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Epiphanies: Know Thyself

Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867). Oil on Canvas. Louvre, Paris. Image Source: Wiki.
This post is the first in a series on the epiphany in writing. In fiction, epiphany can come through exposition, characterization, dialogue, or plot. An epiphany is a moment when disparate threads come together and the character and audience or reader learn the truth. Epiphanies pull the veils from our eyes. They decode unexplained jokes, mysteries, betrayals and destinies.

The Epiphany as Personal Choice

James Joyce (1882-1941) first used 'epiphany,' a religious term, to apply to literature, although the most famous moment of epiphany probably comes from Sophocles' classical story of Oedipus, Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex), dated 429 BCE. Oedipus is a cursed character who moves blindly through his life, surrounded by lies and subterfuge.

Epiphanies are foreshadowed by a character's encounter with something alien and surprising, a divine gift, gran…

Character Development 3: The Joker as a Third Way Villain


Actor Anthony Perkins (1932-1992) as Norman Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Image Source: IMDB.

Modern stories conflate villainy with mental illness because psychiatrists and psychologists have replaced the clergy as society's listening post. Psychological development has supplanted religious faith. This modern rationalization of mental experiences outside the ordinary has provided solutions where organized religions have fallen short.

Old Diagnoses, New Diagnoses

But for each modern answer, an older insight was lost and returned back to the realm of mystery. There is a price for each gain made, paid through some renewed blindness. For the extreme mental illness of psychopathy, a modern mental health professional would use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist as follows:
  1. Do you sense you are someone extremely important?
  2. Would you say you need constant stimulation?
  3. Do you find pleasure in manipulating people?
  4. Would you lie in order to get your own way?
  5. Do you never say sorry?
  6. Are you known to be charming and persuasive?
  7. Would you agree you show little emotion?
  8. Are you incapable of feeling empathy for others?
  9. Are you in and out of relationships all the time?
  10. Do you have a promiscuous sex life?
  11. Are you impulsive and live for the moment?
  12. Are you known for behaving irresponsibly?
  13. Do you fail to accept responsibility for your actions?
  14. Is it right to get as much as you can from other people?
  15. Is it hard to control your behaviour?
  16. Did you display early behaviour problems?
  17. Do you lack long-term goals?
  18. Do you have a history of juvenile delinquency?
  19. Have you ever had your parole or bail revoked?
  20. Are you known for committing many different criminal acts?
Image Source: Learning Mind.

We have yet to understand fully these most painful aspects of the human condition. The pre-moderns and early moderns understood some things better than we do, and vice versa. A medieval priest might believe a psychopath to be demonically possessed and would have a different checklist.

Psychology concerns a limited understanding of the rational mind as it relates to social conditions. Spirituality considers whether we are conscious souls, which are constantly relating to changing universal conditions.

Two Households, Both Alike in Dignity in Fair Verona

Romeo + Juliet (1996) prologue. Video Source: Youtube.

There are sustained, if arcane, efforts to see all sides of these questions, to think outside each box, to see through the blind spots of every time and place. The spiritual and rational perceptions of mental illness depend upon two different world views, which ironically reflect our bicameral brains. The Left Brain (linear and analytical) is conventionally associated with the masculine mind. The Right Brain (visual and intuitive) stereotypes the feminine mind. Shakespeare called them "two households, both alike in dignity." This symbolism tells us what Romeo and Juliet is really about (see my related blog post, here).

The play concerns the love affair between logic and emotion in the human mind, and the never-ending warfare between groups of people who are mainly driven by one mode of being or by the other. Everything about humankind reflects this duality and the attempt to overcome it. The bicameral brain is probably the source of the Mind-Body problem, because the physical reality of the brain's form creates perpetual tensions in the mind.

Image Source: Medium.

Image Source: Jake Rajs. Reproduced Under Fair Use.

Image Source: flickr / Gourab Majumder.

Western mystery schools are obsessed with destroying duality and building a new era based on a unified consciousness. This is the esoteric message curiously evident at Ground Zero: the post-9/11 period has been presented to the masses as a new era of single vision. You don't have start digging into Masonic lore about the Pillars of the Temple of Solomon to grasp this projected ideal. It dominates western cultural references, starting with The New Testament. After 9/11, we supposedly live in a house which is no longer divided against itself. From the Book of Matthew in the New King James Version:
Matthew 12:22-28 A House Divided Cannot Stand 
"22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 
23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, 'Could this be the Son of David?' 
24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, 'This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.' 
25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: 'Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 
26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 
27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 
28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.'"
This is a rather unsatisfying passage, but the New Testament's Messianic anecdote lays claim to the idea that (in this case), reaching God through Jesus-as-human is the only real Third Way.

Today, Modernists and Postmodernists also try to obliterate duality. Their political power games revolve around whose single voice will come singing out of the chaos.

Psychopathy, A Third Way?

It seems incredible, but I suspect that modern rationalists at some point considered whether psychopathy could serve as one of the Third Way paths between logic and emotion.

Psychopaths are like nature's Buonarrotis, Blanquis, and Bakunins. They keep traveling along the spectrum until they leave the spectrum. They occupy the exact spot where lack of conscience negates rationality. It is still a kind of nexus, where the conflicting forces of the non-linear and linear mind are neutralized.

The notion of psychopathy as a potential Third Way may reveal why this mental affliction has been pushed so hard over the past sixty years in mass entertainment. The public has been hammered with depictions of this condition, making psychopaths seem far more significant and prevalent than their actual estimated 1 per cent presence in the population.

Perhaps this was done to assess mainstream acceptance of psychopathy. Countless modern narratives in books and films test the co-existence of 'normal' individuals with a psychopath or sociopath as a murderous, ruthless, or narcissistic individual. Can such a creature, so removed as to be practically a member of a new species, still elicit compassion, acceptance and sympathy from those he or she plans to kill?

American Psycho Break Up Scene. Video Source: Youtube.

If anyone ever seriously asked this question and tried to answer that question in some broader project, and I suspect they did, then this was another one of those bad 20th century ideas which should never have seen the light of day. Psychopathy is not a new cornerstone of human evolution; it is a dead end. As I have written here and here - psychopathy exists in the No Man's Land beyond the duality of human cognition; it is not sustainable.

American Psycho - Chainsaw Scene (3 February 2013). Video Source: Youtube.

Joker as a Third Way Villain

Joker puts on a happy face (7 October 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

But the experiment - if there ever was one - continues. Twenty years show a difference in what is essentially the same scene. In the two videos directly above, contrast the presentation of the psychopath in American Psycho (2000) with Joker (2019). Both involve the psychopath reaching self-realization. The Joker's scene is more sympathetic. DC Warner brings you: Emo-Joker.

JOKER Ending Explained! Hidden Evidence of Final Twist Revealed! (5 October 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

Cinema, which is the modern mainstream art form, has made villainy synonymous with psychological disorders. In Joker, we see an effort to inject a soulful message into a rationalist understanding of a condition and a character devoid of soul.

In earlier modern stories like Hitchcock's Psycho, a writer could construct psychopathic characters who basically embodied the medical condition, without bothering to build them much beyond that. The character was a collection of symptoms, and the plot followed straightforwardly from those symptoms.

Psychopaths are characterized by a lack of conscience, empathy and emotion, as well as constant lies, charm, and a poor sense of smell. They resort to mimicry, manipulation, and violence to survive. Researchers have found that, unlike well-adjusted people, when psychopaths confront an upset person, they concentrate on the other person's mouth, rather than the other person's eyes; these findings connect the amygdala to the development of psychopathy.


For the writer's purposes, it helps that this mental illness affects vocabulary. Psychopaths have distinct speech patterns. While our conscious mind is reflected in our choices of nouns and verbs, researchers have found that our unconscious reveals itself in smaller words. In-between words are little chaotic markers of our hidden selves.

By tracking in-between words, researchers found that psychopaths view murder instrumentally and practically, as opposed to non-psychopathic murderers, who express regret and describe killing in terms of family, God, and moral values. In the video below, psychologists reported that the main words which psychopaths used in relation to murders they committed had to do with the breakfast they had that day. As in: they knew they had a lot to do that day and got up and had a big breakfast.

Inside Cornell: Analyzing the words of psychopaths (5 March 2012). Video Source: Youtube.

This chilling truth lies far from the sympathetic swings and roundabouts of Joker. Joker's writers, Todd Phillips and Scott Silver, have added a spiritual dimension to the rationalized, psychological deconstruction of the psychopath.

The results of the writers' Third Way experiment are startling: the Joker becomes the story's central character. This was true in earlier graphic novels, notably Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. It was also evident in American Psycho. But 2019's Joker is now a source and prime mover in a larger mythos. Even if the Joker is an unreliable narrator and the film's course of events could all be a fantasy in his head, it doesn't matter. The moment the writer makes this soulless character sympathetic to this extent, the hero and the villain swap places. The hero, Batman, becomes a subplot in the villain's original character development.

JOKER - Final Trailer - Now Playing In Theaters (28 August 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

My Long Overdue Thoughts on Joker (7 November 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

Joker becomes a distorted Everyman. This narrative gambit would have been unthinkable in earlier depictions of the Joker, or in PsychoAmerican Psycho, or Halloween. But here, villainy that once bordered on the demonic is now a preachy vehicle to incite self-examination and moral relativism in the audience.

Most people construct and wear social masks and conceal their true selves to go along and get along. The Joker is psychopathic because he identifies with, and becomes, his clown mask, which is a reflection of the broken society around him. But how different is that from the average person, who identifies with his or her education; job; familial, social, and political roles; material objects owned; amount of salary; home; and choice of car? These are all components of a personal mask of identity, projected upon the individual by the outer world. The film implies that the mainstream individual becomes his or her mask in the end, and will mirror the surrounding community as much as the alienated and psychopathic Joker does.

Yes, it is crazy to become the social mask one created. But a lot of people do it. With a bit of a twist, just like the Joker, they can take this process of being defined from the 'outside in' as a form of self-empowerment. The narrative highlights psychopathy as the primary path available to the rationalized-irrational and sympathetic-but-murderous figure. The Joker movie tells the audience that the Joker is the way he is because the whole society is psychopathic. It's not entirely Arthur's fault that he becomes the Joker. It's also society's fault.

The film's universalization of the Joker's condition may be Jungian and a bit more sophisticated. Joker could depict the moment at which the archetypal figure of the Fool, Jester, or Trickster in one individual consciousness embodies the same archetype as that which exists in the collective unconscious. This might be a more believable construction of Third Way villainy. It combines a psychological rationalization of psychopathy with a general concern about the illness. That concern is embodied in the Jungian form of a universal symbol, or archetype, which captures the imagination and teaches the audience or reader moral lessons.

The Fool in the Urban Tarot deck by Robin Scott. Image Source: pinterest.


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