Concerning my review of MSI

This touches on a number of issues that crop up elsewhere on these pages.

Thanks for writing, M. I never expected you to reply to my original letter since I only wrote because I wanted you to have the unedited version of my letter to STATnews. I’ve had faint twinges of conscience over the years that I may have been instrumental in stopping your ‘rethinking’ articles but I was outraged at the time in the same sort of way I am outraged by Jean Fishcer now. I’m not an apologist for Alexander – in fact, far from it – but if we start to play around with his actual words, however good our intentions, rather than our changing understanding of them, then we’re lost.

As I suggested in my review, I believe Alexander was wrong in his grasp of human consciousness; and I don’t think his Technique has the slightest hope of being adopted by society, other than in an incredibly watered down way by an extremely small cross section. That doesn’t mean society is necessarily at fault, other than in its emphasis on abstract thought at the expense of our awareness of ourselves, thus promoting division in the human condition, or psycho-physical disunity; and it doesn’t mean the Technique is a waste of time, since it does show those who are interested there is another way of behaving.

What that ‘way’ is is a matter for contention. Alexander saw conscious reason as something quite distinct from, and better than, primitive instinct, but I happen to believe they are one and the same. I think that by having lessons we should hope to become more rather than less like ‘savages’. In my view, far from being unconsciously driven, uncivilised people were more conscious than we can ever hope to be. But then, I think animals are conscious, too!

These are opinions and no doubt everyone has their own. Looking for definitions of the Technique, outside of Alexander’s own words, that at the same time represent the view of STAT, is tricky. Personally, I think your quest is doomed. When we consider the generation of teachers who knew and worked with Alexander, who not only read his books but helped him write them, and how their understanding of what the Technique was gradually became individualised, to the extent that not one of them agreed with another – MacDonald, Carrington, Barlow, Barstow, all at odds – it’s inconceivable to me that we’d get any sort of consensus today, other, that is, than the mealy-mouthed one in operation.

Having said that, I would infinitely prefer to see you putting forward resolutions trying to resolve this issue at STAT meetings than those ludicrous time wasters rabitting on incessantly about equal opportunities, ethics, prejudice, etc, as if any of these issues were of the slightest relevance when it comes to actually knowing what it is we are supposed to be teaching. But it’s useless, I’m afraid, asking me to whip up enthusiasm on this score. Just to show you how out of touch I am, it took me a morning to work out who Alex Scott was. I’ve no recollection of getting a letter from him, but I assume he is this new ‘business manager’ they’ve drafted in.

Of far more concern to me than clarifying a Society view of what the Technique is, is encouraging individual teachers – particularly those experienced enough to have come to a considered opinion – to set down in writing what they are actually doing when teaching and also, far more importantly, when not teaching. For me, the main point of the Technique is its ability to be passed on. The hands, if they don’t help this happen, are a hindrance. My fear – and expectation – is that the current emphasis on the use of the hands rather than the use of the self will continue, probably to the point where a pupil – if I can call them that – will not be expected to do much more during a lesson than passively submit to the manipulations, however subtle, of their teacher. If students behave this way too, and teachers themselves continue to have ‘lessons’, the whole thing will become increasingly incestuous.

My guess is the Technique will ultimately be – in fact, probably already is – seen as a subtle form of body therapy. Minority factions will emerge, and there will be ‘rump’ groupings emphasising its disciplinary nature, advocating ‘verbal ordering’, or ‘inhibition’ or even ‘positions of mechanical advantage’, whether during lessons or when alone; but the majority view – probably, from sheer weight of numbers, Carrington based – will prevail.

I see Alexander as a sort of bodyman’s Freud. The most important legacy Freud left was the notion that we can look inside ourselves for answers to why we are the way we are, and that we have the potential to change. Freud’s way of effecting change is largely discredited and for all practical purposes impossibly demanding in time and money. However, there are umpteen approaches using the same basic formula of looking into the unconscious: we can pick and chose at will. Alexander’s big insight was the extraordinary notion that we can look at the way we use ourselves, mentally as much as physically, and, if we are determined enough, change it. His way of doing this – again fairly profligate in terms of time and money – is only one way. Inhibition and direction – assuming we know what Alexander meant by the terms, and I seriously wonder if many teachers do – certainly isn’t the sole approach.

In fact, a great deal can be gained in terms of consciousness by becoming aware of our use with no reference whatsoever to the Technique. Even if a person’s physical use is abysmal, if they are ‘aware’ they are far better off than if their use is excellent but they are ‘absent’. Of course, ‘use’ isn’t only physical, and awareness and absence are difficult to quantify, but that hands-off work is the most important for me.

I don’t know if you would be interested in contributing to an issue of Direction I’m supposed to be editing that is due out around the time of the millennium, but I’m in need of serious writers interested in the subject of "Working on the Self". Basically, I want to encourage teachers to explain how they work on themselves in an Alexandrian sense, and how they pass this ability on; or, if they don’t work on themselves, or teach others how to, why they consider it unnecessary. What I want to get away from is the traditional homily of "saying no and giving directions", as if the question of how to do this is of no importance. To my knowledge, the only person who has specifically addressed the issue is Joe Armstrong. I find it pitiful that no other senior teacher has followed suit.

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