Thursday 20 December 2012

Allegories, Histories, Systems and Tippett's "Midsummer Marriage"

I'm been thinking about Michael Tippett's opera "The Midsummer Marriage". Apart from the music being fantastic, it is a story heavily influenced by Jungian psychology - an allegorical rite of passage from darkness to light. Nearly 60 years after its first performance, it still resonates. It has the power to transform its audience. It is music of rebirth. Sorely needed right now.

This continuing power is, I think, linked to the fact that history repeats itself. It's not just because the same people tend to make the same kinds of mistakes at different moments, but it appears that the same types of people make the same types of mistakes across different centuries.

I've always been a bit uncomfortable thinking about 'types' of people. It's all a bit rigid. "I'm not a type; I'm me!" we protest. But I've met a few other people like me - and it surprised me (my daughter is like me too - although that surprises me less!). But the idea of a 'type' is rather constraining. I might be a particular type now, but next week I could be something completely different. One minute I'm swearing at some code that won't work on the computer (one of the less appealing aspects of my personality!), the next minute I'm offer sage-like advice on a friend's career choice (actually, that's equally unappealing!).

But the point is, I change. So the issue of type can only be an issue of identifying a patterning to change processes. And then, if there are 'types', there could be determined a finite set of distinct patternings across a random population. This is rather reductionist. But there might be some utility in it.

Knowing a pattern is to have some anticipatory capacity with regard to behaviour. "If you do that to so-and-so, they will respond in this-or-that way". There's a chance that the patterns aren't far off the mark. And if the patterns aren't that far off the mark, then it is also interesting to thinking about the predictions of one person in interaction with the predictions of another person.

In a sense, this is what social simulation attempts to do.

A cybernetic mechanism is a kind of patterning. In Beer's Viable System Model, System 3 does the operational management. We all know what happens if our operational management isn't working properly... we go bust!! But we also know how operational managers react to Research and Development people who (instead of worrying about operations) dream up new ideas and products (this is System 4 in Beer's model): "You R&D folks don't do anything. Come out of your ivory tower and do some work!", and conversely the R&D people will say "You operations people are blindly carrying on as if the world isn't changing. But it is - we will need to change!"

Some people seem more drawn to System 3, others to System 4. Is this their pattern?

But to come back to the point about continual change, nobody is an island. Indeed, to say "x is more System 3" is misleading, because x's System 3-ness is a manifestation of x's social circumstance, and (indeed) the mindset of the person making the judgement about x. Maybe it's more accurate to say "x is on a journey where being System 3 a lot right now is meaningful". But that doesn't ring true. If x is organised and an organiser, if x is a bully, if x is a dreamer.. we wouldn't really expect x to change over the course of their life, would we? But miraculous transformations can occur.

Maybe people don't change because they don't change their environment. "x is depressed" is a good example of a state which can be remedied through action - often the action of other people. Can "x is a bully" be remedied? I believe so, and the process is called "therapy". What's involved there?

Therapy is a process of changing the social situation. In particular, it changes the "positioning" of x (at least this is how Rom HarrĂ© would describe it). The therapist listens to the patient, unraveling the layers which mask the authentic self. The therapist may offer some sort of interpretation: something about the mother, something about sex, something about archetypes, etc. What's going on here?

Psychotherapy concerns itself with deep mysteries. The therapist's language names things that most of us rarely articulate. This process may have some effect because the subject that is addressed is so deep and dark that giving it a name assists in the process of reconfiguring one's perception of the world. This is the business of determining absences. [I'm beginning to think about a mechanism whereby this can be explained: see]

It may be that this moment of the identification of absence is always the same with everyone. It is a deep reckoning; a process of individuation.

But the path by which the therapist goes to get there is different for each person. Is it through the shadow? The great mother? The wise old man? Anima? Animus? In what order? That may be where there are distinct patterns. Something like the Enneagram may be a useful cypher for these patterns [Stafford Beer was particularly keen on the Enneagram - see]

But this is precisely the organisation of Tippett's opera. The main characters, Mark and Jennifer, go on different journeys, but end up in the same place as a result of their individuation processes. Just as we can look at any organisation and see the archetypes that work there, so too can we observe our own journeys. Indeed, it may be the only way to steer a safe course through turbulent times.

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