And afterwards: nothing. Elizabeth Vogler is silent. Into that silence flows Alma’s words. Alma talks and talks and talks until…there is nothing left but groans and grunts and a terrible hammering on the table. That silence: it is a large pit at the bottom of the garden.
Of course Alma will fall in; so innocent and wild is her flight of sentences; so colourful and sweet the garden; those beds of flowers, those aromatic bushes that invite you on to smell and touch - Alma reaches out, she slips, she totters; there is nothing to hold onto…she falls.
The silence encourages the headlong rush of Alma’s words. At first this feels wonderful. It is so liberating! To talk so freely; to trust so much; the relief is intoxicating, and soon Alma is telling Elizabeth all about herself; she will reveal her deepest and most shameful secrets.
It is a terrible mistake. The silence removes all restraint, and the structure of the mind collapses; we imagine a flood, where the banks, the bridges and even the houses are carried away; we imagine the manic flow of a demented river, a town forsaken of its sanity. The personality wrecked, her language reduced to disconnected words and hysterical gestures, Alma has nothing left but fragments.
Elizabeth is content. She wanted this to happen.
Elizabeth speaks only once. Her silence a white canvas onto which Alma paints her own life. Alma is happy. But words…are independent beings. They are free agents who once let out will go their own way. At first they serve Alma, but later, as the portrait grows, they are attracted to the powerful presence of Elizabeth Vogler, and it is she they eventually paint.
Elizabeth is opaque; she is unknowable; at most we see only glimpses of her character - there is a letter; the insightful analysis of the doctor; and the projections of Alma, her nurse. Elizabeth wants it this way. She has so many things to hide.
Elizabeth Vogler is in purdah. Her silence a thick curtain that hides her from the too intrusive world. This seclusion cannot last. Through Alma’s talk, her confession and her nervous breakdown, this curtain will become increasingly transparent until both Alma and ourselves can see through it.
Withdrawal has its dangers. Elizabeth has no control over someone else’s - over Alma’s - interpretations. But such is her detachment Elizabeth will not intervene; so great is her talent for metamorphosis and self-creation that she can be confident in her power to retain her own identity; her beliefs about herself. Perhaps she is a little too confident. Life changes all things. At first silence gives her absolute control, but later it produces situations that are unmanageable; even for someone of her talents. When the film begins silence is a haven. Later it becomes a powerful instrument to manipulate Alma; who loves her. But silence has its risks. It gives too much power to the other person. Thus an enlightened Alma will call Elizabeth rotten and morally empty; a truth too potent to repress or transform, the actress’s only recourse is to run away - suddenly she has lost control over the meaning of herself.
We can be generous. Silence also represents the true spirit of the artist, who believes in the integrity of the independent object. Elizabeth will not speak because she does not want to influence what happens in her immediate environment. She will observe only. The world in its pure state, this is what she wants to see; a place unaffected by her own ego.
These are ideals, of course. Ideas in the abstract before life batters, bruises and beats them up.
The first bruise is the artist’s instrumentality - Alma is a source of new gestures to add to Elizabeth’s repertoire.
Later Elizabeth becomes more ambitious: Alma is to be a new role to add to those already in her dressing room.
Later still Elizabeth Vogler goes one stage further, and accomplishes an act of great virtuosity - she creates herself in another person, in Alma.
The doctor is clever. She tells Elizabeth that her silence and her enforced paralysis is an attempt to acquire authenticity. To act is to lie. The only way to live a genuine existence is, therefore, to be inert. You cannot perform if you stay in bed all day and are silent. But, irony of ironies, to do nothing is also a performance. There can be no escape from the doubleness of existence; we have to live with this contradiction; between the inside and the outside; what we think must always conflict with how we behave. Even to do nothing is to do something; our very retreat from the world an influence upon it. For the artist this contradiction is extreme, and can have terrible consequences. Elizabeth Vogler appears to have suffered a mental breakdown. However, all the signs show she is physically and mentally normal. Of course she is acting out another role; it will end only when the character wears itself out; the play finishes its season.1
It is a brilliant analysis, which may accurately describe Elizabeth as she lies in bed at the beginning of the film. Like all sophisticated interpretations it contains its own qualification – this role will necessarily change over time. Indeed, the doctor’s diagnosis is so clever that it is prophetic. Is it too good to be true? A thought plip-plops across the surface of our mind: does she influence Elizabeth to give up the role of onlooker and take on that of the daemonic professional who uses their art to shape and overcome life? Is the doctor responsible for what happens to Alma? The irony is acute: the psychiatrist produces the illness she intends only to describe and cure.
The helpless patient will become the empowered doctor; one who seeks to wound not heal.
Alma is to be the victim. Entrapped by Elizabeth’s silence she will act out a series of different personas; she will become an actress playing the whore; the innocent child; the infatuated lover; the hate-filled ex; Elizabeth Vogler; the doctor; a pathetic and broken woman. All will be real and Alma will live them all intensely. By the end, though, she will feel completely inauthentic. Her own self will no longer exist.
It is the magic of silence. It is the terror of art. A strange sculpture in the garden seems to capture these unnerving truths.
Under Alma’s care Elizabeth begins to change. She gets up; she moves around; and when they leave hospital to stay at the doctor’s summer retreat she does all the ordinary things that ordinary people do; except talk. Inevitably a relationship develops between them.
Alma is a young and inexperienced nurse. She tells the doctor that she may not be strong enough to cope with a patient who has such enormous mental strength; Elizabeth’s ability to detach herself entirely from her surroundings is a sign of inhuman capacity; and this worries Alma. The nurse is also a prophet. But she is not so wise. Her very innocence leading her astray. Alma’s method of helping Elizabeth is to talk about herself. This is a mistake. There can be no end to this talk, which must, eventually, leave behind the superficial gossip of the high street cafés to return home to more private and much darker conversations.
No doubt Alma believes she can cure the actress. As if artists want to be free of their maladies!2
Alma doesn’t realise that Elizabeth isn't really ill. She hasn't grasped what it means to play a role. She doesn't understand that she herself is becoming a character; Elizabeth creating a new Alma as she sits and listens in silence.
When the play begins Alma is a healthy and happy woman. She is a confident and good nurse, who believes in the efficacy of her professional powers. After the dinner and wine she relaxes and tells Elizabeth about her most intimate secrets; and so transforms herself into a patient, a client on the psychoanalyst’s couch. But Elizabeth Vogler is not a doctor. She is an artist; who is interested in how far she can take things. Can I make her love me? Can I hurt her? How much can I change this woman? What if I break her down? Alma is to be an actress; a projection of Elizabeth’s own self. And what is that self? D.H. Lawrence describes it for us:
He becomes extraordinarily clever and agile in his self-conscious panoply. With his mind he can dart about among the emotions as if he really felt something. It is all a lie, he feels nothing. He is just tricking you. He becomes extraordinarily acute at recognising real feelings from false ones, knowing for certain the falsity of his own. He has always the touchstone of his own conscious falseness against which to test the reality or the falseness of others. And he is always exposing falseness in others. But not for the sake liberating the real Adam and Eve. On the contrary. He is more terrified even than the ordinary frightened man in the street, of the real Adam and Eve. He is a great coward still. But his greater cowardice makes him strive to appear a greater man. He denounces falsity in order to triumph in his own greater falsity. He praises the real thing in order to establish his own superiority even to the real thing. He must, must, must be superior. Because he knows himself absolutely and unspeakably and irremediably false. His spurious emotions are more like the real thing than genuine emotions, and they have, for a time, greater effect. But all the time, somewhere, he knows they are false.3
In the early psychoanalytic sessions the therapist rarely intervenes. This non-intervention encourages the patient to talk until she loses all mental decency and all mental structure; it is the time when the mind, now only confusion and emptiness, is ready to be re-patterned with new ideas introduced by the psychoanalyst; who will talk of repression, the Oedipus Complex and other arcane concepts; their very strangeness a liberating force. Once the new pattern is complete - the new mental system is installed - the patient is healed.4
Elizabeth is no doctor. She purposely withholds all pattern. Alma breaks down, and her mind is left in pieces.
This great artist is fascinated by the results of her experiment. How far can she go? She adds discordant elements into their relationship that confuse Alma’s feelings and shatter her understanding. Elizabeth is encouraging Alma to fall apart; she forcing her to perform.
Alma talks and talks and reveals ever greater amounts of private thought. The deeper and darker the secrets the more emotion she generates until she falls in love with her listener. It is transference. We hear the most shocking and shameful of facts. There is a long story that ends with an orgy. Here was the best sex ever! She loves her boyfriend but he cannot give her orgasms like those on the beach; so many and so intense, and produced by a novice. This confuses Alma, and makes her ashamed. Her behaviour no longer corresponds to her emotions and inner thoughts; there is something false in her relationship with her fiancé. She is pregnant. The child may not be his. An abortion quickly follows. To no-one can she tell this story. She tells Elizabeth. Alma has made a bad error. Alma is exposing herself too much. The story suggests a lesbian sensibility, which Elizabeth’s silence brings to the fore. Alma is now in love. This makes her vulnerable. To be in love is to be the most fragile, the most pliable, of characters. Suddenly you are at the mercy of a stranger; Alma dependent upon the goodwill of a woman she knows nothing about. She can only hope that Elizabeth loves her too.
Until now Alma had lived easily with these anomalies. She is no artist, no intellectual; she therefore has no need for a logically coherent system; the tension between her thoughts and her feelings thus lack intensity; their contradiction passively accepted as one of the oddities of fate. Before starting this assignment Alma analyses herself: I drift through life; I adapt to society’s conventions; I have no desire to impose my own pattern upon the world. For a few seconds she regrets such formlessness – better surely to be a great artist like Elizabeth Vogler - but then embraces her weaknesses; it is ok to be an ordinary person and do the ordinary things we people do.
And Elizabeth? When she began this role was this her desire: to lose herself in banal contingencies…?
But Elizabeth Vogler is a great artist. She cannot be ordinary. Even when silent she forces a pattern upon the world. Always there is some purpose to her behaviour.
Alma is comfortable in her being. She has her dreams, of course. She tells Elizabeth that she would like a vocation; to be one of those nurses who live inside the hospital; like nuns in their cells, dedicating their whole lives to a single goal. It a fleeting wish, a stray idea; one that can have no actuality in Alma’s life. Her destiny is to follow tradition: to marry, to give up the profession and have children. The fantasies are harmless. But: a famous artist now appears and gives these vague longings substance. It is the curse of genius. I admire you; I love you; I want to be like you; I will be you….5
Like most people Alma is a mixture of foreground contentment and background unhappiness; the right balance for surviving in society. Charismatics reverse the normal polarity; exposing the weaknesses and giving them an extra intensity. I want to be like you…
…is a desire that can only lead to self-abasement and defeat. An ordinary person cannot be a great actress. Failure is guaranteed.
Alma has given away the most intimate of her memories. What a release! It makes her so happy, and she is in love. So happy! And she feels so safe. It is an illusion. Alma is actually at her most vulnerable. Elizabeth knows this. In a letter to the doctor she describes their relationship with sardonic detachment. She puts this letter in an unsealed envelope and gives it to her lover to post. It is a game. And although there is a chance that Alma will not read the letter the odds are on Elizabeth’s side. She wants to wreck this woman’s happiness; capsize her security.
It is a turning point. A fulcrum where passive acceptance is turned into active involvement. Although this shift is left to contingency. Elizabeth pushes fate in a particular direction, but it is Alma who must make the decision; she the one who acts. We think of a no-man’s land between two trenches where a soldier may live but is more likely to die.
Elizabeth Vogler has withdrawn from the world. Shut up within her own being she believes this is the way to live authentically. It is just another performance. We cannot escape from society. We must interact with other people. So always there will compromises; little lies and light fictions; a conflict between us and them; inside and outside. The fake and insincere are an inevitable part of our existence; they are the clothes that protect our fragile nakedness. To remove all that is artificial is, by a strange paradox, to increase our artificiality - Elizabeth’s silence is too willed, too self-conscious, to be anything but fraudulent and false. No doubt she know this too. The artist cannot flee from their own all-seeing eye.
Alma is ignorant of such complexities. Her ideas about artists are naïve: artists are heavenly souls who, full of compassion and understanding, can help people, especially those in distress; this is what she thinks. Poor Alma! Artists are devils. They are egoists. Though highly sensitive to their surroundings they use this talent (curse?) to create their own paradise (hell?), which they inhabit, alone and essentially unloved. Trapped within their own self-creating being… Elizabeth’s life is an endless performance; her artistic persona never ceasing to come between herself and her audience. Oh to escape and see people as they really are! It is a vain hope, like Alma’s for a vocation. For sure artists have strong emotions, and although they spill over onto others, who mistake them for love and empathy, these emotions are, essentially, for themselves alone. Feelings have a particular function for the artist; and as both the source material and the means by which life is transmuted into images and ideas they have a detachment and intensity that is alien to the rest of us. Artists must create fictions. It is the only way they can grasp the truth. The real becomes the unreal…
…which is yet more real than the real. No wonder Elizabeth suffers a crisis.
Now Elizabeth has found a new stage to act upon. Obsessed by this split between the human and the artist she decides to collapse the distinction by turning her whole life into a role. Poor Alma. She is to become a character in someone else’s play.
It is a turning point in their relationship.
Elizabeth, through Alma’s care, has been tickled and stroked and petted back into an active life – she reads, she writes, she walks, she takes photographs; she even says a few words, although this is denied when questioned. Elizabeth is changing. She is enjoying herself. Long gone is that horrid emptiness, and the pain she associates with it - there is no television set to remind her of the horrors of existence; no self-immolating monks in this seaside retreat. And Alma loves her. But…the detachment remains.
Elizabeth wanted a rest from the ceaseless activity of her too conscious mind. Better, surely, to be a passive observer; to lie back in a deckchair on the shores of the sea and let life go on its way. Shaded by an enormous sun hat, and hidden by sunglasses, you hardly exist for the boats and barges passing by. Invisible at last. What a pleasure! But…always there is this but…but this holiday cannot last for long.
The artistic mind has many facets. Through one they look at the world in all its purity. But…then they always see a flaw: they see themselves, as if in a window pane. Remove me from that glass! can become their obsession. Here is the moment when, living too long inside their own creations, they are overcome with claustrophobia. They feel themselves a tiny, over-furnished room.6 Even to live inside a house feels limiting; let the wind blow through me; let the rain soak my body until… They want to experience life directly. They want to be barbarians. Get out! Get out! No windows, no doors, no gates must come between them and real life; no mediating personality to filter out all the good stuff, the real stuff that is assumed to exist on the streets and in the fields beyond it. Elizabeth is silent. After wilfully destroying her greatest talent she is free at last to see life afresh. What wonders she will create…
The search for purity is a form of love: the artist wants to absorb the object of her study; and so she floods it with her intelligence and her rich and complex feelings. Lucky the recipient of such intense devotion. But what am I saying!? Foolish, foolish thing to have put onto a computer screen. Alma: beware! This love is hard and clinical; one made up of curiosity, power and an imaginative energy that leaves the love object far far behind. The feelings that such a love generates are of expansive growth; of creation and self-transcendence; but they are feelings for the artist alone. Such a love is full of detachment and even indifference - the feelings are aroused not so much by the presence of the loved one but the images and ideas they produce inside the artist herself. This love has plenty of warmth. It has an equal amount of coldness, which the artist will seek to hide. This is their shame.
A moment comes when we want to expose ourselves. The pressure of our private thoughts too great for us to hold them in; we imagine a prison and a revolt of its prisoners. Elizabeth leaves the envelope open…
Elizabeth wants to be authentic. It is only an act, and is creating a false impression; thus this urge to reveal the truth. Only by hurting Alma can Elizabeth Vogler retain her integrity. There is more, of course. It is hard to live with innocence; to be worshipped as a saint when one knows oneself a sinner. How we wish to annihilate such naivety. To be seen as we really are. The destructive urge is strong in the artist; she will destroy as much as she creates. Lawrence again.
Power puts something new into the world. It may be Edison’s gramophone, or Newton’s Law or Caesar’s Rome or Jesus’ Christianity, or even Attila’s charred ruins and emptied spaces. Something new displaces something old, and sometimes room has to be cleared beforehand.
Then power is obvious. Power is much more obvious in its destructive than in its constructive activity. A tree falls with a crash. It grew without a sound.7
Elizabeth’s ideas are changing. She is no longer the doctor’s patient. How dull that role had become. Better, surely, to be on the other side of the couch; there she can exercise to the full her charismatic and diagnostic power. There are other benefits too. She will have her revenge for those clever remarks that defined her so completely; a moment when her skin was turned into transparent glass and everyone could see inside. How foolish and false she looked. How small. Elizabeth Vogler had become a member of the audience; the doctor the artist, the magus with the unearthly insight. No! This must be stopped! But a psychiatrist needs a patient. There is only Alma, who is healthy and happy and in love. Of course all this must change.
Elizabeth gives Alma the unsealed envelope.
Alma’s first reaction on reading the letter is a mixture of anger, hate and an emotional numbness that produces an act of spite – she leaves a fragment of glass on the floor to scratch Elizabeth’s bare feet. It is Alma who is now silent. Inside this silence her anger grows until…there is a confrontation - she loses control and threatens her care with a pan of boiling water. Later, when calmer, Alma talks about Elizabeth’s indifference and aloofness that has no respect for the feelings of others. Alma is losing her innocence. Artists, Alma is beginning to see, are a dangerous crossbreed between beasts and robots; where the balance between feeling and thought is wrong and inhumane.
Alma rages and says truthful and nasty things. Elizabeth runs away. Afterwards Alma is extremely contrite. She begs to be forgiven. Elizabeth refuses to forgive. This devastates Alma, who, like all lovers, needs a lover’s compassion; and especially now, when she has projected herself onto the love object; a stage in the relationship when, according to Freud, the lover is more important than oneself; so complete is the identification. Denied forgiveness she is denied Elizabeth’s love; and so loses her own identity. There is breakdown and hysteria.
The film contains many ambiguities. Its very texture suggesting the confusions of a persona… How much is real? How much is make-believe?
Elizabeth enters Alma’s bedroom and initiates a tender encounter; the prelude, we think, to an act of love. In the morning this visit is denied. Was it a dream, one that reveals Alma’s desire for Elizabeth? The diaphanous feel of this scene, Elizabeth emerging into the bedroom through a mist of muslin curtains, does suggest a dream-like atmosphere; that realm where disturbed emotions, longing, love and sexual reverie are fused and imaginatively fulfilled. A dream then? We are not sure. Alma’s mind is breaking down and all sorts of weird things are entering into it. Reality has merged with fantasy, and no-one, and especially not Alma, is able to tell the difference.
A more prosaic view is that Elizabeth herself cannot resist the pressure of Alma’s feelings. She too feels love and wants to express it.
A third explanation: the scene is symbolic. Alma’s personality is being invaded by Elizabeth’s.
The ambiguity is perhaps less in the next dream-like sequence. Surely this is… Alma is imagining herself as Elizabeth and is making love to her husband; while at the same time, in typical dream logic, she retains her own identity; she knows that Herr Vogler has mistaken her for his wife, who looks on at their coupling.
We do not believe this actually happened. It is Alma’s unconscious fantasy.
Transference has reached its peak. It is the apex of their relationship, that moment when the lover merges with the loved one; Alma becoming Elizabeth.
It is now that the horror of the artist is exposed. The coldness. The indifference. The terrible insights into other people. The awful loneliness. This persona is too much for Alma; who not strong enough to bear it breaks down completely.
Alma is Elizabeth. And with the “wrong-head clarity of lunacy” (Joseph Conrad) she analyses Elizabeth’s relationship to the son she never really wanted; he was another experiment - to evoke maternal love and so complete her repertoire of feeling. At first Elizabeth played the role of the happy expectant mother; but very quickly the artist’s indifference reasserted itself. The boy became a hindrance and a handicap. Better, surely, if he were dead. She abandoned it to her aunts.
“And yet: Petra is at her most beautiful when she collapses…”
Such insight! And from such meagre scraps of evidence: just one torn photograph that Elizabeth keeps by her bedside.
Alma has acquired the genius of this great actress. Now she has the ability to look beyond appearances into the very soul of her silent interlocutor. It is a monster that she sees.
The angle of the camera shifts 180 degrees. We are looking at Alma as she tells Elizabeth’s story. We see the changes that such insights make - Alma looks harder, darker, her face largely in shadow. Art destroys innocence. It doesn’t bring goodness but evil into the world.
Art encompasses both artist and audience. Alma’s own guilt about her abortion has been brought to the fore of her consciousness; Elizabeth’s too dramatic, too analytic personality has resurrected the recent past and coloured it with a meaning far darker than previously felt - the abortion is equated with Elizabeth’s indifference to her son; Alma aborting, not because of a confused mixture of feelings, but because she is emotionally numb and egoistically selfish. Her own past has been reinterpreted. It has been given a new and terrible meaning. Alma is Elizabeth. The merge has taken place. They are one.
It is a moment of crisis. However, Alma cannot for long remain the actress’ twin. It is impossible. She must rebel against the horrific truths she is now experiencing; and which, in truth, do not relate to herself - they belong to Elizabeth only.
Alma breaks down utterly; banging the table with her hands, she jabbers incoherent and fragmented phrases until, like a wounded animal, she lashes out at Elizabeth in an hysterical rage. It is the end of their relationship. Elizabeth packs her things, and will soon drive away. Alma leaves on a bus. The state of her mind is unknown.
Elizabeth Vogler’s power is immense. Does it frighten her? Is this why she retreated from the world; the role of Electra too close to the truth - the artist kills.
Is the actress scared of the power she unleashes in others; in Alma? Certainly she doesn't stay long after the nurse’s collapse.
But Electra! What a character she is! And power… It is intoxicating. It is so lovely! Like a warm bath and a quiet massage; a handsome man kissing you on the neck; his one hand tickling your nipple, his other stroking your warm soft thigh.
We don’t need metaphors. Power is reflexive: a forceful character can’t help but exert force. Power is overflowing life. Change the circumstances and only the decoration will be different. No matter where she lives Electra will always murder Clytemnestra.
To create something new the artist must first destroy what already exists. This is their curse. Living inside a world populated with fantasies they must find some way of bringing these phantoms into life. Inevitably there will be much resistance. Alma doesn't want to be dissected and reconfigured. She doesn't want to play the role of Elizabeth Vogler. Neither does she want to be a source book of gestures and facial movements. She is not an object to be studied. And yet this is the artist’s fate - never to leave the laboratory; always to treat humans as little more than rats running around in artfully contrived mazes.
Elizabeth has first to kill Alma in order to create her anew; as the hysterical woman who loses all identity. The sturdy nurse must be destroyed before she can be the helpless patient.
By using Alma’s words and Alma’s personality Elizabeth creates a new role. This is the artist at work. Elizabeth can never escape her vocation; never stop being an artist; manufacturing truths out of falsehoods; reality out of crazy fictions. It is a dilemma that cannot be resolved. Always the artist is aware of the doubleness of existence. Yes. Elizabeth did try to run away from her destiny. The result: she only exaggerates her talent and influence – she literally produces another human being rather than acting out a fiction from the classic repertoire. Even by doing nothing an artist does something. This can be wonderful on stage; it is a nightmare at breakfast, dinner and tea. Always the neophyte is at their mercy.
The artist can never be an ordinary person. They are too self-conscious to accept our mere animality. Life must always be a performance. Living inside themselves, their lives governed by their own ideas, they become unpredictable; enigmas to the banal soul, who expects the world to run on appearances. At first such mysteries can be comforting. Alma trusts Elizabeth and reveals her secrets. But what risks she runs… Alma has no inkling of what Elizabeth will think and do with her revelations; the artist only concerned with extracting a meaning from what she sees and hears. The aesthetic sense is a powerful filter that takes away a person’s humanity; Elizabeth removing the soft and flowing lines of Alma’s personality to transform them into words that by their very nature create a hard and dispassionate universe. Alma has become an object. She is no longer a person. Alma’s alienation from herself is the moment she becomes Elizabeth Vogler; the moment she grasps the true nature of the artistic mind. To lose one’s empathy. To see the world only through abstractions. To be alone; always on the verge of disintegration and defeat… Of course Alma breaks down. Alma is too ordinary to be a genius. And Elizabeth? She cannot be normal. She has to be an artist. She is an actress. She is playing a role that has come to its natural end; played out to its finale it awaits our worshipful applause.
We clap and clap and clap.
We clap some more.
We cheer and call her back. Clap clap clap clap clap.
And yet: poor Alma. She leaves the stage alone.
There is a terrible cruelty inside Elizabeth Vogler. Interested only in the effects of her experiment, she doesn't care about her victim in the slightest. This is the danger of art. It is the danger of artists. Overly attached to their own thoughts they are indifferent to the pain they cause other people, who barely exist as living beings. To Elizabeth those burning monks are not real men but symbols of her alienation, a horror that breeds inside her. In order to create their art - to give birth to their ideas - the artist must immolate their own humanity; always they feel this estrangement; and from time to time hate and try to escape from it. Alma knows this now. She has learned her lesson. Artists. What dangerous beasts. We should put them down, like sick animals.
1. Made in 1966 this film is part of a wider 1960s movement of cultural breakdown; these characters both cause and metaphor for this disintegration. It was a time when madness - the negation of a culture’s norms - was seen as a more authentic form of reality; mainstream society believed to be merely a mass of artificial fictions. A culture will not live long when the intellectuals stop believing in it.
2. For some wonderful comments about this see Donald G MacRae’s gorgeous little book on Max Weber: Weber.
3. On Being a Man in A Selection from Phoenix, edited by A.A.H. Inglis. Lawrence is supposedly writing about modern man. In fact he is writing about himself, about the artist.
4. For an excellent account of psychoanalysis, and particularly the meaning of the therapy session, see Ernest Gellner’s The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason.
5. For a fascinating example see my Beware the Butterfly.
6. One feels this with D.H. Lawrence. Although, in typical style, he projects his persona onto the modern world (see various pieces in A Selection from Phoenix, edited by A.H. Inglis).
7. Blessed Are the Powerful, in A Selection from Phoenix, edited by A.H. Inglis. Lawrence imagines power as a form of Christian grace. We see it as a metaphor for artistic genius.