An essay on The François Vase by psychoanalyst Dora Feldfogel
In psychoanalytical thinking, in addition to myths and legends, art is a human creation that helps us bear the harder aspects of the human experience. Freud would call this sublimation; W. R. Bion would say that it amounts to creating a mental continent for the darker aspects of our nature by giving them a symbolic expression.
The myth of the Minotaur refers to the almost impossible task of thinking and feeling about a transgression committed by the parents. It is about how a transgression is passed on to the following generations and how it affects them. The myth reflects upon the tendency for repetition in successive generations due to the difficulty of working through the issues and moving on. The monstrous resurfaces, sometimes in disguise, and our attempts at changing seem to be, in the end, just another version of the same: “In here, forwards leads backwards.” It is not the linear time of history and science that counts, but rather the circular time of the unconscious and its compulsion to repetition.
Ariadne’s mother, Pasiphaë, is madly in love with the bull that must be sacrificed to the gods. In order to fulfill her desire, she has broken every law: nothing stops her, neither her vow of faithfulness to her husband, nor human or divine prohibitions… The Minotaur is the child of this forbidden union, an innocent monster that feeds on human youngsters, and its very presence is unbearable because it reveals the transgression. Pasiphaë’s husband, Minos, tries to help solve the problem by repression, a method commonly used by the psyche. It consists in hiding from consciousness that which shall not be known: not to see it, not to know it, to bury it in the deepest layers of the mind. Daedalus, who helped build the mechanical aide which enabled copulation with the bull, and thus helped conceive the Minotaur, will now apply his skill to building the underground labyrinth where the Minotaur will live in hiding. Repetition is at work.
The Minotaur’s half-sister, Ariadne (daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë), asks for Theseus’ help to kill the Minotaur. This is perhaps the fantasy of putting an end to the monstrosity, once and for all. She teaches Theseus the layout of the labyrinth by means of a dance; it is like a thread that will help him find the exit from the labyrinth and rejoin Ariadne. Perhaps there is a wish to put an end to her mother’s transgression, to enable her to find for herself a sane and new love…to stop the repetition. But the covenant with Theseus is not one of love; it is perverted from the beginning because it is murderous. “They are doomed”… And their separation is the unavoidable curse.
In the video the blood appears in the Minotaur’s birth and again in its death, in the circular ways of the unconscious.
The beautiful and the pure on the one hand, and the sinister and the murderous on the other, appear simultaneously in the video, both in the images and in the music. There is a disturbing element that doesn’t let us simply enjoy and forget what is actually being dealt with.
In the last scene the Vase is unavoidably broken into pieces. For me this symbolizes that the human mind cannot transform transgression and its destructive effects into a beautiful creation, into a Vase that can contain water or wine—liquids that bring life and joy. But also that the human mind cannot renounce hope, that it must try to make the transformation, like Vainsencher and Fox insist with their attempt to transform the unthinkable, the monstrous, into a joint act of artistic creativity, summoning perhaps the better parts of our nature in order to keep the worst at bay. Again and again, in all the various settings of the events, the vase breaks again.
More writings on The François Vase will appear soon.