This is the first of three texts that can be read apart or compose a triptych of a complex relation that connects clinical practice and education. As the three texts explore, when the practice of listening is activated in an educational context, which means considering everything that happens during the process (including all its resonances) as a trigger to thought, then it is possible to think from a pedagogical-clinical perspective.
As a psychologist and educator, in my doctoral research I was faced with the challenge of writing about some of the ways clinical practice interfaces and interferes with education. With this, I shifted the clinical practice from its traditional encounter in the clinic to another field, one already consolidated with its own norms, and unique ways of working and thinking. As interesting as the effects of this shift can be to the educational field, what interests me in this text is to think of what this shift brought to the clinical field: like tending to one’s house after returning from a long trip.
The first movement to which I dedicated myself and my research was to understand or, perhaps, imagine, what would be the fundamental attitude of the clinical practice. I turned to the beginnings of psychoanalysis and came across its initial definition as the talking cure. I do not entirely disagree with such a definition, but it does not fully encompass the clinical practice that I intend to evoke, which contains a methodological principal towards the other (the invitation for the patient to speak freely) rather than a basic bodily attitude of the therapist. Nevertheless, it was from this definition that I came to what I consider to be the extract of the clinical practice. Because, if there is a talking cure, it is necessary to imagine a position that sustains the talking, something that precedes its own enunciation or that makes it possible. This attitude, present in all clinical encounters, is clinical listening – a practice perceived only by its effects, which leads us to think that the listening speaks. A silent action that renders possible the production of a conversational field where words that give meaning to experiences – sometimes traumatic, others excessive or even, meaningless – can be inscribed.
After defining the listening as the basic attitude of the clinical practice, it was important to clarify the difference of clinical listening from other types – after all, we all listen (even people who present some hearing dysfunction are able to perceive vibrations and decodify them). What is particular to clinical listening is that it is not evaluative, from a moral point of view. Instead, it is characterized as an ethical way of following processes, words, pauses, gestures, silences. Another particular characteristic is that of non-interdiction, except in extreme cases, where the behavior accompanied may be life-threatening to those involved. In this sense, if the philosopher is the one who understands all, the psychologist is the one who listens to all – memories, narratives, gaps, jokes, dreams, seemingly meaningless ideas, morally marginalized or inadequate topics, unthinkable things, movie plots, fictional characters, everything that can affect the human can be listened to and, to the extent that it appears in treatment, is a matter clinical work.
When thinking about what is particular about clinical listening, I was led to take a step back in the attempt to understand how clinical listening as it exists today was engendered through history. This was an extensive area of research, and I point here to just a few ideas that I consider particularly important for this discussion. The first concerns something characteristic of any human manifestation, but I mention it here regarding listening. It is not possible to think of general listening, since it is an experience that varies in time and space. We can imagine that the listening capabilities of an indigenous yanomami are completely different from those of a metropole inhabitant; similarly, the listening to proposals for the functioning of a city/society in Ancient Greece differs totally from the private way of listening to a religious confession at the beginning of Catholicism. With this, I want to highlight that the clinical listening we experience today was modulated throughout history and will continue to unfold and differentiate itself for as long as it exists (just think of the current listening configurations mediated by virtual devices for example).
We have always listened. Even before we had the eyes to see or the mouth to try, it was already possible to listen to sounds— aquatic, distant and distorted, from within our mother’s bellies. In general, we relate listening to our ears: a small structure in the shape of a funnel that functions as a small seismograph. It is able to record vibrations from the world around us, and transmit them to the central nervous system that then turns them into codes and sounds, offering us an existential sonorous landscape or an environment that may be either familiar, or may indicate some imminent danger. All this without resorting to any rationality or consciousness. We listen with the whole body and with everything that the body brings.
The detail that we listen to vibrations or sound waves is not irrelevant. It makes us, writing or reading this text, attentive to the specificity of listening, understood here as an intensification of hearing, or the capacity for vibration and resonance. Resonance here refers to an ability to register a vibration of the world and to resend it in a subjective way, that is, a way that is simultaneously singular and general. The singularity refers to how something resonates in a particular way in the body, which can be accessed if we think of the multitude of existing voice tones. If we continue to think of a tone of voice, we know that it is not something controllable, it is a style or a brand, the meeting of the vocal cords with the air, inside and outside at the same time. Many authors have dedicated themselves to thinking of how our visual capabilities have been instrumentalized by current modes of capitalism, through the presence of cameras and screens all around. A kind of omnipresent and consensual vigilance that objectifies us, as it captures us in a way that can be measured and controlled, as a governable object. The operation that unfolds in listening, on the other had, subjects us to resonate vibrations of the world within ourselves at the same time that it connects us to the world itself – an idea of self as an effect of the experience of the world, a priori not existing.
At the risk of becoming somewhat specific or hermetic, the question remains: why does it matter to think about the clinical practice today? If we consider that the global socio-economic organization objectifies and commercializes identities and ways of life, we find in the listening a possibility for producing subjectivity, that is, a possibility for becoming subjects and therefore separate from hegemonic objectification. It is worth pointing out that the listening that I speak of here is not the listening to the self or to an individual (to listen to the self—would that not be an objectification of the subject?) The clinical listening focuses on desire, conceived as a pulsing movement that gives rhythm to life. In this sense, it is closer to the unconscious production than to consciousness. Let me explain: while the conscious organizes, explains and rationalizes content, the unconscious produces. Only that. Produces connections that do not fit, mixes fiction, reality, stone, tree, pieces of paper, buttons, old corners of abandoned houses, the carrot cake of the grandmother who has never been there, because she died before I was born… whose birth? … a time in which people greeted each other on the streets – but today I greeted a man with a friendly face – it was after the dip in the sea that does not exist here, but evidence have been found that the desert was once the sea, and that what is here now once was another world, and then our world would not be the other of a world to come?
With this, I emphasize that to consider the unconscious is to think that meaning comes from non-sense, that is, it is produced. Thus, to listen to what is produced as meaning or to the other senses present in the listening to the unconscious can lead us to possible invented futures and horizons other than what appear as real, helping us broaden the realm of the real. It is also worth mentioning that the listening experience is complex and does not guarantee access to desire or to the unconscious. Nor is it anything positive in itself. For there can be a listener whose objective is the control of the processes, the telephone listening, for example. Listening interests us in the clinical practice to the extent that it is an open process, of which the end is unknown. It is therefore, a life-monitoring practice and not content to be transmitted or an instrument of control.
Clinical listening, then, is not the listening of the self, as it can be mistakenly thought when we see two people from a distance, talking in a clinic. Clinical listening, as I define it after a walk through education, through schools, with students, educators, and managers who carry multiple worlds but share hours in common, is another listening. Or perhaps a listening of the other – of the other that inhabits me, of the other world, of other ways of taking care of oneself, of other ways of being, of meeting and caring. It is already a care in itself, because it knows that taking care of the other that lives in me is to be able to look at others around me, who are different from me and differentiate me from myself. And soon, I can imagine that the other is not my enemy, but someone who co-inhabits me, with less or more neighborhood and frontiers. It is not a salvation, we already experience this illusion and today we desire something more immanent, close to the body. It is a possibility of coexistence. Something that seems revolutionary, nurturing, in times of coups, major/minor wars, and terror.
 As proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in Kafka, those categories do not relate to size or hierarchies rather than, respectively, hegemonic and counter-hegemonic or codified and uncodified issues.
~Paula Chieffi, PhD
BARTHES, Roland. 1990. O óbvio e o obtuso. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Nova Fronteira. Translated by Léa Novaes.
DELEUZE, Gilles (with Claire Parnet) 1996 From A to Z. US: The MIT Press. Translated by Charles J. Stivale.
DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Félix. 2009 Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Penguin Books Ltd.: Penguin Classics. Translated by Robert Hurley.
GUATTARI, Félix. 2015 Psychoanalysis and Transversality. Texts and Interviews 1955–1971. US: The MIT Press. Translated by Ames Hodges.
NANCY, Jean-Luc. 2007 Listening. New York: Fordham University Press. Translated by Charlotte Mandell.
ROLNIK, Suely and GUATTARI, Félix. 2007. Molecular Revolution in Brazil. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). Translated by Karel Clapshow and Brian Holmes.