Monday, December 10, 2007

A People Who Do Not Yet Exist

Honouring the Work of Lynn Hoffman

There is no work of art that does not call on a people who do not yet exist.

Gilles Deleuze

I imagine a work, I imagine myself into a work that is distant from the therapeutic milieu; that is, it is not about fixing-the-broken, but it is about, and, I might add, perhaps primarily about, calling "on a people who do not yet exist."

A few thoughts on this work.

This work is not about instituting an intervention, plying our trade and our tricks toward 'community-building' for predetermined ends. For that work is still squarely within the therapeutic assess-and-fix mode; that work is about structuring a team toward assessing-and-fixing. The work I am imagining is about the calling of a people around a moment, an event, an exchange of gifts; a calling on a people who are able to move in response to the moment, the event, the gifts given. And, we don't do the calling. We don't do the gathering. The calling and gathering transpire in response, always in response. We may bear witness to it, we may be part of it -- in fact we will be, we must be – but we do not generate it, we do not manipulate it.

"A people who do not yet exist" is in no way referring to a lack, an oedipal grief to be lamented and exorcised away. The "not yet" suggests no lack at all, but rather a constant becoming; with every moment, every event a new people is becoming. And, this "people" is in no way static, can never be stopped in its becoming to be measured or delineated, for it is in continuous flow and mutation, and it is continuously coalescing around specific moments and events. As Deleuze says of art, so also, this work I am imagining invites and witnesses ongoing becomings of peoples. And these are not simply virtual becomings, though ghosts and dreams and hazy presences will doubtless be in attendance, these will also be flesh and blood becomings -- becomings with breath and response, with faces and hands.

In imagining this work, I am not imagining a future work; I am imagining a work already here, and repeatedly already here. I think of a vast collection of memories within my own work, and I also think of the movements of others. But, particularly, I think of the work of my good friend, Lynn Hoffman.

Lynn… I see her as if she works in no other way, always connected to events and moments which call for a people. And I see the people, the peoples. I can seem them gathering in my own imagining, the faces and voices of a host of bodies, bustling together in response to gifts turning and returning. Lynn is there, in this midst, in the middle of it all. Lynn is there, not so much talking and listening, though she does that, but with a touching; a touching upon hands and shoulders, also between eyes and words. And, she finds that she is also touched -- touched on all sides, in ways that are beyond her own imaginings. These touches are rhizome touches, multiplying touches. This is my imagining of her work.

And the gathering continues. A gathering that Lynn calls on…

Tom Anderson

I think of the late Tom Anderson of Norway. I think of the language of 'reflection' that he gave, and he still gives so generously.

I imagine Tom talking of response. He sees response in the rhythms of bodies, into the movements of breaths. And, I hear him turning the common-place on its head. He talks of the newborn child teaching the mother and father how to care for her. I see him talk of his own dog. I hear him say: "Get a dog! And, let the dog teach you how to gently stroke it." These movements he describes, they are a complete reversal to all language of control that has dominated the therapeutic professions – the baby teaches parents; the dog teaches his master. Yet, in these movements of response and reflection a people gather, a people who previously did not exist. A continual gathering is called forth. The gatherings that form around Tom have been clearly evident in the history of family therapy, and can be seen in utter abundance. For example, even to try and map out the rhizome lines that have formed, and are constantly forming, around the idea of a "reflecting team" would be a complete futility.

When I think of Tom, I also think of Lynn. For, I met Tom, and I met Tom's ideas, in a most personal way, through my friendship with Lynn.

In January, 2006, Lynn and Tom were both at a gathering I helped to arrange in Bellingham, Washington. During this event there was a particular moment that occurred. I believe that anybody who experienced this moment could never forget it. Tom, in a movement toward honouring Lynn, entered into conversation with her, to talk with her of her work and her influence in the field of family therapy. We folded in a reflecting conversation as part of the experience. This event was a long time in the planning; we had hoped to do it the year before in England, but the opportunity never materialized at that time. In my remembering of this moment, it was not the content that returns, it was the tenderness, a quiet love shown between two leaders in the family therapy field, two people who respected and cared deeply for each other. I can still see kindness in the lines on Tom's face. And the very same lines upon Lynn's face -- lines of a significant symmetry. No originator, no leader, just reflected lines with history and love.

The story continues.

The Irish Fifth Province Group

I go back to the years eighty-nine and ninety, and my introduction to the work of the Irish Fifth-Province group from Dublin -- Imelda McCarthy, Nolaig Byrne, and Phillip Kearney. At that time I met them through Karl Tomm, in Calgary, Alberta. Through the years they have continued their journeys, moving at times to places unimagined, and to places that also can only be imagined. My personal connection with them, however, cannot be separated from Lynn Hoffman.

The rhizome lines around Lynn tend to tie people in beautiful ways. I met both Nolaig and Imelda again in the last few years in England and in Vancouver. I discovered that their stories, like mine, are significantly entwined with Lynn's. In my various encounters with them, they repeatedly voiced an admiration, and an appreciation and a love for Lynn Hoffman.

The Irish Fifth Province team told tales of comings-together, in places that were often poor and troubled. I remember the nun who became a radical feminist and lived with the people she worked with, right within their own housing centres. I remember the young woman who protested the system of tracking in the Irish education system, who called for a renewal of education within her own homeland. Even the television had to tell her tale. And, I remember the respect and love that they brought with them for the land, the sea, the music, the people, and the sense of beauty that seems to repeatedly emerge. They left me wondering if perhaps it is difficult to be Irish and not to create movements that in turn bring-together, create gatherings. I must talk with them about it, and I most certainly will – over a pint, of course.

I must share just a few words from Imelda talking about Lynn. These words come from an email she sent to me as I prepared this document_ I could share more, but it is not necessary, it says everything:

Lynn - she is part of the fabric of who we are - like she kind of formed us to move in the direction she did. We always referred to her as our Fairy God-Mother.

Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson

And in any case if one were to reply to the other without flinching; if one replied exactly, fully, and adequately; if one perfectly adjusted the reply to the question, demand, or expectation – would one still be replying? Would anything be occurring? Would an event happen? Or just the completion of a program, an operation that can be calculated? To be worthy of the name,shouldn't any reply have the surprise of some newness bursting in?

Derrida (2005)
p. 77.

Harlene Anderson

There are, of course, other rhizome lines that are treasured by Lynn. I think of Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson. I never had opportunity to meet Harry, but I have met Harlene, and the nature of our meeting seems telling – that is our first meeting. In the fall of 2006 I attended an event in Austin, Texas (what a terrific town Austin is). It was a recurring event that Lynn has been involved with from the very beginning. She talks of initiating this gathering along with Harry. Lynn insisted that I must meet Harlene. She saw rhizome lines that she insisted must be connected. Well, while in Texas, Harlene and I had numerous small interactions, many brushes of connection, and numerous joint attempts to try and connect up in a more prolonged conversation. However, the intensity of conversation that we both desired was not to be. And why? It was obvious to me! For, wherever Harlene went, a people formed, rhizome lines just pulled together. Harlene and I could not meet alone. That was not to be, at least, not at that time. And, my appreciation for Harlene is stronger because of it. For, I saw a work put forth by Harlene that bore a resemblance to the work of Lynn's. I saw that both Lynn and Harlene, in their interactions, form a "people who do not yet exist". That's what they both do. That's why I was not able to meet privately with Harlene in Austin. However, in subsequent times, Harlene and I were able to connect, and the connection felt meaningful.

Also, Harlene and Harry talked repeatedly of taking a stance of "not-knowing". And, this was not a ruse, not a manipulation; this was a position of understanding, a position where one truly did not know. After all, how could we possibly know? In a world where abundance constantly tiptoes through our every move, it seems just plain sensible to appreciate the impossibility of knowing.

Keeping in mind Harry and Harlene's emphasis on not-knowing, I think of the image of Lynn at work, in conversation? Lynn clearly doesn't know, and she knows she doesn't know, so she walks through the event as an experimenter, not a knower. She will often have a sense that comes to her, amidst the conversation, as if flowing to her through underground channels, rhizome channels of course. These senses often appear as images, and sometimes as cryptic sayings. When one of these senses comes to Lynn, she often most tentatively puts it out to those she is in conversation with. She puts it out in such a kind-hearted, not-knowing way. And yet, there seems to be something that at times is so delightfully brazen about this. This, of course, necessitates a story, a story very closely connected to me. Lynn loves to tell this tale, so I'll let her.

I sat in on a weekly conference attended by a group of men who were in charge of homes for troubled youth. They were all bikers and had vivid tattoos winding up their forearms. Not having been introduced, I felt like a foreign object, but I sat and listened with interest. A large dog under the circular table kept going from one set of feet to another, finally settling on mine. At this point, the leader of the group, still without introducing me, asked me for my opinions. I said that what had most impressed me was their tenderness.

Then I ventured something outrageous: I said "To me, you are just a bunch of fairy Godfathers."A moment of appalled silence, and then the group burst into a huge roar, looking especially at the leader, the one who had the most impressive tattoos. Luckily he was laughing too. This man and a colleague came to our community meeting the next day and commented powerfully on their past experience of class prejudice from persons in social service agencies. But what most caught my eye was a small tag pasted on the shirt of the leader, saying "Fairy Godfather."

Hoffman, in Kinman (2006), p. 6.
This is what might happen when Lynn doesn't know. She may receive some sense through an underground channel, then, she may audaciously put it out there for the rest of us to see, here and touch. And, so often, in response, beauty and pure delight emerge. Lynn cherishes each of these unfoldings, each emergence. She treasures all these things as gifts, as precious gifts,transported upon unseen rhizome lines.

And Lynn gives... not a gift of an extraordinary therapist (which she is), but the gift of a becoming, of becomings, of people becoming, coming together, gathering in response. When Lynn talks we smile, we laugh, we say "yes, yes, and of course, of course", and we become, something other, not a new person but a people, a new people, a people who do not quite yet exist. It is this becoming people which constantly gathers and re-gathers in connection with Lynn.

I now can imagine a work which is not aimed at changing the person, or parts of the person, it is, rather, a work which stirs together, creating a people. I now can imagine a work which transforms not souls, but rooms and worlds, which clears spaces where souls can gather, and do gather. And a people become.

Thanks Lynn...

Derrida, J. (2005). Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. New York: Versa.

Kinman, C. (2007). Confluences: Politics of the Gift in an Institutional World. Abbotsford, British Columbia: C. Kinman & Associates Ltd.

Lynn Hoffman together with Tom Andersen in Bellingham, WA, USA, 2005
Photo by Janice DeFehr

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