The Plot Thickens: The Alexander Technique
The Alexander Technique has been around for over 125 years and so it’s not surprising that references to it, and to it’s founder F. Matthias Alexander, have appeared in works for fiction a number of times.
Some of those references have been funny, some bizarre, and some quite nice descriptions of the work. As such, they afford an insight into ways in which the Technique has been perceived over the years.
(My personal favorite is the story about Alexander, Dewey and Anzia from Norma Rosen’s book cited below.)
Most famously, Alexander shows up as a character in Aldous Huxley’s book Eyeless in Gaza, published in 1936. Huxley introduced Alexander in the person of Miller, a medical anthropologist. Miller, in the words Frank Pierce Jones “..also incorporated a part of Gerald Heard, whom Alexander detested, and a part of Dr. McDonagh, a fashionable but unorthodox physician to whom Alexander also referred his pupils.” (1)
For the next fifty years there are occasional references to “F. M. Alexander”, “Alexander” and even the “Alexander Brothers” here and there, but with no explanation of who he was.
In 1989, Norma Rosen wrote a novel, John and Anzia – An American Romance, about the (actual) relationship between Professor John Dewey and Anzia Yezierska, a Polish-American emigree from the Lower East Side of New York.
In Chapter 7, Yezierska accompanies Dewey and two of his friends to visit “the studio of the well-known body aligner, F.M Alexander.” Yezierska is a little hesitant, saying “I think I’m already aligned.” Nonetheless she does go.
Here are a few excerpts from the events that follow upon their arrival:
“…Alexander himself entered the room with a bouncy stride, as if a special spring twanged in his foot. He wore a formal suit and sandals with thick white socks. Everything about him seemed freshly sprouted, like the white carnation in his buttonhole. He turned his sharp-featured face to address them.
“‘You hear my voice? The full production, the roundness, the depth? This is my true voice, a fine instrument. Once it was crippled. I opened my mouth and croaked like a crow. In the middle of my favorite recitation piece, ‘Napoleon’–”
“He interrupted himself to recite theatrically, ‘Oh, lonely exile! Oh, armored ambition pierced!’ Then he went on in his normal, slightly less theatrical tone. ‘In despair at the loss of my voice I devised my technique. The results – you hear in my voice. Now you must listen and obey…
“We will not take ladies first. We will take the professor.” He clapped his hands onto John’s head, standing tiptoe to do it. “All your life your head has thought you. No you must think your head. Think and direct it, forward and up!”
Later, after working with the others attending the lesson, he gets to Yezierska:
“You also will experience difficulty in saying no to yourself my dear Miss. Nevertheless! Think only forward and up! Legthen and widen!”
“…The chair edge touched under her buttocks and for one moment she floated in a weightless crouch above the chair.
“Alexander whirled around. ‘This woman’s vertebrae have the ability to think!'”
More recently, a short story appeared in the New Yorker Magazine in 2007. It’s central character is an unnamed Alexander teacher in Boston – based on Tommy Thompson, an actual teacher there. From a conversation with Tommy I know he hates the story and it’s not hard to see why. Indeed it’s a pretty awful work of fiction on many levels, but you can judge it for yourself here. The Long Distance Client
Another Alexander reference (courtesy of Karen DeHart) comes from Writing Jane Austen: A Novel, by Elizabeth Aston:
“A stunned Georgina came out of the surgery with her arm in a sling and a prescription for a painkiller written out by Dr. Perry, and signed, after a further half-hour wait, by another doctor. She had an appointment in three weeks’ time with the practice physiotherapist, and friendly final advice from Dr. Perry that of course she could use the mouse and type with her left hand, but the chances were if she did that exactly the same thing would happen to that one.
“Maud turned out to know a good deal about RSI. “All young musicians these days are supposed to see Alexander practitioners,” she announced. “That’s probably what you should do. They readjust your body, and you learn how to do things, and how to do it better and you don’t put any stress on yourself. Only by the time it’s got as bad as it has with you, I’m not sure there’s anything much anybody can do about it. Except to stop doing whatever it is that’s given it to you. We had a pianist at school who had to stop playing for two years.”
The latest Alexander reference – this time a non-fiction book, but written by a popular fiction writer – also comes from Karen:
Moonwalking with Einstein – The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (page 11) by Joshua Foer : “When he walked, Buzan seemed to glide across the floor like an air hockey puck (the result, he later told me, of forty years’ training in the Alexander Technique).”
Buzan is Tony Buzan, author of Use Your Head, who one wrote: “The Alexander Technique transformed my life. it is the result of an acknowledged genius. I would recommend it to anyone.”
There may be other references I’m not familiar with. If you know of any, please let me know, using the Email Contact.
1. Body Awareness in Action, Chapter 7
2. I am indebted to Loren Shlaes, an Alexander Technique teacher in New York City, for sending me a copy of this novel.