Saturday, December 04, 2010

Letters from a Poet's Soul 2

Santry Wood, 28/11/2010
Rainer Maria Rilke was very much a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets.  Born in 1875 in Prague, the then capital of Bohemia ( which was part of Austria-Hungary at the time, now the Czech Republic) he became one of the greatest poets in the German language. His childhood and youth in Prague were not especially happy. His father, Josef Rilke (1838–1906) was a railway official for most of his life, having first had an unsuccessful military career. Rilke's poems are very much transitional and in content and style occupy very much a middle ground between the conventions of tradition and the sheer freedom and abandon of modernism.  Hence, his haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion or real communication/connection with the ineffable (the mysterious or the divine order of things) in an age of growing disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety.  Rilke lived in the time period between the old and the new, so there is always a healthy tension between the two.  Here I wish to return to his rather "soul-ful" letters to the young man who is asking for his advice on the vocation of being a poet.

As I have said Rainer Maria Rilke's letters to the young poet, Mr Kappus (he names him here in the fourth letter) are like his poems - they dwell in that transitional inner space between the traditional or Romantic and the Modern (full of anxiety and angst, from which modern existentialism would grow.)  As a true Romantic at heart, Rilke appeals to the power of nature over the poet, to the inner mystery of the human soul, to the "unsayable" mystery at its core which is itself somehow captured or reflected in the mystery of nature.  Let us return to his advice in this letter to the young man who wishes to pursue the poetic vocation:

Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.  See this link here: Letter 4 RMR
(Please note, it is the author of this blog who italicized some of the sentences in the extract given above for emphasis.)  In the same letter he goes on to contrast surface fact with profound or deep truth:

Footprints in the snow: Santry Wood, same day.
Don't be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law. And those who live the mystery falsely and badly (and they are very many) lose it only for themselves and nevertheless pass it on like a sealed letter, without knowing it. And don't be puzzled by how many names there are and how complex each life seems. Perhaps above them all there is a great motherhood, in the form of a communal yearning. The beauty of the girl, a being who (as you so beautifully say) "has not yet achieved anything," is motherhood that has a presentiment of itself and begins to prepare, becomes anxious, yearns. And the mother's beauty is motherhood that serves, and in the old woman there is a great remembering. And in the man too there is motherhood, it seems to me, physical and mental; his engendering is also a kind of birthing, and it is birthing when he creates out of his innermost fullness. (See same link above.)
Like the great twentieth century psychiatrist, Dr Anthony Storr, Rilke advocates the very potency of solitude to the creative act:

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you for those who are near you are far away, you write, and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast. And if what is near you is far away, then your vastness is already among the stars and is very great; be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. (Ibid.)
There is much wisdom in Rilke's words indeed.  We cannot bring another along the path to personal growth that we ourselves have walked - for it is truly own very own, individual path - unique and unrepeatable in certain particulars.  He also tells his reader to be patient and understanding with people - young or old - who do not trust the essential aloneness or solitude of both the creative and spiritual paths.

Letters from a Poet's Soul

Rainer Maria Rilke at his desk in his Study
One of the things about modern communications is that the sentiments expressed therein have become quicker, instantaneous, abbreviated and reduced to a type of text-speak which lacks the flourish of a letter.  Recently I penned some ten posts or so on the letters of one of my favourite poets, that is, John Keats.  Today I have been reading the letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, at least his letters to a young man who wished to be a poet.  Significantly enough, this book of letters is called Letters to a Young Poet.  You will find a copy of them on line here at this link: Letters RMR

Some young prospective poet chanced to send his poems to Rilke and had asked for the poet's appraisal and criticism of same.  Unusually, and kindly, Rilke replied with complete understanding and compassion.  He sees the young man's request as being a very important one - one of conviction, one of dedication, one not of choosing a mere career or profession, but one of engaging in a vocation, answering a calling, following a path, a soul path, a path to sefhood, a path to truth; a real journey to authenticity in more existential terms.
In the first letter he addresses the following words to the would-be poet:

You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.  (See the above link)

A little later in the same letter he says:

And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to inte4rest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. So, dear Sir, I can't give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted. (See the above link)


Interestingly, in Letter 3 to this young man, Rilke speaks of how near the creative act of any of the arts is to the sexual act - speaking about the books of an author named Richard Dehmel, he opines:

Life is as transient as my footprints in the snow: 02/12/2010
You have characterized him quite well with the phrase: "living and writing in heat." - And in fact the artist's experience lies so unbelievably close to the sexual, to its pain and its pleasure, that the two phenomena are really just different forms of one and the same longing and bliss. And if instead of "heat" one could say "sex" - sex in the great, pure sense of the word, free of any sin attached to it by the Church - then his art would be very great and infinitely important. His poetic power is great and as strong as a primal instinct; it has its own relentless rhythms in itself explodes from him like a volcano. (once again, see the above link)
Then, Rilke speaks of his own books as if they were his own children.  Indeed he had a daughter named Ruth (1901–1972) who was born in December 1901 to him and a sculptor friend Clara Westhoff. However, Rilke was not one for a middle-class family life, and in the summer of 1902 he left home and traveled to Paris to write a monograph on the sculptor Auguste Rodin who became a great friend. Still, even though they were separated, the relationship between Rilke and Clara Westhoff continued for the rest of his life.  Anyway, it is interesting how tenderly he writes of his own books in this short letter:


Finally, as to my own books, I wish I could send you any of them that might give you pleasure. But I am very poor, and my books, as soon as they are published, no longer belong to me. I can't even afford them myself - and, as I would so often like to, give them to those who would be kind to them. So I am writing for you, on another slip of paper, the titles (and publishers) of my most recent books (the newest ones - all together I have published perhaps 12 or 13), and must leave it to you, dear Sir, to order one or two of them when you can. I am glad that my books will be in your good hands. (once again, see the above link)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Poems for the Snow

Santry Wood, today around 3 p.m.
I have spent most of today reading, walking in the snow, taking photographs, reflecting, clearing my driveway of around six to eight inches of snow - all of these things I really enjoyed as they were truly a break from my routine which is normally teaching and doing and preparing lessons and, at this time of year, a Christmas party for the older citizens in the area around our school.  We are off school due to the fact that traffic is just crawling and children cannot get to their places of study.  Anyway, there is only one thing to do at such times - that is, slow down, relax, forget the fret of life and meditate on its significance, because that is what the snow does for us - it makes us slow down and take stock, mend the injured or wounded soul, forget our cares.  With this in mind I have been thinking about and reading some poems on snow, one of which I have already shared in this blog some years ago, namely Snow by the great Northern Irish poet, Louis MacNeice on which I have already commented here: LMacN Snow  I shall copy it out hereunder without comment, and add two other lovely poems about snow, one by Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955) who was an American Modernist poet, called The Snow Man (aptly enough) and one by the enigmatic but brilliant early American poet Emily Dickinson called The Snow That Never Drifts (enigmatically enough) to whet the reader's poetic appetite and in the end offer some healing balm for the wounded soul these cold days of winter.

Poem 1:     Snow

by Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.


World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.


And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Poem 2: The Snow Man

by Wallace Stevens

Snow man today in Santry Wood
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;


And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter


Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,


Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place


For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


It was the umbrella that caught my eye: Santry Wood today!
Poem 3:    The Snow that never drifts

by Emily Dickinson

The Snow that never drifts --
The transient, fragrant snow
That comes a single time a Year
Is softly driving now --


So thorough in the Tree
At night beneath the star
That it was February's Foot
Experience would swear --


Like Winter as a Face
We stern and former knew
Repaired of all but Loneliness
By Nature's Alibit --


Were every storm so spice
The Value could not be --
We buy with contrast -- Pang is good
As near as memory --

Going Beyond Fragmentation 11 - Towards the Healing of Wholeness

The Soul's Song

Young woman takes a photograph: Santry Wood, Thurs 2/12/2010
Expressive Arts Therapy is just that - it does what it says on the tin.  It's all about enabling the self or the individual soul to express itself as creatively as possible.  Hence, these types of therapy comprise the whole spectrum of the human soul's creative abilities - music (including human song and poetry), painting of all types, sculpture, design, drama, creative writing and many more besides.  In all of these, the human soul seeks to put to flight, to take off, to soar, to sing itself whole in the beauty of its very being.  Hence, my title to this short paragraph - the soul's song.  The aim of Expressive Arts Therapy to my mind is simply this - to enable the soul to sing itself whole in the beauty of its very being.

Rainer Maria Rilke
He I am reminded that the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) who said that "song is existence."  Lovers of his poetry and other writings will know that he was a Bohemian–Austrian poet and art critic. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety: themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets.  To this extent, reading his poems for this present writer has been therapeutic and both "soul-healing" and "soul-making."  "Song is Existence" or "Gesang ist Dasein."  Levine tells us that he would literally put words in Heidegger's mouth by interpreting his insights into the human soul as being "Dasine ist Gesang," that is that Existence is Song, namely that existence is essentially poetic.

In Winnicott's understanding of humanity, to be alive is to be capable of being creative - and the essential nature of children is to assert themselves through creative living.  Both Heidegger and Winnicott, and of course, many others after them, see all forms of creativity which spring from the unique power of the individual imagination as beinfg essentially healing of the human soul.  Now let me repeat one of my better sentences ever writter in these posts from the opening paragraph here:  In all varieties of creativity, the human soul seeks to put to flight, to take off, to soar, to sing itself whole in the beauty of its very being. 

The Inner Mystery of the Person

In Winnicott's thinking, as in that of a lot of other psychotherapists too, the presence of others or at least of an other is essential for the development of every individual's creativity.  In other words, it is almost universally accepted, and indeed somewhat obvious, that we can only become our individual self in relationship.  However, there are limits, indeed, to how far anyone of us can know another, and indeed, I believe, to how far I can really know myself also.  In this respect Winnicott speaks about "an unapproachable core of selfhood" in each person, a part of the self that can never be fully shared.  None of us can pour out the mystery that is uniquely us in any succinct expression.  All therapy, and in this case Expresssive Arts Therapy can only go so far, can only reveal so much.  As we interact with each other we share a common space as it were and are never objective "lookers-in" at the personality or personhood of another.  We asre too much involved in the "interaction" to be objective.  My words are almost tripping me up here in my attempts to explain what I mean.  Yet the attempt is certainly worth it.

To this extent, then, we may say that personal, interpersonal and mutual truth(s) is (are) never totally objective or even subjective.  They are, then, very much in an "in-between space."  It is an existential fact, then, that the kind of truth we are discussing here is neither subjective nor objective, but rather is a living expression of our being together in the world.  In this sense, we do the truth, we make the truth mutually in inter-relating.  In other words we are constantly creating and re-creating it.  Once again apologies for the struggles of my efforts to express myself here!

Therefore, in summary, we may say that thinkers like Heidegger and Winnicott, the latter who, of course was a practitioner-psychoanalyst, have released us from the binds of the subject-object split or, in more traditional philosophical terms from the binds of the Cartesian dualistic split.  They also allow us to understand the essential role of the imagination in healthy personal intercommunication and in good balanced mental health.  Also we have learnt that imagination is never, so to speak, disembodied thinking - it is always very much embodied thinking, or to put it in other terms incarnated thinking, a thinking incarnated in images.

In all of the above we are talking about the healing power of the imagination through the expressive arts.  We are not talking about fancy or fantasy which are lesser powers and totally un-real as it were - all those creatures of Science Fiction and indeed the world of Computer Games etc.  The imaginative powers we are discussing in this post are the "really" real (excuse the redundancy of the adjective here - the sheer inability of language to express what I mean hinders me) healing powers of imagination in communicating with others; in the case of the therapist and client/patient the shared (and consequently real) healing of the imagination, and in the case of individuals in ordinary everyday life, the shared (and consequently real) communication of information, ideas, thoughts and beliefs, encouragement and healin, too, of course!. 

The above thoughts are this author's words.  Therefore, I will finish with those of Professor Levine with his take on the above:


To be alive means to be in  the world as embodied beings, capable of imagining ourselves more deeply, i.e.,  seeing our authentic possibilities in the course of our lives.  This distinguishes imagination from fantasy, which ignores actuality in constructing images of pleasure or pain.  Imagination can be said to be the "bridge" between self and world; but we must remember that we are always "on" the bridge.  When we try to pass to one side or the other, we "fall into the chasm of fantasy....

Poiesis makes healing possible.  Psychotherapy must hold fast to this insight if it wishes to be authentic.  We do not aim at helping someone adapt to reality; rather we seek to help him or her live more creatively.  Only the restoration of the imagination can achieve this goal.  The possibilty of expressive therapy lies in the play of imagination.  This is a truth which can only be thought by being lived.  (Poiesis, pp.  41-42)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Going Beyond Fragmentation 10 - Healing the split between Self and the World Continued

Looking a little closer at Heidegger's Thoughts:


My Housing Estate after a little Snow!
When we look closer at humankind's being-in-the-world, Heidegger says, we find that we are pulled all over the place by desires and worldly concerns to such an extent that we become inauthentic or untrue to our real self.  We are subject to what he calls the "Das Man,"  that anonymous social sphere of what "one" should do, say and think.  Then, the great unsettling question hits us - the thought of our own death, our own finitude, our own extinction.   Or as the great Scottish lexicographer Samuel Johnson put it: "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

The thought of our extinction focuses our mind, heart, soul or psyche - call it what you will here.  When I grasp the essential point that I am mortal or a being-towards-death, then and only then do I fully assume the responsibility for living my life as well.  In this sense, after sufficient contemplation of my mortality I accept who I am and choose to live out my life as authentically as I can.  Levine contends that there is an essential affinity here between Winnicott's thought and that of Heidegger. "The worldly character of Dasein is akin to the transitional space of which Winnicott speaks.  Just as authentic Dasein is in the world, so psychological life for Winnicott is carried out in the transitional space between self and other." (Levine, Poiesis, pp 36-37)

One cannot but agree with Levine's take on both Winnicott and Heidegger and it is his take, not mine, as I have only read theese latter two in secondary sources.  Our author insists that Winnicott's distinction between the true and false self-systems is similar to Heidegger's distinction between authentic and inauthentic existence.  Inauthentic existence is where I do not really know myself, or where much of me lies hidden from myself.  Hence, it is only when I experience a personal breakdown (in which I am confronted with my sheer mortality and finitude, that I can somehow find my own truth.  To be striving to please others, to do what society alone expects of me is to live according to what Heidegger calls "Das Man."  To do so I choose not to be, to live a lie or a sort of half-life, or half-death indeed, in which I do not confront the terror or experience the joy of existence.

Heidegger - Anti-semite Nazi, but good philosopher!!
In short, in keeping with the tenor of our last post what Winnicott and Heidegger are arguing against is a totally one-sided psyche, that is one either totally rooted in the interior life (subjectivist and even solipsist) or the polar opposite, a psyche which is rooted in exteriority or in the outside (objectivist, the daily routine, the routinized world of soul-destoying monotony.)  Rather, they are both arguing that it is in the between-space that real authenticity lies.  Once again interiority is the Romantic emphasis while exteriority is the Enlightenment emphasis.

The most important thing for Heidegger is the act of speaking one's own authentic truth, and he calls this the very poetry of existence.  In fact we all live a poetic existence when we are true to our real self.  We find our home in the world only when we make it our own by the power of our imagination.  Now this transformative activity he calls "poiesis" or "Dichtung."  In the later Heidegger poiesis is the act by which truth is placed in a work.

To be continued

Going Beyond Fragmentation 9 - Healing the split between Self and the World

Brief Overview:

Walking dog in the snow, Santry Wood, 28/11/2010
I will begin tonight's post with a brief overview or summary of my conclusions from the last post.   What is reality?  Well, I concluded that reality is not something definable once and for all out there in space - no, rather it is something we define together when we communicate or when we allow our imaginations to overlap in a common or shared space of mutual understanding.  Communication, then, is essentially imaginal and because it is co-created by the individuals involved in the communication, it is very much the essence of what we mean by reality.

Insight into Psychopathy:

Winnicott's notion of the in-between character of mental life (for which, see the last post) is especially interesting for the light which it sheds upon psychopathology.  For Winnicott, then, suffering results from the split or dichotomy between a self lost in its own world and the shared world of common experience or common imagination.  This to my mind is an excellent and interesting understanding of psychopathology which is commonly defined as the study of the origin, development, and manifestations of mental or behavioural disorders or simply the manifestation of such mental or behavioural disorders.

Oftentimes if a child is rejected by significant others he or she will present a false compliant self to others while protecting the "true" self by keeping it hidden within.  Keeping the true self hidden within is literally "soul-destroyoing" for the individual as evidenced in a routinized, boring and compliant existence.  Thus, these individuals show a false self to the world, and keep their true self hidden, or they might even withdraw completely into a world of fantasy.

The implication here is that the subject-object split which underlies traditional psychoanalytic thinking is itself pathological.  One way to heal the psyche or make it whole then is to use the various creative arts therapies which tap into the creative powers of the healing imagination, all of which means essentially that the split between the psyche and the world will be bridged.  In other words, the psyche lost to the world will be firmly connected with the real commonly shared world of reality.  Apologies to my readers here for any confusion or lack of clarity as I am struggling to express myself clearly.

The Subject-Object Split

The subject-object split which began in earlier philosophy and which was crystallized as it were, to use a very bad metaphor, in the "cogito ergo sum" of Descartes where the human being was conceived of as essentially a mind contained in a container called the body, and where the interaction of both was seen to be essentially mechanical, ended up causing a multitude of philosophical and psychological, not to mention many subsequent social problems.

Much light can be thrown on the nature of human existence, Levine argues, by turning to philosophy, especially that of Heidegger.  This latter philosopher maintains that the human being is by nature  "Dasein" or simply "being-there."  This means the human being is always in-the-world and is never a detached observer (subject) of a real world out there (object).  In our everyday existence, in our "Dasein,"  Heidegger argues that we are in-the-world, part and parcel of it, in that in-between space talked about by Winnicott.  It is only when we are frustrated in our actions, when we are prevented from doing something, that we stand back  and attempt to understand what has happened.  It is only then that we enter the subject/object style thinking.  For Heidegger the ordinary being-in-the-world is primary to all thought and all thinking about it.  Everyday existence is thus very mundane and often mind-numbingly boring.

To be continued.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Going Beyond Fragmentation 8 - That In-Between World of the Healthy Psyche

The In-Between World of Communication

Winter scene, Sunday28th Nov 2010
I am a teacher and communication is the very essence of my profession, not knowledge solely.  One can have all the knowledge in the world and be unable to communicate it.  I have taught in some five schools in a teaching career that has now spanned exactly 30 years last June gone.  For three years of that number I have spent teaching young men on the ASD spectrum, viz., teenagers with Asperger's Syndrome.  Those thirty years have been about attempting to communicate knowledge on the curriculum to the pupils before me.  At times I have done that communication badly and at times I have done it well.  Having retrained last year as a Resource and Learning Support teacher, teaching numeracy (maths), literacy and communication and language, has led me to ponder more deeply what exactly communication is.

It would seem to me that relationship or connectedness is an essential part of the communication process.  Today students are no longer docile, unresponsive automata as we were when we were young.  They wish to be heard.  They wish to express their opinions.  In short, they wish to connect as is their basic right as a human being.  Every human being has that basic right - the right to self-expression and the right to be listened to, not just heard!  Back when I was a young lad the teachers spoke with an authority vested in them by their profession solely and we listened and learned - how well we did so is a matter for another post!  Today we speak by the authority of our own authenticity as well as by the authority of our profession.  The two are needed for real communication to take place! 

Teaching an Adolescent Boy with Asperger's

Now I have vividly in my mind a boy I have taught for the past three years from 13 to 16 years of age, and whom I still teach.  I shall call him Brian, but needless to say Brian is not his real name; it is rather a pseudonym to protect his identity.  This sixteen-year old is far more autistic than the other boys in our unit, though like all Asperger boys he has an exceedingly good vocabulary, has a special interest of note which I shan't name lest someone might identify him and he possesses practically all of the significant traits connected with this specific disability.

The Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler first introduced the term autism in 1911. The words "Autism" and "autistic" stem from the Greek word "autos," meaning self. The term autism originally referred to a basic disturbance in schizophrenia, in short, an extreme withdrawal of oneself from the fabric of social life, but not excluding oneself.  However, it is important here to note that Bleuler was studying the mental disease called schizophrenia, not autism as we know it today.  However, I feel that knowing the origins or provenance of a word or theory tells us something about whatever reality that word attempts to describe.

Bleuler also coined the term "ambivalence" to designate one of the major symptoms of schizophrenia, the others being "autism", disturbances of effect (emotion) and association (thought disorders). Ambivalence is a coexistence of two opposing drives, desires, feelings or emotions towards the same person, object or goal. The ambivalent person may be unaware of either of the opposing wishes. Bleuler felt that there were normal instances of ambivalence--such as the feeling, after performing an action, that it would have been better to have done the opposite; but the normal person, unlike the schizophrenic, is not prevented by these opposing impulses from deciding and then acting. Bleuler's schizophrenia differs in terms from the Freudian theories, in which ambivalence was described as feelings of love and hate toward the same person. However, I am going away on a tangent here, and will return immediately to my point, viz., that his notion of the autistioc traits of the patient as referring to the extreme withdrawal of oneself from the fabric of social life, but not excluding oneself. 

Walking the dog - Sunday Nov 28, 2010
Now Brian is not extremely withdrawn from the social fabric of life, but he is to a fairly large extent when I compare him to the level of interaction with the social fabric of life exhibited by the other students in my care.  Needless to say, what I am writing here is not scientific whatsoever and is just some ideas that I am trying to sort out in my own mind as a practising teacher.  These thoughts are merely the result of my reflecting on my livewd experience and practice.  I spend some five classes per week teaching Brian Foundation Maths for the Junior Certificate and he is able to manage this subject quite well, though I have to keep him very much on task.  We do communicate about music and all the bands he loves, how he is feeling on a particular day, or occasionally we reflect on some misbehaviour with another student or even SNA or teacher.  There are times, measurable in some few minutes when Brian's world and my world overlap in some middle space, that is the "in-between space" or "in-between" world of my title.  Asperger Boys (by far the greater percentage of them are male) sometimes call themselves Aspies while they call the so called "normal" boys by the title Typies (typicals, I think, and pronounced like "tippies")

And so we return to what I mean by the "in-between" world of communication.  I usually draw two match-stick figures on the board, one of whom is me and the other the pupil with whom I am working.  I then draw a circle coming out from each stick-figure and allow them to overlap.  This I call the shared space of communication.  In other words, I am diagrammatically representing what communication actually is - an "in--between" world shared by a number of people, in this case two people - teacher and pupil.  Let me return to the words of Professor Levine here for a moment by way of explicitation:

Again, it is essential to understand the mediating role of imagination here. We are not contrasting an "inner" realm of fantasy with an "outer" one of reality; this is precisely the dichotomy that gives rise to the split between Enlightenment and Romantic models of psychotherapy. What Winnicott is saying, implicitly, is that psychic life is imaginal; we live in the imaginative and playful space of experience.
That imaginative and playful space is essentially the overlapping circles coming from my stick-figure drawings, the shared space of communication, the shared space of commonly created reality (reality is not something definable once and for all out there in space - no, it is something we we define together in imaginative communication.  Reality as objectified in precise terms out there would be what Levine calls the Enlightenement school of psychotherapy while the subjectified, almost solipsistic self-created world that is utterly private would approximate to what he sees as the Romantic model of psychotherapy.  Communication, then, is essentially imaginal and because it is co-created by the individuals involved in the communication, it is very much the essence of what we mean by reality.

To be continued!
 
 (Poiesis, p. 33)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Going Beyond Fragmentation 7 - The Journey to Wholeness

Winter Tree, today, Santry Wood.
Mental Life is Imaginal

If there is one thing I have learned from Professor Levine's short book it is that Freud, in contrast to Descartes believed that the internal life of the mind is esssentially imaginal, not rational.  We think in images, not words.  This, in itself, is an exceptionally interesting notion indeed.  Melanie Klein went on to take this insight and use it in her development of play therapy with children. Then Winnicott followed Klein in acknowledging the importance of children's play and fantasy life, but he situated this discovery in a radically new framework through his notion of transitional space.  We spoke about this phenomenon in the last post, and we shall not delay on this any further here.

Imagination Versus Fancy and Fantasy

It is important here to draw a distinction between these three words which, while often used in common parlance as synonymous, certainly are not so by rigorous definition.  Therefore, on checking in a free on-line dictionary, I find that while the words are presented as synonymous, they change with the nuances given them by the various authors quoted. As we read the quotations from these authors, fancy and fantasy take on a lesser function than imagination in our mental functioning.  I will herewith give you that definition:

(See this link here: Imagination  or The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.)


1.  a. The formation of a mental image of something that is neither perceived as real nor present to the senses.


     b. The mental image so formed.


     c. The ability or tendency to form such images.


2. The ability to confront and deal with reality by using the creative power of the mind; resourcefulness: handled the problems with great imagination.


3. A traditional or widely held belief or opinion.


4. Archaic


a. An unrealistic idea or notion; a fancy.


b. A plan or scheme.
i·magi·nation·al adj.


Synonyms: imagination, fancy, fantasy


These nouns refer to the power of the mind to form images, especially of what is not present to the senses. Imagination is the most broadly applicable: "In the world of words, the imagination is one of the forces of nature" (Wallace Stevens).


Fancy especially suggests mental invention that is whimsical, capricious, or playful and that is characteristically well removed from reality: "All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity" (Samuel Johnson).


Fantasy is applied principally to elaborate or extravagant fancy as a product of the imagination given free rein: "The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is exactly the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy" (Lionel Trilling).


Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Esemplastic Power of the Imagination:

Winter tree, Santry Woods, today!
At this juncture I should like to make a few comments about the contribution of S.T. Coleridge to the subject of the imagination.  This author was at once a brilliant poet and the quintessential philosopher of the English Romantic movement in poetry in the final decades of the eighteenth century and the first half of the eighteenth.  Perhaps his greatest and most profound prose work was his very sui generis and exceedingly eccentric Biographia Literaria wherein he lays forth his theories of criticism and, of course, his philosophy of the imagination where he distinguishes between the imagination and fancy:


"Imagination" and "Fancy"



Rejecting the empiricist assumption that the mind was a tabula rasa on which external experiences and sense impressions were imprinted, stored, recalled, and combined through a process of association, Coleridge divided the "mind" into two distinct faculties. He labelled these the "Imagination" and "Fancy."


The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.


FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.  (See this link here: Imagination and Fancy )
Further on from this in his Biographia Literaria Coleridge goes on to describe the esemplastic power of the imagination thus: "Esemplastic" means to "shape into one" and to "convey a new sense." Noting that esemplastic was a word he borrowed from the Greek "to shape," Coleridge explains that it refers to the imagination's ability to "shape into one, having to convey a new sense." He feels such a term is necessary as "it would aid the recollection of my meaning and prevent it being confounded with the usual import of the word imagination."


So fancy is very much a lesser power than that of the imagination.  What I want to infer from all the above information about the history of our understanding of the imagination is that it is a powerful tool that enables its user literally "to shape into one" his/her perceptions and indeed intuitions in a most dynamic fashion.  In this respect, I am inferring from the above a similar power for the role of the imagination in therapyIn my own life I may use my imagination productively in all my creative actions to fashion and refashion my identity as I grow ever more confident as an individual among others. It is at this timely juncture that I wish to return to both Winnicott and to Professor Levine who quotes him quite extensively in the current chapter.
Winnicott makes a clear distinction between "fantasy" and "imagination."  Fantasy is imagination manqué; it refers to a kind of day-dreaming that walls a person up in his or her own personal world and leads to no form of doing, of efficacy.  Imagination, on the other hand, is the means by which we reach out and connect with otherness.  Play, then, is the operation of imagination not of fantasy.  In a certain sense, we can say that the goal of therapy is to replace fantasy with imagination...  Therapy, then, can be understood to be a re-vitalization of the imagination, a turning-back to the original connection between self and world." (Poiesis, p. 33)

Going Beyond Fragmentation 6 - Towards Integration through History


Sky, Phoenix Park, 2008
 Introduction

I have stated many times in these posts that we can use the creative arts, which are essentially the fruits of imagination at its most powerful, to help heal the wounded soul.  This I have called the healing power of the imagination.  Every subject has its history, and anyone who qualifies in any area of knowledge will have studied the history of his/her own subject.  There are histories of Mathematics, English, Philosophy, Religiopius Studies, Science, Geography, Psychology and so forth.  Likewise, there is a history of pschoanalysis and its uses and indeed abuses.  There is a history of the techniques used to heal clients over the short history of the various psychotrherapies, too.

A Brief History

We have already mentioned the fact that many distinct movements grew out of the fundamentals of psycho-analysis as defined by Sigmund Freud as its founder and creator.  Firstly, lets look at "The Object-Relations" school of psychoanalysis.

The Object-Relations Theory and Practice of Psychoanalysis:

This school may also be termed Bristish Psychoanalysis, as it is based on the work of Melanie Kline.  What is most important for us here is the fact that in the object-relations theory there is an emphasis on the early fantasy life of the child.  Let us here quote the words of Professor Levine which are clear and succinct:

The term "object-relations" itself is profoundly misleading.  No matter how much we remind ourselves of the strict definition of "object" as that to which a drive (sexual or aggressive) is attached, we are constantly tempted to think of a real object or person and a real relation.  Object-relations then turns into an interpersonal theory. 
What is missing in this interpretation of  object-relations theory is the role of fantasy.  The "object" is not the other; it is an internal representation of the other to which my psychic energy is attached or "cathected," that is to say, , the object is an image of what I am attched to.  In a strict Kleinian formulation, I never have a relationship to the real other (primarily the mother), rather I dwell in an internal fantasy world of mental representations.  The other is there for me only as represented within this internal sphere. (Poiesis, p. 30)
Maintaining the Cartesian Dualism

René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Frans hals, 1548
The central claim of what is often called Cartesian dualism, in honour of Descartes, is that the immaterial mind and the material body, while being ontologically distinct substances, causally interact. This is an idea which continues to feature prominently in many non-European philosophies. Mental events cause physical events, and vice-versa. But this leads to a substantial problem for Cartesian dualism: How can an immaterial mind cause anything in a material body, and vice-versa? This has often been called the "problem of interactionism".  Essentially, René Descartes separated the mind from the body, pointing out that the former is made of thoughts or mental events and is somehow contained in the body as a type of vehicle which can express its wants and desires.  By what means the two might interact Derscartes never clearly explained.  Let us return once agfain to Professor Levine:

What is interesting is that for Freud, in contrast to Descartes, the founder of modern thought, the internal world is not a world of thoughts but of images.  Mental life is imaginal not rational.  Klein was able to take to take this insight and use it in her development of play therapy with children... He [Winnicott] follows Klein in acknowledging the importance of children's play and fantasy life; but hec situates this discovery in a radically new framework through his notion of transitional space.  (Ibid., p. 31)
Levine is fully correct when he states that this notion of transitional space is hugely important.  We have all heard quoted many times the fact that the blanket as one of the first transitional objects in the life of a young child.  After that it may become a dolly or a teddy and some favourite toy or piece of material.  Once again, Levine is extremely clear here:

The transitional object is both me and not-me; it is neither internal nor external, but serves as a bridge or connector between the two realms.... Transitional phenomena are not just interesting occurrences in a sequence of developmental steps.  Rather they express the central characteristic of mental life: the psyche is not inside nor is it outside; it is in-between.  Psychological life is transitional.  That is to say, healthy psychological experience takes place in transitional space; it is only in illness that we wall ourselves up in an interior world.  And similarly, it is only in the flight from illness that we deny the very existence of interiority and takr refuge in a "real" world outside us.  (Ibid., pp. 31-32)



To be continued.