Psychological Analysis of Janina

Given that Olga Tokarczuk is a clinical psychologist, and the main character is a murderer, I thought it might be interesting to see if Janina fits the symptoms of some sort of personality disorder or mental illness. Having read several Wikipedia articles, and rescanned over the book, I have come to the conclusion that her psychological characterization is extremely realistic. Janina is a perfect case of someone with a Cluster B personality disorder.

“Cluster B personality disorders involve dramatic and erratic behaviors. People with these types of conditions display intense, unstable emotions and impulsive behaviors.”

Janina fits this characterization to a tee. Consider her emotions during and after the confrontation with the hunters on page 64,

“At that point I felt a surge of Anger, genuine, not to say Divine Anger. It flooded me from inside in a burning-hot wave. This energy made me feel great, as if it were lifting me off the ground, a mini Big Bang within the universe of my body. There was fire burning within me, like a neutron star…. I drove home, weeping out of helplessness.”

To put this quote into more context, the hunters were shooting pheasants. Now, I’m not someone who particularly likes hunting either, but this reaction is far from commensurate with the situation. Janina clearly feels intense, unstable emotions. She also has frequent dramatic, erratic, and impulsive behaviors. Consider her outburst at the City Guard.

“I didn’t feel like speaking anymore. I thrust a hand into my pocket, pulled out a ball of bloodstained Boar bristles, and put it down on the desk in front of them. Their first impulse was to lean forward, but they instantly recoiled in disgust.”

Again, I can feel frustrated with bureaucracy, but I can say with confidence that I have never throw the entrails of a dead boar onto the desk of a bureaucrat, despite how tempting it’s been. Janina clearly exhibits impulsive behavior. So, having narrowed it down to a Cluster B personality disorder, which exact disorder does she exhibit? I don’t think she has borderline personality disorder, as she doesn’t exhibit low self-esteem (quite the opposite really) or any particular relationship difficulty. She also doesn’t seem to need the approval of others, so that’s a no to histrionic personality disorder. She is kind of narcissistic, but, again, she doesn’t need praise or approval from others, so another no to narcissistic personality disorder. Therefore, by process of elimination, I think that she has anti-social personality disorder.

“People with ASPD show a lack of respect toward others and don’t follow socially accepted norms or rules. People with ASPD may break the law or cause physical or emotional harm to others around them. They may refuse to take responsibility for their behaviors and/or display disregard for the negative consequences of their actions.”

To go down the checklist again, Janina seems to have a constant lack of disregard for others and socially accepted norms and rules. Consider the fact that she calls one of her closest friends Oddball. Even to people she likes, she consistently refers to them in derogatory or dismissive terms. If we consider hunting as a socially acceptable norm and activity in rural Poland, her hatred of it can be seen as her refusal to follow socially accepted norms and rules. This is also evidenced by her robbing Bigfoot’s house at the beginning of the book (how many people, even to someone they dislike, would snoop around a dead man’s house looking for their ID card and stuff to take?), and, of course, she breaks the law by murdering people. For the final few criteria, of refusing to take responsibility for their behaviors and displaying disregard for the negative consequences of their actions, notice that Janina has said, repeatedly, throughout the book, that animals were taking their revenge on the murder victims. She is an unreliable narrator, and she doesn’t mention that she is the murderer until the very end, this seems like a refusal to take responsibility for her behavior to me. And consider some of her interactions with her victims.

“I took him under the arm and dragged him to his feet. ‘Why are you crying?’ I asked. ‘You’re so kind…’ ‘I know,’ I replied.”

For context, she said this to a man she was about to summarily murder. She never expresses regret for her crimes, and she doesn’t seem to realize the negative consequences of her murders. I think all of this is very convincing evidence for her having ASPD.

Dear Editor,

I have recently noticed a troubling trend among the general student populace; to call it a foul scourge, to speak frankly, would not be too severe: namely, the scourge of not wearing your ID. Without an ID a student is unidentifiable. I can recall several occasions in which I was unable to distinguish a student from an adult, due to their lack of an ID. On those occasions, upon meeting with them, I asked, in the most delicate and subtle manner, the nature of their relationship with their parents; and from that, I surmised, as I am never so bold as to ask, their relative state as a student or not, but I digress. The ID is absolutely crucial to the identification of a student; after all, how are the noble guardians of these sacred halls able to halt an intruder, if they can’t distinguish him from a normal student? Furthermore, how would teachers, seeing, in each of their many and diverse classes, hundreds of unique students each day, be able to distinguish the normal, rule-abiding student, from the plethora of dangerous street ruffians who come into school for the nefarious purpose of taking High School classes? There is a conception, in much current use, that the most dangerous criminals often frequent the halls of schools without ID’s and with the explicit intention to rob, murder, and underage drink among the general student populace. In my humble opinion, this conception understates the reality. These foul criminals—not students, but indistinguishable because students don’t wear their IDs—are the root of all evil among the youthful. It is well known that the minds of the juvenile are particularly susceptible to the powerful force of peer pressure: if students are misled into believing that the foul adult criminals who frequent the halls are fellow students, they will also feel the overwhelming force of peer pressure from them—a dangerous pressure to drink alcohol, ditch classes, and not do their homework, in other words, things that no student does naturally of their own volition. Rather than addressing these issues, I appeal to the school administration and the authorities therein to double their efforts in enforcing their brilliant ID policy so that we can decrease all deviancy among the youth.

Reid Maggio

The Many Tragedies of King Lear

King Lear is a unique tragedy insofar as it tells the tragic story not only of King Lear, but also several others characters in layers of baked narrative. Like a fugue with several different lines of melody, King Lear is inlaid with several stories of tragedy–and the complex relationships and themes explored in them can leave you in a fugue state. I’ve noticed several tragedies within the tragedy (tragedyception), and I’m sure there’s an argument to include more. For example, the story of Gloucester can be seen as a self-contained tragedy; stemming from his fatal flaw of ignorance, in short succession, Gloucester betrays his faithful son, loses his eyes, and dies a miserable death. He checks all the boxes: he is of noble stature, his downfall is tragic but not pathetic, and his end is not fully just. The main themes and motifs explored and used in this mini-tragedy are some of the most pervasive and powerful throughout the tragedy. Edgar’s clever usage of societal binaries between unnatural and natural and supposed links of family make one of the the broader play’s most pervasive themes that those who trust blindly in power binaries are often betrayed, manipulated, and discarded as more savvy and aware actors ruthlessly dispose of them. And Gloucester’s arc reflects the most clearly in the entire play the motif of sight vs blindness. Furthermore, the conflict within a supposedly happy family clearly reflects the broader thematic dynamic of familial conflict and the ultimate subjectivity of the family concept. Gloucester’s tragedy is a small tragedy enclosed in a larger whole: and the combination of his tragedy with that of others (Lear, Albany, arguably France too) is perhaps one of the reasons for the powerful catharsis that the play yields and the profound themes explored.

I’ve Never Seen a Man Die

One constant of human experience is death; something particularly true in inner-city neighborhoods victim to high crime and gang violence. In the song, “I Seen a Man Die,” by Scarface in his album, The Diary, he analyzes the effects of murder and gang violence on the participants and communities surrounding them. The album is devoted to giving the listener the experience of crime in majority minority inner-city communities. He expresses the emotional maelstrom giving cause to so much rap music, and, in the words of NPR, “(H)e explosively deflates the stereotype of gangsta rap as empty nihilism endangering communities.” The Diary is arguably the magnum opus of his long and illustrious career, and he gives his most cogent and moving presentation of his cynical worldview in it.

The central idea behind “I Seen a Man Die” is the failure of crime-affected communities and the prison system to rehabilitate or disrupt the brutal pattern of gang violence. By seeing the world through the eyes of a convicted murderer, Scarface broadens our experience by humanizing and giving motivations behind an oft demonized group; in addition, he expresses his inability to live clean, as he is inevitably drawn back into the criminal underworld and pays the ultimate price for it. Scarface uses this intricate and moving song as a call to action to reform the prison system and combat cycles of gang violence in black neighborhoods.

Scarface uses several techniques to express this. First of all, his repetition of the eponymous chorus expresses his persona’s confusion over the gangsters values that have been inculcated in him.

I still got to wonder why

I never seen a man cry, ’til I seen a man die

By using this confusion as the refrain of the song Scarface is drawing attention to his community’s failure to keep young men from the gangster lifestyle that celebrates killing your enemies. The received values that say murder is admirable and respected in the gangster lifestyle are clashing with his real life experience of guilt, shame, and sorrow. He’s not a psychopathic or nihilistic man, rather he has been let down by the community, which has allowed the destructive gangster values to take root. This call to attention of the failure of the community to keep young men on the right path is further reinforced by his criticism of the prison and rehabilitation system.

And he’s young plus he came up in the system
But he’s smart and he’s finally makin’ eighteen
And his goal’s to get on top and try to stay clean
So he’s calling up his homie who dun came up
Livin’ like this now they dealin’ with the same stuff
And had that attitude that who he was was worth it
And with that fucked up attitude he killed his first mate
Now it’s different, he’s in dead dirt

Although he has been punished by the prison system, he still lacks any real way to make a living. Scarface draws attention to the commonality of this issue by discussing that his friend deals with the same issue. Seeing through the illusion gangster lifestyle, yet lacking any reasonable recourse, as prison has only alienated him more from his old community, he is forced back into crime. And as a result, he is shot and killed, as the narrator tells him to let go.

I hear you breathin’ but your heart no longer sounds strong
But you kinda scared of dying so you hold on
And you keep on blacking out, and yo pulse is low
Stop trying to fight the reaper just relax and let it go
Because there’s no way you can fight it, though you’ll still try

Scarface in this verse is making an allegory. He, in the garb of the narrator, is equating death and following the gangster lifestye; Scarface is fundamentally expressing the fatalistic sentiment that once you go down that path, death is the only reward. He is emphasizing that the gangster lifestlye leads to nothing but death, and that communities and institutions need to make a far greater effort to change it.

This song is a blistering critique of a worrying trend in black neighborhoods, and demonstrates an excellent example of a tradition of activist Hip-Hop.

The Theme of The Stranger and Real Life

I think that the theme of The Stranger is that although the rejection of society’s values can be very detrimental to the survival and success of an individual, by rejecting cultural values we are given the opportunity to create our own values, and in so doing impose order on an absurd world and achieve true fulfillment. This is shown various times throughout the novel. Meursault, through his breach of his society’s command to not murder, puts his own values and desires above those of his society and is imprisoned and set to be executed. However, he accepts this as a necessary consequence of his actions by accepting his execution and time in prison. And he decides that, even though he has died because of it, he is happy that follows his own values and rejects the chaplain’s attempt to impose values on him.

This is all well and good, but how should we apply this insight into real life? I think we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath-water; that is, I don’t think that we should reject all cultural values; or even that creating our own values is the only way to achieve true fulfillment. My parents, for example, have followed societal values, but they’re fulfilled (I think). Rather, I think life is better lived when we just question our values. We don’t have to copy Meursault and ignore all societal values, but we should emulate his questioning of the daily values we take for granted.

The Elephant Vanishes and Worldviews

I really enjoyed “The Elephant Vanishes.” I think that the main message of the short story was how we, in our day-to-days lives, disregard things outside of our worldview and things that disagree with our opinions. In psychology, this is called the self-confirmation bias: “The tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs (Encyclopedia Britannica).” I think that Murakami was trying to teach us something about ourselves; we must not let our own worldviews and cemented opinions affect how interpret new evidence and phenomena. This is particularly important in our modern political climate. Both sides remember information supporting their points and disregard information contradicting it. Maybe this is just my interpretation, but I think it’s an important realization to have in our current zeitgeist.

Application of Benjamin’s Theory

An application of Benjamin’s theory may help to explain why people stay in abusive relationships; they acknowledge their partner’s subjectivity by recognizing that they are a separate person and fulfilling their demands, but their partner refuses to reciprocate and sees the partner as an object.

By refusing to reciprocate, the abused subconsciously begins to perceive themself as an object and disregards their own emotional wants and needs. Which then creates further trauma for the abused, until eventually they cannot function emotionally or otherwise without their abuser supporting them.

This definitely changes my understanding of how certain patterns of abuse and social control work, as many other systems of power and oppression are formed and maintained in this same manner as the domestic abuser. An action that I might urge others to take is to validate other’s emotional subjectivity.

Domestic abuse and oppression occurs because of a refusal to recognize someone as a person, as a conscious individual just like you or me;if you want to overome the deleterious and detrimental systems ingrained in our society, start with recognizing others as individuals. 

Reid M.