Reprinted with kind permission from
A Journal on the Alexander Technique
Vol 2 No 2 - The Barlows (reprinted with permission of Robert Rickover)
Copyright © 1994 by Robert Rickover. All Rights Reserved
"In these days, there are many people who learn and study the Technique and yet are unfamiliar with Alexander's own writing. This is unfortunate because his experience was unique and he did his best to set it down in such a way that it could be of practical help to others. All that he has written will repay most careful study and reflection. Indeed it could be said that his books are as indispensable to his followers as marine charts are to the navigator warning of rocks and shoals, and tides and currents."
Before discovering the Alexander Technique nearly twenty years ago, most of my life had been spent in academic pursuit--school, university, graduate school and a career as a research economist. I was accustomed to reading a great deal and so, even before my first Alexander lesson, I decided to read as much by, and about, Alexander as I could lay my hands on.
It seemed logical to me to start at the beginning, so I located a copy of Man's Supreme Inheritance (Alexander's first book) in the Toronto public library and eagerly took it home for study. Within five minutes of opening it, however, I was having difficulty keeping my eyes open and shortly after I felt the need for a short nap.
This pattern persisted right through my teacher training course. Whenever the weekly reading and discussion of 'the books' took place, I would discretely step out for a coffee at the neighborhood cafe. There was something about Alexander's writing style, and perhaps his novel viewpoint, which seemed to frustrate my attempts to systematically read through his four books!
In fact, it was only after I became involved with the Tomatis Method of auditory re-education (see ViewPoint in Direction, Vol 1) that I was finally able to read Alexander's books with pleasure and understanding. I've now become quite comfortable with his use of words and his phrasing and I find that each re-reading deepens my understanding of the work. I even enjoy taking the time to disentangle his page-long sentences.
Having reached this point, I had some misgivings when I heard that STAT had published summaries of Alexander books. But when I started to read them, I quickly discovered that these summaries represent a major addition to Alexander literature, probably the most important since the publication of Alexander's last book.
The four summaries (consolidated in a single 150 page high quality paperback edition) were commissioned by Alexander in the late 1940's in connection with a libel action he was taking against the editor of a South African government magazine, 'Manpower'. notel The task of preparing them was entrusted to Ron Brown, a veteran newspaper correspondent and editor, and a student of the Technique.
It is no exaggeration to say that Mr Brown did a masterful job of condensing Alexander's writings in a way that makes them far more readable, without in any way compromising their basic integrity. His approach is eclectic: sometimes whole sections of the original books are left pretty much intact. More often they are re-arranged and shortened in a way that greatly clarifies their meaning--on a few occasions an idea originally relegated to a footnote is brought to the fore. And occasionally Alexander's ideas are presented in an entirely new way.
Because of the great importance he attached to them, the summaries were carefully checked by Alexander himself. Indeed, he made a point of initialing each page after he had approved it. Since the summaries were not published for nearly half a century, they come to us unencumbered by others' explanations and interpretations. They afford us a unique opportunity to connect directly with Alexander's own thinking about his work towards the end of his teaching career.
These summaries represent a major addition to Alexander literature.
The opening quote by Walter Carrington comes from his Preface to the Summaries. He concludes by stating that while the summaries are no substitute for the original texts, they do "...afford a reliable guide to Alexander's thoughts and teaching, the product of his long experience and an invitation to discover more." This 'fifth book' will fascinate serious students of Alexander's writing as they compare it, section by section, to the original four. But its greatest value lies in its accessibility for the average reader. The book makes an excellent 'first read' for anyone seriously interested in exploring Alexander's ideas, and learning more about the Alexander Technique. I wish it had been available to me when I started with the work.
Special thanks are due to Walter Carrington, Alexander Murray and Jean M. 0. Fischer, each of whom played an important role in the publication of the Summaries. The Authorized Summaries of F.M. Alexander's Four Books by Ron Brown is available from STAT Books, 20 London House, 266 Fulham Road, London SW10 9EL, England.
Robert Rickover has been a teacher of the Alexander Technique since 1980, maintaining a practice in Toronto for most of that time. In addition to his formal training at the School of Alexander Studies in London, he has studied extensively with Marjorie Barstow and assisted on her summer workshops in Lincoln, Nebraska. Robert also holds degrees in physics, economics and metallurgy from Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has written extensively on the Alexander Technique, including his regular Viewpoint column in DIRECTION, and is the author of Fitness Without Stress - A Guide to the Alexander Technique, published in 1988 by Metamorphous Press. He also hosts the Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique, a comprehensive set of web pages.
Robert can be reached by e-mail at: Robert Rickover
2434 Ryons Street, Lincoln, Nebraska 68502, USA
Return to ATI's Articles page