Jeroen Staring – Historian Of The Alexander Technique

I did this interview with Jeroen Staring (gnirats@hetnet.nl) via email:

How and when did you become interested in F.M. Alexander and the Alexander Technique?

I first learned of the Alexander Technique in 1979 while on an investigation for my (anthropology) study at the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Pune, India. In the ashram I met a sannyasin (= Rajneesh follower) who gave me an Alexander Technique inspired, so-called “Alexander-massage” (though the Alexander Technique does not include massage). The unexpected feeling of lightness experienced after this one so-called Alexander massage proved sufficient to arouse my interest.

How did you decide to devote much of your life to this research?

During the 1980s, back home in The Netherlands, I tried to find AT literature available in libraries and in second hand book shops. These were the days before university and other libraries exchanged computer files and scans and before international internet second hand books search machine websites. But I was able to gather a large collection of Alexander books and works referring to Alexander and his technique. (I now have probably the largest collection in the world.) And I found a Dutch teacher who not only taught me AT, but who also taught me how to teach AT. So, I learned to understand AT from many perspectives.

Aside from you, who’s done the most valuable work in historical inquiry into F.M. Alexander?

I must give the credit to Edward Maisel. In Edward Maisel (1917-2008). “E.M.” is dead, my April 2008 obituary of Maisel (published in 2008 in the Swiss/German and in the Australian/New Zealand newsletters, but as far as I know not in the Amsat newsletter, even though I sent the obituary text to Amsat for publication ), I wrote that Maisel and I began correspondence and friendship in 1998. “Both outsiders to the AT community, both historians of AT, we had much to discuss, much to laugh about, much to fight about. He called me “Kiddo,” I regarded him as the first real AT historian. He said he would rewrite the introduction to his book on AT in the light of my finds. Because of clues he offered, I delved deeper and deeper into AT history.”
In fact, Edward Maisel was the man who single-handedly made AT known to the world when AT was on the brink of extinction. Goddard Binkley had put him on the trail of researching AT history and of publishing an anthology of Alexander’s writings. Indeed, no other book than Maisel’s, published in 1969, was more influential in promoting AT among the lay public.
However, as I also wrote in my obituary: “In the early days, though, first generation AT teachers did not hold Edward or his upcoming book in high regard. In January 1965, Walter Carrington wrote to Jones: “I do not think that I have heard of Edward Maisel before. Certainly the whole thing sounds rather suspect.” … In July 1967, Carrington wrote to Jones: “Binkley is suspicious of Maisel, as of course we all are,” and in November 1968, he stated: “I was delighted and relieved to know that you were advising Ed Maisel with his book and also that Dart has agreed.” … In January 1970, Carrington confessed to Jones: “Personally, I like the book now that I have had more time to examine it,” and a letter to Jones dated 24 April 1970 unearthed the following: “Incidentally, I thought that Maisel dealt with the topic of inhibition very well in his introduction.”Recognition at last! It took Edward eight years to receive the respect as an AT author, another four to get due respect as an AT historian. In February 1974, Carrington exclaimed: “Ed Maisel must now possess the fullest collection of biographical material because he has interviewed nearly everybody extensively.””

Is F.M. the primary focus of your research?

No, Alexander, or AT, is not the primary focus of my research; not anymore. I am currently researching the early history of the Bureau of Educational Experiments (New York City).

How has the Alexander community reacted to your work? Is there a certain type of mind that reacts with interest to your work and another type of mind that reacts with horror?

That is an interesting question, difficult to answer though. I am pleased to see that several individual AT teachers are interested enough to order a copy of my dissertation. That is a great step, since the book is heavy (1.6 kilograms), therefore expensive to have it sent from The Netherlands, and it takes a lot of time to read it. It pleases me even more that these AT teachers, after more or less struggling with the facts reported, embrace the findings.
On the other hand there seems to exist a kind of rumour among AT teachers not to get involved with my work. On the whole, the majority of AT teachers do not show any interest at all. Viewed from my side it is a riddle to observe that what I have unearthed remains without consequence within AT teachers circles.
For example, I discovered several published 1949 letters to the editor of The Literary Guide and Rationalist Review and one published 1954 letter to the editor of The New Statesman and Nation —all by Alexander’s pen, totally unknown to AT teachers. I wrote about these letters in my dissertation. This year, Mr. Jean Fischer, a Danish AT teacher living in London who possesses a copy of my dissertation, published a new edition of his 1996 “Articles and Lectures” book — a collection of F. M. Alexander texts (inspired by my 1993 Dutch book De eerste 40 jaar uit het leven van F. Matthias Alexander, discussing Alexander’s early, pre-1910 writings). But the 1949 and 1954 letters written by Alexander which I unearthed are not in this new 2011 edition, according to Fischer’s website ( consult this website through the following link).
Is it because Alexander reverted to his 1910 Man’s Supreme Inheritance eugenics?
Perhaps, but it appears that Fischer also did not include a pamphlet which F. M. Alexander co-authored with his brother A.R. Alexander which I discovered in 2003 in Sydney, Australia.
If true, I just cannot understand why newly discovered texts (by me) should not be published in a book pretending to hold all these texts. Is it because I discovered them? Now, that would be a strange way of handling historical material: unprofessional, and completely incomprehensible to scientists.
Or does Fischer’s website not include finds I made, but the 2011 edition of Fischer’s book does? Nice riddle, isn’t it?

What do you think of Michael Bloch’s biography of FM?

Micheal Bloch is an accomplished author of biographies. It is my opinion that he wrote a very good Alexander biography. However, I have criticized him for not referring to literature critical of Alexander. In general: it is my view that if you write a biography of someone, you just do not neglect criticism, and especially not an extended and educated critique of the person you are writing about like my work. The second edition of Bloch’s book will repair the omission, Bloch told me. So, I can wholeheartedly recommend studying Bloch’s book.

How do your peers in academia react to your research? Do most of them say, “F.M. who?” Or, “What’s the Alexander Technique?”

I do not work for an academic institution. I teach math in pre-vocational education schools. School-year 2010-2011, I taught SEN-students who did not ‘fit’ in regular schools (because of their obstructive behavior) and were given their ‘last chance’ at a special school in Utrecht. So, I cannot answer this question. But more in general: FMA ran a family business, and when you have an exclusive product (in this case: AT), you just do not share it with everyone else, but sell your product (and you especially do not share it with scientists), and that is exactly what he did. So, and this is plain fact, FMA did not contribute to the scientific body of knowledge, and therefore he is not known in scientific circles. And since he willfully did not share his knowledge, scientists are very suspicious of AT. Rightfully so, I would say. It is now up to this generation of AT teachers to contribute to science. However, if they prolong the AT secretive attitude, well, they just miss their one chance.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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