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Crossing Boundaries: Reflections on the Interdisciplinary

The two-headed god, Janus, invites the reader to explore, dialogue, and cross boundaries. The image of the god Janus is often placed at the threshold to one's home, signaling both a welcome and a demarcation of a boundary. It is the marking off of a human place, where human beings can dwell with one another. In this space, the natural world is transformed into a human world. The human world is characterized by a particular marking of boundaries, wherein things and others are differentiated and given their place. Janus, standing at the threshold, is about new beginnings, new places, new boundaries.

It should then be no surprise that a journal titled "Janus Head" is an "interdisciplinary" journal. Disciplines are human demarcations, lines drawn across the phenomenal field, both opening us up and closing us off to one disciplinary domain or another. They are not lines to be drawn and erased arbitrarily. There is a cost in shifting these demarcations around, even as there are significant gains. We are given new ways to see, while, perhaps, in the shifting ground of pliable discourses, we bury other ways of seeing even as we carve out new places of dwelling. Our month of January is named after "Janus." With each new year, we cross a new threshold, but not without some regret for what is being left behind. As we enter an "interdisciplinary" dialogue, we enter a new beginning, and, hopefully, we are prepared to mourn the losses even as we gain new ground to tread upon.

What, then, shall we grieve for and be joyful in its departure? We think we are ushering in a return to the humanities, which, in our modern age, have been disparaged by the dominant discourse of technical thinking in the natural sciences. Janus Head explores the common ground of continental philosophy, literature, phenomenological psychology, and the arts. What is their common ground? In each case, we find a discipline which has been marginalized by the predominance of technical thinking. They are considered "impractical" in a world which can only see value in doing and making rather than in thinking and creating. All of these disciplines have found themselves in the modern crisis of having to justify their existence before the "sciences." Yet, the humanities offer us a place to dwell and to think creatively in order to preserve the essence of that which shows itself before us. In thinking and dwelling, we carve out a human place. Without them, we are homeless. We see Janus Head as the manifestation of the search and questioning of our 'ethos,' and that search can be, and should be, interdisciplinary.

The word 'interdisciplinary' at once conjures images of crossing boundaries, of breaking the ever so diligently constructed barriers of particular disciplines, or of the leveling down of a discourse that constitutes the world within which one prefers to work. Conversely, the word 'interdisciplinary' can reawaken a nostalgia for the Renaissance, a nostalgia that invokes the progressive humanistic ideals the source of which, ironically, take root in the classical antiquity of Rome and Athens. The "man or woman of letters" is a romantic retrieval of the desire for diversity, favoring richness and variety over specificity or clarity. It is a romance imbued with transcendence and soul-making, peaks and vales, Apollonion quests and Dionysian retreats — in short, a fascination with the paradoxical.

Janus Head's mission could be construed as an "aesthetic pragmatics." This is no doubt an odd combination, perhaps irrational at best. For part of the very conception of aestheticism excludes what is practical in the everyday sense of the expression. In being practical we rehearse the same: we become skilled in the practice of that which serves a particular purpose. The practical is what serves purpose, the means to the end. The aesthetical is precisely not the means; it is the end.

Taken a different way, thinking and dwelling is prior to the theoretical or practical. Thinking and dwelling are a letting be, and it is the essence of the human being to dwell poetically on this earth, as Holderlin wrote. The danger, rather, is being held exclusively to a "mathematical" dwelling. In this sense, "mathematical" is not merely having to do with numbers, but rather the laying out of a blueprint of nature. This type of technical thinking, which characterizes the natural sciences, has its own importance. But the problem arises when this particular kind of revealing forgets itself — forgets that it, too, is poesis, and, thus, closes off other modes of revealing.

Janus Head, it follows, aims to move beyond the technological and mathematical, and, instead, seeks to give rise to other modes of revealing. Literature calls us to reflect on the narrative structure of our being. With philosophy, we may learn, once again, how to think and dwell. Phenomenological psychology opens a way to preserve human beings in their essence as dwelling poetically on this earth. Poetry, of course, does of all the above, and, in a sense, holds primacy to all other disciplines, for it is there, in the poet, in which Being can come to language, and, thus, carry us on our way in a different way. The arts, all together, aim for the aesthetic, for beauty, and, in the struggle between the peaks and vales of existence, turn the soil below our feet into beautiful creations. In each case, we can learn once again to be. And, perhaps, being able to be, we can find our way home.

Robertson Davies, the celebrated Canadian novelist, has described the two intertwining serpents of the caduceus as knowledge and wisdom: "they are opposite, and unless they are reconciled and each made a supporter of the other, they can make the staff of Hermes lopsided, and wanting in its true power" (The Merry Heart). Hermes is the archetypal god of language, wit, and keen insights; his staff is not only a beacon for the medical profession, but for all those whose work entails an intricate use of language. In our society today, the knowledge of science is often overwhelming. Graphs, statistics, charts are all taken to be unquestioned truths; yet amidst the numbers, diagnoses, and definitions, the story of a person and a people is often lost. Thus, it is of import--a serious responsibility-- that we look to language and strive in both the spoken and written word to explore, to uncover story and the wisdom woven through the experience of the other.

The poetry in this issue heralds the wisdom in the voice of the other. Inherent in each of these poems is criticism of the scientific age, the age of empirical definition and the reign of the individual. These poems labor to challenge and change our fixed linear perceptions; they seek to enliven and enlarge our view in order that we may grasp a desire and meaning larger than ourselves.

One of Michael Antonucci's poems featured in the issue, "Witness: A Map (w/ Legend & Keys)," beckons the reader to consider the "map" of the city not from the cartographic viewpoint, but within the movement and dance of the city alive. There are people and places here with numerous legends and songs, shifting keys of music. The rhythm underlines the depth of action and reveals to the reader that full knowledge and experience of this city cannot be lifted from textbook maps and histories.

In a similar vein, Patricia Monaghan's poem, "Observations of Schroedinger's Cat," celebrates a creature, born and bred for scientific cause, whose ultimate value, its mystery and life's essence, escapes the knowledge and grasp of the scientific eye. Employing Dante's lovely theme, the speaker shows us that Reason cannot tread where Mystery dwells.

David Allen describes his poem, "I Am the Moment of Her Eyes Looking Back," as reflecting "the post-modern dilemma of accepting simulation as though it were reality." In truth, the dilemma has existed for a long time; it is exemplified by Cervantes' foolish but gallant hero in Don Quixote and Flaubert's disillusioned Emma in Madame Bovary. The dilemma, however, has a new flavor today: it is given its drive by the artifice of technology. The strange fusion of technology and memory in the poem is made intimately palpable to the reader and ultimately engenders the question: What is this space created by the mythos of technology? Participation in simulation can become perverse-- as is true in all arts. But what knowledge or wisdom can we gain and where do we prudently find balance?

Through a history of Derrida’s appropriation in academic discourse, Rex Olson’s essay, “Martini or Bikini? The Question of Differance Between Philosophy and Literature,” puts forth the claim that “the ‘end’ and future of philosophy reside in the uncanny space between philosophy and literature, where philosophy finds itself, acknowledges itself, in the very writing of its criticism.” Olson’s text speaks to the Janus Head project of a continuous articulation of this “between” in which “each discipline flows into the other, thus occupying the same, if not identical space.” Olson locates the enfolding legacy of Kant in the history of philosophy as a failed attempt to “break” with metaphysics -- from Hegel to Nietzsche, Marx and Freud, and, in turn, to Heidegger -- which, with Derrida, gives way to the “self-critical,” “self-effacing” notion of Differance..

Bart Bryant explores Nietzsche’s role in this legacy with his essay, “Apollo and Dionysus: From Warfare to Assimilation in The Birth of Tragedy and Beyond Good and Evil.” Byrant traces the role of Dionysus in Nietzsche’s thought from one text to the other, to discover a Dionysus who, over time, “could be said to have taken over and transformed Apollo’s light, forcing it into the service of will rather than perspicuous illusion.”

Jennifer Severns and Suzanne Brom speak to Freud’s role in this legacy. Each, in almost direct opposition, attempt to discover in Freud and subsequent psychoanalytic theory a thread which in one form or another appropriates woman as ‘other.’ Severns’ paper, “Out of the Shadows,” touches the reader with her personal struggle to locate herself as both the observer and observed, the dominant and dominated, as a white, middle-class woman practicing psychoanalysis. Through her deeply personal exploration of her marginalization as a woman in the face of the potentially reifying gaze of psychoanalytic theory, she places psychoanalysis in an age of “adolescence” in which “differences are exaggerated, humans' concerns are relegated to the realm of masculinity, and that which is seen as feminine is sentimentalized or de-valued depending on its contribution to male agendas and identity.”

Yet, Brom speaks to another side of psychoanalysis which holds a liberatory potential for women. Through an examination of Freud’s case studies, Brom asks the question, “How did Freud treat his patients?” Brom discovers in her exploration of Freud that he held, at some level, a deep respect for women who broke with the conventions of his day, and his practice of psychoanalysis, while potentially a vehicle for the marginalization of women, also gave women a place to discover their sexuality and ambition.

In both the essays of Severns and Brom, we find a woman telling her own story, her own experience of entering the discourse which is Freud’s legacy. Elizabeth Say’s essay, “Many Voices, Many Visions,” is precisely concerned with “the importance of women telling their own stories, in their own voices.” Yet, she cautions, “not all stories by women represent equally authentic voices for the process of feminist transformation.” Say argues that the authentic voice of woman is necessarily a liberatory voice which, however painful the consequence, calls the dominant patriarchal discourse into question. While Say’s project is the construction of “a feminist methodology for narrative theology and ethics,” she seeks within this project the means to articulate the difference between “what is feminist and what is feminine,” and, drawing on the work of Alison M. Jagger in developing her methodology, holds that “a feminist ethic must reflect a basic respect for women’s moral experience and acknowledge women’s capacities as moral agents.”

In each case, we find an author’s perspective at the threshold of new beginnings, new places, new boundaries, and, each contributor has graced us with the means to continue the Janus Head dialogue as we carve out the space of our dwelling as human beings. Dare we ask: “What is it?”

Victor Barbetti
Brent Dean Robbins
Claire Cowan-Barbetti

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