The truest depictions of ecstasy in art exist in the muddled territory between exaltation and despair. Its subjects are trademarked by a lack of autonomy—an inability to regulate the self as it slips away from the idea of the self. This is its key: Ecstasy is not the supreme heights of joy nor the violent depths of despondency, but rather the phenomenon of transcendence, often through an indiscriminate combination of extremes.
Throughout history, the perception of ecstasy, not unlike its symptoms, has been disorderly. The English language gets the word from the Greek ekstasis
, meaning “to put out of place.” In 405 B.C.E., the Greek tragedian Euripides premiered his play The Bacchae
, the tale of a king attempting to fight off Dionysus, the god associated with revelry and religious frenzy, in order to protect his population from falling into a state of debauched ecstasy. But the word is also filtered through the Old French extasie
, which roughly translates to “rapturous.” In 1933, Gustav Machatý’s Ekstase
, starring the Depression-era dreamboat Hedy Lamarr, featured the first-ever female orgasm
in mainstream cinema. By the 1990s, it came to refer to the rapture-inducing party drug made popular by well-meaning club kids seeking community in electronic music and getting high.