TWO ESSAYS by Joroen Staring.
Who is Joroen Staring? Judging by his use of the phrase "…other Alexandrians like Tinbergan, Dart, Perls and Staring…", he considers himself one of a those select few who write about the Technique, innovatively and intelligently, from the perspective of another discipline; but what his is, he doesn’t say.
The second of these essays, "DEWY AND ALEXANDER", is well researched, but essentially repeats a story told elsewhere. Anyone interested will already know how Dewy took to Alexander’s work and stuck with it for the rest of his life; how followers of Dewy, including his biographer, minimised its importance to him; how Alexander, for reasons of his own, failed to capitalise on Dewy’s attempts to fund a scientific investigation of discoveries; and how our legacy of three introductions to Alexander’s books is indicative of the influence Dewy must have hoped the Technique would enjoy.
Reading this essay does serve to remind us of the seriousness with which Alexander expected his work to be taken; and the fact that someone of Dewy’s standing, in the face of considerable opposition from his peers, saw in its practical application so much of his own philosophy, reflects badly on the general conception today that the Technique is a form of remedial bodywork, unworthy of deep or scholastic consideration.
As if to counterbalance this, Joroen Staring’s other essay, "THE HOMO CLAUSUS IN STATU NASCENDI", is erudite to the point of obscuration. The gist of it seems to be that there are contemporary thinkers, working in similar fields to Dewy’s, who subscribe, wholly or partially, to a theory concerning the influence of civilisation on humanity that isn’t dissimilar to Alexander’s; and that if they could be persuaded to study his work, they might realise it provides a means of redressing a universal problem.
This theory is presented as the "homo clausus self-experiences of present-day people in the West". It was developed by Norbert Elias, a German Jew living and working in London before World War II. "Homo clausus" is defined as "closed personality"; and the "self-experience" in question as the increasing tendency for humans to see themselves as individual beings, "cut off" from each other and "closed" to their environment.
Elias believed this process of alienation began around the time of the Renaissance, due to the overpowering need for individual restraint in society. With the consequent development of stronger and stronger "self images", differentiation between people intensified. From his vantage point several centuries later, he considered this to have been a major "civilisation shift".
The problem, as Staring sees it, is that Elias’s was a sociological, and therefore detached, understanding of the human condition, whereas what is needed is an anthropological, or more involved, view, which he believes Alexander supplied. He speculates that Alexander’s description of the head being pulled backwards and down in response to a stimulus was actually the physical manifestation of a homo clausus self-experience; and he suspects anyone who accepts Elias’s theory would, if they were exposed to Alexander work, recognise this in themselves, and realise there is a practical means of addressing it.
Staring devotes much of his essay to the issues of childbearing and birth, pointing out that those about to enter the world do not necessarily do so in a pristine state. Due in part to the size of infant heads as a result of evolution, but much more, he believes, to the degeneration in muscular tone and the over developed individuality of mothers as a consequence of homo clausus self-experiences, birth itself has become increasingly problematic, and gestation, once a time for harmonious intercommunication between mother and unborn child, a disenchanting period of relative isolation for them both.
Unfortunately, as Staring explains, although some of the problems surrounding pregnancy have been recognised, the remedial approaches tend to concentrate on strengthening of the self, often through "rather stupid gymnastic or yoga feats". The result is that women, by inadvertently distancing themselves from the new life within, feel even more cut off than normal; while their baby, wanting to communicate with a mother whose attempts to undo the harm of civilisation make this decreasingly possible, becomes enveloped in a "hard ball" of growing tension. Staring describes the impact of these formative months as "unborn children making contact with closed human beings".
Once deciphered, his is a compelling argument; and the way Staring links the opinions of a wide range of present day European thinkers with Alexander’s philosophy is an indication of what he considers its proper sphere of influence. Rather than being allied with a polyglot of approaches to health that, as he suggests, only increase an individual’s propensity for homo clausus self-experiences, he clearly believes Alexander’s work would fare better if it found common cause with those who study the wider issues of humanity.
The key question for teachers of the Technique, however, isn’t so much why civilisation may have brought about a fundamental change in human consciousness, nor the extent to which any such change will have been accompanied by a redistribution of muscle tension; but whether we should expect Alexander work, with its emphasis on the individual, to be effective in mitigating, rather than perpetuating, or even accentuating, the phenomena of "homo clausus in status nascendi".