Sunday, March 3, 2013

Psyching Sherlock: married to his work

John Watson to Sherlock:  Sergeant Donovan ... she said you get off on this, you enjoy it.

Sherlock: And I said dangerous, and here you are.




Watson then follows Sherlock out of the flat to a restaurant from which they can watch 22 Northumberland Street.  On the walk, Sherlock comments that "I love the brilliant ones, they're always so desperate to get caught."  When John asks why Sherlock explains, "Appreciation, applause, at long last a spotlight.  The frailty of genius, John, it needs an audience."  John's glance at Sherlock and quiet "yeah" declare: if anyone needs an audience, it's Sherlock.  

But this isn't why he does the work he does.  Sally Donovan had it right, the sexual metaphor is more than jargon, it's apt.  Sherlock confirms this when he tells John,  "I consider myself married to my work."

He is not saying he is a workaholic who simply has no time for a family or relationships.  Sherlock Holmes is a man wedded to his work, as a monk to prayer and a life of detachment from worldly things.   Sherlock also chooses the ascetic life, because attachment to things not the work interfere with it.  He fasts during cases, digestion slows his thinking.  He retreats into silence to meditate on his cases.  He has no hobbies, his researches are all about the work.  He plays the violin, not because he loves music, but because it helps him think.

Sherlock is not asexual.  He looks at the stars and sees their beauty, he just will not clutter up his mind with irrelevant facts about them.  He can appreciate a woman, yet be unwilling to become distracted by such a mundane thing as sexual attraction, especially as it may lead to feelings of love, "a much more vicious motivator."  Love, whose "chemistry is incredibly simple and very destructive"  and Sherlock assumes, "a dangerous disadvantage."

Happiness: dead woman decoded.
Sherlock's problem is not that he is a machine or that he is without passion.  He retreated into self-imposed "sociopathy" and social isolation to protect himself, walling off his mind against external distraction, manipulation or control.  Sherlock Holmes is a man of great and intense passion, the word used in it's most classic sense, not to describe an emotion or as a synonym for something as prosaic as lust, but as the all-encompassing desire for, a complete dedication to, immersion in, need for something.   One exhibits love for the object of passion, not a subjective feeling called "love," but the act of it, the total giving up of everything that stands in the way of it.

Moment of enlightenment.
Food, sleep, sex, useless knowledge, all just distractions from immersion in the all-consuming passion, the only thing that satisfies.  The one thing Sherlock lives for.

As the monk seeks attainment of union with the Divine, so Sherlock Holmes seeks that moment of Light, Clarity, Knowing. His passion is total, his immersion complete, his experience not coldly intellectual because intellect subsists in the physical body: His pleasure in the practice of his art, in the moment of understanding: ecstasy.

The sexual metaphors, while crude, fit.   But simple physical orgasm cannot compare to the satisfaction of this passion fulfilled.   For this man, sex is not enough, it's too shallow a pleasure:


"The only thing that matters to me is the work."

The only thing that matters.  Even breathing is boring. 

Holmes on Holmes, from the Canon:

Craving exaltation.
"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.  I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.  But I abhor the dull routine of existence.  I crave for mental exaltation.  This is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it ...

When Gregson or Lestrade or Athelney Jones are out of their depths - which, by the way, is their normal state - the matter is laid before me. ... I claim no credit in such cases ... The work itself, the pleasure of finding a field for my peculiar powers, is my highest reward.  ...

... I cannot live without brainwork.  What else is there to live for?  Stand at the window here.  Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world?  ... What could be more hopelessly prosaic and material.  What is the use of having powers, Doctor, when one has no field upon which to exert them?

"The Sign of Four, Chapter 1: The Science of Deduction"
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


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