bracha l ettinger (2)


This rather technical blog is a first introductory sorting through my synthetical and fresh thoughts, though with a long history, of why I have never been happy with the locating of "fear" as (only) an emotion or feeling as typically found in our thinking (norms). The theories of affects, feelings, and emotions are many and diverse, yet for me they virtually all fall into the same, often unconscious biased framework, paradigm, or what can also be called a (Dominant) worldview. There are a few radical sources of fresh and alternative thinking/theorizing that have led me today to create a new category of awemotion to work along-side, if not dismantle, the hegemonic control of Fear and its meanings and definitions. I no longer think it very productive to liberation to continue to see fear as emotional; at least not without a serious correction to that referential frame of meaning and shaping of experience that goes with it typical of Psychology. People of all stripes, for the most part, cannot seem to think of Fear beyond it being imagined and classified within this Emotional Paradigm. I'll give an introduction to the difference between emotion and awemotion and offer a theoretical rationale for awemotion as the best way to understand Fear beyond the Emotional Paradigm, the latter, which is arguably buried in oppressive premises of a phallocentric and non-Indigenous understanding. Therein, I surmount the scaffolding (only briefly) here for a new theory of Fear which will better help us solve the Fear Problem. My gratitude here is to three contemporary critical thinkers, theorists, who have assisted my synthesis: Four Arrows, Bracha L. Ettinger and Desh Subba. 

Brief Introduction

This morning I awoke with one of the synthetical moments of the hypnopompic trance-state of consciousness (between waking and sleep). This has always been a most creative time, when my brain/mind system has had a good night of dreaming and rest, and re-integration of a lot of the complexities and inputs during the day prior, and during my entire life-time. The synthetical moment is like a bursting of a "damn" or "knot" in my thinking and processing of problems to solve.

The biggest problem to solve since 1989 [1] is how to convince humans to experience, perceive, respond and think about Fear (with capital) in an entirely different way than the norm. Four Arrows (aka Dr. Don Jacobs at the Leadership Studies Program, Fielding Graduate University) and myself have had an intense six years specifically talking about how to re-frame Fear from a trance-based learning (TBL) and Indigenous perspective. We are working on a book together entitled Fearless Engagement (to be published in 2018, Peter Lang publishing). He began using a capitalization of the term to set it apart from fear (with no capital, which is the norm) as defined and made meaning by what he called the Dominant worldview (contra the Indigenous worldview) [2]. I really like his framing of the Fear Problem (my term) within this Worldview Wars (see also Culture Wars, Paradigm Wars below). If "wars" is off-putting and sounds militarized, I assure you that is not how I see the battle/resistance going on for domination, re: the problem of hegemony of knowledge/power in the domain of Fear Studies. Yet, you can turn the conflict and use your own word(s) of which many in the recent Indigenous resistance movements are calling themselves "Water Protectors" while various actors, non-Indigenous and/or Indigenous backgrounds, call themselves "Water Warriors." In this sense, Four Arrows has preferred of late to call himself an Indigenous (Nature and Culture) protector rather than warrior. I label him and his work within the Sacred Warrior traditions from around the world, across cultures and through time. These are word(s) for you to consider but further delineation here would be a distraction.

Multiple Perspectives/Worldviews: Radicalizing the Theory of Emotion(s): Fear

This morning I wish to briefly introduce a parallel notion to Four Arrows' work and his naming of Fear [3], which intersects with his conceptualization and radicalization of Fear. I am referring to two other sources that, more or less, complement Four Arrows' work and my own on this subject. Also, notice that the focus of this blog is not to go into the practical applications of a radical theory of Fear but to show the initial revision required in the dominant theory of fear as we normally have been taught--and, taught to absorb rather than question critically. The Biomedical scientific model (or paradigm) is part of the Dominant (i.e., non-Indigenous) worldview--and is thus, the worldview of the "colonizer" of the Earth and Natural Systems and the destroyer of much of what had been Indigenous Traditional Knowledge.

The biomedical perspective, now Psychiatry and Psychology serving as its agents, continues to categorize "fear" as an emotion--and thus, always emotional. This has been heavily reinforced by technologies (e.g., MRI brain scan research into the neurobiology of fear). It has told us that that is the way to understand fear. It has told us we ought to be emotional and manage all the emotions (i.e., fear being only one, not special in any way, from the list of emotions). Note, I am not questioning that we may at times be "emotional" that is not the issue here, if you read on, the context for how emotionality is constructed and regulated by "Authority" is the issue in question. The theory of fear (Fear) is one way to get at this critique.

I began fearology long ago as a way to displace this unquestioned assumption of the Biomedical scientific model. When I found Desh Subba's work on a philosophy of fearism (he's from Nepal, now living in Hong Kong) writing about fear in such a new way, as he has since 1999, it floored me that he was doing so without having known about my work. We had so many overlapping ideas and thus wrote a book together in 2016 [4]. I'll never forget the awe I had when reading Subba's primary text on philosophy of fearism (2014) [5], where he offered, in chapter one, some 21 "Definitions" of fear. I had never seen such a diverse array of ways to understand fear. And I had been researching the topic for over a quarter century at that point. And what was so rare was that he didn't start off with the standard Biomedical definition (i.e., fear- is a feeling or emotion). Clear to me, he was articulating an understanding of fear that was complex, holistic, transdisciplinary and obviously non-Western. He was giving an Eastern worldview perspective to the topic that was completely refreshing. Turns out Subba has a very broad background as a journalist, philosopher, and best known for his many books of poetry and fiction. He is an artist in the largest sense. I resonated, and since have helped in re-translating some of his English translated works (originally written in Nepalese), because it is very difficult to read some of his work even with the English translations he has to date. I know it is very costly to get good translations and he is doing the best he can with very limited resources as he lives a very working class life in Hong Kong. Readers of the philosophy of fearism are growing, and I am very happy to be part of Subba's leadership in this area. However, this blogpost is not about his work either.

The third theorist I wish to engage very briefly who helped me come up with the specific term awemotion (pronounced ah-motion) [6], is the Israeli (living in France) artist, psychoanalyst, activist and matrixial theorist Bracha L. Ettinger. This woman has amazed me with her matrixial theory ever since Barbara Bickel (my partner) and I discovered her work in 2009-10. Barbara and I continue to study her largely feminist/feminine theory that offers an important re-correction to phallocentric theory (i.e., overly masculinized perspectives, psychologies, and those that typically accompany a pathological patriarchy) [7].

Ettinger's notion of "feminine" is very unique and complex in her matrixial theory (which she coined over 20 years ago). I will only tell you that it is non-gendered as a concept and proto-subjective (or transubjective). Much of her matrixial theorizing is based on her phenomenological investigations into her artworking processes as an artist, and her work in the psychoanalytical relationship, her motherhood, as well as the traumatic era of a post-Holocaust survivor connectivity as "Jewish" in general.

Barbara and I have really fallen in love with matrixial theory as we are both artist and it speaks to us on that aesthetic and poetic level, but also on the psychospiritual level; yet, her framework is all-encompassing (cosmic), based on the "womb" (not just physically speaking) and the "maternal" and the child-mother bonding (again, not only physical but on the psychical and spiritual dimensions of experiencing--and, one doesn't have to be only a biological mother to engage matrixial theory and the reality it attempts to "touch" that is so ignored in the phallocentric Dominant and Biomedical worldviews). Her work is not metaphysics, yet it crafts what feels like an entirely new feminine theology (worldview). She isn't attacking all of the masculinist worldivew but says it is incomplete and crippled because it has for a long time in human history ignored and or deleted the feminine--that is, the matrixial reality. Thus, we all have suffered under this regime of political power/knowledge exclusion--and led to us generally "fearing the feminine." Thus, she also has feminist objectives but matrixial feminism is interrelated with but very different than all other kinds of feminisms.

Does Ettinger have a unique Fear theory? Not overtly. Her work is therefore different from Four Arrows and Subba that way. Yet, I find lots of overlaps in the three theorists, of which I will not be going into here in this blogpost as it would take a long essay to ferret those similarities and differences out. Yet, her Fear theory exists when I study it and write about it and it is wonderfully liberating because it does not encast and mold the definition and meaning of fear (Fear) as only "emotional"--rather, Ettinger is specific to include that emotionality of Fear in matrixial theory but by no means does she rely on the phallocentric Biomedical perspective. She doesn't actually talk about emotions much at all. Her emphasis is on a much more contemporary philosophical and theoretical body of work, and varied schools of thought, that can best be called the "affective" schools. She always talks about affect--which includes, but transcends the limited meanings of emotion. Again, all that is too complex to go into here. 

Ettinger's Matrixial Relational Ecology

Ettinger's matrixial-based affect-focus to understand the dynamics of the human experience is proto-emotional, proto-aesthetic, and proto-ethical. Her primary affects are "awe and com-passion" as the basic unit-bond of the maternal subjective formation of the baby and mother (or, more generally, what she calls the non-I and I relational dynamic; which I would call the matrixial relational ecology). It is upon her notion of "awe" in particular that I am now considering seriously as a very unique way to add as a prefix (that is the matrixial feminine side) to emotion--thus, we get the synthesis of awemotion. Think of this as a relational ecological understanding of our primal foundational onto-epistemological way of being in the world--that is, prior to post-traumatization (i.e., woundedness, and fear-conditioning) [8].

Like Four Arrows Indigenous worldivew, or Subba's Eastern worldivew, Ettinger's Matrixial worldview do not privilege the understanding of Fear as emotional but rather as relational and better situated in the concepts of alertness, arousal and ultimately awe (and com-passion [9]). I recall Fr. Matthew Fox once preaching about how the term "fear of God" in the Bible in the old Hebrew actually means "awe of God." Anyways, Ettinger, I believe would argue, that these relationally (more truly matrixial feminine) terms offer a "natural" and healthy responsivity to all relations (i.e., self/Other) and thus ground the human experience ontologically in love and trust (again, her definitions of these terms are complicated and corrections to the phallocentric views). "Fear of the Other" (or strange) is not where human subjectification and identity-formation begin and/or mature from--at least, not in matrixial theory. 

The entire understanding of the emotional and empathy with it, as we've known, are being critically re-framed by Ettinger into awe and com-passion as the base rather than anxiety (i.e., fear) that undergird emotionality and empathy as we know them as norm conceptions and practices. The Western (Dominant) worldview has given us a 'picture' of reality and human experience as based primarily on anxiety (e.g., existentialism, and developmental object relations, early psychoanalysis, Judeo-Christianity, etc.). The anxiety or fear-based perspective to basic human subjectivity skews our orientation to the world (to Nature, to God, to Spirit) via what Ettinger would call "reactive" rather than "responsive"--and, most importantly, that makes the orientation flooded with an ongoing sense of the world (and our own bodies, and God) as "threat" and "traumatic" signalling. It leaves us with a bereft (if not pathological) and very skewed psychology (and Psychology Paradigm). It isn't a healing paradigm that's for sure. It is a coping paradigm. This is violent and killing us.

A new paradigm is available, of which Ettinger is one of the major theorist I draw upon for such a reconstruction. To be sure, the entire body of research and writing and education based on "emotion" (and the Emotional Paradigm) is being challenged--and, that goes the same for the Emotional Intelligence theory, models and pedagogy! Okay, I'll leave this here, understandably incomplete... I want to think a lot more about Ettinger's complex "proto-emotion" (i.e., proto-affects) of "awe and com-passion" as foundational to a new way of understanding Fear. I will say, rarely does she talk about "fear" directly, though when she has, I immediately resonate with a deep and enduring truth in her work, and it sounds like she is writing and thinking from a Fearlessness perspective. I love it. Yet, it will take awhile to unwind her thought and theory and show how matrixial theory is non-fear-based (because, for many reasons, at least, it is non-phallocentric based). At least, this is the critical theory of matrixial theory I am attracted to pursue, so as to produce a better critical theory and pedagogy for the world and our ways of doing fear management/education.

Until next time ... [feel free to email me and lets chat about any of this: r.michaelfisher52 [at]]


1. In late 1989, while living in Calgary, AB (my hometown), I had a transformative vision with a female partner, Catherine Sannuto, at the time, that led to my naming and leading the In Search of Fearlessness Project (a not-for-profit organization). I am grateful to my next partner, Barbara Bickel, who came into this project and has helped support my work since. I established the In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute in 1991 and remains the structure in which I publish my results (e.g., Technical Papers Series).

2. Probably the best up-dated summary of Four Arrows "point of departure theory" that articulates the conflict (Culture Wars, Paradigm Wars, Worldview Wars) between Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives is his book: Point of Departure: Returning to a More Authentic Worldview for Education and Survival. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. I have written a book review on Amazon books, which will give you my early perception of the value of this approach he has taken, albeit, I am also critical and working to revise his views somewhat, yet keep their core intentions and wisdom in place.

3. Although Four Arrows had originally began using Fear (with the capital) in his doctoral research and his first major theoretical book on the topic (1998), he has not always been consistent in doing so and thus many of his readers do not often gather in the implication of how his view of Fear (based on many perspectives) is so unique from the norm view of fear (without the capital). See Jacobs, D. T. (1998). Primal Awareness: A True Story of Survival, Transformation, and Awakening with the Raramuri Shamans of Mexico. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

4. See Fisher, R.M., and Subba, D. (2016). Philosophy of Fearism: A First East-West Dialogue. Australia: Xlibris.

5. See Subba, D. (2014). Philosophy of Fearism: Life is Conducted, Directed and Controlled by the Fear. Australia: Xlibris.

6. The profound work of Erin Manning (also Brian Massumi) is also part of articulating my formation this new term awemotion; and also, the theory of Re-evaluation Co-Counseling (a la the late Harvey Jackins) has been influential, as a few others... however, I won't be going into their work here.

7. You can read and/or listen to Ettinger's work for yourself (e.g., Youtube) although, I caution that her work can be hard to grasp because it uses a complex scaffolding of theory and terms that take quite awhile to learn (not unlike psychoanalysis in general). For a much easier "in" to her work I suggest Fisher, R.M., and Bickel, B. (2015). Aesthetic Wit(h)nessing Within a Matrixial Imaginary. Canadian Review of Art Education, 42(1), 76-93.

8. This is complicated and not some "pure" or Ideal fantasy or potential phantasy that is disconnected from reality. Ettinger, like myself, show that the traumatic threads of historical woundness (unhealed) are continually circulating as traces, even in the unborn.

9. "Com-passion" is very different than an adult (or phallocentric) view of compassion. This has to be kept in mind if you want to understand the proto-ethical dimension of Ettinger's matrixial theory. This has a lot to do with the aesthetic dimension of experience of subjects and objects and the entire process of subjectification as Ettinger articulates it. For a simple description of this see Fisher and Bickel (2015) in relation to corrective matrixial theory of empathy. Psychology, at least in the West and modernity, has a very biased phallocentric view of empathy and Ettinger's work offers a great critique--and, likewise, I would add so does Four Arrows and Subba's work.

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As much as it is so important to acknowledge the nature and role of "fear" (complex as it is do define) in human affairs (e.g., philosophy of fearism) there is an equally important inquiry and education to be had in regard to how "fear" is not the only motivating, or even most powerful motivating force in human affairs. The basic philosophical and theoretical arguments are rich and complex, beyond the scope of this blog. However, I want to point out that if you wish to understand my own thinking on this topic then you really have to engage the feminine (feminist) matrixial gaze theory (i.e., matrixial theory) of Bracha L. Ettinger. She is a post-Lacanian psychoanalyst, theorist, artist, activist, and most importantly, as I have written about her and her work (often with Barbara Bickel), she is the next most powerful psychoanalytic thinker since Lacan, and before that, since Freud. And, the good news... she is working on an entirely new basis for the theories of human motivation, subjectivity (or what she prefers to call transubjectivity).

Barbara and I and a small group of artists Barbara knows have studied Ettinger's difficult texts some years ago. After that year long study online, it has been awhile and so Barbara and I took up recently to study her videos online for 40 days, attempting this as a practice. We'll be sharing and writing more on that later. But just to introduce you, if you haven't already been introduced to Ettinger and matrixial theory (a non-phallocentric theory) then I will give a link to an excellent lecture on YouTube below. To close off this short blog I want to say that I am ever-ongoing impressed by the depth and "truth" from her work in understanding human beings, and her aesthetical-ethical foundation for guiding a new way of being beyond a fear-based orientation to the world. Her linking of early-mother and child bonding (mostly, in the womb) is brilliant psychoanalysis in my view, and she is slowly being recognized in the field and beyond as an important theorist. At one point in the video (below) she says, that it is our nature in connection in the matrixial borderspace of the I and non-I (self and Other) that from the beginning we were unknowingly embraced in "fascination and awe and compassion" which is our natural state of recognition of the Other and which is the protoethical ground for any ethics, and she adds to this claim that such an awe and compassion in the earliest stages of subjectivity (largely unconscious) is a connection/recognition/co-emergence "before fear, guilt, shame, action, cognition, abjection and disgust." This is the primordial matrixial ground for a theory of fearlessness, in my words.

Go to YouTube video on Ettinger's lecture in 2010 at the European Graduate University, where she often teaches: "Aesthetics, Protoethics and Matrixial Subjectivity."

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