It is tempting to those of us trained in structuralist and poststructuralist thinking of the last forty years to dismiss Tomkins’s case study of Karl Marx (3:309–20) as an unfortunate instance of psychologizing explanation. How dispiriting is it to encounter an argument that the roots of Marx’s astonishing critique of capitalism can be found in his relationship with his father and, what evolved from this, a redemptive, reparative script that played out in many other aspects of his life, including his relationship with Engels? Yet to dismiss Tomkins’s analysis would be to ignore an acute description of a powerful affective organization, one that has been enormously influential or (in terms that Marx might have used) world-historical. According to Tomkins, the polarizing script that Marx invented involves “a magnification, a purification and idealization, of both heaven and hell and of the heroic strategy necessary to defeat Satan and regain paradise” (3:309); it is a script “committed to instrumental activity, but at the same time utterly intolerant of any suggestion of meliorism” (3:309). Marx’s “creative genius” (3:309) lay precisely in how the script he developed offered new solutions to problems that were at once personal and, in some sense, shared:
Although some creative artists and scientists literally project the structure of their own past history into their creations, it is much more common that the creator achieves a solution which is new rather than a simple restatement of his personal struggle with his own destiny. . . . To the extent to which there are commonalities between his own problems and those of humanity at large, his new solution may be more or less relevant to the general human condition. (3:311)
Rather than offering a reductive psychological explanation, then, Tomkins seeks to explore a fundamental question: how does new knowledge emerge from personal experience?
The insight that biography has some bearing on styles of thinking and object choice, that (say) Marx’s contributions to political economy are personally motivated, should be uncontroversial. But it is not easy to specify the role of biographical experience in accounts of knowledge without sounding dismissive of the knowledge itself. This has something to do with the disciplinary (and extradisciplinary) status of psychology, those shifting relations of authority between psychology and philosophy indexed by the term psychologism. As Dale Jacquette explains in his genealogy of the concept, this most deprecatory of attributions has its origins in late nineteenth-century philosophy:
The objections, if not the vehemence with which antipsychologists frequently raise objections against psychologism, can generally be attributed to the assumption that an empirical psychology of subjective thought cannot be expected to explain logically necessary objective truths, especially those of logic, semantics, and mathematics, but also of any field in which a sharp distinction is supposed to hold between objective truths and subjective perceptions of the truth. (“Psychologism,” 313)
Psychologism can now be imputed to any explanation of a literary, cultural, or sociopolitical phenomenon that makes psychology primary. Anyone who has taught a literature class and encountered a student’s bland, condescending diagnosis of an author (“was s/he depressed when s/he wrote that?”) knows the perils of psychologism, as does anyone who encounters facile attributions of individual motives in popular, mass, or social media that purport to explain complex dynamics of class, race, gender, or sexuality while disavowing institutional histories and the structural consequences of power. But is it possible not to throw the baby of the psyche out with the bathwater of psychologism? What role, if any, might psychology play in accounts of knowledge today?
These questions, which challenge contemporary thinking in the theoretical humanities, are implicitly posed by Tomkins’s many case studies of writers, performers, and other public figures littered throughout volumes 2 and 3 of AIC. There is something fascinatingly gossipy about these studies, replete with letters, journal entries, and biographical bits, which range in length from brief notes (on Ernest Hemingway, say, or Oliver North) to more substantial analyses (of Tolstoy, Eugene O’Neill, and others) to nearly full-blown psychobiographies of some major figures (Chekhov, Freud, Marx). These case studies exemplify, illustrate, and give body to Tomkins’s theoretical approach to development, script theory, and personality (see our discussions in chapters 8 and 9). For example, we may read sections titled “Monopolistic Shame, Contempt, Self-Contempt, Anger and Fear: The Sullen, Defiant Mouse of Dostoevsky” (2:483–96), “Ludwig Wittgenstein: Nuclear Decontamination Script for Sexuality, Disgust, and Anger” (3:359–65), or (one of our favorites) “The Depressive Posture in the Comic Performer” (3:326–31) on Judy Garland and Jackie Gleason.
At the same time, these case studies offer forays into a hypothetical field that Tomkins defined in his 1965 essay “Affect and the Psychology of Knowledge”:
Such a field would concern itself first of all with the structure of man’s knowledge. This would include both knowledge which is demonstrably valid and knowledge which is demonstrably invalid, and knowledge which is gray and especially knowledge which is based on faith. It would also concern itself with the ebb and flow of affect investment in ideas and ideology, in method and styles of investigation, and in what is considered acceptable criteria of evidence. (73)
This was Tomkins’s bid to bring affect theory into dialogue with the history and philosophy of science as well as the sociology of knowledge. As the term structure would imply—Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions had appeared just three years earlier—Tomkins hoped that affect theory could offer resources to emerging critical and historical studies of scientific knowledge. This hope was not unfounded: in the mid-1960s, Kuhn described his own contribution in terms of psychology and, in the 1970s, turned to gestalt psychology to rethink aspects of the incommensurability of paradigms. By contrast, the most prominent or popular uptakes of Kuhn’s ideas were sociological ones, especially those that assimilated the concept of paradigm (in the particular sense of worldview, one of the many senses that Kuhn would distance himself from) with Foucault’s notion of episteme. The macro-scale at which these ideas applied appeared to foreclose the relevance of individual psychology.
For Tomkins, however, the “structure” of knowledge refers not only to institutional practices, histories, and techniques (such as the separation of the disciplines or the problem sets at the end of chemistry textbook chapters) but also to the ways that a biologically differentiated affect system, in conjunction with a specific individual’s developmental trajectory, sets up epistemological motives. As always, Tomkins urges the integration of biological, psychological, sociological, and literary or cultural methods in a “complete science of man” (72), but this is not a call for consilience, that is, an integration of knowledge under the rubric of one existing method or science (see our discussion of consilience at the end of chapter 3). Rather, it is distinctly multidisciplinary: “We do not intend by this . . . to argue for the superiority of one method over the other. Invariances found in the library through an examination of beliefs which men have held over centuries are not necessarily any less lawful than those found in the laboratory” (72–73). The archaeological method that Foucault practiced and theorized—and his own rigorous antipsychologism—need not stand in complete opposition to Tomkins’s psychological enterprise, itself no less literary and historical than experimental and clinical.
No less political, either. The term around which Tomkins centers his discussion of the psychology of knowledge is neither paradigm nor episteme but ideology (see chapter 10). Ideology is more specific than worldview. Distinguishing it from both fact and fiction, Tomkins associates ideology fundamentally with controversy: “At the growing edge of the frontier of all sciences there necessarily is a maximum of uncertainty, and what is lacking in evidence is filled by passion and faith, and hatred and scorn for the disbelievers. Science will never be free of ideology, though yesterday’s ideology is today’s fact or fiction” (73). Tomkins implies that the imbrication of facts with values is a consequence of the relations between ideas and affects. He analyzes these relations by way of the following terms: ideo-affective posture, defined as “any loosely organized set of feelings and ideas about feelings” (74); ideology, defined as “any highly organized and articulate set of ideas about anything” (74); and ideo-affective resonance. A given ideology (which, for Tomkins, appears to be a specific type of script) resonates more or less well with the feelings and ideas that it attempts to organize. Tomkins likens the relation between ideo-affective posture and ideology to a love affair in which “the fit need not at the outset be perfect” (74). Reciprocity over time may lead to a better match between feelings and organized ideas, or it may not. Indeed, ideo-affective resonance is highly contingent and historically variable. For example, “a politically conservative ideology in a democratic society might be much less conservative than the ideo-affective resonance would have made attractive had the individual lived in a feudal society” (75). (A contemporary example: the loosely organized ideo-affective postures of Trump and his supporters might better fit the ideologies of an explicitly authoritarian society.)
Tomkins’s analysis sometimes sounds like Louis Althusser’s analysis of the role of ideology in reproducing the relations of production. Tomkins writes, “The ideology is a part of the social whole which not only expresses the feelings and ideas of its present members but helps to create in the next generation the same kind of socialized human beings through influencing the socialization and social structure to either maintain or to better approximate the general ideology” (76). But Tomkins emphasizes the dynamic, historically shifting, and reciprocal resonances between ideologies and those affective experiences they organize and express. (Perhaps, in this respect, Raymond Williams’s notions of dominant, residual, and emergent are more compatible.) Writing in the 1960s and acutely aware of decolonization movements and global political transformation, Tomkins suggests that Marxist ideology (but also American ideology, more on which in a moment) can become “acceptable to a society which has ideas and feelings which no longer resonate to traditional ideologies” (77). Tomkins stresses the dangers of a poor fit between such ideologies and a given society’s actual ideo-affective postures: “the modernization of a society under the directive of a poorly fitting ideology may subject the members of that society as well as other societies to excessive strain in the attempt to accommodate to the somewhat alien ideology” (77). Owing to centralized media control, however, in a generation or two, such strains may recede: “in modern times the concentration of power and the means of communication in the hands of an elite enables the control of society through the dissemination of the revolutionary ideology” (77).
While Tomkins’s writing on ideology may, in places, sound like Marxist-materialist thinking (and may well be available for such use), he is not a fellow traveler. Rather, he suggests that Marxism has become the major world ideology of the 1960s because “the ideology which powered the American and French Revolutions has yet to be modernized” (77). Such modernization is a task for the new field, the psychology of knowledge, and he alerts his readers to the urgency of this Cold War task. He begins with a sense of the resonances between loosely organized ideo-affective postures in the United States and Western Europe (freedom, the rights of the individual, freedom of speech) with an “as yet unformulated ideology for modern times for a highly industrialized society” (78) before proposing
a commitment of major energies, under forced draft [!], to the world-wide study of man in a war of man against those aspects of man which restrict his freedom and development. A sense of urgency about the possible benefits of self-knowledge achieved through the scientific study of man is needed as much and as urgently as the atomic bomb was needed in the second World War. These benefits include the control of war and discrimination . . . the radical enrichment of experience . . . a renewal of the awareness of the significance of the individual as an innovator on the extended frontier which reaches from the virgin land to the endless frontiers of art and science . . . a renewal of the awareness of one’s identification with all human beings in a common effort to solve our collective human problems . . . the sense of solidarity and pride of being a member of the human race. (78)
Here Tomkins unveils a modernized Enlightenment liberalism or Kantian cosmopolitanism with an Emersonian twist. In the postwar logic, a universalizing American Transcendentalism has the potential to offer a synthesis of what he defines, in his polarity scale, as left and right ideologies (again, see chapter 10). As he puts it later in the essay, “the middle of the road represents the most radical ideology rather than a compromise . . . a creative synthesis evokes some resonance from both sides” (86). For Tomkins, exemplary representatives of such synthetic positions include Kant, Beethoven, and Whitehead, and we might wish to include Kuhn as well.
Tomkins would consider his own cross-disciplinary cybernetic commitments to biology, psychology, sociology, and literature as another attempt at such a creative synthesis. It is difficult to know how to read these pages and their aggressive epistemological-political program in a current context that has inherited cognate global programs but entirely set aside what, for Tomkins, would provide their justification and basis: a theory of affect and value. What genealogies might be drawn between contemporary world-ecological conceptions and this earlier moment of global consciousness if they were to take Tomkins into account? Consider his essay contribution to a volume titled Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences (1969) in which Tomkins compares biological, psychological, and social systems and offers a prescient understanding of how information growth creates social and political dilemmas: “complex systems . . . suffer three critical vulnerabilities which are inherent to their growth” (“Personality Theory and Social Science,” 201), what he calls mismatch and discoordination, increasing rigidities, and overstress. Under such circumstances, “that society will continue to grow which most nurtures its mutations, its dissident minorities who provide it with new viable alternatives” (202); he turns to international communities, especially of science, as a model for other political institutions. What are the similarities and differences between Tomkins’s vision and that of, say, Bruno Latour’s project An Inquiry into Modes of Existence?
To pose a more general question about the psychology of knowledge: how would an approach such as Tomkins’s that foregrounds the relations between subjectivity and knowledge inflect a science studies that has for the most part bracketed subjectivity except insofar as it relates to questions of objectivity? Tomkins offers a distinct set of tools for thinking reflexively about the subjectivity–knowledge continuum. In a 1976 essay “On the Subjectivity of Personality Theory,” Tomkins, with his cowriter George A. Atwood, explores the inevitable links between theory making and subjectivity. The writers analyze the work of three personality theorists in the context of biography and autobiography with this goal: “By clarifying the ways in which theoretical ideas are conditioned by the personality of the theorist, this interpretive process transforms the subjectivity inhering in present systems into an explicit object of investigation” (170). Atwood and Tomkins insist that “the psychological analysis of a personality theory is not an attempt to explain away its concepts; its purpose is rather to assess and understand the theorist’s underlying vision of the human situation” (170), and to assert that their approach “represents only one branch of a larger discipline which would study the role of subjective factors in the structure of man’s knowledge in general” (177). In the field that Tomkins called the psychology of knowledge, theory can and should “turn back on itself” (167), that is, it should situate itself in both psychological and sociological terms. These perspectives, for Tomkins, are never opposed to one another, although they may be limited, in his discourse, by the category of “the human situation.” We wonder how a differently situated approach that nevertheless takes the subjectivity of both theory and theorist seriously could be brought into genealogical and conceptual relation to science studies today.
Our discussion here is largely based on “Affect and the Psychology of Knowledge,” an essay that appeared in the volume Affect, Cognition, and Personality: Empirical Studies (1965) that Tomkins coedited with Carroll Izard. Tomkins revised his discussion of ideology in this essay for inclusion in the chapter on “Ideology and Anger” (chapter 8) of AIC3. We also consulted “Personality Theory and Social Science” (1969), Tomkins and George A. Atwood’s “On the Subjectivity of Personality Theory” (1976), and Tomkins’s homage to Henry Murray, “Personology Is a Complex, Lifelong, Never-Ending Enterprise” (1987). We encourage interested readers to look at the case studies of authors and thinkers in AIC2 and AIC3.
On the question of psychologism, please see Dale Jacquette’s “Psychologism the Philosophical Shibboleth” and his edited volume Philosophy, Psychology, and Psychologism (2003). It is of interest that Kuhn titled his response to Karl Popper, presented at the 1965 International Symposium on the Philosophy of Science, “Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?” with the latter naming his own approach. For an excellent discussion of Kuhn’s relation to psychoanalysis and psychology, see John Forrester’s “On Kuhn’s Case: Psychoanalysis and the Paradigm” in Thinking in Cases. In more recent science studies, subjectivity has been approached by way of a Foucauldian framework as what must be shaped or disciplined so that distinct varieties of objectivity can emerge (see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity). While we have found no direct evidence that Tomkins read Foucault, we did find both a heavily marked-up clipping of Ian Hacking’s long review of Foucault’s work in the New York Review of Books from May 14, 1981, and a page of notes titled “Magnification + Foucault” in Tomkins’s papers at the Archives of the History of American Psychology, Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, University of Akron (Depot Box 5-1 Folder A).