A Conversation with Gerald Koller, Ruth Anderwald and Leonard Grond.
Neusiedlersee, 5. September 2014
das Taumeln – dizziness (German “au” rhymes with English “now”)
taumeln – to lurch, stagger, reel, teeter, tumble, flounder, fall, feel dizzy
der Rausch – intoxication, inebriation, rush, rapture, exhilaration, ecstasy, high, delirium
das Rauschen – noise, static, swishing, whooshing noise
rauschen – to rustle, make a rushing sound
schwindlig – giddy, feeling light-headed, having a sensation of floating or spinning
Leonhard Grond – Gerald, you don’t describe yourself as an expert for mental and social health, but as an explorer and cartographer. Some people might find that rather perplexing. Is it just a way of saying that you are operating in a largely uncharted terrain?
Gerald Koller – I think we human beings need images and maps to orient ourselves both internally and externally in our interactions with others. That’s why I’m constantly drawing maps. These then serve as models that find their own way through different circles of language. But first and foremost they help me to understand what I’m actually doing. In that sense I feel a strong affinity with what you two say about your approach, as people who are seeking out images and creating images.
Ruth Anderwald – As an explorer and a cartographer, how do you understand the concept of “Taumeln”?
GK – I see Taumeln – or “dizziness” – as having five dimensions: firstly there is the deliberately cultivated technique of Taumeln, or meandering, that the Socratic school practiced at the agora in Athens. The philosophers practicing this technique of Taumeln never walked straight across the agora. Walking in a straight line leads to rigid thinking and getting stuck in tracks or a rut of some kind. It’s like tenure tracks, railroad tracks – all kinds of prescribed routes that you cannot depart from without immediately being at risk. But the path owes its existence to its visibility, as the three Magi demonstrated so beautifully. No sooner than the eye has seen it than we have to go there! No idea where we’re going, but that’s how the path begins. The members of the Socratic school at the agora understood that. They went this way and then that way . . . (Gerald Koller walks across the square in a series of loops). That automatically widens your field of vision, your thinking. It’s much easier to come up with ideas than to rush towards a destination – which we usually call a project. The word “project” comes from the Latin verb proicere meaning “to throw forward.” I mentally throw down my destination up ahead of myself and then have to run after it. That’s what makes projects so stressful. And in that sense Taumeln, as a philosophical discipline or cultural technique, is a useful basis for action. And we always regard ourselves as explorers.
Secondly I regard deliberate Taumeln as a trigger for particular processes in the human consciousness. That connects with the work of Ken Wilber – eros, cosmos, logos – and of the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. The way a child develops is the same as the way whole civilizations develop and the trajectory is always in the form of a spiral, never linear. Progress is linear – as is growth and everything that leads to death.
And then there’s the Taumeln that comes when one is in a Rausch, or any delirious, intoxicating, exhilarating, mind-blowing experience of whatever kind. Which brings us to the question: what is Rausch? And how do we translate it into English? That’s our job – and we can’t come up with anything.
LG – But isn’t it a cultural phenomenon that you can’t communicate using language?
GK – My colleagues and I at risflecting¹ work throughout the German-speaking world and the closest people get to describing that phenomenon is when they use their own dialect. For instance the Innviertler in northwest Austria would say “Wen’s rauschig san” – they would never use the word Rausch, that’s something different. But they’re also “rauschig vor Freud” – blown away with joy. In view of that it’s important that we also connect different variants on the experience of Rausch with a geographical map. There’s a spiral model that we can use here, which starts with sobriety (the opposite of Rausch) and shows that sobriety can lead to clarity but it can also lead to neurosis. Alfred Thul has collated numerous studies, which show that patients suffering from some form of obsessional neurosis, who never drink alcohol and count every kilojoule they consume, are three times more accident prone than their tippling compatriots who are much more relaxed. The neurotics are also much more likely to suffer a heart attack.
LG — How do you deal with the term Rausch at risflecting?
GK – At risflecting we are endeavoring to see if we can develop cultural techniques for dealing with Rausch in its various forms, that’s to say, if there is a way to achieve a balance between Rausch and risk. For instance: my wonderful secretary, who has been with us for fifteen years, practically never muddles her words or misspells anything. But if she does, they’re cataclysmic, completely Freudian slips. When she was typing up a quote from Richie Slay, a flow rider biking down a steep trail in the Southern Tyrol, for one or our folders. It should have read “Ich muss hie und da raus gehen und mich erschrecken, damit ich merke, dass ich noch lebe.” (“Now and then I have to take a time-out and give myself a fright so that I can tell I’m still alive,” with “raus gehen” meaning “to go out”.) But my secretary also types the training course folder, and just before the other folder was going to print, she noticed that she had typed “Ich muss hie und da Rausch gehen und mich erschrecken, damit ich merke, dass ich noch lebe.” And that’s when I realized, that’s exactly what we trying to do: circumnavigating the Rausch, that’s what our super-ego society teaches us. Taumeln means achieving a balance when we are in a state of Rausch – that’s what we have to practice.
And that brings me to the third dimension of Taumeln: unconscious Taumeln. One of Angela Merkel’s advisers once said that “the era of normality is long since gone.” She still tries to go on with business as usual, like everyone else, but the whole system is in a process of Taumeln. And that’s the problem, as I see it, when people are not aware of being in that state and still going on taking action in the usual way, because that can turn them into perpetrators. And that’s where we need to pay particular attention – which is very much one of the things we are doing.
The fourth dimension of Taumeln is in fact existential. We learn to make use of one of the most fundamental potentials of human existence, to evolve mobility. In other words, to rank walking above Taumeln. It is vital that we see all learning processes as forms of Taumeln. I myself experienced that recently in a boat (on the Neusiedlersee). My boat and I “floundered” a few times because I hadn’t consulted the wind chart before I set out and the wind came up and suddenly I was in the reeds. How do I get out of here again? Today I consulted it very carefully. I’ve learnt my lesson!
LG – You’ve been transformed.
GK – And that brings me to the fifth and last dimension: the systematic observation of Taumeln. I don’t know if you know the work done by John P. Kotter? Kotter is the doyen of organizational change management. These days he doesn’t talk about organizational change any longer but about cultural renewal, which I like very much. He has developed his own Kotter’s window. Our problem is, that in all our efforts – including projects – we try to change existing circumstances by imposing innovation on them. We try to integrate this innovation into daily life. But that doesn’t work, because first there has to be a process of deconstruction. First we have to unlearn our habits, in order to make room for the new order. It’s fundamental: learning is not just a process of construction, it is just as much a process of deconstruction.
RA – Do you have a particular way of approaching the notion of Taumeln?
GK – I’m interested in how to approach the word Taumeln, as a concept whose linguistic impact imbues it with the air of an imaging method.
LG – There are also works of art that make the viewer both think about Taumeln and, in the same moment, succumb to a sense of Taumeln. We feel that artistic research can provide a good way of approaching this topic, because artistic research can consider the movement and the simultaneity of reflection and the experience all at once.
RA – Above all because Taumeln is a phenomenon and cannot be discussed in terms of symbols.
LG – It seems there are only a few concepts that cannot be discussed in terms of symbols. We feel that Taumeln is one of them.
RA – We’ve looked at feeling giddy from a medical perspective and have seen that two factors are needed for a person to become giddy. The interesting thing is that the up and down movements registered by the inner ear and the fluid in the semi-circular canals have to be out of kilter with another sense for a person to feel giddy. That’s to say, there’s a duality here.
The idea of a carousel, spiraling upward, is the perfect way of grasping the notion of Taumel. And we’ve come to the conclusion that the individual either wittingly submits to the process of Taumel, because one is pursuing a particular idea, or the individual is unwittingly thrust into it – the rug is pulled from under their feet.
GK – That’s interesting: I jump or I’m pushed. But can’t I just slip into it? I don’t want to jump, I’m not being pushed, but I am standing on unsteady ground and all of a sudden I’ve slipped into it. Or maybe I don’t even notice what’s happening to me. I think that must be the most usual circumstance. It would be great if people were pushed and had to deal with that or, on the other hand, deliberately chose the act of change, or of changing their perceptions. People meet up in the evening but generally haven’t consciously made the decision that now they’re going to have a drink. It’s the soft blur that makes it exciting: it’s nice to linger in a mild state of Taumel, and this lingering is not about savoring the moment, it’s maintained by constantly being topped up. And in that sense you are no longer in a lucid state. That’s what I mean by slipping into it.
There’s also another phenomenon: when you’re considering anything to do with Rausch, it’s important to bear in mind that this kind of experience very often – I couldn’t fully quantify that – takes place in group situations. People act very differently in groups or as individuals. Their perception of risky behaviors completely changes. As a member of a group I feel as though I’m in a virtual womb, safe and secure. There’s bound to be someone who knows what’s what – I don’t actually know which of us that is, but there’s bound to be someone. A feeling of euphoria arises in groups. People do things that they would never do on their own – strength in numbers – just in order to conform. They’ll do things that each person individually would find hard to empathize with. The wave, the Nuremberg rallies – mass, Rausch-inducing rituals and the stage-managed individual loss of self. The group is an important factor in the phenomenon of Taumeln. You see that in mountaineering accidents – eight people are out on the mountainside and all of them fall. And then it turns our that they were in high heels. No individuals would put themselves in that situation, because their sense of vulnerability would automatically prevent them from doing that. There would immediately be a pause for consideration – “for God’s sake,” is the feedback that I get from the mountain when I’m on my own. But when there’s eight of us I’m invincible. In the same way, you rarely see a person going out drinking on their own on a Saturday evening, it’s always groups. If you’re on your own, you alone have to deal with the feedback. That’s why the phenomenon of the group is so important – because a group can slip. If a group of people consciously decides that they’re going to trip with Psilocybin and they’re going to prepare for that, then everything’s fine. They’ve probably already got an idea of the transformation, that’s to say, the landing. But if you slip into it you don’t realize you’re not in your usual life any more. I’ve specifically seen that in scientists and colleagues in the health industry. Last week I was at a conference, which always also involves staying overnight. Then people get giddy about the things they were discussing by daylight. Already well away at two in the morning: “And what are the drugs policies where you live? Could you list the parameters?” And I just think to myself, “trying to travel in two directions with the same train is simply mad – pretending to be sober when you’re already completely out of it.”
RA – In business they have the concept of “innovation vertigo.” It’s exactly that idea of trying to travel in two different directions but of course not being able to.
GK – Of course it’s also about being frightened.
LG – Innovation vertigo does have a lot to do with fear. The term was first coined in business English about three years ago. It describes the moment when actions and intentions are suddenly going in two completely different directions, which arises when a situation is somehow too much. There’s a wonderful video by the English artist Catherine Yass – to come back to visual art. She realized a high-wire project at the Red Road housing scheme in Glasgow, which had the tallest blocks of social housing in Europe for a long time. It had always been a dream of hers to walk in the air. So she had a high wire strung from one block to the next, almost a hundred meters above the ground. A French high-wire artist had agreed to make the crossing. As it turned out, the interesting thing about the action was that half-way across, he realized he wasn’t going to make it. So what did he do? He went back again – but he went back facing the wrong way, walking backwards!
GK – An individual has greater control over any situation than groups, because the individual is more highly sensitized to any potential dangers. As a rule groups are both inwardly and outwardly relatively insensitive.
RA – As yet we’ve paid far too little attention to the phenomenon of the group. It’s very interesting.
GK – These are all phenomena associated with group propulsion – not group pressure, that older, hierarchical concept, but group propulsion. And when it comes to Taumeln, group propulsion is crucial. You go somewhere, or enter into a situation, that you’d never have contemplated on your own.
Translation: Fiona Elliott
– See also Mapping Delirium Part 2
Risflecting® is a pedagogical behavioral model developed by Gerald Koller and his team with the aim of identifying a balance between being in a state of Rausch and being at risk.