‘I spent the night alone, scared witless, in this awful boat. Lights were going on and off, bombs were exploding. I thought I was being shot at.’ Alastair, as quoted in the Sunday Times, 14.10.12

I was initially surprised by the dramatic nature of people’s hallucinations – dramatic both in the sense of intensity, and in the sense of theatre: these seem often not to be real places, but stages – symbolic representations of ‘reality’ – or rather of their own experienced world.

Barthes on The World of Wrestling in Mythologies:

‘We are therefore dealing with a real Human Comedy…What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. There is no more a problem of truth in wrestling than there is in the theatre. In both, what is expected is the intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private.’

This leads me down a few different roads…

First, ‘the image of passion…the great Spectacle of Suffering, Defeat and Justice’: people in ITU live Spectacles, melodramas – perhaps without the satisfaction of the narrative arc toward Justice (unless there is some basic human guilt is being expunged). So what does that say?  That we need form to comprehend. But not to relieve, or to reassure, as Barthes implies.  There isn’t much relief in these deliriums. So, assuming delirium is in some way necessary, is some kind of survival mechanism (a fairly big assumption I will try to question later), is comprehension more important than comfort? By comprehend, I mean in a way live beyond: absorb, rather than be absorbed by. And is narrative and imagery our way to absorption?

Second, maybe theatrical narrative also plays a different part to that one written about by Barthes. ‘the image of passion, not passion itself.’ Maybe passion is the image.  I have yet to work out what I mean by that.

Extreme emotions are hard to recall.

On the other hand traumatic incidents, particularly ones laced with a sense of responsibility, haunt you. Jack-in-the-boxes, bouncing in your face when you are weakened by stress or tiredness, or uncertainty of yourself. And they are more effective for being out of the ordinary – for conjuring an atmosphere within the self that is somehow stronger than immediate experience; that undermines the day to day. It is like suffering a sudden drop in blood pressure, suddenly being out of the rhythm. The same, and opposite, as love – infatuation. It is transporting, altering – everything is experienced through its miasma.

I’m not sure how this came from Barthes.  Higher states of being?  ‘…the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a univocal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.’

That’s it – it is as if the Spectacle and this intensely experienced solitary reality are the same – and in between there is a layer of ‘normality’ – i.e. an agreed shared perception of the world. This might explain the solitary nature of the hallucinations: ‘I was completely alone, and I was constantly being chased’ (Barbara, also in the Sunday Times, 14.10.12). So in attending a Spectacle like the wrestling or the theatre together, do we agree, as an audience, to something more real? Is the catharsis partly to do with being together in an experience of the ‘panoramic view’?

And the last road is to do with Barthes’ ‘intelligible representation of moral situations’. If people’s images are to be taken a face value, they seem intimately connected with morals – holy battles, valleys of the shadow of death, long purgatories. A huge and other subject for another evening…


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