Between masquerade and ordinary madness

Derived from the word “mask” whose Italian etymology is maschera, a masquerade is an event that is both festive and satirical, bringing together people who are masked and disguised, most often with extravagance. Historically, masquerades are deployed in particular in the Middle Ages, in the West, in this case on the occasion of carnivals during which crowds, all classes combined, meet to sing, dance, play music, exchange gifts, share meals, etc. Of course, the Middle Ages draws, for its masquerades, from ancient sources, more particularly Roman: indeed, the wearing of the mask, the disguise, the song, the dance, the feasts, the presents were well then specific to the Saturnalia, festivals taking place in ancient Rome during the winter solstice and celebrating the god Saturn who would have spent a long stay in Lazio, in central Italy, before the founding of the city. Even today, in black Africa, masquerades are organized, a kind of celebration during which masks and disguises have a magical or religious significance. It goes without saying, however, that nowadays the most notorious masquerades linked to medieval origins remain those of Venice, where extravagant masks and costumes guarantee anonymity, allowing the most eccentric behaviors.

“Italy in Disguise”, February 4, 2016,

Slip metonymic and journey from proper to figurativee

The word “masquerade” designates, moreover, by the fact of a metonymic shift, as the movements of all languages ​​like to do, the part of a musical performance of a burlesque nature, the genre of which notably occurred during the 16th century baroque periode century, in Rome, in Venice, in Mantua and in Florence, part where the spectators see parading on stage of the masked characters alternating dances and recitations of verses of gallant parody.

And, as all languages ​​cultivate polysemy, when we move from the literal to the figurative meaning, a “masquerade” becomes synonymous with a hypocritical attitude, bordering on grotesque imposture, or literally parody, especially in the social world. , legal or political.

From the question of ordinary madness

No doubt, by dint of being assiduously false, hypocritical, impostors, the “actors” of a masquerade – both personal and public – could only cease to be festive and joyful, to become threatening, deleterious, even murderous. Because, in certain situations, the crowd that gets involved in the masquerade, getting caught up in the satirical, parodic and extravagant game, seeing in it a way of escaping from reality that is too heavy, too disappointing, runs the risk of being caught up in it, sometimes even at the cost of his own sanity. We could well speak, in this case, of access to ordinary madness.

What is ordinary madness? Well, in psychopathology, it would designate a personality disorder whose point of origin would be the idealization as a psychic defense of individuals who, to avoid suffering from a disturbing, alienating reality, replace the real with a different representation. , distorting, even more alienating. This becomes a belief well anchored in the mind and in which they lead their loved ones, forced to live in the same mental universe as theirs. Ordinary madness would therefore be alienating and contagious…

In his Tales of Ordinary Madness (1977 for the French edition), the German-American novelist Charles Bukowski evokes, over the course of twenty short stories, different extravagant stories where the masquerade, flirting with depersonalization, leads the individuals who mingle with it to a decline whose movement fall does not stop until death. Of course, in these American-style tales, the booze-fueled masquerade, food and sex orgies, horse racing, abuse of all kinds, etc., turn people into puppets who, as a result, cease to have any hold whatsoever over their lives and who allow themselves to be totally colonized by what will inevitably end up killing them. By seeking to escape a reality too harsh to be supported, apprehended, worked on and transformed, they indulge in this “ordinary madness”, which flows into them and ends, by marrying their body, their movements, the very meanders of their thoughts, by becoming their own destiny.

The Lebanese Parliament: station at ordinary madness!

Since the end of September 2022, our deputies have started a gigantic masquerade whose festivities aim to elect the successor to General Michel Aoun at the head of the country. No need for masks or disguises made with great art: they are already well and truly masked and disguised very carefully. It’s the great “politician” party, where those who have the constitutional power to elect a head of state by taking the country a little bit out of its fatal immobility choose to make fun of all democracy, precisely by making it the parody with perfect mastery of the exercise. Everything goes there: the satirical game, the striking lights, the grand burlesque gestures, the distorting grimaces, the grotesque and coarse speech, the reciprocal mockery, the useless bulletins, the surreal atmosphere…

And the crowd that looks at them then, that adheres to them, hopes, waits, believes in them? Well, she is not immune to the danger of ordinary madness, the one which, at the very beginning, fascinates, transports, then amazes and succeeds in blurring vulgarity, imposture, moral debauchery, in order to interfere in the body and the spirit of the individuals who stick to it, internalize it and make it theirs.

Lebanese! Let us always remember this: “Fools pass away. Madness remains.” Perhaps we could protect ourselves from the disastrous masquerade that everyone knows.


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Between masquerade and ordinary madness