Friday, November 27, 2009

Jerusalem and Stendhal Syndromes

Before we go any further, let me define the term syndrome as: A group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition. Or in other words, a syndrome is a reoccurring set of symptoms that suggest a disorder or disease. Whenever I see the term syndrome used, I usually keep in mind that it is a condition defined by symptomology and not a definite cause or overwhelming reaction. As far as I am concerned, a syndrome is what we used to define something until we can study it and get a better idea of what's going on.

So the whole notion of adding "some experts don't believe this actually exist" when discussing a syndrome, strikes me as unnecessary. If there was firmer data on it, then the condition usually gets renamed something else and the syndrome part dropped, because it is no longer being defined as "a group of symptoms". At the same time, vehemently denying a syndrome exists is luricrous. The groups of symptoms exist independently of what people believe, what is actually being debated is whether or not this grouping defines something specific or not. But that cannot be scientifically determined until we test it. And to do that, we need to identify the set of symptoms to be researched, thus the designation of a syndrome.

Yeah, I know. We can argue that this is just my interpretation of the matter, but since I am only going to throw out some extra ideas about these syndromes (after describing them) in this post, my interpretation works for the mental exercise ahead. I'll start by explaining that sometimes these syndromes are triggered in people with mental illnesses. However, there have been reports of people who didn't have a mental illness, who subcomed to the syndromes and then quickly recovered. Unfortunately, many of those refuse to talk about it after their recovery.

So what exactly are these syndromes and why are they connected?

These two syndromes are forms of culture shocks. The Jerusalem Syndrome centers around a religious or spiritual element. I bring it up because it actually has more case studies than the Stendhal (or Florence) Syndrome, while having many similarities. The major difference is that people with Stendhal Syndrome rarely begin to think that they are religious personages from the past. However, in the less severe stages of both syndromes, the sufferers feel the following symptoms: anxiety, agitation, nervousness and tension, plus other unspecified reactions. Both syndromes usually occur when the sufferer is separated from friends and family. They feel as is something had opened up inside them. Both groups of sufferers (if the syndrome is not occurring with other psychopathy) feel an extreme reluctance to discuss the experience. To quote Bar-El, in regards to the Jerusalem Syndrome: "Upon recovery, patients can usually recall every detail of their aberrant behaviour. They are inevitably ashamed of most of their actions, and feel that they have behaved foolishly or childishly."

While Jerusalem Syndrome deals with religious cultural experiences, Stendahl deals with being overwhelmed by art. Listen to Digital Flotsam 59 – Stendhal Syndrome by P. W. Fenton, as he recounts his encounter with Stendhal Syndrome. Like those of Jerusalem Syndrome, Stendahl sufferers also feel this shame of being physically overwhelmed, only by art. Quoting Bar-El again:

The condition most closely resembling the Jerusalem syndrome is the Stendhal syndrome identified by Magherini (1992), which describes a particular acute psychotic reaction arising among art-loving tourists visiting Florence. The syndrome is named after the French writer Stendhal, who described feelings of déjà vu and disquiet after looking at works of art in Florence. Magherini in her book Sindrome di Stendhal (1992) presented the statistical, socio-demographical, clinical and travel-related variables of 106 tourists who were admitted to hospital in Florence between 1977 and 1986. She described cases in which a small detail in a famous painting or sculpture evoked an outburst of anxiety, reaching psychotic dimensions. According to her, such reactions are usually associated with a latent mental or psychiatric disturbance that manifests itself as a reaction to paintings of battles or other masterpieces and culminates in the full-blown Florence or Stendhal syndrome.

In more recent news, a Russian woman threw a terra-cotta mug at the Mona Lisa last August. Based on the news article, severe Stendahl sufferers can just as violent as their Jerusalem Syndrome counterparts. While most of them appear to have the transcendent overwhelming of the body, I can think of reasons why the woman may have had a violent reaction to the Mona Lisa.

First possibility: she have become frightened by the bodily sensations of Stendalh Syndrome and went into fight mode to take control of the situation. I've almost done something similar during a panic attack, but being aware of what was going on, I was able to remove myself from the situation before I did harm to anything.

Second possibility: she was shocked by the reality of the Mona Lisa versus her mental image of it, and reacted violently to this disruption of her world view, coupled with the Stendahl Syndrome (or maybe not). I have never seen the real Mona Lisa, but according my art history professor, most people are shocked to see it smaller than then they thought. Often when we see depictions of it in movies, cartoons, and comics, it is often made to look much bigger than its actual 77 cm × 53 cm (30 in × 21 in) size. This article on the attack actually gives you a better sense of its size. Another possible surprise for those who haven't taken art history, the Mona Lisa is painted on wood, not canvas. I'm not sure how obvious that part is, but it is something most people don't know.

Third possibility: she made some personal connection to the painting and acted on that. The Guardian article suggests that possibility itself. Apparently, she was denied French nationality, according to some sources. However, as the Guardian pointed out, she could have easily picked another, unprotected, painting to attack. For all we know, Mona Lisa may remind her of someone she felt rejected her in life.


catness said...

Cool! never heard of Stendhal Syndrome, guess this was what I had experienced once :) Had resulted in me latching onto the first person who was kind enough to talk to me, and subsequently, a weird but interesting love affair. Madness has its highlights :)

(p.s. this is me, I don't use my blogger account yet)

Cosmic Siren said...

Not a problem. :)

So, where did this happen? ;)