"Do not underrate the index. The index is a key to modern life, allowing access to everything from a filofax to a national library catalogue. And an index is no mere device; it may be the epitome of a book, a distillation, exhibiting insight, judgement, even creativity." (John Man, Gutenberg)1
"There are no answers, only cross-references." (Norbert Wiener)4
What is it?
The Alexander Index is a searchable index of key Alexander Technique writings, starting with Alexander's own work but extending, in time, to other significant writings on the Technique. To go straight to the Index click here.
What's it for?
Alexander's writings remain a key point of reference within the Alexander teaching profession. The project is neutral about the intrinsic merit of his texts. But given their canonical status, progress in Alexander theory is only likely to occur if it is accompanied by a sustained and careful engagement with Alexander's texts, clarifying, refining and discarding concepts and terminology as appropriate. The first function of the Index is to support the necessary analysis and research by collating index entries into a single resource offering filter and search options. That should simplify access to the relevant texts when looking for the "known" (or half-remembered). But it can also indicate new lines of enquiry by disclosing the "unknowns" - the terms not previously registered, or long-forgotten, but popping up in index searches.
It scarcely needs adding that Alexander's writings are also an essential point of reference for those academics from outside the teaching profession who have sought to engage with Alexander's ideas2.
A second and somewhat distinct function is to support historical research into the Alexander Technique. As the famous maxim goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it3. The Alexander Technique grew in specific social and intellectual milieus; a diverse cast of characters entered into the story during Alexander's lifetime and his writings involved a dialogue with contemporary ideas. However original he may have been, his texts clearly also reflect not just his own experience but discussions with friends and supporters—many mentioned in his texts—and the popular ideas of his time. Who were these people, what were the ideas - and where are they mentioned in Alexander's texts? The Index will help that exploratoin.
Alexander and beyond
The scope of the Index will extend beyond Alexander's own works to include those of people most closely associated with Alexander. Their reminiscences about Alexander and views formed throughed collaboration with him are all relevant to Alexander Technique research.
This is not, however, intended as an open-ended project that extends to every text that has ever been written on the Alexander Technique. The benefits would be too small: the project too big. Indeed, the superabundance of material would be counter-productive from the point of veiw of referencing key material.
Benefits of an online, universal index
The benefits of the online implementation of the index:
- You don't need to know which text to look in to find what you want.
- The Index is searchable by text strings that can appear anywhere in the index entry: you don't have to guess how the index entry is alphabetized.
- The Index can be filtered by a number of different parameters in addition to text strings: for example by author or publication.
- The Index can be continuously refined with amended, new or deleted entries.
If the Index is to fulfil its potential, it cannot simply combine existing entries from the indexes in the print versions of Alexander's books. For example:
- Alexander makes numerous statements of a general nature about his technique, but he never referred to it as the "Alexander Technique", which is how it would naturally be indexed today.
- Whilst the existing print indexes are aimed at a more general audience, scholars may be interested in more specialised aspects - particular turns of phrase or unusual combinations of words.
- Some of the texts have not previously been indexed - for example the Appendix to The Use of the Self.
- Entries in a universal index need to use standardised terminology as far as possible.
- Many if not most cross references ("see...", "see also...") cannot usefully be associated with individual texts but are intrinsically "universal" in scope.
- We want to distinguish the actual author of the text associated with any particular index entry: this means differentiating, for example, between an Introduction written by John Dewey and a main text written by Alexander or scholarly footnotes prepared by Jean Fischer.
In the earlier stages of implementation, however, many entries will indeed directly match those in the print editions. An imperfect implementation would seem better cIn short, this is a project that calls for a signficant number of new and modified entries and will involve a considerable development effort.
Further detail can be found in other pages accessed via the site menu system.
If you are interested in contributing to the project, please contact the project lead at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Gutenberg, John Man, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 2002.
2. See for example papers by Jennifer Tarr such as her 2008 Habit and Conscious Control: Ethnography and Embodiment in the Alexander Technique (Ethnography 9(4): 477-497) , Eric David McCormack's 1958 PhD thesis Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey: A Neglected Influence (distributed by NASTAT, Champaign, IL, no date) and Jeroen Staring's Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869-1955 (Integraal, Nijmegen, 2005).
3. Variously attributed, in various versions, to Edmund Burke and George Santayana: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_said_Those_who_ignore_history_are_bound_to_repeat_it?classic=true accessed 18March2014, 07:00 GMT.
4. Various sources given. See http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Norbert_Wiener accessed 29June2014, 15:57 BST.