Unreal Nature

February 9, 2016

Taking Upon Himself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… How strong and secure his psychic resources, his love of life, his creative energy, his sanity, to put it plainly, had to be for him not to sink irretrievably into taciturnity and catatonia, like so many human wrecks who have been reduced to a similar state.

Continuing through Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

Wolfli_portrait
portrait of Adolf Wölfli

… In 1895, at the age of thirty-one, [Adolf Wölfli] was interned for good in the Waldau Psychiatric Clinic in Bern. Pursued by ideas of persecution (which the psychiatrists considered hallucinatory!), he proved to be so quarrelsome and violent that he had to be transferred to an isolation cell, which of course only made his condition worse. “He makes such a row that he has to be locked up in his cell for weeks, stark naked,” reported one of the psychiatrists.

[line break added] Beginning in 1897, he spent twenty years alone in his cell! One night in 1899, he broke up his bedside table and with the pieces demolished first his cell door, then the window in the corridor outside. But he went no further: he made no attempt to escape and was found there in the morning, in front of the broken window, stock still, ghastly pale and covered with sweat.

That same year, 1899, he began to draw and write, and also to compose music and play it on wind instruments of his own making. At first, drawing materials were given to him sparingly, and he was continually forced to beg for scraps of paper and bits of pencil. But as soon as the doctors noticed his work, they saw to it that he was liberally supplied with the necessary materials and in the end Wölfli devoted all his time to it.

[line break added] In the course of the years he accumulated sheaves of manuscripts and drawings sprinkled with musical scores. His autobiography, written out in a calligraphic hand and ornamented with drawings on large sheets twenty inches high, makes a pile nearly six feet in height. He wrote and drew uninterruptedly until his death in 1930.

Wolfli_St_Adolf
Adolf Wölfli, St. Adolf wearing glasses, between the two giant cities of Niess and Mia, 1924

… The schizophrenic is said to “refuse reality.” Let it be admitted, with this qualification: Wölfli refused this reality because it was intolerable. Nor would it be correct to say that, in his work, he set up against it a world of his own imagining. On the contrary, he reflected it back and amplified it with insensate emphasis and reemphasis. How strong and secure his psychic resources, his love of life, his creative energy, his sanity, to put it plainly, had to be for him not to sink irretrievably into taciturnity and catatonia, like so many human wrecks who have been reduced to a similar state.

… if one is justified in adopting a pathological point of view, if one can rightly speak of autism or schizophrenia, it is with the proviso that these terms shall be applied to the pathogenic social group. Wölfli would then have to be regarded as a kind of inspired resonator, taking upon himself the general schizophrenia and reflecting it back to the limits of expression.

[line break added] Wölfli invented a language of his own to express a latent situation in which all of us are more or less consciously involved. It is not by chance that, more than any other maker of Art Brut, he came up against the police in general and the psychiatrists and psychopathologists in particular: apart from its prodigious inventiveness, his work represents the most virulent affirmation of anti-psychiatry.

Wolfli_St_Adolfs_Ballroom
Adolf Wölfli, St. Adolf’s Ball-Room, 1916

My most recent previous post from Thévoz’s book is here.

-Julie

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