Saturday, July 09, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 22

The infamous gate to the infamous Auschwitz
No Poetry after Auschwitz

The last chapter of Professor Levine's small but closely argued book - at times complex and convoluted, though mostly insightful and inspiring - is entitled  "And Yet - Poetry After Auschwitz" indicates that he fundamentally disagrees with Theodor Adorno's almost aphoristic statement that there could never be poetry after Auschwitz

Some Personal Preliminary Views

As a young boy, I was both frightened and fascinated by the famous T.V. documentary series The World at War which I viewed with my father as a young teenager.  The World at War (1973–74) was a 26-episode British television documentary series chronicling the events of World War II. It was produced by Jeremy Isaacs, narrated by Laurence Olivier, and has a score composed by Carl Davis.  A book, The World at War, was written by Mark Arnold-Forster to accompany it, and I remember accompanying my mother into Easons in O'Connell street to purchase a copy for me.  That such horrific murder and mayhem could have been unleashed on humanity, especially genocide against the Jewish race by the evil inspiration of a small coterie of individuals literally bowled me over as a young teenager.  Indeed, it continues to fascinate me.  So much so, that I wrote a thesis entitled The Mystery of Evil for my initial undergraduate degree.

As I grew older and hopefully wiser, I quickly learnt that no individual, and indeed no race, has a monopoly on suffering.  To say that the Jews have a monopoly on racial suffering is to misrepresent and misinterpret history grossly and to insult humanity.  Hence, I'll mention other horrific evils outside the most documented case of Hitler's Final Solution to the Jewish Question.  This is not to detract from the horrific nature of that Holocaust, which I have dealt with in detail in these pages before where I discussed the nature of evil and the works of Primo Levi.

For instance the evil Dictator Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, set in motion events designed to cause a famine in the Ukraine to destroy the people there seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 persons perished in this farming area, known as the breadbasket of Europe, with the people deprived of the food they had grown with their own hands. Thus, beginning in 1929, over 5,000 Ukrainian scholars, scientists, cultural and religious leaders were arrested after being falsely accused of plotting an armed revolt. Those arrested were either shot without a trial or deported to prison camps in remote areas of Russia.  Stalin also imposed the Soviet system of land management known as collectivization. This resulted in the seizure of all privately owned farmlands and livestock, in a country where 80 percent of the people were traditional village farmers. Among those farmers, were a class of people called Kulaks by the Communists. They were formerly wealthy farmers that had owned 24 or more acres, or had employed farm workers. Stalin believed any future insurrection would be led by the Kulaks, thus he proclaimed a policy aimed at "liquidating the Kulaks as a class."

Then, there were still other genocides e.g., Namibia, (1906),  Armenia (1925), Cambodia (1975),  Guatemala (1982), Rwanda (1994) and Bosnia (1995).  So there is no monopoly on racial oppression or genocide either.  Indeed, no one nation or no one person in particular is ever the sole innocent victim.  Victims of genocide and murder and mayhem come in their millions upon millions over the whole spread of history in all shapes and sizes, in all colours, of all ages, of all sexes, of all sexual orientations, of all religions and beliefs, of sound and unsound mind, and both healthy and sick.

Even if one is to interpret Theodor Adorno's remarks, which I have stated in my opening paragraph, in a wide metaphorical rather than narrow historical sense, they are indeed in many senses patently untrue. However, we can appreciate his view, though, because Adorno's father was a Jew who had converted to Protestantism while his mother was a Christian, and he had to flee Germany with the rise of Fascism.   One can understand fully his believing his above statement because he was essentially so personally caught up in the Final Solution on the wrong side.  He would also have known many who had perished in the concentration camps, in both his extended family and among his friends.

A Note on Adorno's Philosophy

Theodor Adorno (1903-1969)

Theodor Adorno was one of the foremost philosophers of the twentieth century. Although he wrote on a wide range of subjects, his fundamental concern was human suffering – especially modern societies’ effects upon the human condition. He was influenced most notably by Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. He was associated with The Institute for Social Research, in the Frankfurt School, which was a social science and cultural intellectual hub for promoting socialism and overthrowing capitalism.  Interestingly for this writer, Adorno was a multi-talented scholar - an accomplished pianist and musicologist as well as a philosopher and sociologist.  Having read some of his thought and writings on-line for the last few hours, I find them very intricate, convoluted and complex in the extreme, so I cannot say I have got anything of a handle on his philosophy, save to say that for Adorno, reality is grounded in suffering and the domination of nature.  This small result of my all too brief and superficial reading is sufficient for my writing here as Expressive Arts Therapy, as all therapy of all kinds, is dedicated to assuaging the effects of human suffering in the client or patient.

A Deep Question

An important and deep question we can ask as students of any therapy, or simply as students and livers of life, is: Can arts really redeem our suffering?  This is essentially a post-modern, post-Christian question and concern, which essentially is a parallel writing of another metaphorical question: Can Christ redeem human suffering?  Same question, but on a different level culturally and critically, I contend.  In other words what I am saying is that the concept of redemption need not/is not only a religious one; it is also a deeply spiritual one in a deep human, even humanistic, way.

Expressive Arts therapists, as many other therapists of other schools, too, operate on the assumption that art can heal, that the pain and suffering of the human soul can find a form or shape or vehicle in paint or stone or marble or any such form in which it can be held.  After all, there are many museums and works of art in public spaces dedicated to thousands upon thousands, and in some cases millions upon millions, who have perished in this or that spot at a certain point in human history.  It would be tedious and indeed unnecessary to list even some of these works here.  Readers will readily recall those that have impacted on them personally.  That they are healing of us as a society in their recall of whatever suffering was endured can be of little doubt to the reflective and sensitive mind.

Of course, no Expressive Arts Therapist, or any psychotherapist for that matter, would say something like: "Make art and your troubles will fly away."  To this extent, those of us involved in the professions involved in Social and Community Care, take Adorno's pithy warning to heart.  One can never trivialise the suffering of the human soul.  One always realises that we all need the courage and strength of Orpheus to descend into our personal Hades and emerge strengthened and healed, but never fully cured or totally free.  Levine says we must reflect on Auschwitz, but I add that we must reflect on all of humankind's inhumanity to its fellow creatures as I have outlined above.  Particular places are only symbolic of universal suffering.

Also that survivors of most of the above tragedies have written their own accounts of their suffering lest future generations forget that such suffering and such evil can be inflicted by humankind on its own kith and kin is a testimony in itself to the ability of art to contain suffering:  Guernica by Pablo Picasso comes initially to the mind of this writer, though his work was concerned with an horrific atrocity during The Spanish Civil War. Works concerned with the Holocaust that might come to mind would be all those novels and narrative or diary accounts by the likes of Primo Levi , Elie Wiesel and Ann Frank, the poems of Paul Célan and William Heyen. 

In the Visual Arts we might recall that while inside the Łódź ghetto, Mendel Grossman took over 10,000 photos of the monstrosities inside. Grossman secretly took these photos from inside his raincoat using the statistics department for the materials needed to make the photographs. He was moved to a labor camp and died in 1945, but the negatives of his photos were discovered and were put into the book, With a Camera in the Ghetto. The photos illustrate the sad reality of how the Germans dealt with the Jews.

Alice Lok Cahana (1929- ), a Hungarian Holocaust survivor is well-known for her artwork dealing with her experiences in Auchwtiz and Bergen Belsen as a teenage inmate. Her piece "No Names" was installed in the Vatican Museum's Collection of Modern Religious Art.  The Holocaust has also been the subject of many films, including The Pawnbroker, Schindler's List, Voyage of the Damned, The Pianist, The Sorrow and the Pity, Night and Fog, Shoah, Sophie's Choice, Life Is Beautiful and Korczak. A list of hundreds of Holocaust movies is available at the University of South Florida. See the following WIKI article: Holocaust in Popular Culture.

From Fragmentation to Integration 21

Making Lists

As a teacher and learner I have always liked brain-storming and making lists as I find they are helpful to get an overall grasp on a particular topic.  Okay, I admit that it is quite boring for anyone else to read the lists made out by others.  However, I like the sheer clarity, almost mathematical and logical lay-out of say lists of opposites (The Apollonian in me) and then the sheer unpredictability of some of the entries in these opposing lists adds the spice as it were. (The Dionysian in me)

The Unity of Opposites in the famous Tao symbol Yin Yang

The Apollonian-Dionysian Dialectic or Tension of Opposites:

Apollonian                               Dionysian

Reason                                       Emotions                               

Order                                         Disorder/Chaos

Measure                                     Immeasurability

Individual                                   Communal

Thrust towards perfection           Anything goes - imperfection

Harmony                                   Disharmony

Soothing music                          Rousing music/dance/ecstasy

Spirituality                                 Corporeality

Sobriety                                    Insobriety

Purity                                        Impurity

Renunciation                             Over-indulgence/excess

Construction                             Destruction

Ritual purity = Katharsis            Ritual impurity - orgiastic acts

Ecstasy of the spirit                   Ecstasy of body and sexual licence

Mysticism                                 Earthiness

Spirit                                        Body

Sun                                          Earth

Dreams                                    Reality

Friday, July 08, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 20

More Greek Myths

The greek God Apollo
Anyone acquainted with philosophy or literature will have heard of the Apollonian and Dionysian principles.  Again this theory refers to the creative balancing of polar opposites, the reconciliation of opposites, the healthy tension of opposites, call it what you wish, which is at the very heart of Creative Arts Therapy, and indeed all therapy, because one could certainly boil it down to what the psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Storr calls personal "integration."  Friedrich Nietzsche was first credited with drawing attention to the creative interplay of the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in the human make-up.  Before it was applied to the human psyche it was a philosophical and literary concept, or dichotomy, based on certain features of ancient Greek mythology.

In Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo is the god of the Sun, and also of dreams, and, most importantly that of reason while Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, wildness and intoxication. The ancient Greeks did not consider the two gods to be opposites or rivals. However, Parnassus, the mythical home of poetry and all art, was strongly associated with each of the two gods in separate legends.

The WIKI puts the interplay or dialectic or dynamic tension between these two opposing but complementary principles most aptly indeed:

The relationship between the Apollonian and Dionysian juxtapositions is apparent, Nietzsche claimed in The Birth of Tragedy, in the interplay of Greek Tragedy: the tragic hero of the drama, the main protagonist, struggles to make order (in the Apollonian sense) of his unjust and chaotic (Dionysian) Fate, though he dies unfulfilled in the end. For the audience of such a drama, Nietzsche claimed, this tragedy allows us to sense an underlying essence, what he called the "Primordial Unity", which revives our Dionysian nature - which is almost indescribably pleasurable. Though he later dropped this concept saying it was “...burdened with all the errors of youth” (Attempt at Self Criticism, §2), the overarching theme was a sort of metaphysical solace or connection to the heart of creation, so to speak.  (See A and D)
As I've stated above Apollo is the god of the Sun, and also of dreams, order and measure, and, most importantly that of reason while Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, wildness, frenzy, wild sexual abandon, communal celebration and intoxication.  Now, it was pure genius on Nietzsche's part to see the importance of joining the two in a healthy tension or polarity or balance of opposites.  For him, true tragedians like Aeschylus and Sophocles (but not Euripides), managed to bring the art of tragic drama to its highest pointr by combining the Apollonian perfection of poetry, reason and diction with the Dionysian energy of music and dance.  The true effect of tragedy is to hold both these worlds together in dynamic tension.  Now, it is important to state that mythology sees Orpheus as a son of Apollo.  Once again the the music of Orpheus, like that of Apollo, is the calm, soothing strains of the lyre.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 19

Metaphors and the language of the Soul

Musician, Fleá Ceoil, Cavan town, August 2010
When one is dealing with highly abstract matters in the areas of the Liberal Arts and Humanities one must reach for metaphor because language strains to the point of breaking to express what the mind apprehends and comprehends.  I suppose in the areas of mathematics, logic and the natural sciences metaphoric language is somewhat redundant.  Be that as it may, I have long been enchanted with the ways we use metaphor to reach after what is practically undefinable in literal terms.   The word metaphor as far as I recollect comes from two Greek words "meta" meaning beyond and "phorein" to point to or beyond, hence metaphor is some sign that points beyond the physical thing, and the Internet gives me this etymology: Origin:

1525–35; < Latin metaphora < Greek metaphorá a transfer, akin to metaphérein to transfer at this link here: etymology.   Anyway, to make this a practical exercise, rather than an abstract discussion of the topic let me give a few examples of metaphor in use:

Examples of metaphor:

  • "The heart of the matter."  Hear we have a literally physical thing, "the heart" used symbolically and figuratively because the physical object or organ is centre of the body and we transfer than meaning of centrality to the matter being discussed.  Hence it is a metaphor, a physical thing carried over or transferred to something abstract.
  • "The head of the school is Dr. Smith."
  • "I've broken the back of the job cleaning the kitchen."
  • "I've no time for John because he has burnt all his bridges with me!"
  • I'm never coming back to this place again because that insult was the final straw for me!"
  • That was the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • John was envious of James, who was appointed head of the department , and all his actions were from then on done out of "sour grapes".
  • "I always keep the best wine till last," said Dr Tom as he produced a 50 year old single malt for an aperitif.
  • John is so awkward he always upsets the applecart.
  • Jane is seated at the foot of the class.
  • That is the core of the problem or the nub of the problem.
  • Even Homer nods.
  • He'll meet his Waterloo someday too!
  • His heart was broken when Jane left him.
  • That man is a Brier.
  • Well he certainly isn't smelling of roses after hurting Tom and Angela.
One could go on at length, but it would be a puerile and tedious exercise at this stage as I have more the emphasized now the fact that metaphor-making is central to language and communication all the time almost.

Metaphor and the Soul/Personality/Mind

A Pint of Plain is your only man!  Cavan Town, Aug 2010
I remember many years ago a friend of mine describing his recovery from alcoholism as being a long fight with his demons.  This is sheer metaphor because to talk about those deep down things, those deep psychological and often repressed drives and fears we have to resort to metaphor as a means of carrying our meaning across (metaphorein) to our listener.  I've even heard one or two people say that in their personal lives they have "been to hell and back."  We instinctively pick up what they mean, without saying something stupid like: "Really?  Where is it Tom?  Where is hell at all."  Some people might even discuss their partners in terms of metaphor, viz.., "she is the apple of my eye, the very centre of my world/universe."  Or again if we hear a good singer we might say:  "He/she sung their heart out or sung their soul out," etc.  Again we speak in metaphor terms when we discuss the mind.  We often speaks of layers of the mind, an idea or metaphor that goes back to Dr Sigmund Freud who gave us as one of his two models of the mind the topographical model which he got from archaeology, namely the conscious mind on the surface and the unconscious which is a layer below that again.  Indeed one could speak about this particular model and the psychoanalytical practice based on it as being essentially archaeological (another metaphor.) (Incidentally, the other model of the mind proposed by Freud was of course his famous structural one of Ego, Id and Super-ego which I have dealt with at length in these pages  previously.)
Back to the Myth of Orpheus
This myth provides a container, albeit a metaphorical container, for the struggles towards selfhood and personal identity engaged upon by the individual soul.  Any addict of any kind will readily associate his or her struggles with those of Orpheus as described in my last several posts.  He is the mythological figure who can contain for us and bind together, unite or integrate praise and lament, good and evil, living and dying.  Our hero has descended into hell/Hades, into the realm of the shadows (another metaphor and Jung used this term with a capital letter to denote one of our major archetypes, namely The Shadow) and was able, albeit with terrible consequences to emerge changed and transformed into the light of day.  Indeed, I have often heard some friends from the A.A. tell me that "Religion is for those who fear hell, while spirituality is for those who have been there!"
Orpheus' lyre, from which word we get the cognates lyric and lyrical are also examples of the metaphorical thrust of language.  For Levine, for Rilke and for many scholars of literature and psychology, Orpheus is the poet of the two worlds, of the living and of the dead.  He dwells simultaneously in both worlds, and we have to learn from his example if we can at all. (There's a lot of work in self-development and even in psychotherapy needed here!)  Returning to Professor Levine's words, we read:
Although we cannot think their unity [the worlds of the living and the dead], cannot conceptually comprehend how such opposites can be conjoined, Orpheus brings them together in his song.  The "singing god is "a herald who is with us always,/ holding far into the doors of the dead/a bowl with a ripe fruit worthy of praise." [Last stanza of the seventh Sonnet of the Sonnets of Orpheus]  (Poiesis, p. 100)
Link to Buddhist Practice and Meditation

Rilke, according to Levine, and I agree strongly with him, though he does not make the connection I make with Buddhism here, seems to be suggesting  that only if we give up everything, let go of all attachment (a central Buddhist tenet), can we live in that place (again a metaphor) of pure presence where all life is precious and all can be praised, even loss itself!  Levine's passion for his subject here is calling me back to re-read Rilke's sonnets and about time, too.  Our learned author is suggesting, in the light of his studies and clinical experience, and I as a poet and writer agree with him, that the goal of all therapeutic work is to take the deepest loss that we have suffered, to learn to live in our own immeasurable darkness (for me my experience of depression), and to continue right on with life, to go with its ebbs and flows.  In other words, it is then and only then that we will have learnt to say a resounding "Yes" to all of life, even to loss and death.  We will only be able to do that when we have have learnt to sing our soul beautiful in our very own individual soul song, whatever that may be for us!  Our task, should we choose to accept it is to not alone find our song but sing it loud and clear, and in so doing we not alone have done something wonderful for ourselves and for others, but also something beautiful to honour all live and and death.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 18

Inspiring Authors

Famine Sculpture, Boston, April, 2002

While there are parts of Professor Levine's text that strain under the weight of explanation he demands of them, he remains for me quite an inspiring author.  To write about psychology and the soul is in itself a strenuous task as language is not always equal to the task.  I suppose I should not be surprised that any scholar who practises what he calls Expressive Arts therapy would be familiar with poetry and the arts in general, and this Professor Levine certainly is.  One can sense the sheer multidisciplinary interests in our learned author. 
Interestingly in the above respect, Levine is at home in writing a full four pages on the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke whom I have discussed atlready at length in these pages.  I have written at length both about his letters here: Rilke's Letters and following posts and his poems here:  Rilke's Poems and following posts.  According to Levine, the poet who most embodies the spirit of Orpheus in contemporary literature is Rainer maria Rilke.  This does not surprise me at all because this poet dedicated his whole life to coming to terms with his soul.  In the space of one month, February, 1921, he penned 64 sonnets named the Sonnets of Orpheus and they were written at white heat as it were, to forge a chemical metaphor, almost as if the poetic muse himself had didated them.  I have discussed some of these at the above links.  He also wrote a companion piece, The Duino Elegies.

Again, it is the grappling with the polarity of opposites that constitutes the human condition that is central to Rilke's poems.  I have long stated here that an essential part of the human condition is its mortality and an equally essential task facing each and every one of us is facing up to our own dying and death and incorporating that into life in a healthy tension.  Now, this is not a morbid thing at all - far from it, it is a spiritual task, indeed, which can have the result of leading the successful "integrator" to a Still Point of Being, a Solid Ground as it were, an objective Viewing Point from which to be witness or observer/participant of all that life is, use whatever metaphor you wish.  Again, language is straining under the stress-task I'm giving it here to express my meaning clearly.  The task Rilke set himself in these sonnets occupied him all his life: how to include dying and death into life; how to incorporate pain and suffering and knit them into a fine fabric with the other experiences of joy and pleasure.  In other words, his was the Expressive Arts Therapist's role - that of leading the client (in this case his own soul) to incorporate the bad with the good at the heart of the Self.  Rilke himself spoke in different terms to what I have used here, but essentially he was speaking of the same exact thing.  He talked about the effort of the poet to bring "praise" and "lament" together.  In other words, the real success story of any life is certainly not the accumulation of wealth but rather to praise that very life which includes suffering, dying and death as part of it.  In this manner

Whenever he feels the god's paradigm grip
his throat, the voice does not die in his mouth.
All becomes vineyard, all becomes grape,
My Shadow, Donabate Beach, July, 2007
ripened in the hills of his sensuous South. (Quoted, Poiesis, p 100)
In sum, then, we can say, with Levine, Rilke and many other psychotherapists indeed, that the myth of Orpheus is a paradigm for the descent we all make into our own private hells, our own private Hades, and then to emerge, (perhaps "victorious" is a good or bad word - I'm not sure as I don't want to appear too trite here) renewed in a totally new acceptance and incorpration of suffering, dying and death into the very fabric of our souls.  To put this another way, our task, then, if we are to grow to our full potential as human beings, if we are to plumb the depths of our soul and emerge with a renewed identity, is to learn to integrate two worlds: the world of the living and the world of the dead.  Orpheus brings them together in his song.  We can also bring them together with our own songs, our own individual poems, our own unique work of art - be that painting, ballet, dance in its myriad forms, singing, writing, painting, drawing, architecture - the list is limitless.  To be able to praise and sing despite there being much to lament in our lives is still very much the strength of the human spirit.  Letting go of all the things that possess us is the way to really live life truly and fully, and this letting go is at the heart of Rilke's poems as it is also at the very heart of Buddhist theory and practice.  Buddhism recommends meditation, which promotes such awareness as the road to letting go, to cutting the strings of our clinging, those strings (ego-ridden) that bind us ineluctably to life.

Your task and mine, dear reader, is to sing the song of our individual soul despite our mortality and the pain of the human condition.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 17

How Mythology helps in Healing the Soul

Dunmore Cave, Co. Kilkenny, August 2003, old camera
I have long believed in the potential of healing that can lie in mythological stories and trace this back to courses I did with Dr Brendan Purcell on philosophical anthropology in the late 1970s.  Incidentally Dr Purcell has a new book out called From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, (Veritas, Dublin, 2011) See this link here: BP Book.  Another person and book comes to mind here, too, viz., Mortally Wounded. Stories of Soul Pain, Death and Healing by Dr. Michael Kearney a palliative care physician here in Ireland. This book concerns the care of dying persons. Hospice care provides a multidisciplinary approach to caring for the whole person, including his or her physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.  However, what interests me about this little book is the fact that Dr. Kearney proposes several models to describe what occurs in dying persons whose "soul pain" is relieved.  One of these models is based on powerful visualizations/meditations based on the Greek myth of Chiron.  In this mythological story, we read of a hero who is wounded, struggles, makes a choice, then descends into the depths, and finally returns transformed. 

In our present book, Professor Levine takes the myth of Orpheus as his healing myth or paradigm for his theory and practice of Expressive Arts Therapy.  In this essay we learn where our learned professor got his subtitle "The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul," - it is in fact a quotation from the archetype psychologist Dr James Hillman.  In short, in line with Hillman and others, we can say that psychology is an attempt to develop a scientific understanding of mental life, while the language of the soul is a different language altogether from the "clear and distinct" ideas (René Descartes) (science), being in fact a highly symbolic and metaphorical language, well stocked with images.  I like what Levine says here:

Stalactites, Dunmore Cave, August 2003

The soul is characterized by depth rather than clarity.  Clarity is a phenomenon of the surface, of sight.  It requires light or, in this case, consciousness.  But the soul is obscure to us; it is hidden, dark.  What we see of it, we see as through a glass darkly.  The soul is what is unknown, unconscious.  It cannot be grasped directly through clear and distinct ideas.  (Poiesis, p. 95)  
Now, Levine offers mythology as a container for the hurt soul where quite obviously clear and distinct ideas (or scientific methodology) simply do not work.  In working with the interpretation of words, stories and myths we are essentially dealing with images.  These images allow for multiple interpretations, indeed interpretations that are always relative to the situation in which the interpreter finds him or herself.  In other words it's "the meaning for me" that counts, not any kind of "objective" meaning that is in question here.  Now, Expressive Arts Therapy rests on the premise that imagination is the healer, and this will surprise no artist.  The suffering of the human soul is central to the human condition, and there simply is no gainsaying this.  Unfortunately, modern culture suppresses suffering in all its incarnations, especially dying and death - making this the greatest modern suppression.  Once again, in Levine's words we read:

Within the framework of an archetypal psychology...we would need to find an image and a myth that can contain the poetic.  The myth of Orpheus seems to me to be one such container. (Ibid., p. 97)
The Myth of Orpheus

Orpheus (Greek: Ορφεύς) was considered one of the chief poets and musicians of antiquity, and is still a symbol of the art of music. By dint of his music and singing, he could charm the wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, even arrest the course of rivers. The best known Orpheus myth is about his love for Eurydice, described in several musical masterpieces as well as literary ones. When his wife, Eurydice, was killed, he went to the underworld to bring her back. Fascinated by the beauty of his music, the god of the underworld allowed Eurydice to return to the world of the living. Although warned against looking back, Orpheus did so anyway and lost his beloved wife once again.  Apart from being a symbol of music, he is also considered as one of the pioneers of civilization and is said to have taught mankind the arts of writing, agriculture, and even medicine. 

Orpheus' lyre becomes for him an instrument to express his grief (hence the relevance of our myth to healing the soul!)  The hero of the piece has to descend into  Hades, the land of shades and shadows (the cauldron of suffering which we are all heir to as human beings) to seek his love (the dead Eurydice, symbolic of loss in general).  Once again in the words of our learned professor we read:

The myth of Orpheus exerted a powerful hold on the Greek imagination.  His capacity for renunciation was celebrated in rituals of purification or catharsis.  These rituals invoked Orpheus not only as poet but as priest, physician and seer.  In the Orphic religion, we see a unity of poetry, music and healing that presages the development of expressive art therapies today. (Ibid., p. 98)

Monday, July 04, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 16

A Brief but necessary Foray into Mythology

Laytown/Bettystown Parish Church, St Patrick's Day, 2009
The most recent and greatest scholar of mythology and myths was most assuredly Joseph Campbell (1904 – October 30, 1987)  who defined myths as having four basic functions: (i) the Mystical Function -experiencing the awe of the universe, (ii) the Cosmological Function - explaining the shape of the universe, (iii) the Sociological Function - supporting and validating a certain social order and (iv) the Pedagogical Function -how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.  I believe that this is a most comprehensive explanation of what is at the root of myth.  It is, indeed, a very simplistic and uneducated view to dismiss myth as being untrue, lacking any relevance whatsoever to the modern age.  Basically, the content of any myth can be factually untrue and improbable, even impossible from a scientific point of view, but the import, the lesson, the wisdom, the knowledge pointed to or the moral of the tale presents us with a depth of truth on another level to the truth of scientific fact.  There are truths behind poems, stories, songs and art of all forms and genres and, indeed, in and behind music that cannot be expressed in a linear or logical form.

A Personal View

How do I personally understand myth/mythology? For me myth or mythology is a way of mapping meaning onto the world as it were, a way of making sense of everything we as humans experience in this world, including ourselves, albeit an explanation in a very primitive and primordial, but nonetheless deeply significant way.  Humans are thinking and feeling social animals who desire to make sense of their experiences.  Now, there are many ways of making sense of experiences, and some are more effective than others, mythology is one very important way of so doing, indeed a primordial and basic way.  However, I would argue that myths are all sincere and authentic ways of interpreting experience. (Unfortunately, some myths have been used to foment hatred and war, but nevertheless they have served a function for the race which gave them birth.  However, I'm interpreting myth here is its more healing and holistic sense as it is embodied in any culture through all its incarnations in music, poetry, song, dance, rather than ascribing its more negative uses to it, though I, of course, acknowledge how destructive certain interpretations of them can be).  I would beg the reader to please excuse the obviously tortuous nature of my prose as I struggle to explain my understanding of myth/mythology here.

I believe that there are several myths (stories) by which we moderns live by, and I will attempt to outline them here:

(i) The myth (story) of linear development and improvement

This is a major myth by which we live.  Another way of stating this is to say that it is the myth of infinite perfectibility.  Things always improve and get better.  Our knowledge is growing in a linear if not exponential fashion.  This myth is essentially one which we learnt from the Enlightenment thinkers who saw Reason enthroned where once Religion sat as either King or Queen of epistemological harmony.  If we were to roll history back to the middle of the nineteenth century, this air of positivity, or indeed, call it more correctly a blind belief in the perfectibility of humankind, reigned supreme.  However, the wars of the late nineteenth and early and middle twentieth centuries brought this blind belief crashing to the ground.  Linearity has some if not a lot of truth at its core, viz., that knowledge builds itself up as a body or building, brick by brick on the foundations of previous bricks before it, and we as a human culture add to our store of knowledge thus.  However, each human being of every subsequent generation has to learn everything from the start.  The nature of human reality, then,  is more cyclical than linear.  Mathematics as a strict science is a linear method - always reaching out to a perfect world of ideal numbers - indeed mathematics is a mighty example of the myth of perfectibility.  Hence, mathematics is a myth, a truth, a way of looking at reality, and it is a very important one as it is the key to our sciences and to modern life, but it is only one key among many to the latter.

(ii) The myth (story) of Science

I suppose this myth is part responsible for the previous myth.  Science is all about discovery, about using the senses to witness and observe and, of course, measure things.  Science makes a basic assumption, axiomatic almost, that everything can be measured, and I should imagine that the goal of all good science is in making those measurements ever and ever more precise.  Precision and measurability are the names given to this game.  However, there is much that cannot be measured in a clinical sense - love and hate and all the emotions with all the colours of the rainbow in between.

Science is a wonderful subject with which I have long been fascinated.  Yesterday, having disturbed and cut open a beehive unintentionally with my garden fork sent me to my old science books (which my mother had bought me nearly 40 years ago now) to read an article on the behaviour of bees.  I read a few accounts of their activities on the web also.  One can only marvel at their sophistication for such small creatures.  Science knows a lot, but not everything about their behaviour.  In other words, what I am saying here is that, while science is wonderful and its knowledge is increasing brick upon brick, it still does not know everything.  Arts, Music and Literature have much else to teach us, much that is unmeasurable by science.  Need everything be measurable?  That's a good philosophical question.

(iii) The myth (story) of Religion

The setting Sun, Laytown Beach, St Patrick's Day, 2009
The three great religions of The Book or Bible are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  I was born into the second of these, but consider myself an agnostic who loves Buddhist meditation.  I remember reading somewhere that one scholar of comparative religion had declared that "there is nothing as bad as a bad religion."  Here, one only has to think of all the destruction, havoc and chaos wrought by so-called religious men (mostly men indeed, hence the male substantive is used here) - over the course of history: the wars and murders of the Crusades of the Holy Roman Empire against the infidel Muslims; the Holy Wars of these latter; the murder of native tribes by the so-called Roman Catholic Conquistadores; the tortures of the Holy Roman Inquisition; the burning of witches not just in the Roman Catholic Church, but also at Salem and elsewhere in America and then the myriads of wars in the name of a "common" God.  In a sense, the thought of two opposing sides in any war each appealing to the same God for help is almost delusional to say the least.  Humankind, it has been well said, makes God in its own image.  Each race makes their God in their own image, too.  In a way "God" becomes a word to describe at best the presuppositions and religious tenets of a people or a country and at worst it is a word to mask deliberate hatred of others.  Each side will say that God is on their side, because quite simply they are right, they possess the Truth and God is the name of Their Truth (they also love capital letters!) - their view of God, their reduction of whatever HE/SHE/IT could possibly be, to national, biased and prejudiced opinion.  Now all of this is far from the God as descriptively defined by more accomplished and erudite theologians, scholars and mystics.  In a sense these latter can be, and most often are, more nuanced in their positions than the party-line of their churches.

It has long been my belief that the Church, any church indeed, is a sociological phenomenon created by people, and where people are, there will be power and abuse of that power.  Religion can be, and often is, a way of wielding power over others, keeping them in line, controlling, not alone their baser instincts (as churches would have us believe) but also their mores with respect to sexual practices as does the Roman catholic Church.  Individuals within churches, like individuals elsewhere in society, can be hungry for power, and these don't generally mind what or who they sacrifice on their way up the ladder.  Indeed, as we have learnt to our cost over the past twenty years, the churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church, have been adept at covering up the evil doings of their pastors - especially the paedophiles amongst their number.  Religious power and control are power and control over others, and those in power love wielding it.

Churches as institutions, which broker power, will have no allegiance among the faithful, who will fall away in greater and greater numbers.  Those churches which eschew power and go for a more open and positive spirituality will live longer and get more followers.

The above two myths are the main ones - often opposing ones indeed, in our modern mythological arsenal.  There are, of course, myriads of other minor ones which I will list briefly without too much comment on each.

(iii) The myth of Body Beautiful:  One only has to look at advertisements in both the print and broadcast media for clothes, jewelery and other cosmetic goods to realise that this is a myth central to all modern culture.

(iii) The myth of Body Healthy and Fit:  This myth obviously overlaps with the former here, though more men than women belong to this one, and more women than men belong to the preceding one.  However, their is a sizable crowd who fall in the intersection between both myths.

(iii) The myth of Success: This myth is one which all educational systems, no matter what country in the modern world,  promulgates.  Now I use the word "promulgates" deliberately because we practically religiously proclaim the truth of this myth to our children on a daily basis in our homes and in our schools.  We teach our young people that they are literally "nobodies" if they are not successful.  Again, more often than not the myth of success in intertwined with the myth that "money will make you happy," which, while an obvious lie, is a myth many buy into all to readily.

(iv) The Myth that Doing is more important than Being: This is perhaps a less obvious myth because people unselfconsciously are practically hyperactive these days.  It is so ingrained into our modern psyches that we must be "up and doing" or "up and at it" almost all the time that we practically never question our obsession with doing.  In fact, many people have difficulty in learning how to relax - that is why there are so many heart attacks and so much illness and sickness in our modern society.  Learning to relax is vitally important to the health of humankind.

(v) The Myth that to Have is more important than to Be:  Admittedly there is an overlap between myths (iii) and (iv) here.  People assume that the more they have the happier they will be.  However, the experience of practically everyone points up that the opposite is, in fact, the case.  However, this does not explain why so many of us need to have more and more and more.  Possessing things has become an addiction.  Indeed, a wise philosopher, I cannot remember who, said that while we claim to possess things, we are blind to the fact that they actually possess us.

The above thoughts are by way of prelude to discussing the power of myth in Creative or Expressive Arts Therapy.

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) 

From Fragmentation to Integration 14

The Dialectic of Creativity

Now the following thoughts are not at all unrelated to my four or five posts on doing philosophy with children. Neither is it far removed from those posts in the sense that teaching children to think philosophically can and does increase their curiosity and wonder, and in so doing will spark their creativity in many fields of knowledge. Hence, what may seem like interruptions or bifurcations in the flow of my thoughts are not necessarily so at all. Everything is grist to the philosopher's mill and indeed to the creative artist's mill too.

I have always been fascinated by creativity - which is surely one of the hallmarks that distinguishes us human beings from the unthinking animals. For the last seven or so years I have attended an annual performance of The Messiah by Handel in our National Concert Hall here in Dublin and that is some aural, emotional and spiritual experience. That one human mind could have come up with that big magical and mystical sound is astounding to say the least. That the poetry of the likes of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, T.S.Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop and so many others exists to our delectation is also astounding. Then, one can go into the field of architecture and muse at the great and wonderful medieval and modern cathedrals - Chartres, St Peter's, Canterbury, Christ Church (Dublin), Salisbury, Koln, Sacre Coeur, and indeed the Sagrada Família of Antoní Gaudi in Barcelona, just to name some that I have visited myself. That human creativity can do all these things is nothing short of amazing. Creativity, I believe, is the expression of the wonderful power of the human imagination.

The Tension of Opposites

Anyone who has been a reader of these pages over the last six years will know that I am fascinated by the healthy tension or polarity of opposites. Our author Professor Stephen Levine is also, and this is one of the things that keeps me returning again and again to his short and profound book Poiesis. It is perhaps patently obvious that this polarity exists at the level of human emotions and at the very core of ethical and moral thinking. That it might exist at the heart of creativity is not at all as obvious, though not unsurprising given its centrality to the world of reality. In this chapter, Professor Levine presents us with an exposition of creativity based on a healthy tension of opposites as expressed in the literary work of William Blake insofar as the latter got at something important and essential in the human make-up - that of the polarity or tension between the world of innocence and that of experience. William Blake is also one of my most favourite poets, artists and mystics and I have written at length about this great creative genius in this blog over the years at these links here: - Blake as Poet 1 , Blake as Poet 2  and Blake as Genius/Mystic.  Let me here return to Levine's own words, and omit his couple of pages on Blake as I've dealt with this polarity in this pre-Romantic English author already at length:

My hypothesis is that this development [that of creativity over the human lifespan] is a dialectical one, that mature creativity is capable of integrating the opposing forces within the person in order to bring him or her to a sense of wholeness and fulfillment (Poiesis, p. 77)

Professor Levine argues in this tightly reasoned chapter that the Blakeian healthy tension or polarity of opposites between Innocence and Experience is mirrored in the opposing theories of Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott. It is to a brief summary of each of their theories that I now turn.

Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein
Melanie Klein (1882 – 1960) was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who devised novel therapeutic techniques for children that had a significant impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis. Professor Levine sums up her take on the psychology of creativity thus:

Melanie Klein, in her account of the internal world of the child, has given us a theoretical formulation that comes close in spirit to Blake’s world of experience. It is interesting that for Klein, as opposed to Blake, the child is hardly innocent; the envy and jealousy that Blake describes in his Songs of Experience are the core of the child’s world. For Klein the child deflects its own self-destructive impulses outward. He or she aggressively attacks the mother’s breast and seeks to devour it, incorporating its goodness. This aggressiveness gives rise to a fear of retaliation, which is responded to by guilt and a desire to make reparation. (ibid., p. 79)
Professor Levine goes on to argue that in this scheme of things creativity is emphatically NOT understood as an expression of childhood innocence. In fact, it is only because the child is capable of feeling guilt that it can be creative – that is, that he or she can make restoration or reparation for its imaginary and deeply felt crimes. In other words in Klein creativity is very much based on the Blakeian world of Experience.


D.W. Winnicott
Donald Woods Winnicott, more often referred to as simply D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971) began his career as a pediatrician and used his experience with children to develop his innovative ideas. Winnicott has made great and lasting contributions to psychoanalytic theory, particularly in the tradition of Object Relations Theory, derived from Melanie Klein's theories, the intricacies of which need not detain us here.

D.W. Winnicott clearly questioned the basis of the Kleinian account of creativity.  For this paediatric psychoanalyst, it is not loss that is the basis of creativity; rather the child must first find a core or centre to him or herself before they can tolerate loss. To put it in other words, the mother-infant bond must be firmly established or else loss of any significant object in the child’s life will quite simply be experienced as a loss of self. Such a loss would mean essentially that the child would be overwhelmed.

Again, we can state that the Winnicottian view of creativity is one that essentially sees it as a central or primary rather than a defensive or secondary phenomenon in the child’s life. In other words, creativity is a central part of “being alive”. Returning to Professor Levine’s words we read:

Creativity is a basic expression of being; it is the child’s affirmation of his or her own existence. This affirmation must be responded to and affirmed by another in order for the child to feel that he or she is who they claim to be. (Ibid., p. 82)

In summary, then, for our purposes here we may state that for D.W. Winnicott, all creative action stems from the creativity of being itself.  In short also, Professor Levine is paralleling the Blakeian creative opposition between Innocence and Experience with the opposition between the opposing theories of Winnicott (which approximates to Innocence) and that of Klein (which approximates to Experience).


One can see the overarching influence of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis in the Kleinian version of creativity as adumbrated by our scholar Professor Levine.  As I was reading Klein’s words in Poiesis I could almost see the venerable old man nod in agreement with her conclusions, because Klein, being a good disciple of the great pioneering father of psychoanalysis, based her theories on the death instinct as being a primary psychic element in the human condition.

For Klein, creativity, then, comes after loss (Experience in the Blakeian scenario) – an attempt to restore or repair the lost object. For Winnicott, creativity is the exact opposite, because it is based on what his found; if you like it is based on that sense of selfhood found in a relationship with a significant other. I like Levine’s summary here:

“One could say that for Klein, we can only find what we have lost; for Winnicott, we can only lose what we have found, that is, we can only mourn a loss if we can have a self that can survive what we have lost. Winnicittian “innocence” stands in stark contrast to Kleinian “experience.” (Ibid., p. 83.0

Levine suggests that these two opposing theories of creativity can be reconciled in a sort of healthy tension or polarity of opposites which he defines as the dialectic of creativity.

To be continued.