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Edvard Munch. Art and Transformation of Mental Suffering
Psychoanalytical Reflections about an Artistic Path
By Luca Trabucco
On the border of one of the copies of "The Scream" Munch noted: "Only a foul could paint it". This note makes us think that it was not a foul he who could stand in front of such a representation of despair and observe it critically. Certainly he was one who was strenously fighting in his inside with "the representation of the unrepresentable, of suffrance and its psychotic parts, the fragments which come up to the surface of the canvas like the residue of exploded worlds, of psychic collapsed substance, the 'blak holes' of Munch's" (Magherini, 1998). Loss and absence are the fundamental elements of his experience in life, marked in his mind so deeply that the scenes around which this experienced life has been determined, remain like a "fil rouge" passing through all his artistic production. Think that a work like "The Sick little Girl" will be re-painted, apart from the lithographic versions, for four times between 1885 and 1927.
I would like to trace a brief biographic profile of Munch's.
The second of five children, he lost his mother when five years old, in 1868, being present, together with his sister Sophie -one year older than he - at her death caused by tuberculosis. Their maternal aunt took care of the five children. Their father, a doctor, all through his life, suffered for a cyclotimic psychosis, oscillating between a feeling of guilt not to have been able to cure and save his wife, and period of mystic exaltation. When fourteen years old, he lost his sister Sophie, again caused by tuberculosis, and even this time being present at her death, represented in the painting of 1985 "Death in the Room of the Sick Child". His sister Laura gets ill of a serious mental disease when very young. Between 1888-1889, he got rheumatic pains. During his convalescence he painted "Spring". In 1889 he went to Paris through a scholarship, and there he got the news of his father's death. He paints "Night in St. Cloud". In 1895 dies his brother Andreas, few months after his marriage.
Astride the century Edvard himself will be taken - for a short time - to a clinic for nervous diseases. In 1902 his turbulent love story with Tulla Larsen, an exponent of the "boheme" in Kristiania, today's Oslo, will be concluded tragically, by a revolver shot at the apex of a furious quarrel, which will cause the amputation of a finger in the left hand of Munch's. This "incident" will be the start point for paranoical elaborations by Munch. "In a series of caricatures he poured his contempt towards Tulla and her friends in the bohemian milieus in Kristiania" (Hoifodt, 1996).
In 1906 and 1908 he was again admitted in a hospital for his nervous disease and connected problems of alcoholism. After this crisis Munch will have a turn in his life, first retiring in Kargero, then in his property in Ekely, near Oslo, only surrounded by his paintings until the day of his death in January 1944. He will leave his inheritance, formed by an enormous number of paintings, graphic, photographic and literary works, to the town of Oslo.
The fundamental events of Munch's life are represented in works which are particularly fit to illustrate his psychic work about elaboration and transformation of anxiety and mourning, even looking at the many versions about the same theme which Munch left. Under this point of view the pictorial work of Munch's looks, in my opinion, particularly instructive, iconographic, to follow the elaborative and transformative way, belonging to the artistic function, beyond an aesthetic evaluation, or, evenless, to a savage interpretation of his production.
Munch and the Child Experience about Loss.
The childhood events of Munch's have deeply influenced his works, particularly in the initial and central stages of his production. To be present, when five years old, at the death, from tuberculosis, of his mother, the bloody aspects of the scene, are images carved in the memory, and stirred again by the repetition of a same situation - nine years later - at his sister Sophie's death.
A so premature and dramatic mourning exposes the child to a contact with an external and inner reality, which surpass his capacity of thought. The mental space is flooded by the emptiness of the space where the object stood, determining a dissolution of the mental space itself. In front of a so a devasting experience, the child would just need the mental space of the mother to be able to mentalize the experience he is living, to utilise the capacity of containing and of reverie of the adult mind, but it is just all that he has been lacking. In such a situation "he is deprived of the equipment which would help him to cartograph the realisation of his mental space" (Bion, 1970, p. 21).
Few days before her death, and before giving birth to her last daughter, Inger, Edvard and his mother went for their last walk, Munch remembers in his diaries, in a bright sunny day. "I didn't understand why mummy stopped at even step to get some breath". "A short time later", he writes down in his diary, "we were awaken in the mid of the night, and we at once understood why". It was mother's adieu to her children. In such memories what is noticeable is this oscillation between understanding and not understanding, not being able to understand. Actually little Edvard knows why his mother stops at every step to get breath, but he cannot keep in his mind the thought of his mother to be dying, in the time when life would apparently have its greatest luxuriance, with his mother keeping in her womb another child, while the sun is warming their link, which cannot be thought like something which is not imperishable. The idea of death must be projected to a very far place.
As Rebeca Grinberg observes in children's mourning the peculiar character is given by "the greater use of negation and projective identification, explainable by a greater lability of the child's ego and his greater anxiety in front of death" (1971, p.241), that is of his incapacity to contain such kind of experience.
In the child's events of Munch's, the loss of the primary object must have generated a mental state of terror and anxiety, largerly overwhelming his childish capacity of tolerance and elaboration. He must have found himself to "feel the anxiety without suffering for it" (Bion, 1970), perhaps at first living through his sister Sophie the function of memory, to be able to suffer for his pain only when he would be able to. In fact, there is a peculiarity in the chronology of Munch's painting works, whereby the works of the more recent memory come before those of the older memories.
The "Sick Girl" is dated 1885, "Death in the room of the Sick Girl" dated 1895. These works are referred to his loved sister Sophie's death; between the two works is inserted "Night at St. Cloud", to be referred to his father's death in the preceding year. "The Dead Mother and the Girl" is 1899, and here, at last, he gets in touch with the primary reminiscence of his mother's death. (See also: Trabucco, 1999a, b).
In the version of the painting "The Dead Mother and the Child" (1899-1900), kept in Brema, Munch represents what appeared before his eyes when he was five years old, the bed where his mother was dying, his sister -six years old - with her eyes wide opened, speechless, "Her hands over her ears to send away the silent cry ... of death" (Bishoff, 1994).
"About a glance, or an eye socket, we say that they are empty because they have contained a vision, but have lost it" says Starobinsky (1994), a wide opened eye now only contains emptiness. In this version the little girl is alone, and in the perspective we can only identify the same glance of Munch's when a child, astonished, in front of a representation of what is unthinkable. In his glance seems to flutter the void of the emotions, which must have been produced: "The emotion stirred up by no-thing is felt as indistinguishable from no-thing. Emotion gives place to no-emotion" (Bion, 1970). So a black hole is created. Anyway, Munch remembers the scene, but in his work of remembering, later on he enriches it with meaning: in this version the shade joins the sister with the bed of mother's death; mother's fate falls on her daughter, who takes on herself all the burden of this experience, of the emotions not experimentable by Munch himself. In his sister Sophie seems to be passing even the emotional experience of little Munch's; she becomes the receptacle (see Bleger, 1967; Polacco, 2000) of his unthinkable anxiety of persecutory dissolution, in the absence of another container, in that moment, to allow the child to work out his mourning. Besides, we see here to be outlined one of the themes of Munch's painting, which will return into different contexts, but always to point out the disquieting presence of a space at the same time a proper and not proper one, always obscure and menacing, where the subject may continually risk to be resuked.
In the version of this painting kept in Oslo (1897-99), there are five persons at the side of the dead mother's bed, and each one in their own way seems to be containing the emotions stirred by the event. But they stand on the opposite side of the bed, the little girl and Munch are alone. Here a recurring theme is pointed out, may be never thoroughly elaborated by Munch, the one about the incommunicability of anxiety. Incommunicability which gets its roots in the flooding of the mental space of each one, from the burden of anxiety and mourning which leave no space to the projections of the other one. The father's figure is so absorbed by his own grief that he is unable to find a space in his inner world to receive and elaborate the child's anxiety. In particular it seems that here the isolation of the characters wants to represent the condition of conflict and separation which characterised the relation between Munch and his father, a man who never succeeded in elaborating the loss of his wife, probably turning over on Edvard the weight of the persecutory modality in the way he lived the mourning like a personal fault, according to the idea of omnipotence by which a doctor had to default death, which returns in the maniacality of a religious fanatic and integralistic inspiration, in contrast with any vitality which might be awaken. Moreover, in this version, the red shade under the mother's bed - red that reminds the hemoptysis, and which will be seen again in the clouds of "The Scream" (Rugi, 1996) - is mingled with the red of the little girl's dress, to underline the passing of the burden of disease and death from the mother to the daughter. A crossing with no possibility of elaboration and cure.
Such crossing is dramatically and mercilessly represented also in the painting "Inheritance I" (1897-1899). The crying mother holding her dying child on her knees - something like the pity - as a matter of fact, is the one who has transmitted him the syphilis which is killing him. If this is the representation of a scene which Munch saw in the reality in a hospital for the cure of venereal disease in Paris, it, more personally, represents the fantasy of death transmission, of the persecutory "presence" of absence, of an uncontainable sufferance. Moreover, the characteristics of the child and of the linen on which he is laying, make us think more of a foetus contained in its amniotic sack. The crying mother, who keeps a handkerchief against her mouth, and the blood drops spread on the little body, seem to be coming from a maternal expectoration. Then we are in front not of the transmission of the lues, but of tuberculosis, and of an intrauterine transmission, as to underline that the fate of the child is marked before birth, having he to be charged with a destiny which is not his own, of which he has no responsibility, which transforms the cradle of life - the maternal womb - into the cradle of death. It seems here that we are hearing the echo of Keats' "... the two thoughts domineering in the mind of a man are the two poles of his world around which he is turning and everything - to him - is on the North or the South of these thoughts. Only three movements are required to pass from the softest bed to the hardest one" (Letter to B. Bailey of 13 March 1818).
A theme which in Munch, for his elements more clearly melancholic and paranoical, gets the meaning of a persecutory fate which is to mean the presence of death into life, as if what is given to the child with his birth would only be a condemnation to suffer death. Such theme goes through part of the work of Munch's very deeply, which, I think, is particularly expressed in the painting "The Dance of Life", as we will see later on.
Anyway in such a painfull maternity, we can recognise a feature that Graziella Magherini located and pointed out in the painting of G. Bellini's: the child is not held, but leaning on her knees, without a "holding", being his mother too concentrated by her own grief and, even more, by her own fault. The whole of the messages which the motherly containement offer to the child are those that allow to the feeling of existing to assume a vital tone; their absence, on the contrary approaches to the sensation defined by Grotstein as "a deep feeling of meaninglessness of the Self and its place in the world" (1991, p. 826, my translation).
The faces in the foreground of the picture "The Dead Mother and the Child", which will return in others as in "Death in the Bedroom of the Sick Girl", "Night in Karl Johann Street", "Anxiety", the famous "Seflportrait with a Bottle of Wine" to "The Four Ages", are images reflected in a mirror of Munch himself, which seems to be alienated in another space and which, therefore, are coming back as persecutory ones. Through his setting a figure on the foreground, Munch creates a "perspective" characterizing many of his works, of subversion of the space, as Fraenger (1996) defines it, whereby the spectator is placed in a dimension of a spectator involved in the dynamics of the painting itself, as if he were inevitably attracted in the inside of the painting proposed like a mirror, which reveals the subject and what he is carring on his back. Actually we may note what Fraenger observes, refferring to the "Selfportrait with a Bottle of Wine": "An inhospitable man, who, spoiled by his solitude, scrupolously avoids the contact with other people, and here, in his true selfportrait, keep us near to him only to push us away just through his own vicinity. The figure, so near to the border of the picture-frame isn't indeed inviting us to keep the distance and go away?" (p. 75). Here the critic is not able to catch the reflexive meaning of that ambiguous going away and coming near which these representations symbolize as to referred to the emotions of the artist. So the little girl on the foreground, in the previous canvas, is -and is not - Munch himself, but surely she represents the mask of the anxiety determined by the dramatic loss of the primary object. (There is another characteristic of Munch's work which may be referred to the function of the mirror: in the re-elaboration of a painting which he often trust to the graphic versions, he almost every time reverses the perspective, apart from a strictly thecnical problem - the turning of the press as regard its matrix, which any way he can obviate - I think even if he was looking at the painting in a mirror, placed side by side of the original one, which allows the elaboration of the theme and of revealing of new particulars).
In the painting "Puberty" (1894) the young girl's portraited, again an image of his sister Sophie, is overhung by a dark and phagocyting shade.
Usually this image is connected with the series "The Revival of Love" therefore connected with the themes of sexuality and amorous passion, anyway the existing relation between the frailty of the figure ad the dark presence of the shade can but recall the presence of Death hanging over the girl's figure. The frailty represented seems to be representing the authentic nature of the trauma, the relation of the "strenght" passing between the event and the subject experimenting it. Munch says: "After having lit up the lamp, I suddenly see my enormous shadow going from the wall up to the ceiling. And in the big large mirror over the stove I see myself, my spectral face. And I'm living with the dead, with my mother, my sister, my grandfather and my father, above all the others, with him. All my memories, the smallest events, come to the surface ...". Memory, for Munch is the inner source of creativity - "I never paint what I am seeing, but what I saw" - a memory to be got back, to be clarified step by step, fragments of life to be painfull repossessed, through a work which may allow not to be overwhelmed by the persecutority which may be tinged "the smallest things" no longer existing. The shade which is clutching his sister Sophie, like a burden of memories without a name and without any possibility of being thought of as they are too burdened with death, becames in "Night at St. Cloud" (1890) the representation of an inner space to be lighted up, surmonted by the double cross in the window, the mournings not yet elaborated, but in a certain way, necessarily his own. After his father's death, he remains alone to take upon himself all the mournings of his life, his mother and his sister, another sister insane, his father. Moreover, the mourning for his father acquires those characteristic of guilt which the conflicting relation Munch had with him makes so evident. Both the influence of his friendship with Jaeger and with Strindberg had encouraged an "adolescential" break in the schemes of the relation with his father, who, anyway, because of his patology, should make it particularly difficult. Here too was created a convergence between reality and fantasy, in the sense that the theme of guilt and of self accusation peculiar to his father, was embodied by his son, who becomes the materialization of the accusers, anyway making the convergence inextricable among these projected elements and those deriving from the "physiologic separating function" of the father. In Edvard, therefore, the time to protest against his father - who is forbidding the possession of the mother getting her away from the omnipotent desire of the child's - is losing all those feelings of admiration which allow the child to be able to accept father's interdiction through identification, and procrastination of his own desire. The desire of the son for his father's death is here made "a real one" by his father's acceptance of being guilty. Feeling of affection cannot be lived; Edvard had pushed his father away refusing any loving expression he might towards, and the souvenir of his refusal persecute him as an irretrievable remorse. Maybe the conflict with his father becomes so central in Munch's mind for it was his own mental absence as a space for the elaboration of mourning for his mother, as he was never able to get over himself the responsibility of the separation, the fault that he had, in his opinion, to pay for. The father's figure, weak and oppressed by the event could not give Edvard a solid and containing ground where to find the ways and the time for his own elaboration of the loss. If a father has also the function of rebuild the aggressive relation between mother and her son (Fornari, 1982), Munch's father was not able to undertake the hate which the separation should have generated. So the cross standing out in the shade of "Night in st. Cloud" is a double one not only for a mourning added to a mourning, but not having the first mourning found resolutive possibilities through the help of his father's, it persists in the inner space of Munch's, in a dimension where even this function requires a mourning: there is the despair not to be able to resolve these experience, as he has not introjected an "apparatus" able to digest them.
Munch's first painting of international importance, the one which provoked a "succès de scandale" for its characteristics absolutely anomalous for that time, is "The Sick Little Girl" (1885-1886). The thecnical features which mark it distinctively - the characteristis of a rough of many elements, the burried strokes, sharded off, the scratches, result of successive retouches - actually are to illustrate the representation of a memory image, of a subjective memory: the scratches are the representation of a vision, through his own eyelashes and eyelids, of the scene. A scandal stirred among the critics for the inaccuracy of the shapes, even defined as "smearing", particularly about the hand. But just in this smearing I see the most significative character of this painting: the little girl's hand and of the assisting woman's, actually the scene is referred to his sister Sophie and their aunt, are joined in such a confusing way, as to underline a passage with a solution of continuity between one and the other, even passage of the mother's figure represented in the despair, without a face of the aunt towards the child, passage of death and helplessness. "The gesture ... joins the one who is going away and the one who remains there, but their hands seem to have been rubbed out: it only remains a washed away splotch, as if that movement had been consumed by her incapacity to held" (Di Stefano, 1994). To keep one's a hand is a powerless gesture, the impotence in front of death, but, particularly the impotence of a child, alone, in front of an irretrievable abandonment. Little Munch is present in this painting with the scratches furrowing it, but his glance doesn't find any one to whom he might transmit his anxiety, his sister is going away, her eyes going towards the light of life which is going away from her, irretrievably, the parental figure is closed in his own despair, inacessible to the child's despair. "I am convinced no one of these painters - says Munch referring to other representations about this theme, quite frequent in that time - can have completely tasted his theme as I did in the "Sick Little Girl". I was not the only one to be sitting there, but all my dear ones were". The melting point between the two figures makes us think the irreparable loss of those aspects of child's ego which the mother, with her dying, has carried away with herself; that child who, with her mother's death, will not be able to exist, as - paraphrasing Winnicott - there is no child without a mother, and there is no mother without a child.
When his sister Sophie - only fifteen years old - dies for tuberculosis, just as her mother did, young Munch find himself living the experience of mourning and anxiety for such loss in a kind of apres-coup which compels him to get back his originary mourning, his emotions that seemed to have been deposited on his sister.
As Baranger and Mom observe (1987, p.184) "the first time of the trauma ... acquires its ethiological value with the beginning of the second one, by its re-establishment for an event ... and through the analytic historisation which joins the two times. The first time of the trauma remains a dumb one until the Nacthraglichkeit allows to speak and to constitute as a trauma". Of course, for Munch the historization is not an analytical one, but it uses the artistical work as a medium where to operate such historization. An art work - as Liebert observes (1982) - "has not the effect to work out a working through, that is to alter, permanently, the mental central representation of oneself and of the others and to determinate basic changements in the other aspects of his organisation and of the psychological inner perspective. In such way any artistic attempts will inevitably fail in this regard and the underlying conflict will emerge again" (p. 448-449). Anyway, for Munch the function of an artistic work seems to tend to make the image of the remembering to be able to reach thinkableness more than to the solution of a conflict. Its function is the creating of a container, and to be able "to represent what is irrapresentable". In such work of re-construction and signification of the memory, the shade - representing the experience of the past, of the mourning not elaborated, swallowing up his sister, and destroying her - falls on himself.
The re-appropriation of his own mourning is also represented in the painting "Death in the Room of a Diseased Girl" (1895), the scene of his sister's Sophie death.
Here young Munch portraits himself on the left side of the painting joined with the sorrow of his family, though the isolation and the incommunicability remain tangible in the absolutely divergent perspectives of any character. "It is the setting of a scene about remembrance, and the characters are not in the age they were when the event happened, but the one of the year when the painting is thought of" (Di Stefano). It is the time of the remembrance contained in a closed and recurring perspective, where the past cannot be real, but it is, in a persecutory way, always present. Here Munch makes clear that aspect of the "psychoanalytical function of the mind" whereby the elaboration of mental contents is always referred to the present. "The past is not important, because we cannot do anything about it; the only things on which we can do something about, are the remaining ones, the traces of the past, of mental situations in the past" (Bion, 1999, p. 60). As Freud asserted, in the unconscious we find no trace of the conceiving of time. Time is a sad acquisition of self-consciousness. In a lithography of 1896 the figures joined - vice-versa - by the perspective towards the bed of the dead sister, while on the front wall are fluttering the ghosts of the Dead, to underline how the present mourning is only representing the preeceding one, still to be lived and elaborated; sister Inger, on the front plane, seems to be accepting the glance of the painter, full of anxiety and mourning, a relational container which represents the initial movement towards elaboration and thinkableness.
Such possibility of elaboration and re-appropriation of one's own emotional life may be developed according to the solitude which - little by little - becomes a relative one. The aunt, who is taking care of her niece up to the limit of her own helplessness, the front-plane of his sister Inger, both in "Death in the Room of the Sick Girl", and in the following lithography, seem to point out how vital requests, that is good relations with the objects, in the inner world of Munch's are fighting against the burden of the mourning which, just that year, has again fallen on him, with the death of his brother Andreas. Inger is the only sister who will survive together with Edvard.
The slow and painfull work about mourning had previously arrived at a point of recovery of the figures of vitality, in the painting "Spring", in 1889.
This painting was painted in a period of convalescence, the renewal of his strength, the defeate of illness and death are beatifully described by the lightness and luminousity of the courtains softly lifting towards the inside by the luminous airness of spring breeze, to light up a room where the sick girl, sister Sophie, stands out for her pallor in contrast with the healthly color of the "mother" who is assisting her.
It is almost an idealization the defeat of death, which seems to go back and be obliged to give up its spaces to life, represented by the wholesome mother, the two luminous windows, like breasts rich of vital nourishment. An omage to her aunt, Karen Bjolstad, who has validly taken the place of his mother in the representation of the inner world of Munch, and in this way has allowed to his own inner world to be established. An identification whereby he can repair to his sister's death, giving her back to life through his painting, just as he can free himself from his disease. He can find his sister alive in his innermost self, in what measure Edvard's mind is able to get back all the emotions he had passed in her inside in his extreme effort to survive the flood of his persecutory anxiety and of unthinkableness related to the solitude he lived for the original loss.
The retrieving of objects vital to his inner world, allows him to get back his own emotional world, in an anxiety following a continuous oscillating motions through openings towards life, the lies and the passion of feelings, and his sorrowful fear of being abondoned. But in the winter of the same year - 1889 - his father died and vital and luminous images again must leave the space to the memory of losses. The work of a mourning, already so hard in front of the precocity and dramacity of the inital trauma, seems to be renewed and go back continually in an uneven struggle with the power of Death.
Such ambiguity is espressed in a work like "The Kiss" (1897) where the relation can only be conceived like fusion and con-fusion, the only safeguard in comparison with an abandonment which, viceversa, seems to be pointed out like the only possible event, as it is represented in "Separation" (1896) or in "The Lonely Ones"" (1906-07). "Everyone is alone in the hearth of the earth" (Quasimodo), and in Munch such solitude comes, certainly not from a meditation about the fundamental and metaphorical solitude of a human being, but from a real and painful experience of life.
I think these themes are, anyway, summed up in the fundamental work "The Dance of Life" (1899-1900), a life which seems to be promissing and taking away, with the same levity, that is with the levity of a dance. Life which offers a comfortably natural scenary so that the ideal offer from the primary object, represented by the woman dressed in white on the left side, may offer wishes and passions, tenderness and joy - the several couples engaged in the central part of the scene - to end taking away evereything, in an irreparable separation, represented by the woman dressed in black on the right side.
The time of life here represented is anyway presented as a time without a becoming, a "circular temporality" (Baranger and oth., 1987) fixed in the recurring moment of the trauma, of the ineludible separation. The historization which seems to be proposed is a false historization, as the junction between promise and disillusion fix the time in a recurrent circularity where the principle of Death always prevail. Anyway, even in this painting, which seems to me one of the most tragic as to pessimist - a leopardian pessimism - it transmits, cannot be completely lost the traces of that élan vital that, someway, may be looked for and found out at the bottom of the inner space of Munch's mind: the moon, upon the horizon, is reflected in the sea symbolizing a rich creativity.
The good and vital object, anyway, does not seem to be able to find an established place in Munch's inner world, being his innermost anxiety closed in a recess of the soul, not reachable, not comunicable. This little child seems to have felt too lonely in front of the tragic losses of his childhood, al they around him too lonely in their own depression and anxiety. The speechless and blind crowd of "Night in Karl Johansgate" (1892) seems not to be aware of the existence of the passer-by on the right who, all by himself, must go up the current, must go back to his origin, recuperate something from which, viceversa, everybody seems to go away, frightened and full of anxiety. A passer-by, who, anyway, has no voice, seems to be retired on himself, and on his turn, he is powerless to express what he is feeling.
Munch's solitude is expressed at its apex, in the utmost tension as represented in "Despair" (1892). He is lonely, nature around him seems to be indifferent in front of the gloomy loss of the meaning of the Self that that subject - without a face - is revealing in his stopping, letting any living and moving being go far from him, even if they are going towards the sunset.
As we can see this painting is preluding to "The Scream" (1893).
If this one is considered Munch's masterpiece, the reasons which determine its success, are, I think, many. As Rugi (1996) observed, by this work a classic prejudice about the irrepresentability of the sound - supported, among others, by Schopenhauer - is subverted.
Observing this painting we can't but remember the patient of Bion's who, in the fragmented dimension of his time, points out the missing of the brest just repeating how "no-ice cream" is available, how there is "no-I scream", and how such scream, just when it can be expressed, represent a link (Bion, 1970, p.22-23). The capacity of giving a name, observes Bion, "even if the name is limited to a screaming" (ibid. p. 18) testifies for the acquisition of the capacity to tolerate a "costant conjuction", that is to have an inner space substained by a good object which allows to tolerate absence and to, think (see Bion, 1962a,b).
In the elaborative way of his own event Munch at least can be able to arrive at the heart of his anxiety, to find an expressive and comunicative way, a way of thought, even if just sketched. Edvard's childish trauma must be considered as "such a violent explosion, followed by so a huge fear ... to be expressable by a sudden and absolute silence" (Bion, 1970, p. 22). A sudden silence, even that projected into a dumb terror, without a name, in the face of his sister Sophie, which has required the course of a life to be broken, rent by a cry which at last finds a place where to be received. Mother-Nature is bending in front of the sound-wave, and is destorted according with its lines of diffusion. Munch's cry finds a correspondance with nature. The character, sodden of death, as his face - so similar to a mummy- shows, succeds in letting his weight to come out, in expecting he would be able not to feel it any longer as his own, to accept his mother's death without being obliged to be identified with her, closing his ears not to be compelled to hear, or to let the scream of mother-nature enter into his self, what death sends him back, painting the "clouds like true blood", the blood of the hemoptysis fatal both to his mother and his sister, like something which has to stay outside of his self.
Succeeding in accepting the loss, elaborating his mourning, he may find in his inner world a good container, his mother still alive, able to contain his anxiety.
The possibility to express, in a containing space, "the unspeakable mourning" (Abraham and Torok, 1987) also allows to break the persecutory temporality of the trauma. In the most known version of "The Scream" the caesura represented through the parapet prospectively critting the image cleanly, projecting it to the dissolvent infinity and containing the images which here, persecutorily, seem to pursue the personage, actually is broken just by the figure and by the scream. Following the line of the parapet in front of the character's figure, we can note that it does not correspond to the line of the part of parapet that continues behind his shoulders. The circular temporality of repetition that is confining in the inside of a Universe, made of persecution, anxiety and death, in the relation between content and container, open to a historization that allows individuation, appropriation of one's own emotions and the exclusion of the alien ones.
Munch, as I have already pointed out, wrote in a copy of "The Scream": "only a foul might paint it". He will have to confront himself with his own madness for a long time, but in this work we can find the espressive opening of the madness, the "positive symptoms", productive ones, which allow to find a way, may be dolorous and inaccesible one, but the only one to allow him to go out from his prison of "no-thought". As a matter of fact even more "mad" seem the painting representing "The Dead Mother and the Child", or "Despair", or other variants of "The Scream". In such representation of mental suffering, the absence of an opening to comunication outlines a picture of unelaborateness and fixity which truly outline an absence of thoughts, a state of "negative symptoms", the impenetrability of madness.
The depressive elaboration of mourning (see Grinberg, 1971) that we can recognize in "The Scream", is not an acquisition given once for all, but it arrives at the apex of an elaborative working through that is proceeding oscillatorily through the passage of persecutory modalities of the mourning itself. In a lithography of 1895, an elaboration following to "The Scream" and just the same in another version painted this too in 1893 (in: AA. VV. 1985; AA.VV. 1998) such oscillation towards persecution can be found in the characteristics which deeply differ this version from the preceding one.
Here we see how the salient characters, whiich make "The Scream" so particular in the human and artistic way of Munch's, have deeply changed. The characteristics of Nature reassume their almost "naturalistic" representativity of "Despair": the lines delining the ills on the front stage, the fjord, the clouds, follows their way without being bent by the sound-wave impact of the character, and without being amalgamated in a single one. So as the lines of the parapet go on without a break in connecting the figure, and the characters are going far away as to underline the irrreparability of separation and loneliness.
The same things could be said about "Anxiety" (1894). Here nature is again identified with the scream, but in a confusing union between the Ego and a Mother-Nature blooding in her cry for death, that is no longer to be represented like a individualizing relation, but like an annulling relation.
In the course of life a dumb crowd, fallen as a prey to a despair without name, the same crowd of "Karl Johann's St.", turn their back to what, in Munch's vision, represents the alpha and omega of his existence: the origin and the end coincide, in function of a recurring time, closed in itself, of death and persecutority. It is the crowd of the adults who remain closed in themselves, deafly.
Anyway, having been able to scream his pain and anxiety induces Munch to compare himself with his own nucleus of a most unthinkable experience, and, consequently, to risk to fall down into madness, herewith no longer the "white" madness of the no-thought, but into a madness like a terrific withdrawal in front of an emotional experience somehow represented and located in a space-time dimension.
The acquisition of consciousness, the contact with the truth about his inner world, produce an emotional burden hardly tolerable. Just like certain serious patients in psychotherapy, when they begin to feel better, to be more conscious of their selves and of the reality around them, just then they run the risk of committing suicide.
After "The Scream" Munch's work is constantly oscillating between images of madness and of self-distruction and others where a greater and greater contact with life is taking substance. "Anxiety", as we already saw, but also "The Red Vine" (1900), to the "Self Portrait with a Bottle of Wine" (1906) mostly contain the first ones.
"The houses, conceived anthropomorphously, appear like animate beings frozen in an absence of life by a devilish spell" (Messer). It is the paralysis of the time of the trauma which is imprisoning in its grip of death the mind of Munch's. Now he represents his own mind like an entity being assailed by the outside, the mortal blood clapsing him like a paralizing grip, intending to make him inanimate. Yet he represents his mind like a house, a structure that has got its own solidity, its own identity which may be suffocated to death, but which goes on maintaining its own communicative means, windows not yet invaded by creepers.
His fight against madness goes on till the limit of his crushing down, culminating in the big crisis of 1906-1908, with his being admitted to a hospital for nervous diseases and for alchoolism, admirably represented in his self-portriat of 1906.
Solitude, as no communication with the other figures on the background, and the depression for a way without an opening towards Death, are reflected by Munch's face where a suffering grimace is perceived by the painter himself with a deep resigned and depressive submission, which can be observed in the expression of the eyes. Munch's glance is without a hope, can't be attracted by the light, even if plentiful, coming inside from the windows, and illuminating the green room where he is. The consciousness of his suffering, of his inner reality so as of his own story, seems not to be able to offer any help to his anxiety, and to helplessness he is bound.
As Messer observes, colours are used by Munch like "keys", in the musical meaning of the term, the pure ones as major key, the soft ones as minor key. "It is ... quite evident, from the examination of, a great number of canvases, that, for Munch, the "red" and the "green" constitutes emotional polarities", the red connected to childish trauma, the green "reflecting the permanent and eternal colours of Nature"(Messer), an alive and pleasant Nature, a Mother-Nature, able to support, but here relegated aside.
In those years of great emotional fights, Munch paints also painting like "Girls on the Bridge" (1899), "Fertility" (1902), "The Four Children of Linde's" (1903) "Dancing on the Beach" (1904), "Summer Night on the Beach" (1905) "The Four Ages" (1902).
In one of the very numerous version of this theme about "Girls on the Bridge", there is an image where we can clearly individualize the elements of vitality, a more serene approach to the emotional reality and dynamics.
Beside a theme connected to the female figure - the woman in white and the woman in red - and to the unsolved approach to love passion, we can see how the detachment from the figure on the first ground, its melancholy, do not assume catastrophyc characteristic, but how it is kept in a sadness, maybe a nostalgia, which is part of the normal development of emotional life. The bridge may be considered like a symbolic element tying, in the moment of reflective suspension, the past with the future. Then we have here again a representation of Munch's vision about time. The three girls, maybe his three sisters, can be distinguished according with their destiny: Sophie and Laura inesorably turned toward loss, Inger who can substain the weight of rememberance and not to be overwhelmed. It is like presenting the different possibilities of destiny of remembrance, the one which fixs it like a load crushing the mind under its weight, or the one inserting it in the "temporality at work" (Green, 1990b), the space, the bridge, the link with a containing object which allow elaboration.
In another version of this painting (1899), maybe the best known, the three girls, all of them turned towards the same direction, are observing the landscape reflecting in the water. In such reflection there is a particularity which has attracted the attention of everyone, that is in the reflected, near the tree, a phallic one, there is no moon. But there is another characteristic which may something like a pictorial lapse, just as about "The Scream". The house reflected is a different one, reciprocal, in respect of the real one. The lowest part of the roof becomes, in the reflection, the highest one and viceversa; a window is added in the reflection and does not exist in the "reality". What the girls are observing is nothing else the space of the mind, populated with the objects of the story which can be declined according with two registers; on one side, where the objects are kept even in their relation, there is the space for remembrance. In particular it seems that the moon, the tree, the house, represent a relation between father and mother creating the space of a familiarity. Then this is the space of remembrance and creativity. Viceversa in the reflection the space is represented as the "trauma", the loss of the object. In such space absence is standing out, together with the place where the object was, the bionian no-thing. The elaboration of the mourning does not take away the loss: even if in reality life can begin again its way with a certain tranquillity, deeply in the soul emptiness remains, even if the restoration may even create something more in comparison with the reality. As F. Meotti observes "in the same moment where proceed to reparation of the object ... creates in fact a new object, but, above all, creates his ... [reparation] appears like a very complex process where it is not sufficient the adding of new good experiences beside bad experiences in the past, but where it is necessary that the more and more important vital experience of the present, may strengthen the cohesion and the relevance that one gives to oneself so that the affective mood of memory may be changed without adulterating its meaning" (1998, p. 150). In such sense I like to think that the overhanging reality is a reflex of the lower one, a place where the Self has been able to "change the affective mood of memory", anyway deriving from primary experiences connected with the vital and encouraging presence of the mother. Here we are thinking of the vital experiences present in Munch's life because of the positive inheritance from his mother, actually connected to an artistic sensibility - Munch's mother was extremely endowed about art - and also from the relation with his aunt and with his sister Inger.
These paintings recall "Melancholy" of 1894-95, in one of its many versions, belonging to the "Frieze of Life", the ideal work as a whole where Munch wanted to describe the interior way of the existence.
Here too we see how the sadness of the subject finds his own position in a vital space, both understood like a nature with a soft and light colours, and as a life developing quietly, even if behind the shoulder of the protagonist. The same climax which may be found again in a painting of 1889, "Summer Night or Inger on the Beach", where the sweet melancholy of his sister, an image of true vitality in the painting work of Munch's, is disclosed in the soft and warm lights of a summer night, in a certain retreat from life, anyway present in the poles of the fish-traps or in the boat of the fishers distinguishable on the background.
Ineffable despair and anxiety do not fill all the work, the portraits of the children Linde, or the little girls of Aagarstrand, denote a momentary oscillation towards vitality and a drop of the painful tension in the life of the painter.
On the treshold of his crisis he paints "Dance on the Beach". Here we have the representation of a joy connected with infancy that might appear almost like a maniacal negation of his own mourning and anxiety, if it were not for the appearing of three other figures, two in black, the other in red, which ripropose the symbology of "The Dance of Life". But here we have not that paralysis of time that marks that painting, but a succession, the representation of life phases, the infancy, the maturity with its passions, the decay. And again, we find an environment where the course of time happens in a climate not of persecutority, with a receptive Mother-Nature, even in function of something like an oedipical combination where the mother's function is substained by the fatherly figure of the tree, which really seems to have a discriminating function, avoiding any confusion between the phases described, as each one is separeted from the other by the framing branches.
This structuring function of the Oedipus is the one allowing to distinguish between oneself and the other, between inside and outside, between phantasy and reality. It is the function that allows to a containing space not to become confusing and symbiotic, so allowing transformation and mental development.
The internal space where the different experiences of the self allows Munch to approach to a freer vision of the life around himself, to acquire a vision of space no longer dominated by fear or by a persecutory temporality, but where the different elements are integrated in a greater and greater naturalization, as, for example, in the painting "Summer Night".
In particular we can observe how the figures of temporality are modified in comparison the two proposed versions of "The Scream", "Despair", and "Girls on the Bridge". Here the prospectic line vortically leads towards an fathomless depth, the origins like Death, present in "Despair" and in the lithographic "Scream", becomes that line which is breaking in "The Scream" of '93, a course of life-time in "Girls on the Bridge". Here the perspective line submitting to the presence of the figures, included, perhaps, in a wait, in human relations, in melancholic pauses, but with the tranquillity of seeing, under their own eyes, the way of emotions, the routes of life, the reflection of reality in the depth of the mind, represented by the reflections in the water, the present time compared with the past and the future, chiefly expressed just in this version of the picture, with one of the figures looking at the opposite direction of the two others, as to underline a possible reversibility of the temporality in the interior glance.
Just this discrimination, a new temporal perspective, reaches its clearest explication in the work "The Four Ages".
So the passing of time is disclosing in the course of the phases of existence, which, no longer fixed in the moment of the trauma, finds its natural succession in a way inclosed in a movable perspective, delimited by the daily events. The little girl on the front place who, as Bischoff (1994) points out, reminds his sister in the picture "The Dead Mother and The Child", seems to be able to leave back the images of the Death and to look forward at a way in life, unknown but opening in front of her, and which contains images of the past and does not deprive of your own primary object, but, on the contrary, allows to grow and become old, remaining in the space of the inner world. The female figures, who are aging, represents, in the inner experience of Munch's, a representation of the consolidated assertion in his inner world of lively images with which he can compare himself and feel supported, and not with the presence of the Death, that is with a good object absent, which, through its absence becomes a present persecutory object.
As a matter of facts, the only female figures that Edvard has been able to see becoming old, have been his aunt and his sister Inger. In the following portraits of Inger's (1892) we find again the continuous deriving, by Munch, from an inner image of vitality which, in spite of all the sad mourning events he had to face, has always been present, in a certain degree.
In his sister Inger, so central in the elaboration of his own existential events, Munch seems to condence all the vitality he has been able to get from the maternal figures of his life: his mother, his sister Sophie, aunt Karen; a vitality particularly given off in a previous portrait (1884) where her glance seems to come out from the mourning black dress and the black background, like a triumph of Life over Death.
This image of Life can be compared with "The Sun" (1909-11), a gigantic monument to father's vitality, in some way a "superhuman", considering the nietszchian inspiration from which this painting started, but developing in the highest degree that fecund meeting of the sun with the sea which in the proceeding works was always represented in a "minor" tone. Here, viceversa, its warm power finds its complete spreading out, even in function of a deeper "penetration" into the sea ambience.
In the famous "Self-Portrait Between Pendulum and Bed" (1942-43) - maybe his last picture - Munch, old and bent, stops between the axis of the pendulum - the time of life - and the orizontal one, of the bed - the eternity of Death - showing how his time is at the end, thrugh the symbol, maybe copied by Bergman in "The Place of Strawberries", of the clock without its hands. Behind his back all his life, his paintings, the dream of a passion - the naked female body visible on the left- which could not find a realization. The solitary elaboration, mediated by the artistic creation, did not allow him to reach a confidence in the link, sufficient to realize firm and creative relation - think of his stormy relation with Tulla and its epilogue marked by a "castration", not even a symbolic one, the loss of one finger of his left hand - the attempt to control the traumatic experience, as Green (1980) observes, producing "sublimations which will show their incapacity to exercise a balancing action of the psychical economy, as the subject will remain vulnerable in a particular section that is in his affective life" (p. 278-279).
The "Plan of transformation of the artistic operation" (Conforto, 1997), cannot completely fulfil the "hole" left by the events of a child history; in his last self portrait the light entering and illuminating the floor at his feet, as Di Stefano observes (1994), supports him until the last moment of his time, light of the vitality that he has been able to find again in the construction of his inner world, by means of the painful reposses, through the work of mourning, of the lively figures of his parents, of the primary object, which, at least have been able to mitigate the weight of the place occupied, in the centre of his psychic apparatus, by the "Dead Mother". Those primary object which all of us may find again, during the course of our lives, and which, from moment to moment, in our way of life give us the substance and the support for our existence.
"Instaslling again in his inner ... his good parents ... and re-building his own inner world, disintegrated and in danger, the subject overcomes his mourning, re-acquires a sense of safety and gets an authentic harmony and a true peace" (Klein, 1940, p. 354).
Munch did ot reach the limit to re-building his own inner world, but, thanks to a childish experience preeceding the sad traumas which impressed him indelibly, must have found a family experience where the space for creativity could sufficiently be developed, without being annishilated by the traumatic experience. Such creativity, perhaps extracted by his parental couple who, in the five years after Edvard's birth, had other three children, in spite of his mother's disease, has developed in the artist allowing him to "get in touch his inner truth with the outside world, striding over the psychic prison of madness and the complesant expression for an adaptation "as if"" (Conforto, 1997, p. 82), without being obliged to give up renounce his own expressive originality.
Considerations about the fate of the "traumatic".
The story of Munch's childhood might induce a catastrophic development, to the result of a true madness, which, as a matter of fact, more than once he reached and against which he had to fight all through his life. The same experience which brought one of his sister to madness, to the death of two of his brothers, but where he found a sufficient substance so that from the trauma he could recuperate a capacity for the growth of his mind, somewas a creative one.
According with the most actual psychoanalytical conception, that insistently considering the meaning of "traumatic", the trauma "is generated not by the event itself, but from its unelaborability" (Giaconia and Racalbuto, 1997) and generates, according to these authors, the phantasies which "express the mnestic raw traces, that is, traces of unconnected from a representative language contest" (ibid. p. 542).
The inelaborability of experience is connected to the relative insufficiency of the apparatus to think thoughts, or with a lack of reverie of the primary object. Then it can be included in a conception of the mind considering both the intrapsychic and the interpsychic. In a child's experience it is natural that some experiences may require the presence of the mother's mind to be able to be transitated. In such a sense the solitude in which a child may find himself, for a phisical or mental absence of the mother, becomes a traumatic element in function of a lack in an apparatus vital to him so that his mind not be innundated or disintegrated by an unassimilable content.
To have a child being able to reach a stady introjection of the function of thoughts, he must be able to recognize "the value of the capacity of thinking as to an instrument well fitted to minimize the frustration present in every time when the principle of reality is predominant" (Bion, 1962b, p. 74). Such value is transmitted through the affective link in what misure the "mother" is convinced of such adequacy, so as we try to transmit it to our patients, beyond the specific contents of the interpretation. It is the passion of "thinking", according to the bionian meaning, as searching for the "truth about himself" (Grinberg, 1979), more deeply transmitted.
The mourning connected to his mother's death, represents, at the age of Munch when he lost her, an experience laying at the limits of a possibility to conceive an elaboration for a mind still in need of a support. A child, in front a so heavy a burden, would need the mother, her capacity to soothe and give relief, but just what is lacking. The possibility to have deep down inside him a maternal object sufficiently solid, appears deeply problematic in so young age and with the family events specific to Munch. The family surrounding, in that time is presented by Munch completely engrossed by the mourning, so forbidding the possibility of finding a maternal object as a substitution, able to receive the communication of the child's request and contain it. This envirnment so closed on them and on their sufferance is to represent an environment as a "Dead-Mother" in the meanning of Green: the event transforms "the living object, source of vitality for the child, into a figure far away, atonic, nearly inanimate figure" (1980, p. 265). Besides, the mourning appears not be elaborated, and so the situation seems to be psychically traumatic, as to the "confirmation" that the real death of the mother is assumed by the destructive phantasies of the child about the mother's body, and her relation with the father (Klein, 1935, 1940). The father's figure particularly, during Edvard's childhood and adolescence with all his pathology connected to the theme of fault, and of his own insufficiency, does not seem to have any possibility to take upon himself all the burden of mourning and of detachement. Perhaps little Munch could have then pretended to find out a figure able to take upon himself the burden of accusations, of the child disappointment of the belief for the omnipotence of his father, catalyzing and elaborating the hate that the separation, anyway, is creating. To allow a child the possibility to live freely and be able to elaborate his own sadism towards his parents it is necessary that they are not really destroyed, but they may survive to the attacks; the link of his parents which appears to be prolific, as it is for Munch's parents, produce much jealousy, for the birthes of all his brothers, but even much reliance that those attacks may not sterilize the couple. But after his mother's death the vitality of the parent's relation is lost and Munch finds himself in front of a "Dead Mother" and a destroyed father.
The real death of his mother can be superposed upon the moments when, for little Edvard, his mother was like being dead, as she was absorbed by the births of his three brothers. We can also think how depressed must have been this woman, sick with tuberculosis, when she thought how soon she should leave her children. A fertile bond between the parents is structural for the mind of a child, for the function of a true presence of the father between the child and the mother, which allows the separation that distinguishes the identities and determines the creation of such a space of emptyness and of absence necessary to the devolpment of thoughts and of the symbolic function (See: Di Chiara and coll., 1985), determining that "metaphoric loss" about which Green speaks off (1980). The father who, anyway, ascribing to himself the "sin" of the mother's death, is representing this element of separation of a persecutory object lived in a paranoid way. Feeling that will accompany Munch all through his life, preventing him to live situations of male competition in confront of a woman in a physiological way. When such loss sets no longer as a mtaphorical one, but as a real one, the object towards which may be addressed his introjecting effort is represented as a persecutory absence, being still loaded with the fault of the subject on one side, and, what is more, it takes away parts of the vital self identified in it. The child in front of his mother's loss, to maintain with her some forms of relation, is inclined to take upon himself the responsability of the events, death or sickness. The motivation whereby his mother is withdrawing from their relation are incomprehensible for the child: that is, here is represented that "loss of meaning" about Green speaks. For the child the disappearance of the mother can be considered as a fault "linked more to his way of being than to some forbidden desires; as a matter of facts to him it is forbidden to exist" (Green, 1980, p. 277). The needs of the object are so determinating a paradoxal situation as, to re-establish the union with the lost object one may appeal not to a true reparation, which would require the presence of an object and an inner world already sufficiently developed, but with a mimetic identification "with the purpose, considering that it is impossible to possess the object, to continue to possess it, becoming not only like the object, but the object itself. Such identification, a condition to renounce to the object and, at the same time, to keep it on according to a cannibalistic modality, is immediately unconscious" (p. 276). So the center of the subject's mind is occupied with the "Dead Mother".
Green, in this wonderful paper, notes how the first striking movement of this drama is of a pre-conscious nature, that is the disinvestiment of the object. In Munch's work such disinvestiment can be found in the characteristic that we can find in the painting "The Dead Mother and her Little Child", as above observed, about the attribution of all the emotional burden of the scene upon sister Sophie. The first act of the drama, according to Baranger and Mom (1987), remains inscript into the mind of Edvard, it is "kept in mind". About this Bleger observes: "It may be that 'keeping in mind' corresponds to a symbolic equation, and instead that to think may already be an operation where symbols are used. Therefore, a symbolic equation is not a muddle between the symbol and what is symbolized, but the internalization of a syncretic nucleus where the object and its abstract representation are coexisting, anyway without being completely discriminated. 'Keeping in mind', genetically, preceeds thoughts and is not discriminate between word and thought" (1967, p. 249). The bionian lesson allows to go beyond certain points of such concept, and, surely, a "mnestic engram" cannot be considered as a thought with a thinker. Memory must find its own meaning in its collocation in a historical perspective of the development of the Self. "Around the traumatic event so, in the story of the subject, may be organized an unhistoric zone, out of time and out of any conflict. Something which has never been possible 'to shut out an eye', in front which eyes have remained wide opened" (Barale, 1996, p. 445); wide opened like sister's eyes, in the painting above mentioned, fixed in the remembering like in a mirror, wich reflects in one's own experience but settling it somewhere else, because of its intolerableness.
The scene of the mother's death and its being represented like a scene seen in a mirror leads to a fundamental maternal function dramatically interrupted, leaving her child alone with his unthinkable anxiety: just the one Winnicott describes so efficiently and poetically in the chapter of "Playing and Reality" about "The Mirror's Function of the Mother". "What does an infant see when he is looking at his mother's face? In my opinion the baby only sees himself. In other words the mother looks at her baby and what she looks like is related to what she is seeing" (1971, p. 191). But what does it happen if the mother, or, more generally, the maternal environment, can no longer look? Children, says Winnicott, "are looking, but they do not see themselves". So the environment is only like a mirror, wich reflects to the sender an unmodified image. And here Munch looking at but he does not see himself; can only see his sister and the background scene, but he doesn't see himself. Sophie's face then is to represent his own face not visible to his mother. The scene and the related emotions remain deeply impressed in his mind like in a film not developped, at a virtual state, without being able to enter into an adult mind who might develop them. The wide opened eye records the scene that will remain somewhere in the mind kept with the characteristics of the hallucination. Bion has taught us to consider hallucinations like outside discharges of contents not thinkable or containable of the mind, through a reversal function of the organs of the sense. Such memories seem to keep with all their characteristic features of no-conceivability and no-containment just as the characteristic of hallucinations, but in the inner of the mind. The lack of the functions of a maternal reverie makes "the mnestic traces raw and unconnected from a representative, linguistic context" (Giaconia and Racalbuto, 1997), have to wait for new situation where the originary mother's reverie may be repaired, or the trumatic contents may be newly hallucinated in the outside, in a situation where there is an object able to give a creative meaning to such movement. It is what happens when patients suffer for "hallucinations" during a treatment (see Bion, 1958), it is what happened to Munch, and to artist in general, when in the artistic medium he finds the possiility of elaborating, at least partially, his own mental suffering. The reason why such elaboration is a partial one, is not due to the fact that the artist does not follow an analytic treatment, but to the fact that the object may be repearable. As Green observes (1990, p. 298-299) it is not possible to restore a function of reverie which has not previously be written in the mind of the child, and it is not possible to repair an object, or to give a function of reverie to the object, if this has not got in himself the possibility of having it. So the patient may evoke his originary figures, but if in those it is not possible to find out any positive function, it is not possible to create it later on. In such sense to have creativity being developed it is necessary for the object to let itself "being repaired".
In Munch's experience such course has been partly possible, evidently because he had not got to do only with a "Dead Mother", but also with a "Alive Mother". The mnestic raw traces have found inside his mind the possibility of being kept not only as in a crypt, in the way Abraham e Torok (1987) speak of, or like, an unelaborable mourning, but also like a relic, a virtual and fading object, which must be recupered through the work of mourning. Like an exposed film it must not get light before the developing process having fixed the image so that it may be reproduced, so the relic must be kept sheltered from the agents which might destroy it definitely, without being possible to recuperate it. As observed by Fedida: "La relique ... rappellerait que le deuil, avant de se concevoire en un travail, protege l'endeuille contre sa propre destruction ... l'endeuille n'a pas encore perdu son partenaire" (1978, p.70). It is just on the basis of this live presence that creativity, the thought, can be developped through the "work of negative" (Green, 1993), where the separation from the mother may not produce an unfillable and infinite emptiness where the Self collapses, but into a space of "metaphoric" absence (Green, 1980; Di Chiara, 1985), stimulating the function of memory, of temporalization and of symboliation, that is the elements of creativity. It is in this context, in the presence of the subject, mainteined alive, with a function of reverie, that the raw mnestic traces can be conceived like the "not thought known", that in the presence of a transformative object can be integrated into the patrimony of the Self (Bollas, 1989). So memory can have its structuring function for the growth of the Self as "repetition may be thought of in the terms of affective categories already utilized" (Modell, 1990, p. 95), categories related to the modalities of the mother's care towards her child, therefore they are relational categories. In others words we can speak of memory when there is a thought; on the contrary we could speak of "memories as hallucinations". In the gradual recovery of a transformative, alive object even able of reverie, it is possible to pass "from hallucinations to dreams" (Ferro, 1988; 1992), through a way that allows to make a mental grief tolerable even if, up to that moment, it was incontainable. As Ferro observes "I think that hallucinations can be recupered for thought through an intersubjective way, not based on an interpretative deciphering, but through operations of reverie: the latter having to confront with true hallucinations, not their contents, but the panic, the terror, the confusion related to them (1992, p. 124). By his artistic production Munch sets programmatically in front of panic, of terror, of confusion, not symbolically through a process of occultation to be interpreted, but tending to have as object of his reverie the emotional authentic contents of remembrance-hallucination. Therefore it was been possible to create an intersubjectivity inside his mind, through the primary objects that have mainteined alive the relation with the "mother": his aunt, his sister Inger, and, may be, many other people.
What was possible in Munch's life, does not seems possible in the story of people who have had similar traumatic events, who may become very serious patients. Such different fate seems, in many cases, determined by the emptying presence of the "Dead Mother", a mental emptiness which deprives of the basic and minimal functions so that the experience of separation and individualization from the primary object may become a tollerable one. In those cases where it seems completely impossible that the maternal object could be repairable, as it has never developed any differentiated maternal functions, able to contain emotions, it therefore must be evacuated into a claustrophobic space, the body, or an agoraphobic one, connected to the sensation of being dismembered into an infinite emptiness, anyway into spaces absolutely far from thinkableness. As Borgogno reminds us, the trauma "relegates relationality and subjectivity not mentioned, not received and broken in the body ... where the paralysis of libido and of vitality, frightened and traumatized, are expressing impotence, horror and suffering ..." (1997, p. 281); here is mentioned the war-neurosis studied by Ferenczi, a situation involving a vulnerability, a mortification which truly can be backwordly referred to the child vulnerability. Such situation, so seriously mortifying, even like those Ruth Barnett (1997) has recently spoken of, about unmentionable separations and horrors, referred to Jewish children refugees in England and dramatically separated from their families destined to slaughter, unfortunately do not need particular historical conditions, and unrepeatable ones, we hope, but which can be repeated in the lives of single people when the absence of love for life, in certain conditions of madness, is also thrown on children. In those clinical situations, characterized by troubles of the thought, those Munch could escape from through his art, the mental experience cannot pass from hallucination to dream, transforming the beta elements through an alfa function in thinkable objects, at first dreamable, those remain like indigestible elements, in a state of scission in which experience is being registered "from a part in the subject that 'knows and sees everything', but does not feel; and another part which 'feel' but 'does not understand' and is 'powerless' and 'defenceless' in a dumb pain", as again Borgogno says, paraphrasiing the exepcional Ferenczi of the "Clinical Diary". "Remembrance is possible only when the Ego, sufficiently consolidated (integrated and became a such one), resists to external influences and suffer its effects which, anyway, does not determine any splitting" (Ferenczi, 1932, p.280); otherwise to be able to rember, to insert the remembrance in a temporal and narrative plot, that is a historical one, it is necessary an inner world where the object able to substain and to allow the function of thinking may be introjected and kept in a lively and accessible space of the mind (see Ferro, 1996). I think that this interior condition has been the keystone in Munch's life, the one which allowed him, through the screen of his canvases, not to be destroyed in the emptiness of madness, in a persevering fighting tension. The pain and anxiety expressed in his works never have the feature of a gratifying turning round upon his own misery, of an aesthetical stirring in an ascetic existential condition. "Asceticism must consume, clear out every thoughts, all the wishes of a creature ... the ascetic annullment is so radical that it was possible to confuse it with the melancholy annulment, without perceiving that between the two annulments the difference is what separates despair from hope" (Starobinsky, 1994). In Munch mental suffering, suffered to the depths of despair, is something always representing the result of an experience, suffered to one's limits, but always tending to the link and the hope of its re-establishment.
The illustrations of Munch's paintings are shown in the volumes indicated in the biobliography, and in many Internet sites:
AA. VV. (1985) Munch, Mazzotta, Milano.
AA. VV. (1998) Edvard Munch, Museo d'Arte Moderna Citta di Lugano - Skira ed., Milano-Zurigo.
Abraham N.; Torok M. (1987) L'écorce et le noyau,Flammarion, Paris
Barale F. (1996) Si prega di chiudere gli/un occhi/o. Appunti su agire e ricordare, Riv. Psicoanal., XLII, 3, pp. 425-456.
Baranger M.; Baranger W.; Mom J.M. (1987) El trauma psìquico infantil, de nosotros a Freud. Trauma puro, retroactividad y reconstruccìon, Rev. De Psicoanal., 44, 1987; Int. Journal of Psycho-Anal., 69, 1988.
Barnett R. (1997) L'altro lato dell'abisso: un approccio psicodinamico al lavoro con gruppi di adulti che da bambini erano giunti in Inghilterra col "Kindertransport", letto il 31/1/98 a Genova, per Acanto - Associazione per lo studio delle dinamiche di gruppo.
Bion W. R. (1958) On Hallucination, in: Second Thoughts, Heinemann, London 1967
Bion W.R. (1962a) A theory of thinking, in: Second Thoughts, Heinemann, London 1967
Bion W.R. (1962b) Learning from experience,Heinemann, London 1962.
Bion W.R. (1970) Attention and Interpretetion, Tavistock, London 1970
Bion W. R. (1997) Taming wild thoughts, Karnac, London 1997.
Bischoff U. (1994) Edvard Munch. Immagini di vita e di morte, Taschen, Koln.
Bleger J. (1967) Symbiosis y ambiguedad, Paidos, Buenos Aires 1967.
Bollas C. (1989) Forces of destiny, Free Association Book, London 1989.
Borgogno F. (1997) Un contributo di Ferenczi alla psicoanalisi infantile: la pensabilità del trauma e del traumatico, Richard e Piggle, 5, 3, pp. 276-285.
Bruno G. (1985) Edvard Munch. Il poema dell'immaginario, in: A. V., Munch, Mazzotta, Milano.
Conforto C. (1997) Il progetto trasformativo dell'operazione artistica, www.psychomedia.it/pm/culture/visarts/confort.htm, 1999.
Di Chiara G.; Bogani A.; Bravi G.; Robutti A.; Viola M.; Zanette A. (1985) Preconcezione edipica e funzione psicoanalitica della mente, Riv. Psicoanal., XXXI, 3, 327-341.
Di Stefano E.(1994) Munch, Giunti, Firenze.
Fédida P. (1978) L'absence, Gallimard, Paris.
Ferenczi S. (1932) Diario clinico, Cortina, Milano 1988.
Ferro A. (1988) Dall'allucinazione al sogno: dall'evacuazione alla tollerabilità del dolore, Psichiatria dell'infanzia e dell'adolescenza, 55, pp. 733-744.
Ferro A. (1992) La tecnica nella psicoanalisi infantile, Cortina, Milano.
Ferro A. (1996) Nella stanza d'analisi, Cortina, Milano.
Fornari F. (1981) Il codice vivente, Boringhieri, Torino.
Fraenger W. (1996) La figurazione fantastica, Esedra, Padova.
Freud S. (1914) Ricordare, ripetere, rielaborare, OSF VII.
Freud S. (1915) Lutto e melanconia, OSF VIII.
Freud S. (1937) Costruzioni nell'analisi, OSF XI.
Giaconia G.; Racalbuto A. (1997) Il circolo vizioso trauma-fantasma-trauma; Riv. Psicoanal., XLIII, 4, pp. 541-558.
Green A. (1980) La mere mort, in: Narcissisme de vie, narcissisme de mort, Minuit, Paris.
Green A. (1990) La folie privée, Gallimard, Paris.
Green A. (1990b) La remémoration: effet de mémoire ou temporalité à l'oeuvre?, Rev. Franc. Psychanal., 4, p. 947-972.
Green A. (1993) Il lavoro del negativo, Borla, Roma 1996.
Grinberg L. (1971) Culpa y depresiòn, Paidos, Buenos Aires.
Grinberg L. (1979) Fase di terminazione dell'analisi degli adulti e obiettivi della psicoanalisi. La ricerca della verità su se stessi, in: Psicoanalisi. Aspetti teorici e clinici, Loescher, Torino 1983.
Grinberg R. (1971) Il lutto nei bambini, in: Grinberg L., Colpa e depressione, Il Formichiere, Milano 1978.
Grotstein J. (1991) Nèant, non-sense, chaos et le trou noir, Rev. Franc. Psychanal., 55, 871-891.
Hoifodt F. (1996) Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Internet:www.norway.com/munch.html
Klein M. (1935) A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states, in: Contributions to Psychoanalysis, Hogart Press, London.
Klein M. (1940) Mourning and its relation to manic-depressive states, in: Contribution to Psychoanalysis, Hogart Press, London.
Liebert R. S. (1982) Methodological Issues in the Psychoanalityc Study of an Artist, Psychoanalysis and contemporary thought, 5, pp.439-462.
Magherini G.(1997) Realtà 'esterna' e realtà 'interna' nelle 'famiglie' di Giovanni Bellini, letto all'IPA Interdisciplinary Symposium: Psychoanalysis and Art, Firenze 11-13 Aprile 1997.
Magherini G. (1998) Comunicazione personale.
Meotti F. (1998) Un paradosso della riparazione, Richard e Piggle, 6, 2, pp. 141-151.
Messer T.M. (1975) Edvard Munch, Garzanti, Milano 1975.
Modell A.H. (1990) Other Times, Other Realities, Harvard, New York.
Polacco Williams G. (2000) Seminario tenuto a Genova il 2 giugno 2000.
Rugi G.(1996) Anatomia del grido, Psiche, IV, 1, pp. 81-100.
Starobinski J. (1994) La coscienza e i suoi antagonisti, Theoria, Roma 1996.
Trabucco L. (2000) Edvard Munch: dalla memoria alla pensabilità, appearing on Gli Argonauti.
Winnicott D.W. (1971) Playing and reality,Tavistock, London.
Adress for correspondance:
Dr. Luca Trabucco
Via Corsica 16/10
16128 Genova Italy
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