I developed a way of thinking about therapeutic (and supervisory) practice based upon the work of Gregory Bateson. This arose from trying to explain why Bateson felt that the concept of ‘power’ was not appropriate when thinking about relationships, and I found an answer in William Blake’s ‘Fourfold Vision’. Bateson was very much influenced by Blake, making the connection more fitting.
Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
And three fold in soft Beulah’s night,
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep.
William Blake, Letter to Thomas Butt, 22 November 1802
Blake offers us, with the four types of ‘vision’, a means of taking different perspectives that is not hierarchical, nor does it create distinct domains.
An analogy for fourfold vision is to think about using a zoom lens to ‘zoom in’ to details, then zooming back out to look at connections and relationships, while at the same time being aware of one’s own experience, empathy and intuitions (and how these inform the process of ‘zooming in’ to details and the ‘zooming out’ to connections). This process of focussing in and out whilst being aware of our own experience and reactions can become an aesthetic, ethical and delightful experience.
Each of Blake’s visions correlates roughly to the components of ‘cybernetic unity of healing’ described by Noel Charlton (in his book Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth) – scientist, theoretician, humanist and artist. Importantly, it provides a means of thinking that is consistent with Bateson’s cybernetic epistemology; connecting scientific rigour, systemic (and other) theories and our intuitions within an elegant, aesthetic process. I realised that the concept of fourfold vision could offer a means to think about ‘power’ from a systemic position, and I quickly grasped that it also provides a framework for thinking about therapeutic practice, too.
Fourfold Vision and Power
The Newtonian view of a mechanical universe, with the accompanying attachment to scientific materialism and pure rationality, was anathema to Blake. This theme was also continued by Bateson who frequently discussed how ‘conscious purpose’ disconnected humanity from the wisdom of nature.
Although Blake appears to be critical of single vision, his point was to complain about thinking exclusively in this way, as single vision is a necessary part of a greater whole that incorporates other ways of thinking.
Single vision is concerned with scientific observational skills and the ability to ‘zoom in’ and focus on detail. It also involves what might be called ‘linear’ thinking; considering cause and effect, and looking at things in isolation.
Considering (relational) power from a single vision perspective allows us to explore the details of a situation, to look at the people involved. Who is the perpetrator, and who is the victim? What are their roles? What is happening, and how is it happening? All important information, but not an explanation.
Twofold vision shifts the focus by ‘zooming out’ from specific details to focus upon broader, contextual and relational aspects of interest.
To have twofold vision is to see not only with the eye but through it; seeing contexts, associations, emotional meanings, connections. I have interpreted twofold vision to include our consideration of theories, as this would incorporate observation of patterns within the system of interest and the connections we might make with theories, especially systemic theories.
Twofold vision invites us to look at the contexts within which power relations arise. We could include the family, and zoom out to the community, and even global contexts in our thinking. How might patriarchal values, structural violence or the use of military action by governments influence the situation? Considering power with twofold vision encourages us to look at the relationships between the parties, and their relationship with ourselves and others too.
Blake frequently uses the concept of Beulah to refer to paradise and innocence; however, I consider threefold vision incorporates what we might nowadays call the unconscious, too. Threefold vision is how we react to a situation; it is embodied, found in the feelings that arise for us in response to given circumstances; our memories, previous experiences, and intuitions. It is about being human.
Considering the concept of ‘power’, threefold vision allows for empathy with all the actors – what are our intuitions and embodied responses to the situation? This position does not mean being neutral or condoning violence by being able to appreciate both sides, but equally, it does not encourage polarisation of issues, either.
Rather than being an additional perspective, fourfold vision is the process of moving between single, twofold and threefold vision; moving between details, relationships and contexts and your inner responses to them. Your fourfold vision is unique. How you choose to zoom in to different elements and zoom out to connections and contexts depends upon your embodied responses to the situation.
Your responses will be, in part, unconscious, and will also be guided by the theories you use, your previous experiences and the connections you make. As you engage in this process of to-ing and fro-ing, you will be able to create a richer, more profound understanding of the situation.
How you conceptualise power using fourfold vision will, of course, be mediated by your own experiences and responses.