Section 3: Cataloging the Material

Part 2: A comparison with other disorders

38. The erratic man of genius



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38. The erratic man of genius

Rather curiously, one might at first think, many persons widely recognized as

geniuses have been placed by various writers in the classification of psychopathic

personality.128,131,156 The vagueness and plasticity of the term as it was for so long

officially used seem still to promote it's being stretched in practice to cover nearly any

type of abnormal behavior imaginable, and the literal or etymologic connotation is, of

course, no less all embracing.

It is true that a number of celebrities presented in school books as ornaments of

our civilization are credited with isolated acts that would do justice to the cases

discussed in this book. Some of the great figures in history, literature, philosophy, and

art are said even to have behaved continually in abnormal patterns.

The concept of genius as a type of madness is particularly associated with

Lombroso, who, in 1888, with The Man of Genius, advanced his familiar hypothesis that

genius is a degenerative psychosis, a sort of "Moral insanity" which may at times take

the form of other mental disorders but which preserves certain distinguishing


Grasset,99 following a similar line of thought, gives some striking examples.

Tolstoi is said to have lashed himself with ropes and to have fallen a considerable

distance while attempting to fly before he became preoccupied with wondering seriously

whether to abandon civilization for a primitive life in the desert. Jean Jacques

Rousseau's many false starts as medical student, clockmaker, theologian, painter,

servant, musician, and botanist are noted, as well as his curious letter addressed to God

Almighty which he placed under the altar of Notre Dame. Rousseau's expressed



toward the normal sex act is also noted. Schopenhauer's peculiarities, long famous, are

reviewed by Grasset. His abnormal attitude of esthetic distaste toward woman, his

morbid suspiciousness which led him to write even trivial notes in dead languages, and

his occasional assaults on unsuspecting bystanders who he fancied were talking about

him all suggest a deep-seated maladjustment.

Unusual and apparently irrational behavior has indeed been so commonly

reported in the lives of those acclaimed as great artists and thinkers that there is a

popular tendency to regard it as the rule rather than the exception. Vincent Van Gogh's

career is a familiar example. His justly celebrated exploit in cutting off his own ear and

sending it to a prostitute of Arles is one of many.230

Richard Wagner, according to some of his biographers140 manifested an utter

disregard for the feelings and the rights of others, a petty vanity, and sometimes a

callousness almost worthy of the psychopath. Nordau228 has indeed said that Wagner is

accused of having "a greater degree of degeneracy than all the other degenerates

heretofore seen put together!"

Jonathan Swift, in his poem The Lady's Dressing Room and in other writings,

manifests an attitude so basically distorted that it is difficult not to believe he was a very

ill man psychiatrically. In an interesting discussion of life-rejecting attitudes and their

relation to obsessive disorder, Straus270 makes clear something that is probably not only

pertinent to that syndrome but also to other psychiatric conditions. The basic

emotional judgment expressed by Swift might, if it were an unconscious stratum in the

psychopath, play an important part in his clinical manifestations. The life of this

learned, conscientious and brilliant man does not, however, show behavioral features

that would in any way suggest his being classed in our group, nor do the other

celebrated figures mentioned above, despite these reports of eccentricity and of various

psychiatric manifestations.

Is it not pertinent here to ask ourselves again, what is a genius? In the dictionary,

among other definitions, we find, "a man endowed with transcendent ability." Shall we

conclude that the authentic genius will demonstrate more than ordinary wisdom in the

conduct of his life? Or should we consider his books or his music or his statuary apart

from his personal acts? Shall we say that his creative productions furnish the evidence

of superior wisdom or of essential greatness that he may have failed to display in his role

as a husband, father, friend, or citizen?

It seems reasonable to argue that we should gratefully accept the work of the

poet and artist for what positive qualities we find in the work, itself, and that we can

ignore altogether if we choose the life of the man who produced it. May there not be

truth and beauty quite genuine in the creative


artist's experience but which he cannot apply consistently in the conduct of his own life?

It seems reasonable to believe that this is likely.

On the other hand, if the productions of the artist, the poems, novels, or

paintings themselves, reflect gruesomely distorted or perverse appraisals of life, is it not

natural for us, when we recognize this, to feel distaste? If malignantly perverse attitudes

are presented, disguised, or partly disguised, as verities enshrined by art, it seems

reasonable to believe that the unwary may be seriously confused or misled. Such

qualities in art might justifiably be recognized and proclaimed as pathologic.

Throughout Europe and America, Paul Verlaine is acclaimed as an important

figure in world literature. In our colleges and universities young people are encouraged

to admire his works and to recognize him as a rare and wonderful spirit, towering above

the level of common humanity. The sordid folly, the senseless and distasteful

misconduct, parasitism, indolence, depravity, and irresponsible squandering reported as

habitual of Verlaine might make it difficult for some, despite his established reputation

as a poet, to believe he was a man of superior qualities and sensibilities.243,287,297 Others

may assume that this man's unprovoked and truly murderous assaults on a close friend

and also on Arthur Rimbaud, his favorite homosexual intimate, and on his mother arose

from the turbulent passions of a great creative artist. Could such acts and the general

conduct of his life be related to callousness, perversity, and a deficiency of basic human

reactions? It has been said that "probably the greatest misfortune ever to befall Paul

Verlaine in his tragedy-riddled career was the fact that he was sentenced to only two

years in jail - instead of life imprisonment - for the attempted murder of Arthur

Rimbaud."297 These two years have been judged by some as the least miserable and

humiliating, the most nearly normal years of his adult life.

For centuries moralists have sometimes condemned the artist's life as licentious,

as given over to sensual delights, to violent and exquisite but unconventional erotic

pursuits and consummations. Others have argued, often indignantly, that the creative

genius is exempt from our ordinary standards of behavior, that his mighty passions

justly sweep aside ethical barriers suitable for lesser men, and that his vast spiritual

fulfillments and accomplishments not only excuse but even sanctify conduct that in

others might be classed as irresponsible or even criminal.197 The immature and the

naive often picture those who choose the bohemian life as virile standard bearers of

youth, gallant rebels against puritanical restrictions, strong men who claim a rich and

lusty fulfillment of what Eros demands.

It is popularly believed also that the genius is neglected or, through outrageous

injustice, even condemned by his contemporaries because they


are too stupid to understand him and to recognize his superior wisdom and spiritual

values. According to legend, subsequent generations at last catch on or wake up and

come to see that the creative artist was right and the surrounding social group stupidly

wrong. Those who do not in retrospect justify and romantically glorify the poet's or

musician's actual conduct often conclude that his productions show that he understood

or felt more profoundly than ordinary men the issues of human life and that his lofty

and magnificent being reveals itself to us through his cantos, his odes, or his


We find in Thomas Mann's appraisal of Dostoevski viewpoints not entirely the

same as those just mentioned. 197 It is plain that he regards the venerated Russian

novelist as profoundly disordered, as perhaps chief among "the great sinners and the

damned, the sufferes of holy disease. …I am," Mann says, "filled with awe, with

profound, mystic, silence-enjoining awe, in the presence of the religious greatness of the

damned, in the presence of genius of disease and the disease of genius, of the type of

the afflicted and the possessed, in whom saint and criminal are one." 197 Mann feels that

Dostoevski was personally preoccupied with fantasies of bestial brutality such as the

rape of a girl child he described in Stavrogin's Confession. "Apparently this infamous crime

constantly occupied the author's moral imagination." 197

Mann apparently does not regard Dostoevski as great despite his disease or as

redeemed by art from what he finds in "the criminal depths of the author's own

conscience." To the contrary he identifies disease and genius, saying: 197

the disease bears fruits that are more important and more beneficial to life and its development

than any medically approved normality. The truth is that life has never been able to do without

the morbid, and probably no adage is more inane than the one which says that "only disease

can come from the diseased." Life is not prudish and it is probably safe to say that life prefers

creative, genius-bestowing disease a thousand times over to prosaic health; prefers disease,

surmounting obstacles proudly on horseback, boldly leaping from peak to peak, to lounging,

pedestrian healthfulness. Life is not finical and never thinks of making a moral distinction

between health and infirmity. It seizes the bold product of disease, consumes and digests it,

and as soon as it is assimilated, it is health. An entire horde, a generation of open-minded,

healthy lads pounces upon the work of diseased genius, genialized by disease, admires and

praises it, raises it to the skies, perpetuates it, transmutes it, and bequeathes it to civilization,

which does not live on the home-baked bread of health alone. They all swear by the name of

the great invalid, thanks to whose madness they no longer


need to be mad. Their healthfulness feeds upon his madness and in them he will become


In other words, certain attainments of the soul and the intellect are impossible without

disease, without insanity, without spiritual crime, and the great invalids are crucified victims,

sacrificed to humanity and its advancement, to the broadening of its feeling and knowledge - in

short, to its more sublime health... They force us to re-evaluate the concepts of "disease" and

"health," the relation of sickness and life, they teach us to be cautious in our approach to the

idea of disease, for we are too prone always to give it a biological minus sign.

Mario Praz, in his well-known work The Romantic Agony, makes this comment

about the French decadents:243

[They] found or thought they found in the novels of Dostoevski a sadism which had

become more mystical and more subtle, no longer limited to the grossness of physical

torture but penetrating like a worm-hole into all moral phenomena... they found also a

thirst for the impossible, and impotence elevated to the height of a mystical ecstasy... In

Sade and in the sadists of the "frenetique" type of Romanticism it is the integrity of the

body which is assaulted and destroyed, whereas in Dostoevski one has the feeling.... of the

"intimacy of the soul brutally and insolently violated." [pp. 336-337]

Unlike Thomas Mann, Praz does not express a belief in any mystical value

superior to that of health in such reactions or claim that they save subsequent

generations from madness. He does, however, present much evidence to support his

argument that in the work of many important literary figures generally regarded as

geniuses it is the pathology itself that has won admiration and been acclaimed as beauty

or wisdom. He offers many examples of the influence of the Marquis de Sade, and of

his tastes, in the writings of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Swinburne, Flaubert, Gautier,

Huysmans, and others too numerous to mention here.

The rapt attention which Praz demonstrates in the literary productions of this

large group for literal algolagnia is complicated by many nuances of perversion. Truly

corrupt and appalling depravities of taste and impulse are expressed, some passing

beyond the antisocial or the unnatural and well deserving to be called antibiologic.

Sexual inversion sometimes overreaches itself into rapturous praise and lustful yearning

for such tragic monstrosities as those exemplified by the literal hermaphrodite. Pain,

disfigurement, torture, putrefaction, disgrace, ennui, death, profanation, and nearly all

things detestable to sane men are, according to the argument by Mario Praz, esthetically

invoked, equivocally identified as love or glory, and treated with perverse veneration.

Through the sensibilities of these famous decadents, woman is enthusiastically perceived

as an overpowering, murderous vampire, man as a furtive and gelded weakling.

Necrophilia and coprophilia


apparently have attractions for at least a few of the group presented by Praz. In some

of their writings delight is expressed not merely in things naturally disgusting, but in

disgust itself.243

The pathology and perversion of axiomatic human values demonstrated by Praz

in the literary productions he discusses are indeed profound. If these productions

represent the life experience of the authors, accurately reflect their taste and judgment, it

is difficult to refrain from asking why they should be accepted as intellectual or spiritual

superiors qualified to enlighten or inspire ordinary men and women.

If Baudelaire or Swinburne achieves a genuine excellence of art in poetry, need

we concern ourselves with its substance, with what human values it proclaims or

implies, or with what kind of personal experience it embodies or reflects? Can we

appraise the worth of this poetry as art entirely apart from its content? If the viewpoints

and emotional reactions that produced it are psychotic or obviously perverse, must we

say that this is irrelevant, that it has nothing to do with the greatness of the poet? Or of

the poetry?

Perhaps this can be done by the critic of art who in his role ceases to react as a

human being. To the ordinary man, and probably to the physician, esoteric attempts to

isolate art from biologic experience, to consider it without reference to the personal

emotion it reflects or evokes, are likely to appear speciously mystical and unenticing.

Baudelaire's actual life is reported as that of a feeble and affected eccentric, a

wastrel apparently without normal passions or friendships. Dyeing his hair green and

sometimes leading a live lobster through the streets on a pale blue ribbon, he lived, at

times, in an atmosphere chiefly of vexation and disgust, with an ignorant mulatto girl for

whom his attachment is said to have been "cerebral rather than sensuous."23 Some of

his biographers concluded that he may have been sexually impotent. His reported

disdain for ordinary morality was apparently surpassed by his repulsion at prospects of

physicall relations with beautiful and intelligent women.23,243

Can it be said, despite his unenviable personal career, that Baudelaire's art

establishes him as a very great man, a lofty spirit resplendent above the ordinary and

deserving our reverent admiration? Before trying to answer such a question is it not

reasonable to inquire into what sorts of judgment and feeling, what evaluations of

experience - ethical, esthetic, or otherwise - are reflected in this work? If we find in it

wisdom and beauty, something to sustain or enrich lesser men, it might be argued that

we should ignore the conduct of his life and bow our heads in acknowledgment of his


Praz credits Baudelaire's poetry with having given "a psychological turn to the

refinements of perversity"248 and in it finds a vividly persistent taste


for joy in damnation, an insistence on achieving religious beliefs in order to enhance the

shame and horror of desecrating them. Here the sexual mate emerges scarcely at all

except in terms of derisive obscenity or hideous monstrosity. Not occasionally but

pervasively we see that "inversion of values which is the basis of sadism, vice

[representing] the positive active elements, virtue the negative and passive. Virtue exists

only as a restraint to be broken."243 Actual voluptuousness is travestied, achieving little

or no recognition except in perverted forms of physical brutality or moral abuse. Praz

not only speaks of but amply illustrates Baudelaire's "inexhaustible need to be occupied

with macabre and obscene subjects."243 His works are shown to abound in enthusiastic

references to nearly all those defilements, reversals, butcheries, and abortions of basic

human feeling embodied in the Black Mass and apparently relished there so avidly by J.

K. Huysmans.43,219 The fraudulent or counterfeit is regularly accorded superiority over

the actual. Baudelaire states that it is his purpose to "extract beauty out of evil." It is

doubtful if such an extract can be made beautiful or valuable through being renamed,

however melodiously, or through being welcomed, however lyrically. Ignominy is

rapturously embraced and pronounced sublime. Ennui is accepted as an esthetic

triumph. Perhaps nothing is more typical of how this genius reacted to life than his

famous statement: "Woman is natural, that is to say abominable."243

A recent biographer speaks of Baudelaire as "a soul of such profound spirituality

and a mind of such heightened sensibility."23 We are also told that, "through his own

sufferings he came to understand the sufferings of mankind."23 Do his works really

reveal this spirituality and understanding? Have the courts who during his life

condemned Les Fleurs du Mal as "an outrage upon morals and decency" been proved

stupidly wrong?

"I have loved overmuch," Swinburne says. The youthful and the naive often

believe him. The surging rhythms of his verse, the sumptuous imagery, the cumulative

efflorescence of his alliteration readily stir the uninitiated. Many who encounter

Swinburne during high school or college assume he speaks for the hot desire of youth,

that the fervor of his poetry is a quintessential fervor of Eros. He is often pictured by

the unsophisticated as a gallant, vital figure, the sensuous and virile bard of passionate

love and physical ardors. Even those who ordinarily reject poetry, having vaguely

relegated it to the province of bookish pedants or to the effeminate, sometimes respond

to lines from "Dolores" or "The Garden of Proserpine." During the imperious urges,

the inarticulateness, and the confusion of a first love, they may find in Swinburne an

intensity that seems to match their wildest aspirations. His brilliantly ringing lines must,

they believe, represent a noble pagan vigor, a spirit so strong and vital that it sweeps

through ordinary restraints and conventional artificialities. His voice is often taken


to be the mighty voice of a lover calling on life to flood and fecundate parched deserts

of asceticism and negation, on nature to flower in ultimate fulfillment.

In the vivid urgency to consummate amorous desires which society insists they

defer and only dream about for so long, the normal boy and girl may read from the

following lines in "Dolores":

By the ravenous teeth that have smitten

Through the kisses that blossom and bud,

By the lips intertwisted and bitten

Till the foam has a savour of blood.

By the pulse as it rises and falters,

By the hands as they slacken and strain,

I adjure thee respond from thine altars,

Our Lady of Pain.

They often find reflected in this something of the vigor of their natural impulses.

Anticipating sexual fulfillments that must be delayed, they normally picture these

fulfillments as hot blooded, wholehearted, and breath-taking. Perhaps such a term as

our Lady of Pain is surprising, but, after all, sorrow is often mentioned in connection

with love. The heart aches and in separation there is suffering.

Continuing, they find Swinburne thus speaking of a female figure:

As of old when the world's heart was lighter,

Through thy garments the grace of thee glows,

The white wealth of thy body made whiter

By the blushes of amorous blows,

And seamed with sharp lips and fierce fingers,

And branded by kisses that bruise;

When all shall be gone that now lingers,

Oh, what shall we lose?

Normally oriented young people will probably assume that the poet is referring to

sexual ardor. What matters an accidental bruise or abrasion from embraces and caresses

exchanged in the joy and vigor of amorous consummation? Ordinary readers may be

puzzled when the female is referred to thus:

Fruits fail and love dies and time ranges;

Thour art fed with perpetual breath,

And alive after infinite changes,

And fresh from the kisses of death;

Of langours rekindled and rallied,

Of barren delights and unclean,

Things monstrous and fuitless, a pallid

And poisonous queen.


Perhaps they are puzzled. But after all, poetry, they remember, is not necessarily

literal like a blueprint or like a pamphlet giving instructions about how to repair radios.

Their uncertainties are dissolved in the stimulation of

Thou wert fair in the fearless old fashion,

And thy limbs are as melodies yet,

And move to the music of passion

With lithe and lascivious regret.

They will probably continue to feel that Swinburne is dealing with the passions

they feel even after he says

I could hurt thee-but pain would delight thee;

Or caress thee-but love would repel;

And the lovers whose lips would excite thee

Are serpents in hell.

After all, the real speech between lovers is seldom exact. Literally inappropriate

words are often risked to convey opposite meanings, perhaps through efforts to register

intensity about what cannot be adequately defined or soberly conveyed as a matter of


From what is known of Swinburne's life, it seems unlikely that he could have

"loved overrauch." He apparently had little or no interest in normal relations with

women. This was so conspicuous that his close friend Rossetti is said to have bribed a

particularly enterprising and alluring lady with ten pounds to evoke in him some

amorous response. After her best efforts she confessed her failure and returned the

money.243 After repeatedly showing himself unable to avoid disastrous drinking or to

handle his ordinary affairs with minimum competency, the poet spent nearly all his adult

life living with his bachelor friend, and protector Watts-Dunton, who apparently acted

as an informal guardian or voluntary lay attendant.23,243

The evidence according to Praz strongly indicates that Swinburne habitually

sought bizarre satisfactions and shames in "queer houses" where flagellation was

practiced as a substitute for, or a mockery of, biologically oriented sexual relations.

Since early in life he pored over the writings of the Marquis de Sade, for whom he is

said to have maintained not only a strong affinity but, indeed, hero worship. The poet's

writings copiously illustrate his concept of sensual pleasure and of "love" as painful

brutality and foul humiliation. It is difficult to find in them, or from what is reported of

his life, anything to indicate that he enjoyed an appreciable awareness of what women

mean to ordinary men, or of human love.243

Praz presents strong evidence that in Swinburne's poetry recurrent reflection of a

most malignant sadism become at times frankly cannibalistic


and that he projects perversion and morbid derogation into the surrounding universe.

When Swinburne writes of "the mute melancholy lust of heaven," according to Praz,

"heaven merely reflects the mute melancholy lust of the poet himself."243

Depicting in "Anactoria" what he apparently means to be taken for sexual love,

Swinburne is sometimes explicit:

I would my love could kill thee; I am satiated

With seeing thee live, and fain would have thee dead.

I would earth had thy body as fruit to eat,

And no mouth but some serpent's found thee sweet.

I would find grievous ways to have thee slain,

Intense device, and superflux of pain;

Vex thee with amorous agonies, and shake

Life at thy lips, and leave it there to ache;

Strain out thy soul with pangs too soft to kill,

Intolerable interludes, and infinite ill;

Relapse and reluctation of the breath,

Dumb tones and shuddering semitones of death.

Ah that my lips were tuneless lips, but pressed

To the bruised blossom of thy scourged white breast!

Ah that my mouth for Muses' milk were fed

On the sweet blood thy sweet small wounds had bled!

That with my tongue I felt them, and could taste

The faint flakes from thy bosom to the waist!

That I could drink thy veins as wine, and eat

Thy breast like honey! That from face to feet

Thy body were abolished and consumed,

And in my flesh thy very flesh entombed!

…Oh that I

Durst crush thee out of life with love, and die,

Die of thy pain and my delight, and be

Mixed with thy blood and motion into thee!

Would I not plague thee dying overmuch?

Would I not hurt thee perfectly? not touch

Thy pores of sense with torture, and make bright

Thine eyes with bloodlike tears and grievious light?

Strike pang from pang as note is struck from note,

Catch the sob's middle music in thy throat,

Take thy limbs living, and new-mould with these

A lyre of many faultless agonies?

It may be that Baudelaire, or that Swinburne, shows sufficient mastery over the

rhythms, and the other technicalities of poetry to be correctly classified


as a genius. Is it, however, even sane to argue that the basic tastes and judgments

expressed or implied on human life in the lines just quoted should be accepted as

superior to those of the ordinary man? Regularly reversing the most axiomatic human

orientations, do these not stand as expressions in art of what has been unforgettably

illustrated in conduct by such figures as Jack the Ripper, Gilles de Rais, and Neville

George Clevely Heath? 19,61,219 Can these tastes and judgments be regarded as anything

but obvious manifestations of disease, of disease that is uninviting and malignant?

Praz, in his detailed and serious study, offers impressive evidence of the influence

exerted by earlier exponents of the pathologic and perverse on subsequent artists and

literary figures of similar inclination. The Marquis de Sade apparently is accepted as true

prophet or seer by Baudelaire and Gautier: these in turn profoundly influence

Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, d'Annunzio, Octave Mirbeau, J.K.Huysmans, Barbey

d'Aurevilly, and scores of others. 243

If we conclude that some men accepted as superior to the common stature of

humanity prove, on closer acquaintance with their artistic works, no less than with their

lives, to be not great and admirable figures in the ordinary meaning of such terms, how

shall we try to explain their continuing recognition as remarkably inspired or enlightened

personages? An attempt to answer this question adequately would lead us far afield.

One point, however, may be briefly noted.

If there are among those commonly accepted as geniuses some who could be

better classified as apostles of disease and negation, it is scarcely surprising that they

continue to gain disciples. The malignant perversions of the Marquis de Sade are

accepted by Baudelaire and Swinburne as a rich gospel of estheticism. The schizoid

misogyny of August Strindberg, listed in encyclopedias as Sweden's foremost literary

figure, prompts him to hail publicly and reverently as a genius the pathetic Viennese

youth, Otto Weininger, who expressed a similar schizoid misogyny in fantastic terms

shortly before taking his own life. 4 Pathologic reactions expressed in art apparently

appeal to persons similarly disordered. Finding the normal premises of human life

unacceptable, the ordinary biologic goals invisible or illusory, they seem to welcome the

viewpoint of those who in poetry or philosophy reflect a life rejection they share. It is

not difficult to see how such viewpoints may appear as manifestations of superior

esthetic sensibility, as a special wisdom, to new cults of intellectual defeatists and

deviates who gather in succeeding generations.

In the "Cool Cat Era," a magazine article written in the early 1950's, Helen

Lawrenson portrayed among certain avant-garde Greenwich Village


groups an effeteness and emotional vitiation peculiarly uninviting.178 The "young futility

set" she describes apparently regarded themselves as advanced intellectually and

esthetically by virtue of their extraordinary capacities for achieving boredom.

They don't dance; they don't flirt; their laughter is a mechanized device infrequently

used; and their conversation is of a genre that is utterly forgettable…

For the great, outstanding quality about this cool-cat generation is its overpowering

inertia. Everything is simply too much effort and what's the use, anyway?

Down through the ages, the one never-changing mark of youth has been its

enthusiasm. This is probably the first generation in history that hasn't got any. That is

what strikes you most forcibly when you see its members in the slightly dank bars where

they cluster like fungi. You look at them and listen to them - all young and bright enough,

with handsome men and pretty girls - and suddenly you realize the incredible, the shocking,

the obvious fact: they aren't having any fun! Sex, liquor, dope, perversion - they try it all,

and it's all so much spinach. This is not youth on a spree, or the classic wild oats of the

younger generation. …

Their attitude toward sex is possibly the strangest in the history of youth. By and large,

they think it's a lot of bother. In the bars they inhabit, you almost never see a young man

panting over a pretty girl, oblivious to all else, straining every nerve to convince her that

she's the most beautiful creature he ever saw and that he's madly, rapturously in love with

her. That is for squares. What you may see is an attitude of: "Well, sex is a bore. Life is a

bore. I don't really feel anything but you're here and I'm here and we can't think of

anything else to do, so let's give it a try."

Most of the time, they don't even make that much of an effort at courtship. When you

hear an apparently healthy young man in his early twenties say, with a faintly nauseated

look, "I had sex last Thursday," in exactly the same tone as if he had said, "I ate some

cottage cheese and it didn't agree with me," you begin to realize that something has

certainly gone haywire. …

Things have come to a pretty pass when young girls are so bored with men that they

prefer dope. But even the please-pass-the-heroin set finds its own routine anything but

sheer pleasure. They spend a lot of time screaming, or retching endlessly, until they

manage to kill themselves one way or another, and they're cool forever. …

These are the archetypes of the "cool cats," the new cult of youngsters whose attitude

toward life, toward love, toward themselves is one of frantic apathy. There are probably

more of them in the Village than anywhere else, because the Village has always been the

unofficial headquarters for rebellious youth. What makes this group different from all its

predecessors is that the chief thing it seems to be rebelling against is life itself. …


"It's ugly, Carter, it's all so terrible and useless."

"What is?"

"Everything, Life!"

Among such groups languidly withdrawn in the name of art or bohemian selfexpression

from ordinary affairs, it is scarcely remarkable that the bards of pathology,

negation, and life perversion find disciples in each new generation.

If it is true that some creative artists of great renown show both in their conduct

and their work indications of serious personality disorder, how shall we class them? Are

some of those established by tradition as high priests of truth, beauty, and inspiration

really members of the clinical group we call psychopaths? Although some of their

works convey reactions and evaluations as inadequate as those of the typical psychopath

and as incompatible with even minimum standards of human feeling and behavior, we

should not necessarily identify their disorder with that of the patients presented in this

book. Sexual deviation with its inevitable frustrations and reversals of response and

masked but profound schizoid disorder formulated in disdainful misanthropy and life

perversion seem more likely to account for the tastes and viewpoints revealed by these

talented people. None of the creative artists thought by Mario Praz to be dominated by

sadistic influences, and none of the others mentioned in this chapter, impress me as

people who should be classified primarily with the true psychopath.

In contrast with them, the typical psychopath does not labor consistently to

express in art pathologic reactions or distorted appraisals of life. In words the typical

psychopath characteristically gives normal evaluations, defines excellent moral

standards, enthusiastically claims the accepted goals and aims of civilized man as his

own. He is often an articulate spokesman for the good life. If the sort of patient

described here should have sufficient talent and industry to produce works accepted as

valuable literature or art, I do not think it likely he would in them try to express nihilistic

or perverse attitudes. Whatever he might express would probably be as spurious, as

little representative of authentic human experience, as his convincing but empty

promises, his eloquent protestations of a love he does not feel. His production,

however brilliant technically, would be a valid rendering of neither health nor disease

but a counterfeit.

Is it possible that behind the psychopath's disorder there once lay extraordinary

potentialities? I have seen other types of people who in critical periods of development

seemed to face problems that arose largely from their own precocity, their own

distinctly superior qualities. Such patients sometimes seem, it might be said, to have

advanced intellectually and in some respects emotionally, so far ahead of what is average

that they encounter


problems and pressures which demand greater general maturity than it has been possible

for them to acquire, although their general maturity may well excel the average. Patients

in such situations have been observed who, it seemed, were being pushed into various

patterns of psychiatric illness; pushed toward clinical psychoneurosis or possibly even

toward schizophrenia, by factors brought into play more through the indirect effects of

their superiority than by any specific personality deficits.

Although excellent capacity is of value in efforts to work through problems, to

avoid dangerous pathologic reactive patterns, it is also, I believe, possible that higher

magnitudes of emotional and other functional potentiality may have something to do

with the degree of destructiveness when regressive withdrawals and disintergrative

forces set the course. A man of unusual integrity and loyalty is likely to be more

severely damaged than a man mediocre in these respects if complicated and confusing

situations cause him to make grave errors in his business (or in his decision as an officer

during combat) that result in disaster for which he holds himself responsible.

Abandonment or betrayal by a fiancé or mate is likely to put stress upon persons in

direct proportion to the depth of genuineness with which the other is loved. Persons of

great dignity and pride may find it necessary to destroy their own lives under

circumstances in which those with a shallower scope of feeling can adjust with only

moderate emotional damage.

The possibility that a once great capacity for positive living may have played some

part in the development of the psychopath's negative (destructive) patterns is, I believe,

worthy of careful consideration. Certainly these patterns are thorough and

uncompromising (no halfway measure) and if they do represent something purposive,

though consciously involuntary, their effectiveness suggests an invisible purpose of

uncommon force. If the psychopath's disorder could be shown to arise in some such

fashion, it is so subtle and so monumentally effective a job that it is easy to imagine that

the potentialities represented here in reverse might deserve the estimate of genius. No

real evidence, however, has been presented to support this purely speculative



Next: Section 3: Cataloging the material, Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 39. The injudicious hedonist and some other drinkers


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Section 3, Part 2


  • Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step
    Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step, Some material has been presented in which manifestations of the disorder occur. It is our task to arrange it in such a way that its features can be seen clearly and compared with the features of other disorders. Such a step should be helpful in our efforts to recognize what we are dealing with and to evaluate it. Let us compare these patients known as psychopaths with others showing clinical illness and deviated reactions or patterns of living. Significant details should emerge, differentiation should become clearer, and distinguishing features of our subject should become more apparent at





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