Sunday, May 10, 2009

August Strindberg

The Swedish dramatist August Strindberg is important in understanding creative intersections with schizophrenia. He rose to fame with plays such as The Father and Miss Julie. The piece that is however of most interest to those wishing to understand how schizophrenia arises in works of literature is his text Inferno. Strindberg based this text on a diary he kept during a time which he was to undergo a schizophrenic episode. This is obviously of interest to me, as I have had my diary published in which I was suffering through a similar episode. My work, Diary of a Schizophrenic, is similar and yet different to Strindberg's. Strindberg compiled the material for the text of Inferno from a different source, and added to it, adapted it, and generally polished and crafted it to completion. Diary of a Schizophrenic was written during the time of experiencing an episode. It details delusions such as the belief that 'portions' of my 'being' could detach from themselves from my body at certain moments of momentum shift. I felt that light and sound could enter my mind and damage it. Strindberg also writes of strange delusions. He believes that people bent on his harm are sending electrical currents through his room. He feels that lightning that strikes near by is specifically directed at him (a delusion known as a 'delusion of self-reference'). Both works are, I believe clearly written. Both have a self-reflexive interest in literature. Diary of a Schizophrenic concerns itself with Milton's Paradise Lost, Homer's Odyssey, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Inferno details Strindberg's life as a writer, and focuses on Swedenborg amongst other writers and thinkers.

It is a contentious point as to whether Strindberg actually was suffering a psychosis during the period that is depicted in Inferno. Authors such as Mary Sandbach and Olof Langercrantz argue that Strindberg was not, during these times of great suffering, experiencing a schizophrenic break. Sandbach even argues that Strindberg was aware of the literary value of appearing mad, and so constructed his psychosis to further his career.

But against these arguments I say that the details of Strindberg's madness as presented in Inferno and his diary are so detailed, and so accurate, that they could only have come from a genuine episode. Strindberg details in Inferno how he opens the Bible at random places to receive guidance and reassurance in a sort of mystical divining. This is exactly what I was to do at various times during my schizophrenic episode in 1998 when I was keeping my diary. Strindberg, in his diary feels he is having a sort of ethereal communion with his wife who he was separated from. He felt she would 'visit' him when she was in fact great distances away. The level of detail, and the ability to act these delusions out in real life, would require a level of commitment that I think would be beyond anyone to sustain for any length of time. I think Strindberg would have had to have been a psychiatrist himself to have actually known how to achieve such a feat of faux-psychosis.

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