In Ascending and Descending, M.C. Escher draws us a castle of sorts, roofed with an impossible staircase, that enrobed figures are dutifully marching up and down on, in separate lines. Forever trapped in their march, no one is moving onward. I think about this image a lot when something stops making sense or working. I see the paradox as opportunity: How can the situation be made that you want the snake to eat its tail?
Escher also drew two outlier figures in the image, referred to as ‘free.’ These two figures, released of the tyranny of the stairs, have very different paths. One looks upon the poor marchers from a lower balcony, watching them while leaning back against the railing. The other, at the very bottom, sits on the castle’s front staircase. The figure could be contemplating what’s beyond their existence of this mysterious space. Perhaps our figure now sits at the end of their universe, but unlike the comrades above, or the other outlier, the figure on the front steps is still searching for the horizon. Escher called these free people, saying they were too head-strong to be among the laborers on the stairs, but would eventually see the err in their non-conformity and give it up to return to the cult.
After two weeks together at bscl (that’s a lot of therapy) in a leadership ‘haze,’ I believe the Berlin School has shown us that we are all the figure on the steps. Whether or not we’ve reached the end of the universe, with purpose or without, we must never stop looking for the next horizon beyond the castle stairs.