Monday, October 20, 2008

Madness and Poetry

Pieter Breugel's "Dulle Griet" or Mad Meg:

Hieronymus Bosch's vision of Hell:

Goya's "Madhouse"

and "Sleep of Reason" (1797
After thinking about these paintings, which for him represent two very different ways of thinking about madness, Michael Foucault writes in his conclusion to "Madness and Civilization" that

. . . the work of art and madness, in classical experience, were more profoundly united at another level: paradoxically, at the point where they limited one another. For there existed a region where madness challenged the work of art, reduced it ironically, made of its iconographic landscape a pathological world of hallucinations; that language which was delirium was not a work of art. And conversely, delirium was robbed of its meager truth as madness if it was called a work of art. . . .

. . . Artaud's madness does not slip through the fissures of the work of art; his madness is precisely the absence of the work of art, the reiterated presence of that absence, its central void experienced and measured in all its endless dimensions. Nietzsche's last cry, proclaiming himself both Christ and Dionysos, is not on the border of reason and unreason . . . it is the very annihilation of the work of art, the point where it becomes impossible and where it must fall silent; the hammer has just fallen from the philosopher's hands. And Van Gogh, who did not want to ask "permission from doctors to paint pictures," knew quite well that his work and his madness were incompatible. Madness is the absolute break with the work of art. . . .

. . . This is why it makes little difference when the first voice of madness insinuated itself into Nietzsche's pride, into Van Gogh's humility. There is no madness except as the final instant of the work of art -- the work endless drives madness to its limits; where there is a work of art, there is no madness; and yet madness is contemporary with the work of art, since it inaugurates the time of its truth. The moment when, together, the work of art and madness are born and fulfilled is the beginning of the time when the world finds itself arraigned by that work of art and responsible before it for what it is.