Friday, June 17, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 8

The Question of Suffering

The Hill of Cavary at Ballintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo
The question of suffering has been and continues to be a contentious problem in the field of theology.  Most religions have a theology which is a reflection on their particular beliefs and tenets in order to justify at some level the reasonableness of those convictions.  Within theology a theodicy is a serious argumentation for the defense of a good God who allows evil to occur.  I have dealt with the question of evil many times in these posts over the years.  However, whether one is a believer or not; whether one is a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Muslim or an atheist or an agnostic, the question of suffering is a central and existential problem, if not mystery.  It is very much part of the nature of being human; very much part of the human condition.  Indeed, there is also suffering in the animal kingdom, a world to which we belong also.  That animals have feelings and do suffer is beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the fact that they are not self-reflective beings as we humans are is also widely acknowledged.  To suffer is indeed part of our animal baggage, but to be aware that we suffer and that we are going to suffer and inevitably die is very much part of the human baggage, and arguably this makes our suffering much worse.

Creative Arts Therapy and its take on Suffering

Yellow poppy, Ballintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo
Professor Levine argues that what the trainee creative arts therapist offers in his or her presentation to the group is the very personal suffering of the presenter.  He argues that such personal suffering is that which in daily life we do our utmost to keep to ourselves; to keep hidden behind the masks we wear or the role we play in life.  Indeed, we keep our suffering hidden, because to reveal it would risk our giving away this treasured secret of our suffering, for fear that it will not be recognised or accepted.  Then he makes an interesting and insightful comment that we do not give it away because we simply have not learnt to own it in the first place.  In other words we are in a state of denial - we deny at a conscious level our suffering and attempt to suppress and repress it.  Let me return to Professor Levine's words here:

Most of us do not view our suffering as a gift to be treasured; we see it instead as a foreign object that has entered our souls and must be expelled.  We repress it, deny it, project it,, do anything we can to rid ourselves of it.  Our suffering is what hurts us, what causes us pain; and our natural reaction is to avoid pain and seek pleasure, as Freud pointed out so clearly in his account of psychic life.  (Poiesis, p 55)
Suffering as Gift?

Suspended crucifix, Ballintubber Abbey
At first sight to say that suffering is a gift seems to be nothing short of an absurdity.  One might say that if one accepted such a ludicrous proposition one was putting oneself into the camp of the absurdists, only going further by saying that not alone was Camus' take on Sisyphus' rolling his stone interminably up the hill only to have it roll back down again and again heart-breakingly absurd, but that somehow poor Sisyphus was receiving a gift to strengthen his purity of heart or mind or soul to add further to the absurdity.  How ludicrously absurd would such a suggestion be!  As a sufferer from clinical depression, and having spent some 7 weeks in a psychiatric hospital, thankfully now some twelve years ago, and having to take on-going psychopharmocological intervention in the shape of drugs, I can share this type of incredulous reaction to such an ansurd suggestion.  I remember my wonderful psychiatrist once opining that one poor patient's reading left a lot to be desired as the title of the book she was reading was "The Gift of Depression."  He declared to me: "Depression is no gift.  It is pure hell!"  And he was right, but wrong at the same time.  Let me explain.

I have always been taken with philosophers, theologians, psychiatrists and doctors who can answer thorny questions which demand a simplistic "yes" or "no" answer with an answer prefaced by these words:  "The answer is yes in so far as... and no in so far as..."  These are experts who carry within them a truthful and practical epistemology or theory of knowledge.  After all, there are few certainties in the world with the exception of say birth, growth, decay and death.  Most other things are vastly uncertain.  And so to the question "Is depression a gift?", the answer is "Yes it is a gift insofar as the wretched sufferer can learn much once s/he has accepted the suffering as best they can and have learnt to move on and make the best of things, have learnt how to cope and have discovered new depths and heights (us whatever metaphor you wish) to their own soul.  But the answer is also "No" at one and the same time, because depression is debilitating, dis-empowering, humiliating and it strips the person of all self-control and so on and so forth."  Such answers, I have argued many times in these pages, are healthy answers because the avoid the false dichotomy or polarity of an either/or answer and embrace the true dichotomy or polarity of a shared both/and answer which implies a very healthy tension indeed.

It is only in this context that I can agree with Professor Levine that suffering, indeed all suffering, can be viewed as a gift.  In the first place, he argues that it is a gift because it literally has been given to us, indeed like our very life.  We suffer in our life, in the sense that we have to undergo that very life through no choice of our own; when we can no longer choose; when we are no longer in control and when even our mind has revolted and refuses to obey; when we have reached the limits of our power and are rendered powerless to do anything to improve our lot. 

This is very much the heart of Greek tragedy.  The ancient tragedians Aeschylus  (ca.525/524 BC – ca. 455/456 BC),  Sophocles (ca. 497/6 BC –  ca. 406/5 BC) and Euripides (ca. 480 BC – 406 BC) wrote their plays about themes based on human suffering, and indeed that is the very essence of tragedy.  We may, therefore, define tragedy (Ancient Greek: τραγῳδία, tragōidia, "he-goat-song") as a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure or release from frightening emotions through some form of purging through a process the ancient Greeks called catharsis. (Catharsis or katharsis (Ancient Greek: κάθαρσις) is a Greek word meaning "cleansing" or "purging". It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, "to purify, purge," and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, "pure or clean."
Once again, as we practically tie ourselves us in knots at this extremely difficult mystery of suffering, we turn to the words of Professor Levine for a little illumination.  Catch whatever wisdom you can from reading these words:

But our suffering is also a gift in the second sense that it can be a basis of our power and vitality.  When Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) discovered suffering, he abandoned the palace of his father and went in search of a remedy.  In the end, all his attempts at eliminating suffering failed.  It was only when he came to accept that existence is suffering that he achieved enlightenment and became a Buddha.  That is, he had to experience suffering not as a condition extrinsic to life that could be eliminated but rather as the very core of existence.  Paradoxically, this experience led him not to greater suffering but to compassion, infinite compassion for all beings, including himself.  This compassion is another word for joy.  (Ibid., p. 56)
In like manner, then, in the ancient tragedies as indeed in the Shakespearean or Elizabethan ones it is the great and the good, the heroes and leaders of society who are afflicted with one or another suffering from the gods, or from the fates or fate or use whatever metaphor you are comfortable with here.  It seems that the gods wound only those whom they love dearly.  That wound becomes a gift if it is accepted, if it is "borne." 

I remember once saying to an acquaintance much of the sentiments of the previous several paragraphs, but she began to cry and tell me that she thought not, that her recently departed husband (who had deserted her for another woman) had written and published much of value but had suffered little.  At the time I knew that she was speaking from a very wounded place and was expressing herself at a time very close to her desertion and betrayal.  I wonder how she might feel now.

Anyhow, and I feel a little too cavalierly, Professor Levine continues by stating that pain, once it is accepted and treasured as one's own, can be a source of wisdom and joy.  Strong words indeed, but a little too easily said, and yet, there is a truth in what he says...  He goes on to inform us readers that quite often the presenter "touches" others with his/her pain, allowing the listeners or witnesses to undertake the same journey in their own lives.  He goes on in a passionate way, and indeed uses religious language to carry that very passion and tells us that often members of the group will be moved to share their own experiences of suffering and will become "witnesses" and will "testify" to their own experiences of similar human limitation and contingency.

Let me now bring this post to an end with Professor Levine's apt words:

What is wonderful is that the exchange of suffering forms a community of healing.  When the spirit of the gift touches the group, sorrow is transformed into joy.  This is not the "happiness" that comes from avoiding pain, a condition that is shallow, transitory and unreal.  Rather it is the deep, abiding and authentic encounter of soul with itself and soul with other.  It is communitas, the experience of human kindness. (Ibid., p. 57)

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)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 6

Inspiration from John Henry Cardinal Newman

John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
When I was studying theology, one of the greatest and subtlest of minds I came across was that of John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) who had both a breadth and depth of erudition.  This fact always strikes me as surprising in any scholar as it is the "rara avis" or very "rare bird" that manages to have both.  If my memory serves me well at all, scholars with a breadth of erudition, according to Newman, were mostly the historical types - the conservators of the past - whilst those with a depth of erudition were the minds touched with a genius for discovery.  You needed both, according to the learned Cardinal.  Newman himself, as I've said was the rara avis who was gifted with both.  Added to that, he wrote in the most angelic of English prose and can be counted the foremost English stylist of Victorian times.  One of things one picks up from reading anything by the learned Cardinal is his desire to treat of any question in the most comprehensive of ways possible.  His great book on the role and nature of university education  - The Idea of a University - cannot be surpassed, or at least with great difficulty and with a very broad and profound erudition.  In that book, he laid out a most comprehensive and liberal view of university education that embraced all subjects and, indeed, he argued that theology had a place on an equal footing amongst them on the curriculum.

What has such an introduction got to do with the wee book - Poiesis -I'm discussing, you may quite rightly ask?  Well, it seems to me that what Professor Levine is offering us in his theory and practice of Expressive Arts Therapy is a type of approach that would be appreciated by a mind such as Newman's were he to live today, namely the opposite to a reductionist mind.  I remember reading in Newman's Apologia, his defense of his religious convictions, that in anything he undertook, he sought to "bring out the whole of it," not just a part of the problem.  Newman's intellectual thrust was one, therefore, towards a holistic understanding of the phenomenon in question.  It seems to me that the likes of Professor Dawkins, while amazing and brilliant scholars in their own fields, are rather blinkered in that they fail in the task, or rather don't see at all that there is the task of bringing the "whole of it" into view.  Theirs is a limited, if scholarly and erudite position.  In short, I believe they are lacking in an overall vision, preferring instead an in-depth view of reality.  The error they make is to begin to generalise on the whole of reality from the limited view of their specialism.  Indeed, to my mind, their arguments about whether God exists or not, or indeed whether X or Y proposition is the correct or wrong one are in this sense irrelevant as they literally have not stood far enough back to see the greater picture as it were.

Turning to Sociology

As one trained and educated in the liberal arts and in the humanities, I find the limited vision of certain - only certain, mind you - scientists quite stifling.  I find what they have to offer to be as unpalatable as eating sawdust.  Anyway, that's why I find the views of van Gennep, as expressed by Professor Levine, very liberating indeed.  That a scholarly sociologist could express such profound and holistic views as early as 1908 is refreshing - rather like opening an attic window on a stiflingly hot day.  We are so much more than an intellect.  We are wonderful, if flawed, creatures with an equally wonderful potential (our creativity in all its beauty and power) balanced with an infernal drive to self-destruction (the death-wish of Freud if you like!).  Let me return to that scholars's words as reported by Professor Levine:

Rites of passage accomplish personal and social regeneration through symbolic death and re-birth.  In van Gennep's own words, "life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be re-born...the series of human indeed a cosmic conception that relates the stages of human existence to those of plant and animal life and... joins them to the great rhythms of the universe."  Ultimately these rituals have not only a social significance but a cosmic and ontological one.  (Poiesis, p. 49)
Turning to Anthropology

It is wonderful, too, that Levine also looks to anthropology for further insights into the human condition, and for some theoretical base for his theory and practice of Expressive Arts Therapy.  He now turns to the work of the anthropologist Victor Witter Turner (1920 – 1983), a Scottish cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage. His work, along with that of Clifford Geertz and others, is often referred to as symbolic and interpretive anthropology.  Once again Turner was very taken with van Gennep's analysis of the role of transitions in riuals.

Victor Witter Turner
In this regard, Turner coined the term "liminality" to designate the state of being in a transitional phase or in a liminal phase in one's life.  Now, what is liminality?  In Professor Levine's words: "Liminality is a position of structural outsiderhood and inferiority.  To be liminal is to be vulnerable, without the protection of role or office.  At the same time, liminality implies potency, the capacity to become more than one has been.  The liminal person is "naked," as it were; he or she is without defenses yet has what Turner calls "the powers of the weak." (Op. cit., p. 49)

While liminality is about "outsiderhood" or "inferiority," it does not imply isolation as such words or concepts do in existentialist literature.  Even the whole community has to pass through the liminal stage according to our scholars:

In such a condition, they stand before each other divested of the masks emblematic of their social status.  They meet not as a series of individual "I's" but as an "essential We", a community characterized by the feeling of "humankindness," Turner calls this social condition, "communitas."
In this sense, rites of passage or rituals are renewing and regenerative of social life and, therefore, are inherently creative.  Now, it is within this phenomenon of liminality that all creativity as we know it in the arts find their seeds, as it were.  It is a seminal bed or seminary for the artistic life.  For Turner, then, the ritual process is an artistic one, essential for the continued vitality of social life, and in the twin realities of liminality and communitas he finds the basis of art.

Like all of life, suffering, of necessity, plays a leading part.  In our liminal state we are paining and suffering; we are vulnerable, poor and "naked" to use a metaphor; we are humbled and stripped of all masks and roles and "egos," dare I say it.  Turner argues that it is in this stripped and "naked" state, as it were, that we as individuals are capable of receiving wisdom (more a collective phenomenon I should imagine, rather than a personal gift), a deep knowledge that comes from an awareness of one's limitations and contingency.  I will finish with some words from Turner, again as expressed by Professor Levine:

"[L]iminality, marginality and structural inferiority are conditions in which are frequently generated myths, symbols, rituals, philosophical systems and works of art." ... They are capable of creating "root metaphors" or "conceptual archetypes" which can later be unpacked and serve as the basis for the formation of social structures.  These metaphors or archetypes are multivocal; they bring together body and spirit in a felt and imagined unity. (Ibid., p. 50)

Monday, June 13, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 5

Revisiting the Thought of van Gennep

Arnold van Gennep
 Having studied theology, religion and the sociology of religion many moons ago we were, as students, very familiar with the primordial idea of life and death being a cyclical thing rather than a linear reality with death at the very end of a straight line representation as it were.  Obviously the Judaeo-Christian take was more linear with the line after death continuing on into a Utopia-like Heaven after the individual had "shuffled off this mortal coil."  I now accept this as just one symbolic representation among many others of what possibly life could mean.  There are, as I have said, many others and they are of equal importance from an objective scholarly and socological point of view. Which one is more correct an interpretation is actually beside the point.  These are all phenomena which we can witness in a sociological sense by observing various rites of passage from very primitive right up to modern societies.  In this sense they are of equal importance and the question of scientific truth is not relevant here at all, that is, in the sense that one or other of these rites of passage could be more correct than another, as they are all in their own way equally correct.  They perform a service or a function for humankind, and that is the essential truth of the matter!  To return to Professor Levine's direct quotation from van Gennep is again rewarding and insightful:

Rites of passage accomplish personal and social regeneration through symbolic death and re-birth.  In van Gennep's own words, "life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be re-born...the series of human indeed a cosmic conception that relates the stages of human existence to those of plant and animal life and... joins them to the great rhythms of the universe."  Ultimately these rituals have not only a social significance but a cosmic and ontological one.  (Poiesis., p. 49)
What surprises this reader here is how modern these words are, and the real surprise is that they were written in 1908.  They could be written by James Lovelock (See Lovelock's Webpage) in any one of his wonderful books on Gaia.  Van Gennep's words ring very modern, even post-modern, on these early twenty-first century ears.  He is in keeping with the thoughts of one of my favourite modern philosophers, Professor John Gray of Straw Dogs fame. (See this article on The Independent (London) website: David Gray meets John Gray.  I have given a sustained review of the thought of John Gray in Straw Dogs in this blog here: see Straw Dogs and following sixteen posts ).  The tenor of the thoughts of these famous thinkers from van Gennep to James Lovelock to John Gray to Professor Levine, I would argue, is that we humans have vastly over-rated our significance in the scheme of things, placed ourselves above and beyond the world of which we are an integral part.  Our sheer hubris and ego-centrism have both led us to the worst crimes in history and almost to the brink of self-destruction.  If we think we are so far above and beyond the very world we are part of, we are liable to lose the run of ourselves, to over-stretch our imagination to the point of self-destruction.  We need a new humility.  This is what I gain from reading these great thinkers.  What I love about them is that they are passionate about their subjects and beliefs and logical and reasonable about them too, neither dogmatic nor dictatorial.  They also are in no sense evangelical by attempting to ram their views down our throats like the fundamentalist religionists of the ultra-right wing or the equally fundamentalist scientists like Dawkins et al on the ultra-liberal wing.  Okay, dear readers, I hear you protesting already, I have indeed almost ridden my personal hobby horse almost to death here.  It is time for the poor old nag to take a breather if not a nose-bag! 

From Fragmentation to Integration 4


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" (Ibid., p. 48)

To be continued.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 3

The fragmentation of old age: my 94 year-old mother - demented now!
Continuing my commentary on Stephen K. Levine's wonderful little book Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1997), our author points out that during some presentations, the nature of which we have described in the last post in this blog, the presenters sometimes become stuck or even freeze, and that when this happens he intervenes in a constructive way to help the participant continue.  Oftentimes, he tells us that the presenters enact or physically represent a wall between them and their audience, namely they symbolically portray a major stumbling block or wall that is somehow dividing them from the bigger group. In this way, Levine continues, [t]he wall ... becomes present in the here and now as group members are asked to choose whether to approach it and themselves risk rejection or to stay outside and face their own isolation." (Op. cit., p. 46)

As well as give these presentations, a student must, as part of the training to become an expressive arts therapist, conduct a self-exploration through artistic media, and this latter exercise involves at least six one-hour sessions.  Also they are further required to involve themselves in a paired guidance of their process of self-exploration with one other member of the group.  Again, this last activity must comprise at least six hour-long sessions.  Moreover, the students are required to keep a personal journal where they can be as creative and expressive as they like, with the the following principle as a guideline: they may write their accounts as expressively or as discursively as they like, but they must direct the focus of their writing or other Expressive Arts Medium to how the class relates to their own process.

I have decided to finish this post here for this evening as Professor Levine goes on in great detail to describe how he situates his theory and practice of Expressive Arts Therapy within the sociological or even anthropological phenomenon of Rites of Passage.  As this section particular section is far too long and unwieldy to summarise in précis fashion or in any fashion for that matter, I shall leave treating of this wonderful phenomenon till our next immediate post.

Slan bóthar agus tógaigí go bog é amuigh ar na sráideanna.