Sunday, November 25, 2012

Madness and Writing

On the margins of society they live, the ill, the different, the mad, the other.

The signifier is the word, the meaning is only the written or the spoken echo of the word. The signifier ignites the signified. The signified is the image, the individual  interpretation of the word. The signified creates the world. Literature is not a mirror of the world, literature creates a new reality through the use of the signifier and the signified as the ultimate binary, using language as the ultimate metaphor.

The literary characters I'll discuss are hovering on the margins of the margins of what is considered normality, of what is considered sanity. Madness is silent. The moment one applies reason to madness, the moment one stops up and looks at oneself, saying, wow, I am so mad, that would be the moment the madness had passed. The tale of madness is always in retrospect, and also it might (and probably is) be narrated by others, making way for the question of memory. For what is memory, and how will a memory change over time? Have we really an accurate description of madness? And who made the rules for where normality ended and madness began?
The ability to apply and even use imagination in the perception of the world in the Victorian age could and would offer severe difficulties. And God forbid you ever saw a ghost or encountered the monsters within, you would be even more marginalized. Both men and women had to act according to what society expected. The rules of conduct were strict, and any deviation from normality, or "normality" would not first of all be condemned, but it would definitely not be understood. And what people did not understand, they feared. And when people are afraid, they do not act or speak within the boundaries of reason, making the question of madness and reason one of those vicious circles of life.

Hiding away the sick and the dying has been done since biblical times. People suffering from leprosy would be hidden away on the outskirts of the cities, in separate colonies, and then later in institutions built for that purpose alone, hiding the things only God understood, at the mercy of that same God that would offer no explanation, healing or understanding. When leprosy was declared extinct, these institutions were filled with the ill, the demented and the mad, placing that which was different, and even dangerous, on the margins still. And at one point the madness or the illness would not only be institutionalized but it would be completely excluded from touching land. Focault's Stultifera Navis tells about floating boats that were filled with "fools". Fools as they did not have the ability or voice to tell the world that they needed help, not exclusion, being watched by "the other" fools on the shore...for believing that the ships were the solution to the difficulties of the different, the mad, the other. Different is frightening, even to this day when we are supposed to know better. Today we have educational systems and means to treat the mentally ill, but in society as such, we fear that which we can not understand.
And also today, female deviated behaviour, in particular, is looked at from a demeaning and belittling perspective. In the Victorian age it was considered different and strange on the margins of different and strange when a woman experiences post natal depression, PMS, or other hormonal influenced disorders. Women were (and sometimes still are) considered the other, even to women.
Women had few routes of escape from the caged world she was forced to live in. In fact, only three ways would be a woman's way out of her generalized angel-of-the-house-bearing-babies-being-invisible-unless-she-could-fulfil-the-need-of-her-binary-counterpart-man, and that was through starvation, madness or death, one would not exclude the other.

When talking about binaries, one can present doubles, opposites, dichotomies as pairs, but one will always be considered better than the other. Sun-moon, life-death, self-other. This becomes apparent in the two texts I'll discuss in detail here, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

"Everyone is only everyone else"*, and everyone in the entire world will be at the center of their own perception of reality, who is really to say when something is not normal?
At Wuthering Heights a young boy is brought home, he has no name and no beginning.
The master names him Heathcliff.
He is not given a family name, he is simply Heathcliff. We follow his story from child to adulthood, making Wuthering Heights a buildungsroman to some extent. Heathcliff never becomes anyone else than Heathcliff, he has no real development. And though he is, from some points of view, considered the protagonist of the story, he is not in the possession of a higher truth in the end. From the story we get that he is of Gypsy background, a group that historically has always been located at the edges of society, on the margins of conduct and behaviour. They are a people living in close relations with nature, a people with a different set of thoughts than the Victorian society as such. So from the very beginning Heathcliff is considered below the servants, yet he is to be considered a son in the house. But Heathcliff has to fight for his place in the family as well as in society. Only in Kathy does he find his soul, and only in Heathcliff does Kathy find her soul.
They are one.
One can not exist without the other. They are one unstoppable force of nature throughout the story. They are the horned God and Goddess, and if one is tamed they both will wither away and perish form this world to enter whatever afterlife they are presented with. Their connection is of such magnitude that they can not survive as one unit, they will never be equals, as they are one and the same.
When Heathcliff is fiery and unstoppable, Kathy is cold and filled with reason. When Heathcliff is cold and rational, even scheming and hateful, Kathy is irrational, hysterical and filled with a roaring fire. She can not have Heathcliff, but no one else can have him either.
Heathcliff does not see Kathy's marriage to Edgar as a betrayal, but he sees Kathy sleeping with her husband as the deepest of betrayals. Kathy's body belongs to him. He ends up trying to get back at every single person in the story, even Kathy. He loves her so much he hates her. And when she dies, he dies with her. His body remains alive until he stops it himself. Since they are one, Heathcliff and Kathy, their double must be Edgar. He is the opposite to their urge and need to live in and around nature. He remains the representative for the Victorian society through the virtues of education, politeness and means. He is also a representative for reason in Kathy's fiery madness. Yet he is fuled by his love for his wife and for his child, making him a double in himself.
Heathcliff descends into madness when he loses Kathy to the afterlife. He curses her like a demon, making him a manifestation of some kind of devil, maybe even the devil. He schemes and plots to take his revenge. He had acquired wealth and social standings, but not to become a citizen of the society he never would be acknowledged by, but through his wish to make every person see his side, make every person pay for his misfortune when losing Kathy to decorum.
Kathy and Heathcliff's tragic flaw makes it impossible for them to exit this story alive, and faced with their passing one get a sense of catharsis.

Freud did not invent the subconscious, but it is mainly through his thoughts we are familiarized with the concepts of id, ego and super-ego.
Hearton, Kathy's hateful brother, who has few redeeming sides to his person, has a son, Linton. Linton is through neglect from his father as a child, and further neglect and hatred from Heathcliff as a young adult, brought up as close to an orphan. The buildungsroman could apply in his case. He ends up finding language, intellect and identity through Edgar and Kathy's daughter, Katherine, and her taking an interest in him as she sits at the deathbed of her husband (Heathcliff's son). Linton could be a representation of the super-ego. He holds both the id, Heathcliff, and the ego, Kathy, in his past, his present and his future. He ends up displaying mind over matter, finding that happy ending that eluded and escaped Edgar, Hearton, Heathcliff and Kathy.

Jane Eyre is, like Heathcliff, an orphan. The orphan is the child that is seemingly easy to shape in one's image. But in many of the buildungsromans I have encountered, the orphan is born with a sense of right and wrong, a sense of where to head to reach elusive bliss and where to turn and walk the other way to avoid danger and fear. They all go through violent and loveless childhoods, only few glimpses of closeness and humanity define them. They often seek a sense of belonging through imagination, skill and determination to find any kind of future.
A child was through the ages looked to as the other. They were small, looked like tiny versions of the adult, but did not have the capabilities to do the same thing as an adult. Only in modern times did the concept of childhood become a term to discuss. A child should not stand up to or talk to talk back to the adult, and if a child displayed violent emotions, either those of love, anger or sadness, the child would be punished. Yet, through language we find identity, and through identity we find purpose. As long as we have language, we are presented with a way above survival of the fittest, a way above eat or be eaten. Though the orphans in our stories are faced with fighting for their rights to exist, they do so through language and imagery. They refuse to remain in the margins, they refuse to stay on the ship of fools.

Jane Eyre is placed in the house of family, only family is nothing more than blood relatives, a relation that should portrait a certain sense of belonging, but ends up excluding her completely, as she is forced upon them. Like with Cinderella, her family are constantly reminding her of her position, and they do not represent any kind of loving or life guiding presence. Even the servants consider her below them, as she is only a burden who never contributes. She escapes into the world of words and imagination, longing for time to freeze as she sits with her stories.
Even though Jane is a child, she has a strong sense of self, and of justice. This is a notion she brings with her to the end. But, she has a moment in front of the mirror where Jane becomes the signifier looking at the signified, the image in the mirror, and finding no connection between the two. What is on the inside does not correspond with what she sees. This happens while she is locked inside the red room, and this is a foreshadowing of the events to come. Jane's double through this story is the mad woman who is locked away in the third story at Thornfield.
Bertha, is Rochester's mad wife, the mother of his "secret" child, Adele, and the woman Jane will turn into if she compromises her strong sense of self and her strong sense of justice. Maybe the image Jane is seeing that day in the red room is the image of the mad woman within? Bertha is hidden away in the attic, and in search of the madness above, maybe even the madness inside, Jane encounters the madness at Thornfield. Bertha is a large and colourful woman, a foreign, an other. And through her descent to madness she has no language left, and almost no identity. The only thing that remains is the madness. She is behaving like a caged animal, standing on all four, grunting and sneering. She is Jane's double being her opposite. Jane is tiny, pale and in control of her identity and intellect, at least as such. Jane is told to lock her door from the inside, Bertha is locked in from the outside. Both women are caged, but Jane has the opportunity to escape when she wants. Bertha's escape is forced and violent and ends in disaster and the cleansing fire that finally makes Rochester and Jane equals. He has to wipe the slates clean to be able to live his preferred life with Jane. Was he to get his will and marry Jane the first time, she would have made the compromise that might have cost her her sanity.

Rochester is also looking for his sense of self. He is bound by his secrets, and his search for love. He considers marriage to Blance, who on her side is looking for a man of means and not particularly for love. Blanche is untouched and unspoiled. Blanche's double is Adele, the "foreign" child that Jane is set to teach. It remains a secret whether she is Rochester's daughter or not, but who else would she be? And that raises the question on whether Bertha's madness was caused by post natal depression, turning into psychosis, turning into the mad woman in the attic.
Rochester is looking for closeness, but he looks in the wrong place when looking to Blanche. She is blank, she is without depth and without substance. And when Jane leaves, he is no longer capable to keeping up appearances to Blanche, because he is drawn to the strangeness, the depth and mystery, and intelligence that Jane possesses.

Rochester represent ice, and Jane represent fire, and St.John represents reason and the Victorian society. Jane finds her three fairy godmothers in her cousins. From having chosen a path of starvation when running away from Rochester, she heals and finds purpose and will to live with her three loving family members. And having gone through a spiritual cleansing, still managing to hold on to her strong sense of self and her strong sense of justice, she is able to return to Rochester and be with him as Jane Eyre, heir to control and escape, and to imagination and reason. When good fortune does find Jane, she shares her inheritance with her new found family.

Jane is faced with starvation (both a physical and a mental starvation) and madness, but escapes death and gets her life, whereas Kathy and Heathcliff are faced with madness, starvation and death, death being the only way out of the madness.

Madness remains silent, but through language, through metaphors and through imagery we can have a peek at what we fear, we can have a peek at what we do not fully understand.

"It's so clear, we can see the madness perfectly from here"*

* The Space, and Asylum Satellite One, by Marillion

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Stock Marked Crash of 29

“Money, it’s a crime, Share it fairly, But don’t take a slice of my pie. Money, so they say, Is the root of all evil, Today.”[1]

“Black Tuesday (29th of October 1929) was the end of the beginning of the crash of Wall Street”[2]
The stock market had been rising and rising, and on September 4th 1929 it saw a massive and all time high. This encouraged brokers to take huge risks and banks to invest heavily in stock of all kinds. And to top the top, these stocks were heavily over-valued.
The over-valuing of stocks serves as a rather significant reason leading to the crash on Wall Street. The optimism, and lack of future aspect of most investments in the period before the crash, almost serves as an oxymoron to the great depression that followed after the crash.
Economical historians are pointing to other important reasons for the cataclysmic crash of Wall Street, one of these reasons being “margin buying”.
Margin Buying would allow people who did not have the cash to buy the stock outright to invest. Eventually, when the marked crashed, and investors wanted their money back quickly, this lead to people going personally bankrupt, having to cash in life savings, sell houses and other valuables in order to settle their enormous debts. Many could not cope at all, and 25% of all Americans were at one point during the Great Depression on the dole.
Another reason is listed as the strict monetary Federal Policies. The rates of interest on broker loans were unnaturally increased making it all the more difficult for investors to invest and create a future.

The after shocks of this event would continue shaking the world economy for 25 years, through The Hard Thirties, through WWII, through the rise of Communism, through The New Deal, through The Aftermath of war, and then in 1954 the world economy would finally start to recover. The start of (among others) The World Bank, made the world economy find a certain calm. Yet, even now in 2012, the crash in 1929 is an infamous incident in our past.
“Fundamentally, the alternative history suggests that banking manipulators caused the irrational exuberance, thus the speculative excesses, the crash of 1929 that followed, and therefore the Great Depression of 1933, which ultimately let to World War 2”[3]
The global economical crisis that followed the crash on Wall Street led to the growth of Nazism and ultimately to WWII.
One might speculate: Had the economy, world wide, remained stabile (incorporating the growth of technology in this equation), the need to look for other solutions, other ideologies, been so pressing, and Hitler would never have gained the kind of power he did. This is obviously a non-empiric statement, based highly on “what if’s”, because the fact remains, the crash happened, as did WWII, with all its terror and extermination.

Leading up to the crash we see some significant changes in the world economy. The most important of this was the disappearance of the gold standard.
“The Gold Standard is a monetary system providing a simple rule for domestic monetary authorities and for the international monetary system. The rule was to maintain the value of a national currency in terms of a fixed weight in gold (…)”[4]
To be able to finance the enormous costs of war, many countries went off the gold standard during WWI. They suffered significant and devastating inflation. And though many countries returned to the system after the war, they now found that things had been radically changed. The economy was not as evened out as it was before the war. And by the time of The Great Depression, the system had reached complete shutdown.
The printing of more money than they had gold in their reserves would lead to inflation, which led to an increase of the prices, which eventually led to speculation of currency.
It has been claimed (by Richard Lancaster, among others)[5] that all this is a part of a cleansing cycle, that these things needs to happen for the healthy world economy. And in light of that observation we can draw parallels to the Enron scandal (where Enron became the catalyst of a global economic fall) in 2008, other parallels are what’s happening in Greece and Spain at the moment.

It is hard to pinpoint one single incident leading to the crash, but the common man, as well as the learned economist knew that the Golden Twenties (or The Happy Twenties) were closing to their undefined end. So far an enormous optimism had set its mark on the world rising after a devastating war. Industrialization and modernization were key terms.
Before WWI, the English pound was shown as the strong and stabile currency. After the war, the dollar grew into the stabile currency in the world’s economical image.
Americans were producing cars, vast quantities of food, they were leading the industrial revolution (the world was definitely entering Modern Times), but the flipside to this was over production. So, to keep the production going at the level where continued economic growth was secured, what was not sold would be destroyed. Wheat (in the US) and coffee (in South America) would be burned. This is, even today, a method western countries put to use. Instead of lowering the prices, they destroyed the over production to keep the prices steady and high.
Also, the American banks were overly willing to give people rather high loans to buy items, which would not remain in original value for long.
Credit checkups, figuring out whether people had the financial capacity to repay their loans or not, were not standard operating procedure back in the day. Further, 20% of all debt at the time was tied up in car loans, among other things.
Stock speculators in the USA hit it big, and the masses slowly lost their grip on money and wealth.

Industrial productions plummeted across the world after the crash on Wall Street. Prices on all kinds of product as well, e.g. silk and wheat.
People lost their jobs, and even though prices reached an all time low, no one could benefit from this, because no one had any money at this stage. The world as a whole landed in a vicious circle of economic ruin and wreckage.
When people lose their jobs, they have less to spend, and when less people are spending money, less production is being upheld, eventually leading to an increase in people with no jobs or money.
A different consequence, and this is a bit on the side, is that people become rather creative in times of need. The need to unwind and amuse the self with whatever means available grew strong these days. Underground activities such as gambling flourished in “The Hard Thirties”.

“The stock marked crash of 1929 was the most significant crash in US history. Although the crash itself only lasted four days, it led to a catastrophic sell-off. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 90% of its value between its record high close of 381,2 on September 3, 1929, and its subsequent bottom of 41,22 on July 8, 1932. It took 25 years for the Dow to regain its September high.”[6]

The crash on Wall Street led America, and further, the world into an economical Dark Age.
Two months after the crash in October, stockholders had lost more than $40 million dollars, and even though the stock marked initially managed to regain some of its losses by the end of 1930, it was far from enough. America, and the world as such, spiralled down into the Great Depression and The Hard Thirties.

We can speculate on whether Hitler would have gained power had it not been for the crash in New York in 1929. But as the world economy joined America on the decent to economic ruin, the need for new thoughts, new ideologies arouse, thus making both Nazism and Communism grow.
“The Versailles treaty threw long and dark shadows in the years between the war, and became a significant factor in the process leading up to WW2. The Victorious’ claims created a desire for revenge, and this was especially in reference to article 231 that created the hatred and the aggression. This article stated that Germany alone held the blame for the war, and was economically responsible for all the damages and losses the allied had suffered.”[7]
The changes post WWII, were also significant. We saw the beginning of the UN, and not only peace followed.
The Great Depression hit hard across the globe, but particularly in the countries, who lost the war. Trade and economic collaborations came to a full stand still, and inflation was one of the hard facts. These incidents created a need for a “saviour” in the entire world as a whole. But being the “losers” of the war, Germany felt the depression even more, making them embrace their “saviour”. Hitler provided something as generic as jobs. People have been grateful and loyal for far less.

In The Thirties countries started guarding their borders and what products were taken in and let out. Today we see WTO are trying to open the economical borders, and boundaries. We see a trading policy today where countries focus on producing trade goods that reflect the specific country’s speciality (Italy and France produce and export wine, Norway produce and export fish and oil).
But in The Thirties they needed to be self-sustainable within each country. They would produce everything a nation needed on the inside of the borders. This was a way of assuring that whatever jobs available would go to the nation’s citizens. In retrospect, this had to fail. Every country can not, at any given time make every given product; just the thought itself would sky-rocket production costs to astronomical sums, causing currency to deflate and prices to sink, being unable to pay for production, people losing their jobs, depression sinking down as a haze of gloom.

It became increasingly difficult to get financial support to start any kind of business, and the psychological effect spread across USA as a nation, and across the world as a whole. The massive decline in the worldwide stock market, caused bankruptcies and serious macro-economical difficulties.
“The Stock Marked Crash of 1929, also called the Great Crash, a sharp decline in U.S. stock marked values in 1929 that contributed to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Great Depression lasted approximately 10 years and affected both industrial and non industrial communities in many parts of the world.”[8]
US gold reserves saw horrid times come closer as countries started cashing their dollars in for the gold that was implied with the dollar. This forced the Federal Reserve to raise interest on rent.
It has been speculated that the Gold Standard was a part of what prolonged The Great Depression. Instead of spending the money available in the market, to stimulate and re-charge the economy, make it thrive again, the money available was tied up in gold.
“The price level is less predictable if the shocks to the price level are larger and if they are more persistent. We look at measures of average inflation to judge, ex post, whether a regime has been associated with price stability”[9]
After the crash, the gold standard was suspended. More notes than equalled gold in the reserves were printed, and the currency went dangerously up and down instead of staying stabile and safe. The international monetary system was no longer an effective trade currency. The gold standard became a bit un-stabile, but was again fully operational from 1958.
There was no proper way of knowing how much of the individual country’s money that was spent when trading internationally. Countries trading internationally never knew how much their own currency was worth.
The gold standard came to a definitive end in 1971, when President Nixon refused to follow the old system (France wanted gold for their Dollars, and USA paid up), that he had printed more money than was in the reserves was an underlying reason.
In 1973 all currency were released.
Previously, only the dollar could be changed in gold, though through 1944-1958 people and countries were so poor that this functioned more as the general theory than the real life practice.
“As good as gold” is a saying, understandably enough, coined during the years of the gold standard.

All of Europe suffered the reverberations of the crash on Wall Street. And where Europe slowly faced the terrors of war, USA dealt with the financial repercussions of the crash.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the lead of a concept we today know as “The New Deal”.
This was a situation where the leaders of the land took control of their country’s economy. From having a market-governed economy, USA now faced an economy in the control of the Presidency.
Roosevelt’s plan incorporated the “Three R’s”.
They were: Relief, recovery and reform.
The crash on Wall Street had left the masses without jobs (and also hope for ever getting a job), subsequently without money and means. So to begin with, the “Relief”-part of the deal was to give an economic aid to the poor and unemployed.
The crash on Wall Street rendered the economy in free fall.  The “Recovery”-part of the deal was to steer the economy back to what was considered normality on both a macro- and micro level.
The crash on Wall Street left a nation in fright of this ever happening again. This fright spread across the world. The “Reform”-part of the deal was to prevent the financial system ever sinking down to depression levels ever again.

So, to the everyday citizen, how did life change after the crash on the stock market October 29th 1929?
The very telling, and highly measurable unemployment rate from this time is probably what rings a bell in most minds. The photographs of men marching and protesting about the lack of jobs and resolutions, is a powerful image of what it was like during this time. And because it took the world economy so long to recover from this, images of the kind were quite frequent.
“Most people in the world were connected in one or another way to agriculture and production, and when their ability to buy disappeared due to lack of provision, it would affect their ability to buy what was produced in the modern industry. Taxes, and ability to pay taxes were also reduced. Yet, both the European and the American economy expanded from 1924, but the crash in 1929 dramatically enforced the lack of economic balance. In 1932 the industrial production in the USA was half of what it was in 1929, as was the national income. Almost half of all the banks were closed, and millions of people had lost all of their savings (…)”[10]

“The tailor had his closet filled with suits, but had no shoes, the shoemaker had plenty of shoes, but wanted a suit. They had not money to buy from each other, and swapping became a phenomenon, well known as such.”[11]  

In conclusion, the world really did change, as it saw the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Communism as a consequence to the shortage of money, jobs and prosperity ahead. This made the likes of Hitler a welcome piece of the puzzle when searching for hidden solutions.  And the world would be forever changed from the repercussions of also this war. WWII was in many ways the growing field of technology. Where WWI was fought in the trenches, WWII took to the air; we saw the dawn of the atomic age, we saw the dawn of international political collaboration, for instance the UN. And in the aftermath of the UN, we saw new politically problematic issues being born, for instance what happened, and is still happening, in the Gaza strip.
“When people know they have no future, can we blame them if we cannot tame them?”[12]
If a liveable, durable and healthy world economy is to exist, for it to have valid reasons to last, to see democracy and capitalism survive at all, normal people will need normality in their everyday condition and life.


Overall view:

* Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv
Randi Rønning Balsvik
Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 2010
1.Utgave, 2. opplag 2012

The Crash in 1929:

* Richard Lancaster, Editorial, October 29, 2002

*, US economy

* American History
Article by Martin Kelly
“Top 5 causes of the Great Depression”

Gold Standard:

* The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Gold Standard, by Michael D. Bordo (2008) (checked 20th of October 2012)


* Marillion, Gaza, from Sounds That Can’t Be Made, 2012

Richard Lancaster, editorial, 29th of October, 2002
[7] Translation of: Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv. Randi Rønning Balsvik. Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 2010, opplag 2 (2012). Page 84
[10] Translation and paraphrasing of: Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv. Randi Rønning Balsvik. Cappelen Akademisk Forlag 2010. 2. opplag(2012). Page 103
[11] Translation and paraphrasing of: Det 20. århundrets historie - et globalt perspektiv. Randi Rønning Balsvik. Cappelen Akademisk Forlag 2010. 2. opplag (2012). Page 104
[12] Marillion, Gaza, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, 2012