mad men

There was really no resemblance to social man. Artistically, a soul at war with the body in such visceral representations had heretofore gone unrepresented. The depiction of unreason in all its unfathomable, compelling, yet repulsive splendor. It was the beginning of abstract ideals being mutated into reality. An ugly reality that bespoke the non-idealized version of the truth.

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was the lost soul of the European enlightenment; the madness of inspiration detached from reason, logic and common sense and pitched itself into the void of emotion without a net. It was a bewildering creativity since the execution was in the finest classical tradition. Bewildering and disconcerting, since before his psychotic break he was enjoying a gang-busters career, a run of good fortune. But, the emotional crisis unlocked the unexpected producng visions of the past and future with a rebellious unconventionality that foresaw the idealization of desire and the individuals hidden side of anxiety and hysteria in broad daylight.

Read More:

It was a dazzling madness, the madness of the madman seeing the daylight.The same light of day as the man of reason except Messerschmidt saw nothing in this light, only a void, a nothing, a pitch-black night. For him, dark shadows are the medium by which he perceives daylight. Which, conversely, means viewing the night and the nothingness of night, he perceives nothing at all. Or something behind the nothing. So to fill this up, he believes he sees, permitting alternate realities and fantasms of his imagination creating a vast world to fill the darkness. Perhaps this is why delirium this preoccupation with the dazzling are connected which seems to constitute the core of madness, its essence. Much like truth and light could be said to epitomize reason in the classical sense.

Kuspit:…all these differences suggest that they are not the same person, or else that they are Messerschmidt’s fantasies of himself as different people. The faces have a mask-like frozenness: was Messerschmidt play-acting, trying out and acting out different identities by making different faces? Some of the characters have a strange kinship with the characters portrayed in the commedia della arte, however uncannily tragic they also seem. They certainly are fantastic and weirdly theatrical — pretentiously absurd performance art, as it were, for Messerschmidt is performing himself, as all exhibitionistic performance artists do however much they may pretend to be someone else — whether by the standards of Messerschmidt’s day or ours. ….

Foucault:Madness is precisely at the point of contact between the oneiric and the erroneous; it traverses, in its variations, the surface on which they meet, the surface which both joins and separates them. With error, madness shares non-truth, and arbitrariness in affirmation or negation; from the dream, madness borrows the flow of images and the color-ful presence of hallucinations. But while error is merely non-truth, while the dream neither affirms nor judges, mad-ness fills the void of error with images, and links hallucina-tions by affirmation of the false. In a sense, it is thus pleni-tude, joining to the figures of night the powers of day, to the forms of fantasy the activity of the waking mind; it links the dark content with the forms of light. But is not such plenitude actually the culmination of the void? Read More:

…So what happened? In a famous and controversial essay, the psychoanalyst and art historian Ernst Kris — one of the key figures in the development of so-called ego psychology, which emphasizes the role of the ego and its defenses in the structure of the psyche (besieged by the id from below, the superego from above, and the reality outside the psyche, as Freud said, the ego must balance and integrate their demands, any disturbance in its balancing and integrative function often showing itself as pathological behavior) — argued that Messerschmidt became schizophrenic. And suggested that his character heads were pathological art…. Read More:

Jonathan Jones:There is an infinite sadness to the art of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. Perhaps it is the lead and tin alloy from which he created his grey-glinting heads that weighs on the soul. Perhaps it is the resemblance to death masks that haunts his microscopically detailed reproductions of human physiognomy. But more likely it is the prison of his mental illness whose door slams on you as you are drawn into his extravagant monomaniac vision.--- Read More:

But was it a madness that was visionary, prophetic, that foretold of future disaster ?

…Christianity – and this is its greatest merit – has somewhat mitigated the brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals… Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder… [W]hen you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the german thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar, the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll. ( Heine, 1834 )…

---Foucault:it is no longer the dream which borrows its disturbing powers from alienation-showing thereby how fragile or limited reason is; it is madness which takes its original nature from the dream and reveals in this kinship that it is a liberation of the image in the dark night of reality. The dream deceives; it leads to confusions; it is illusory. But it is not erroneous. And that is why madness is not exhausted in the waking modality of the dream, and why it overflows into error. It is true that in the dream, the imag-ination forges "impossible things and miracles," or that it assembles lifelike figures "by an irrational method"; but, Zacchias remarks, "there is no error in these things, and consequently nothing insane." Madness occurs when the images, which are so close to the dream, receive the affirma-tion or negation that constitutes error. It is in this sense that the Encyclopedic proposed its famous definition of mad-ness: to depart from reason "with confidence and in the firm conviction that one is following it-that, it seems to me, is what is called being mad." Error is the other element always present with the dream, in the classical definition of insanity. The madman, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is not so much the victim of an illusion, of a hallucination of his senses, or of a movement of his mind. He is not abused; he deceives him

. Read More:

…But his instincts finally caught up with him in his bizarre character heads, which are clearly pathological in character. No doubt he had to restrain them in servile and formal obedience to his patrons, who were socially and economically superior to him however prominent he was as an artist — not a person to the manner born. He came from a humble background, they inherited their elite status, making it all the more humiliating to have to depend on them for commissions. He had to ingratiate himself with them — the ultimate subservience. He lived in a world in which one had to bow and scrape to get ahead — perhaps not different from our own world, however more informal it seems. I suggest that his denied instincts threatened to erupt, and that the tightly closed lips and mouth in the majority of his character heads reflect his desperate attempt to restrain them, and the difficulty of doing so. His instincts made themselves felt in the symptomatic distortion — almost to the point of grotesqueness — of the faces of the heads. It gives them their peculiarly absurd power, for it reflects his powerlessness to control them, indeed, their sudden power over him, threatening to overpower him. In the few cases where their mouths are open, perhaps notably in his laughing self-portrait, the teeth are conspicuously displayed, suggesting a latent hostility. Animals supposedly show the “red of the lip” when they are threatened and threaten in return. …. Read More:

Foucault:it is a kind of reason in action. In short, under the chaotic and manifest delirium reigns the order of a secret delirium. In this second delirium, which is, in a sense, pure reason, reason delivered of all the external tinsel of demen-tia, is located the paradoxical truth of madness. And this in a double sense, since we find here both what makes mad-ness true (irrefutable logic, perfectly organized discourse, faultless connection in the transparency of a virtual lan-guage) and what makes it truly madness (its own nature, the special style of all its manifestations, and the internal structure of delirium). But still more profoundly, this delirious language is the ultimate truth of madness insofar as it is madness's organiz-ing form, the determining principle of all its manifestations, whether of the body or of the soul. Read More: image:


Nicolai discovered that Messerschmidt had been suffering for years from a digestive illness that some think may have been Crohn’s disease. The twisted faces were the result of awful pinches he would inflict on his rib area in an attempt to alleviate the terrible discomfort he felt. We might call it art therapy today but the busts in marble and bronze were to template himself for future medical study….Messerschmidt told Nicolai that he felt he had angered the ‘Spirit of Proportion’ who it was said guarded the knowledge of universal balance which he was trying to express in his work. The spirit would come to him in the dead of night and inflict endless and humiliating tortures on him, which inspired one of his head, The Beaked, above. Messerschmidt died two years after this meeting….Read More:

Read More:

It is as if photographs have been inserted under the cool skins of sculptures. This realism is pursued with the greatest intensity and abandon in the contorted heads that are his most famous works. They are faces he pulled in front of a mirror. Laughter, despair, rage – he tries out emotions on his face and records the result with hyperreal classicism. It is utterly strange. No other artist of the age worked in a similar way, and you sense a long sickness of compulsive, isolated behaviour in what are nevertheless great works of art….what you sense is not so much the depiction of physiognomy as of the unfathomable self, alone and confounded, puzzled, grimly amused and fantastically assured of his own fascinating monstrosity: proud to be a severed head in a jar. Messerschmidt’s metal muscles shine hard and polished against the light: he repels curiosity even as he commands it. He exhibits himself as a freak, and laughs at medical or philosophical attempts to understand him…. Read More:

Read More:
Foucault:Within the chateau where Sade’s hero confines himself, within the convents, the forests, the dungeons where he endlessly pursues the agony of his victims, it seems at first glance that nature can act with utter freedom. There man rediscovers a truth he had forgotten, though it was mani-fest: what desire can be contrary to nature, since it was given to man by nature itself? And since it was taught by nature in the great lesson of life and death which never stops repeating itself in the world? The madness of desire, insane murders, the most unreasonable passions-all are wisdom and reason, since they are a part of the order of nature. Everything that morality and religion, everything that a clumsy society has stifled in man, revives in the castle of murders. There man is finally attuned to his own nature; or rather, by an ethic peculiar to this strange confinement, man must scrupulously maintain, without deviation, his fidelity to nature: a strict task, a total enterprise: “You will know nothing unless you have known everything; if you are timid enough to stop with Nature, she will escape you forever.” ( Madness and Civilization )

This entry was posted in Art History/Antiquity/Anthropology, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *