Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I assume you’re all familiar with Stevenson’s novel of 1886, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” which has now entered the popular language. The story tells us of a doctor, Dr Jekyll, who understands that the truth of human nature is to be split into two (“Man is not truly one but truly two”), a good part and a bad one.

Dr. Jekill manages to compose a potion – which he will experiment on himself – that allows to give life to each of these parts. Mr Hyde is therefore the hidden identity of Dr Jekill. He goes out at night, has a deformed appearance that conveys a feeling of wickedness, is particularly hairy and commits horrendous crimes, while Dr Jekill continues to be a good and esteemed doctor.

I took up this very famous story to underline how current it is and to try to understand how we arrived at such a thought about human nature. It is before everyone’s eyes what the press proposes to us almost every day: “He was a very good person, quiet and then suddenly killed… ” And in these cases the comment is always the same: “He lost control, lost his mind, he did not hold back the beast that is within us”. Then you go see better and find out that it wasn’t at all a sudden raptus, he had planned everything in detail, what lost his mind! Maybe he had lost something else but the mentality was perfectly working!
We need to go back to about 2500 years ago with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Before them it was not like this, the world was seen through images, it was the world of mythology, so the lightning was due to the wrath of Jupiter, a naturalism that reached animism.

The fairy tail that we could almost call universal in those times, known in a vast geographical area, which was then taken by Apuleius with the name of “Love and Psyche”, seems to be the opposite of Stevenson’s story, as it talks about a girl who falls in love and makes love to an unknown man that she only meets at night. She is not allowed to see him and when she tries to discover his features in the light of a lantern, the man disappears and she will have to go through difficult trials to find her lover.

But, passing by the presocratics, we arrive indeed to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who abandon mythology and get to the abstract concept, verbal thought that is free of images and esteblish mentality as human identity. The rest is madness, even if they identify two types of madness, one is the one of the demented, the other is the person possessed by god, typical of the oracles, the prophets, which was called mania.

With Plato, Psyche, the young adolescent who in her relationship with the man she realized her feminine identity, it becomes synonymous with a spiritual soul, out of human reality!

We then go through the whole period of religious human identity, with the monotheistic Christian religion established in the West, which claims that what is not conscience is Evil, the wickedness inherent in men, children of Cain and of the original sin. There will be the Inquisition and the Witch Hunt.

In the ‘600 with the rationalists and later on with the Enlightenment we get back to the mentality of 2500 years ago but, while at that time a certain idea of irrational, as we have seen (mania), was present, now there is nothing beyond reason. The clash with religious thought led to the removal and denial of the existence of anything beyond reason and conscience, what Christians defined as Evil. Descartes, with the res cogitans and the res extensa, proposes the absolute split between mind and body considered as two realities clearly distinct and different from each other. Beyond reason there is nothing within the human mind and mental illness can only be body disease, thus opening the field to what will be organic psychiatry.

In the 19th century, they begin to speak of the unconscious among philosophers, but the word is synonymous with unknowable.

Artists begin to deal with it, especially Dostoevskij.
Even in the medical field, research is carried out with the aim of bringing out that something that was perceived to be beyond consciousness and reason. At first with Mesmer and then with hypnosis, the way is to look for that hidden reality that might play an important role in human life.
We then arrive at Sigmund Freud, a Viennese doctor, who speaks openly of unconsciousness and cures through the interpretation of dreams. He proposes two types of unconscious: one is the unconscious removed, in which there are a whole series of memories that have been forgotten, removed; the other unconscious is the Id, in which there is a concentrate of drives inherited phylogenetically, which follow the principle of pleasure and aim at immediate discharge, and is unknowable.
So what you can discover with psychoanalysis is something that has been conscious in the past and then has been forgotten, removed, that is, childhood memories, while the Id is essentially unknowable. “Where the id was, the ego must take over”, makes thinkf of a control of consciousness, of a doctor Jekyll that must hold off the ever-present mister Hyde.
As usual, tThe artists will look for new ways and indeed even in the field of painting in the 900 there are artists, first of all Picasso, who no longer reproduce in their works the exact and conscious perception of reality, but they try to express something that emerges within themselves, thus going in search of something that is not conscious perception but images that are born within themselves.
In the 70s it will be an Italian doctor, the psychiatrist Massimo Fagioli, to propose a completely new theory in which he says that at birth the newborn creates an indefinite image, hope certainty that there is a breast, matrix of the ability to make images and these images are thought, an unconscious thought that is then realized before the onset of reason, articulated language and behavior; a thought and language that we will then find and we will be able to understand, in the dreams and creations of artists.
This image-thought, this human unconscious, leads us physiologically to the search for the interhuman relationship and the knowledge of the other. If the first relationships are disappointing, this image of birth, so intrinsically linked to the interhuman relationship, may get sick or, even worse, get lost. Mental illness will not be then due to the loss of reason but to the loss of this unconscious thought. Thus, we face a revolution of thought that has accompanied us for 2500 years, in which it was said that madness was in what was not reason, in the irrational while today this psychiatrist tells us that madness is manifested when the lucidity and coldness of reason, without the irrational, become human identity.

Marco Michelini

Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde