Sunday, July 03, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 15

The Dialectic of Creativity

Kites, Dollymount Strand, 17th March 2008
We saw in my last post here that Levine suggests that the two opposing theories of creativity suggested by Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott can be reconciled in a sort of healthy tension or polarity of opposites which he defines as the dialectic of creativity.

Now, this is indeed a fundamental question with respect to these contrary theories of creativity. Yet reconciliation of opposites in general and their integration has been also at the very heart of the work and thought of Carl Gustave Jung (Individuation required the integration of the Shadow and the host of subpersonalities we possess, or are possessed by, depending on your view point) and Dr Anthony Storr, one of my favourite psychiatrists (among many) and writers on psychotherapy, and this latter put great emphasis on Integration being the central stabilizing factor in a healthy psyche. So in this sense, the idea of the reconciliation of opposites is nothing new. It certainly featured in the philosophy of the English Romantic poet and writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge who most certainly had borrowed it from the great German philosophers of that period. However, the detailed origins of the concept is beyond the scope of these short musings here.

Now, the reconciliation of opposites with respect to creativity in particular, and with respect to general mental health in everyday life, is no mere theoretical question, but also a very practical concern for each one of us. How can we in our lives bring together innocence and experience, joy and sorrow, the affirmation of self and the acceptance of loss? These are big and important concerns for each of us. Once again, I believe it is worthwhile and insightful here to return to Professor Levine's own words:

It is only when the losses are overwhelming or when the self is too weak to sustain them that childhood becomes a period of mourning. One could say that Klein's description may be accurate for cases of pathology: when the self has not been mirrored or affirmed, the child cannot accept loss, for he or she has, literally, nothing to base this acceptance on. Similarly, when the loss is too great (the death or destruction of all that is loved, as in the Holocaust), then the self may be overwhelmed and forced to turn from growing into a future to mourning the past. It makes sense that Winnicott's vision of childhood was grounded on his experience as a paediatrician with normal children; Klein's generalizations fit her case studies precisely because there is in the latter a break in the developmental path. (Poiesis, p. 84)

Mid-Life Crisis

Comedian, Des Bishop - Mid-life crisis overcome!
Carl Jung (Modern Man in Search of Soul, especially Chapter V entitled “The Stages of Life,” (Routledge (Ark Paperbacks), London, 1933, 109 -131) provided a theoretical foundation when he published his ideas about predictable stages in life. In both sexes, the mid-life crisis seems to be synonymous with what Jung termed the beginning of the “second half of life.” Mattoon (Jung and the Human Psyche, Routledge, London, 2005, 46) observes that for him mid-life is characterised as follows: “Physical energies wane. Fewer possibilities for achievements and other satisfactions are available. There is an inward turning of psychic energy and, for many people, an intensified concern with relationships, goals, meaning of life and other ultimate concerns.” For Jung, who concentrated most of his energies on this “second half of life,” the goal was that of individuation which for him meant wholeness, integration or the holistic development of individuality. Storr ( Jung: Selected Writings, Fontana Paperbacks, London, 1983, 19) puts it succinctly: “Jung called the journey toward wholeness the ‘process of individuation,’ and it is toward the study of this process that the thrust of his later work is directed.”

Gail Sheehy ( Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Bantam Books, New York, 1974, 413-439), in a ground-breaking popular book, Passages argued cogently that what she called “the forlorn forties” were rather dangerous years for both sexes, the time when most mental breakdowns, crises of identity, separations and divorces occurred, because the dreams of youth then demanded reassessment, that men and women switched characteristics, that sexual panic as well as fear of death were common traits, but that this period, given perseverance and vision, could provide us with the greatest opportunity for self-discovery. Sheehy (New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, Harper Collins, London, 63-336), some twenty years later, in a totally new book entitled New Passages, spoke of the middle years in a more positive and creative way by describing them as “the flourishing forties” and “the flaming fifties” which, despite their trials, could be a passage to a deeper integration of the self and into a serenity never before known by the individual.

Levine argues that after midlife, it is appropriate for the individual to turn back and reflect upon his or her life and to attempt to come to terms with (integrate is another term) what they as individuals have lost - loved ones, their dreams, and most especially their youth - in other words the heart of the human predicament, namely our mortality, the inevitability of dying and death.  Erikson talks about the mid-life crisis as a tension between generativity and stagnation.  Levine goes on to emphasise the fact that it would be better for us to seek re-generation, to actively mourn what we have lost, but also in so doing explore and find new wellsprings of creativity.  He goes on to state that "[t]his new beginning will sometimes be an affirmation of the old way of life and sometimes require a radical departure from it. In either case new energies are released; it is not merely a restoration of the past." (Op.cit., p. 85)

As we grow older and through the midlife crisis, as the writer of these lines has done (he is now 53 years on this earth), we begin to accept the realities of ageing, dying and death and integrate them into our selfhood or personhood.  We have suffered many little deaths already like failure of relationships, loss of jobs, unfulfilled ideals and goals and a whole host of others, and it is the integration of these truths that makes us whole.  We then arrive at a realistic acceptance of our mortality; an acceptance that life is worth living even though we were born to age and die.  In this sense our traditional Irish wake or Tórramh as we call it in the Gaelic is at once an affirmation of life, a celebration of that which the departed has lived to the full (the Innocence in the Blakeian sense or the affirmation of selfhood in the Winnicottian take on creativity) as well as a lament for the dead (the Experience factor in the Blakeian sense of things or the mourning and loss reality of the Kleinian take on things.)

And so it is not unusual for people in mid-life to feel the need for a renewed experience of their own creativity - as I personally experienced after a short seven-week stay in a psychiatric hospital after a deep bout of depression.  Thankfully, in the last thirteen years I have not had to reacquaint myself with the interior of that hospital.  After leaving hospital, I wrote a novel (which remains unpublished to this day) in an attempt to come to grips with what I had been through.  I also wrote a book on meditation two years later which I managed to get published and which is still in the shops.  It was as if the dam of creativity had broken open and the floods of inspiration poured forth.  Others will turn to art forms of other genres.  It is here that Professor Levine underscores his main point.  It is here, and the repetition is acceptable for emphasis, that Expressive Arts Therapy scores because it can be particularly useful in affirming the mature individual's need for creative being and doing.  Let me here return to the learned professor's own words by way of concluding this wee post:

The use of the arts in psychotherapy can be understood in such cases as providing a symbolic meduium for the integration of the person's experience with a recovery of a sense of aliveness.  The therapist's mirroring of the client's creativity would be the basis on which the client could come to terms with past losses and find the strength to begin again. (Ibid., p. 86) 

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