“An Expert is one who knows more and more about less and less”
My life with Multiple Sclerosis has “ripped open my soul” as Edvard Munch’s wrote in 1893 when he painted the first two versions of his revolutionary masterpiece, “The Scream”.
It speaks in a new key to my post-MS daily compositions. It depicts a real experience, a transforming, unforgettable moment of revelation. The face of no identifiable sex is a greenish sock of sickly flesh stretched tight over the skull. Its features have been burned away by pain. All that remain in the elongated mask are two wide round eyes with dots for pupils, a pair of black nostrils and a mouth open in an oval scream.
The Scream claimed Munch comes from the landscape itself. He testified that he truly heard a scream pierce the sky and fjord as he gazed on the terrible fiery sunset: “I felt a great scream-and I actually heard a great scream-The colours of nature broke up-the lines of nature-the lines and colours-quivered in motion-These oscillations of light not only caused my eye to vibrate-they also brought my ear into vibration-so that I truly heard a scream-I then painted the picture Scream.” In Norwegian it is “Skrik”, whose jarring note sounds more like the English “shriek” than “scream”. Munch felt nature shriek.
Munch was undergoing the kind of hallucinatory, multi-sensory, out-of-body adventure associated with visionary episodes from shamanism to psychedelia. It was part of a dangerous descent to the edge of madness that would eventually lead to him being hospitalised. And in The Scream, by creating a figure anyone can identify with, a pure embodiment of feeling, he lets us enter the same extreme state.
Munch draws a glove puppet for my soul, absurd and empty, filled by the scream that its mouth shapes, a pure embodiment of feeling. The Scream though is so much more than a receptacle for my anxiety; it is rescuing me. It offers a means of release from the perils of MS, the grind and banality of every day life, the stranglehold of material wealth, the boredom of neoliberal capitalism. It makes me forget the din of the world.