In 1943 Goebbles commissioned a young writer called Gerhard Burger to write a script for a Nazi propaganda movie. Little did he realize that Burger was in fact the pseudonym of banned and wanted satirist Erich Kestner whose books Goebbles had personally burned only months before….
‘Burger’ wrote ‘Munchhausen’ for Goebbles.
It was a great success.
Did Kastner sell himself out?
I think not.
The story starts as you would expect.
Munchausen is a golden super warrior, an apotheosis of Man endowed with eternal life. He knows all of Europe’s royalty and has an elite band of faithful servants all gifted with special powers. There are all kinds of heroic shenanigins.
But Kastner threw in an ending so subtle it is almost lost in the sentimentality, a message so understated as to be subliminal.
Munchausen quietly renounces his special powers for the sake of growing old with the one he loves. A much more humble vision than Goebbles might have intended, in fact something that managed to slide entirely under his radar. The final message of the film was what Kastner wanted it to be.
The way forward is by virtue of ordinariness and love.
Which is how it is with extremism.
And, by extension, anyone else who has ‘the syndrome’.
The so-called Munchausen syndrome is at the more colourful end of the Narcissistic spectrum. From a medical point of veiw it is ‘factitious’ insofar as its seen as just a case of someone wanting attention. But perhaps anyone who wants to be ill really is. The desire to be ill or to have a reason not to go out into the world really is pretty messed up.
It is also rather typical of the ‘puer aeturnus’ archetype that underpins narcissism, a wish to identify with only one tiny, idealised corner of the personality and to present oneself as this superior front to the world from whom admiration and solicitude can then be squeezed in equal measure.
The fact is that many a child laden down with parental expectations and archetypal projections is going to feel as though there is something wrong with them.
“The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” -Alice Miller
If they follow their own destiny they fail in their parent’s eyes. If they let themselves remain co-opted they betray their own destiny.
Such a conflict is bound to end up in A+E.
Real or imagined….
”The gods have become diseases, producing curious specimins for the doctor’s consulting room.” CG Jung.
It’s easy to critisize the arrogant narcissist as a malingerer, as someone living a provisional life, refusing to put down roots in the real world, a Dorian Grey with
”too great a dependence on the Mother.” Mats Winther.
It would be better to ask how that dependence has been fostered. If a child is covertly handed the responsibility of providing their parent with meaning then there will indeed be much hovering and disengagment from life in respect of such a sacred task.
It’s precisely such a child’s prescribed role to wait in the wings of parental ambition and to appear, saviour like, at just the right moment.
There’s no real getting on with your own life.
And you’ll feel as sick as a dog.
The modern rendering of the story… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdtJG1p7FP8
shows the situation more clearly and gives us the resolution to the situation. The Baron’s identification with his superiority has created terrible inner conflict with the shadow, the less than noble side of his personality. This is personified (as it is today) by ‘The Turk’, a Muslim Pasha with a taste for sado-masochism and decapitation who beseiges the city.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.. T S Eliot
Munchausen’s inner world has become so devoid of ordinary ideosyncratic material that he is compelled to identify with extreme, opposing roles in order to know himself. Even Catherine the Great is not sufficiently his equal.
”He becomes collectivized from within. The greater the identification with the youthful god, the less individuality although he feels so special.” ML von Franz.
This polarisation is hard work. So is covering over his inner emptiness given that his specially endowed servants are all captured or dispersed. The town’s regular troops are not fighting back because it is Wednesday. Ie his defences have regressed to autistic levels of functioning and so we find Munchausen depleted and close to death.
Narcissism in ourselves masquerades as self worth yet we see it clearly enough in others to find it annoying. We forget the deprivation behind it, how it feels to be secretly running on empty all the time. We fail to ask what all this grandeur is compensating for or what kind of world the child was raised in.
The term ‘Symbiotic Omnipotence’,
is useful in developing some compassion for otherwise noxious people because it describes how cumulative trauma to the sacred feminine over generations has had a serious impact on the experience of childhood.
”The danger for the modern child is that his mother is invariably a dissatisfied woman.” S de Beauvoir.
Millenia of spiritual repression has taught women to be secret with their inner world. For as long as baby’s ‘primary process thinking’ is predominant..
when he’s little..
he participates in that secret and is bound to be imbued with its archetypal power, dominated in fact by something he’s unconsciously identified with, he must be the one to save the day.
From fear she conceals her deepest longings her greatest value, her soul, in her child, her golden redeemer, the gifted god-child…
that cannot help ignore the human clay of need and dependence; made all the more difficult to spot because the child in the equation seems to gain from the situation with..
”enhanced effectiveness of each type of functioning in the total personality.’ M. Khan
..the super-charged buzz of redemptive power, the hopes, the dreams….
“there readily develops a covertly arrogant mysteriously concocted pseudo superiority and false knowledge.” K. Horney.
…..represented by the special and bizzare powers of Munchausen’s now scattered servants.
He is saved from Death only by the anger and determination of a small child who needs closure on his story.
This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories.
To recover, to tell the story, Munchausen must first find his servants. He needs the inner resources, the different perspectives, of I and me. The problem is that they are all so imbued with magical specialness that they have come to various bad ends, like famous gunslingers that every punk kid wants to take down. Bertholde, the world’s fastest runner, has to be rescued from the Moon King, the masculine aspect of his Mother who keeps his potential trapped.
Gaining the freedom of his valet Bertholde has divine consequences. They are all tipped headlong into Vulcan’s underground forge where Munchausen meets and courts Venus. His valuing of the clumsy, gauche part of himself, his risking himself for the sake of relatedness, evokes a response from the divine feminine who is now clearly looking out for him.
But it seems it is ‘too little too late’. They are all swallowed up by a sea monster and taken down into the depths.
”Clearly they have been overpowered by the unconscious and are helplessly abandoned, volunteering to die in order to begat a new and fruitful life in that region of the psyche which has hitherto lain fallow…” CG Jung.
Munchausen must renounce the project to redeem others and get on with the process of redeeming himself. The search for his servants, the functional and unique components of his own personality is a ‘night sea journey’, a braving of the depths of himself in order to find new zest for life.
As you might expect, the servants Gustavo of great hearing, Adolphus of accurate sight and Albrect of fantastic strength are also in the fish, though they have lost their special powers. With suffering they have become ordinary. There is genuine compassion and fellow feeling between them despite their ‘failure’ to uphold the shining maternal ideal handed down to them and this acceptance of themselves and of one another precipitates their escape.
Their mutuality, their single-heartedness, conjours Munchausen’s horse Bucephalus to appear, instinctive martial energy (Bucephalus belonged to Alexander the Great), a symbol of dynamic transformation that orchestrates their escape.
The personality fears that to renounce the shared specialness of Symbiotic Omnipotence is to lose all love and belonging. In fact it is to find it. They experience that love can survive ordinariness.
In fact, that’s what it depends on.