I always had a reverence for those fluid mythological mirrors – the cosmic girl, her words made flesh, the self-‘othering’, the bickering between the new and the almost-forgotten for the “I’m sorry… …you feel threatened by my presence and bewildered by my absence” The message – once uncannily cryptic, embedding itself in the adamant lucidity of the conspicuous, now – in your face, yet unreliable somehow the meta-awareness messes with the reintegrated unhinged – it could be self-gaslighting or absolute transparency Regardless, please satisfy my desires and you shall be forgiven rather than forbidden I never expect you to decode the world: your assumptions, like your assessments of character, are sometimes reflections of what lies within you, my dear.
I shut my eyes and let her caress me with her veils, scents, and many voices that touch me in moonlight-tinted spaces; a mother figure, playful yet collected- forgiving minor sins, sighs, disguises, the slight disturbances of extinguished raptures, in a glimpse of purity, in my unknown gestures of kindness – towards myself and others – she saw a potential for lightness She rewards the sweetness of the gaze with an aura of safety She crowns me May Queen whilst I bury my past and penchant for remoteness in a crimson house overrun with honeysuckle vines.
When the whole world is drenched in performative glue, you feel everything’s tainted still, you want your mind re-painted so you can try to pursue the myth that it’s all about perspective: treat it like a tool or an ordeal, right? it doesn’t always hold up, especially at night when you try to untwine your hair and your spine when one insight can incite a riot inside and you are so tired- you know the tiredness I’m speaking of- that of piercing through the sickly sweet glue that ties people together when they should be apart unwittingly toxic, such entanglement ensures a removal from any ounce of authenticity your pathological detachment from genuineness is the source of my nausea.
Let’s celebrate David Cronenberg’s birthday by immersing ourselves in the uncanny, gruesome, and occasionally dreamlike psychological horror universe of Dead Ringers (1988).
As the master of the Body Horror genre, Cronenberg always intertwines physical collapse with psychological disintegration in a way that unsettles the psyche. All of this is simultaneous with the unfolding of his characteristic fascination for the human body and the ghastly ways in which it can be corrupted for the purpose of symbolically exploring themes of alienation, repressed fears, and the mind-body duality.
In Dead Ringers, the uncanny theme of the double is hypnotically crystallised through the dual role of Jeremy Irons, who plays Beverly and Elliot, striking twins with the same profession, substantial character differences and taste, and moments of distress. Irons manages to breathe life into two striking gynaecologists with an unusual bond, offering an impressive, complex portrayal of each character’s dynamic inner and outer self as they eventually spiral down into psychological disintegration and insanity. It is even more impressive taking into account the psychopathology of the twins, who exhibit tendencies compatible with narcissism and covert narcissism.
In everyday life, the Uncanny tends to be linked with a sense of unreality that is characterised by a shift in the subject’s self-image, a perception of the self as ‘the other’, an alienation from one’s identity and sense of self, as well as from the nature of reality. Freud points out two sources for the uncanny phenomenon: the uncanny that is generated by repressed infantile feelings and the uncanny that emerges from the resurrection of resolved primitive convictions (such as omnipotence of thought, cancelling the gap of repressed desires, magical thinking, or the return of the dead). In any case, the effect is that your perception of the world around you during such moments becomes less familiar. In clinical terms, this aligns with the characteristics and symptoms of Derealisation and Depersonalisation disorders, which are associated with an uncanny feeling that reality is dreamlike, artificial, or Matrix-like, or respectively, that your sense of self is unreal, you are a character in a film, feeling either robotic, like an external observer of your thoughts and emotions, or the object of an external gaze. The intersection between uncanny modes of thought and the conditions of depersonalisation and derealisation can be reflected through aspects like automatism and strangeness, the blurred line between dream or fantasy and reality, as well as feelings of déjà vu.
The split in one’s identity that happens as part of dissociative disorders is based on the idea that the human psyche constitutes a mix of conscious and unconscious processes. This split is experienced through an uncanny detachment between one’s self (the self that possesses meta-awareness) and one’s cognitive processes. Freud’s uncanny experience on the Acropolis is often referred to when it comes to the experience of derealisation.
He analyses his paradoxical emotional response in a letter, noting its oddness:
`So all this really does exist, just as we learnt! By the evidence of my senses, I am now standing on the Acropolis, only I don’t believe it.”
In his letter titled “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis”, he also writes:
“I managed to write a short analysis of ‘a feeling of alienation’ which overcame me on the Acropolis in Athens in 1904, something very intimate. When, finally, on the afternoon after our arrival, I stood on the Acropolis and cast my eyes around upon the landscape, a surprising thought suddenly entered my mind:“So all this really does exist, just as we learnt at school!” To describe the situation more accurately, the person who gave expression to the remark was divided, far more sharply than was usually noticeable, from another person who took cognizance of the remark; and both were astonished, though not by the same thing. The first behaved as though he were obliged, under the impact of an unequivocal observation, to believe in something the reality of which had hitherto seemed doubtful. If I may make a slight exaggeration, it was as if someone, walking beside Loch Ness, suddenly caught sight of the form of the famous Monster stranded upon the shore and found himself driven to the admission: “So it really does exist – the sea-serpent we’ve never believed in!” The second person, on the other hand, was justifiably astonished, because he had been unaware that the real existence of Athens, the Acropolis, and the landscape around it had ever been objects of doubt. What he had been expecting was rather some expression of delight or admiration.”
“These de-realisations are remarkable phenomena, which are still little understood. They are spoken of as “sensations”, but they are obviously complicated processes, attached to particular mental contents and bound up with decisions made about those contents. They arise very frequently in certain mental diseases, but they are not unknown among normal people, just as hallucinations occasionally occur in the healthy. Nevertheless they are certainly failures in functioning and, like dreams, which, in spite of their regular occurrence in healthy people, serve us as models of psychological disorder, they are abnormal structures.”
Experiences of hyperreality connected with popular cultural locations (especially those infused with sacred echoes of myth) are not unusual, yet Freud’s perception went beyond this concept and beyond the mixture of familiarity and unfamiliarity, towards something more intimate. Derealisation and depersonalisation are viewed as defence mechanisms, related to the state of “double conscience”, the split self. Functioning in similar ways to repression, it is also a way for the ego to detach itself from some psychological material. This may seem strange in the context of visiting a pleasant place, yet Freud concluded that in his case the nature of the Acropolis experience was connected to the repressed oedipal wish of surpassing his father – his presence in Athens, in such an overwhelming cultural location being a sign of success. Freud displaced his doubt about finding himself in that location to the reality of the place, hence Athens itself became unreal in his perception. Moreover, he emphasises that this phenomenon is also associated with ambivalent feelings of triumph and guilt and piety in relation to his father. In most uncanny phenomena, there is a mental state of ambivalence, as well as a dimension of desire, albeit previously consciously denied, which suddenly resurfaces.
Derealisation and depersonalisation are forms of dissociation, processes that are more complex than the mechanism of repression (which eliminates the unpleasant or unwanted thoughts or feelings from one’s conscious mind) in the sense that they involve a conscious duality that includes an obsessive meta-awareness and focus on the unpleasant or unwanted thoughts. Always faithful to the psychoanalytical approach, Freud holds the idea that, although it hasn’t been ‘proved’, derealisation is linked to concealed memories and anxiety-inducing experiences which may have been repressed. In his view, his Acropolis experience constitutes proof of this link, due to its culmination in a fabrication of the past and his ‘disturbance of memory’, linked to other desires from his youth. In most depersonalised/derealised individuals, there is a desire to lift that veil of unreality (a characteristic of DPDR) and see the world through a crystal-clear lens. They, like Freud in that instance, dissect their own mind, delving into the unconscious feelings that may have triggered their condition.
Louise Bourgeois viewed art as an alternative form of psychoanalysis, an unravelling of the psyche, as it is based on exploring unconscious associations. Currently on display at Hayward Gallery, in London, The Woven Child exhibition features sculptures that explore ambivalent mental states, past selves, ghostly memories, and physical and emotional pain, as well as art installations incorporating textiles, old fabrics, needles, and spiders – which she views as protective repairers, rather than frightening figures. The spider motif is associated with motherhood, whilst the process of weaving is also a metaphor for mending family relations.
Delving into her work can be an unsettling process. In “Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter”, a book that also features rare excerpts from Bourgeois’ notebooks and diaries, Juliet Mitchell hints at the uncanny effect of her work, mentioning the ambivalence of the emotions felt due to the way her art taps into past and present mental states. She also emphasises that Bourgeois’ wish was for the viewer to focus on their own (unconscious) response to her work, rather than wondering about her own free associations. This aligns with the discourse on the uncanny, which inherently relies on the subjective experience of the viewer. Objects are usually not thought of as inherently ‘uncanny’. Unconscious responses to her work (and art in general) can be similar, consistent, despite the fluctuations in our psychological configuration and in the psychic, repressed material that triggers the response.
Although this is an oversimplification of the themes she depicted, her innovative work is in part fuelled by a resentment towards her father and an admiration for her mother. According to Mitchell, Bourgeois was obsessively fascinated with her own childhood and afraid of her own capacity for aggression (a trait that is especially condemned in women). She also sublimated sadistic, vengeful drives through her art. In her therapy sessions, she tried to question the “nice girl” tendencies, resurrecting the buried self. She allowed herself to express rage and criticism towards Freud, Lacan, and her own psychoanalyst, Lowenfeld, whilst appreciating Freud’s “opponents”, Jung and Klein.
Despite being engaged in Freudian psychoanalysis for a significant period of her life, Bourgeois wrote an essay titled “Freud’s Toys”, in which she expressed the view that Freud’s method wasn’t helpful for artists. There tends to be an ambivalence in her statements regarding both the function of art and the links between the creative and the psychoanalytical process: whilst she acknowledged they are both forms of psyche excavation, metamorphosis, and resurrection, her reinforcement of the image of the suffering, tormented artist appears to be incompatible with the ‘talking cure’.
She pointed out that “To be an artist involves some suffering. That’s why artists repeat themselves – because they have no access to a cure”.
At the same time, she stated: “The connections that I make in my work are connections that I cannot face. They are really unconscious connections. The artist has the privilege of being in touch with his or her unconscious, and this is really a gift. It is the definition of sanity. It is the definition of self-realization.”
Here I go again, unfolding in Proustian style in my relentless pursuit of self-knowledge and exploration of psychic patterns and cognitive shifts. With an almost masochistic pleasure to dissect the mind, peel off layers that only I’m allowed to touch, and assimilate phantoms, the self gazes into self in a way that no one else can or even dares to do lest they be met with the manufacturing of all sorts of defences. Ok, there is always symbolism and mist (not to be confused with smoke and mirrors), as this is a public virtual space where I can design and master my surroundings for my comfort. I wonder whether there have been any significant changes since the last time I completed this. I will add a link to my answers from a few years ago at the end of this post.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? I can think of endless scenarios, but regardless of the where, the what, and the when, two constant ingredients are inner peace and sanity. Beyond this, imagine shadow integration, ecstasy, bliss, aesthetic pleasures, decadent fancies and desserts, and multi-sensory stimulation. Full immersion in the moment. A less earthly and less hedonistic answer would be merging with my higher self, exploring this vast cosmos and other timelines, transcending space and time, and having an immortal nature- to annihilate my ruminations about ephemerality. Arcadian wilderness inhabited by nymphs, playful spirits, mythological figures, and other supernatural entities coexisting with sci-fi/ futuristic dreamscapes, all drowning in the smell of orange blossom trees, snowdrops, honeysuckle, and all the intoxicating fragrances one can think of. Having occult powers would be pretty entertaining. I could go on, but this answer is already too long!
What is your greatest fear? Losing my mind and ending up in a private hell. Self-obliteration. Death.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Taking into account women who have had an impact in the history of literature and art, I have to say there are many women in me, even if some personalities exist as representations of thoughts that I’m unlikely to nurture and materialise. Anaïs Nin, Virginia Woolf, Dora Maar, Francesca Woodman. As for mythological characters, Persephone – I like her dual nature, because I, too, thrive in spring and rule over the underworld.
Which living person do you most admire? Hélène Cixous, Irvin D. Yalom, Tilda Swinton, Chelsea Wolfe, David Lynch, Godard, Werner Herzog,…Oh, and Jung, he haunts our psyches, his presence is too relevant to not transcend death.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? None.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? Malice, duplicity, gossip, hypocrisy, judging others based on a flawed system of reference, & lack of empathy. I also dislike dark triad traits, but I am somewhat fascinated by such pathologies in theory.
What is your greatest extravagance? Niche and designer perfumes
What is your favourite journey? Immersing myself in art is always a beautiful journey. And any other journey that involves a form of transcendence.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? For women, specifically: being nice and calm at all times, which would imply bypassing certain emotions that are deemed “unpleasant” and that have historically been attributed to “hysteria” in a disguised act of gaslighting, including emotions that are typically associated with masculinity, e.g. anger, aggressiveness. Anger emerges within you when you perceive an injustice, when some of your boundaries have been crossed. It is healthy and needs to be witnessed and integrated, rather than silenced.
Other overrated virtues are humility / humbleness, moderation, and submissiveness / obedience. Women are especially conditioned to adopt these traits in order to fit into society and not fall out of line. Be disruptive in this respect. You can draw your own lines, teeter on them in high heels, and erase and redraw them whenever you want. If you’re perceptive and self-aware, you’ll be able to tell the difference between self-love and arrogance.
On what occasion do you lie? When I don’t want to risk hurting someone I care about, I might omit a part of the truth as long as I believe the omission wouldn’t ultimately create more distress.
Which living person do you most despise? I don’t think I despise one person in particular. With the risk of stating the obvious and repeating what I’ve mentioned in the previous answer about what I deplore in others, I am repulsed by anyone who lacks empathy and commits acts of (emotional or physical) abuse against others.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? C’est la vie. That’s a lie, it’s probably something even more cliched than that.
What is your greatest regret? Not exploring more and experimenting and actively pursuing my most ardent dreams earlier.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? Film, most other forms of art, and fragrances.
When and where were you happiest? Probably whenever I experienced “aesthetic chills”! Other than that, it’s been too long since I’ve felt any fluctuations or significant spikes in my emotional state, so – I don’t remember!
Which talent would you most like to have? Excelling in any field I would like to delve into. Erasing certain thoughts before they reach neurotic levels. An impressive vocal range. And the knowledge needed to find a way to prevent senescence forever.
What is your current state of mind? Reflective. Concerned with future endeavours. I feel like I’m in a liminal state, holding onto the hope that the world will shift and feel more real and less dystopian again. At the same time, certain events from 2020/1 that generated temporary glitches ultimately made me feel more appreciative of and grateful for moments of peace.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Mastering the art of selective caring. Raising my creative powers to unreal levels and expanding into other fields of creation.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? I feel it hasn’t happened yet; I will achieve grandeur and fulfil my vision in the future.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be? A goddess.
What is your most treasured possession? My perfume collection and technological devices, because I’m constantly fragrant and wired.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? A descent into sinister madness or suffering.
Where would you like to live? In a place where pandemics don’t happen. Other applicable answers: in a cyberpunk world on a technologically ultra-advanced planet. The places that currently resonate with my personality type and interests, however, are London and probably NYC. (Tokyo and Venice as well, if there were no linguistic barriers or impediments of another nature)
What is your favourite occupation? Immersing myself in art. Daydreaming and deriving vicarious pleasure from the adventures of fictional characters. Sublimating thoughts through poetry. Identifying behavioural and mental patterns. Spotting cognitive biases in others. Appreciating nature and cityscapes.
What is your most marked characteristic? Perceptiveness. Creativity- especially when it comes to creating intricate stories about people I don’t know and being disappointed when their true self doesn’t align with my idealised projection of them. Self-awareness. Intuition. Constantly trying to reconcile the self that wants to connect with the self that wants to detach, conceal, wear disguises, and have privacy. A sense of elusiveness. Having regenerative powers. And an exquisite taste in film and music, if I say so myself.
What is the quality you most like in a man? Intellect, confidence, imagination, empathy, depth, openness, and a willingness to step into my inner world. Inner tranquility & stoicism that are disrupted by moments of fiery passion connected to subjects that genuinely matter to them. Having a superior olfactory sense, but not taking themselves too seriously all the time because of it!
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Same as above.
What do you most value in your friends? A kind and understanding nature. Trust. Depth. Caring about me. Embodying safety.
Who are your favourite writers? Angela Carter, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Anaïs Nin, Anne Sexton, Mary Oliver, Hélène Cixous, Oscar Wilde, Kafka, Nabokov, Mircea Eliade. Freud and Jung. Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman. Sylvia Plath. Virginia Woolf.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction? Jean des Esseintes. Morgan Le Fay, Carmilla, Dorian Gray, The Countess from AHS
What do you dislike most about your appearance? Pass
Who are your heroes in real life? Angels, poets, and people who have not only overcome mental illness, they’ve also channelled it into their creative work
What are your favourite names? Morgana, Dionysus, Osiris, Narcissa, Mnemosyne
What is it that you most dislike? Same answer I gave to the question “What do you deplore the most in others?”. I also dislike unpredictability, unless I’m responsible for it, and unwarranted advice.
How would you like to die? Since I’ve never reconciled myself with our ephemeral nature (and will probably never do so), this question is oxymoronic and dreadful! I want to live forever – I would only ever “like” to die if I believed in the afterlife, and in that case I wouldn’t care how as long as it wasn’t painful.
What is your favourite motto? Your interpretation of me isn’t who I am. Underestimate me and perish. Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations ever again.
Other mottos via quotes:
“Abnormal pleasures kill the taste for normal ones.” — Henry & June (1990) “I am rooted, but I flow.” — Virginia Woolf “Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you—and go after those things as if nothing else matters. Because, actually, nothing else does.” ― George Saunders “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” — Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” “We will become our opposite if we do not learn to accommodate the opposition within us.” — C. G. Jung “I believe in deeply ordered chaos.” — Francis Bacon “Listen: I always return to myself.” — Vesna Parun, tr. by Vasa D. Mihailovich “Nostalgia is a seductive liar.” “A Woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretence and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.” — Maya Angelou “I refuse to live in the ordinary world, to enter ordinary relationships. I am a neurotic—in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself.” — Anaïs Nin
the texture of hell can seep through a broken mind, but its lingering echoes will leave a mark looking ahead, I see parks filled with disease, a small, kaleidoscopic winter coat wrapped around a phantasmal presence that screams: I am Home- I am a haunted home where it rains.
her hand reaches out to wipe the morning dew off a snowdrop lost in the glittering white- a mystical anachronism
I look at her with a half-smile; as if sensing it, she turns around, mirroring me- meanwhile, the world is disintegrating in secrecy
an ethereal cage descends to envelop us; a moment cannot define an entire existence unless it echoes its beginning and its end our fate and lips are sealed it’s more than a folie à deux bred in liminality
a pact between blue hedonism and dazzling dissimulation clears the way forward- some voices may forever be confined within yet the dreams ascend.
I’m convinced that, at some point, everyone has left the cinema or an art show feeling more whimsical than usual, or perhaps wiser, or revitalised. What I would like to know is how many times you have been moved, truly moved- on a soul level, by a film, a painting, an art installation. After watching or experiencing a piece of art*, have you ever felt that it impacted you so profoundly, it was almost like you reached a higher state of consciousness? It’s more than an “aesthetic experience.” This is the magical power of art.
What about the process of creating art? Have you ever sensed a creative force breathing new life into you, into everything (re-shaping your perception of the world)? This is the godlike power of art and creativity.
I would like to hear about your unique experiences with this! How has art (and a specific art piece) changed your life, to what degree, and for how long?
As paradoxical as it sounds, art can make you connect with your self, your higher self, as well as giving you the chance to detach from your self-concept and see the world through someone else’s eyes, explore new territories, new experiences, making you feel like you belong, like you are a miraculous, integral part of this universe. This inner journey ultimately brings you closer to your higher self, a self that feels more authentic than the one that is founded on projections of the ego. Hence why there is no paradox, actually. In such moments of exquisite rapture, your existence is enriched with inherent meaning. By running away, “escaping” life as you know it (perhaps dimmed by routine and other ordinary but potentially soul-crushing aspects) you transcend your limiting self-constructs and beliefs and you arrive closer to your higher Self.
*For the record, when I talk about “art” in this post I am referring to the broader -and most valid- definition of art, which encompasses literature and film – the latter being the highest art form in my view.
Here is an apparently condemnable confession for a woman: I always, always, always do exactly what I want to do. It’s one of my defining characteristics – as unchanging and relentless as my regenerative strength and perceptive and intuitive nature. I take the lead and control my world. What does that imply? I can’t be swayed, brainwashed, gaslighted into doing or being anything I don’t want. I reject anything that doesn’t align with my views and values, that doesn’t resonate with me. There are, indeed, parts of my personality and identity that are quite fluid, in the sense that I am quite open to exploring new territories, new experiences, new sources of rapture. The point is I dare to live according to my own rules, system of values, ideas of happiness (which can fluctuate in time), and strategies to reach higher mental/emotional/psychological states, as opposed to emulating someone else’s. Despite all this, I don’t expect everyone to find happiness or fulfilment in the same places I do, or be moved by the same experiences I find ineffably exquisite, or appreciate the same flavours of this multitudinous universe. Because of all of this, something that acutely irks me is whenever someone has the audacity to tell me I’m wrong in my ways, that my perception is distorted and I must be unhappy because I don’t adhere to a cookie-cutter approach to lifestyle, as dictated by others. I can understand that clashes between different sets of values and world views are inevitable; what I find laughable and obnoxious, however, is whenever someone tries to convert you to their conceptual world and deny the validity of anything else, ignoring the possibility that anyone can choose to live based on their own concepts of happiness. I think I am more justified in my view that this tendency to invalidate and criticise a different lifestyle chosen by someone you don’t resonate with is more indicative of unhappiness and discontent than the lifestyle itself. You are perhaps afraid of the unknown, seeing it as a threat because it makes you reassess your own life choices, the possibility that you could be living differently and you’d probably try if you weren’t afraid or trapped in a cage of your own making. You don’t want others to remind you of that, so you try to invalidate their narrative.