Tag Archives: Sigmund Freud

Shakespeare, Madness, and Trumpism

Sometimes I’m tempted to focus on Shakespeare alone in this blog.  His work offers us more wisdom than I’ve found anywhere else, if one has the courage and discipline to explore it.  As I’ve argued recently, I think his work reveals that he thought that madness inflicted the whole of this human endeavor and that even the “consensually validated reality,” if closely examined reveals this to be true.  Freud probably had this in mind with his book entitled, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

One line from the play, “Hamlet” that has always intrigued me on this subject is, “What’s mad but to be nothing else but mad?”  Shakespeare was telling us, “We are all ‘mad’ but the label ‘madness’ belongs only to those who are ‘nothing else but mad.’”  Yes, everyday life is “psycho-pathological” but to waste much time and energy calling it that is kind of, well, kind of “nuts.”  Labels like “psycho-pathological” or “mad” must be reserved for those who go beyond the pale of everyday insanity and illustrates for us what is really going on with our daily grind of “consensually validated reality.”

But there is a continuum to this madness that we are all inflicted with by virtue of being “mere” humans.  There are occasionally people, even prominent people, who come along and illustrate for us madness though manage to avoid institutionalization and possibly even become powerful political leaders.  In my lifetime I can think of people like Idi Amin,  Sadam Hussein, and their predecessors, Hitler and Mussolini. And, you guessed it, there’s Donald Trump.  Though Donald Trump was “freely” elected in a democracy, his election proves the speciousness of any notion of “free will.”   Trump is a good example of someone who Shakespeare would describe as mad but he would also note that with him there is definitely “something other” than mad, meaning he really doesn’t deserve the label “mad,” but he sure comes close to it!  He is pretty far down on the spectrum toward madness but he lives in a culture that has found what he offers valuable enough that they are willing to overlook words and deeds that would disqualify most people from the White House and from the entitlement of the word “sane.”

It would be so helpful if my country would use this moment in its history for self-reflection and consider the wisdom that Shakespeare offers us here.  If we were mentally healthy as a culture we could contemplate our “madness” as Shakespeare challenged us to do and not be daunted by the task, realizing that to contemplate the notion does not make us “mad.”  For, most of us in this exploration would learn to chuckle, or even guffaw at things we began to discover about ourselves, quirks and oddities which reveal merely the conflicted nature of human experience and do not mean that we are mad.  But one dimension of the human ego which can tyrannize one into madness is the fear of having any flaw, and of having any flaw coming to the light of the day.  That fear often drives us not acknowledge our conflicts even if this lack of acknowledgement causes these conflicts to worsen to the point of mental illness or even to the point of validating one who is mentally ill and electing him President of the United States.


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:





Is it Feelings or “Old-brain” Passion run amok

“He who feels strongly behaves.” Marianne Moore wrote a beautiful poem about intense emotion and the heart’s ways of accommodating that intensity. She used beautiful watery imagery of those intense emotions doing battle with structure and describes them as “surrendering” but noted that “in its surrendering, finds its continuing.”

I think here a distinction must be noted between raw, unmediated passion which Freud would have called “drive energy” and feelings or emotions. Feelings are the product of the primal energy but they have been “processed” by our neurocortical machinery and can find expression in an “appropriate” fashion. Admittedly “appropriate” is a nebulous term and many people of mature, strong feelings must push the limits of “appropriate” to give expression to their feelings and to accomplish their purpose.

I have written lately of my three-decade long escape from “literallew” who preceded this present altar ego. And now I often have intense emotion burgeoning forth in my heart and life, emotion so intense that at times I don’t know what to do with it. Yes, it rattles my cage on occasion and besets me with a lot of anxiety. But I am blessed with the ability to listen to Ms. Moore’s directive and “behave”…most of the time! And my “behaving” includes a lot of attention to my daily devotional which I describe as “chopping wood, carrying water.” And I love T. S. Sliot’s wisdom on how to respond to intense religious emotional sentiment, telling us we have to offer only, “Prayer, observance, discipline, thought, and action.” And these actions, in my case, usually find me deeply immersed in “Mother Earth” and caring for her and her creatures, flora and fauna.

By Marianne Moore

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, –
dumbly calling, deafly listening-that
in misfortune, even death,
encourages others
and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,


Stuck in a repetition compulsion

I sometimes think I should rename my blog to some variant of “Shakespeare”.  I quote him so often.  And there is no need to quote anyone else.  No one said more.

On the subject of change, he explained why we resist it so much, noting in Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy that we, “cling to these ills that we have rather than fly to others that we know not of.”  To put it in plain red-neck English, “Hell, as bad as things are, if I fool around and make changes, things are gonna get a whole lot worse.”

This is best illustrated in a standard psycho-dynamic explanation of why a woman stays in an abusive relationship.  She usually has such low self-esteem that unconsciously she feels she deserves nothing any better.  In fact, if she manages to extricate herself from one abusive relationship, she will end up in another one very quickly.  Some unfairly and unkindly opine, “Well, that is what she asks for.”  But she is merely caught in. or trapped in, what Freud call a “repetition compulsion”,  repeating a pattern of behavior which recapitulates an emotional trauma that she lived through.

Scott Peck said in The Road Less Traveled that neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering. He was suggesting that suffering is a basic part of life and that enduring pain from time to time is just part of life. Failure to do so is to get blocked or “stuck” in life.

The key to gaining release is always to “feel” the pain, the avoidance of which keeps one locked in a maladaptive behavior pattern. Or. to use a popular bromide, “No pain, no gain.”