Saturday, November 27, 2010

Going beyond Fragmentation 4 - The Tension between Homogeneity and Heterogeneity


Fish boxes stacked on the pier at Rush Harbour, October 2010
I found the chapter "The Idea of Integration in the Expressive Arts Therapies" in Levine's Poiesis rather disappointing.  I find him very poor as a philosopher, with a style of arguing that flits all over the place.  Admittedly, I have been spoiled by reading such brilliantly clear philosophers and thinkers like Bertrand Russell and Bryan Magee who write with a singularly clear precision where one can follow the steps logically.  Levine is not a clear and precise thinker.  However, I will forgive him for that because he is a Professor of Social Sciences and philosophy is not his area.  However, it is hard to forgive anyone for lack of clarity of thought and exposition.  Nevertheless, I gleaned a few bits from this chapter which to this reader at least was lacking in cohesion and in logical and clear development of thought.

Homogeneity and Heterogeneity

Flagstones, Howth Harbour, October, 2010
Homogeneity refers to cultural, social, biological, or other similarities within a group.  Heterogeneity is its polar opposite - it refers is the state of being heterogeneous.  It is essentially the nature of opposition; contrariety or dissimilitude of qualities. Pertaining to the sciences, it is a substance that is diverse in kind or nature; composed of diverse parts.  There is an obvious pressure on all human beings within any society to tread the beaten path, to follow common customs, to do what society either demands or recommends - the societal pressure is towards uniformity and heterogeneity; in short towards conformity. It is singularly unclear to this reader whether Levine is in favour of homogeneity over heterogeneity or the contrary or indeed whether he is arguing for a healthy tension between both.  Personally I would go for this third option. Let us read for a few moments the words of Professor Levine here:

The homogenization of the world, the disappearance of local customs and ethnic differences, is mirrored by a homogenization of the self, a flattening of our "infinite variety" into the persona of normality.  "One world" usually means that the dominant culture becomes a model for development.  Similarly, "identity" most commonly means adjustment to the dominant reality.  (Poiesis, p. 19)
However, he also believes that we must have an over-riding vision of the whole, which, he appears to be arguing, is the tendency towards homogeneity.  Here again, I am singularly disappointed with Levine as his thinking is not clear, exhaustive or indeed accurate.  The preceding logic would seem to suggest that unity (wholeness) is equal, or at least similar, to homogeniety (sameness) and that, therefore unity = uniformity which in any clear thinker's mind is certainly not the case.  For this sloppiness of thought and for this lack of rigour I am afraid this reader cannot forgive this so-called expert in his field.

I also find his critism of James Hillman singularly unclear to my mind.  Having read a considerable amount of the latter's writings, I have found him extremely clear, bright, talented and logical.  Perhaps some of Hillman's ideas may stretch our minds, but never our incredulity. 

However, Levine does offer us some good insights into the imagination and into its healing role.

From the Ashes of Disintegration rises the Phoenix of the Renewed Self:

Levine asks the question about where do the issues raised in his philosophical prolegomenon bear in on the healing work of Arts Therapy in its many incarnations.  He might well ask, as to this reader at least his so-called introductory philosophical remarks were so scattered as to make no impact on him - perhaps, I am singularly obtuse or Levine is a singularly bad philosopher.  Maybe both contentions are accurate.  Also, I must avoid the temptation of pride or hubris!

Integration implies a previous state of dis-integration.  Often what brings a person into therapy is the experience of falling apart, of splitting into discordant fragments, of losing a central self around which the personality coheres.  This break-down is a necessary stage in the development of the self: it represents the brealing down of the false unity of narcissistic self-identification.  A crisis has occurred which cannot be met by the old persona.  The person is plunged into disarray; he or she loses the certainty of their former stable identity.  There is an experience of the void, of a loss of meaning and purpose... Dabrowski calls this "positive dis-integration"; it is the necessary prelude to growth. (Poiesis, pp. 21-22)
Levine is correct where he argues that the good and caring therapist will not jump in and try to prevent the client from experiencing personal disintegration of the old self as this would be singularly wrong and indeed regressive, or as they say in psychotherapeutic circles such intervention would herald the "regressive restoration of the persona."  Such "authentic care" (Heidegger) of letting the disintegration proceed will in the end, despite the suffering, be healing. Our creative therapist is also correct where he states that the therapeutic act consists in "being-with" clients as they go through this experience of disintegration, pain and mental suffering.  "Empathy" and "Unconditional Positive Regard" are other terms that are used to describe this kind of care.

In describing the process of healing, Levine outlines its phases as (i) narcissistic self-identification, (ii) crisis and breakdown, (iii) recovery and restoration of self. (See op. cit., p. 23)  Now, where do the various kinds of Arts Therapy come into this healing process.  Once again let us return to the words of Levine:

... arts therapists use the disciplines of art to help a person go through his or her process.  Art gives a voice to suffering.  It expresses the pain and confusion of the disintegration of the self, and, in so doing, enables clients to face themselves without reservation.  To dance suffering, to paint it or to put it into poetic form is to confront it directly and to give oneself up to it.  In this expressive moment, one lets go of attachment to the former security and is willing to face the void.  At such stages, images of wholeness may arise, symbols which express the possible resolution of the crisis..  By enabling the person to express his or her suffering, the arts therapist gives them the possibility of transcending it.  Art then can be both a cry of despair in the night as well as a triumphant hosanna of joy.  (Levine, op.cit., pp. 23-24)
Now this is Levine at his best.  What a pity he went into what he deemed the philosophical roots of his theory of Arts Therapy and got lost among the tangled undergrowth of the complex thoughts and arguments of Hume and Hegel and many others.  He just convinced this reader that he had no grasp of that philosophical terrain, simply could not cut his way through the thickets, while on the other hand his insights into psychotherapy are excellent.  Forget the philosophy, Mr Levine.  Stick to the territory you know best, is my plea at least.

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