Bloch, Charlotte. "Flow: Beyond Fluidity and Rigidity. A Phenomenological Investigation." Human Studies 23.1 (January 2000): 43-61.
By Megumi Okamoto
This article presents the results of an empirical investigation of the experience of "flow," followed by phenomenological analysis. The brief description of the concept of flow, which has been employed in psychological, sociological, and anthropological discourses, is provided first.
The second section contains an empirical investigation, with a data collected from 36 participants that fulfill certain criteria. The investigation was held as follows: The concept of flow was presented to the interviewees, followed by dialogues. From these dialogues, the researchers gained the feedback regarding the experience of flow, including descriptions of the episodes that they experienced.
Due to the fact that everyday language does not offer specific terms that refer to this experience, this process was rather elusive and difficult. However, from the descriptions that were provided, the author was able to draw three distinct structures: The first is the structure of unity/totality, which involves the experience of being a part of a collective subject, or a totality. This is a sensuous sense of optimal functioning, and of being "beyond oneself." The second is the structure of achievement, which typically emerges in relation to tasks involving accomplishment of an external goal. The third is concerning other spheres of meaning. This category deals with the presence of other spheres of meaning that have their own structure and subject. The experiences of flow can thus deviate from norms in various social contexts. Bloch comments that it is for this reason that it is common for people to shy away from the experience; they fear criticism from others.
The next section elaborates the significance of the flow, first applying Schutz's theory that the world of every-day life is the world of physical objects, which we strive to overcome and change. Schutz draws a line between the everyday life and the other provinces of meaning such as the world of dreams and fantasies. The author feels that this view is too black and white, and that the characteristics of flow are situated between both of the worlds that Schutz describes. She moves on to theories of Goffman, who sees the world as embracing the constantly shifting frames, where realms of being other than ordinary can offer insights into the ordinary. Also, Heidegger and Bollnow's theory is mentioned, which holds that human being is "tuned" at certain moods, upon which emotional feelings can build. The uplifting state of being that they describe, according to the author, is based on Nietzsche's concept of ecstasy, or the experience of being "ausser sich" where these moments are treated as not delusions, but as a revelation in which a profundity of reality is discovered. The author feels that neither Schutz's nor Goffman's theories are adequate in integrating theories of flow, but that Bollnow's point of moods as constitutive bases of our being provides a framework for creating integration of theories. Although such feelings of ecstasy has very limited space in modern society, the author feels that they have transfiguring quality, and that these theories can help us to understand the concept further.
This is another source that tries to explain the flow concept is that is so elusive and difficult to grasp: It brings together various theories relating to this phenomenon, such as Schutz's distinction between everyday life and other provinces of meaning. What these scholarships share in common is the idea that flow seems to have characteristics that cross the boundaries of various worlds, and that it is a type of revelation that can offer insights into the ordinary.
The author relates this to Nietzsche's views on ecstasy, which has been emulated by composers and mystics, such as Alexander Scriabin. Scriabin felt that such sensations can be felt in life, where we can transcend from material beings. This is the way he described Prometheus, and other related works. These works were designed to bring performer and audience into a state of trance, and unite with higher powers. To achieve this, Scriabin structured his entire piece (pieces such as Vers la Flamme) to function as one huge crescendo, containing certain tonal relationships relating to mysticism. He also used mystic chords that symbolize the heavenly (spiritual) realm and the earthly (human) realm, which is C and F# in his Seventh Piano Sonata.I feel that most of us feel rather alienated from such extreme position that Scriabin takes in his mysticism, and also from writings of Nietzsche or other philosophers. Therefore, it is common to look at notions of transcendence that is found in music and other arts with skepticism, or feel that it is not necessary to actually feel the sense of ecstasy in order to understand the work of art that pertains to it. I think that this article is useful in the way that it connects the notion of flow with the mystical/philosophical notions that seem rather farfetched. I am not implying that every form of "transcendence" recorded in history indicates the same phenomenon as the notion of flow, but I think that it is definitely not a separate event. Csikszentmihalyi claims that every person with the functioning mental capability can experience flow. This means that humans are inherently able to, or are designed, to be familiar with the feeling of transcendence and ecstasy, to a certain extent. I think that this is a stepping stone in understanding various events in musicology, and in understanding pieces of music that pertain to the concept of transcendence.