Professor Howard Stein: Intellectual, Psychohistorian, Writer, Poet
— by Peter W. Petschauer (Psychohistory Forum Research Associate)
From the Clio Psyche’s Festschrift dedicated to Howard Stein:
Professor Howard Stein is one of the most astute scholars and insightful human beings I have had the pleasure of meeting. Important as well, in spite of his success as a scholar, he has remained supportive of others and humble. Those of us who have known him for long periods already know this about him and also his immense scholarly breadth and depth, and respected breakthroughs in the field of psychohistory. We know about this because of his amazing volume of work, and because he spoke and wrote from the later 1970s until the present. One can access individuals’ lives work by listing all of their accomplishments, that is, positions held, books and articles written, students taught, colleagues mentored, and yet know little about the reasons they accomplished so much. A series of numbers, or even titles, do not tell us what made Stein tick, so to speak, why he worked so hard, and what he was thinking as he searched, taught, and wrote.
One point beyond the list of Stein’s work is the question: Why write? Why write almost beyond exhaustion? He says that he wrote because he had to write. He writes, he said in an email to me, because he was groping, trying to find himself through organizing his thoughts on pages and computer screens (personal communication, August 31, 2021). He writes because he needs to defend himself against anxieties by placing them outside of himself. At the same time, he needs others, his listeners and readers, without whom he can neither put himself out nor defend himself, but also because he could not rely on others with whom to interact and with whom to learn. His search is not on people, it is with people, we are his research partners. This in large part explains why he can narrate the stories of others so well.
Howard the Man
Dr. Stein’s name is apt. He is a rock of values that are not washed off just because our society has allowed its negative side to emerge from the shadows. He has the temerity to speak up and cry out for those who are crushed by society’s uncaring, deceitful, abusive, lying, and brutal “leaders.” The exceptional Russian author Vasily Grossman in his novel Stalingrad (translated by Robert & Elizabeth Chandler, 2019) saw it in German society of the 1930s when its underbelly rose to the top. We notice the corrosion in this country in Stein’s work long before the behavior of some untoward American corporate figures rose to “lead” organizations. Corporations, he reiterates, do not care about human beings, they care about the bottom line; that approach depersonalizes and objectifies people, making them into disposable “things.” It takes courage to comment on and highlight this upending of our culture. Even though Dr. Stein’s assessment is accurate, it can be dangerous to articulate. If Stalin had not died, Grossman would most likely have been arrested; he told the truth about the German and Soviet/Russian societies. Professor Howard Stein is such a perceptive and courageous individual in our midst. He teaches us that one listens, becomes immersed in their lives, and hopefully helps ease transitions.
In order to understand and articulate lived workplace experience in-depth, Stein wrote hundreds of “organizational” poems and elucidates them through storytelling and exploring underlying psychodynamic processes. He began to write poetry in 1991; so far, he has published ten poetry books. But these publications do not reflect the full oeuvre of several hundred poems. Being away from the center encouraged poetry that was not as much about it as the periphery. In addition, part of his approach is to highlight stories, but through poetry, that is, people telling of their experiences and then melding them with his ability to reflect on them succinctly.
Poetry is said to be expressive of the inner and maybe even unconscious world. Stein argues differently: The “inner world is always in relationship with the outer world of people, nature, technology.” Indeed, we need words to express ourselves; we acquire them through our fellow human beings, and the tone and message of a poem rarely flow without the language specific to a culture. It carries the whole culture with it. Thus, psychohistorical poetry enables Stein to offer another fascinating perspective. It breaks the rigidity of psychohistory, with its emphasis on compositions, and allows others of us who endeavor to write psychohistorical poetry to face the public with it.
Dedication to Howard Stein Written for 3-18-23 Lifetime Achievement Awards Celebration:
Working, be it planning, writing and presenting for and with you, dear Dr. Howard Stein, has been demanding and a pleasure. It has become particularly so when you became my mentor in poetry. For me, your encouragement to express myself through poetry as a psychohistorian and individual opened doors not only to rethink topics I had studied before, but also to tackle issues I had hesitated to approach.
An example is my exposure through personal experience with the Holocaust and my teaching about it. Although I wrote articles about aspects of it to make sense of it, I can now succinctly portray the horror of it in terms of its history and the individuals who experienced it. You, Howard, helped in every aspect of this poetic expression.
On a recent trip to Spain, I was reminded of you in the huge medieval Jewish Quarters in Toledo and then again, the much smaller one in Salamanca. Lion Feuchtwanger’s Die Jüdin von Toledo (1955) offers unique insight into this situation. Why think of you, Howard? A large part had to do with realizing that the most Catholic Queen Isabella of Spain asked the most highly educated persons of her realm to either convert to Christianity or to leave her realm. Her power grab thus interrupted a four-hundred-year period in which Moors, Jews and Christians lived together in reasonable harmony.
You remind me of the educated elite and its success in the U.S., and the simultaneous threat that this success poses to the group. It is like the hostile forces opposed to Jews in Europe at the end of the 15th century and in the 1930s and 40s, that is raising its ugly head again in this century.
Further, there is the connection of authoritarians of the early modern period, one of whom happens to be applauded for sponsoring the discovery of the New World, and those of the 20th and now also the 21st century. In order to consolidate and expand their states, these leaders aspired and aspire to conquer territory on the backs of the inhabitants who paid taxes and fought and died on battlefields. Uniformly consolidation has also meant persecution, if not outright exclusion and murder of minorities, usually including Jews.
Howard, you held “my feet to the fire“ several times when I ignored style and wording to make points similar to this in poetry. You reminded me that my work must accurately reflect facts, even theories and ideologies, while working succinctly.
How fortunate I am to be able to call such a genius as you, “friend and teacher.”