Sunday, February 28, 2010

No Surprise Here

"[The] radical idea . . . that depressive disorder came with a net mental benefit . . . has a long intellectual history. Aristotle was there first, stating in the fourth century B.C. 'that all men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art and in politics, even Socrates and Plato, had a melancholic habitus; indeed some suffered even from melancholic disease.' This belief was revived during the Renaissance, leading Milton to exclaim, in his poem 'Il Penseroso': 'Hail divinest Melancholy/Whose saintly visage is too bright/To hit the sense of human sight.' The Romantic poets took the veneration of sadness to its logical extreme and described suffering as a prerequisite for the literary life. As Keats wrote, 'Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?'

(From an article in today's New York Times, "Depression's Upside.")

13 comments:

Rodak said...

If only the often productive combination of genius and "melancholy" did not so often lead to this tragic consequence.

Pentimento said...

David Foster Wallace is quoted in the article I linked to.

Freud said that his goal was to turn hysterical misery into everyday unhappiness. It would certainly be a great day for science and humanity if this could be done for all those who are crushed by sorrow.

Rodak said...

Yes. I plead guilty to not having read the whole article yet. It's long and I had to go out earlier. DFW came immediately to mind, just from reading your words, however. He wrote about depression brilliantly, devastatingly. He death was a real loss to American letters.

Rodak said...

I have now read the entire article to which you linked. As a depressive personality myself, a couple of things came to mind from my reading.
First, I have personally found that the very best way to oppose the onset of depression is to engage in necessary, essentially mindless tasks: vacuum the carpets; mow the lawn; weed the garden; paint the guest room.
The second best thing is to do something creative. But this is not always possible.
Something that the article does not go into, but which I think is major, is that chronic depression is a trait associated with introversion. So is an artistic sensibility. Artists of all kinds tend to be depressive because of their introversion. While I've no doubt that one can easily find exceptions, I think this is the general rule.
Depression is certainly not an effective call for help. Depressed people are shunned more often than they become objects of caring attention.
I do think that it's true that depressive people are more realistic and tend to see the probable outcomes of things more clearly than others; but this, too, causes them to be disliked, rather than valued.
All-in-all, I'd rather be introverted and have to deal with chronic depression, than be happy-go-lucky and superficial. I don't buy the old saying "Better a contented pig than a discontented Socrates."

Pentimento said...

I agree.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Is this supposed to make me feel better? ;)

I just wish my own tendency to melancholy could have at least made a poet out of me.

Pentimento said...

Oh, E, me too, or at least a better person.

Rodak said...

I just wish my own tendency to melancholy could have at least made a poet out of me.

Only allow it to do so. It can be your exclusive secret and still do the job.

Amy said...

I agree that introverts are the susceptible ones (like me). Also agree that becoming a mindless swine (vacuuming- gah) can help for a bit, and doing something creative if your energy hasn't been too much zapped.

Writing, blogging, and photography have helped me stave off bouts of melancholy many times. And hopefully this week as well.

Rodak said...

The thing about vacuuming, or mowing the lawn, is that regardless of how hopeless you may feel, once you've completed the task you've accomplished something positive; you haven't wasted your time; you've proved that you're at least good for something. And it takes no planning, no ambition, to get started; it can be successfully forced.
The same is true for writing, but it's much harder to think of writing in that way. We think of writing as a performance, with an audience--persons whom we have to please--and so we don't start. This is a mistake.

Pentimento said...

Hmmm, this is exactly why I prefer doing the housework to working on turning my dissertation into a book.

Rodak said...

Pentimento--I can say that I've been uplifted and fired up by your recommendation of Jack Gilbert and Laura Fargas on another thread.
After making some preliminary notes on the initial inspiration last night, I got up early this morning and wrote this.
This evening after dinner, I picked up Monolithos and read the following line, which could have served as an epigram for my own poem:
"The death everywhere is no trouble once you see it as nature, landscape, or botany."
When we open ourselves up to the suggestions that circumstance offers us, we are almost always repaid for our efforts--and experience a break in the fog.

Pentimento said...

I hope you're right, Rodak. I like the poem.