negative thinking
sources and resources
negative thinking > sources and resources

positive schools sales techniques, NLP & hypnotherapy, evangelism
negative schools psychoanalysis, negative theology
individual thinkers Alexander, Bateson, Derrida, Diderot, Elster, Foucault, Lacan, Sennett, Vickers, Zizek

schools of positive thinking

Don't even try to count the books, tapes and other merchandise produced by the positive thinking movement. A typical bookstore may have entire sections devoted to them.  Has this material transformed society for the better, shifted the baseline for happiness and personal achievement, social harmony and peace? No doubt many people have benefited - but it's also possible to buy dozens of these books and remain dissatisfied.

But even if most of the positive thinking literature is rubbish, that doesn't mean that positive thinking is rubbish.  So I've gone to the places where I believe positive thinking is presented most intelligently, most sincerely and ethically, and/or most originally. Unfortunately, these qualities don't always go together - some of the most interesting material raises some uncomfortable ethical questions.

As far as I can see, there are three main sources for positive thinking. There is a religious school whose earliest clear exponent is probably Ignatius of Loyola (one of the leaders of the counter-reformation and the founder of the Jesuit order). There is a sales school that starts with How to Win Friends and Influence People (actually not a bad book), and goes rapidly downhill.  And there are various schools of therapy and personal improvement, featuring things like NLP and hypnotherapy.

schools of negative thinking


Several years ago, a friend attended a lecture given by Ross Skelton of Trinity College Dublin, in which he talked about the relationship between psychoanalysis and logic.  When I heard about this lecture, I immediately contacted Ross myself, and he recommended that I look at Matte Blanco and Jacques Lacan. Slavoj Zizek has written some compelling books starting from Lacanian premises.  I have also found some relevant work by Wilfred Bion and R.D. Laing.

Hanna Segal, The Work of Hanna Segal  (New York: Jason Aronson, 1981)
N Symington, The Analytic Experience: Lectures from the Tavistock  (London: Free Association Books, 1986)

J Forrester, The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan and Derrida (Cambridge: CUP, 1990)
Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII; The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-60  (ed J-A Miller, trans Dennis Porter. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992)

negative theology

Negative thinking is well-known in theological cicles, where it is known as apophany, or speaking away.  This is an important component of mystical writings in Christianity and Islam (Sufi), as well as being prevalent in Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Daoism.  An outstanding survey of mystical discourse has been written by Michael Sells, of Haverford College.  Derrida (from whose works the concept of negation cannot be said to be absent) has also written extensively on the subject of negative theology.

individual thinkers

I'm going to fill in this section with details of recommended books and stuff.

G Bateson, Mind and Nature: A necessary unity (Dutton, 1979)
Gregory Bateson, ‘Symptoms, Syndromes, and Systems’ The Esalen Catalog  16 No 4, 1978,  reprinted in G. Bateson, A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind  (edited R.E. Donaldson, New York: Harper Collins, 1991)

J Derrida, “How to avoid speaking: denials”, in S Budick & W Iser (eds) Languages of the Unsayable: The Play of Negativity in Literature and Literary Theory  (NY: Columbia Univ Press, 1989) pp 3-70.  See also H Coward & T. Foshay (eds) Derrida and Negative Theology  (Albany NY: SUNY Press, 1992)

Diderot, The Paradox of Acting.  I was led to this important work by Richard Sennett.

Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx (Cambridge: CUP, 1985)

Foucault, Care of the Self

Heraclitus, Fragments (Translation & commentary by T.M. Robinson. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1987)

Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man  (New York: Knopf, 1977)

Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology (Duke University Press, 1993).
The Fragile Absolute (Verso 2000)


Dianne Connelly, All Sickness is Homesickness  (Columbia, MD: Center for traditional acupuncture, 1986).  I picked up this reference from Romanyshyn
Michael Eigen, The Psychoanalytic Mystic (London: Free Association, 1998).
D.G. Flemons, Completing Distinctions (Boston MA: Shambhala, 1991)
T Kotarbinksi, Praxiology: The Science of Efficient Action  (Oxford: Pergamon / Warsaw: PWN Polish Scientific Publishers, 1965)
Livia Kohn, Early Chinese Mysticism (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992)
G. Fernándex de la Mora, Egalitarian Envy  (trans A.T. de Nicolás, Paragon House, New York, 1987)
Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization  (London: Sage, 1986)
Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking  (1953) “Over 15,000,000 copies sold”
N. Perrin, Giving up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1545-1879 (Boulder CO: Shambala, 1979)
Alain Robbe-Grillet, Snapshots & Towards a New Novel, trans Barbara Wright (London, Calder & Boyars, 1965)
R.D. Romanyshyn, Technology as Symptom & Dream  (London: Routledge, 1989)
Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man  (New York: Knopf, 1977)
L.B. Slobodkin, Simplicity and Complexity in Games of the Intellect  (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1993)
Tocqueville, Democracy in America
H.Ll. Williams, Hegel, Heraclitus and Marx’s Dialectic  (Hemel Hemstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1989)

Page last updated on February 17th, 2001
Copyright © 2000, 2001 Richard Veryard