Monday, August 13, 2007
Death by Ecstasy
by Brenda Roger
Until a few days ago, the extent of my knowledge of the idea of ecstasy was the image of this sculpture of St. Teresa of Avila by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). I've been researching the physical symptoms of ecstasy and trying to determine if it can kill you. I'm working on a short story and I wanted to use death by ecstasy as part of the plot.
Perhaps, it was St. Teresa's image floating around in my mind that gave me the idea. She looks like she could die, but also like she doesn't care if she does. Bernini was a genius at dematerializing marble to look like folds of fabric and delicate pale skin. The tilt of her head and curling of her toes all suggest that she is at the mercy of something outside of herself. In all of my research, Bernini's description of ecstasy is still the most useful.
St. Teresa was a sixteenth-century Spanish Carmelite nun. She was the first female to be named a Doctor of the Church (although, in true Catholic fashion, it happened hundreds of years after her death). She wrote extensively about her pursuit of spiritual perfection. She was a controversial reformer within her order, and on occasion, her writings are described as feminist. One does not think of nuns as rebels. How delicious. It is St. Teresa's descriptions of ecstasies and other mystical experiences that keep her in the contemporary consciousness, with a little help from Bernini, of course.
Ecstasy is defined as a feeling of oneness with God. It is a kind of spiritual perfection. The plot of my story requires something more sinister, so I think it will be closer to death by peak experience than ecstasy. A peak experience is not specifically religious. I haven't forgotten that my story is fiction, and it is up to me to create and describe the experience of my character. It is so because I say it is! Isn't it fun to be a writer?