LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869-1955

The Origins and History of the Alexander Technique
AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
ISBN 9050920187 / 978-9050920186
Additional notes: 
1986 edition was a 34 page booklet.
Mouritz Bibliography
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What to make of my fitness to review this book? On the one hand, I've had neither the desire nor the will to read it through, even the text portion of 294 pages as distinguished from the references, 671 pages altogether in 8-point (very small) type. On the other hand, I do have more than a passing familiarity with the author’s work, his previous book for example – The First 43 Years of the Life of F. Matthias Alexander – two volumes of 1,000+ pages that I read and heard word-for-word with my then-trainee Blake Ferger as we pursued, through reading aloud, the book’s content as well as practical work in the use of the self. What then to make of Jeroen (juh-roon') Staring, the Dutch anthropologist-medical diplomate-Alexander researcher, who, on the one hand, has become the world’s foremost authority on the history and literature of the Alexander Technique, but, on the other hand, Alexander’s and (inevitably by association) the Technique’s harshest critic?

Having raised these perplexities relative to this notice (hesitating to term it a “review” proper), the very first thing to be said – and emphatically – is that every teacher and every intending teacher of the Alexander Technique should own this book, and should regularly read in it, refer to it, and reflect on it. For the voluminous factual content and abundant illustrations alone in its handsome and high-quality cloth binding it is well-worth the price, hefty to be sure but no more so than many college textbooks. The point is that nowhere else can one find in a single source (or even in multiple sources) such a wealth of information about not only Alexander himself but also the context and world-view in which he lived, moved, and had his being. To be knowledgeable of its content is to be an educated and not only a trained Alexander professional.

Staring’s motivation in all of this arose, according to his own admission, as it did or does for most of us, in an Alexander experience. In 1979, at the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in India, he was given by a Rajneesh follower what was described to him as an “Alexander massage.” The resulting and unexpected feeling of lightness sparked the interest that became his passion, as he set out to learn all he could of Alexander and the technique he had developed. Like most of us, Staring has pursued the Technique over several years for its practical and personal benefits, working with a Dutch teacher from 1986-1993. But unlike many of us, his quest has been additionally and powerfully drawn toward the historical and conceptual bases of it. By amassing and analyzing – in what may only be termed a herculean labor – the extant historical, sociological, philosophical, and medical literature, he has arrived at an estimate of Alexander far different from what is got through the usual texts, i.e., Alexander’s own writings plus those of various followers.

In brief, it is Staring’s conclusion that, whatever else Alexander was as teacher, writer, and personality, he was also a plagiarist, a eugenicist, and a racist. On the evidence there seems little doubt that he was the latter two, at least to some degree: Man’s Supreme Inheritance (1918 ed.) is explicit in positive references to “race culture” – eugenics by definition – and also contains the negative reference to “Negroes in the Southern States of America” – racism by implication if not by definition – that was officially disavowed by AmSAT in 1994. However, it is the context and not the fact of Alexander’s eugenicism and racism that remains more open to discussion and interpretation than Staring would have it. Of the charge of plagiarism (in the broader and not solely literary sense of taking another’s work without attribution), Staring’s case is conceivable but not compelling. Cause-and-effect is something easier to demonstrate in the laboratory than in the hurly-burly of life as it’s lived, and particularly so in the swirling currents of contemporary ideas. Bearing in mind the logical fallacy “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after this therefore because of this), it is nevertheless instructive to learn how some of Alexander’s key concepts and practices (e.g. inhibition and faulty sensory appreciation as well as aspects of the manual technique) were expressly anticipated in the late-19th century medical and therapeutic literature.

Speaking three sentences ago of “Staring’s case” for Alexander’s alleged plagiarism has suggested a hopefully useful analogy for dealing with this entire book, that of the adversarial nature of proceedings at law. Well-known are the roles of prosecution and defense attorneys, each to present their respective side of the case to the exclusion of the other's, their only obligation not to falsify the facts. In our situation, up to and continuing in the present, Alexander’s story has been presented almost exclusively by himself and by obviously friendly witnesses. Now comes Staring, an obviously hostile witness, with a different and by no means trivial version. As in court, there can be no question of an outside authority to determine the conclusion. Hearing the different testimonies and arguments, a decision must come from ourselves as individuals in the unenviable but necessary capacity of judges or jurors and upon our weighing of the evidence. Unlike a trial, however, where there must be a clear-cut verdict (or a hung jury), in our case there need be no such black or white but rather, in at least a provisional and personal truth, varying shades of gray.

© Ron Dennis 2006. Reproduced with permission.

Ron Dennis (


This edition © Mouritz 2006-2015. All rights reserved.