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Joseph Augustine "Frisky Dirt" (Cambridge, UK)

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Behind the Masks: Discovering Your True Self
Behind the Masks: Discovering Your True Self
by Jean Bond
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Healing the wounds of the past by revealing the masks..., 2 Dec. 2009
Jean Bond is a former academic and now an emotional educator, who does not call herself a counsellor or therapist. The book was written over 15 years ago and many of the references understandably stem from much earlier, probably when self growth sections (MBS) in book shops were not so bulging!

Her formative experiences into the world of self-development were shaped by Werner Erhard and his seminar training (EST) and a large portion of the book alludes to the deficiency and growth work of Abraham Maslow. There are also notable references provided by Krishnamurti, Scott Peck, Alice Miller, Emmanuel (Pat Rodegast), Ram Dass, and Erich Fromm to name a few. It would not be a gigantic leap of supposition to make the assertion that emotional education in the 1970s was influenced by the 1960s consciousness movement, and for this reason the book felt like a cultural time warp - a distillation of then current wisdom guiding a generation along the path of growth and awareness. Therefore if you are looking for more up-to-date ideas on emotional awareness, i.e. post Daniel Goleman, possibly searching elsewhere may be a consideration.

However once adjusted to the cultural perspective, the beauty of the book is overwhelming in its integrity and openness. The intricate details and gritty realism that Jean provides about her personal life and the stories that unfold through the meetings with her clients are full of refreshing hope and wisdom. Cultural expectations and tolerances may have changed, but the healing basis for peoples lives remains the same: facilitating awareness, acknowledgment and forgiveness within a supportive group is a timeless setting for forging growth.

The structure of the book is very much like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. After exploring some of the reasons behind the scarcity patterns of physical security, psychological safety and belonging which become a sort of life fixation, the book 'opens up' to explore the more evolved avenues of love, relationships and identity. Finally spiritual matters (e.g. Assagioli) and relationship counselling are considered.

The simple premise is that many of us adopt masks (or dis-eases) as a reflexive means to please or survive our immediate environment. As children with dysfunctional parenting we carry on this strategy including rebelling or withdrawing into ourselves out of protection. For many of us, an experience of effective parenting is a precious, if not sometimes idealistic rare gift. But there is no doubt that the message Jean Bond provides is that making the time to heal the wounds of the past is a worthwhile journey.

Introducing Lacan
Introducing Lacan
by Darian Leader
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Jacques Lacan is not innate he is an external structure.., 19 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Introducing Lacan (Paperback)
To be brutally honest, this book is infuriating, as much no doubt are the words of Lacan - interpreted widely, accurately or not, through translation, through transmission and through cultural appropriation. His words are enigmatic and this book is unflowingly incomprehensible at times and counter-intuitive. Should the maternal phallus have a symbolic existence? What is jouissance..? (I have read different versions). What are the boundaries between the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary? Surely my identity is constructed as an inward structure too?

With no prior knowledge of Lacan, I would be quickly surprised if the entirety of the concepts offered here could be fundamentally grasped. The author weaves a thread of understanding and goes a long way to describe Lacanian thought, but if you have made it through the head-twisting turns of the revamped castration complex with only a glimmer of enlightenment, the infamous Graph of Desire must surely prove a challenge. This is where I put the book down, and went back to the beginning again and again.. and again..

Reading any great philosopher is a challenge.. can any of their words be actually proven? Lacan was a clinician that trained psychologists may baulk at, but even hobbyist philosophers can instinctively relate to.. All you can accuse this person of is original thinking? If you look to his influences they are myriad and transparent, his project always evolving. What can be overlooked though is the great care and exacting attention with which Lacan delivered his words; very aware of the difficulty of making pronouncements. Instead he recognised fully the value of realisations to his students..

Therefore his theory may turn out to be thoroughly understood in a way that is beyond words and only in practice, and a book with cartoons may only be a crude starting point. With this in mind, Lacan for Beginners is an oxymoron, an ironic undertaking in the sense that you could actually consider yourself any the wiser at the end.

My advice is to enjoy the challenge, and see where it leads you.. and just from time to time discover the brilliance of where he was going, and admittedly never arrived. It could provide insightful dynamics of the psyche.. and if nothing else offer intuitive cognitive gymnastics born from a theory full of nourishing holes..!!

I have dropped a star because this book is in the wrong category.. "beginners".

Lacan: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
Lacan: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
by Lionel Bailly
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gem of an introduction that is hard to put down..., 9 Oct. 2009
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Having previously read both the Writers and Readers Lacan for Beginners and Introducing Lacan books and now this introduction, I have to say that this is easily the best out of the three. The other two readings came across at times as cribbed notes or condensed primers that would supplement previous learning rather than a straight forward guide for the novice. There is no getting away from the fact that Lacan offers a system of thought that has to be learnt, and once the building blocks are in place a rich journey awaits. Maybe to over-simplify at the beginning could actually confuse matters. However it is with irony that re-reading the cartoon guides again, brought a whole layer of rich meaning that was locked out first time round. They have an almost poetic resonance that Bailly's book more than amply fleshes out.

Particular highlights for me are the very strong explanations of the 'four discourses' of the Hysteric, Institution, Master and Analyst which based on 'mathemes' I found inpenetratable elsewhere. Also the description of 'sexuation' in establishing gender is lucidly described after the groundwork for understanding this concept in preceding chapters is logically and plainly layed down.

Lacan is famed for his emphasis on the capturing of the image at the 'mirror stage' in the development of the ego and the representation of the Other in language, i.e. the imaginary and symbolic registers as alienating features of the Subject or Self. A considerable amount of explication is provided to the rest of the interconnecting web of Lacan's theory, in his notions of the Real, the Sinthome, the Object Petit a, The Name of the Father, Desire, Jouissance and The Phallus. It is the nature of Lacan's theory that each concept does not remain in isolation and benefits from over-layered multi-threaded analysis that can only be obtained with training and over time, before professional intuition applied.

A welcoming aspect is how much I was made aware of the zeitgeist of early 20th century thought. By being introduced to the major influences in Lacan's work, such as Henri Wallon, Saussure and Levi-Strauss there is a sense that Lacan was prepared to beg, borrow and steal in formulating his theory, and an indication that there could be more developments to come from post-Lacanians or research clinicians keen to adapt Lacan to contemporary thought. By emphasising the shifting nature of the signifier as part of a code or continuous chain of meaning, Lacan's cultural antennae is tuned into post-structuralism, which explains why his concepts have been readily adopted by students of post modern cultural critical analysis.

The latter part of the book explains what to expect from a trained Lacanian for someone thinking about becoming attached to the therapeutic couch. The practise borders on eastern zen mysticism with a constant peeling back of the ego (moi) through oblique hints, pregnant pauses, and even variable session times which are meant to lead the analysand into moments of realisation as the the signifier chain of the Subject is exposed. It was fascinating to learn how Lacanians are wary of transference (and counter-transference) if not handled properly, and that the ultimate aim of analysis is to amplify the desire of wanting to know what the client believes can only be found in the analyst (the subject-supposed-to-know), who in fact is equally lacking!! Divesting the easiness in which our power is offered to Others, i.e. by external and internal representation (from what positions are we identified?) due to how we are born into primary helplessness, is the path towards individuation the analyst helps the analysand to walk - until discarded.

Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder, 2nd Edition
Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder, 2nd Edition
by Richard A. Moskovitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.25

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How many angels has this book rescued?, 5 Sept. 2009
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This is one of those easy flow books that is accessible for many viewpoints including professionals and especially those lost within the symptoms of BPD but who do not know how to describe what they are experiencing and are very much alone. It also goes on to describe the usual steps in treatment such as group therapy, drug therapy and hospitalisation with some mention of new innovative therapies: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy).

An unexpected encounter is the threaded narrative of a condensed case history that completes each brief chapter. This has the effect of easing the absorption of much of the material that is presented. At times, the human message left me somewhat sad at the tortuous life that the fictitious Sara portrayed, which was no doubt a true amalgamation of a typical case history, but Dr Moskovitz treats her symptoms with understanding and extreme care and thankfully finds a successful closure.

It is a real insight into the profound sensitivity, lucidity and above all utter integrity of the psychotherapeutic relationship. As well as gaining a footing into the mirror world of lost identity, black and white thinking, reactive impulses derived through child hood hurt, the enormity of the task ahead for the mental health profession becomes also clear. It is argued that 25 per cent of psychiatric hospitalisations in the States are BPD derived - which is staggering.

As this is the second edition, now almost 8 years old, there may possibly be more up to date introductions into the subject. But I think if you want one written with more warmth, kindness and compassion, it might be hard to match Dr Moskovitz's version and clarity, which no doubt explains its popularity still today.

On Fire
On Fire
Offered by CAC Media UK
Price: £26.86

5.0 out of 5 stars An evocative album that always inspires..., 30 Aug. 2009
This review is from: On Fire (Audio CD)
Bought this album on cassette close to its release...don't know why, and banged it in my Sony Walkman. It became the soundtrack to a trip to Morocco.. The introspective and minimal music mirrored the colourful primitive landscapes and the new wondrous sights and sounds of North African life incredibly well as I experienced them in my head. Their expansive sound stage filled the void of my dreams for exploration and travel and today Galaxie 500 reisued in CD and MP3 format, have not lost their singular ethereal quality that preceded Sigur Ros. They could even become a band that would suitably accompany nascent travellers into outer space.. NASA or Sir Richard Branson watch out!

A few years later, I was struggling to learn to play guitar and pulled out the album to discover how every song on the album can easily be learnt using workhorse guitar patterns. The slow tempo also made it incredibly simple to play along to and listen out for the chord structures by ear.

The band captured a unique early 1990s vibe that has a certain Velvet Underground inspired influence.. but just an influence. Dean's voice and guitar and Naomi's trippy bass lines seamlessly evolve through the fabric of their songs which are neither complex nor basic, but inhabit the pure indulgent atmospheric space in-between.

The lyrics also struck me as quirky and sometimes schizoidal, shifting time and perspective, such as in 'Blue Thunder' exploring Dean's sensitive fantasy relationship with his car - very different to the usual bombastic boys-toys offering. There are references to peaceful drifting alienation and dislocation in songs such as 'Snowstorm', 'Strange' and 'Leave The Planet'. However, it might be the song 'Decomposing Trees' that mostly left its mark on me - ecological maybe before green elegies were considered fashionable.. and plumbing the depths of alternative realities, that might have seemed a tad drugs laden in hindsight - but very very memorable and evocative: "I walked up stream.. And I sat in the mud.. Life starts again.. Watching Trees Decompose". How Zen is that..

Narcissism: Denial of the True Self
Narcissism: Denial of the True Self
by Alexander Lowen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing the lurker in the shadows of your mind.., 21 Aug. 2009
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Narcissism is a personality disorder which at first can be hard to distinguish from a success model of culture that may also be narcissistically deduced. As Lowen mentions, if a definition of insanity cannot be made without reference to the norms of the culture, then where is the starting point for an assessment of the subject? And how are we so sure that the basis of narcissism isn't actually healthy in the first place, but which then becomes distorted?

The purity and candidness of feeling exhibited by the real Self exhibiting little narcissism, is described in great comprehensive detail by Lowen and comes out of a strong personal belief and passion through his distinguished clinical observations. Once you unravel the true implications of a more intimate relationship with your Self there may not be any way back from the psychological phenomenon of denial, which lies at the heart of narcissism. Therefore, I found this book helped me question my authenticity to my true feelings, and in many ways Lowen hits the proverbial nail on the head with his account of modern living that is literally breeding narcissists, which is blatently hard to ignore IMHO.

Lowen grounds his theory within a psychoanalytical framework - his lineage can be traced back to Freud, through a deep personal connection with Reich. The reader may therefore be bracing themselves for the usual descriptions of the Oedipal and Electra complexes. However a more sophisticated version of the classical complexes is concentrated upon, in particular the concept of 'seduction' as a form of exploitation within the family nest. If one equates seduction theory with Karpman's dramatic triangle - the persecutor as the seductor, the victim the seductee and the rescuer the person wanting admiration - there are a myriad ways a selfish 'acting out' between parent and child, and vice versa may take place, which provides an interesting point of discussion to consider further.

The book does come across as mildly 'judgy' in being rather dualistic with the perceptive Lowen polemically assessing what is an authentic bodily feeling or cultural attitude and what is an inauthentic "as if" once or twice removed one from the body. As an esteemed clinician he is in an excellent place to make the call, such as in the differences between anger and rage, sadness and sentiment, terror and horror and so forth. However other psychoanalytical traditions may have varying points of view into how a real interpretation of the body's expression can be so accurately determined, especially as it also represents a symbolic statement, and is mirrored through the senses - I refer here in the main to Lacan.

Overall the book is written in a clear and lucid style and I would recommend it to anyone as an entry into this growing topic. On its own it is not enough to gain a thorough introduction to the subject of Narcisissm. It may well be the case that as culture changes its outlook, mental illness adapts a pace. Lowen's wise acknowledgement is that over many decades of practice he has noticed that guilt and anxiety based illnesses are far less common than those derived out of sheer negligent over-indulgence.
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The Fragility of Goodness: Luck And Ethics In Greek Tragedy And Philosophy
The Fragility of Goodness: Luck And Ethics In Greek Tragedy And Philosophy
by Martha Craven Nussbaum
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond stars.., 4 Aug. 2009
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Without exception the most enlightening read I have undertaken in many years. Though very heavily academically rigorous at times which may sometimes baulk, the littered arguments never detract from the flow of the narrative.

Martha Nussbaum's is perspicuous in marrying philosophy and literature and elegantly presents the line between philosophy and psychology so that it appears as a charade. I can therefore only describe the read as a journey: at times my mind felt as if it was bent out of position and moulded into a penetrating analysis of Plato and Aristotle - only rarely offered by someone with a unique and gifted scholarly passion.

Martha Nussbaum has an uncanny intimate connection with Aristotle. She puts forward a strong argument for his philosophy of practical wisdom and tragedy that sets out to test the 'gap' between being good and (eudaimonia) living well that is dependent on the fragility of (tuche) luck. Tragedy as a dramatic form was criticised by Plato as manipulative.

Virtuosity, dignity and self respect are words that appear to reference more earlier versions of civilisation, whereas the excesses of performance, notoriety and success seem to me to be a modern illness. By taking an analytical reading of Greek tragedy through the lens filter of Aristotle's golden mean of excellences it was interesting to draw parallels with our current state. In particular how self-ignorance and narcissism have always been a part of the human condition. But whereas early Platonic thought emphasised release and detachment from the world of senses as the mark of human improvement, i.e. one of rarefied forms based on reason - though with some concession in later his works (e.g. Phaedrus), Aristotle, the great pragmatist, emphasised catharsis as bodily emotional cleansing.

There is so much to learn from the beauty of Greek culture. Martha Nussbaum's introspective and methodically reasoned ethical insights developed from the works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the tragic poets have the power to illuminate par excellence.

Introducing Aristotle
Introducing Aristotle
by Rupert Woodfin
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deceptively easy introduction of a brilliant mind..., 3 July 2009
This review is from: Introducing Aristotle (Paperback)
Being more familiar with a modern western diet of Platonic derived thinking, especially having the word "post-" prefix, this book came as a massive revelation and I cannot recommend it whole-heartedly enough as an accessible introduction.

It is a deceptively easy beginners guide to a brilliant mind that can lead you into more sound reading. I recommend Martha Nussbaum's 'The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy', which devotes a whole section to delineating Aristotle's arguments, particularly his notion of appearances and inestimatable contribution to the subjects of ethics.

If you eventually get to thumb through more dense interpretations of Aristotle, or even Aristotle translated, the succinct points made in the Introducing Aristotle book should pop into mind and make a lot more sense, as well as offering a compass in navigating the size and scope of Aristotle's oeuvre. He labels many concepts to describe his practical wisdom, which this book goes some way to explaining. Though it might be said that a glossary of other terms would prove wonderfully useful - as the more you read the more you discover Aristotle to have an incredibly inventive penchant for subtley defining the human endeavour.

It is sometimes hard to fathom how someone who existed 400BC can still have a hold over modern philosophy, and reading Plato in conjunction with Aristotle would really set the classical paramaters of Western thought in the newly evolving sophos mind - as well as the maturing one!

The wonders of paradigm shifting that a love of wisdom can afford, and which come with perservence and effort, would be all the poorer without an understanding of Aristotle IMHO. Finally Aristotle is often accused of a remarked dryness in his style of delivery (possibly due to the only surviving works being lecture notes). However the book's visual narrative helps to lighten the understanding somewhat...

Dear John
Dear John

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Emil Pepper's Loney Hearts Club Band.., 15 May 2009
This review is from: Dear John (Audio CD)
Having an introspective male vocal style that is somewhat in vogue.. a la Bon Iver, Thom Yorke, Jón ̃ór Birgissonas and Fionn Reagan - which resonantly echo Neil Young and Nick Drake - Emil Svanängen has an undoubted similar talent, with much acclaim to come...

After enjoying his previous albums 'Sologne' (2006) and Loney Noir (2007) I had high hopes for 'Dear John', which were slightly dampened. His latest work is more produced with motoric dance beats, strings overdubs and treated vocals. It is therefore less acoustic and intimate than previous offerings.. though remaining quirky and having the trademark smattering of delicate motifs that linger melancholically, and engagingly create a backing track to your life.

Loney Dear's exquisite talent for melody has been subdued by the production on this album, and compared to his earlier works I sometimes found that the song structures appear - dare I say it - a tad twee and one trick.. though as always, very catchy..!

I guess it is a matter of taste that may explain some of the widely differing views I have encountered about Loney Dear. Is he an overlooked twee master, or the new proponent of the modern lullaby with a silky brand of Scandinavian pop? For example "I Was Only Going Out" did make me think of 1970s Top Of The Pops schmaltz. The same can be said for the uninspiring "Summers". And "I Got Lost" aka "House of the Rising Sun" is also one you have most definitely heard before.

"Under a Silent Sea" is especially dynamic and verges on glitch music, with expressive incidentals and harmonies. "Distant Lights" holds the suspense throughout, and "Harm-slow" is positively dramatic, crossing genres into music hall.

"Violent" stands out on the album as a wonderful driving developmental piece of music pulsing towards a restrained finale, and lingers seductively after the final bar in an ear-worm repeat. "Harsh Words" also builds into a pulsating waltz-like structure. Then "Dear John" waves good bye with one final soft cradle crooner and a 'Pepperesque' brass section.

The album is definitely a grower, and I suspect could be his biggest seller to date. I also recommend discovering his self-released back catalogue if 'Dear John' is the first time you have come across Emil's music - they are hidden gems.

The Female Brain
The Female Brain
by Louann Brizendine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The mystery is beginning to be unravelled..., 4 May 2009
This review is from: The Female Brain (Paperback)
Louann Brizendine's best seller reminded me of the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in 1993, which countered the notion that men and women are more similar than 'essentially' different. I remember reading reviews after publication suggesting Reaganite leanings; it was seen by constructionists as patronizing, male-centered and perpetuated long-held negative gender stereotypes. I stumbled upon information that Gray was heavily influenced by Transcendental Meditation and the teachings of the cult leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which made me question why religion so regularly sided with essentialism, rather than the shifting sands of identity making, culture and consciousness.

Brizendine's book is very much in the essentialist camp, and not that dissimilar to Gray's, having little to say about socialization on brain development. Rather, radical behaviour changes between the sexes stem from hormonal differences, and create a woman's reality - "They can shape a woman's values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what's important."

Working out the credibility of such a statement formed the crux of my read, and at first I did not even question whether it was another conservative outpouring of impermanence and inalterability. The reason possibly for my usual abscence of a critical filter might have been the bulging chunk of notes and references that make up a quarter of the book, revealing the author's academic credentials. However, sprinkled liberally amongst the research are a sizeable proportion of educative leaps and unproven intuitive assumptions.

In a similar way if you take psychoanalytical theory too to be a non-science, Brizendine is actually not that far removed from the introspectionist self-help books - many derived from scientific papers, that become New York Times Bestsellers. So to suggest this book is completely informed by new brain science does miss the mark, but what makes it stand out is the author's professional empathy that works in conjunction with data that has more transparency than Gray's.

Brizendine can be credited with presenting new scientific research in an accessible and digestive manner, drawing on the latest knowledge into the workings of the female brain and the body's hormones, some of it told before (Robin Baker - Sperm Wars for example). To quote: "Thanks to advances in genetics and non-invasive brain-imagining technology, there's been a complete revolution in neuroscientific research and theory. New tools such as positron-emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) scans now allow us to see inside the human brain in real time."

As well as a primer into the latest neuroscience research, The Female Brain pioneers an understanding into how women tick, as if it is the author's life quest. She draws many parallels between published research, her own life and those of her clients, in a very wise female brain way, leaving the reader space to make their own integral conclusions. For example, it could be suggested that neuroscience holds the key to explaining psychosexual development, as the amount of estrogen present in the female body influences the phases of a woman's development. The hormonal changes that take place during juvenile puberty (i.e. a pre-teen or first puberty) and its pause led me to think about the classical Freudian latency period; the deterioration in estrogen during perimenopause, also made me ponder about Jungian theory, where new archetypes come into play that are more self-serving after the death of the mommy brain.. and so on..

The scant attention to the latest research into the "nervous system environment" and epigenetics could in future be expanded to offer a more balanced viewpoint. A girl absorbs a feeling map - the wiring of emotional bruises, during her first two years - which shapes her reality and 'epigenetically' imprints through several generations. Does such a legacy influence hormones? Are girls hormones inherited through the environmental factors of her grand-mother's life?

As with Gray's book, I suspect unwittingly another 'strategic essentialism', will be the honest re-evaluation once the historical dust has settled, and once the beautiful and enigmatic mystery of the separation or similarity between sexes is unravelled further. The Female Brain might then be viewed in the light of a temporary post-modern essentialism; one that brings forward a female group identity - until that is - the pendulum swings back again from biology to consciousness..

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