Sunday, June 9, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron: Part Eleven

Apollonian and Dionysian Orientations
Part Two: The Lifters

Of particular interest to us, in the context of the present book, is the psychological reason for the personal preference of equipment. Many lifters enjoy variety and therefore use particular equipment for several weeks or months and then shift to different equipment for a similar period. Such shifts in equipment can stimulate the lifter's interest, infusing workouts with new excitement. So, at the time a lifter is freshly using some new equipment he may be very enthusiastic, touting the advantages of that apparatus. But, beyond this transient enthusiasm, there seems to be a personal preference by which lifters gravitate to basic equipment -- barbells, dumbbells, and appurtenant apparati -- or to high tech equipment.

Having described the essential qualities of the basic equipment and the high tech equipment, let's turn to the essential psychological qualities which predispose one to one type of equipment or the other. In order to understand the predisposition, we can look to two competing world views which have been identified. These two alternative visions appear across cultures, and, although the names used to identify them vary from culture to culture, their elements are consistent. As Sam Keen has expressed it (The Cosmic vs. The Rational), in modern times the majority of people have followed the vision which can be named after the Greek god Apollo, whereas a minority have followed the alternate vision which can be identified with the Greek god Dionysus. Earlier writers, including Nietzsche have discussed the Dionysian spirit, and Karen Horney, the psychoanalyst, wrote of the Dionysian and Apollonian approaches to experience.  

It is precisely this Dionysian-Apollonian split which explains, I believe, not only a lifter's preference for equipment, but his style of training. Let me elaborate by first delving into the differences between the two world views. 

These two alternative visions are clearly represented by the deified personalities of Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo was the Greek god of light, moderation, reason, truth, order, balance, and boundaries. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, excess, fantasy, and metamorphosis. He was the only Greek god whose parents were not both divine. Dionysus was sometimes man's blessing, sometimes his curse, as he offered both freedom and ecstatic joy on the one hand, and savage brutality on the other. In one story, for instance, Dionysus took the form of an angry lion. In another, this god of wine turned a group of women mad, causing them to attack and devour their own children. Dionysus could make people merry, quicken their courage, banish their fear, or he could bring on their destruction though drunkenness. He also taught the world about metamorphosis. In the winter his vines were dark and withered, but with spring his vines sprouted forth to spread and grow, eventually yielding the summer and fall harvests of his grapes. The metamorphosis was dramatic, from apparent deadness to exuberant aliveness an abundance. In the Roman empire, Dionysus was known as Bacchus.

In her discussion of the Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies, Karen Horney stressed the emphasis of mastery and molding in the former, and surrender and drift in the latter. (Shostrom: "Man the Manipulator" 1967) She saw both of these leanings as natural human "tendencies." So, neither is better nor worse in and of itself, and no one is completely Apollonian or Dionysian. A person will exhibit tendencies in one direction or the other at different times. When exhibiting the Apollonian tendency, a person will emphasize being in charge and in control, and making things happen in the way he wishes. The approach is to change the world in the ways I wish. The opposite is the case with the Dionysian tendency. Rather than exerting his will to mold the world, the person disposed toward a Dionysian approach will give in to what is, and allow the world to take him away. This is a surrender of personal will to the will of the world around him. The Apollonian tendency is to conquer the universe, tame the wilds and make this a "better" world. The Dionysian tendency is to get in harmony with the universe, experience the wilds, and come to a relaxed acceptance of the world as it is.

Less poetic and more baldly descriptive of these tendencies are the words "scientist" and "artist." The scientist is more Apollonian in his view and approach to life. Description, understanding, and prediction of the world and its manifestations are the goals of the pure scientist. For the applied scientist, the goal is to use the insights of the pure scientist to control various phenomena of the world. The artist is more oriented around appreciative observation and pleasing representation of the world through various media. Rather than change the world, the artist tries to illuminate and reflect it with an esthetic light. The scientist wants to effect a change in the world. The artist wants to create an esthetic experience of the world. 

Paralleling the terms Apollonian and Dionysian, Carl Jung wrote of the "logos" and "eros" principles. The logos principle is one of objective interest in the world. When one takes an objective view of something, putting aside emotional and personal subjective considerations he is operating in accordance with the logos principle. Historically, in the West, this has been identified more often with a "masculine" orientation. The eros principle is one of psychic relatedness. In other words, this principle is expressed in the subjective, emotional experience of relating to the world. This more intimate mode of experiencing can involve relating to other people, ideas, animals, and even the inanimate world. Jung noted that in the Western view this psychic relatedness is usually seen as "feminine." So, the logos principle is consistent with a Dionysian orientation.

These two world views are discussed in an intriguing way by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The subtitle of the book, "an inquiry into values," provides an accurate insight, for the two world views which we are exploring are statements of some rather basic values. The terms which Pirsig uses and "classical understanding" and "romantic understanding." From the classical position, the world is seen as underlying form. From the romantic position the world is seen in terms of immediate experience. These last statements are quite heady, and beg for some both-feet-on-the-ground explanation by example. Bear with me . . . 

Imagine showing a blueprint to two people, one a romantic, the other a classicist. The romantic would see it as a thing in itself. He would primarily see lines, geometric forms, numbers, symbols. The romantic would tend to see this blueprint as rather uninteresting. For the person of a classical bent, however, some interest would likely be aroused. He or she would recognize that the blueprint is representational. The lines and shapes and symbols represent something else, some underlying form. The romantic sees a blueprint, the classicist sees a representation of a house.

Pirsig elaborated beyond this basic difference between the person of classical and the person of romantic inclination. The mode of the romantic tends to be inspirational, imaginative, creative, and intuitive. Feelings take priority over facts. Esthetic considerations are rated highly. The person in the classical mode proceeds in an orderly fashion using reason and laws. More intellectual than emotional in orientation, facts take priority and esthetic considerations are downgraded. The classical mode seeks to control, not merely intuit the meaning of something. 

Pirsig correctly identified that persons tend to orient themselves through one of these two modes, and consequently not appreciate people who have chosen the other mode. It is often this difference in orientation which results in people's misunderstanding of each other. This if reflected in many cases when someone says, truthfully, "I can't understand why anyone would do that."The fact is, "although motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic." (Pirsig, p.67). The romantic mode is Dionysian, and the classical mode is Apollonian.

Additional insights into the Apollonian-Dionysian split have been offered by Sam Keen. Referring to the former as the "rational" view and the latter as the "cosmic" view, he identifies them as left-brain and right-brain functions, respectively. (Studies of hemispheric specialization have suggested that the left love processes data by sequential analysis of abstract, symbolic "bits." This involves a logical, temporal, cause and effect approach. The right lobe, in contrast, processes data in a holistic, integrative way, providing recognition of patterns. It may be primarily involved in imaging and emotional expression.) The rational view values work above play, whereas the cosmic view takes the opposite priority, valuing play above work. If work and play are the contents which differ, respectively, within the value systems of the rational view and the cosmic view, then the styles are also different. From the rational view, it is efficiency which is sought. In the cosmic view it is ecstasy. Efficient work versus ecstatic play define the poles of the rational view-cosmic view continuum.

I hope I have provided an accurate, precise, and efficient understanding of the Apollonian and Dionysian orientations, for those of you who are, yourselves, Apollonian in your world view. For those of a more Dionysian persuasion, I hope to have provided an esthetically pleasing image and inspirational picture with which you can feel yourself relate. A summary is offered below:

Apollonian and Dionysian Orientations

Apollonian - mastery and molding. Scientist.
Dionysian - surrender and drift. Artist.

Logos - objective interest. "Masculine."
Eros - psychic relatedness. "Feminine."

Classical - 
underlying form
facts predominant

Romantic - 
immediate experience
feeling predominant

Rational - 

Cosmic - 

Now, how do people of these orientations approach lifting weights? Their differing world views are, I believe, clearly expressed in their training approaches. 

Next: Apollonian and Dionysian training approaches.
Ivan Drago and Rocky Balboa.

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