Wandering as a refusal to be trapped


Salman Akhtar, MD


Movement affects us. Walking, running, leaning forward, stepping back, jumping, dancing, or leisurely sauntering on an oceanside boulevard stir up all sorts of emotions in us and, frankly, these activities are themselves propelled by emotions. Far more dramatic illustrations of this dialectic are constituted by a three year old child running gleefully, if unstably, away from his or her aghast parents in a shopping mall, a mountain climber giving it his all to realize a childhood dream of ascent, and a college student excitedly preparing to go abroad for earning a prestigious degree. Let me put it bluntly: distance is alluring, travel excites, and locomotor prowess enhances pride.

Such ‘rational’ forays into external reality do not exhaust our wanderlust, however. There are journeys that lead us into a labyrinth of confusion, take us nowhere, or drop us bereft at unfamiliar and mysterious locales. As if this was not enough, further conundrum is caused by the fact many such escapades are unintended. Sleepwalking is a prime example of such mesmerized, if nuanced, ambulation. Contrary to folklore, it is not always accompanied by dreaming and can result from a random de-linkage of sleep and wakefulness pathways in the brain.

Even more fascinating is the terrain that lies between purposive locomotion and somnambulism. This is realm of the aimless wandering of orphans, the absconding of delinquent adolescents, the furtive restlessness of train-hopping hoboes, and the ‘out-of-body’ retreats of the sexually abused. Many such ‘travels’, including the audacious sojourns of creativity, occur in slightly altered states of consciousness.

The term ‘fugue’ applies collectively to such maladies. Defined as wandering in a daze followed by amnesia, a fugue tends to be ‘disorderly’ when caused by psychomotor epilepsy and ‘orderly’ when caused by underlying psychological conflicts. The latter might act as evasions but also carry the potential of opening new vistas of knowledge, insight, and wisdom. Creativity, as W.H. Auden said, is born out of audacity, the audacity to walk away—from customs, old adages, handed down similes, and established forms of expression. Conceptualized this way, fugue, by detracting us from plebian or painful reality, offers us the gift of adventure and creative freedom.

Enter Basak Bugay. A stunning contemporary artist whose forms of expression include ink drawings and mixed media sculptures, Basak offers us a poignant and soul-wrenching collection of pieces that capture, if you forgive the paradox, the essence of escape, of retreat, of haven-seeking while resolutely defying submission and subservience. Palpable right under the throbbing exterior is the anguish of victimization, helplessness, and disconnection. What Leonard Shengold had called ‘soul murder’ has found a new life in Basak’s graphic representations but with a robust refusal to succumb, die, and dissipate in the annals of memory and conversation. This is aesthetic endeavor at its best and a shining example of Georges Braques’s statement that ‘art is a wound turned to light’. Bravo!


>> Salman Akhtar, MD (Medical Doctor) is an internationally renowned psychoanalyst based in the United States. He comes from a family of renowned poets and writers of India. He is the author of fifteen collections of poems. Eight of these The Hidden Knot (1985), Conditions (1993) Turned to Light (1998), After Landing (2014), Blood and Ink (2016), Freshness of the Child (2018), Symptoms of Belonging (2019), This is What Happened (2021), and Keys and Caveats (2022) contain his poems in the English language and the other six are in his native Urdu. Dr. Akhtar is also a prolific contributor to psychoanalytic literature, having authored or edited ninety books. For his distinguished contributions to psychoanalysis, he received the prestigious Sigourney Award in 2012. During the mid-1990’s, Dr. Akhtar served as a Visiting Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. Currently, he holds the rank of Professor of Psychiatry at Jettison Medical College in Philadelphia, and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. He is a Scholar-in-Residence at the Inter-Act Theater Company in Philadelphia.