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I Thought I Had Bad Dreams

Comparison Poe and Fuseli, "The Fall of the House of Usher" to "The Nightmare"


The picture ?The Nightmare? by John Fuseli is the sort of image one conjures when reading the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Both are dark and morbid, and are visions left, usually, slightly outside conscious thought. It is as though they depict the most fearful recesses of the human mind, comparable to the heart stammering moments of incredible panic that come sometimes just as a person is about to drop off to sleep, or similar to the terror that lurches out in moments of extreme anxiety when one spots something horrible in corner of the eye on a quick jerk of the head. The reality of the vision is hard to deny and the feeling of such fright ultimately is reality for the sufferer. Terror and that racing heart and ominous things in the shadows. The images are filled with the same sense of absolute despair as the silent screamer or the paralyzed runner.
Poe uses words and Fuseli a brush to the same end. The presence of evil in the molecules of every bit of the work. Walls that watch and hear and have witnessed bloody horrors of past centuries. That is Poe and Fuseli. Greatness in art comes out of a certain maladjustment with the physical world. In can be said that, music, literature, drama, and fine art are the beneficiaries of the agonies of those in the clutches of mental illness and/or chemical addiction. It is as if those of us who strive for normalcy and a pleasant meaningfulness are awed by others who allow release to the evil which resides within the mind of every man to a greater of lesser degree. Beyond the beauty, the poetic rhythm, and the mastery of language in Poe?s writing, his tales are delectable because they are a refuge from the need to be cheerful.
Fuseli shares, in this specific painting, the ingenious proficiency of Edgar Allen Poe to depict the most haunting images of man?s delusions in a way remarkably similar to Poe?s major themes. The likenesses come in both the imagery and in the context of ?The Fall of the House of Usher? to ?The Nightmare.? Henry Fuseli did several versions of his famous painting, yet the one pictured above seemed the most Poe-like because it lacks color and is done in a slightly out of focus style that suggests apparitions and the supernatural. Specifically, the room coincides with Roderick Usher?s fictional painting of a ?small room? that so disturbed the narrator in the story, initially in it?s creepiness, and then in it?s likeness to the vault where they eventually entombed the still living Madeline. The walls in Fuseli?s painting seem low like the narrators description of Roderick?s painting, and it looks like a damp room to be found in the tunnels below an old European estate. The lighting is exactly like that in the story for although there are no windows the room it is lit with an eerie luminescence, vivid like that a bolt of lightening on a moonless night that may have, ?bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendour,? but could not have done the actual lighting because there are no windows.
The creature atop the chest of the sleeping (or dead, or fainted) girl that looks like Rosemary?s Baby may be Roderick, the girl of course would be Madeline, and the representation may symbolize the evils of a sexual relationship as, ?the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain." Another theory is that the goblin may be the offspring of the years of inbreeding and a sign that a terrible end is near for the sinful Usher clan and that the Earth will soon open up and swallow them and their entire dwelling whole as they are sucked down into the pits of hell. More likely still, both the picture and the story are about the different parts of the psyche. The parts that invade and supersede the common thoughts of home, finance, and charity and are more related to psycho-sexual desires, the want of murder, and what can sometimes seem an overwhelming craving to hop on one?s work desk in a busy office and dance around like a lunatic, as the whole of man?s existence can seem no less ridiculous at times. A man in the habit of contemplation, like Roderick Usher, is quite likely to develop negative fixations and a nervous condition. Nightmares, and dreams, unexpected thoughts, and waking fantasies, no matter how unpleasant, are part of the human mind as much as the good. Fuseli, in his time, broke away from the norm of the picturesque and lovely to recognize that part which resides within us and is inherently bad. The term ?bad? is in itself subjective, at least outside of Catholicism, yet all influences need to be taken into consideration when examining the processes of the brain as the associations and imagination and abilities of the mind are still very much a mystery. In conclusion, Poe and Fuseli insightfully, and frightfully, bring dark, haunting images of the subconscious into the light of examination through art in a way that is as vivid and surreal as those man silently dreads and longs for on an uneasy nights sleep.

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