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Conscious Control

A Journal of the F. M. Alexander Technique

Vol. 1 No. 1, Spring 2007, Publ. Mouritz, ed. Jean M. O. Fischer, 96pp, ISSN: 1753-853X, www.mouritz.co.uk

Review by Stephen Cooper (first published in Statnews, September 2007).

Three major journals -Direction from 1986 to 2005, The Alexander Review from 1986 to 1989 and STAT’s own The Alexander Journal since 1962 -have contributed handsomely to the Alexander Technique literature over the years. Back numbers of Direction may still be available, (see www.directionjournal.com). The Alexander Journal is alive and well under its present editor, Francesca Greenoak, and we have seen five new editions since her editorship began in 2001. Jean Fischer, on his website at http://www.mouritz.co.uk/, has helpfully catalogued the various editions of these journals.

Now, through his publishing company Mouritz, Jean Fischer has launched a new journal, called Conscious Control. Vol. 1 No. 1 is now available. Let me encourage you to subscribe. This first volume is worth your money, and your subscription will help this new venture to succeed.

In this first issue there are articles by Steven Hallmark, Christine Ackers and Polly Waterfield, a short polemic by Walter Carrington, two interviews with Walter Carrington and a book review by Jean Fischer himself.

Steven Hallmark starts his article The Alexander Technique in the training of actors by talking about his own experiences of training as an actor and of discovering the Technique. It freed him from the specific exercises -tongue exercises, movement, voice and acting exercises -with which he was struggling and taught him that, as his teacher said, "the head and neck are more important". (p8)He then outlines six workshops for actors, giving the benefit of his lesson plans to anyone who wishes to conduct workshops with actors themselves. Believing that (p36) the Alexander Technique provides the how in achieving genuineness in acting, he repeatedly justifies his workshop plans by outlining the Alexander implications of the exercise being undertaken.

Christine Ackers has some new ideas for us to consider. She argues that human beings, having uniquely extended upwards onto two feet, are more flexible and mobile than all other mammals and in particular have a unique capacity to bend. Updating Linnaeus, she renames us ‘flecto-sapiens-orials’. Panthers are cursorial in their movement, kangaroos are saltatorial, and so humans are flectorial. (Latin flectere, to bend). To function efficiently, we humans need to extend in activity, but unfortunately we tend instead to shorten -"or" as Christine says, "in Alexander Technique parlance, we pull down. We become overly keen on flexing," (p48). We must instead learn to keep our muscles long -and help is at hand, for "Alexander Technique teachers are bending specialists." Christine’s article is full of ideas about how we function. It is illustrated with an idiosyncratic set of drawings by Jing Sheng Wang, two of which are reproduced here.

Polly Waterfield’s article Looking both ways should really set us thinking. There are within the broad church of the Alexander Technique differences of understanding and of teaching styles. On the receiving end, the experiences of pupils and students are often positive but are sometimes negative. Unless you get all the answers from ‘the hands-on experience’ and your subsequent work on yourself, we need to talk, we need to write and we need to read.

Polly writes "Janus-faced", as she says, as a newly-qualified teacher looking back on her training and forward to teaching. While committed to the principles of our work, she says "I have sometimes had to wonder about some ways in which they are taught." (p55) She often felt confused and discouraged during her training "by the discrepancy between what I read about the Technique … and my own process in struggling to apply it", and she sees the possibility in training "of falling into ‘Alexander habits’ and therefore being no freer than before." (p56)

Alexander writes in The Use of the Self, "I have found that in this process of acquiring a conscious direction of use my pupils gradually develop a higher standard of sensory awareness or appreciation of what they are doing in the use of themselves". So it’s not surprising Polly finds that "there are ways in which the principle of faulty sensory appreciation can become undermining and self-defeating" (p64) when "teachers often say ‘don’t feel’, or ‘don’t feel it’, which creates confusion in me at gut-level" (p65). This is not uplifting or elucidating writing; it is challenging and we should not dismiss it but must instead address the issues it raises about our training and our understanding of the fundamental principles of the Alexander Technique.

Hidemi Hatada carried out two interviews with Walter Carrington in 2004. If I were to say that these are ‘just’ two more interviews with Walter Carrington it would be because we are already spoilt with a wealth of material, from the talks in Thinking Aloud to the interviews with Seán Carey in Explaining the Alexander Technique. I find little new here, only repetition, but if you find something new or fresh in the following example, then these articles will be of value to you. [Walter Carrington] "Well. I think the most important thing in the training course is for people to learn what it means not to do. It is to understand the meaning of what we call ‘inhibition’. [Hidemi Hatada] Could you explain how you now think of ‘inhibition’? [Walter Carrington] Well. I think the sense of the whole thing is the belief that in nature, in life, the right thing will do itself if it isn’t interfered with. If you don’t do the wrong thing, the right thing will do itself." (p88)

Walter Carrington’s three-page article entitled Reflections on the Opinion survey on voluntary self-regulation’ finds little good in STAT’s attempts to move forward and concludes (p73) "Teachers must be allowed to continue their work as they have done since the days before the Society was formed, and the latter should confine itself to offering all support and encouragement to that end." Nothing new there, then.

Jean Fischer, in his review of Posture, Pain and Positive Health by Grahame Fagg, makes clear his opinion that the author’s voyage of self-discovery did not carry him to the territory of the Technique as we know it. In the process, though, Jean comments on the diversity within our own teaching methods and, by implication, our understanding. As an example, he claims teachers use one of three approaches for teaching directions. He then says, "I shall refrain from expostulating their philosophies. I do propose, however, that it is useful for teachers to be … aware of their own teaching approach." (p94) So here is something for us to think about.

Every piece in this first issue of Conscious Control is interesting in its own way: all support the argument that we have much to discuss and much to clarify.

A question arises: for whom was each of these articles written? Polly Waterfield’s article is clearly for us, the Alexander community. Christine Ackers’ article is very interesting, but seems to be as much about proselytising to a wider audience as it is about sharing insights with an Alexander one. Steven Hallmark’s article seems mostly concerned with proving the value of the Technique to actors and only coincidentally provides workshop models for Alexander teachers.

This question gives rise to another. The provenance of these articles is not at all clearly indicated. Steven Hallmark’s piece refers to his first lessons in 1973 and his work with actors after he graduated in 1978. He says his inspiration for writing was a remark made during a lesson with Walter Carrington -but when? Christine Ackers’ piece is already available (i.e. published) on the web -see http://www.ate.org.au/articles/bending.pdf . Hidemi Hatada’s contribution begins "One of the questions is" (p74) and ends with an acknowledgement: "I am grateful to everybody who sent me questions" (p91). A short note at the beginning of each contribution explaining how and when it was written would put each piece in context for the reader. As it is, one speculates that, for this first issue, rather than producing much new writing for an Alexander audience, the editor has made a trawl of already extant material. That’s fair enough for the launch of this new project; new and original material will surely follow in subsequent issues.

But, however this first issue came about, and however the articles got there, I have learnt from them all and look forward to the next issue -which might contain a contribution by you!

© Stephen Cooper 2007

 

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