Humour; the game around the golden middle


Humour; the game around the golden middle.

‘Humour carries the soul over abysses and teaches her to play with her own afflictions.’
Anselm Feuerbach

Last year the theme of our annual report was ‘Turning the outside in’ A humorous approach does not mean that we walk away from reality, it just helps us to put matters in another perspective. At the same time it can change our attitude towards ourselves. The Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855) wrote: ‘Humour is the birth grief of the spirit; you discover the discrepancy between your factual I and the ideal of yourself’. That can be a painful and at the same time liberating experience.

Even if you try to observe situations, people and things around you in a frank and unbiased way, you still do this from a history of expectations, emanating from experience and with an (intuitive) knowledge of logical and causal regularities. A stone that is thrown into the air will fall and an answer will only be given after a question is asked.
But when a situation or a statement challenges our humane observations we must rapidly adjust our perception of reality. We have lost our coordinates and the confusion that arises appeals to our imagination, our ingenuity and our talent to improvise: a call for thinking in a nimble, dancing, way. It requires a double activity and appeals to the ‘humour pattern’ in the brain, which is also activated when we play.

There where our image of reality and our well-defined beliefs falter, room to play emerges. A new area between the material, factual perception and the immaterial world of abstract concepts and ideas opens up. As the German poet and thinker Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)  stated: ‘Between Stofftrieb and Formtrieb our Spieltrieb can be active’. According to him man is more man when he plays.

Not a day goes by or we encounter limitations: a lack of time, money, a clear vision on health care and education, solidarity, resources, food, respect, trust etcetera.
Fortunately there are also ground breaking initiatives that create a free space, a playground, in search for a better world.
Sometimes developments are beyond our imagination, like: smog removed from the air by a vacuum cleaner and turned into diamonds; the creation of an economy that stimulates participation and donation and drives back shortage; garbage processed into useful products; increasing wealth without money; a society based on GNH(gross national happiness). All new ideas that nourish our optimism. Once we have mastered the art of living playfully we can see possibilities in what we once considered as limitations. 

In 2013 the important museums showed us how artists like Malevich , Kokoschka , Schönberg en Kandinsky  tried to break with the familiar, and conventional frameworks of perception by playing with them. We can also see this tendency, that sometimes inclines towards the absurd, in the work of modern artists. They use new technology and digital means to explore fresh, non-existent, ideas and give them a material form. For example the above mentioned vacuum cleaner by the artist
Daan Roosegaarde and his dance floor, that catches the energy of dancing feet and transfers this into electricity that can be used for the sound and light system.
Or the wooden car, fuelled by wood gas, that was built by Joost Conijn in 2001 and with which he travelled through Eastern Europe.

Since the Kunsthal in Rotterdam had to be renovated, the exhibition Steiner and the Alchemy of the Everyday was postponed to September 2014. This exhibition, that was compiled by  the German Vitra Design Museum, shows how Rudolf Steiner, like his contemporaries, strived to breach limiting frameworks, looking for a new mobile equilibrium. The tension between mind and matter can, amongst others, be seen in a wooden sculpture by Rudolf Steiner, sometimes called the representative of man . The stature is looking for balance in all directions in space; front, back, above, under , left, right, whilst being scrutinised  by the World Humour. This crooked, jester-like face looks down upon the game of convulsing and evaporating temptations to which man is exposed. Do we allow ourselves to be chained to matter, do we escape into the mind or do we create a warm heart: a golden centre? And how can we prevent this narrow, winding, ‘third road’ from becoming straight, downtrodden and predictable or utopistic?
On July the third,1918 Rudolf Steiner talks in Berlin about the World Humour: ‘His looking down, over the rocks to the group below, with a humoristic ‘air’, has a good reason (…). A true strife for the spiritual should be undertaken from a certain purity of the soul (which should never be deprived of humour) and not for sentimental reasons.’

Humour creates a free space;  an eternity in a moment, or a circle in a point. We fall out before we realise: like a child that takes his first steps. Perhaps it is the world humour that makes us realise that our attempts to reach for the higher and our wish to hold on to it is not free of sentimentality and (therefore) egoism.  Between ‘standing on the tip of our toes’ and ‘wishing the ground to open’ we can find a balance from which we can move forward, freely amidst others.

For centuries both art and science have made use of nature in their search for this golden middle. Both describe it as a unique capacity, that enables different parts to come together, allowing each part to keep its identity and at the same time to melt together into a form or a unity. Like, for example, the sun flower. We call this the power of the golden section. An earthly approach of the divine order, specified by Schiller in his form aspect. The golden section remains an approach. Here also the world humour oversees playfully that a middle cannot be calculated. 
The game round the golden centre is also a central task for teaching and education. Because of their professional responsibilities parents, teachers and policy makers step into the area of tension between the optimisation of cognitive and intellectual education on the one hand and the attention to practical and technical skills on the other hand – both important for the future career of the child.
To resolve this field of tension is not where our task lies. It is A third dimension;  that of social behaviour and empathy which needs our attention, pleads the Telder Foundation  in her report  Education, The Third Dimension. From a scientific angle  we hear more and more that education is not a production process which can be measured quantitatively (training model), but a formation model.  A teacher calls forth his didactical skills and expertise within a normative context. Society is faced with the challenge to pave the way and to put its trust into those who shape the primary process. Education is a public matter, accomplished by play, the arts, love and freedom and the middle between thought and action. But to prevent this happy medium of humanity and compassion from being captured in teaching programs, theme exercises, in petty facts and tricks, measurable by tests and research, a humoristic approach is of the greatest importance.  Who wants to bring back the former Bildungsideal cannot do this without constant self-education and transformation. Playfully. Smiling. That works contagiously.

It is our pleasure to wish you an ingenious and bright 2014, with a golden heart in the right place. And where this place is? That is the question. To all of you. We wish you an humorous quest for the golden middle.

Ignaz Anderson