Martin Sjoberg Resuscitation: Silverstein * New York, New York
by Susan Otto
Los Angeles, California
"I love my work and want to start again." -- Jack the Ripper
On Monday, December 31, 1888, a 31-year-old white male was found bloated and floating down the Thames river. The body was identified as Mr. X, a barrister and headmaster, and chief suspect in the murders of prostitutes over the past years. Overwrought by his sudden dismissal from the school under dubious pretenses, he had accepted his settlement checks and sulked home. Distraught and despairing, thoughts of suicide filled his mind. The next morning he wrote a note "I don't want to end up like mother," and leaped into the icy Thames, where his body remained submerged and silent for a month. When the body was recovered, the family seemed in agreement that he was, in fact, Jack the Ripper. It all seemed to make sense.
Western thought is based on the white European man propelling himself by virtue of his actions and aggressions through time, which creates history. This is also what creates meaning and defines Eurocentric culture. Time becomes a measured progression in our heads and our hearts. This is what defines masculinity: the aggressive, the practical, the strong--the makers of culture. Freud's model for the unconscious, however, was certainly male. It is ironic that this stereotype has been jettisoned in favor of that of the woman being hysterical, when Freud clearly shows us it is men (and by default women) who are hopelessly and irreconcilably split into two--the conscious, and the unconscious. Much has been made of women's depression/unconsciousness behavior in this culture. But what of melancholia? What happens after progress? When work and meaning are constructed? The Taj Mahal is crumbling. Napoleon's troops have shot the nose off of the Sphinx. We snuff out cigarettes and graffiti the stones of the king's castle.
The modern individual has two options in dealing with the onslaught of desperation that pervades urban/post-industrial life: detachment, or despair. The model of emotional detachment has become part of the ideal model of masculinity: stoic, take care of business--above all, work. The "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" school of thought. The despairing man, however, is less visible. He is shown in films going on a killing spree, secretly lovesick, or as a junkie. However, he is always aggressive. Listen to Nirvana's album "Nevermind" for the prototype. Modern Hamlets do not visibly ruminate, brood, or expose themselves while in the throes of melancholy. They are never imaged without access to language, humbled by its terrible deficiency. Where is this silent, absent man? What does melancholia look like?
Bliss. Floating in cold water miles below the surface, you don't feel the chill cut through your bones. Your feet are bound, making your spin through the water more fish-like. Your hands are tied; you are helpless. It is paradise. No appointments or meetings, no taxes or car insurance, no more career or family pressures. You are outside of culture, freed of your responsibilities. You have returned home. You are weightless, moving with the current. It is almost perfect, the underwater world as poetic space: absence, the unconscious, the return to the womb, the existential void. It hardly matters what got you here, just that you are here.