The Use of the Self
F M Alexander
‘The Use of the Self’ is undoubtedly Alexander’s best known book; it is also his shortest (only five chapters) and in many respects his least important. Its publication in 1932 was largely prompted by the inauguration of the first three-year training course to train teachers of theTechnique. It may be considered to a large extent as a ‘Training Course Manual’ for his students, and contains an open letter to potential Training Course candidates from Alexander, backed with recommendations from his supporters in the medical and educational establishment of the time.
For the general reader, the most interesting and significant part of the book is surely the first chapter, which contains Alexander’s account of how he discovered the Technique and overcame his vocal problems. It is a detailed and fascinating description of his experimentation and observations throughout the period of the development of his Technique. His approach is endorsed as wholly scientific by Dewey in the book’s introduction.
In this book Alexander introduces for the first time his concept of the ‘Primary Control’, and seeks to link this directly with the ‘central control’ of the German physiologist Rudolph Magnus. In this he is probably unsuccessful. However, his concept of the Primary Control does not depend on Magnus, being reached by a different empirical path. Elsewhere, partly prompted by the prevailing dominance of the conditioned reflex model of animal behaviour, Alexander attempts to align his work with that of I.P.Pavlov, because at the time it seemed to be the last word. It isn’t, however,and the idea that the Technique can be explained in terms of classical conditioning is no longer tenable.
Throughout the rest book Alexander develops ideas from MSI and CCC, although he adds nothing that is essentially new to his previous statement of the Technique. There is notably less emphasis on evolutionary and social theory, and more on the problems of investigation and learning, raised by Dewey in the introduction.