Friday, March 22, 2013

August Strindberg and Schizophrenia

In a few months I will be releasing my new book, A Schizophrenic to Strindberg: An Unanswered Letter.  The book is written as an epistolary novel addressed to the now dead August Strindberg.  Strindberg lived in the 19th century, and became famous for plays such as Miss Julie and The Father. His plays were performed around the world during his life time, and are just as famous and well-known (revered, treasured and misunderstood) today. He didn't just write plays, but novels, poetry, history and even painted. My book will have one of his paintings on the cover. He was in every sense of the word a polymath.

He wasn't adverse to scandal.  One his books, The Red Room, was a contemporaneous depiction of the cultural, artistic and literary life of his peers.  He defamed many of his contemporaries in the novel, and indeed one individual who read the book, and who was named and written about in it, was to die one week later.

He got his start as a playwright by receiving a stipend from the King of Sweden for an early work, Master Olaf.  His plays were performed regularly in his homeland in the early days, but after repeated controversies, found it difficult to have theatres perform his work. He founded his own theatre, The Intimate Theatre, which was an important outlet for him, when others wouldn't perform his plays.

He went to trial twice for his work, once for blasphemy, the other for obscenity.   He was tried in Sweden for blasphemy. Strindberg was overseas at the time, and was not going to attend the trial, but as his publisher was to stand trial in his absence, Strindberg returned to Sweden to face the charges.  When his train arrived at the station, a large crowd had gathered to greet him.  When he was acquitted,  there was a galla dinner held in his honour.

In his fifties, Strindberg wrote a book called Inferno, which was an autobiographical account of schizophrenic experiences he had earlier had.  The material he used for the book came from a diary he kept, which was posthumously published as The Occult Diaries. Karl Jaspers famously studied Strindberg's psychosis. Inferno has many traces of the schizophrenic experience.  Strindberg believed that lightning strikes in the area were specifically directed towards him, he believed that someone in the room above him was trying to kill him by using a sort of electrical machine to send charges of electricity through the floor. He got deeply involved in the occult, and saw signs and symbols of larger meanings where ever he went.

It is Strindberg's schizophrenia that interests A Schizophrenic to Strindberg: An Unanswered Letter.  As someone who has suffered from schizophrenia, I enter into a sort of one way dialogue with Strindberg about his life, work and indeed his madness.

1 comment:

Leonie said...

I look forward to reading your book as I have both a brother and a son with schizophrenia. Not everyone is able to forge a life outside or around this illness; few a freed enough from the scourge to maintain an artistic output.