Sunday, March 11, 2007

Silencing the Scream

The Scream. By Edvard Munch. I fell at first sight. Without any comprehension. Like a meteor from the sky - inevitable, angrily fighting against its descent, explosive. And yet still having a best friend who spoke to you, understood you, resonated with you.

I like where the subject is placed, right in the centre and closest to the viewer. But it's not because he wants to be there, he has no choice in the matter, the artist has framed him for us. My first impression of it was dark. It still feels predominantly so. The work spoke to me of acute loneliness, no, something more - an alienation so severe that it warped the reality around him and deformed him into something unrecognizable, inhuman almost.

The two figures near the top left corner represent the only community closest to him. But even they are too far away, barely discernible at first glance. You cannot even tell whether they are running with concern towards him, or perhaps they are walking or cycling idly by enjoying the view of the seaside, or just maybe they are just standing passively on a ship deck at a distance safe to watch him. Whatever the case maybe, one thing is for sure - they are too late. The entire canvas of his reality has already been twisted and warped perhaps beyond return.

But what is that brown, perhaps wooden, pole or stick that runs along the right side of the picture? At first I thought it was just that until I looked at what appeared to be an angry orange almost fuming sky, and an ocean that looked in turmoil but was calm above because there are ships sailing on it. Look at how the orange sky seems to almost crash into 'wooden stick' (let's just use that for now). See how, in contrast, the sinister deep blue ocean seems resigned that it would never breach the wooden stick and has settled into peaceful co-existence with it. That wooden stick is the edge of his reality. That he stands so close to it, indicates very clearly that he's on the edge of losing it - his grip on reality, his sanity perhaps.

But is there hope? Perhaps. But even so, it's a very slim one. Perhaps, if those people there manage to reach him, and not just physically but emotionally or spiritually, they just may save him. This is represented I think firstly by what I alluded to earlier -he stands close to the edge, but he hasn't breached it yet. Then look closer at the raging sky, beyond it there is blue sky and puffy white clouds. The promise of normality, visible in the distance, hints of hope. And there are still identifiable semblances of human life - the two people behind, the ships, the clearly identifiable sky and ocean, the wooden walkway. There is still something recognizably human in him and that necessarily means, he is someone worth saving.

And finally we turn to the subject himself. There is not much to look at. He's deformed and deteriorating into something alien. As an aside, for those acquainted with UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) literature would know that some of those people that claim to have been abducted by UFOs have sketched aliens whose likeness bears a strikingly resemblance to the subject. It is hard to tell whether he is shocked, surprised or blind. Is he yelling a warning? or perhaps, shouting his surprise? or maybe, and this is what I felt, he was screaming his lungs and soul out of frustration, out of helplessness, out of the sheer unbearable desperation of his loneliness, like a vast flat unending desert that stretched out under a cloudless and starless night. And that for me is the ultimate tragedy of The Scream. Nobody can hear him. Nobody can help him. Even as the internal chaos of his mind is spilling into his perception of reality, interfering with it, warping it, and recolouring it even as it distorted it. And that is also our relation to the picture - without sound. Nobody would ever be able to hear it - even Munch himself.

So this work for me is a metaphor about some of our deepest tragedies. They will be inevitable, intensely unbearable, and just maybe, somebody may be able to help us, but no, they will not reach us in time; but mostly, all the suffering will be done alone, with only the company of our own screams because in the cases of the most profound tragedies, all most people can do with us is sympathise, sometimes they can understand, and rarely, very rarely, someone can empathise enough to help us calm those inner screams of ours. And finally, silence the scream.

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