Sunday, August 29, 2010

Solitude and its Graces 9

Gate into Malahide Castle
Chapter 9 of Dr Anthony Storr's little classic on the importance of solitude in the building up of the human identity and spirit is called Bereavement, Depression and Repair.  This chapter indicates that those who suffer the loss of a parent - especially the mother - when eleven years or less are decidely more prone to more serious bouts of depression in later life. (See Solitude, p. 125)  It also suggests that creative pursuits - whether writing, music or any of the arts, crafts work or hobbies of all types - help to repair the broken spirit, the fractured self, the hurt soul.  As I already indicated the epigraphs with which Storr begins each chapter are worth their weight in gold insofar as they indicate the main meat of the forthcoming chapter and provide a very strong illuminating light on the whole thrust of the same.  Let me, therefore, quote here one of the two with which he begins this chapter:
"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation."  Graham Green, quoted Solitude, p. 123
This, then, is the substance of this chapter in a nutshell.  Yes indeed, we do use our imaginative capacities to escape from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," or simply to unwind or deal with day-to-day stress.  This is one very worthwhile role that the immagination plays, but it is a decidedly negative one in a sense as it is a way of coping with or escaping reality.  Of course, that is no bad thing - in fact it is a very good thing.  However, the imagination also has a more positive role, too, in that, when we follow our creative pursuits, we literally help to make our souls whole, to nourish the child within, to express our deepest feelings and to unlock the treasures of our more intimate visions and dreams.  Let us listen to the illuminating words of Anthony Storr here:

By creating a new unity in a poem or other work of art, the artist is attempting to restore a lost unity, or to find a new unity , within the inner world of the psyche, as well as producing work which has a real existence in the external world... In Winnicott's phrase, 'creative apperception' is what makes individuals feel that life is worth living; and those who are gifted are perhaps more able than most to repair loss in symbolic fashion.  The human mind seems so constructed that a new balance or restoration within the subjective, imaginative world is felt as if it were a change for the better in the external world.  In thus linking objective and subjective, we are approaching the limits of human understanding; but I believe that the secrets of human creative adaptation are to be found at just those limits.  The hunger of imagination which drives men to seek new understanding and new connections in the external world is, at the same time, a hunger for integration and unity within. (Ibid., p. 124)
Once again Storr illustrates this chapter  once again with copious references to authors like: Graham Greene who suffered from manic-depression; Alfred Lord Tennyson who had bouts of depression on regular occasions, and was a heavy smoker and drinker; to John Donne who likewise suffered from such bouts and was recurrently suicidal; and to William Cowper was also manic-depressive.  Storr goes on to list many others, too: S.T. Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, John Berryman, Louis McNeice who was also an alcoholic and Sylvia Plath.  All of these last mentioned here lost a parent before the age of twelve.  Of those listed Berryman and Plath committed suicide.

Gas Lamp in The Phoenix Park
Oftentimes, creative geniuses fear the loss of their inspiration if their mania or depression or whatever lifts.  In writing or in composing or in playing their musical instrument or in performing whatever is their specific calling they somehow work their way through their "suffering" and transform it into art.  In so doing they "cure" or more correctly heal their depression which is in all likelihood one source of inspiration.  Edward Thomas expressed such a concern or fear (See ibid., epigraph p. 123)

Now, I'd like to finish with a short quotation from Storr which is very relevant to my psychological explorations:

The creative response to loss is only one example of the use of the imagination.  Onlt those who exalt human relationships to an ideal position in the hierarchy of human values could think that creativity was no more than a substitute for such relationships. (Ibid., p. 144)

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