Source: A Unifying Model of the Arts: The Narration/ Coordination Model
The Narration/Coordination model is presented as a unifying model of the arts with regard to psychological processing and social functions. The model proposes a classification of the arts into the two broad categories of the narrative arts and the coordinative arts. The narrative arts function to tell stories, often to promote social learning through the modeling of prosocial behaviors. The coordinative arts function to stimulate group participation through synchronized action, thereby serving as a reinforcer of group affiliation and a promoter of social cooperation. These two categories vary with regard to a number of psychological and social features related to personal engagement, role playing, cognitive structure, and performance. The arts are evolutionarily adaptive because they promote social cooperation through two distinct routes: the simulation of prosocial behaviors via the narrative arts, and the stimulation of group synchronization and cohesion via the coordinative arts.
Narrative and Coordinative Arts
Source: A UNIFYING MODEL OF THE ARTS: THE NARRATION/ COORDINATION MODEL
Narration/Coordination Model of the Arts
Source: A UNIFYING MODEL OF THE ARTS: THE NARRATION/ COORDINATION MODEL
Features of Narrative and Coordinative Arts
Source: A UNIFYING MODEL OF THE ARTS: THE NARRATION/ COORDINATION MODEL
Classification of Arts
Source: TOWARD A UNIFICATION OF THE ARTS
Interaction among the Arts
Source: TOWARD A UNIFICATION OF THE ARTS
Modular Aspects of Performance Arts
Source: TOWARD A UNIFICATION OF THE ARTS
Connections Between the arts: an Indian Perspective
Source: ART AND COSMOLOGY IN INDIA
The view that the arts belong to the domain of the sacred and that there is a connection between them is given most clearly in a famous passage in the Vishnudharmottara Purana in which the sage Markandeya instructs the king Vajra in the art of sculpture, teaching that to learn it one must first learn painting, dance, and music:
Vajra: How should I make the forms of gods so that the image may always manifest the deity?
Markandeya: He who does not know the canon of painting (citrasutram) can never know the canon of image-making (pratima lakshanam).
Vajra: Explain to me the canon of painting as one who knows the canon of painting knows the canon of image-making.
Markandeya: It is very difficult to know the canon of painting without the canon of dance (nritta shastra), for in both the world is to be represented.
Vajra: Explain to me the canon of dance and then you will speak about the canon of painting, for one who knows the practice of the canon of dance knows painting.
Markandeya: Dance is difficult to understand by one who is not acquainted with instrumental music (atodya).
Vajra: Speak about instrumental music and then you will speak about the canon of dance, because when the instrumental music is properly understood, one understands dance.
Markandeya: Without vocal music (gita) it is not possible to know instrumental music.
Vajra: Explain to me the canon of vocal music, because he, who knows the canon of vocal music, is the best of men who knows everything.
Markandeya: Vocal music is to be understood as subject to recitation that may be done in two ways, prose (gadya) and verse (padya). Verse is in many meters.
“Drama Therapy, as one of the creative arts therapies [such as art, music, dance and poetry therapy] facilitates artistic expression-engendering clarity, mastery, meaning, and hope…. We choose from a wide array of adapted dramatic processes. Storytelling, improvisation, self-revelatory performance, life review, physical theatre, creative drama, puppetry, script pieces and more are tailored to the needs of a specific group or individual.”
California Institute of Integral Studies offers a graduate level degree in Drama therapy.
Therapy for the actors
Therapy for the audience
How does it work? I am curious. Are you?
How is it different from talk therapy? or group therapy?
Talking with a Psychiatrist
Talking in a group such as NA (Narcotics Anonymous), AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)
Why role playing helps in getting real and truthful?
How is audience impacted? How do they heal?
Self watching self. Self experiencing self.
Witness Consciousness, Showing mirrors to each other.
Reflections of the self. Self Illumination.
If reality is holographic and recursive, it makes sense.
I admit I do not yet understand it all. But I am trying and will continue to try and learn.
My artist friends. Any suggestions?
Freedom and possibility are two key words that begin to describe the essence of drama therapy. Life is finite; there are only so many experiences we can have. But in drama, the opportunities and options are endless, enabling us to dive more deeply into the richness of life. And when the dramas are authentic and “real,” they have the power to affect, and even alter, our real lives profoundly. For the past thirty years, we have been investigating how therapeutically adapted dramatic processes work over time to heal wounds, facilitate lasting change, and help people reach their highest potential.
– Renée Emunah, Program Founder/Director
Please note: Please contact the Admissions Counselor, Skylar Hall, at 415-575-6122 or email@example.com for more information.
For more than 30 years, the CIIS Drama Therapy program has been steeped in the exploration of how therapeutically adapted dramatic processes work over time to heal wounds, facilitate lasting change, and help people reach their highest potential. Our program integrates experiential, didactic, and clinical courses in a carefully paced and sequenced curriculum, to train students to become personally and culturally aware, attuned, and competent drama therapists and psychotherapists.
Our program is one of the only master’s programs in the United States both regionally accredited and approved by the North American Drama Therapy Association, and is one of only a handful of such programs in the world. Furthermore, we are the only program that offers a path to the LPCC license. CIIS is internationally recognized as housing one of the world’s most highly developed and rigorous training programs for drama therapists.
Our graduates work in a variety of leadership positions and settings, including community mental health centers, private practice, schools and educational centers, organizations for serving LGBTQ communities, and clinics offering services for trauma, eating disorders, loss, and self-care.
Renée Emunah, the Founder and Chair of the Drama Therapy Program, is the co-editor a recent book:
Edited by Susana Pendzik, Renée Emunah, and David Read Johnson. New York and London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.
This book is the first to examine the performance of autobiographical material as a theatrical form, a research subject, and a therapeutic method. Contextualizing personal performance within psychological and theatrical paradigms, the book identifies and explores core concepts, such as the function of the director/therapist throughout the creative process, the role of the audience, and the dramaturgy involved in constructing such performances. International contributors address issues of identity, memory, authenticity, self-reflection, self-indulgence, and embodied self-representation in Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, Self-Revelatory Performance, and Autoethnographic Performance.
Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance
Mirrors of the soul
Books for further details
Acting for Real: Drama Therapy Process, Technique, and Performance
The Self in Performance
Autobiographical, Self-Revelatory, and Autoethnographic Forms of Therapeutic Theatre
Editors: Pendzik, Susana, Emunah, Renée, Read Johnson, David (Eds.)
Self-Revelatory Performance: The Intentional Use of Theatre’s Therapeutic Nature
Working Through the Drama: The Art of Drama Therapy
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
By Jean Schiffman
If you’re an actor who yearns to do more with your acquired skills than perform, if you’re inclined toward helping others, if you’re attracted to psychotherapy and counseling and if an eventual steady paycheck sounds inviting, you might want to consider a career in drama therapy (DT). If so, you won’t need to move—San Francisco boasts one of the best DT programs in the country, at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). In fact, this is one of only a few master’s programs in the field that are both regionally accredited (by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges) and approved by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA), and one of only a handful of such programs in the world, according to the CIIS catalog. (Others in North America are at NYU, Concordia University in Montreal and Lesley University in Boston.) Completing the two-and-a-half- to three-year program meets academic requirements to become registered drama therapists and fulfills the academic requirements for a Marriage and Family Therapist license in California.
In Transit: Braking at the Intersections, a 2013 production of the California Institute of
Integral Studies Drama Therapy Program’s Theatre of Change project. Photo: Lonny Shavelson
DT, according to NADTA, is “the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals.” It “can provide the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, or achieve catharsis. Through drama, the depth and breadth of inner experience can be actively explored and interpersonal relationship skills can be enhanced. Participants can expand their repertoire of dramatic roles to find that their own life roles have been strengthened.”
The CIIS program, which utilizes “theoretical, practical/clinical and experiential formats,” was founded and is directed by Renée Emunah, who first began the program in 1983 at Antioch University San Francisco before moving it to CIIS in 1989. With a PhD in clinical psychology and an MA combining theatre arts and clinical psychology (from San Francisco State), Emunah studied DT in England before it became a field in the US in 1979. She was one of the first four drama therapists to become officially registered in the United States.
In September I sat in one of her first-semester classes, Drama Therapy Process and Technique, to get a feeling for what kinds of students are attracted to the field. The group of about 18 skewed toward 20-something (with one in her mid-50s)—an articulate, intently focused group, mostly women, mostly but not entirely white, a few foreign accents and one hijab among them. They sat on the floor hunched over notebooks for a PowerPoint lecture (followed by a group discussion) on the topic of the day, which was the difference between psychodrama and DT. Basically, DT includes the fictional among its tools (Emunah paraphrases Oscar Wilde: “Give a person a mask, and they will tell the truth”) and is useful for groups; psychodrama is more individual-focused, deals more with straight autobiographical facts and leans less on dramatic skills.
A typical first-year group, or “cohort,” like this one will stick together for the entire program, taking many of their classes together. They were admitted through a competitive process involving an interview and some group activities to gauge their potential skills in interrelating, intuition and such, after which only about a third are accepted. They are required to have at least some theatre background (the majority have a BFA in theatre) and to be in individual psychotherapy for at least 50 hours during their training (which is true for all psychology and counseling masters programs at CIIS). Despite a heavy weekly workload—perhaps four to five three-hour classes—most also work 15 to 20 hours. Financial aid and a few scholarships are available.
The first year, while academically intense, might be more fun—if “fun” is an appropriate word to use for such rigorous training—than the extremely challenging second year, when students have a practicum, which is an internship in the field (on site 17 hours a week) along with their coursework.
Although the day I was there was a traditional but informal lecture-style class, experiential classwork is a large part of the curriculum. As the catalog states, “Drama Therapy, as one of the creative arts therapies [such as art, music, dance and poetry therapy] facilitates artistic expression-engendering clarity, mastery, meaning, and hope…. We choose from a wide array of adapted dramatic processes. Storytelling, improvisation, self-revelatory performance, life review, physical theatre, creative drama, puppetry, script pieces and more are tailored to the needs of a specific group or individual.” Emunah teaches a five-phase integrative model in which drama therapists lead clients in a steadily progressive, carefully plotted journey of healing. Students practice these methods in the classroom, working together as though in a therapeutic environment.
“There’s quite a bit of reading, of paper-writing, academic writing,” explains Emunah. “There are many publications in the field and lots of methods and approaches. Obviously their own material is evoked in the processes, but it’s a training program to become drama therapists, so we stress that meta-level and observational skill. That can be challenging. It’s not a drama therapy group; it’s class, [but] they can’t just be sitting and taking notes.” One class, for example, is geared to the application of DT in different facilities and age groups, and students practice being in the role of drama therapist while others simulate potential clients. The balance is between experiential classes and psychology classes. In lieu of a formal written thesis at the end, or making a documentary video, or directing a therapeutic “performance,” most students opt to create a “self-revelatory” piece: a scripted, deeply personal, 30- to 45-minute performance that differs from an autobiographical solo show (such as Brian Copeland’s revealing Not a Genuine Black Man) in that the student is not “telling a story” as such but rather is working through an emotional issue. “There’s a sense of suspense in terms of unraveling the multiple strands of healing,” explains Emunah, “but not a pat resolution or quick fix.” Some students have taken their “self-revs” into the mainstream theatre world, performing in festivals.
Renee Emunah’s Drama Therapy Process and Technique class at the California Institute of Integral Studies, October 2014.
Photo: Maya Grodman
In the weeks before I attended the class, the students had—along with academic reading and other classes—played a variety of theatre games familiar to actors who have had basic acting and/or improv training: back-to-back nonverbal conversations; repetitive exchange of lines à la Sanford Meisner (“I want it”/”You can’t have it”) and the more objective-oriented “I want [fill in the blank with something you really want]”/”You can have it”; throwing an imaginary ball around a circle; blind walks (a trust exercise); a blind touch and smell sensory awareness-type exercise; a form of “emotional statues”; creating a scene for characters in conflict. Students keep a journal of the insights they’ve gained. Of the sensory exercise, one student wrote, “It was a different, new experience when miming in a group where the focus is not on the artistic side of it but on the playful, spontaneous, creative side.” One student wrote about a comedic improvisation involving three loud and rude Americans going into a strictly halal restaurant in Jordan and the cultural-political discussion that followed. “This scene really demonstrated just how powerful this work can be!” she wrote.
There is a decidedly aesthetic component to the practice of DT; as a student wrote in her journal, “A drama therapist needs to identify as a drama/theatre artist.” Armand Volkas, a Marriage and Family Therapist and registered drama therapist with a private practice (the East Bay’s Living Arts Counseling Center, with a focus on “drama and expressive arts therapy”), emphasizes that point: “The more aesthetic you can make therapy, the more transformative it will be.” Volkas also teaches advanced improv and “Drama Therapy and Social Change” at CIIS. He started out by studying acting at UCLA, but when he codirected a theatre piece about children of Holocaust survivors (as he is himself) and realized how therapeutic it was, he knew he needed to apply theatre skills in a nontraditional way. He points out that DT emerged from several sources: ritual, shamanism, play therapy and—perhaps mostly importantly—the experimental theatre movement.
Volkas thinks DT is a field that more traditional therapists don’t take seriously. “I think they see the power of it, and it scares them,” he theorizes, “to get out of their chairs and into action.”
Acting, he continues, requires a certain kind of narcissism. “It’s about you as an instrument—finding an agent, getting work. But when you’re a drama therapist, it’s not about you. It’s not the mommy-look-at-me impulse any more. You’re using your tools in the service of someone else. So you need to have the impulse to be a servant. To make the world a better place. [But] you don’t throw aesthetics out the window, although you have to adjust it because you’re working with people [your clients] who are not skilled. But when you think of the aha! moment of your life, it has an aesthetic quality. So that’s an important value in DT—to strive for an aesthetic even as a therapeutic goal. In a way you’re creating new memories and you’re rewiring the brain, so that when the person thinks of trauma, it can be rerouted to the new, reparative experience.”
Volkas has used his DT and theatre skills in a variety of innovative ways, including teaching a process he calls “Healing the Wounds of History,” an approach to intercultural conflict and collective trauma. He trains drama therapists in his method, then invites a group in historical conflict (say, Turks and Armenians) to engage in a therapeutic process in which they might look at things like “the art of apology.” “An apology is a performance,” he says. “The tools of Method acting apply: how do you make an apology real? These are existential and spiritual questions for groups in conflict, where there’s enormous trauma. How do you heal trauma? Theatre and DT are wonderful tools to research those kinds of questions.” He also works with clients to create the same type of self-revelatory theatre pieces that CIIS students perform as a thesis; the client then performs for an invited audience.
Pamela Greenberg with auxiliary actors performing in her capstone self-revelatory performance for
California Institute of Integral Studies’ Drama Therapy Program. Photo: Courtesy of CIIS
The drama therapists I talked to who’d completed the masters program at CIIS were enthusiastic—and employed. Aileen Cho, who had been a theatre major at UC San Diego with an interest in theatre for the oppressed and theatre for social change, working in commercials was unfulfilling. She’d been in traditional talk therapy herself, and when she started Googling around for ideas, she was surprised to discover DT. She’d always known theatre was a powerful tool for change, but thought, Wow, this can be applied in a clinical setting? The master’s program turned out to be the most intense thing she has ever done. She and her cohorts used to jokingly call it “trauma therapy.” Her practicums included working with veterans with PTSD, with teens in Oakland schools and in a residential program for eating disorders, which has turned out to be her niche. “The experiential stuff was the most challenging,” she reports. “They expect you to use your self and your life and personal stuff to experience the modality in DT. There’s always a fine line between therapy and not-therapy. It was very demanding academically and personally on all levels.” She became so close to her cohorts that they are now lifelong friends. “I’ve had close bonds with cast members, but this is a whole other level,” she says. Now Cho works in residential and partial hospitalization and intensive programs for eating disorders, specializing in DT; maintains a private practice; and works with Volkas’s performance programs as well as performing with a troupe of drama therapists at CIIS.
Like Cho, Jennifer Stuckert—who has a BFA in acting from NYU and has performed on Bay Area stages—discovered DT via Google. She wanted more autonomy over her career, and a steadier income. And she’d always been interested in psychologically driven theatre about interpersonal and social issues. When she took an introductory class at the New School in New York, she fell in love with the field. So two years after receiving her BFA, she applied to CIIS. She was surprised, she says, at just how challenging the program was. “It was scary at times, too,” she says, “and surprising: learning how to not have compassion fatigue, learning how to have boundaries, even mental boundaries—be able to let go as you would let go of a role at the end of a show and return to yourself.” She says it takes ego strength and self-awareness to do this kind of work. “It’s not about you,” she adds. “You can bring your authenticity and your empathy and your love for narrative, but you have to want to help people. That’s not easy.” But she loved the program and finds this career path to be rich and rewarding. She now works as a drama therapist at Volkas’s Living Arts Counseling Center, has started moving toward sex therapy—and is heading to L.A. to pursue film work.
And Emily Burleson, who is a drama therapist at a Jewish K-8 school in Oakland, says that she was drawn to the field by the same impulses that drew her to theatre. Theatre had been healing for her and she wanted to share that with others. But she also didn’t understand how the healing really happened, what that magic was—plus it depended on her being in a show. She needed “better access to whatever would provide me with that. Drama therapy training connected those dots for me.”
Burleson attended the CIIS program from 2009 to 2012. She liked the emphasis on, “instead of diving directly into a client’s own story, placing it into a fairy tale or investigative frame, a heightened reality that makes it exciting rather than depressing or terrifying or upsetting.” She was thrilled to go to school with “psychology and theatre geeks.” The hard part was the practicum, which for her was at a psychiatric hospital and required “a lot of grit and compassion.” When she made it through to the end of that year, she felt fantastic. Now she realizes that the magic she was seeking happens when she helps another person to reach a deeper sense of peace and healing. Then she too receives the benefits.
Finally, what kind of jobs do DT graduates get? Cho says that she and her colleagues are good at getting work, because DT is unique, and “there are not that many of us.” The majority of CIIS graduates work in community mental health, largely with groups, says Emunah: with emotionally disturbed children, at women’s shelters, in chemical dependency or eating disorders programs. A smaller percentage build a private practice, working with individuals. Many, like Aileen Cho, continue to find ways to satisfy their acting itch as they’re working as drama therapists.
Visit ciis.edu or call (415) 575-6230. You can also read about the field in Renée Emunah’s book Acting for Real: Drama Therapy Process, Technique and Performance. And the Living Arts Counseling Center (livingartscounseling.org) offers exploratory sessions; call (510) 595-5500, ext. 10.
Jean Schiffman is an arts writer based in San Francisco.
Psychology of Happiness: Value of Storytelling and Narrative Plays
Grief, Fear, and Insecurities
Value of Stories and Narratives
Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on How to Live with Our Human Fragility
“To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control.”
By Maria Popova
In 1988, Bill Moyers produced a series of intelligent, inspiring, provocative conversations with a diverse set of cultural icons, ranging from Isaac Asimov to Noam Chomsky to Chinua Achebe. It was unlike any public discourse to have ever graced the national television airwaves before. The following year, the interviews were transcribed and collected in the magnificent tome Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas (public library). But for all its evenness of brilliance, one conversation in the series stands out for its depth, dimension, intensity, and timelessness — that with philosopher Martha Nussbaum, one of the most remarkable and luminous minds of our time, who sat down to talk with Moyers shortly after the publication of her enormously stimulating book The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy.
Moyers begins by framing Nussbaum’s singular approach to philosophy and, by extension, to the art of living:
MOYERS: The common perception of a philosopher is of a thinker of abstract thoughts. But stories and myths seem to be important to you as a philosopher.
NUSSBAUM: Very important, because I think that the language of philosophy has to come back from the abstract heights on which it so often lives to the richness of everyday discourse and humanity. It has to listen to the ways that people talk about themselves and what matters to them. One very good way to do this is to listen to stories.
The condition of being good is that it should always be possible for you to be morally destroyed by something you couldn’t prevent. To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.
The paradox of the human condition, Nussbaum reminds us, is that while our capacity for vulnerability — and, by extension, our ability to trust others — may be what allows for tragedy to befall us, the greatest tragedy of all is the attempt to guard against hurt by petrifying that essential softness of the soul, for that denies our basic humanity:
Being a human means accepting promises from other people and trusting that other people will be good to you. When that is too much to bear, it is always possible to retreat into the thought, “I’ll live for my own comfort, for my own revenge, for my own anger, and I just won’t be a member of society anymore.” That really means, “I won’t be a human being anymore.”
You see people doing that today where they feel that society has let them down, and they can’t ask anything of it, and they can’t put their hopes on anything outside themselves. You see them actually retreating to a life in which they think only of their own satisfaction, and maybe the satisfaction of their revenge against society. But the life that no longer trusts another human being and no longer forms ties to the political community is not a human life any longer.
Things get significantly more complicated, however, when we find ourselves in binds that seem to call for tragedy by asking us to make impossible choices between multiple things we hold dear. Nussbaum illustrates this by pointing to Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, in which the king-protagonist has to choose between saving his army and saving his daughter. The same tragedy plays out on a smaller scale in everyday dilemmas, such as juggling your career with being a good parent. Most of the time, as Nussbaum puts it, the two “enrich each other and make the life of each of them better.” But sometimes, practical circumstances pose such insurmountable challenges like an important meeting and your child’s school play happening at the same time — one of these two priorities inevitably suffers, not because you are a bad parent or a bad leader, but because life just happens that way. Therein lies the human predicament — the more we aspire to live well, according to our commitments and priorities, the more we welcome such tragic choices. And yet the solution isn’t not to aspire. Nussbaum tells Moyers:
Tragedy happens only when you are trying to live well, because for a heedless person who doesn’t have deep commitments to others, Agamemnon’s conflict isn’t a tragedy…
Now the lesson certainly is not to try to maximize conflict or to romanticize struggle and suffering, but it’s rather that you should care about things in a way that makes it a possibility that tragedy will happen to you. If you hold your commitments lightly, in such a way that you can always divest yourself from one or the other of them if they conflict, then it doesn’t hurt you when things go badly. But you want people to live their lives with a deep seriousness of commitment: not to adjust their desires to the way the world actually goes, but rather to try to wrest from the world the good life that they desire. And sometimes that does lead them into tragedy.
Do Not Despise Your Inner World: Advice on a Full Life from Philosopher Martha Nussbaum
“Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger.”
By Maria Popova
When he was twenty-one, artist and writer James Harmon stumbled into a bookstore and found himself mesmerized by a copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, the central concerns in which — love, fear, art, doubt, sex — resonated powerfully with his restless young mind and inspired him to envision what advice to young people might look like a century after Rilke. So he set out to create an antidote to the “toxic cloud of tepid-broth wisdom” found in books “with the shelf life of a banana” that the contemporary publishing world peddled and reached out to some of the most “outspoken provocateurs, funky philosophers, cunning cultural critics, social gadflies, cyberpunks, raconteurs, radical academics, literary outlaws, and obscure but wildly talented poets. The result, a decade in the making and the stubborn survivor of ample publishing pressure to grind it into precisely the kind of mush Harmon was determined to avoid, is Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two (public library) — an anthology of thoughtful, honest, brave, unfluffed advice from 79 cultural icons, including Mark Helprin, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and William S. Burroughs.
Do not despise your inner world. That is the first and most general piece of advice I would offer… Our society is very outward-looking, very taken up with the latest new object, the latest piece of gossip, the latest opportunity for self-assertion and status. But we all begin our lives as helpless babies, dependent on others for comfort, food, and survival itself. And even though we develop a degree of mastery and independence, we always remain alarmingly weak and incomplete, dependent on others and on an uncertain world for whatever we are able to achieve. As we grow, we all develop a wide range of emotions responding to this predicament: fear that bad things will happen and that we will be powerless to ward them off; love for those who help and support us; grief when a loved one is lost; hope for good things in the future; anger when someone else damages something we care about. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them. Perhaps males, in our society, are especially likely to be ashamed of being incomplete and dependent, because a dominant image of masculinity tells them that they should be self-sufficient and dominant. So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences. The current psychological literature on the life of boys in America indicates that a large proportion of boys are quite unable to talk about how they feel and how others feel — because they have learned to be ashamed of feelings and needs, and to push them underground. But that means that they don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, or to communicate them to others. When they are frightened, they don’t know how to say it, or even to become fully aware of it. Often they turn their own fear into aggression. Often, too, this lack of a rich inner life catapults them into depression in later life. We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals.
What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.
The Intelligence of Emotions: Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on How Storytelling Rewires Us and Why Befriending Our Neediness Is Essential for Happiness
“Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.”
By Maria Popova
“The power of ‘the Eye of the Heart,’ which produces insight, is vastly superior to the power of thought, which produces opinions,” the great British economic theorist and philosopher E.F. Schumacher wrote in his 1973 meditation on how we know what we know. He was responding to the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi who, seven centuries earlier, extolled “the eye of the heart” as seventy-fold more seeing than the “sensible eyes” of the intellect. To the intellectually ambitious, this might sound like a squishy notion — or a line best left to The Little Prince. But as contemporary scientists continue to shed light on how our emotions affect our susceptibility to disease, it is becoming increasingly clear that our emotional lives are equipped with a special and non-negligible kind of bodily and cognitive intelligence.
The nature of that intelligence and how we can harness its power is what Martha Nussbaum, whom I continue to consider the most compelling and effective philosopher of our time, examines in her magnificent 2001 book Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (public library). Titled after Proust’s conception of the emotions as “geologic upheavals of thought,” Nussbaum’s treatise offers a lucid counterpoint to the old idea that our emotions are merely animal energies or primal impulses wholly separate from our cognition. Instead, she argues that they are a centerpiece of moral philosophy and that any substantive theory of ethics necessitates a substantive understanding of the emotions.
A lot is at stake in the decision to view emotions in this way, as intelligent responses to the perception of value. If emotions are suffused with intelligence and discernment, and if they contain in themselves an awareness of value or importance, they cannot, for example, easily be sidelined in accounts of ethical judgment, as so often they have been in the history of philosophy. Instead of viewing morality as a system of principles to be grasped by the detached intellect, and emotions as motivations that either support or subvert our choice to act according to principle, we will have to consider emotions as part and parcel of the system of ethical reasoning. We cannot plausibly omit them, once we acknowledge that emotions include in their content judgments that can be true or false, and good or bad guides to ethical choice. We will have to grapple with the messy material of grief and love, anger and fear, and the role these tumultuous experiences play in thought about the good and the just.
Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.
One of Nussbaum’s central points is that the complex cognitive structure of the emotions has a narrative form — that is, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we feel shape our emotional and ethical reality, which of course is the great psychological function of literature and the reason why art can function as a form of therapy. What emerges is an intelligent manifesto for including the storytelling arts in moral philosophy.
But this narrative aspect also means that our emotions have a temporal dimension stretching back to our formative experiences. Nussbaum writes:
We cannot understand [a person’s] love … without knowing a great deal about the history of patterns of attachment that extend back into [the person’s] childhood. Past loves shadow present attachments, and take up residence within them. This, in turn, suggests that in order to talk well about them we will need to turn to texts that contain a narrative dimension, thus deepening and refining our grasp of ourselves as beings with a complicated temporal history.
Nussbaum considers the essential features of the emotions as they relate to moral philosophy:
Insofar as they involve acknowledgment of neediness and lack of self-sufficiency, emotions reveal us as vulnerable to events that we do not control.
Emotions seem to be characterized by ambivalence toward their objects. In the very nature of our early object relations … there lurks a morally subversive combination of love and resentment, which springs directly from the thought that we need others to survive and flourish, but do not at all control their movements. If love is in this way always, or even commonly, mixed up with hatred, then, once again, this might offer us some reasons not to trust to the emotions at all in the moral life, but rather to the more impersonal guidance of rules of duty.
In a sentiment that psychoanalyst Adam Phillips would come to echo more than a decade later in examining the essential role of ambivalence in love, Nussbaum points to the particular case of romance as an acute manifestation of this latter aspect:
Personal love has typically been thought too wonderful to remove from human life; but it has also been seen (not only by philosophers) as a source of great moral danger because of its partiality and the extreme form of vulnerability it involves, which make a connection with jealousy and anger virtually inevitable.
She returns to the role of the emotions as acknowledgements, both necessary and disorienting, of our neediness and lack of self-sufficiency:
Emotions … involve judgments about important things, judgments in which, appraising an external object as salient for our own well-being, we acknowledge our own neediness and incompleteness before parts of the world that we do not fully control.
She revisits the rationale behind the book’s title:
Emotions should be understood as “geological upheavals of thought”: as judgments in which people acknowledge the great importance, for their own flourishing, of things that they do not fully control — and acknowledge thereby their neediness before the world and its events.
But this neediness — a notion invariably shrouded in negative judgment and shame, for it connotes an admission of our lack of command — is one of the essential features that make us human. Nussbaum writes:
Human beings appear to be the only mortal finite beings who wish to transcend their finitude. Thus they are the only emotional beings who wish not to be emotional, who wish to withhold these acknowledgments of neediness and to design for themselves a life in which these acknowledgments have no place. This means that they frequently learn to reject their own vulnerability and to suppress awareness of the attachments that entail it. We might also say … that they are the only animals for whom neediness is a source of shame, and who take pride in themselves to the extent to which they have allegedly gotten clear of vulnerability.
The process of development entails many moments of discomfort and frustration. Indeed, some frustration of the infant’s wants by the caretaker’s separate comings and goings is essential to development — for if everything were always simply given in advance of discomfort, the child would never try out its own projects of control.
The child’s evolving recognition that the caretaker sometimes fails to bring it what it wants gives rise to an anger that is closely linked to its emerging love. Indeed, the very recognition that both good things and their absence have an external source guarantees the presence of both of these emotions — although the infant has not yet recognized that both take a single person as their object.
But while these formative experiences can nurture our emotional intelligence, they can also damage it with profound and lifelong consequences, as in the case of one patient Nussbaum cites — a man known as B, whose mother was so merciless in requiring perfection of herself that she construed her infant’s neediness as her own personal failing, resenting every sign of basic humanness and rejecting it as imperfection in both her child and herself. Nussbaum traces the developmental repercussions:
As B makes contact with these memories of a holding that was stifling, the patient gradually becomes aware of his own demand for perfection in everything – as the corollary of his inability to permit himself to be a needy child. Because his mother wanted perfection (which he felt as a demand for immobility and even death), he could not allow himself to be dependent on, or to trust, anyone.
Above all, emotionally skillful parenting — or “holding” — early in life awakens the child to a simultaneous sense of being omnipotent and being thoroughly dependent:
The parents’ (or other caregivers’) ability to meet the child’s omnipotence with suitably responsive and stable care creates a framework within which trust and interdependence may thus gradually grow: the child will gradually relax its omnipotence, its demand to be attended to constantly, once it understands that others can be relied on and it will not be left in a state of utter helplessness. This early framework of steadiness and continuity will provide a valuable resource in the later crisis of ambivalence. On the other hand, to the extent that a child does not receive sufficiently stable holding, or receives holding that is excessively controlling or intrusive, without space for it to relax into a relationship of trust, it will cling, in later life, to its own omnipotence, demanding perfection in the self and refusing to tolerate imperfection either in object relations or in the inner world.
The infant’s ambivalent relation to its own lack of omnipotence can be shaped for better or worse by interactions that either exacerbate primitive shame or reduce it. A primitive shame at one’s weakness and impotence is probably a basic and universal feature of the emotional life. But a parent who takes delight in having a child who is a child, and who reveals in interacting with the child that it is all right to be human, eases the ambivalence of later object relations
This quality of parental response to neediness in the first few months of life, Nussbaum argues, imprints us deeply and lastingly. It shapes how we relate to neediness in ourselves — we come to see it either as a shameful sign of helplessness, with absolute and therefore unattainable perfection as the only admissible state of which we continually fall short, or as a natural and wholly acceptable part of the human experience. (Lest we forget, the sixth of Neil Gaiman’s eight rules of writing applies not only to literature but to all of life: “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.” Pathological perfectionism, after all, is how we keep ourselves small.)
Nussbaum considers the complexities of shame, which becomes the dominant emotional response to our own neediness under the tyranny of perfectionism:
All infant omnipotence is coupled with helplessness. When an infant realizes that it is dependent on others, we can therefore expect a primitive and rudimentary emotion of shame to ensue. For shame involves the realization that one is weak and inadequate in some way in which one expects oneself to be adequate.58 Its reflex is to hide from the eyes of those who will see one’s deficiency, to cover it. If the infant expects to control the world, as to some extent all infants do, it will have shame, as well as anger, at its own inability to control.
Notice, then, that shame is far from requiring diminished self-regard. In a sense, it requires self-regard as its essential backdrop. It is only because one expects oneself to have worth or even perfection that one will shrink from or cover the evidence of one’s nonworth or imperfection. To the extent that all infants enjoy a sense of omnipotence, all infants experience shame at the recognition of their human imperfection: a universal experience underlying the biblical story of our shame at our nakedness. But a good development will allow the gradual relaxing of omnipotence in favor of trust, as the infant learns not to be ashamed of neediness and to take a positive delight in the playful and creative “subtle interplay” of two imperfect beings.
This interplay of two imperfect beings is, as Joseph Campbell memorably observed, the essence of romantic love. An intolerance for imperfection and for the basic humanity of our own neediness, Nussbaum notes, can impede our very capacity for connection and make our emotions appear as blindsiding, incomprehensible events that befall us rather than a singular form of our natural intelligence:
The emotions of the adult life sometimes feel as if they flood up out of nowhere, in ways that don’t match our present view of our objects or their value. This will be especially true of the person who maintains some kind of false self-defense, and who is in consequence out of touch with the emotions of neediness and dependence, or of anger and aggression, that characterize the true self.
Nussbaum returns to the narrative structure of the emotions and how storytelling can help us rewire our relationship to neediness:
The understanding of any single emotion is incomplete unless its narrative history is grasped and studied for the light it sheds on the present response. This already suggests a central role for the arts in human self-understanding: for narrative artworks of various kinds (whether musical or visual or literary) give us information about these emotion-histories that we could not easily get otherwise. This is what Proust meant when he claimed that certain truths about the human emotions can be best conveyed, in verbal and textual form, only by a narrative work of art: only such a work will accurately and fully show the interrelated temporal structure of emotional “thoughts,” prominently including the heart’s intermittences between recognition and denial of neediness.
Narrative artworks are important for what they show the person who is eager to understand the emotions; they are also important because of what they do in the emotional life. They do not simply represent that history, they enter into it. Storytelling and narrative play are essential in cultivating the child’s sense of her own aloneness, her inner world. Her capacity to be alone is supported by the ability to imagine the good object’s presence when the object is not present, and to play at presence and absence using toys that serve the function of “transitional objects.” As time goes on, this play deepens the inner world; it becomes a place for individual creative effort and hence for trusting differentiation of self from world.
In the remainder of Upheavals of Thought, which remains a revelatory read in its hefty totality, Nussbaum goes on to explore how the narrative arts can reshape our psychoemotional constitution and how understanding the intelligence of the emotions can help us navigate the messiness of grief, love, anger, and fear.