Saturday, June 25, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 13

A Foray into Hermeneutics

Copy of Biblical Latin Text, in Gaelic Script, Glendalough, May, 2011
Professor Levine surprises this reader continually.  As I continue to read Poiesis: The Language of psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingley, London, 1997), I am surprised with his references to religious language and theology.  At the end of the chapter on "Image Abuse and the Dialectics of Interpretation" Levine spends some two pages discussing the relevance of hermeneutics in the interpretation of images.  Now "hemeneutics" is a word which brings the present author back years to his theological training somewhere way back in the mists of the past.  Hermeneutics, with its etymological roots in the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods, refers to the theory and practice of understanding and interpreting texts, biblical and otherwise.  Originally it was confined to the interpretation of Biblical texts, but as it grew as a scientific approach to textual interpretation it began to be found useful in interpreting other more secular texts.  Hermeneutics basically seeks to (i) establish the original meaning of a text in its particular historical context and (ii) express that meaning today in contemporary terms meaningful to modern readers.

Hermeneutics recognizes that any particular text can contain and convey meaning that goes beyond the original author's explicit intention.  As a field of study it draws on many other disciplines, too, e.g., philology (= the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics), history, literary criticism and sociology and philosophy (why as humans we needs to create and read texts).  Hence, it is an intricate and complex science of interpretation.  despite the distance between individual minds and cultures (past and present), our common humanity bridges the gap to allow texts to be understood and interpreted.

The Healthy Tension of Opposites

Levine, as we have seen, goes to extreme lengths to point out the importance of the healthy tension (dialectics) of opposites in interpreting any image and in tracing its origins back to its primal source in Creative and Expressive Arts Therapy.  In our last few posts we discussed this and underlined that an image has a polarity of associations, viz., the sacred (on the one hand) and the pathological (on the other), and that these two must be held in a healthy tension or polarity if the image is to be healing for the client/patient.

Levine, in the last two pages of this chapter, underlines the fact that interpretation in depth psychology has a transcendent meaning (let me call this a height dimension as opposed to a depth one!).  The study of interpretation, or hermeneutics, he argues begins with the exegesis of biblical texts.  The underlying premise is that the text is a distorted expression of the word of God. (By way of eludation, fundamentalist interpreters of the Bible would have absolutely no truck with or need of hermeneutics as for them the meaning is literal and that's that - hence the text could never be distorted.  For the more liberal, balanced and modern Christian the texts were written by a human author, all too fallible, but were guided by the inspiration of the divine.  There is much subtlety of thought and belief here on the part of modern Christians!) The task of interpretation, Levine argues, is to find the transcendent meaning contained within the distortion of the text.


A monk scribe would have worked here: Glendalough
 Our learned professor then outlines a second approach to interpreting a text, and it's not just a biblical text Levine has in mind.  This approach is the opposite of that described in the preceding paragraph.  It is one that seeks to "demystify" the text - namely this is a sacred text, written in sublime language and it has to be demystified - in other words it has to be reduced from being "sacred" to being more ordinary and profane.  He places Nietzsche, Marx and Freud firmly within this category of interpreters.  Highly fanciful and mystified language has to be brought down to earth, as it were, in this approach to interpretation.  He maintains that Nietzsche, Marx and Freud treated the major cultural texts as ideology or "a cover-up for baser motives." (Op. cit., p.73).

Paul Ricoeur:

Levine then brings to our attention some insights from the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who did an extensive re-reading of Freud's work and has shown that there is a "teleological" dimension as well as an "archaeological" one to the latter's oeuvres.  Ricoeur uses two interesting terms, arguing that there should always be a balanced hermeneutics, namely a "hermeneutics of generosity" as well as a "hermeneutics of suspicion."  In other words if we are to read an image or a text "forward and upward, to see its transcendent dimension" we must take an attitude of generosity.  (Ibid., p. 73)  However. we must be able to read the same image and text with a suspicious eye too, namely to read that image or text downward and backward to where it conceals suffering and anguish.  Then Levine sums up his argumentation in the following words:

A general rule of interpretation might be to suspect the sacred image and to generously see more in the profane one than it sees in itself.  If we stand within the dialectical nature of interpretation, ready to go up and down wherever the image may lead us, then we will neither abuse the image by reducing it to our demonic drives nor will we inflate it by casting it in angelic robes (Ibid., p. 74)
It appears to this reader that Levine has been most succinct and far clearer in his above nigh concluding paragraph than he has been at any stage in the present chapter.  I certainly got lost in the thickets of his not overly clear prose.  The reader has a lot of spade work to do to assimilate what he is saying.  I appreciate that he is setting out the philosophical foundations for his theory and practice of Expressive Arts Therapy, but I believe he could have made the task much simpler both for himself and the reader by being clearer and more structured in his approach to this chapter where he appears to be pulling in examples from all over the place willy nilly.

He finishes by telling us that the human being stands somewhere between the demons and the angels and that if we abuse the images offered by the client by faulty and superficial interpretation we will lose our way on the road to healing.  What a pity he did not tell us these things simply at the start of the chapter and then build up an understanding of a two-pronged or dialectical approach to interpretation from there.  I, for one, got lost in the undergrowth of verbiage and seemingly unconnected allusions.  However, I have garnered much from this chapter through hard work, but the reader need not have sweated so much in this task had Levine been clearer and far more logical and structured in building up his argumentation. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 12

The Tension of Opposites

 

A good and healthy energy obtains when there is a healthy tension of opposites.  The old chestnut, which is often quoted, is very true, that is that one can never know the good unless one knows its polar opposite, that is evil.  One cannot know what love is unless one tastes somewhat of its contrary in hate.  We can never know what black is unless we truly realise what white is, and so on a so forth.  This healthy tension of opposites has long been known and long been held up as a value culturally over the years.

Some Jungian Insights:

What adds to the problem of evil is each individual's lack of true or real knowledge of his/her own soul.  Some of us are not aware at all of the Shadow at work in the psyche, while others are in denial of this reality completely.  Universally almost humankind believes that it is merely what its consciousness knows of itself.  In other words once again human beings are living a one-dimensional life, namely merely a conscious one and are forgetting about or actively denying even, that we have an unconscious level to our psyche too.  As Jung says in his short wonderful classic The Undiscovered Self (Routledge, 1958, 2010)  - we are duplex, not simplex creatures.  The level of evil in the world all boils down to humanity's failure to take on board this duplex nature of his psyche which is at once Conscious and Unconscious, Rational and Irrational, Head and Heart, Thinking and Feeling, Head and Gut - call this the principle of opposites that I have described above, if you wish.  Real self-knowledge means that one sets about integrating the two poles by keeping them in a healthy tension as it were.  Jung argues that humankind adds stupidity to his iniquity when s/he regards himself/herself as harmless or innocent.  None of us is harmless and none of us is innocent.

Jung spoke about the individuation of the person or psyche while Anthony Storr spoke about the integration of the Self.  Jung maintained that each person had to integrate not alone his/her Shadow but all the subpersonalities that abounded in the unconscious, first by making them conscious and then accepting them as a way to integration.  For example I, Tim Quinlan have many subpersonalities: Me the Expert, Me the Teacher, Me the Professional, Me the Speaker/Lecturer, Me the All-Knowing Ego, Me the Depressive, Me the Broken One, Me the Survivor, Me the Guilty One, and so on and so forth.  I also wear all the appropriate masks that go with each of these subpersonalities which I have learnt to bring to consciousness and frequently ask myself a question like "Which mask am I wearing now?" "Which role am I playing?" "Where is the real me, the integrated me, the individuated me?  Such questions allow me to become ever more and more aware and conscious of myself, of who I might possibly be, of who I am.  And so I believe that this is an insight from Jung, that it is through awareness of all of these possible subpersonalities and the integration of them that I become whole.  I strive never to let one or other of them rule the roost as it were.

Back to Professor Levine:

Gaslamp, Phonnix Park, 2008
Professor Levine continues in a somewhat similar vein to this healthy tension of opposites that I have outlined above at some length.  When he talks about images and primal images and the painful search for such images he contends that every image has both a pathology and a sacredness, a bad an a good aspect and both of them have to be accepted and integrated in the image.  Utopian fantasies of the psyche, that is that the psyche is in a state of pristine perfection is lop-sided to say the least.  It is as it were a twisted truth or heresy if I may be permitted to use this rather traditional theological and churchy term.  Likewise dystopian fantasies of the psyche, that it is a cesspit of primal drives and suppressed and repressed instincts, is also a twisted or one-sided truth or heresy.  Utopia and Dystopia are a tension of polar opposites, the two sides of the one coin as it were.  In like manner the Sacredness and Pathology of an image are also two sides of the one coin.  To return to Levine's own words will be instructive here:

Thus an adequate theory of interpretation would have to leave room for the sacred dimension of the image as well as for its pathology.  Here the critique of image abuse is particularly appropriate.  Anyone who has felt a numinous power ion his or her artistic imagery only to have it reductively interpreted as nothing but a piece of pathology can testify to the pain caused by the abuse of the image.  But conversely we all have experienced the joy of recognition when someone correctly names our image and recognizes it for  its upward flight of the spirit...
For depth psychology to attend to the fullness of the image, it must supplement the psychoanalytic interpretation that goes downward and backward with a psychosynthetic one pointing forward and upward.  Psychopathology must be integrated with an image of healing... We need to develop a dialectical conception of interpretation which can take account of these conflicting tendencies.  Otherwise our imaginative capacity is stunted; we live in either too narrow or too broad a perspective, seeing only pathology or only health everywhere.  The psyche contains both; and it contains them in an intimate unity, so that one is found only through the other. (Poiesis, pp. 72-73)

Timely/Untimely Interlude - Some Thoughts on Death and Dying

Poppies at Ballintubber Abbey, April 2011
What follows in these cyphers and words are in a sense forced upon this writer by life.  When we recall the passing of Mr. X or Ms Y we often describe their going from us as being "untimely."  And yet such a sentiment is quite ridiculous philosophically, whatever sense it may make emotionally for us at the time.  And then again, perhaps emotional intelligence is as important as philosophical intelligence anyway?  I have just returned from the funeral and burial of the mother of a close friend who is my own age, and hence death and dying are now like surfaced submarines transmuted into great ancient galleys warning us of our mortality, of our fragility, scary and macabre craft that float unbidden upon the surface of our consciousness.  For this awareness let us be truly thankful, because awareness is all, awareness is all.  A friend who accompanied me this morning to the funeral opined that once we have allowed our ego to die we will never fear death itself.  Life in that sense, he argued, is a continual sequence of little dyings and little deaths as we gradually chip away at the seemingly impregnable, but all too fragile, fortress of the ego.  There is a lot of truth there, I agreed.

And then who is to say what is timely or untimely about death, or about anything for that matter?  The Eastern philosophers and mystics constantly call on us to observe life in the full, observe the very impact this, that or the other occurrence has upon us emotionally and spiritually, and indeed intellectually.  Instead of questioning or judging, relax and attend to what life is saying to me in X, Y or Z occurrence.  Such objectivity, such a sense of stillness, such an attitude of mind, such a state of heart requires constant training, constant awareness, an easy, yet sharp consciousness of life.  The true mystic in this sense is the true observer par excellence, the primal or original or essential witness.  He or she has been schooled in the hard lessons of life and has learnt their life lessons well.  They grew simultaneously in age and in wisdom as the Bible puts it.

Folklore: The call of the cock when the Lord had risen
Life is often messy despite our human penchant for putting order on it. We have been treading the soil of Mother Gaia for millions upon millions of years. We have had many myths over that time to support us on onward progress and evolution. But in that progress and evolution so much, so very much has had to die off and disappear so that we moderns could eventually come on the scene. There are a lot of waste materials left in the wake of progress and evolution. A lot of forgotten species and not-so-forgotten species have left the face of the earth over those years. We have also mentioned so many times in these pages that our many myths, whether religious or scientific or literary or poetic, are just that, sustaining myths that last for a certain time before being replaced by new and more appropriate ones. That's why the following words of Gerard Manley Hopkins appeal to me. For millions upon millions of years we humans "have trod, have trod, have trod" and indeed over all those years all those inventions and all those technologies of all the various kinds have come to the fore, but so many of them have been destructive of humankind itself, and so "all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell." Life is a messy as well as an ordered business. There always must be room for Mess or Chaos!

And dying and death are distinct parts of that Mess and that Chaos.  And so speaking in another metaphor (or simile if you have a penchant for precision) from the Bible, we read that "death comes like a thief in the night," often totally unexpected.  We never know the day nor the hour.  I have for a number of years - the last ten or so - often been expecting the soon demise of my beloved mother, and yet she still lives on, content in  her demented state, smiling often and eating well.  And who is to say whether her death will be timely or untimely.  Again I seem to remember other words from the Judaeo-Christian Bible that the Lord God's time is not your time or my time.  Whether one is a believer or an agnostic or an atheist one can still appreciate the spiritual and wise content of these words.  It is saying to us in the here and now that in many senses the complexity of life and our sheer infinitesimally small intellect versus the infinity of the universe with its infinity of possibilities and explanations leave us gasping in awe or floundering in confusion.


Headstones, Ballintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo
Again, I have long been of the belief that the big repression in modern society is that of the reality of death rather than the repression of sex. It is basically fear that makes us as a society and culture repress death, and indeed dying. We just ignore speaking about it, and when we do, our conversation and thoughts are all about our fears. Why is this so? James Hillman argues that this is so because a modern take of death and dying is that we do so alone, whereas in more primitive cultures death and dying are always looked on as a communal experience, indeed one of the big moments, with birth and entry into adulthood, of life itself which they saw as circular and cyclic, not linear and final. More primitive societies saw death as a communion with one ancestors, a way of connecting with those gone over to the spiritual world.  In a sense so did this lady who died a few days ago and who was buried in the freshly turned soil of Glasnevin Cemetery today.  She was of farming stock and was consequently ever so close to the cycles of the seasons and to the planting of seeds, to growth and harvesting and to the dying off of plants before the next cycle would begin.  She reminded me of my mother because while neither woman knew the other in life, both were close to nature and never fought against death as they could see that it was never the end of life, rather that it was part of life, part of the cycle of the seasons which like potent cells floated energizingly in their very blood stream.

I remember the late Denis Carroll, D.D., the brilliant theologian, philosopher and historian who lectured me at college saying once that every time he walked to the graveyard to bury another one of his flock (he was for a great part of his life a priest, but left and enjoyed some twenty years of married bliss before he died relatively young some years back) he actually did feel a twinge of doubt as to whether there was anything beyond us or not.  While Denis was a great Christian theologian, and in some senses an excellent Roman Catholic priest, his was a brilliant, cultivated and sharp mind which could ask the deepest of questions as well as giving the deepest of answers.  With Frs Enda MacDonagh and Gabriel Conor Daly. O.S.A., Denis made up the triumvirate of our greatest Irish Liberal Theologians.  He was always humble enough in the Socratic sense to declare his own ignorance and doubts, too.  This is what essentially drew us as students to this wonderful man and excellent scholar.

I have also long liked the wonderful writing of the Irish Times journalist John Waters who quite sagely opined some years back that the Roman Catholic Church ( and indeed the Protestant ones) are great at celebrating those important rites of passage: viz., baptisms, marriages and funerals, which he described as rites of "hatching, matching and dispatching."  No truer word could be said.  Whatever about the intricacies of theology;  whatever about the debates as to whether God exists or not; whatever about the faults and failings and sheer corruption of some elements in the Church; whatever about our faith or indeed our doubts, it's the symbols and the metaphors and the use of those symbols and metaphors in healing ritual that really matter.  In essence all those ceremonies or rites of passage are in themselves important because of the very artistic way the carry our pain as Professor Levine has been anxious to teach us, and as I have attempted to describe in my more recent posts.

God be with you, Mary O'Sullivan.  You were a lovely woman and a fine soul.  May the force of life, whatever it is that weaves the warp and woof of life together, strengthen and comfort the bereaved.  In the Gaelic language which I taught for some thirty years we say:  Solas síoraí do'd anam uasal agus leaba i measc na naomh go raibh agat go deo: "May the light of eternity always shine on you and may you sleep among the saints forever!"

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 11

Freud and Jung at a Conference - early 1900s
It all boils down to Images

There are always conundrums encountered when we seek to understand what life is about (philosophy) and further ones when we consider what the psyche or personality are about too (philosophy of mind/psychology).  When we were children my father, RIP, used always love taunting us with conundrums like "which comes first the chicken or the egg?"  In like manner I have always been baffled as to whether images or words come first in the development of the child.  Images I should imagine as they seem more primal, though I do not have the psychological background to give a cogent scientific reason.  However, be these conundrums as they may, one can only agree with Professor Levine that there can be no unmediated access to the psyche or mind, that mental life is essentially imaginal (it works in and through and with images).  Hence reality - whatever indeed that may be - is also mediated through images (through our perceptive organs or senses).  Let me return to the learned professor's own words here:


One of Carl Gustave Jung's Mandalas


One can speak here, following James Hillman, of "befriending" the image, of entering into a relationship with it, even loving it.  Then interpretation itself becomes an erotic act.  One has to love the image, become close to it, accept it on its own terms, let it speak in its own voice.  It is not necessary to substitute a cognitive meaning for an image; in fact the image will hide from all attempts to enter it cognitively. (Poiesis, p. 69)
One cannot escape the Freudian tenor of the above passage, nor can one avoid the erotic imagery in the words, i.e., "to enter it" is exactly the same in meaning as "penetrate it" where the "it" refers to the image.  Now I have long been a lover of Freud, so these comments are not meant to be in any way negative, merely highlighting Professor Levine's approach to therapy.  He repeats himself again further on in this page - and the reiteration is worth it as it is a seminal point in Levine's way of doing therapy - by adverting to the fact that the founder of psychoanalysis made a major discovery in his understanding that every image has a depth, and that his therapy proceeded along the lines of deepening the image, staying with it to put it another way until the image leads us back to its very origin in primal images.

Now, such depth psychology is a painful process and a lot of the images thrown up can be riddled with pain, angst and suffering.  Such images belong to "fantasies which express the primordial images of the suffering of the soul." (Ibid., p.70)  Levine continues by asking the legitimate question as to whether psychoanalysis is adequate enough a framework for the interpretation of imagery in art therapy.  He believes that it is, provided that it employs an imaginal methodology, "to the extent to which it can recognize itself in the field of the imagination and give up its pretence of belonging to a superior realm of cognition." (Ibid., p. 71)

Thankfully, for this reader at least, he goes on to the developments and understandings of the psyche as found in the work of Jung and Hillman both of whom I have discussed many times in these pages.  While Freud looked upon the unconscious as a veritable cess-pit of repressed desires (an image and description given by Dr. Anthony Storr and one which I find very evocative)  Jung and Hillman saw it as so very much more with many positive images and archetypes there as well as all that serious, repressed sexual stuff.  It's not that these two great interpreters of Freud threw out the baby with the bathwater at all.  They expanded on and added to Freud.  Without the foundational work of the great pioneer and father of psychoanalysis our knowledge of the psyche in its unconscious dimension would be much less well developed than it is today, to say the least.

In tracing the images back to their primal sources, there will be suffering indeed, and yet it is through that very painful process that "the cure of the soul" lies, if I may use a very old and well-used expression.  Again in the words of Levine: "The image that leads us backward and downward to the suffering psyche also leads us upward and forward to its healing." (Ibid., p. 71)  I very much like our learned professor's contention that Freud's scientism prevented him from seeing the whole picture and from grasping the fullness or panorama (both my terms) of the imaginal life.  To this extent the founder's theory of psychoanalysis was restricted to a very negative and narrow imaginal take on the psyche (the cess-pit as suggested by Storr) whereas Jung and his successors saw that there was also "a tendency toward hope and joy, towards imaginative perfection and harmony.  Here Jung's image of self as a mandala is helpful; the psyche represents itself not only through images of suffering but also through images of salvation." (Ibid., p. 71)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 10

The Weight of Words


Buskers on the Via dei Fori, Roma, Maggio 1, 2011
 As every writer and reader knows, words are the very stuff of communication and inevitably of meaning.  However, we can at times get lost in the thickets of jargon.  At other times we can get carried away by the sound of our voices, thinking that we have mastered the craft.  At other times, still, we can fail to see the wood for the trees and perish in the forest.  Enough of the sustained woodland metaphor, you gasp.  Get to the point!

With the title of his next chapter, I believe Professor Levine gets lost in the thicket of jargon, while the contents are not quite as intricate as his title would lead one to believe.  He calls this chapter Image Abuse and the Dialectic of Interpretation.   This chapter is all about the significance or meaning of images for the patient/client and also about how the therapist/counsellor might interpret the same.  This is central to all forms of psychotherapy and counselling.  One of the important things I learned over the years from being engaged in psychotherapy of one form or another, and especially in Jungian therapy, is that in the final analysis the associations and significance must be ones which the client/patient comes up with himself or herself, albeit with the help of a trained counsellor.  Having made these comments by way of introduction, I'll proceed to attempt to disentangle myself from the undergrowth of Professor Levin's forest.

Psychoanalysis as a Starting Point

Causal links, as expressed in the usual formula of cause and effect are central to science, especially medicine.  Levine argues that Sigmund Freud as a trained specialist in neurology and in psychiatry, while well aware of that point, went further to discover that symptoms could also be associated with personal meanings in the life of the patient.  Freud dealt mostly with women clients suffering from hysteria and he quickly realised that hysteria does not have a neurological cause, but rather that hysteria has a specific meaning in the life of the patient.  Turning to the words of Professor Levine we read:

Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis

The hysterical symptom... has a significance.  It means something to the person who suffers from it.  But what it means is obscure.  The patient does not know the meaning of his or her symptom.  In fact the meaning has been systematically distorted and hidden.  The task of psychotherapy is to bring the hidden meaning to light.  (Poiesis, p. 64)
Now, Sigmund Freud developed his theory and practice of psychoanalysis, which he claimed controversially was a legitimate science, as a talking cure whose goal was the interpretation of the symptoms which the patient presented with in his consultation rooms.  Freud  also controversially contended that the hidden significance of the presenting symptoms not alone were repressed, but were essentially attributable to repressed sexual experiences, particularly incestuous ones.  However, the founder of psychoanalysis later came to believe that the incestuous claims of his early patients were in fact the products of fantasy.  The debate around these issues, I hasten to add, are controversial too - as to why Freud changed his mind on this matter etc.  However, this moot point need not detain us here.  What is at issue is that we associate all our desires, wherever they come from, with images.  What is also at issue is that all our symptoms are associated with memories which are full of images.  Practically all our emotional life is alive with images and interpreting those images is vitally important.  Once again we return to Levine's own words here:
The foundation of mental life is our capacity to represent our desires in the form of images.  Whether dream, neurotic symptom or work of art, in each case the image is a representation of a fundamental mode of desire.  We have to trace the image backwards and downwards, backwards to childhood wishes, downwards to the most primitive level of the psyche.  But when we get to the bottom of the image, to its origin, what we find is another, more primitive fantasy.  Interpretation does not eliminate fantasy; instead it leads us to our most essential fantasies, those that are universal to the human condition.  The great discovery of Freud is that the psyche is imaginal.  Interpretation makes imagination more authentic. (Ibid., p. 65)
At times in this chapter I find it very hard to extricate myself from the thickets of Professor Levine's thoughts and prose.  However, I am in agreement with him where he states that for Freud one of the tasks of psychoanalysis is the elimination of fantasy in favour of reason.  Indeed, the founder of psychoanalysis was very much a disciple of The Enlightenment.  He also saw another of the tasks of psychoanalysis  as making the unconscious conscious.  I also like Levine's quotation from Freud that "[w]here id is, there ego shall be" (Ibid., p. 66) and his interpretation of the same words as meaning not so much the bringing of my fantasies into the light as overcoming them and enabling myself to engage in a rational analysis of my situation.  For Freud, psychoanalysis was in essence a mental science which allowed the patient with the help of the analyst to cure "a disease of the imagination" and that "it is not so much that [the patient's]... fantasies are distorted but more that they suffer from an excess of fantasy." (Ibid., p. 66)

Needless to say, Levine is most insightful on the contribution of the founder of psychoanalysis to the interpretation of the arts in human life.  Freud was fascinated with art and artists as was shown in the fact that his collection of antiquities and statuettes was prominently displayed in his consultation rooms.  Interestingly, also the great psychoanalyst himself made far more references to artists, poets and novelists far outstrip his references to scientists.  For him, Levine contends, art is seen as an alternative to neurosis, and a better one at that I should imagine.  The artist, for Levine and Freud, is the model of the process of sublimation and he or she alone can retain the energy of the primary drives without repression.

However, Freud can be patronizing, too, about arts and artists.  For him, artists do not really grapple directly with reality per se.  In fact, they are resorters to fantasy as they are far too sensitive souls to grapple with the world as it is.  Hence they construct a more palatable and manageable world of imagination in order to escape an intolerable reality.  In other worlds Freud saw art as essentially escapist.  Their creations come relatively unmediated by the conscious mind, and they can be practically blind to the significance of their own actions.  This is where psychoanalysis and analysts come in - they can interpret their works for the artists!  Now, that's very patronizing indeed!

However, we all know that the interpretations of analysts differ and those interpretations can be equally or more fantastic than the initial ideas of the artists.  In other words psychoanalysis is not a very exact science, then.  This was probably one of the reasons why Freud was so controlling of his disciples - if it were to be called a science, it could not allow of many interpretations!  Levine goes on to stress, and I agree with him, that Freud's great discovery is that the image has depth, "that staying with the image means entering into it on a deeper level, that as we stay with it, it leads us back to its origin." (Ibid., p. 69)  I like also Professor Levine's contention that images are buried in the psyche because they carry with them pain and suffering.  In other words, the work to discover what these primal images are essentially is very hard for the therapist and very painful for the client.

Image Abuse 

Here Professor Levine is referring to the problem of psychopathology, that is,  the study of mental illness, mental distress, and abnormal/maladaptive behavior. The term is most commonly used within psychiatry where pathology refers to disease processes.  Abnormal psychology is a similar term used more frequently in the non-medical field of psychology. Psychopathology should not be confused with psychopathy, a theoretical subtype of antisocial personality disorder.  I am more familiar with the second term, abnormal psychology, from my studies and participation in psychotherapy.  Anyway, it is with psychopathology or abnormal psychology that Levine connects his theory of image abuse.  We are prone today, he contends, to pathologize every abnormal behaviour we see (we are often quite judgemental here), that is, we are prone to see sickness everywhere.  I love Levine's statement that "[t]here is a difference between seeing the imagination as pathological and seeing the image as a representation of my suffering." (Ibid., p. 69) This is very much in keeping with positive psychiatric principles as outlined by such brilliant pioneers in the field of mental health like Professor Ronnie Laing, whose work I truly love.  After all he treated his patients, especially schizophrenics, as persons, not as repositories of symptoms or as having pathological imaginations.  No, he saw them as suffering human creatures.  All good medical personnel do this! Therefore, the conclusion is simple: pathology is intrinsic to the psyche because suffering is part of the human condition. (See Hillman). 

Any seeking to eliminate an image adjudged to be pathological, rather than its analysis and exploration in depth to reach its primal image is, therefore, according to Levine what he means by image abuse.  I would call his theory of image abuse the murder of the imagination.

To be continued.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 9

Finding a Form in which to Contain one's Suffering

Buskers, Via dei Fori, Roma, Maggio 1, 2011
If anything Poiesis is a very exacting, thoughtful and philosophical treatment of the use of the arts in therapy.  Levine argues cogently and indeed pragmatically that the arts have an important part to play in healing the human soul.  Most modern psychiatric hospitals offer a range of therapies from drug-based ones at the most severe end, to the middle ground ones of music therapy, drama therapy, art therapy, writing therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and eclectic psychotherapy and counselling which draw on many various theories and practices which are helpful to healing the human soul.  Professor Levine, a sociologist by basic training, and also the founder of Expressive/Creative Arts Therapy is, according to Paulo Knill in the Foreword to the book "one of the few contemporary expressive arts therapists to have the courage to develop an understanding of the multiplicity in the theoretical foundations of a domain as wide and complex as the arts and psychotherapy." (Op. cit., p. xiii)

The above heading refers to a far more abstract and philosophical take on arts therapy than we are used to, to my mind, and this is indeed heartening.  It is hard to get one's mind around what Levine is at here, but I feel anyone who has a background in theology or religion/faith would be better able to get a handle on it than those with no background in such areas.  Be that as it may, our scholar argues thus:  (i) As he has pointed out the presentation is essentially a gift to the listeners or an exchange of gifts as the audience give back to the presenter good vibes as they are listening to the presenter's painful story. (ii) This gift that the presenter offers is presented in an art form, namely the gift of suffering is contained in the presentation or enactment.  The presenter must find a form or shape or container in which they present their pain to the group of listeners.  Now this is deeply philosophical, even Platonic.  But let us persevere by listening to Levine as he explains his theory to us.  He informs us that the presenters must "actively confront their suffering and enter that "gifted state" of which Hyde speaks.  The suffering is not thereby diminished or eliminated; instead the containment allows they to bear it more willingly." (ibid., p. 57)

Un poliziotto amichevole, Roma, Maggio 1, 2011
(iii) This argumentation allows Levine to conclude that art provides the container in which suffering, pain or evil can be "borne."  He goes on to aver that without such a container offered by art our puny psyche (my description of the human mind) cannot hold the weight of our human suffering.  So here, Levine is offering us an aesthetic theory of pain/suffering.  In other words art transforms our suffering by helping us to hold it or contain it as it were, and to contain it publicly, too, as well as privately I should imagine.  Here I am letting my elaboration of Levine's theory come to the fore.  I suppose a study of art history would then throw up some amazing works created in and from the very cauldron or more correctly crucible of pain.  Now the following words from the pen of our learned professor, I feel, are a little too Platonic and a little too flowery or "airy-fairy" for this reader, though I do get his drift.  I feel that he is here losing his readers as he is reducing suffering, dare I say it, to Platonic Ideas.  As a writer and reader with an existential and/or existentialist bent, this sticks somewhat in my craw!  However, listen to his words, but don't swallow them whole as you will be liable to choke, or at least vomit:


Art creates the form in which intensity of feeling can be contained.  This form does not decrease or eliminate the pain; rather it permits intolerable sorrow to be accepted and "owned."  Containment increases intensity.  By making art out of suffering, the presenter acquires an "increase" over the mere undergoing of his or her fate; presentations often end with presenters experiencing a renewed sense of power and aliveness.  Their "problems" are not "solved"; but the mystery which they are acquires a tragic beauty and grandeur. (Ibid., pp 57-8)
(iv) A sense of community or what our author call "communitas" is created between presenter and group.  Here we have a direct link with liturgy and with the theology of such liturgy.  Speaking in theological words, Levine tells us that in such a context where communitas is created and a bond of fellowship built up with the sufferer "feedback is no longer an obligation" and the participants in the group join in "a form of thanksgiving" or "a spontaneous act of gratitude."  There is much religious and theological language here.  He does not use the word "prayer," but one gets the feeling it's not too far from his lips.  However, he does make a slightly sexual hint, too, to add to the mystery he is trying to explain.  He avoids like the plague the idea of the "Christian love-feast" which is essentially the Mass of Jesus Christ.  In other words he avoids the theological and scriptural term "agape" or "love" and instead speaks about  the group becoming "an erotic nexus of gifted souls, a community of artist/healers."  The word "erotic" is a little too "hot and heavy" here to my liking as I'm associating Bacchanalian revelries and all types of sexual orgies or ceremonies of fertility with the word "eros," but I suppose that tells you too much about me.  Still it is a loaded word in this context I believe.

This chapter I have been discussing for the last five or six posts is entitled "Bearing Gifts to the Feast," which does have a Judaeo-Christian ring about it, and Levine admits this in his final words in the chapter, and points out, should we need reminding that it is pain and suffering of all kinds that his notion of gifts in this context refers to.  However, he also informs us that we must make sure always that the presenter of gifts must always be welcomed again and re-incorporated fully into the group as a result of their strenuous gift-bearing-and-sharing (my formulation, not Levine's).  The artist in our learned professor's context here can never ever be an outsider as many artists have to be and are in both the history of art and in contemporary society.

Indeed, Levine becomes frighteningly religious and theological in his concluding remarks which read more like a theological rather than a philosophical underpinning of his theory and practice of Expressive Arts Therapy.  One would think he was a theologian, giving the following words from his pen:


A gift must be consumed in order to stay alive; it must be continually given away or it will die...It may be the earliest form of human solidarity was the communion meal or feast.  Certainly eating together has become a metaphor for many of our most powerful rituals.  The Passover Seder of the Jews and the Last Supper of the Christians, itself a passover feast, are "root metaphors" for these spiritual communities.  The Sabbath bread and wine in Judaism, transmuted into the Christian communion offering are symbolic media througvh which communitas is formed. (Ibid, 59-60)
Then, should we need reminding, our learned professor reminds us that gifts are meant to be consumed like food because quite simply they nourish us.  As food, which is quite obviously a material thing, nourishes the body, in like manner art, a thing of of the spirit, nourishes the soul.  In short, the gift of Expressive Arts Therapy must be given away if it is to stay alive.  And we all must be givers (and receivers) of gifts if the human family is to grow in communitas.  Hence we get to the heart of Professor Levine's philosophy/theology of Expressive Arts Therapy, viz., only by being consumed or "eaten" does the gift generate an increase in vitality.  Indeed our professor finishes with nothing short of a mystical flourish more suited to a book on contemplation or meditation or on mysticism:


We must continue to bear our gifts to the feast if we wish to share in the communion of renewed life which they bring.  It is in this spirit that I offer this essay: as a gift for all that I have received and as a sign of my will.ingness to join with others in a community greater than its parts.  I hope that readers will give me their feedback and that, when we have "eaten" together, we will find that there is more than when we began. (Ibid., 60-61)