Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Mad, I tell you
William Hogarth The Rake in Bedlam, from The Rake's Progess.
A little banter over on Facebook where I say, partly jokingly, that I am striving for sanity, meaning only that I would like to get my head clear of all the stuff it is currently crowded with. At one point I add that it's like trying to find a parking space in a full car park. But that is all it is. Apart from occasionally talking to myself that's pretty well it.
But some come back and say it's good to be mad, and that one should be mad, that one should strive for madness. Then a good friend, who is currently sectioned, writes and says the people who suggest that should ask those in her ward whether it is good to be mad or not. Well, I reply to her, they mean no harm, what they mean is a modicum of madness, a soupcon, a hint, a mere sniff of it, only a hair of the barking dog that might yet bite you.
There is, of course, much on madness and genius. "Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you," said Jung. And sure, people want to be cured of an excessive sanity, and certainly, or so we are told, genius and madness are close allied.
The fact is we don't really have a proper meaning for 'mad' anymore, the vague concept of madness being broken down into a number of minutely described conditions that don't necessarily involve rolling of the eyes and frothing at the mouth. Even to talk about madness as such is to betray an almost gross naivety. It's like calling someone lazy when they are suffering from this or that exhausting syndrome.
In any case, none of those who encourage madness mean it quite that way. What they mean to encourage is a certain daring, a disregard for convention or sobriety. And even then not very much. Just enough to escape by. It's that Jenny Joseph thing about being an old woman and wearing purple. There are many out there who like the idea. It was the Nation's Favourite Poem some years back. I do however note that Linda in her book, tends to reject the purple dress end-game as any kind of solution.
I don't in fact have any desire to be regarded as eccentric or charmingly batty. I want my sanity. It's mad enough out there at times. You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps, says the cliché sign. Well no, you have to be stone-cold, sober-sane. And you have to believe in other people's sanity too, or else what are you addressing when you talk to them?
And yet: "I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as with anyone else," said Dr Johnson of Christopher Smart, author of Jubilate Agno, one of the great mad poems. Smart was about to be moved into Mr Potter's madhouse at Bethnal Green at the time. I did write a libretto based on Richard Dadd's madness once. Yet I would not be Dadd or Kit Smart for all the money in the world.