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Friday, 6 February 2009

"O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!"

"O let me not be mad, not mad sweet heaven!
Keep me in temper. I would not be mad!" said King Lear.
Queen Victoria, tapping on her forehead, uttered, "My nerves! My nerves!"

So many artists so feebly attempt to imitate a kind of insanity or sense of being 'different' and the difference is what makes them the same. What is madness and what is sanity anyway? Van Gogh, John Clare and countless other artists tapping at their foreheads and unable to stand the way the world works or their own demons come over with a kind of genius now. People who were once described as 'village idiots' often turned out to be the wisest of all. In some cultures, what we call madness is revered.

Obviously, not including behaviours that harm ourselves or others, does insanity simply mean an inability to 'fit' what is expected? What of the madness of entire regimes that commit genocide or stifle the soul? Often led by madmen (Hitler, Stalin and the like) in their day, these regimes are seen as sane and those who stand outside them are mad. In ancient times, madness was seen as 'possession by the devil' and it's interesting to observe that many of the leaders of horrendous regimes, who managed to brainwash nations, were haunted by their own demons - not an external 'devil' but their own insecurities and fears.

We live in such a structured society that, for all the over-the-top attempts at political correctness, any variation from the norm is seen as 'madness'. It's sometimes fashionable among artists to pretend to be 'a bit mad' - it's kind of 'cool' to be off-the-wall, but I find most of those who want to be 'off-the-wall' are very much on-the-wall - rather like those who defied wearing particular clothes in the 60s because they were seen as 'uniform', and so they created their own uniform of jeans etc. Those in suits were the outsiders - the mad ones - then. In the days when anything (except not fitting in with political correctness) goes, the real genius lies in not even being aware of what is normal or expected.

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