Tag Archive | Madness

On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck

“On Crime and Madness: Adultery in Woyzeck”, Theatralia. Revista de Poética del Teatro XVI. 2014, 227-235.

With this article I aim to introduce the topic of adultery in Georg Büchner’s work with a focus on female sexuality, and the relationship between sex, murder and madness. Adultery appears as a final trigger for madness and murder, which is seen as a substitute for the sexual act between the spouses, especially from the husband’s perspective, when the wife’s adulterous relationship with her lover avoids sexual contact with her legitimate husband. Behind that, the social context where the story develops is especially important for the author’s social critique of German politics in the 1830s under the kingship of Prince Metternich.

CfChapters: Evil Women and Mean Girls

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Texas Tech University is editing a book dedicated to historical representations of the female evilness from an interdisciplinary perspective. This book aims to explore topics such as the relationship between evil and female sexuality, female villains, or any association of evil with women and how have they historically differed from those of men.

More information here: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/56763

The Drowned Man: A Voyeur Experience

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Punchdrunk Theatre Company has dared to submerge the audience in a Gothic-Surrealist atmosphere like in its very well called Immerse Theatre. Temple Studios, a large and high old building, is the chosen place where the adaptation of the gloomy Büchner’s work, Woyzeck, is taking place in the city of London.

            The spectator is introduced to the dark scenario wearing a white mask which allows him to differentiate between the public and the actors. Immediately he finds himself locked in a metallic lift where his journey to an unknown world of sex, violence and despair begins. The spectacle is distributed among different floors and spaces where darkness and bright colours are intertwined to create a high tension experience behind different musical tonalities which make of the journey a very sensorial one. Indeed, the play is based on effects, dancing, body expressions rather than on narration.

            Every character has his own story and the spectator is left to follow the destiny whomever he wishes running through corridors, scales, and sandy or wet grounds. The adultery story of Woyzech takes now place in some uncanny Hollywood studios where young actors die mysteriously and relationships are unreliable. Immersed in the life of the characters, the spectator becomes a voyeur completely ignored by the actors; he can touch all kind of structures and decoration, open drawers, read letters, observe closely the reactions of the characters being always unnoticed.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-drowned-man-a-hollywood-fable

Why does Freud matter?

freud1938Freud has been highly criticised by both conservatives and liberals either for being too explicit in his discoveries or too critique in his conclusions. Nowadays it is mainly criticised to be ‘politically incorrect’ whatever it may be. Indeed his ‘sexual theories’ to say so are not precisely in agreement with what is today widely accepted: homosexuality, ‘sexual liberation’, and so on. For example, to argue that a promiscuous man is more likely to become a pedophile, or that to be homosexual is to be a narcissistic are two things one cannot openly say in the street. If we look now at the most conservative part of society, it is possible to note how neglected female hysteria is as a consequence of sexual dissatisfaction within marriage. These two ideological visions of Freud’s theories are at least high unfair.

Whatever Freud said and whatever one thinks of, Europe owes a great deal to Freud. His investigations meant a completely new world to both science and humanities, and they show the root of an important number of psychological issues; not to mention that he is the father of psychoanalysis, and of a deeper understanding of sexuality. Freud was a great observer of the human mind and behaviour, and a brave man who was not afraid of his contemporaries. He faced lots of child-abuse cases within a bourgeois society and dared to dive into the human soul.

Literary studies are as well in debt with him. I would like to synthesise how can be Freud’s theories used into the literary field:

1. Aesthetics: Psychoanalysis opened the world of dreams and, particularly, its own logic. 20th century is full of artistic examples of a dream aesthetic (Kafka, Schnitzler, Dalí, Hitchcock, Welles, Brecth, among others). Freud’s influence cannot be mislead for those who approached especially the first part of the century.

2. Characters: Psychoanalysis has enhanced the understanding of literary characters and their relationships beyond the limits of the 20th century. Specially important are the familiar relationships to be approach, in many cases, from a Freudian perspective.

3. Art: The relationship between art and the artist acquires a more existential and sexual perspective; as well as the relations between sexuality, beauty and desire.

4. Sexuality: Explorations in the field of literary representations of sexual issues are facilitate by Freud’s studies on sexual behaviour which were pioneer. A quite complete analysis of all kind of sexual experiences was openly explore by Freud.

5. Unconscious: Terms such as ‘conscious’, ‘unconscious’, ‘sub-conscious’, ‘repression’ are properly born through Freud’s practice of psychoanalysis. These concepts complete the understanding of human behaviour especially in unhealthy cases.

6. Body: Literary representations of the body can be approach metaphorically, that is, as a physical representation of the mind or illness. Freud advances further postmodern theories of the body and its relationship to the illness and the text such as those of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.

7. Childhood: The importance of early experiences in life has result to be a key point in general psychology until now.

I think the seven points above are the most important. Generally speaking, psychoanalysis has brought a deeper understanding of the relationship body-mind, and it is not at all surpassed by any other posterior theory, it is perfectly complementary to a kind of more scientific studies. Freud deserves, as any important thinker, a high consideration.

The Human Beast in Thérèse Raquin

thereseA Zola’s novel hardly leaves anyone indifferent; he is the artist par excellence of the darkest human side. It is not just in his topics and characters, it is in his narrative style as well where Zola depicts brutality in a very brutal way: without judgement. There is no the slightest moral voice in his work to relief the reader of the tragedy, instead, the reader is trapped in a hopeless world completely alone without finding an accomplice in the narrator. That is what makes Zola especially terrible, his objective display of the human beast.

Such a thing as a ‘good character’ is impossible to find in Thérèse Raquinthere are just evil and less-evil characters  in the Parisian novel. No one is free or innocent, all of them are accomplices in some way or another of the murder of Camille, even Camille himself. All the characters present in the novel are especially concern with themselves, their own interests, which lead them to cause unfair situations in an endless chain of guilty. Surviving is the main objective for each one until the only possible way to do so is suicide. Death freed Thérèse and Laurent of their crime remorses after months of mutual hate and misbehaviour. Camille, Madame Raquin, Thérèse and Laurent are all victims and guilty; even secondary characters can be accused of selfishness looking just for self-satisfaction. The characters’ descriptions and the atmosphere of the novel is quite animalistic. The word ‘animal’ to design desires or feelings is used repeatedly for Thérèse and Laurent and it is full of animal similes which refer to their bodies as well. Sexuality between the lovers is mainly aggressive and even masochistic, it is just of an instinctual kind.

The adulterous affair between Thérèse and Laurent corresponds actually to that of Rougemont’s theory in The Love in the Western World. After committing the crime killing Camille, Thérèse’s husband, Laurent and Thérèse cannot feel attract to each other any more. Moreover, they will progressively hate each other after their marriage, which was the goal killing Camille, until ending in death. Indeed, the adulterous affair is exciting because of the obstacle, it is the romantic love which is thrilling and such a thrill is possible due to the obstacle, in this case, the husband. Passion was possible for the lovers because of their consciousness of braking the rule and their passion needed always an obstacle, otherwise, it dies. No passion lasts forever and there is no passion in marriage actually after a certain time. Marriage is not properly the place for sexual passion, this one should be found outside ‘conformity’. The problem then with passion is that neither every obstacle lasts forever, so death is the last solution and, Rougemont would say, the lover’s most secret desire. Death is the only obstacle which remains forever and which feds lover’s ‘love’. Thérèse and Laurent can just kill themselves because they have discovered that marriage’s happiness was a mirage, they needed Camille to find the passion. And actually the only scene of relief in the whole novel is at the very end, when they decide to commit suicide:

‘Suddenly Thérèse and Laurent burst into tears, and in a final breakdown fell into each other’s arms, as weak children. Something gentle and tender seemed to awaken in their breast. They wept and said nothing, thinking of the sink of filth in which they had been living and would go on living if they were cowardly enough to remain alive. And then, as they remembered the past, they felt so weary and sick of themselves that an immense longing for rest an oblivion came over them. They exchanged one last look, a look of gratitude in the presence of the knife and the glass of poison. Thérèse took the glass, drank half of it, and gave it to Laurent, who finished it in one gulp. It was as quick as lightning. They fell on each other, struck down instantly, and at last found consolation in death.’

‘One in a million’

trapped-womanSylvia Plath’s character, Esther Greenwood, in The Bell Jar is a wonderful example of genre pressure. Esther lives in the American 60’s under conventional genre expectations; she is a good student in a female college and, of course, she is supposed to marry after that. Good student, good wife and good mother is a typical sequence for a young woman in the 20th century. It is curious how it was expected from a clever woman no claim about such situation, even more curious is the fact of being surprised when it happened.

Esther lives under pressure because ‘it is expected’ from her as a woman, especially as a physical or sexualised woman. The social expectations have to do with her being married and have children, as well as with her sexual behaviour, but not with her feelings or own longings as a whole person. Esther wants to be a writer and travel all around Europe; her former concerns have nothing to do with sex or men or her social status. However, the recognised roles a woman can display in the social realm do not include her idea. She is allowed to marry or allowed to have multiple sexual partners.  The two models of woman which are brought to her just enclosed her mind in an anxious representation of reality. The two possibilities represent the gaze of the other, whoever it may be, which conforms reality in such a way and imposes it upon Esther. What does it mean to marry and to live sex freely is not decided by herself: married women are X and not married women are Y. It is an institutionalised statement.Esther becomes mad because she refuses a marriage proposal and because her sexual experiences are not especially desirables. She becomes mad because she finds herself trying to fit in some of the two accepted views of what is a woman. Her obsession with losing her virginity is just an attempt of trying to avoid gender pressure. It is her rebellion against marriage which she does not want for herself. But when her first sexual act takes place, Esther cannot stop bleeding; a very rare situation, as the doctor points out, ‘you’re one in a million’. In fact, her body reacts probably in accordance to her soul. It is a very disgusting situation increased by the unknown man with whom she has the experience.

Esther is victim both of a genre-fixed perspective and of sexual thoughtless experiences. She cannot go on living as she likes, acting naturally until she realises where this pressure comes from. Just then, in the act of self-reflecting becomes free of the institutionalised society. And maybe she is indeed one in a million and that is the reason she ends in a sanatorium, but that is also the reason why Sylvia Plath never stopped writing.

The Other and My-self

Poe_william_wilson_byam_shawYou have conquered, and I yield. Yet henceforward art thou also dead – dead to the World, to Heaven, and to Hope! In me didst thou exist – and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself. That’s the ending of “William Wilson” (1839) by Allan Poe, a short story which shows the dreadful life of someone who introduces himself as William Wilson, and who is horrified by the presence of someone identical to him. This “other” has his same name and appearance and, according to the narrator – which is William Wilson-, his objective seems to be that of interfering with all what William attempts to do. The terrible whispering of the “other” tortures William every time it suddenly appears along his life, since he’s a child. Indeed, the “other” seems to become the whispering which actually unmasks every unfair action William pretends to achieve. While the weary presence of the “other” increases, William’s dreadful desires do too. He escapes all through Europe (Oxford, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Moscow, etc.) from the tormenting whispering however impossible it results to be.

This disturbing presence in fact reminds Sartre’s theory of the Other in Being and Nothingness (1943). William Wilson becomes catch by the “other” every time he tries to achieve a goal by suspicious means; he is shamed by the presence of the “other”, who, moreover, interferes with his will. Both William and the “other” incarnate a fight to impose their respective wills on each other:

Thus far I had succumbed supinely to this imperious domination. The sentiment of deep awe with which I habitually regarded the elevated character, the majestic wisdom, the apparent omnipresence and omnipotence of Wilson, added to a feeling of even terror, with which certain other traits in his nature and assumptions inspired me, had operated, hitherto, to impress me with an idea of my own utter weakness and helplessness, and to suggest an implicit, although bitterly reluctant submission to his arbitrary will (…) I began to murmur, -to hesitate,- to resist. And was it only fancy which induced me to believe that, with the increase of my own firmness, that of my tormentor underwent a proportional diminution? Be this as it may, I now began to feel the inspiration of a burning hope, and at length nurtured in my secret thoughts a stern and desperate resolution that I would submit no longer to be enslaved.

The dialectical relation “master-slave” is explained by Sartre, among others, to argue that the encounter with the Other takes place in terms of competition among different personal interests; just one will can win. That seems very likely to the relation William expresses regarding the “other” which in this case is “his other”. And it adds a challenging point as in Poe’s story the disappearance of one seems to imply that of the other, or the other’s, that of the one’s. This fact brings back again the importance of the “other’s look” in Sartre. It could be argued that William needs to be looked at in order to exist, as the “other” tells him to be living in the other’s self. So William can just survive in relation to the Other, acquiring a position regarding the Other, which turns him in the other’s object.

In William’s case this dialectic is enhanced by the ambiguous fact of the other’s identity; at the same time, it’s very nicely presented as a metaphor of the double or the split self which is presented as the own’s other. It gives a wide range for interpretation together with Sartre.   

A Romantic Ecstasy

20080925_friedrich_ruins_of_a_monasteryGeorge Büchner (1813-1837) was a Romantic German writer whose short story “Lenz” (1836) is really a beautiful piece of work. Lenz is an extremely sensitive man able to experiment beauty in an unusual degree. Nature, childhood and religion give him a high sense of spiritual communion in the most holistic sense. The detailed descriptions of nature and his feelings towards it remind Wordsworth’s Preface, which in fact is a a very Romantic approach to this realm. The idealisation of nature, childhood and religion remind as well the Enlightened ideas of Rousseau. In fact, these three realities are the only ones able to calm down the suddenly mood changes of Lenz, which go from ecstasy to depression. Their power to redeem Lenz’s tormented soul is linked to their primitive and innocent beauty.

This story, far from being comical, provokes a feeling of compassion towards Lenz’s madness and an empathy with his sensibility.

The Sweetness of Confusion

quijoteAs Foucault argues in History of Madness, there is just a subtle line between reason and madness. Is the madman completely crazy or the sensible one totally reasonable? What parameters does medicine apply to place such a border? Could “madness” have periods of more lucidity than reason?

K-Pax is an interesting film which exemplifies how madness and reason can be easily confused; how the rationality of medicine is sometimes weak as disease. You can find the whole film in Youtube, by the way, please enjoy the English trailer.

 

Beyond Difference: Let them be

Einstein-semilla-11Diderot shows in Rameau’s Nephew a conversation between an enlightened philosopher and a quite extravagant musician, Rameau. While the former argues for virtue and education, the latter enjoys vices and art. Several topics are discussed across the dialogue such as ethics and aesthetics, education, or moral, all them upon the light of the Enlightenment. However, one important idea, which goes across from the beginning till the end, is the acceptance of the different by the society as an expression of the genius.

Rameau explains to the philosopher his dissolute life and his unacceptable thoughts. The philosopher thinks of Rameau to be a complete madman, and Rameau says of the society to be completely hypocrite. In fact, as the philosopher realizes at the end, Rameau says what everybody think and do without saying it. Rameau has a gift, an excellence sensibility for music and, at the same time, he is terribly honest. He is different. He is different because he is not playing the social rules, he is unconventional. Instead of accepting the norms, he unmasks them and the game people play.

Therefore, madness is, until certain point, an institutional tag,  and doctors are the new high caste of the Western modernity, especially psychiatrists. Medicine has become a new control of society, especially when it is ruled by doctors who serve the Pharmaceutical industry. Rameau is a genius, therefore, superior, therefore dangerous for those who attempt to avoid difference. As Tony Tanner interprets in The Novel of the Adultery: Contract and Transgression, the real occupation of the pharmacist, Monsieur Homais, in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, is to label people, among them, the adulteress. Labelling here is linked to the lack of freedom and to the adulteress’ suicide.

The different has been avoided until today. Medicine becomes stronger and stronger and there is no acceptance of the being. The popular TDAH (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), for example, affects to a great number of children and teenagers. The secondary effects of the drugs which are employed to avoid some of the TDAH symptoms are terrible. One of them is schizophrenia. But the Pharmaceutical industry makes great amounts of money with such treatments.

I propose a reflection about the difference and the individual freedom to consider if we should permit to be labelled.