Responding however belatedly to David Gibbens’ (DG) critique of my “Conceptual Foundations” brings to mind Abraham Lincoln’s wry comment on his high office: “As for being President, I feel like the man who was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. To the man who asked him how he liked it, he said, ‘If it wasn’t for the honor of the thing, I’d rather walk.’” Just so, the labor of examining closely held beliefs is less than fun, but I take solace in considering DG’s lengthy and stringent criticism as a compliment deserving of a complementary reply.
I need to say, first of all, that DG referred repeatedly to my term “posturality,” finally characterizing it as “a neologism that surely has its place,” without ever giving my own definition of it. Namely, ”Posturality is the state or quality of one’s posture.” Now, regardless of whether we consider “posture” in the more conventional sense favored by DG or in my “dramatically expanded” sense, the fact is that there has not previously been a concept/term in common usage for thinking about and referring to a fundamental aspect of our being—posture—that clearly and definitely possesses quality. We speak easily of “a grounded personality” or “a narrow mentality,” yet we have had little better to say about our posture as being other than “bad” or “good.” We still speak of Alexandrian Use mostly in the same terms, adding perhaps “satisfactory,” all quite crude conceptual tools for assessing the obvious generality and qualitative continuity of Use. I leave it to readers to decide whether “a slumped posture” or “a slumped posturality” are merely two ways of saying the same thing.
Then, in “Scope of the Foundations,” DG questions my reference to the “moral” dimension of the concept of use. I made that point succinctly but sufficiently in my article “The Posturality of the Person” (AmSAT Journal 2, Spring 2012):
To be sure, there is a connotation in “use” lacking in “posturality,” that of an implicit morality. For to use something at all—certainly the self—implies not only the manner of this use but also its purpose, always subject as voluntary action to moral judgment.
So, however extensive DG’s research has been among my writings and elsewhere as grist for his mill, he seems to have missed that.
DG takes great exception to my definition of posture, “Posture comprises the flow through space and time of all activity of bodily support and movement in the course of living.” Actually, I’ve continued to reflect upon this definition, and would now re-state it as, “Posture comprises the flow through space-time [a bow to modern physics] of all activity, including both reflex and voluntary contributions, of bodily support and movement in the course of living.” Implicitly excluded from this activity are those, for example, of visual accommodation, blinking, arterial responses, peristalsis, and other involuntary muscular functions. Although these additions to my original definition clarify it, they do not essentially change it, and DG’s suggestion that an equivalent statement would be “Posture comprises all musculoskeletal activity,” while technically correct, is too elegant (in the mathematical sense) for my purpose of speaking to a lay as well as a professional audience
I in turn take exception to DG’s suggestion that my educational model “sketches a scenario where the teacher operates students like puppets in order to re-condition their use and thereby retune their sensory appreciation.” That may be his experience of certain teachers, but my educational model is based on my learning experience as an instrumental musician (clarinetist), where the teacher—who presumably knows something about the instrument in question—gives the student both input and feedback about the student’s performance on it, and where the student utilizes this information in a process of gradually re-forming and re-organizing his responses to the demands of actual musical performance. No one who has undergone this or similar training in real life would ever characterize the process as puppet-like, as DG suggests. As the human body in its broadest aspect as the self is “the ultimate instrument,” I would suggest that this analogy, mutatis mutandis, is very close to the practice of many Alexander teachers—certainly those I’ve studied with—and to the experience of many Alexander students, in their joint endeavor vis-à-vis the improvement of use. It is of course true that there are “practical obstacles” in this process—lack of understanding, resistance, and over-eagerness—as DG suggests, but they are the challenge of every knowledgeable and sensitive teacher and must generally be treated as desiderata in the domain of “variations of the teacher’s art.” It must also be acknowledged, as all musicians and others know, that not all teachers are equally talented, knowledgeable, or sensitive.
Goaded by DG’s criticism, I want to explain my non-inclusion of Alexandrian Inhibition and Direction in the “Foundations.” Originally published as an independent article (“Posture, Postural Education, and the Alexander Technique,” AmSAT News 81, Winter 2009), my intention then was dual, both to elevate the concept of posture in the Alexandian mind and to elucidate it in that of the public. (Regarding the former, it is clear that “posture” is now used much more freely in descriptions of the Technique than it was in 2009.) Thus I decided not to use language specific to the Alexander Technique—inhibition and direction—in my effort to articulate the content of this subject area—posture and postural education— relatively free of considerations of method—as in rolfing, Pilates, Ideokinesis, and Feldenkrais, for example—that might be employed in its pursuit. I retained this usage (or non-usage) in my book The Posturality of the Person: A Guide to Posture and Postural Education, for the same reason, although there I referred to “pausing” and “organizing” as equivalent terms to inhibition and direction that have always seemed to me more descriptive of the actual real-time processes, with the proviso that both, at bottom, are a function of “remembering,” their pre-condition.
I really must now grapple with DG’s rejection of my definition of posture previously quoted. His objection is mainly based in the radicality of my conception of posture as a support/movement continuum, thereby, in his view, “draining the term ‘posture’ of its specificity.” He undertakes an extensive analysis of various views of posture—mainly Sherrington, Coghill, Dart, Roberts, and Howorth—concluding that the consensus of authority is that there is little support for the view I have taken. Well and good, there also was little support for Galileo’s view, not that I equate the present debate with his. To me, however, the practical question is not how to frame a physiologically, behaviorally, and perhaps linguistically sufficient definition of posture, but rather how to communicate to real people who have a vital interest in knowing it, that their posture—which they only sort-of know about—is something that is with them always and everywhere, that has a decided effect on their life experience, for better and for worse, and that is not simply “standing up straight.” I have argued before (AmSAT News 68, Fall 2005) that Alexandrian “use,” properly understood, is the only available concept that actually expresses this fuller understanding, but “use” unfortunately lacks any commonality in the public mind, and is thus generally left to “waste its sweetness on desert air.” So, while I can respect DG’s concerns for specificity and separation in these matters (having done a fair amount of hairsplitting myself) I feel on solid ground with my own work in terms of advancing our agenda, if that agenda be maintaining the Technique, present and future, by bringing awareness of it to those who need it and can pay for it, call it “marketing” if you will.
Conceptually assailed on several fronts, I choose as my next challenge that of DG’s remarks concerning my assertion that posture must ultimately be considered inclusively as “one unified process.” I hardly would expect criticism on this quarter from an Alexandrian, but DG claims that this notion is one “which I fear is so abstract as to be virtually meaningless.” Well, what is to be duly respected if not feared, but what is not abstract and virtually meaningless, is your student as he stands with you in his lesson. As a person, he (pardon selective gender) is surely one unified process, and however you choose to deal with him, you must do so as such, as much as you are dealing with yourself as such. I agree with DG on this point that his cavils “seem unduly critical,” and will only offer for reflection Jung’s advice to “Learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch [amen] the living miracle of the human soul.” DG is correct enough that your student, present to you in the lesson, is not yet a “happy unity” (DG’s term) but he is surely a “unified process” in whatever state he be, or to whatever “desirable outcome” (DG’s term) he aspire.
It is in his discussion of “lengthening” that DG reads into my text a meaning not actually there, and also reveals assumptions of his own about the subject. In the first instance, I have not said that “lengthening” refers only to the spine, as DG implies. My meaning refers to FMA’s “lengthening of the stature,” quite a different matter. That I enclose it in quotes and specify “by any other name” indicates that I am treating it in a special sense, i.e., as a sign and not a literalism. As primarily a kinetic process in and also to the individual, “lengthening” is a skill, as are acting a role or playing a musical instrument skills, practiced by “the observance of a set of rules which are not known [explicitly]as such [in real time]to the person following them” (Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge). The interpolated text clarifies the fact that, while we can cultivate a skill somewhat systematically, we must actually perform it holistically, all at once, now. I have treated this matter more fully in “How We Learn the Alexander Technique” (AmSAT Journal 7, Spring 2015), there suggesting that the skill (codeword “lengthening”) leading toward normal posturality is acquired through the gradual development, internalization, and remembering by the student of a comprehensive cognitive-proprioceptive model that takes place over time in his interaction with his teacher, much in the manner of musical study described above. That may be a more active role for an Alexander teacher than that apparently assumed by DG. In any case there is certainly an active element in teaching that is in no way compromised by Alexandrian “non-doing,” of which FMA himself said, “In my work we are concerned primarily with non-doing in the fundamental sense of what we should not do [sic]in the use of ourselves in our daily activities” (Universal Constant in Living, Chap. V): the teacher observes such “doings” in the student, brings them to the student’s awareness, and assists the student both tactually and conceptually in a “different-doing” to accomplish the same end. Or so I see it.
I am acutely aware that I have not answered every point of DG’s criticism, but our major differences should have become quite clear. I would hope that present readers would avail themselves of my book The Posturality of the Person in order to place the Conceptual Foundations in proper context, for other readers so doing have responded quite differently from DG, see the reviews at Amazon.com. Also, readers braced for a true intellectual encounter with the Technique may find it in my Alexander Revisited: Contemplation and Criticism 1979-2014 (also available on Amazon.com), especially Books I and IV.
When DG wrote to inform me of the publication of his comments on my Conceptual Foundations, he added that, having found exceptions to my style and wording to some extent independent of substance, of my original formulations, he had re-cast my language into that more to his taste, a translation, as it were, from “Dennis-ese” into “Gibbens-ese,” obviously an improvement in his eyes. I purposely avoided this material until I had finished my response to his published comments, because it was “privileged,” in the sense of a private communication, and because I wanted to answer what was published without reference—explicit or implicit—to what was not. Having said that, I will say that I find DG’s emendations reasonable and in many respects worthy of what I originally wrote. But I’m not prepared to discuss his suggestions further on ground already covered; I would simply invite him to include them here, for the benefit of all.