Spontaneity, Anxiety and the Moment — a passage from “Who Shall Survive?”

A passage from “Who Shall Survive?”

Anxiety is a function of spontaneity. Spontaneity is, as defined, the adequate response to a present situation. If the response to the present situation is adequate-“fullness” of spontaneity-anxiety diminishes and disappears. With decrease of spontaneity anxiety increases. With entire loss of spontaneity, anxiety reaches its maximum, the point of panic. In the “warm up” of an actor to a present situation anxiety may move into two opposite directions; it may start with their striving to move out of an old situation without having enough spontaneity available to do so; or, the anxiety may set in as soon as some “external” force pushes them out of the old situation and leaves them hanging in the air. The terrifying thing for an actor is this wavering between a situation which they have just abandoned and to which he cannot return and a situation which they must attain in order to get back into balance and feel secure. The infant, immediately after birth is the illustration par excellence for this phenomenon. He cannot return to the womb, he has to stay within this new world, but he may not have enough spontaneity to cope with its demands. In such moments of complete abandonment it is imperative that he draws upon all his resources or that someone comes to his aid, an auxiliary ego. Another illustration is a soldier who is suddenly attacked by an overwhelming number of enemies, or the protagonist of the psychodramatic situation facing a group of unbelievers, a man in a frenzy, who acts to save his life.

Thinking through this process it is dialectically faulty to start with the negative, with anxiety. The problem is to name the dynamic factor provoking anxiety to emerge. Anxiety sets in because there is spontaneity missing, not because “there is anxiety,” and spontaneity dwindles because anxiety rises.

“Who Shall Survive?” pages 336-7


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