January 10, 2011 § 3 Comments
“Madness is to think too many things in succession too fast, or one thing too exclusively.” ~ Voltaire
“A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis
“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” ~ Robin Williams
In his seminal work, “Madness and Civilization,” French philosopher Michael Faucault posits that psychiatry uses labeling language (known as positive science) to camouflage the bourgeois values imposed on social deviancy.
In other words, the mental health system acts as a kind of suppressive goon against nonconformity.
Vincent Van Gogh, famous for his sunflowers, wheat fields and ear-chopping, acknowledged that:
“It is only too true that a lot of artists are mentally ill — it’s a life which, to put it mildly, makes one an outsider. I’m all right when I completely immerse myself in work, but I’ll always remain half crazy.”
From an evolutionary perspective, survival depends on some kind of social acceptance. So it’s natural that we attempt to avoid stigmatization. Yet, the seeker-dreamer feels compelled towards living authentically and will often sacrifice herd acceptance for the satisfaction of true self-expression.
Still, there is the ever-present, if subconscious, awareness that if you go too far, you could lose liberty. If you act too differently, you could be institutionalized.
Once deemed clinically insane, the individual’s rights become blurry, as with criminals.
The incarceration of psychological dissidents acts as a kind of warning to wayward thinkers; a cautionary tale to not let one’s mind run too far into the fanciful woods.
Edgar Allen Poe observed:
“Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
In the Renaissance, the mentally ill were considered to have gotten too close to “the Reason of God.”
Tribal cultures throughout the world consider madness the first sign of a shaman’s birth into his power, marking him as one who can communicate between the physical and the invisible worlds.
Dr Adele Juda, researcher at the Institute for Psychiatry of Munich, interviewed over 5,000 people between 1927 –1943. She found what was considered neurosis and personality disorder in 27% of the artists & 19% of the scientists and statesmen studied, against the general rate of 10-12%.
The highest rates of psychic disruption were seen among poets (50%).
As French poet Arthur Rimbaud writes:
“A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men… Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone, he attains the unknown.”
The lowest rates of neurosis were found among architects (17%).
A good friend of mine once worked as a personal assistant for an Oscar-winning talent who shall remain nameless. She has shared moments with me wherein the successful entertainer barreled through the living room in boxer shorts, a newsboy hat and cowboy boots, a manuscript of papers clutched to his chest, saying, “I’m going mad!”—after dumping his papers in a pile to play a beautiful fit of piano music & jumping up to scribble in a notebook.
He smiled of course when he said it, because he had managed to play the most beautiful hoodwink upon society that a creative mind can play: he made money being slightly mad.
And that is the art of insanity: valuing creative chaos and giving it room to unfold without premature critique or analysis. Order and reason can come later. As Nietzsche says:
“You must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star.”
Creative process doesn’t have to make sense, and some of the world’s greatest visionaries have proven that it’s better if it doesn’t. Far-fetched processes yield unusual thoughts, and novel ideas garner more attention than pedestrian ones.
Am I suggesting that one can not be brilliant without being insane? Certainly not. But in order to have great thoughts, one’s mind must certainly be open to a broader scope than the average thinker, and when a mind is broad in expanse, the impressions therein will be unusually varied.
Madness and art are not mutually exclusive, but they do go well together, and often turn up as a pair to the same party. If you’re one of those who dreams awake and finds yourself an “outsider” like van Gogh, consider yourself lucky: you’re in good company and that much closer to doing something original.
So use your madness to your own advantage. Rather than stuffing it in a drawer, take it out to play.
“Imagination,” Einstein says, “is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
“There is no genius free from some tincture of madness.” Seneca
December 24, 2010 § 31 Comments
“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
We live in a world of dead men’s dreams. Our reality, the society that has been conditioning our perception from the day of our birth, is a construction built on a construction built on ideas from other minds, long dead. Their creations compose our world and make up the maps of our psyches, a collective human inheritance.
Today, staring at a lit red traffic signal in the shape of an arrow, waiting to get on the freeway, I was suddenly struck by my—and everyone’s—trance-like acceptance of the symbol. I noted how automatic my responses to the direction had been: I stopped calmly and waited until the light turned green; a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Except, in that moment, I felt unusually aware of the lab rat-like nature of my obedience. Stranger still, I realized I had never noticed the phenomenon before, because it had always been that way.
Green light, go. Red light, stop. Yellow, slow. It’s as if we are on a motorized conveyor belt with an endless array of arrows telling us where to go. Apart from the occasional miscalculation, our roads, our cities, our skies, run like the inside of a well-oiled machine. Sitting there, waiting for the arrow to turn green, I imagined looking down from an airplane at the grid-work of cities, the straightness of sidewalks, the neat ribbons of car rooftops.
Stop. Go. Cogs and wheels. The machine of the city, like the inside of a clock.
Our education starts young. We are groomed for the world: sit quietly, yield to authority and accept the consensus reality. Anything that falls outside of this perimeter is systematically dismissed.
We aren’t taught to ask questions but to regurgitate articulately. We go to school and learn the rules. Then, when we’re of age, we get a job and try to play the learned rules as good as or better than our peers, to make money to survive.
In a very basic sense, this rule-playing to survive is the only option given us. The alternative is homelessness, insanity.
There are other options, of course, and many brave souls do live the unfettered life of the irrepressible spirit within these thinly populated margins. But it’s damn hard, against the grain, and the majority of people get funneled into the general conveyor belt of The System, spending all day at work in order to afford the house or apartment they leave empty five days a week to go to work.
As we all know, but rarely stop to consider the wild absurdity of, part of the Education involves some very highly regarded paper notes printed by The System to represent worth. We are told that some of these notes are worth more than others. Some are worth enough to exchange for a yacht and others are worth enough for only a cup of coffee. The only difference between these two notes is the symbols on their faces.
Despite our Education, I think everyone has had the passing thought that we’ve been duped. As we all know, this Monopoly money isn’t even backed by its worth in gold anymore. Though gold has its own hollow ring—you can’t eat it and it provides no information, functioning solely as a signifier—at least it has a tangibility. But the System ran out of gold years ago, and just kept printing bills. So, after spending all day at work we are given a handful of Monopoly money for our trouble.
“Here ya go!” says The System, patting Its worker bee on the head. “Some nice, crisp, colored paper. Don’t spend it all at once! Or do…”
Once we are equipped with our colored paper symbols, we are bombarded by advertisers who seek to steal our image of ourselves as we exist without their product, and sell it back to us “upgraded” in exchange for the paper notes we have earned with our labor.
We are encouraged by media everywhere to overeat bad food and shop our cares away. It’s not personal, it’s marketing. And yet how many commercials does an average American watch in a lifetime? Billions. It would be impossible to be unaffected by such a bombardment.
MBG recently underwent some criticism for creating a commercial that literally burned the image of their logo onto the inside of movie-goers retinas. Utilizing the phenomenon that happens when you look at the sun and close your eyes, the effect left an after-image on the inside of the viewers’ eyelids for several moments after they had stopped viewing the advertisement.
But how different is this from what regular commercials are doing every day? In this world of advertisers who steal our images of ourselves, of speedy soundbites and cheap entertainment, a newer/bigger/faster culture of diversion has taken us hostage on its runaway train. Writer Nicholas Carr speculates that our constant Internet trolling is remodeling our brains, making it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing.
He wonders if modern humans’ addiction to technology is weakening our ability to engage in deep thought.
Tests show that internet perusal activates the “seeker” instinct in man left over from foraging days, so that when a quest for online information is initiated, the promise of obtaining a new nugget of social interaction or trivia sets the dopamine flowing in our brains.
But research suggest that, chemically, the payoff is less exciting than anticipated. In affect, an obsessive loop can be activated, leaving us continually pressing the lever for another crumb.
Modern entertainment culture creates a largely passive experience for the viewer or listener. While some films do generate spectacular visuals, and even, at their best, mental-emotional exploration, movie-viewing is a passive experience. The image is generated for us by other minds, and viewers become happily immersed in an alternate reality. With the rising popularity and marketing push behind 3D movies, today’s cinema experience is beginning to look more and more like a “feely” out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
“Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” inquired the Assistant Predestinator. “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactile effects…”
In our tick-tock world we are encouraged to function like clockwork, prescribed medication when we aren’t integrating well with society [See “The Politics of Normalcy”] and given our jollies at the “feelies.” To quote Jim Morrison:
“We have been metamorphosised from a mad body dancing on hillsides to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.”
For centuries, the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures have utilized disassociative substances to step outside the hive mind & brush with other dimensions of reality. They have taken psychotropic plants to travel through inner space, bringing back dreams & stories to stimulate the imagination of the tribe.
It’s noteworthy and suspicious that substances which might open up new ways of thinking are illegal in our culture, but consumption of the cancer-causing distraction of cigarettes and the numbing agent of alcohol is legal and actively encouraged (shades of “1984‘s” Victory Gin.)
What is to be done then, once it becomes clear that we are living in a reality inherited by long dead others? The first thing is to step outside of the consensus spell, as much as possible. Awareness is key.
And then what, after deconstruction? Endless analysis? What really can be done? Society will not disappear. Enter The Dreamer.
The role of the dreamer is the same as the philosopher, the artist, the social critic, the wizard or shaman, and s/he has had the same noble destiny for all of time: to stimulate the imagination of society.
During times when philosophical complacency runs high and value for the arts and the humanities runs low, it is the moral and metaphysical obligation of every Dreamer to speak their truth as best they can in whatever medium most excites them. It is the destiny of every Dreamer to bring aliveness to the mechanized time, provocation to the complacent culture.
In order to engage in the original thinking necessary to provide the world with stimulating observations, The Dreamer must effectively step outside of the mental framework of society and perceive the world from a bird’s eye view.
We must question everything we have been taught and hereto assumed. We must seek new information of worth and be on a constant mission to set the imagination on fire.
There is so much beauty available, so many notes left behind by others before us who have questioned the way we live. To combat the mechanized, plastic, consumeristic worldview infiltrating our minds everyday from the outside, we must consciously seek experiences that feed the soul.
We must give ourselves time to dream, to exist in undisturbed silence and nature, to ruminate on our lives and question reality.
As the advertisement-driven Western World slowly succeeds in covering the globe with McDonald arches and brand name blurbs, as people become more and more addicted to the instant gratification of pop technology, we are increasingly in danger of losing the impulse to dream. Without vision, without self-questioning, we lose our way.
Dreamers are in high demand these days. This is a call to arms. Can you be a professional dreamer? I, for one, am certainly going to try.