By Kirby Farrell
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Extra info for Berserk Style in American Culture
Warrior abandon has always aroused acute ambivalence. ” In battle “a raging fury seizes their hearts and they become implacable, common soldiers and leaders alike. ”9 The warriors’ abandon was a cultural practice, a style that felt natural to them. It functioned as a tool akin to “shock and awe” today. Intimidating propaganda can also be a motivational technique and one solution to problems of competition and hierarchy within a group of high-strung and well-armed males. Such abandon is a window on questions underlying all creativity and atrocity: How do we sort out heroic and vicious motivation, symbolic and neurophysiological components?
Losing and recovering the self creates a conviction of survival magic. To the extent that the behavior goes “beyond,” it expands the self by pushing back anxieties and unfreezing personal resources. As in repeated drug trips, letting go becomes easier. And as in the treacherous paradox of sacrifice, the loss of self promises to substantiate the self yet can also lead to madness and suicide. The beyond can be paradise but also an abyss. 45 In a related way the idea of abandon can be a means of managing morale.
Such abandon is a window on questions underlying all creativity and atrocity: How do we sort out heroic and vicious motivation, symbolic and neurophysiological components? Is there an identifiable threshold or “edge” marking off the berserk state? The psychiatrist Jonathan Shay acknowledges the equivocal godlike or beastlike ambiguity that makes the berserk state fascinating: “A soldier who routs the enemy single-handedly is often in the grip of a special state of mind, body and social disconnection at the time of his memorable deeds.