Pantheization of Love-object As One of The Unconscious Strategies To Make Separation Easier (To Make Torment Bearable)

…The blonde girl on the beach… The girl’s long hair…caresses his head, tying him to his vision, allowing him no escape from his memory. David Loshak, “Munch”, PRC, 2001, p. 62


Edvard Munch, “Separation” (1896)

The nature of personal love contradicts the nature of human life. While love is all about coming together and becoming one, life is about separation. We lose the maternal womb, after this – symbiosis with mother and later with our own body, and finally – symbiosis with life. Life is a chain of our attempts to survive our separation from love. Torments of love are our very transition from love to life.

To be able to survive the loss of love, the protagonist of “Separation” – a “romantic” with pale face and somber mimics, unconsciously helps himself by transforming in his imagination the lost love into the “part of landscape” – into the nature he then can solemnly transcend through his noble suffering. The world in Munch’s painting splits into past and present and simultaneously into external and internal world (nature and human consciousness).

The tree on the left of the painting marks the border between the past/nature where the protagonist as if disposes his broken love (mixture of a melancholic pale purple with the earthy brown under the black clouds), and the present consisting of the expressive and symbolic world of a sublimated (self-reflective) suffering. The lost object of our love that we unconsciously impersonalize, is then, as if, transformed into a “natural phantom” – we pantheize it to make it easier for us to survive its loss.

Separation in “Separation” is without hope and without future. The painting is a representation of past and present of human experience of separation from love, and of art as its symbolization. The past and the external world are painterly “incarnated” in the background of the painting, the present and the internal world – in the middle-ground, and the future – in painting’s absent foreground (in the very canvass). The present extends itself into painting instead prolonging itself into future.

The girl’s hair is a continuation of the landscape (the earth). And the landscape is a continuation of her dress-body (of the sunlight mixed with sand). Her face is generic – as if erased by the male protagonist’s pain. She is earth and air, and the curves of her figure are that of the water. But he is transformed into fire. If she is three of the four elements, what is left of him is just one, and even this one is self-consuming. His blood of grief is that of the fire of self-annihilation (the impossibility of losing love). The girl’s impersonalization and “dehumanization in “Separation” (her psychological destruction) is a prerequisite for the appearing of the very artistic form. According to the logic of Munch’s images, the pain of losing love leads to the transformation of reality into intelligence (reality of love into intelligence of life). The joy of loving is beautifully wasteful, while pain of separating from love is the accumulation of this beauty of love into artistic form. Intelligence inserts itself between love and life if the person is able to sustain the pain of love-loss.

Can the necessity to pantheize woman who “abandoned” our male protagonist be a sign that she was never much of a personality for him, that her image in his mind was not too individualized by him, that it always was close to be as generic as it is in this painting? The tendency to “generalize” the woman we love, to perceive her as a part of our own personality tells about the absence of interest on our part to perceive her as an independent human being, free from our projections. It tells about the narcissistic (self-occupied) nature of our love. While a narcissist with a superficial (shallow) character will not suffer too much about amorous loss, the narcissist with a profound personality is in the danger of not surviving separation (with the object of his love he loses too much of his self).

But what is the nature of this double-headed creature right in front of the main protagonist who has as if, stopped before his unknown future while being occupied with what has already become his past? “The lovelorn man appears about to move forward, into the future, but his path is blocked by the crimson plant, possibly intended as a mandrake, with its love and death symbolism.” (David Loshak, ibid… p. 62) This morbid two-headed plant represents, it seems, the destiny of the two beloved whose tormenting separation from each other is the topic of the painting. It is (like they are) in the process of being ripped apart. This surrealist image, ahead of its time, is made even stronger by its contrast with the rest of the painting.

In his “Separation” Munch (in order to express the complicated nature of human emotional predicament) uses three styles – Art-Nouveau representation of the lost love-object, realistic/symbolic style of expressing the hero’s suffering, and surrealistic representation of the amorous couple in the process of being ripped apart.

Munch’s creative intuition is so rich that when he is concentrating on separation and suffering (quite widespread topics) his painting opens an additional semantic/formal perspectives (like split – under the influence of trauma of losing love – of human experience on past/nature and present/inner world, representation of amorous separation as a morbid plant ripped off, or pantheization of the lost love object – its impersonalization and dehumanization, etc).


Edvard Munch in 1907


Edvard Munch in 1938