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The external person, a 'procrustean bed' of the inner person. notes of applied psychoanalysis in decadence literature.

In the Modern Age, the individual prefers a logical-abstract relationship with reality of any form, sacred or transcendent. Nevertheless, the alienation from the wholeness, divinity, unconsciousness led to a break in the modern man's communication with himself. Thus, the man started to become aware of an immense inner emptiness, both at individual and social level; not knowing anymore who he is, where he comes from and where he leads to, he feels confused in an over-technological society, substitute for a lost wholeness: through scientific understanding, our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and he has lost his emotional participation in natural events ... No river contains a spirit, no tree means a man's life, no snake is the embodiment of wisdom, and no mountain still harbors a great demon. Neither do things speak to him nor can he speak to things, like stones, springs, plants, and animals. His contact with nature has been lost, and so has that profound emotional energy springing from this symbolic contact." (2)

Starting in France at the century's turn, the Decadence is based on models of romantic irrationalism. Refusing the positive view (according to which the science and reason could guarantee an objective knowledge of reality), the decadent considers that all these cannot offer him the real knowledge of a mysterious and enigmatic reality. Therefore, giving up reason, the Decadence replaces the objective reality questioning the unconsciousness of a dark area where the individuality is taken as an unconscious remote wholeness. Because of this, we can state that the real target of Decadence is the discovery of the unconsciousness dimension.

As the mystery--the secret essence of reality--cannot be deciphered by reason and science, the decadents will try to reach it through other instruments: dream and nightmare, hallucination and delirium, disease, neuroses and dementia. Thus, the decadent heroes have a complicated, sinuous psychology, dominated by contrasts, and this new status leads to the psychological novel.

At the peak of the American Decadence, Edgar Allan Poe infers and describes the inner conflict of the modern man, confident in the scientific and rational discoveries, at the same time being incredulous when thinking of his existence and his world existence.

What characterizes Poe consists of gloomy and sensational elements, reminding of the English novel from the late 18th century, Gothic and dark. The short existence (40 years) of the American writer proved to be deeply troubled. Being in constant conflict with others, he finds refuge in art. Thus, his writings are works in which the author examines the harsh compensatory both external life (mutilated picture if we think of the Red Death Mask) and the inner turmoil, the thirst for knowledge, exploring the mysteries of the inner world.

Poe's The Mask of the Red Death (1842) begins with a description of the bleak and hopeless disaster of plague. It makes its presence felt everywhere by "sharp pain," meaning people and places by "redness and the horror of blood."

Despite all these troubles, Prince Prospero "was happy, bold and lively," serenity and his optimism do not give up even when more than half of his servants die from the epidemic. Confident in fate, he chooses "a thousand strong and brave friends among the knights and ladies in his court" and retires to seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys, "figment of the prince himself."

The author mentions that once you are here, courtiers stuck locks to prevent 'entry or exit of despair' caused by "outside or inside insanity."

The castle shows the projections of the unconscious, where memory is stored (memory), subjective contributions of functions, affects and unconscious irruptions. Thus, in the castle, the Prince "gathered all that can delight the man:" clown, comedians, dancers, musicians, wine, and "reassurance."

After five or six months after his retirement, Prince Prospero holds a masquerade. The rooms where the events take place are seven, "a royal string." The Duke's inclination to bizarre led to the castle rooms not being arranged in a straight line (as you might guess from the phrase "a royal string") but located in a labyrinthine-shape, irregular, so that no one can see than one room at a time. The image "string of rooms" (...) along a "wound dark corridor," suggests the line between personal and collective unconscious, symbolized by the seven rooms of the labyrinth.

Each room has Gothic windows with stained glass of different colors but always the same as the furniture. In none of the rooms there is no source of light, just as it borders the corridor in front of each window "standing by a tripod huge outbreak of embers." Light passing through colored glass creates "many fantastic playful shadows." Exceptions are "the sun-set room and the dark room;" here the light is "an unparalleled wonder" and gives the faces of those who enter an appearance so strange, "that not many dare to step over the threshold."

Rooms are masked by the spectrum of colors that characterize them; they are the transposition of dreams into real plan. Thus, the first room, the east, is upholstered in blue, the plates of a "bright blue." Blue applied to a surface gives the sensation of boundlessness, of infinity. Blue adornments suggest the escape from reality, while the depth of this color, its seriousness remind of death. The Egyptian necropolis walls depicting scenes of Judgment had the same color.

The second room is purple, and this color is related to death. Dark esoteric red has a funeral valence. The third room is green. Green has a dual polarity. It may suggest life (the color of buds, hope, strength and longevity), and death, if we think of green mold. The fourth room is orange. This color symbolizes the border line between the mind and libido. But since the balance is almost impossible, orange symbol will turn into disbelief and fornication.

The fifth room is white. It is the color of participating in a ritual of initiation, of the man who is about changing his status. It is a shift color. Mircea Eliade says that "during the rituals of initiation, white is the color of the first phase, which fights against death." The sixth is the purple room: it results from a combination in equal proportions of red and blue. As white, this is also a shift color.

The Tarot trump XIII (called 'Temperance' or 'Balance') depicts an angel who holds in his hands two vessels (red and blue) of a fluid flowing transparent purple. This image recalls that, in ancient Greece, the transfer of a vessel contents to another symbolizes transmigration. Therefore, purple signifies here the transition from a life form to another, through death.

Last room, the seventh, is "closely shrouded in black velvet curtains, covering the whole ceiling and walls and fell in heavy folds on a carpet of the same color and the same material." It is the only room whose windows have the same color of the decor, which are scarlet, "the intense color of blood."

In terms of psychological analysis, the last room symbolizes the archetype of Jung's Shadow**, Red Death, as a repressed side of Prospero's identity. The room is a reflection of the Prince's fears, a possible duality, assimilating both the hero and his dreams. It is noted that the Red Death is described in the same terms used for room, "scarlet" and "blood." These black and red values enclose life and death, black symbolizes chaos, evil, anguish, sadness and death, while dark night red is mysterious and represents the mystery of life. This is one area where dreams are wary: there nobody can come to dance. It seems that the space was prepared by Prospero for the materialization of death. And here's the confrontation between the Prince Prospero and the Mask of the Red Death.

The seven rooms form a complex maze traversed by Prospero and its dreams. In terms of psychoanalyses, the labyrinth leads towards the self (which is the archetype of Jung's central collective unconscious), the most mysterious "room" of the human being. Self-archetype is an innate guiding factor. Thus, thoughts, projections, dreams are the way to the unconscious depths. Only after repeated psychological labyrinth detours could one reach the final enlightenment, awareness. This archetype is known by its projections in dreams and behavior. It is said that when the archetype completes its work correctly, the person feels in harmony with the world and with himself, otherwise, he is unhappy and experiment conflicting states of mind.

In Jungian analysis, and the labyrinth means depression and this is separate from the rooms so that Prospero avoid confrontation with depression and limits, so he takes refuge in anger and party. We here witness the character evolution: though over novel he avoids meeting death, eventually it will happen. It will be a confrontation in the Mirror: death mask--Prospero's repressed (masked) side.

Analyzing Poe's short story from this angle, we see that Prince Prospero conflicts--as well as those of his guests--(representing all projections, his dreams) only end when he becomes aware of the fears and face them. "Prince Prospero, crazy with anger and his cowardice shame, rushed in pursuit through the six rooms without anyone following him--because of the fear of death which had seized all. With a dagger in his hand threatening approaches the stranger always receding when at the end of the hall of velvet turns suddenly and confronts the chaser. A sharp cry was heard, and the dagger rolls over on the black carpet on which the next moment, Prince Prospero also collapses without life."

With him and his dreams die; when they cheer and rush over the intruder "whose stature is held still and stiff in the shade of ebony clock," they are surprised seeing that the Red Death mask and the shroud "do not envelop anything that could be achieved." This character which the dreams are afraid of represents the awareness of death in space and time. One after another, they fall and die "in the desperate look of their collapse."

Here, the Latin MORS IANUA VITAE (death gate of life) comes as completion, explaining death as a life gate to another existence. In an esoteric interpretation, this shift to non-existence symbolizes the change that the individual suffers through initiation.

The seventh (3) room, which is a huge ebony wood clock (symbol of time that takes away the eternity of dreams), is the area of transition from life to death. Prospero chooses the last room as shelter for the metaphor of time passing in order to remove as much as possible the danger of his dreams being shattered. The ebony clock strikes every hour to remember that the time for dreams is limited and that any flight of fantasy has an end. Prospero's sense of alienation and frustration stems from the inability to translate the dreams into real plan.

Symbols and dreams play an important role in the structure of personality. In Jung's view, personality is crossed by a stream of mental energy that flows continuously in circuit consciously personal unconscious, collective unconscious. This process maintains a continuous watch over the mental continuum and sleep. Jung also says that while awareness is fragmented and discontinuous (even during wake), the unconscious is always active. Thus, the archetypes found in the collective unconscious are projected out as symbols, appearing at conscious level as myths, fantasies, visions, dreams and cultural symbols. Jung believes that the symbolic function would make the link between conscious and unconscious. Symbols are the result of energy transfer in biological instinctual spiritual and cultural values: the sexual energy is channeled into dance, and other various artistic--the energy in the competition aggressiveness. The symbols are archetypes and can be of two types: retrospective, when they update the archetypes, and prospective when they combine the ancient experiential background with the meanings of the new experiences. From the dreams perspective, they explain the mechanism of repetitive serial or premonitory dreams.

Poe's symbol-characters do not have a real psychological or historical or social consistency. They often do not have names, some prefer to hide their origin and to assume a false identity. Thus, the final scene, the black clock room brings together Prospero with his dreams. Here, guests (personification of dreams) can come only when the Prince and his alter-ego, death Red face, confront. We witness the struggle between Prospero and the repressed side of his personality.

The story lends itself to a Jungian analysis of the psychoanalytic perspective, as an allegory of Carl Gustav Jung's personality scheme. The castle, "figment of the prince himself," the "tall and strong" wall that "surrounds" the "iron" gates in "this wall" will serve to indicate the first two rounds of personality. Thus, the Prince is the establishment of their conscious sensations, thinking, intuition and feelings. It is bounded by the "tall and strong" wall and the Self (4) and Will area. Specifying the existence of "iron gate," suggests the access possibility to other circles.


Dumitrescu-Busulenga, Zoe (1963), "Prefaja," Edgar Allan Poe, Opere alese. Bucharest: Editura pentru Literatura Universala.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1958), "Answer to Job, Psychology and Religion: West and East," The Collected Works. vol. 11, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

--(1966), "On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry," "The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature," The Collected Works. vol. 15, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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--(1976), "Determinanti psicologie del comportamento umano," Opere, vol. 8, Torino: Boringhieri.

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_ (1994), Puterea Sufletului. Antologie. vol. I-III, Bucharest: Editura Anima.

--(1996), Personalitate si transfer. Bucharest: Editura Teora. Jung, Carl Gustav. (1997), Imaginea omului si imaginea lui Dumnezeu. Bucharest: Editura Teora.

--(2003), Opere Complete, vol. I, Arhetipurile si inconstientul colectiv. Bucharest: Trei.

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Kohut, H. (1971), The Analysis of the Self. New York: International Universities Press.

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Samuels, Andrew, Bani Shorter and Fred Plaut (1986), A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Spiru Haret University


(1.) archetype--in Jungian psychology, an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual unconscious.

conscious--in psychoanalysis, the component of waking awareness perceptible by a person at any given instant.

unconscious--the division of the mind in psychoanalytic theory containing elements of psychic makeup, such as memories or repressed desires, that are not subject to conscious perception or control but that often affect conscious thoughts and behavior.

the collective unconscious--the collective unconscious appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents.

projection--psychological projection is a psychological defense mechanism where a person unconsciously denies their own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world.

(2.) Jung, Carl Gustav. (1980), "Introduzione all'inconscio," L'uomo e i suoi simboli, Milano, 77.

(3.) Number seven was a symbol of eternal life in Egypt. It shows the change after a cycle, positive renewal. This power of transformation, number seven, is considered magic but awakens anxiety in that it marks the transition from known to unknown. It is a holistic symbol if we consider that the sum of number four (which shows the earth with the four cardinal points) and number three (which symbolizes the sky, with the Trinity).

(4.) The Self guides in the external space by the functions of the conscious, and by the unconscious projection space inside the area.

Claudia Gabriela Mircescu is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Letters, Spiru Haret University, Bucharest. In the last 11 years she has been teaching Italian at Media University and Spiru Haret University. She teaches Italian and Romanian for foreign people at Corsi di Lingue Florentia. She is also psychotherapist in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and member of the Romanian College of Psychologists and the Association for Hypnotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy of Romania. She is the author of Lingua italiana. Corso pratico livello elementare A1-A2 (2011) and co-author for In the Labyrinth of the Italian Postmodernism--Master Studies (2010), Practice Course Book, Italian (2010). She published articles such as: Descriptive and Historic Traits in the Name of the Rose (2009); Lida Mantovani Character, A Psychoanalytical Approach (2010); Multidisciplinary Approaches in The Island of Yesterday (2010); Oscar Wilde's Possible Masks in the Picture of Dorian Gray (2010); Baudolino, The Voice Tube of the Italian Postmodernism (2011).
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Author:Mircescu, Claudia Gabriela
Publication:Journal of Research in Gender Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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