When Not the Person But Otherness In A Person Needs, Looks And Appeals For Recognition

Chaim Soutine, “The Mad Woman”, 1919
Chaim Soutine, “The Mad Woman”, 1919

When we see the over-concentrated face of this woman looking at us we ask ourselves – why can’t she just be herself, why does she so obviously need recognition, why does she so immediately want to be “understood” and “accepted”? She looks as if she needs the painter’s attention much more than painter needs her. Does this woman in deep violet dress depend on the very gaze of the other regardless of any casual and profane reasons like being bored, feeling alone and needy for being attended? May be, this is the name of her “craziness”? May be, it is exactly this, what has attracted the painter’s interest.

Let’s look at her eyes. Her gaze asks, begs, pleads for attention. Is this fixation on the social situation, on other people’s judgment, and the inability to take others through distance marked by her psychic borders – one aspect of her madness? Socio-morphism is another aspect of this psychological dependence on others, while the proneness for symbiotic relations, when a person has a tendency to “glue” to others is the third. Such individual can be prone to feel frustrated with others, be tyrannical, oversensitive to how s/he is treated by others, to behave impulsively and torment him/herself. What makes people psychologically dependent on others is the same what makes them look for direct emotional contact – the absence or deficit of an internal world when a person can ask himself/herself questions and answer these questions, examine her own opinions and arguments and is capable to have a rapport with his/her internal objects (people s/he has internalized or with imaginary characters from the works of arts). When internal life is weak, the egoistic and predatory need in others as objects for self-projections is intensified. A person becomes greedy for situational communications, for artificial and shallow, although intense sociability.

But the mad woman’s (in a dark purple) desire for contact, her dream of rapport, even a self-centered one, are existentially genuine and for this reason are attempts to breach the reality. Her gaze of authentic appeal reflects a personality which cannot communicate (establish an internal dialogue) with itself. She is not psychologically self-defensive, at least, not too much – her hands are almost relaxed. She is trying to come out from the dark background of her soul. It is through this channel that psychological relief and, may be, even cure can come.

C. Soutine, “The Mad Woman”, 1921-1922
C. Soutine, “The Mad Woman”, 1921-1922

Her gaze is much more intense than that of the previous Soutine’s model, but it is without any appeal and any softness. It is a gaze blocking the attention of the other person, be it the painter, viewers of the painting or any form of human contact. This gaze is not only a shield; it is a preventive strike of self-protection, it’s a shield that’s like a sword.

She, as if, trying not to be noticed – like a turtle she instinctively pulls her head between her shoulders. She is simultaneously like a prey and predator – she wants to see without being seen. What is she hiding? Why does she feel herself in danger? What is she really defending?

She crosses her arms, as if, she is protecting her body. She knows that there is no place to run. So, she runs into her madness. Does she have an internal world (where she could be her own interlocutor)? Like everybody, she had a potential, soul’s embryo, but in the circumstances which she perceived as adversary and dangerous, it, probably, transformed into her suspicious and over-defensive persona which she intuitively transformed into a kind of fetish (an additional defensive reaction in a form of self-aggrandizement). Running into madness for her is not running into her soul (that could be a healthier reaction), but into her soul’s shell, into its protective cover/armor itself, not into what this armor has to protect.

Opposite of Soutine’s first model, this woman in red dress doesn’t understand that she is vulnerable, like military gear wouldn’t understand the idea of vulnerability because only (bodily) soul can feel it, but this woman’s contact with her own humanity is severed. Her madness is all she has. She is her madness. She became her own shell to feel invulnerable. She is in a much worse condition than the woman in a dark purple dress.

If an infant develops the feeling of unreliability of the world and fear of the unknown, result can be that her very psychological structure will reflect her self-defensive posture against the world. Then fearful avoidance embellished by multiple phobias, phobic reactions and ideas, and self-aggrandizement are permanently deployed against the world. In this situation the child and the adult (who grows up from this child) cannot be opened to communication with dissimilar others. The ability to open yourself to other people and to negotiate with them becomes more and more reduced. Predisposition to violent crimes and orientation on power including pathological fixation on wealth-making by any price (more and more widespread psychologically defensive reaction) and preferring war as a strategy of “resolving” international problems – become “normal”.

By his examination of the psychology of “madness” in these two paintings Soutine helps us to be more conscious about the “mad” features of those inside and outside mental asylums.