(This article was first published in the Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 48(4), 155-158, Winter, 1996). (Posted on website, July, 2002)
MORENO'S "IDEE FIXE"
Adam Blatner, M.D.
I believe it is necessary to interpret Moreno's writings, as I do not always find him very clear. One of his more intriguing passages is at the beginning of his 1947 translation and revision of his 1923 book, The Theatre of Spontaneity. He writes on page 3 of his "suffering" from an idee fixe, a French term for a mild obsession, not so much in the pathological sense, but rather more as a guiding vision:..."The idee fixe became my constant source of productivity; it proclaimed that there is a sort of primordial nature which is immortal and returns afresh with every generation, a first universe which contains all beings and in which all events are sacred. I liked that enchanting realm and did not plan to leave it, ever."Moreno then goes on to write about his story-telling in the gardens (i.e., parks) of Vienna, and then notes: "It was not as much what I told them, the tale itself, it was the act, the atmosphere of mystery , the paradox, the irreal become real..." (Now I'm aware that I'm being a little selective, here, because taking the whole of these few pages results in a blur of ideas, digressions and circumstantiality. Engaging in an act of interpretation necessarily requires a certain kind of focus.)
Then the top of page 4 is what I consider to be the most revealing and possibly meaninful paragraph in all Moreno's writings:"When gradually the mood came over me to leave the realm of children and move into the world, it was with the decision that the idee fixe should remain my guide. Therefore, whenever I entered a new dimension of life, the forms which I had seen with my own eye in that virginal world stood before me. They were models whenever I tried to envision a new order of things or to create a new form. I was extremely sure of these visions. They seemed to endow me with a science of life before experience and experiment verified their accuracy. When I entered a family, a school, a church, the house of congress and any other social institution, I revolted against them in each case; I knew they had become distorted and I had a new model ready to replace the old."Moreno goes on to talk about the theater at this point, but that is because it became his vehicle, his laboratory for developing his ideas. Yet I have not been able to find in his own writings any more explanations about specifically what that idee fixe entailed!
I think, though, Moreno was talking about this "primordial nature" or "first universe" on pages 34-35 about a realm of existence he called "metapraxie," and which I noted in 1988 to be the equivalent of a Platonic realm of ideal forms--and also related it to Jung's concept of archetype and the Jewish mystical system called "Kabbalah." (Although in the original article I hadn't found evidence of Moreno's knowing about Kabbalah, later I discovered in Moreno's autobiography--published in the journal in 1989, on page 30, that he did indeed study this approach.).
I think Moreno was describing what I call "the source," a vision of a world in which the best of child-like-ness (not child-ish-ness) is integrated with the best of maturity. These child-like qualities include openness, warmth, self-expression, self-disclosure, affection, moving away from that which seems unpleasant, imaginativeness, innocence, art, playfulness, exuberance, physical involvement, excitement, dramatization, enactment, excitement, vitality, and above all--and perhaps including all--spontaneity and creativity.
It was Moreno's genius--and I definitely think of him as a genius--that he was able to envision and intellectually respond to this vision, not by withdrawing from life into regressive and self-indulgent fantasy, but rather by manifesting it in real life. He disciplined himself to develop specific methods for developing these dynamics. Beginning with the discovery that the theatre offered a vehicle for experimentation, he then found that he could adapt theatrical devices to other social institutions, spontaneity training, education, applied sociology and psychotherapy. And yet, within these practical endeavors I discern Moreno's idee fixe in which he presses our adult life to partake of elements of the old pagan gods such as Dionysius and the muses.
Another aspect of Moreno's genius was that he envisioned the multidimensional nature of this quest. It wasn't just the need of the individual artist. (That inspiration would have placed Moreno in the ranks of so many individualists of the Modern era.) In addition, he saw that the social matrix needed creativity and healing, and even the cosmic--a term which for him I interpret to mean the complex of physical universe, phenomenal universe (including all psychological experience), and transcendent spiritual realms of complex interrelationships and meanings--which mystics have identified with the Divine realm. And these social and quasi-theological perspectives lent a truly holistic perspective that is becoming recognized in our own postmodern era as the only truly intellectually responsible worldview.
So while psychodrama may be the most obvious or well-recognized method elaborated out of Moreno's vision, we must also include sociometry, group psychotherapy, the theatre of spontaneity, his approach to role theory, a psychology of interpersonal relations, the philosophical place of creativity, and even its spiritual implications. In addition, there are also a number of important more specific concepts such as "warming-up," "tele," or the different types of "catharsis."
From psychodrama emerges a number of offshoots and/or connections: role playing in business and professional training, drama and role playing in education, drama therapy, spontaneity training in the community, other forms of "non-scripted theater," creative dramatics as recreation, sociodrama for problem-solving and in community programs, etc. The point here is that source has many applications, as the trunk of the tree has many branches.
Yet the roots of all these manifested forms is this idee fixe, this source of metapraxie, a source which, though certainly not the whole of wisdom in the cosmos, nevertheless refers to a dimension which needs to be recognized as interrelated to the whole, and which has been generally misunderstood and/or neglected.
This vision must be sought intuitively, directly imagined. It is not easy (or perhaps even possible) to fully communicate the mixture of interrelationships of elements mixed with what Jung called "numinosity."
Numinosity is a quality of vivid significance, something that "grabs" you emotionally as profoundly important. Falling head-over-heels in love partakes of the numinous. Finding a calling, encountering a story, myth, picture, scene that deeply inspires you, encountering your "vocation," discovering the "bliss" that Campbell suggests you follow--all refer to that category of experience in which your soul or spirit comes into sharp resonance. Occasional dreams or images can be numinous. Such experiences lend "juice" to life.
So the reason Moreno's "idee" was so "fixe" is that it was numinous, it resonated with some conjunction of archetypal images moving in his soul. One can speculate as to the source of a person's guiding vision, his "daimon," calling, or source of inspiration. Are they gifts from God or "the gods" or residues of "past lives"? A more familiar mode of contemporary hermeneutics is that of psychobiography, examining or speculating on the psychodynamics of this complex--and this might begin with the story of Moreno's earliest reported trauma.
Moreno's Life-Style DecisionIf we bring an Adlerian perspective to Moreno's own story of his "God-playing" story, it leads to some interesting possibilities. First, according to his own and Marineau's biography, Moreno was clearly a pampered and idealized child--the ground for a narcissistic character elaboration was already in place. So it is not surprising that among his playmates he should choose the role of God and assign to the others the roles of angels. That morning in the basement they constructed a tower of chairs and tables, and in the heat of the enactment, little Jake climbed to the top of the tower, sitting precariously on a teetering chair. "Come on," called his pals, "you can fly too!" And little Jake, caught up in the moment, forgot his reality- testing and flew. But in the non-enchanted realm where gravity continues to exercise its dominion, the child tumbled down breaking his arm.
Now I interpret speculatively: Faced with this traumatic re-establishing of the power of the reality principle over the pleasure principle, did our hero submit? Not Jake! His counter-will was too developed. (Here I weave in a little theory from Freud and Rank.) I imagine this child's response was something like "I can too fly! I will fly! I will find a way to make my dreams, my fantasy, my play...come true!"
I further speculate that this child's play did not cease. Instead of becoming inhibited, he used counter-phobic mechanisms to play with even greater intensity. And as a teenager, he continued to play with kids, as a story-teller (as a pseudo-mature disguise)--yet still enjoying the role of the child who is playing out the stories. And in discovering the world of theatre, I think he intuitively recognized the sublimation for childhood play in the vehicle of drama.
And of course, he also intuited with displeasure the many ways the established theatre detracted from the spontaneity, the immediacy, and the personal self-expression functions provided by childhood imaginative play--and sensed these to be forms of degradation in the theatre--forms which, later, he would try to remedy by creating a theatre of spontaneity.
So, in Adlerian terms, a child makes early life decisions about who he is and what the world is about and constructs a "life style," or what Eric Berne more recently would have called a "script" which expresses his implicit assumptions about how best to cope with the way life is perceived. For Moreno that was a profound desire to reaffirm the possibility of preserving the pleasure principle as embedded in the fantasy-play of childhood. The shame of defeat in his childish God-playing was denied, and he engaged in an act of reaction formation: "I am not impotent, vulnerable, little. I am a creator. I can make up stuff! I can pretend to fly, and find kids who will play with me. And if that isn't as good as really, actually, physically flying, well, it's almost like that, and it's a whole lot better than acting as if I couldn't fly."
So I believe this was the source of his idee fixe, and because little Jake was a clever child, he was able to creatively synthesize elements as he grew, drawing from the philosophies of Bergson and Peirce (who wrote about creativity and spontaneity, thus giving him adult intellectual matrices for his desires); the social milieu of Vienna, which offered room for experimentation; and a host of playmates in later life who supported his maturing vision. He was able to poetically articulate his vision, and more importantly (especially for us), he was able to give it methods for its implementation.
Now, returning to Jung's concepts about archetypes. An archetype expresses the imaginative aspect of instinct, and instinct refers to the socio-biological and neurophysiological infrastructure of human nature. In this case we are referring to the nature of human play, an extension of animal play, but elaborated because of the human capacity for symbolic imagery. This is fueled by the underlying bio-psychodynamics of the affect of excitement. It is related to the innate capacity of mind to disattach from conventional ego-functioning in an active way, not just by meditation. These dynamics lead to ecstatic ritual, drama, catharsis, and many other aspects, which, like other spiritual truths, can easily be caught in a wide range of cultural conserves and so lose their essential vitality or the freshness and depth of their wisdom.
Moreno's idee fixe, his vision of the realm of metapraxie is a mystery, in the sense of a mystery (as defined by the scholar of comparative religion, Professor Houston Smith) being one of those phenomena that, the more you learn about it, the more you discover that there's yet more to learn--seemingly unendingly. Thus, I don't intend to try to encompass or fully formulate this source, any more than I would presume to "explain" the dimension of dreaming. I leave it as an "asymptotic limit," a term to describe some phenomenon which can never be fully realized, and the closer one approximates the goal, the more difficult it becomes--like the speed of light or the ideal of perfection.
Yet when one recognizes this vision as a source of inspiration, it can then serve as an idea for contemplation. This source has also become the foundation for my inspiration as I think, write, and teach about psychodrama. I never seem to get dry, to "burn out," because it isn't based in my own ego. The source seems "out there," and I find it revitalizing to "dip into it" for contemplation and ideas. And I think this vision may be helpful as a source of inspiration and creativity for others, also.
In summary, I think Moreno's idee fixe, his vision of an "enchanted world" where "primordial nature" returns "with every generation" may be translated as the realm of childlike multi-potentiality. I believe this concept can serve as a unifying vision also for psychodramatists, helping to integrate the seemingly quite diverse endeavors and elements in Moreno's system.
Beyond this, I think he was on to something important: Moreno's vision was of a kind of archetypal realm which synthesized the Dionysian and the Apollonian, the egocentric, soul-amplifying power of personal imagery and the social, organized, focusing power of methodology. That these themes can be synthesized through the vehicles of drama and the concretizing action techniques of sociometry is still generally unrecognized in the larger world. These ideas have tremendous relevance for the way people deal with the known world, not just the social sciences, but the arts and indeed all human endeavors. They have practical implications, but deserve to be considered afresh (in the spirit of spontaneity), and to be renewed in theory as well as in action.
Blatner, A., & Blatner, A. (1988). The metaphysics of creativity as reflected in Moreno's metapraxie and the mystical tradition. Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama, and Sociometry, 40(4), 155-163.
Moreno, J.L. (1947). The theatre of spontaneity. Beacon, NY: Beacon House.
Moreno, J. L. (Spring, 1989). The autobiography of J. L. Moreno, M.D. (Part 1, abridged; edited by J. D. Moreno.) Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 42(1), 3-52.