of what a certain thing or event actually is, as with drawing our attention, practically, to the possible relations and connections such things or events might have with other aspects of our lives. And it was to the 'musical' dimension in Dr. P's life that Sacks's attention was drawn. For, as he had realized, Dr. P's immediate visual world consisted only of unrelated, lifeless, fragments that failed to 'call out' any living responses from him; for him, these were aspects of an 'external' world that he had to approach 'as if they were abstract puzzles or tests' (p.12). Dr. P's 'inner world', the world of connections and relations relevant to him in living out his life, was only revealed to Sacks in the eating 'hummingly'- episode (p.15). Only there did Sacks identify the auditory nature of the ongoing 'stream of life,' so to speak, within which the meaningful events Dr.P's life had their being. This was the event which enabled Sacks to compare and to relate Dr P.'s responses to those of others in both his tests and in everyday circumstances.

It is at this point that Wittgenstein's (1953) methods of philosophizing become relevant. Aware that we often fail to notice the momentary, particularities of our own immediate circumstances, aware that we tend to see the world just as much through our words as through our eyes - that we 'tend to predicate of the thing what lies in the method of representing it' (1953, no.104) - he wants to divert us away from describing our particular, practical activities as we think they must be (in theory); and, through the 'poetic' form of his remarks, draw our attention to 'observations which no one has doubted, but which have escaped remark only because they are always before our eyes' (1953, no.415). In other words, rather than us being concerned to see everything through our disciplinary eyes (through its gaze), he wants us to notice or to attend to how we actually do (or could) in fact 'go on' with each other in our daily lives, in practice - something that usually escapes our notice.

Thus the focus on the particular and the practical, and the calling into question of classical, disciplinary assumptions, that is a part of Sacks's practice in interacting with Dr P., also characterizes the radical nature of Wittgenstein's own approach. Like Sacks, he also uses words continually outside the confines of any particular, already established language games. But even more radically than Sacks, he wants to break the grip upon us of various already established disciplinary forms of life - with their associated regimented ways of talking and conventions of significance - so that we become more open to seeing other possibilities. By his vague and indeterminate usages, by his surprising combinations, his comparisons and juxtapositions, the discontinuities and gaps he opens up, he 'deconstructs' already determined and taken for granted meanings, and shows us, for instance, that we are often 'dazzled by the ideal and therefore fail to see the actual use of [a word] clearly' (1953, no.100). Where its unique, practical meaning can only be grasped from its unique use, at a unique moment, in the unique context of its occurrence.

This is something that we all already in fact know to be the case in practice, but which we continually forget as soon as we ask ourselves about the meaning of our words. It is by his 'arranging of what we have always known' (1953, no.109) into new arrangements, by his 'assembling reminders' (1953, no.127), that he 'leads' us into seeing new connections and relations between things that we had not noticed before. He aims to produce in his talk (his writings) what he calls 'a perspicuous representation,' a form of talk that 'produces just that understanding which consists in 'seeing connections'' (1953, no.122) - something, that is, of the form of a new poetic image. This image can then be further elaborated and related to the rest of our lives by means of comparisons. Indeed, this is Wittgenstein's (1953) aim in his talk of 'language-games:' 'The language-games are... set up as objects of comparison which are meant to throw light on the facts of language by way not only of similarities, but also of dissimilarities' (no.130). Where such comparisons will help 'to establish and order in our knowledge of the use of language: an order with a particular end in view; one out of many possible orders; not the order' (no.132).

The importance of comparisons in elaborating the relational understandings of everyday, cannot be overemphasized (Shotter, 1995). Situated within the 'strange' responsive 'movement' flowing between himself and Dr P., Sacks uses such comparisons to create yet further differences, yet further responsive 'movements', that work to identify the relation of Dr P.'s 'strange' responses to one's more familiar to him (Hermans and Kempen, 1993). Thus Sacks, by hermeneutically relating all the fragments he gathers into a meaningful whole, succeeds in 'placing' them in an intelligible relation, ultimately, to the rest of his own knowledge of both neurology in particular, and people in general. Unlike our attempts, as disciplinary professionals, to 'place' something within a closed theoretical framework or system, this method of investigation, Sacks's method, is endlessly open to extension. As long as we can find or invent new ways of relating to others, we can elicit yet other distinctive reactions and responses from them, and apply yet further images and metaphors in terms of which to talk of their nature. Indeed, as we 'move' from functioning within one way of relating to an other - as we cross the boundaries between different 'forms of life,' to use Wittgenstein's (1953) term - we can experience the changed wants, desires, and temptations, as well as the different ways of handling, looking, and evaluating, associated with each. Where each new elaboration, each new way of relationally responding, serves to 'fill out' yet more connections and relations between the initially puzzling event and aspects of people's lives more well known to us. And this is how Sacks treated Dr P.'s talk: as bodily 'gesturing' or 'pointing toward' significant aspects of his 'inner world'.

Such methods, then, do the opposite of what we might expect of scientists, logicians, or philosophers: they first create an indeterminacy where before there were determinate meanings, and direct our attention to new possibilities that can at first only be 'sensed', vaguely. But we can now perhaps see why, given what we said above about the nature of a social poetics, Wittgenstein's methods contribute toward our goal: for although they do not provide us with any new theories as to the nature of our words, they do provide us with a new practice. That is, instead of helping us 'find' or 'discover' something already existing, but supposedly hidden behind appearances, they help us grasp something new, as yet unseen, that can be sensed in the emerging articulation of the appearances unfolding before our very eyes (or ears). And in these circumstances, the problems facing us 'are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known' (1953, no.109). We find in our current ways of 'going on' with each other (as a social group) possibilities for relating ourselves to each other in new ways, possibilities for new social practices. Thus Wittgenstein's methods 'move' us, professionally, toward a new way of 'looking over' the 'play' of appearances unfolding before us, such that, instead of seeing them as related to each other in terms of certain theoretical assumptions, we see them in terms of the connections and relations they might actually make, the roles they might play in our lives. His similes draw to our attention things with which we are already in fact conversant, in practice, but of which we need to be reminded: 'How hard I find it,' he says, 'to see what is right in front of my eyes' (Wittgenstein, 1980a, p.39).

Indeed, the form of speaking and writing here is not unconnected with science fiction, with imagining distortiions and transformatins of the human form. Indeed, Sacks himself says of writing of such figures as Dr P. and of others, that they are like 'travellers to unimaginable lands - lands of which otherwise we would have no conception. This is why their lives and journeys seem to me to have a quality of the fabulous... [and] I feel compelled to speak of tales and fables as well as cases... [and my friend] Luria liked to speak here of 'romantic science'' (Sacks, 1985, p.xi).


I began by raising the question as to what is involved, not simply in talking as a social constructionist, but in living as one. And I want to end by suggesting that, following Wittgenstein, as far as our investigations are concerned, our task is not that of finding the single, Archimedean standpoint from which to construct a final, true theory of everything. Indeed, I want to suggest that it is not to do with finding any new theories at all. It is to do with creating new ways of acting, new practices within which to capture - to notice and characterize kinguistically - the character of the living moments in which meaning making occurs. Our ways of acting, or forms of life, are primary and do not, and cannot, receive their justification or rationale from any theories that we might have of them. They are themselves the source (the grounds) of all the justifications we might offer for specific actions, for the task of such justifications is to sustain our forms of life in existence (Mills, 1940). Indeed, as Wittgenstein (1953) puts it, a theoretical picture often 'stands in the way of us seeing the use of [a] word as it is' (no.305) - we need to be sensitive to the changing sensuous influences actually at work on us, moment-by- moment, in our ordinary, everyday conversational interactions with each other. For, 'conversation flows on, the application and interpretation of words, and only in its course do words have their meaning' (Wittgenstein, 1981, no.135); and 'what we [i.e., those who follow his methods] do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use' (1953, no.116). That is, we point out, not the explicit, conventional, cognitive, representational meanings of people's words, but meanings of a quite different kind: those implicit in people's unique, sensed, responsive reactions to their surroundings. Thus my aim in this chapter, has been to try to articulate the nature of the relational practices involved in investigating these fleeting, momentary, responsive meanings.

Given their special nature, the turn to a poetics is not accidental, for it involves grasping the unique, only once occurrent nature of the most fleeting, momentary, fragmentary phenomena, without, so to speak, ever stepping out from within the momentary flow of their unfolding. Realizing the difficulty of this task, Wittgenstein (1980a) remarks: 'Perhaps what is inexpressible (what I find mysterious and am not able to express) is the background against which whatever I could express has its meaning' (p.16). Yet he is convinced that without some grasp of the nature of this background flow of activity, we have no hope of coming to any understanding of our ordinary, everyday activities: 'How could human behavior be described?' he asks. 'Surely only by showing the actions of a variety of humans, as they are all mixed up together. Not what one man is doing now, but the whole hurly-burly, is the background against which we see an action, and it determines our judgment, our concepts, and our reactions,' he replies (Wittgenstein, 1980b, no.629).

In other words, to the extent that we are never not in contact in some way with our surroundings, we are never not involved in two, two-way flows of activity: i) in one, activity outgoing from ourselves calling out responses or replies from our surroundings, and ii) in the other, activity outgoing from our surroundings calls out responses from us. For Volosinov (1973) and Bakhtin (1986), this not only means that the unbroken flow of responsive activity always has a dialogical quality to it, but also, that the meaning of people's words can never be wholly 'inside' any of them as individuals: 'If experience does have a meaning, if it is susceptible of being understood and interpreted, then it must have existence in the material of actual, real signs... Outside that material there is no experience as such... Thus there is no leap involved between inner and outer experience and its expression, no crossing over from one qualitative realm of reality to another... nowhere in its entire course does the process go outside the material of signs' (Volosinov, 1973, p.28). But also, Volosinov (1976) adds, 'the situation [always] enters into the utterance as an essential constitutive part of the structure of its import. Consequently, a behavioral utterance as a meaningful whole is comprised of two parts: (1) the part realized or actualized in words and (2) the assumed part' (p.100) - or, as Wittgenstein would put it, a part that is 'said' and a part that is only 'shown' in the utterance.

The relational, responsive, dialogic meaning of a sign, a word, an expression, is thus something that is produced, uniquely, in the practical unfolding of the concrete relations between particular people, in relational to their actual circumstances, over time. 'To understand another person's utterance means to orient oneself with respect to it, to find the proper place for it in the corresponding context. For each word of the utterance that we are in the process of understanding, we, as it were, lay down a set of our own answering words. The greater their number and weight, the deeper and more substantial our understanding will be' (Volosinov, 1973, p.102). Finding ourselves 'moved' in a vague, ill-understood fashion in our initial response to a person, we further differentiate, supplement, and elaborate its nature in our further replies to their replies, until eventually, we find their responses 'making sense' to us - our later responses making clear to us what the meaning of our initial, vague response 'must' have been.

With this, we arrive at a most surprising conclusion: in this responsive, relational, dialogical view of our inner lives, the 'things' supposedly contained 'in' them are not to be found 'inside' us as individuals at all, but 'in' the continuously unfolding relations occurring between ourselves and others (or an otherness), in our surroundings. Indeed, we cannot as individuals (easily) hide the contents of our 'inner' lives wholly inside ourselves, for, whether we like it or not, we 'display' them in the unfolding 'movement' of us living out our lives, responsively, amongst others. Our embodied embeddedness in this living flow of responsive activity is ineradicable; we cannot not be immersed in it. 'Only in the stream of thought and life do words [and our other activities] have meaning' (Wittgenstein, 1981, no.173).



Footnote: 1 [1] Vygotsky (1986) also makes a similiar point in proposing that: '... awareness and deliberate control appear only during a very advanced stage in the development of a mental function, after it has been used and practiced unconsciously and spontaneously. In order to subject a function to intellectual and volitional control we must first possess it' (p.168).

Footnote: 2 [2] But see Sampson (this volume) who draws both on Bourdieu (1991) and Dreyfus's (1991) account of Heidegger's Being and Time (1962).

Footnote: 3 [3] The idea of a social poetics has been developed in collaboration with a colleague, Dr Arlene M. Katz (see Katz and Shotter, 1996).

Footnote: 4 [4] And, Foucault (1972) claims, there is no escape from such rules, even through the device of producing a commentary on them: 'There is no question of their being one category, fixed for all time, reserved for fundamental or creative discourse, and another for those which reiterate, expound and comment... Play... in the form of commnetary... is nothing more than the reappearance, word for word... of the text commented on... Commentary averts the chance element of discourse by giving it its due: it gives us the opportunity to say something other than the text itself, but on condition that it is the text itself which is uttered and, in some ways, finalized' (p.220, p.221). Here, clearly, I disagree. It is the move to more poetic forms of talk that moves us out from under the domination of established discourses.

Footnote: 5 [5] Indeed, we can find the origins of this stance in Descartes's (1986) search in his second mediation - the revealing subtitle of which is: 'The nature of the human mind, and how it is better known than the body' - for the 'one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakable' (p.16), to function as the Archimedean point for the rest of his intellectual endeavors. He finds it, of course, in his certainty that what he is, is 'a thing that thinks' (p.19). With this as a sure basis, he feels able to claim, without a doubt, that: 'I now know that even bodies are not strictly perceived by the sense or the faculty of imagination but by the intellect alone, and that this perception derives not from their being touched or seen but from their being understood; and in view of this I plainly know that I can achieve an easier and more evident perception of my own mind than of anything else' (pp.22- 23). And it is this 'disembodied', unresponsive-to-the-other stance, that we all have had to learn to embody if we want to be accounted properly professional in our academic dealings, both with those we study, and with our fellow professionals.

Footnote: 6 [6] I say non- or pre-disciplinary, as this form of talk, by definition, must be non-exclusionary.

Footnote: 7 [7] That is, we re-create, re-inscribe, or sustain in existence certain forms of relation, thus to stabilize and establish them, while also leaving open the possibility of creating entirely new forms.

Footnote: 8 [8] Sacks (1985) says, the smell 'brought him back to reality' (p.15).

Footnote: 9 [9] Later, he does discover the existence of other similar cases. However, we should not allow the strangeness of Dr P.'s case to mislead us into thinking that this makes it a special case, sui generis. For, in coming to a grasp of anyone's unique, 'inner world', we always come to a grasp of something to which we have never before had access. As Garfinkel (1967) puts it, our encounters with others are always for yet 'another first time' (p.9). What makes Dr P.'s case special, is the way in which Sacks had to set about elaborating and supplementing his initial responsive reaction to Dr P. to finally make sense of it.



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