Friday, June 17, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 7

Mining the Riches of Sociology

Stephen K. Levine
Professor Levine continues by discussing another French sociologist of the early twentieth century, namely Marcel Mauss (1872 – 1950). He was the nephew of the equally famous Émile Durkheim. M. Mauss' academic work traversed the boundaries between sociology and anthropology. Today, he is perhaps better recognised for his influence on the latter discipline; particularly with respect to his analyses of topics such as magic, sacrifice and gift exchange in different cultures around the world. Mauss had a profound influence upon the founder of structural anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and his most famous book is The Gift (1923).

Levine believes that Mauss' notion of "gift" is central to an understanding of how his training or formation of Creative Art Therapists works.  Indeed, the learned professor maintains that a presentation (the chief mode of teaching new therapists) only works if it partakes of the spirit of the gift, that is, if it is truly a "present" and not a performance. Let us turn to Professor Levine's words here:

Mauss contrasted gift exchange in archaic societies with market exchange in the modern world.  What characterises gift exchange is a three-fold set of obligations: the obligation to give, to receive and to repay.  The gift is not only a material thing; as Mauss says, "to give something is to give part of oneself."  Gift-exchange is therefore not a purely economic event, rather it vis what Mauss calls,  a "total social fact,"  with religious, legal, moral, aesthetic and economic aspects.  (Op. cit p. 51)
There is for Mauss a whole social world or network involved in the giving of a gift.  People normally exchange gifts at important and significant times in their lives.  The giving of a gift, therefore, creates a social bond between peopleMauss argued that the gift is also a gift of self, and consequently there is an intimate bond built up between giver and receiver.  The spirit of a gift, then, linked all the individuals in archaic societies into a cohesive whole, binding them by reciprocal obligations.

In sum, then, we can say that Mauss is ad unum with van Gennep in praising the ethical, social and personal benefits of exchange based on the gift, and they emphasize all these mentioned benefits in distinct and purposeful opposition to the mere market exchange of them which is one of the hallmarks of modern culture.  Indeed, Mauss would argue that market exchange pushes people further apart while gift-exchange brings people together.

Influence of Lewis Hyde

Lewis Hyde
Levine then introduces the reader to a scholar of whose work I at least am ignorant.  Lewis Hyde (b. 1945) is a scholar, writer, cultural critic, translator and sociologist who specialises in creative writing.  His popular works of scholarship, which including the books The Gift (1983) and Trickster Makes this World (1998), have been universally acclaimed.  The contribution of Hyde to the philosophy behind Levine's Creative Arts Therapy is that the former developed Mauss' ideas on gift into a general theory of art (= aesthetics).  In other words, for Hyde, a work of art is essentially a gift, that is, it is a thing which we did not attain at all by our own efforts.  Not alone can we not buy it, we cannot even acquire it through an act of will.  It is simply presented to us in the community as gift.  Now this modern cultural critic informs us that there are three distinct phases through which a work of art must pass in order to become a gift to us in the community: (i) The artists themselves must become empty to literally receive the gift of their future creation through inspiration. (ii) Then the artists use their talent or gift upon a material medium.  Hyde calls this a labour of gratitude because an artist's work is, as it were, a payment for the gift of inspiration and (iii) finally the artists bestow their gift on us in the community.

In short, then, we can say that Hyde's theory of art or aesthetics is one of art as gift as opposed to art as commodity.  Let me return here to Levine's words as they tie up into an integrated whole his philosophy of art or his aesthetics upon which he bases his theory and practice of Creative Arts Therapy:

We can see how the ideas of Turner and Hyde converge. To envision art as a gift is also to foresee the possibility of communitas among human beings. It is not only that communitas creates art, as Turner pointed out, but also that art creates communitas, as Hyde indicates. Wherever a work of art is given and received in an authentic manner, a community springs into being. This is why Heidegger calls art an "origin" (Ursprung); "... it is the original spring or leap which binds together and gives life to an historical community."  (Poiesis, p. 53)
Returning to his basic training for Creative Arts Therapists which he calls "presentations" which we have described in full in a previous post, Levine re-iterates that these enactments all have the structure of a rite of passage.  The trainee Creative Arts Therapist has to separate him or herself from the group, to enter a liminal state of suffering and vulnerability, and finally s/he has to be re-incorporated into the community.  Levine stresses that all three of these phases are necessary if a given presentation is to work at all.  In this way, he believes, the presentation or enactment is essentially a work of transformation.  In other words, Levine argues that each presentation is a rite of passage that can be essentially understood as an exchange of gifts.  Returning to our athor's own words:


What presenters give us is, as Mauss noted to be the case with all genuine gifts, a gift of self. In this case, it is their gift of suffering, the trauma or wound that marks their soul. The gift is offered freely to the group. In exchange, the group gives "feedback." That is, the group becomes alive to its own giftedness through the gift of the presentation, and, in gratitude, wishes to complete the circle by returning the gift. Feedback is the gift given back again with increased vigour. (Ibid., 54-55)

(To be continued)

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