Sunday, June 27, 2010

Amazing May 21

Now we are not beings cut off in our own little worlds. Our world overlaps with that of others. And further, and perhaps as importantly we are beings in the world. May now goes on to explore that particular phenomenon. Our learned author points out: “For being together means being together in the same world; and knowing means knowing in the context of the same world” (Op. cit., p. 117)


Once again, what’s needed is an approach to therapy (and indeed to life) which undercuts the “cancer” of the subject-object divide. Being in the world really, truly and authentically is a difficult task for modern humankind as he has lost his traditional sense of community. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and the existentialists who followed them continually pointed out that there were two major sources of modern humankind’s anxiety and despair, viz., (i) loss of a sense of being and (ii) loss of his world. So we are estranged firstly from ourselves, then from each other and also from our world. Within this last world, one could, of course, talk at length about our estrangement from Mother Earth or from Gaia our very home, of which we are a living part, except that we deny this fact, indeed suppress it.

Hence, major problems presented to therapists of all kinds today are those of persons who show a sort of schizoid nature, that is these people present as detached, unrelated, lacking in affect, tending toward depersonalization, and covering up their problems by means of intellectualization. These types of people relate in a detached and impersonalized way and express themselves technically rather than with the gut and the feelings.

Therefore, we have a deep alienation that affects the human being in him or herself (intrapsychic – my term, not May’s. He prefers the term Eigenwelt), from one another (interpsychic – again my term. May prefers the term Mitwelt) and from the world (geopsychic – again my term. Again May prefers the term Umwelt). This particular experience of isolation May calls, “epistemological loneliness,” that is alienation “which is the ultimate consequence of four centuries of the outworking of the separation of man as subject from the objective world.” (ibid., p.120) Once again, the whipping boy here is our old when René Descartes.

In short, all existential analysts hold that the person and his world are a unitary, structural whole and the phrase “being in the world” expresses precisely that. In a sense, then, the world as such is “the structure of meaningful relationships in which a person exists and in the design of which he participates.” (ibid., pp. 122-123)

The Three Modes of World

These are the three modes or simultaneous aspects of the world which each of us lives out of as it were. Let’s start with

The Umwelt

This means literally the “world around,” that is the biological world, or, if you like, what we call today by the name “environment.” For all animals, among which we are numbered, this world includes biological needs, drives and instincts. This is the world of natural law. There is no self-consciousness in this world at all. It is as it were, “the thrown world” or the world of “Dasein.” It is the alien world into which we are all hurled or thrown at birth and in which we must all survive. Now obviously, while Umwelt is very important and written of at length b y the existential analysts, it is very much just one third of humankind’s simultaneous modes of being as it were. May argues that it is in this connection that “the existential analysts are more empirical – that is, more respectful of the actual human phenomena – than the mechanists or positivists or behaviourists.” (Ibid., p. 127)

The Mitwelt

This means literally the “with world,” or in other words the world of other beings with whom or amongst whom I live, the world of my fellows. This world is the one of interrelationships with human beings. Essentially one becomes aware of the Mitwelt when one observes the differences between a herd of animals and a group of human beings living in community. Strictly speaking animals have an environment and human beings have a world. This world implies a structure of meaning which is itself designed by the interrelationships of the persons within it. The categories “adjustment” and “adaptation” fit neatly under the heading of Umwelt, but not under this heading of Mitwelt. The only category that fits neatly under our heading Mitwelt is the term relationship. The adjustments happen at both sides of the relationship – I adjust to another and he or she adjusts to me. The other is never an object. Then, May comes up which the following insightful sentence which he italicizes for emphasis: “The essence of a relationship is that in an encounter both persons are changed.” (Ibid., p. 128)

The Eigenwelt

This means literally “own world,” the world of relationship to oneself. May points out that it is the Eigenwelt which is the mode of being which is least adequately dealt with in modern psychology and in depth psychology. Indeed, he maintained it is almost ignored, and remember he was writing this book in 1981. I don’t know whether things have changed that much since. Now, our author hastens to add that it would be wrong to equate the Eigenwelt as merely a subjective, inner experience. It is so much more: it is, in fact, the basis on which we see the real world and the very basis on which we relate. May then gives us a wonderful insight from the writer Suzuki who points out that in Eastern languages adjectives always carry in their meaning a certain “for-me-ness.” That is to say, “this flower is beautiful” means “for me this flower is beautiful.” Leaving Eigenwelt out of things leads to a very arid intellectualism in the West

Now the above three worlds always intersect and always exist simultaneously. They are inextricably interrelated and always condition each other. I live in Umwelt, Mitwelt and Eigenwelt simultaneously. They are not three different worlds, but three simultaneous modes of being in the world. Ludwig Binswanger has pointed out that classical psychoanalysis only dealt with the Umwelt.

As regards love May points out that the interpersonal schools of psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, like those of Sullivan and Fromm, are naturally at home with Mitwelt. Yet he warms that without an adequate understanding of Umwelt, love becomes empty of vitality, and without Eigenwelt it lacks power and capacity to fructify itself.

Real existential Love (My phrase and its possible inappropriateness is all mine!)

May points out that in any case Eigenwelt cannot be omitted in any understanding of love:

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard continually insisted that to love presupposes that one has already become “the true individual,” “the Solitary One,” “the one who has comprehended the deep secret that also in loving another person one must be sufficient onto oneself.” (Ibid., p.131)

Lack of a sense of the Tragedic in life

May argues that there is a lack of a sense of tragedy in the USA, and once again remember that he was writing this little book in 1981. He points out that it takes an awareness of living simultaneously by the three modes of being for a sense of tragedy to exist. This is surely a great argument for the need of good theatre, and indeed, the USA has produced many masters in this field: Eugene O’Neill and, of course, the great Henry Miller to name but two who spring automatically to mind. It would seem that much healing of society can be done by producing and attending good theatre. The Dramatic arts, like all arts, must take a bow! We can only forget you at peril to our very own souls!


Above a picture of some ancient water jars I took at Franco's restaurant, Le Due Cassette last week!

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