How can anyone be interested in war? that glorious pursuit of annihilation with its ceremonious bellowings and trumpetings over the mangling of human bones and muscles and organs and eyes, its inconceivable agonies which could have been prevented by a few well-chosen, reasonable words. How, why, did this unnecessary business begin? Why does anyone want to read about it this redundant human madness which men accept as inevitable?
It is almost impossible to be a doctor and an honest man, but it is obscenely impossible to be a psychiatrist without at the same time bearing the stamp of the most incontestable madness: that of being unable to resist that old atavistic reflex of the mass of humanity, which makes any man of science who is absorbed by this mass a kind of natural and inborn enemy of all genius.
As I was writing about Grace Marks, and about her interlude in the Asylum, I came to see her in context the context of other people's opinions, both the popular images of madness and the scientific explanations for it available at the time. A lot of what was believed and said on the subject appears like sheer lunacy to us now. But we shouldn't be too arrogant how many of our own theories will look silly when those who follow us have come up with something better? But whatever the scientists may come up with, writers and artists will continue to portray altered mental states, simply because few aspects of our nature fascinate people so much. The so-called mad person will always represent a possible future for every member of the audience who knows when such a malady may strike? When "mad," at least in literature, you aren't yourself; you take on another self, a self that is either not you at all, or a truer, more elemental one than the person you're used to seeing in the mirror. You're in danger of becoming, in Shakespeare's works, a mere picture or beast, and in Susanna Moodie's words, a mere machine; or else you may become an inspired prophet, a truth-sayer, a shaman, one who oversteps the boundaries of the ordinarily visible and audible, and also, and especially, the ordinarily sayable. Portraying this process is deep power for the artist, partly because it's a little too close to the process of artistic creation itself, and partly because the prospect of losing our self and being taken over by another, unfamiliar self is one of our deepest human fears.
For every age there is a popular idea about what madness is, what causes it, and how a mad person should look and behave; and it's usually these popular ideas, rather than those of medical professionals, that turn up in songs and stories and plays and books.
I no longer feel I'll be dead by thirty; now it's sixty. I suppose these deadlines we set for ourselves are really a way of saying we appreciate time, and want to use all of it. I'm still writing, I'm still writing poetry, I still can't explain why, and I'm still running out of time. Wordsworth was sort of right when he said, "Poets in their youth begin in gladness/ But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness." Except that sometimes poets skip the gladness and go straight to the despondency. Why is that? Part of it is the conditions under which poets work giving all, receiving little in return from an age that by and large ignores them and part of it is cultural expectation "The lunatic, the lover and the poet," says Shakespeare, and notice which comes first. My own theory is that poetry is composed with the melancholy side of the brain, and that if you do nothing but, you may find yourself going slowly down a long dark tunnel with no exit. I have avoided this by being ambidextrous: I write novels too. But when I find myself writing poetry again, it always has the surprise of that first unexpected and anonymous gift.
For close designs and crooked counsels fit,
Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit,
Restless, unfixed in principles and place,
In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace;
A fiery soul, which, working out its way,
Fretted the pigmy-body to decay
And o'er informed the tenement of clay.
A daring pilot in extremity,
Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high,
He sought the storms; but, for a calm unfit,
Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit.
Great wits are sure to madness near allied
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
Else, why should he, with wealth and honour blest,
Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
Punish a body which he could not please,
Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?
And all to leave what with his toil he won
To that unfeathered two-legged thing, a son,
Got, while his soul did huddled notions try,
And born a shapeless lump, like anarchy.
In friendship false, implacable in hate,
Resolved to ruin or to rule the state.
Poetry demands a man with a special gift for it, or else one with a touch of madness in him.
Revolted by the butchery of the 1914 World War, we in Zurich devoted ourselves to the arts. While guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages and wrote poems with all our might. We were seeking an art based on fundamentals, to cure the madness of the age, and find a new order of things that would restore the balance between heaven and hell. We had a dim premonition that power-mad gangsters would one day use art itself as a way of deadening men's minds.
We have psychologized like the insane, who aggravate their madness in struggling to understand it.
We have become blind to the alternatives to violence. This involves us in a sort of official madness, in which, while following what seems to be a perfect logic of self-defense and detterence, we commit one absurdity after another: We seek to preserve peace by fighting a war, or to advance freedom by subsidizing dictatorships, or to "win the hearts and minds of the people" by poisoning their crops and burning their villages and confining them in concentration camps; we seek to uphold the "truth" of our cause with lies, or to answer conscientious dissent with threats and slurs and intimidations. I have come to the realization that I can no longer imagine a war that I would believe to be either useful or necessary. I would be against any war.
The Seventh Seal is one of the few films really close to my heart. Actually, I don't know why. It's certainly far from perfect. I had to contend with all sorts of madness, and one can detect here and there the speed with which it was made. But I find it even, strong, and vital.
I think an interpreter has to sing everything, to sing what wants to sing. It cannot be with that foolishness, that here in Brazil we face this thing that when one records a song, later no one can rerecord it. This is madness, absurd. Music doesn't have an owner, the music doesnt belong to anyone.
Nietzsche restored something like the soul to our understanding of man by providing a supplement to the flat, dry screen of consciousness, which with pure intellect looks at the rest of man as something alien, a bundle of affects of matter, like any other object of physics, chemistry and biology. The unconscious replaces all the irrational thingsabove all divine madness and eroswhich were part of the old soul and had lost significance in modernity. It provides a link between consciousness and nature as a whole, restoring therewith the unity of man.
What message, years of conflagration,
have you: madness or hope? On thin
cheeks strained by war and liberation
bloody reflections still remain.
It is magnificent, but it is not war; it is madness.