A thin line exists between sanity and insanity, a socially-constructed line, but a line nonetheless. We wake up in the morning and adhere to all the social and ideological rules confronting us. It is not difficult for the sane to notice the insane which is the moment that you start drifting toward the unknown, the unexperienced, the unconstrained, and the unlimited. We have restricted ourselves with what sanity is and thus we have limited our body and mind while simultaneously masquerading and fighting-off the insane—which is everything that is not sane. But what lies before and after sanity? And more importantly, what is the segregating milestone where a person is not considered sane anymore, but rather insane? Bluntly put, sanity is closely intertwined with stability and a degree of predictability thus a person whose identity is sane is considered fixed, stable, and predictable. However, an individual whose life has been everything that everyone else wanted it to be except what he/she actually wanted it to be is prone to be influenced by the unknown, which results in a much more fluid, alternating identity. The urge to follow the unknown is enticing since it offers meaningful, deep, and yet unanswerable questions. While it is tempting it is rather risky since individuals undergoing the path to ‘instability’ can get lost in themselves or lost in the void since there is no more ‘self’ in them. Traces of the same paths can be found and related with heroes and heroines in ancient myths, for example Medea in The Argonautica: The Voyage of Argo by Apollonius of Rhodes. Medea’s earlier identity in The Argonautica revolves around naiveté, in the sense that she is psychologically and emotionally limited because of the restrictions imposed upon her by her family-structure and culture. In other words, this identity can be considered concrete and fixed which eventually changes into a more fluid, circumstantially flexible, and alternating identity which can be consolidated through the concept of depersonalization.
A contemporary theoretical approach of depersonalization is essential in order to ease the understanding of Medea’s identity transformation. The nature of the self has generated questions and on-going debate over the epochs; however, depersonalization is the notion which challenged almost all assumptions of the self. According to Sierra and Anthony, depersonalization is manifested “as a pervasive disruption of self-awareness,” where the mind and body are separated which contributes to perceiving thoughts and surroundings as automized and alienated (99). In other words, we see ourselves as objects separated from the world, thus we no longer feel as if we are affecting the world and nor is the world affecting us. In doing so, every response-type behavior is simply an automatic response since people expect you to respond, even though the response does not come from within yourself; this leads to a feeling of detachment between the mind and body. Furthermore, depersonalization also comes with a level of apathy, the state of not feeling, and ambivalence which is the state of having mixed feelings because of what you think and what you actually do (99). In this sense, people either move beyond the expression of feelings or they feel ambivalent both of which eventually lead to numbness. Even though people do exhibit natural reactions in their expressions toward stimuli, they do not actually feel the feeling which leads to the strange or rather dream-like perception of themselves (100). The underlying reason is that they are not able to relate feelings with their surroundings so realistically it does not mean that they lack complete emotions; the emotions are there, they just cannot feel for them. Through that process, depersonalization acts as a psychological defense mechanism where an individual is presented with the opportunity to separate a part of himself, a part which might not be worth or might be too harmful for his identity to remember (102-103). In a way, this is the birthplace of depersonalization which “coincides with stressing life-events or even life threatening situations” (102). In doing so, a person might find herself using this method of dealing with situations which ultimately leads to depersonalization becoming now part of the same, yet not the same identity. This leads to the conclusion that depersonalization makes the identity less rigid in the sense that there are more ‘Me’s’ in ‘Me’. According to Harris, people, when faced with the “unfamiliar,” tend to ignore it rather than “attack” or explore it since this is deeply ingrained in our survival instincts (pars. 1-2). However, this varies since some people go beyond the familiar as “rigid identity almost guarantees suffering” (par. 7). In doing so, it is safer to be part of the mundane where there are no challenges rather than it is to explore the unfamiliar, which is the point of not having complete control over yourself and your surroundings. However, whenever someone is faced with the true reality that her life is nothing but a routine established by something beyond herself, the urge to become something greater than that intensifies. Thus, the main difference between a fluid and fixed identity is the lack of control—the notion which keeps us pushing forward—that the fluid identity has; this particular lack of control makes everything far more lively.
Let us now look at the underlying reason why Medea’s fixed identity shifted into a more fluid, evolving, identity which ultimately paved the way for the development of depersonalization. In the epic poem The Argonautica, Medea is described as the daughter of Aeetes, king of Colchis, living all her previous years in Aea as a priestess of the Temple of Hecate (116). In doing so, some assumptions can be inferred on Medea’s previous, fixed identity up to the point of meeting Jason. As a daughter of a king and part of the royal family, Medea’s identity had little room for development, thus it was fixed. Fixed in the sense that her identity was familiar, predictable, stable, structured, and rule-bound where during every passing day she faced the same routine: a routine which limited her behavior, where she did everything that she was expected or was told to do starting from the interactions with her family to her workplace in the temple. In the poem, everyone does what the king commands, “Not one of them took a rest; they were working for the king” (116). Thus, Medea’s particular state of mind can be seen as an automaton; however, she is not conscious of it, at least not until Jason comes along. Jason puts Medea face-to-face with her mundane and harsh reality to become conscious of what she has been missing as observed in the poem, “and her heart stood still” (117). This can be seen as either the libidinal drive taking over consciousness or just purely circumstantial, the point is that it does not matter; Medea’s identity shifted at the precise moment her heart stopped for Jason, as Medea’s perception of Jason in the poem states “…there was nobody like Jason” (121). Consequently, she will not be the naïve Medea who follows herself but rather the Medea that leads herself which ends up with her seeking the un-seek-able. Medea moves beyond the structures and the rules and she sees an opportunity, a tempting opportunity, that she will have little or no control over thus attaining a fluid identity which is circumstantially operative. However, the journey of a fluid identity could give rise to consequences, the main one being depersonalization where the person develops many parts of one identity, where she loses sense and count of what her identity is: Thus, contributing to the development of many selves which is circumstantially convenient, however comes with greater loss for some people when they lose the sense of the one true-self.
As Medea’s fluid identity paved the way for depersonalization, an analysis of the manifestation of Medea’s depersonalization and the glacial effect that it had on her will be conducted. The first steps toward depersonalization can be observed when Medea starts questioning and over-reflecting on her decision of choosing to help Jason in his quest to obtain the Golden Fleece. She felt shameful because “…she planned to help a man in defiance of her father’s wishes” (129). It can be observed that the way she over-analyzes her actions is the first sign of depersonalization where she envisions two Medea’s, one who does not defy her father and one who does. “She thought she would give him the magic drug for the bulls; at the next she thought no” (130). This occurs because she is trying to separate a part of herself, the part that is deeply rooted in the Medea who would never betray her family. She then attempts to justify her actions by believing that in the absence of helping Jason, true misery would await her. Thus, while she tries to masque a part of her, she finds other ways to support the other Medea and ultimately ends up ‘killing’ the part of her that would never betray her family by choosing to continue living rather than killing herself (131). Even though she is the one who created this whole scene of helping Jason, she does not feel the guilt because the part of her that would feel guilt is already elided due to depersonalization. Ultimately, even though the feeling of guilt is there, Medea cannot feel for it as that would inhibit her from moving forward thus embracing the apathetic and ambivalent dimensions of depersonalization.
Throughout The Argonautica and Euripides’ Medea, Medea’s different yet unstable identity patterns can be observed when she develops a different kind of Medea for each circumstance that she is in. In doing so, she is able to approach each situation differently and then cut off that part of her which would not have been able to do that. Out of all those situations, the assassination of her own brother, Apsyrtus, receives attention since it questions the limits of depersonalization. She carefully arranged a meeting with Apsyrtus where she would claim to surrender herself to him while, she said to Jason that “…if you have the stomach for the deed, kill him” (158). Through devising the assassination of her brother, she constructs a new part of Medea, a part which would not feel the love and guilt for betraying him and reinforces the constantly evolving part of her. Moving on, in Euripides’ Medea, she is described by her nurse as a deep-thinker, frightening, consumed, which reinforces the idea that she is in a state of depersonalization (Euripides 15-45). Medea reaches the peak of depersonalization when she herself, from a third-person point of view, forcefully contemplates what remains of her identity, the murder of her children thus erasing almost everything of her past-self (780-800). This leads to the idea that depersonalization is ironically interrelated with free-will since, taking the example of Medea, it can be observed that she is the one pulling the strings. However, this comes with a level of irony mainly because the ‘true’ Medea would not have been able to pull those strings. Thus, in a state of depersonalization, she is not in control of her actions, which means that she is not her true self. This leads to the ultimate question: if it is not Medea in control of her actions, then who or what is?
In conclusion, Medea’s shift toward the unknown influenced her identity up to the point that she was depersonalized. Through depersonalization, Medea was able to move beyond the expression of grief and rage into an almost ghostly depersonalized figure of herself which despite the moral or immoral values, ultimately led to a type of evolution. While it may be argued that Medea’s identity was regressive (dis-enlightened) such is not the case. Thus, ironic as it sounds, through depersonalization, she was able to achieve enlightenment where she was able to separate parts of herself that kept her chained and evolve new selves so that she was able to move on. The method she employed was not based on moral values; she did betray her family, murder her brother and her children; however, she did it for something far greater than them even though this came at a price where her identity is left as an automaton, drifting, alternating without any real control over it.
Apollonius of Rhodes. The Voyage of Argo. Translated by E.V. Rieu. Baltimore. Penguin Books, 1959.
Euripides. Medea. Translated by C.A.E. Luschnig, 2006. Stoa, http://www.stoa.org/diotima/anthology/medea.trans.print.shtml.
Harris, Rabia Terri. "A Field of Comprehensible Order." Fellowship Fall 2007: 33. ProQuest. Web. 14 Oct. 2018.
Sierra, Mauricio, and Anthony S. David. "Depersonalization: A Selective Impairment of Self-Awareness." Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 20, no. 1, 2011, pp. 99-108.