Strindberg’s Hell and the detection process in Covid’s time

Strindberg’s Hell and the detection process in Covid’s time

This article aims to set the goal of integrating psychology with a literary work in order to offer a critical reading key on our society at the time of the coronavirus, of course that the information contained herein can be exported to situations and circumstances in everyone’s life and society beyond the current time we are going through.


Advertising message Strindberg’s book (1994) entitled Inferno is certainly not easy to read. It does not allow it to be chewed and digested so easily. This is certainly the merit of the hallucinatory and delusional atmosphere that characterizes the writing. However this is not the theme of the article and not even of this book which is configured as a journey inside each of us, to discover our demons or powers, as they are defined in the book, not necessarily cruel.

The author lets himself be carried away by these delusions, by this hallucinatory climate, without rejecting it, without chasing it in depth, without removing it in the unconscious. He accepts it, confronts it and dissolves it. Solve et coagula, as reported by the inscription on the forearms of Eliphas Lévi’s Bafometto (1972), a figure also excessively associated with the devil. The Bafometto, whose etymology is not clear, has been defined as crippling of the name of Muhammad, or also as Baphe and Metis or ‘dyer of wisdom’, but also associated with the Sumerian god Enki, divinity linked to water and therefore to creation and to knowledge whose symbol was a goatfish. Christian mythology later associated the figure of a goat with the devil and the game was done. But the figure presented by Eliphas Lévi unites everything: man-animal (half human and half animal figure), masculine-feminine. A joining figure of opposites like the two moons: white moon and black moon. Like the writing: solve et coagula. A phrase that is the essence of the alchemical process from which Jung then extrapolated the metaphor of the individuation process. Thus the two arms that indicate the top and the bottom, the white and the black moon represent, paraphrasing, what Trismegistus claims by formulating his laws, namely that what is above corresponds to what is below since everything is One.

Alchemy also affects the protagonist of Inferno, Strindberg, to whom he dedicates most of his studies when he moves to France.

Then it is possible to argue that Strindberg has gone through hell, or better yet, the underworld and is reborn and this is the path that the book describes. He is reborn when he discovers Swedenborg’s work. At this moment the demons that persecuted the author become a sort of guiding spirit that recalls the figure of the Socratic Daimon. Therefore the powers, the demons, are not seen as negative entities but as a first and necessary step towards rebirth. The demons are in fact originally the pagan geniuses whose goal is to act as intermediate entities between man and divinity (Bamonte, 2006). The demon can then be interpreted as a figure that, although certainly with a certain suffering, leads man back to himself. This is what also happens in the identification process whose first phase is the work in black, the nigredo, or rather the putrefaction and disintegration of matter, the encounter with the shadow. It is therefore a question of dissolving the shadow and illuminating it. In this is Lucifer, the light bearer. After all, citing Strindberg (1994) ‘all the old gods, in the epochs that come after, become demons’ (p.92) and these demons, these evil spirits’ are not actually evil, because their purpose is good , and it would be more appropriate to use the terminology of Swedenborg, who calls them punishing spirits, or correctors’ (p.91).

So the book does nothing but man before himself and makes fears, anxieties, nightmares and ghosts that we bring, in short, of the underworld, a world that not only must we go through but of which we must be proud because ‘God wants you with him’ (Strindberg, p.91). It is therefore a possibility to proceed towards identification. So today, in the days of the Virus, the anguish we are exposed to is also a possibility of growth. ‘As long as there is anguish there is hope’ (Fougeyrollas, p.203) provided that such anguish is not pathological, does not expose to the void but is evolutionary and allows for serious reflection and awareness.

Advertising message One of these awareness is certainly aimed at those shady areas of our society such as therapeutic communities, psychiatric patients, the homeless, children and the elderly that we have had to talk about today. Aspects excessively clouded by the primacy of the economy. But one of the greatest mortifying awareness that man must be able to integrate and to which the COVID emergency has pushed him, is certainly the failure of the models of anthropocentrism, of voluntarism. Those models that place man at the center of his world and place his will as supreme creative power: ‘if I want I can’.

A recent book by Leonardo Caffo (2017) Fragile humanity and another by Lorenzo Biagi (2019) Unique and multiple, for an anthropological foundation beyond individualism they expose the problem in a very articulated way. Man must expose himself to anguish in order to integrate his fragility and make possible his openness to the world, not his closure of which anthropocentrism is the witness.

Man is not, as Sartre (1946) would say, an ‘in himself’ but a ‘for himself’. So a fragile subject, broken to put it to Ricoeur, who cannot say ‘I am’ but ‘here I am’ (Biagi, p.41), thus defining his ontological openness to the world which is openness to the other. It is no coincidence that in the television program Carta Bianca, Walter Veltroni on 31/03/2020, interviewed, argued that the virus allows man to rediscover the figure of the Other who until recently was excluded and brutalized.

Therefore this period is certainly inserted in a human growth movement, that is, in a process of individuation which, moving from anxiety, can lead, if correctly crossed, to an expansion of consciousness. The anguish must however be able to be contained in order not to fragment the individual and such containment is not offered other than by the State which must regain its role of judge in the interest of the people. The father’s law is not only castration but must also be protection and containment.