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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Stendhal Syndrome: the confessions of a chronic sufferer

 "I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call 'nerves.' Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling."
Stendhal, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, 1817

So Stendhal was a sufferer from his own syndrome. 

I wonder, as I read it for the fiftieth time, if what Stendhal is really saying is that only truly great men like him are capable of experiencing these 'celestial sensations'….and yet I'm sure I have, a few times, also felt the same.

Once was in Volterra. Another was this ecstatic response to greatness.But this can be related to another psychological condition also described by the great French writer - Limerence - "an involuntary state of mind which results from a romantic attachment to another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one's feelings reciprocated."

Stendhal wrote about this in  On Love, and used "crystallisation" as his metaphor for the birth of love - or perhaps, as we say, "falling in love."

There's a current writer who has caught some of that absolutely distinctive sensation Stendhal Syndrome defines - and that's Geoff Dyer.

And some of the things he writes make me think he is the writer I - with about four million per cent more ability and talent and courage - could have been. Especially when he writes this:

"He knew also that as soon as he was told that they did not want him to do this shit any more he would realise how desperately he wanted to keep doing this shit that he did not want to do any more."

Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, 2009

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