Monday, December 15, 2008

A Review of Erel Shalit’s Enemy, Cripple & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero’s Path (Fisher King Press, www.fisherkingpress.com, 2008)

Written by Erel Shalit, a noted and extensively published Jungian psychoanalyst practicing in Ra’anana, Israel, Enemy, Cripple & Beggar is a treasure for our times. Vital and applicable to both lay people and experts, the book flows seamlessly and spirally from scholarship, to textual interpretation, to case studies, and the analysis of dreams. Shalit draws on an impressive breadth of scholarship and myths/fairy tales, looking at both history (e.g., the Crusades or Masada) and story.

The book first discusses the key aspects of the Hero, considering Byron, the work of Robert Graves and Robert Bosnak, the Bible, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, among many other sources.

I take as my starting point the condition of mythlessness in the modern world, as expressed by Jung and reinforced by Campbell and how it is limiting our vision and ability to cure an ailing world rife with war and economic/environmental woes.

If ever we needed to consider the role of the Hero, it is now.

Consider the mistaken mythologizing of the death and wounding, respectively, of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. While both are certainly heroes, the government’s and media’s manipulation of their circumstances (used to try and justify an unjustifiable war) bring to mind David Mamet’s Wag the Dog, the 1997 film adaptation of Larry Beinhart's novel, American Hero.

The people love their heroes and their construction for societal consumption by the government and the media has become no less than a High Art.

Shalit says, on p. 24: “In society, the hero may be the messenger of hope who lights the torch of democracy. Sometimes it is amazing how, at the right moment in history, the heroism of a nation, spurting forth through layers of oppression, creates dramatic changes and overthrows worn-out regimes.”

Might this apply to U.S. president-elect Barak Obama? Many people think so, and many more find themselves hoping so. Then again, there are many who see him as the shadow, using the term antichrist, and finding similarities between he and Nicolae Carpathia in the Left Behind series.

If ever we needed to consider the role of the Hero, it is now.

Consider the current fascination with Superheroes in the age of CGI and comic book cinema. Just last night I watched Christopher Nolan’s record-shattering The Dark Knight, which takes as its thesis the complicated interrelationship of the hero and the shadow. Given the death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker, the notions of the Hero are expanded to the realm of the Artist and his or her relationship with Pain.
When Shalit writes, on p. 95, “…life thrives in the shadow; in our detested weaknesses, complex inferiorities and repressed instincts there is more life and inspiration than in the well-adjusted compliance of the persona,” I think that his words bring Ledger’s death into sharp relief. As an acting teacher who works almost exclusively with teens, many of which see Ledger’s “dying for his art” as a form of heroism (an interpretation with which I disagree; it discounts the necessity of craft in preventing such tragedies), I think it is more important than ever to examine carefully the Hero’s role and relationship to the shadow.

The shadow is Jung’s term for the unconscious, the “thing a person has no wish to be” (p. ix). His early experience of his own shadow is, to me, some of the most compelling and useful text in his Memories, Dreams, and Reflections.

The hero must go into the shadow (the forest, the depth of the sea, the desert, the cave¬—Plato’s or the Celtic Bard’s) to retrieve his soul. The shadow is a place of misery, calling to mind Schopenhauer’s ideas about life being mostly pain and sorrow and Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss” [sat chit ananda].

Much of what Shalit centers on as aspects of the Hero are present in the shaman, who also has “one foot in divinity, one in the world of mortals” (p. 33). The journey into the netherworld (often to retrieve or heal the soul), the returning with precious gifts of knowledge, the responsibility of re-integration into the community (see Mircea Eliade’s comprehensive works on shamanism), all parallel the hero’s journey. The modes of the vision quest and the alchemical transformation are, further, symbolically manifested in the landscape of the fairy tale.

Pursuing this idea, Shalit, in the tradition of Robert Bly’s Iron John or Bruno Bettelheim’s Uses of Enchantment, ably presents and dissects a number of fairy tales, myths, and Biblical stories in the course of the book.

“Nixie of the Millpond” is presented without commentary. The myth of Perseus, however, is told with commentary from a wide variety of sources mixed in. It would be valuable to watch Clash of the Titans (1981) after reading this section, as it brings Shalit’s analysis visually to life. Page 47 lists eight traits of the hero myth to guide the interpretation. I would add a ninth—the use of magical items (such as Athena’s shield, Hermes’ sword, and the three gifts of the Stygian nymphs, all of which are given to Perseus to defeat the Medusa).

I have used these same basic elements of the hero myth for the past decade in my theatre workshops with youth and in my books on using drama in the classroom.

If our youth are to break the limiting conventions of societal and governmental structures that have put the planet and its inhabitants in a place of crisis, they—and those who guide and educate them—must understand the Hero and Shadow both.

On p. 65 Shalit writes, “Collective consciousness constitutes a threat by its demand on compliance with rules, roles and regulations.” The mythological fighting of dragons and monsters by the Hero is most clearly articulated to me by Joseph Campbell, when, in various books and interviews, he talked about Nietzsche describing the cycle of life as beginning as a camel loaded down with the requirements of parents and society. The camel then goes into the desert (one of the hero landscapes I mentioned earlier) to become the lion, who must slay the dragon whose scales all say "Thou Shalt." This dragonslaying, certainly a noble and necessary undertaking, situates the Hero as the classic warrior, akin to Michael the Archangel and St. George, but when the fighting is done, the warrior must put down the sword. Whether we speak of the Vulcans comprising the Bush administration (as author James Mann terms them) or an abused child who grows up to wage ongoing battles even on a landscape of peace in a more stable family situation, this is a notion well worth focusing on. I think of the Roman general Cincinnatus, who moved back and forth between sword and plow and the dwarves of the novels of Dan Parkinson, who switch the hammer from one hand to the other as necessary in times of peace and war.

The hero struggling with the shadow often projects onto a demonized Other because, as Shalit reminds us, “Since shadows easily lend themselves to projection [see pgs. 97–101 for the three types identified by Jung], they are discovered so much more easily in the other than oneself” (p. 84). This is, of course, the source of most of the ugliness in the history of Humankind.

The Biblical explorations/interpretations presented are a high point of the book (see, for example, p. 63 on the Virgin Mary) and begin in earnest with the section on the shadow. The etymology of both biblical and mythological names given throughout add much to the discussion.

Shalit uses Oscar Wilde’s “doppelganger novel,” Picture of Dorian Gray, to explore the notion of shadow in terms of our duality, as Dorian is projecting his shadow onto the canvas. Duality—war/peace, animus/anima, masculine/feminine, dark/light—is prevalent throughout the book.

The second half of the book deals with the Enemy, Cripple, and Beggar of the title. The Enemy (the projection onto the Other that is really the shadow in oneself) is explored through such Biblical figures as Amalek, Samson, Jacob, and the key figures in the trial of Jesus. The section on the Fathers and the Collective Consciousness, dealing with Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Barabbas, and Judas, is fascinating reading. The connection of the father and the son resounds on many levels, including the relationship of Jesus/Judas as being nearly inseparable.

The Cripple (one’s weaknesses and inner wounds) is explored through mythological/fictional figures such as Hephaestus, Ptah, Oedipus, Quasimodo, and the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Cripple.” There are case studies here that serve many of the same functions as the analyses of the myths and fairy tales, and will appeal to those interested in the dynamics of Jungian analysis. Certain aspects of the second case study reminded me of Don Juan DeMarco (1995), the film starring Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp, especially considering that love (Eros) is the means to heal the Cripple, as articulated so well in this book.

The final section deals with the Beggar (the “door that leads to the passageway of the Self,” p. 225), which is the Inner Voice or Daemon. Shalit deals here with the notions of alchemy that so fascinated Jung. I was intrigued by the story of King Solomon as the wandering beggar and Shalit’s exploration of the life of the prophet Elijah.

In closing, I want to mention the cover art, a painting titled “Emerging” by Susan Bostrom-Wong, an artist and Jungian analyst. Shalit asks the reader to examine the images embedded in the human figure. It is well worth the time to do so. Like the book itself, the longer you look, the more you will see.

I urge educators, artists, and those in search of new paths toward a life well-lived to buy this book. I know that one of my own heroes, Joseph Campbell, certainly would.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Review of Jon Lipsky’s Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out (Larson Publications, www.larsonpublications.com, 2008)

“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”—Anaïs Nin

The relationship between dreams and our corporal existence on Earth is the meaty stuff of centuries of philosophical and theological discourse and Jon Lipsky—noted playwright, theatre professor, and leader of dream theatre workshops—has contributed a well-organized and vibrant new book to this ongoing discussion of the nature and meaning of the moving images that play on the cave walls of our sleep.

Geared for both the theatre practitioner looking to use dreams to enhance the study of acting and the non-theatre dreamer wishing to better explore the layered meanings and images of his or her dreams, Dreaming Together is divided into an Overview section and four parts, dealing with, respectively: (1) solo dream enactment, (2) ensemble dream enactment, (3) dramatic dream enactment, and (4) dream enactment in daily life.

Lipsky serves as an able guide throughout, providing a fine balance of dream examples, script examples, personal anecdotes, and instructional text. There is a minimum of jargon, from either theatrical or psychological perspectives, and the language is refreshingly frank and conversational. Lipsky’s considerable experience in conducting workshops around the world is clearly demonstrated from beginning to end.

The book begins with a list of dreams that appear in the book (fascinating reading in and of themselves for those who enjoy dream interpretation from a Jungian or other direction of approach) and a section entitled “How to Navigate this Book.”

The Prologue, “Theater of Dreams,” elucidates Lipsky’s approach to dream-work in no uncertain terms: “In my experience, the immediate value of dreams doesn’t come from explaining them, analyzing them, or following their overt or covert suggestions. It lies in re-entering them, living inside them, tasting and chewing them until they become incorporated into the fabric of our waking hours” (p. 14).

This quote might initially seem like it discounts the work of the analyst, but Lipsky is opening more doors than he is closing with this view. Indeed, it is all well and good to speak of our dreams over coffee with a partner or friend; consult the myriad books, websites, and instructional tools (card decks, etc.) on the subject of dream interpretation; or enlist the assistance of a skilled analyst to guide us to an interpretation from which we might derive meaning and healing, but this is the opening mile on a much longer journey.

Such is the value of this book.

Lipsky understands the key mechanisms of dreaming and dreams (he studied Embodied Dreamwork with Robert Bosnak, a world renowned expert on working with dreams and a diplomate of the C.G. Jung Institute), and by leaving behind any strictly psychological boundaries of interpretation is able to transfer them to the spaces of rehearsal and performance. The Prologue tells the reader everything needed to initially understand the Whys and Whats of the process, and key terms and ideas are all outlined in anticipation of the exercises that follow.

Part one, “Telling the Dream Story: Solo Dream Enactment,” is the section of the book aimed at the non-theatre practitioner, although theatre professionals will be well-served by the foundational material presented here. Lipsky again does a balancing act, presenting theatre and dream concepts in tandem. He is not only being efficient but making a case for the seamless partnership between Theatre and Dream-Work—a partnership I have been exploring for nearly 20 years.

Although I had been incorporating dreams into my work as a playwright, author, director, and educator for the first decade of my career, the deeper value of this approach was brought home to me in 2001–2002 when I had the opportunity to spend some time talking with Elyse Knight, artistic director of the Unlimited Potential Theatre Company in New Jersey, who was leading a group of actors in creating dream theatre. At that time I was doing a great deal of depth work to explore a shamanistic form of art using drum journeying, meditation, and trance (the results of which would come under “waking” or “lucid” dreams, as explicated by Lipsky in part four).

Through my solo experimenting and conversations with Elyse Knight, I began to more pointedly explore the overlap between spiritual/subconscious matter and the work of the theatre and how they can be utilized with the young people with which I work, many of whom are not actors, coming to many of the same conclusions as Lipsky has here. By demonstrating that we are all actors and inherently possess the actor’s skills, he makes the book accessible to a large audience—much larger than would be possible were Lipsky’s approach solely performance-centric.

The reader is taken through all the necessary steps: how to choose a dream to work with, strategies for recalling your dreams—including keeping a dream diary—and exercises for enactment, including the elements of sound, motion, and language. The first part concludes with a sample solo script.

Part two, “Creating the Dreamscape: Ensemble Dream Enactment,” begins to move the focus to the reader with experience in theatre. I recommend this part of the book especially to artistic directors, directors, and educators, as the fundamentals of building an ensemble are all here. I was reminded of Harold Clurman’s work with the Group Theater throughout. The exercises are well-explained and resonate on several levels, whether you choose to go the extra step of creating dream theatre or not. Sharing your dreams with people you don’t know well is a first step that will lead to the active listening and truthful responses key to a powerful, synergistic theatrical experience.

The sections on narrative (words) and collage (images) in dream-work bring a fresh, accessible perspective to the theoretical and practical ideas of theatre practitioners such as Artaud and Brecht. Heeding Lipsky’s advice to be wary of relying too heavily on “myths, archetypes, and cultural symbols” (because they can be misleading; fn 7, p. 106) will help the director and actor navigate the dense jungle that experimental/expressionistic forms of theatre more often than not place us within.

Equally as engaging are the sections on creating an “image score,” a rough draft, and undertaking rehearsal and performance. Once again, even if you never go on to actually stage a dream or series of dreams, the fundamentals in these sections are so sound and widely applicable to good playwriting, acting, and directing as to make this book nearly indispensable in the modern theatre (it is apt that Lipsky opens the rehearsal section with what he calls an “MTV-style of presentation”).

Part three, “Making Dream Theater: Dramatic Dream Enactment,” focuses on the nuts and bolts of putting together a dream show (Lipsky recently opened a Dream Café in Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA where he is practicing what he preaches in this book). Much here is drawn from the author’s own experiences, which makes for engaging and illustrative reading. From sequencing the dreams to creating the script, part three uses a generous amount of examples for maximum clarity and ease of use.

Key to this part of the book, and to the larger work of the theatre, is the section entitled “The Theatricality of Dreams,” which covers the real meat of the matter from the perspective of the writer, director, and actor. I have thoroughly marked up these half a dozen pages and anticipate referring to them often.

Part four broadens the perspective once again to the general reader interested in working with dreams. Entitled “Waking Dreams: Dream Enchantment in Daily Life,” this final section takes us out of the passive dreams of sleep and into the daydream and other forms of dreaming where the dreamer is aware of the images as they unfold. Readers interested in the material presented here can learn more by reading the books on active dreaming by Robert Moss.

As humankind races ever faster toward a new stage of existence brought on by the changes in the Earth’s environment, the global economic structure, and our relationship to the Universe and its innate intelligence—no matter the name(s) one chooses to give it—the ancestral/primitive forms of artistic exploration and expression are becoming once again crucial to our evolution and survival (in truth, their importance was never obsolete, just overlooked…).

The good work being done by Jon Lipsky, through Dreaming Together and the newly opened Dream Café, has created a remarkable set of tools that all people, whether working in the theatre and the arts or not, should being making use of to enhance their daily lives and the exploration of their dreams.