Kate Foster’s personal response to An Ecology of Mind…
Originally posted on environmental contexts and creative responses:
Nora Bateson, daughter of Gregory Bateson, is touring with a film she herself made, about her father’s ideas. As she said in her introduction, his ideas are shown through the lens of a father-daughter relationship, it is her own viewpoint. She uses tapes made by Bateson near his death, and the film combines footage from different epsiodes in his life to illustrate some themes, continuity in his academic career as he moved between social anthropology, systems theory, psychology. You learn that, throughout, he sought patterns that connected things and had the ability to turn things to new angles, indicating relationships between things that would escape a more partial view. Apart from this capacity of recontextualisation, he also sought the ‘difference that made a difference’ – asking what makes something distinct.
I have not read his books: I can but comment on the film as a non-specialist. On one hand I was impressed, and became curious about details of his work. On the other, I was bothered not to learn about Batesons’s own context – how were others thinking at that time, and how did he relate to them? And how does his work now look, from the disciplines in which he worked? For example, the double-bind theory of schizophrenia, I believe, has not stood the test of time. Had the film been made by contemporary anthropologists say, it might well have been a different account - of the history of ideas and how they are reviewed by empirical work and critical attention.We were not given Bateson in dialogue, but rather a monologue. For example, at one point in the film, the response by a Jungian analyst with whom he was in conversation was cut.
The discussion with the panel and the audience, led by Nora Bateson herself, left the impression that Bateson is being revived as a guru. It would seem confusing to become a disciple however, as he was adept at averting and circumnavigating the ‘point’ that others might seek. There is a seduction in this, an appealing possibility. As someone who finds it hard to see and observe disciplinary constraints, I could be tempted to claim that my approach is a step towards ecological thinking, and to present this virtuously. But – to step back – what specifically, were we talking about? Nora Bateson insisted that the pursuit of knowledge has become terribly fractured, that the problem is that atomised knowledge is not reinserted into its context. The discussion took a turn to Buddhism and the idea of oneness. More prosaically, I am not convinced by a generalisation that scientific expertise is blinkered. Instead, I believe that – with climate science at least – there is a tendency to shoot the messenger.