Philology Phriday–Mania

27 Aug

Mania normally carries the sense of mental disorder or madness. If you’ve read Heart of Darkness, you could easily pin mania on a character like Kurtz, who spends his time sloughing off all civilization and essentially going crazy in the heart of a slowly colonizing Africa. In a more contemporary example, the Joker is a maniac. His mental states, as exhibited in The Dark Knight, have seemingly no explanation. He, like most criminal maniacs, “just wants to see the world burn”.

Mania has been in use since the proliferation of Greek. The Latin root is exactly mania and meant mental disorder or uncouth mental states. I have wondered, also, if the word has the same roots as maenad, the frenzied women who normally became so out of spurned romance–imagine frizzy hair, claw-like fingernails, screeching speech, and intensely violent eyes. It turns out, the word does have a common root in the Indo-European base for the word mind. Maniacs and maenads were literally considered to have lost the use of their minds. They acted like possessed animals in the connotations of the ancient world.

In Sanskrit, the morpheme “man-” means simply to think. How this relates to the use of words like maenad or mania is unknown, though. But one must see that there could be only two options for the relationship between mania and “man-“. Either it is a state of thinking, of overthinking more so, or a state of non-thinking.

Or maybe it is a state that lies outside of what we normally think. A rare definition of the word connected it with artistic or even divine inspiration. A sort of frenzied state in which the maniac (oddly almost always a male) becomes so wrapped up in the pursuit of expressing some inspiration that thinking loses its place in the maniac’s everyday functions. The fury, the passion, put into this pursuit of the whatever (be it an artistic truth or the spurned love or the release of road rage) drives this person, not rational or philosophical or intellectual detachedness. The maniac is on fire in her/his voyage or task.

As a writer, I have tasted artistic mania a few times, always in the act of working on my craft. You know already of my grocery store inspirations, but I have yet to tell you of my weekend stints filled with hours of banging hands on desks and screaming at myself. In fact, I would go so far to say that my purpose, when trying to craft fiction, is to induce a kind of mania inside of myself. That when I write, I want to be in a state of mind divorced from “normal” thinking. That I want to not think. I want to write.

I am sure that you have felt mania before, or at least had it grope at you softly, its fingers grazing the forehead. How many of you have waited till the last minutes to start a paper? How many of you have pulled the miraculous all-nighter, writing whole term papers in one sitting? These actions defy convention. They make no sense. Yet, they are powerful, addictive in fact. Mania is a drug, not necessarily healthy for us but somehow consuming nonetheless.

I will say that I myself am consumed.


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