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Existentialism and Postmodernism

November 22, 2007

Existentialists (Kierkegaard, Sartre, etc.) focus on the individual’s search for meaning. Most refer to an existential crisis (like angst or anxiety) which leads a person on a quest to discover or create meaning in their lives. Similarly, existential therapies (like gestalt therapy and logotherapy) attempt to help the patient or client find or construct meaning in their lives.

Although existentialism was one of the movements which influenced postmodernism (e.g. Jean-François Lyotard) and poststructuralism (e.g., Michel Foucault), I would not myself refer to existentialism as a postmodern philosophy.

The term neurodiversity was apparently coined by Judy Singer:

“The rise of Neurodiversity takes postmodern fragmentation one step further. Just as the postmodern era sees every once too solid belief melt into air, even our most taken-for granted assumptions: that we all more or less see, feel, touch, hear, smell, and sort information, in more or less the same way, (unless visibly disabled) are being dissolved.”

There is, in the above quotation, no existential assumption regarding a search for meaning. Singer is simply observing what Lyotard called, “an incredulity toward metanarratives.” In other words, rather than regarding only a limited neurological range as acceptable (these days often referred to as the “neurotypical”), Singer would like us to view all neurologies, including of those on the autism spectrum, as acceptable.

If there is a therapeutic modality close to the notion of neurodiversity, I would suggest it is narrative therapy (not the existential therapies). For instance:

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