Monday, June 13, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 4

Transitions

The great John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) once averred that "growth is the only evidence of life," and how true he was in that contention.  And, my friends, life is all about change, about how we grow and how all the things about us grow and change too.  But more importantly, as we are essentially social creatures, life is about living together and how we learn to cope with that life in all its ups and downs, in all its vicissitudes, in all "its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."  Living requires learning how to negotiate our own individual passage (including social and psychological dimensions and so on) through that changing reality we experience as our LIFE.

The weekend just gone I attended the IATSE conference, that is the annual conference of the Irish Association for Teachers of Special Education, which is a growing, if not burgeoning area, within contemporary education for us in Ireland.  One of the concerns of us teachers of Special Education is how effectively we plan for the transitioning of primary SEN pupils into secondary school.  This is a big issue for my school and for the ASD class in which I teach.  I have personally been engaged in such transition programmes to lessen the sheer anxiety experienced by boys with Asperger's Syndrome as they make that vertical transition from primary to secondary level education.  I shan't go into the programme we have put in place here, as I merely advert to this particular instance of an experience of transition in life as just one example of the continually transitional nature of existence.

When I was a young man such church practices like the sacraments of Baptism (christening), First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Extreme Unction (Last Rites), Confession (Penance), Ordination marked out what were then, and still are today, the major transitions in life.  As the Catholic Church and arguably other churches too slip into a very marginal and irrelevant role in modern society, it is hard to know what other communal activities might equally and as effectively mark these important transitions for us in the modern or post-modern or even post-post-modern world!.

Anyway, the about comments on the sorts of transitions we make in life are by way of introduction to Professor Levine's discussion of Rites of Passage as important sociological phenomena.  It is to his views that I shall now turn.

Situating Arts Therapy

Professor Levine rightly argues that his theory and practice of Arts Therapy has to be firmly situated and contextualized within the sociological phenomenon of what we term Rites of Passage.  Firstly, he brings us on an historical tour by referring to Arnold van Gennep's classic text, Les rites de passage, which was published over 100 years ago in 1908.  Now, this scholar was one of that famous group of French sociologists who counted amongst their numbers such luminaries as Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss.

What mattered to Monsieur van Gennep of this French School of sociology, if I may be so bold as to call it that, was the significance of the rituals associated with these rites of passage.  It is interesting to note that he paid little if no regard to the evolutionary or developmental significance of such rites as did his contemporary English counterparts.  Let me quote directly here Professor Levine's words as they succinctly sum up van Gennep's concerns:
The wedding of a friend: a typical rite of passage
In any society, individuals pass from group to group in the course of their lives: from unborn to born, from child to adult, from unmarried to married, from the living to the dead.  A person undergoing change in social status is considered to be sacred or set apart; he or she has to be re-incorporated in the group with the new status.  Rituals or ceremonies which connect the sacred with the profane effect the passage from one group to another.  The rituals of passage, then, are what van Gennep seeks to understand.  (Op.cit., p. 47)
Interestingly van Gennep did not bother to trace the historical development of these rituals nor inquire into their religious or psychological significance.  As an erstwhile theologian, a philosopher and a would-be psychologist, I'm quite surprised at this.  However, he set about looking for what he called a "schéma" which is inherent in the actual rite of passage itself.  He believed that such a schéma would have a categorical form or paradigm which would generate all the diverse types of rite.  Indeed, he spoke in very concrete terms like journeying from one country or territory to another.  In making such a journey, he argued that the traveller passed through a neutral zone, even a no-man's-land, before entering the new country.  Now this is a highly concrete, and indeed at one and the same time, a highly symbolic way of treating such rites.  That passage between the two countries or regions van Gennep called a "transition" or "marge" in his own native French.  All rituals are characterized according to our 19th century French sociologist by this essential element of TRANSITION.  Now, any rite of passage, he argued, was (is) divided into a schéma with three separate phases: (i) séparation or separation, (ii) marge or transition and (iii) aggrégation or incorporation.


Indeed, he pointed out that there was a specific ritual associated with each phase of a rite of passage, and so van Gennep distinguished between "pre-liminal", "liminal" and "post-liminal" rites.  "Limen," I need hardly point out, is the Latin for the word "threshold" namely that borderline which marks the boundary between the outside world and the inside world of the household.  Returning to Professor Levine who quotes van Gennep himself we read:

Different passages will stress different types of ritual; for example, "rites of separation are prominent in funeral ceremonies, rites of incorporation  at marriages.  Transition rites may play an important part...in...initiation." (Ibid., p. 48)

To be continued.



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