Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Why are tortured mental cases the best writers?



Okay, I just finished a ten page paper on "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf. As you can see from my signature, the book had a profound impact. Well, as profound an impact as anything someone reads and writes a paper on in one short day. Without sleep. Nursing the mother of all Coldzillas. Under the influence of TheraFlu. After a long day of work.

You get the drift.

So, the relevance of Woolf's hypothesis: women's creativity and genius can only be fully expressed within the existence of financial independence, lack of internal obstacles and adequate privacy to nurture one's dreams -- while clearly important, is secondary.

The real question is this: why are all the best writers, male or female, abso-freakin-lutely nuts? Or as Jon Stewart is wont to say: batshit insane?

Most of my heroes and heroines offed themselves in dramatic, brutal fashion. Woolf. Plath. Edie. Hunter Thompson. Kurt Cobain. Van Gogh.

What is the tie between creativity and suicide? Writers and artists are 18 times more likely to commit suicide than any other group in society. They're also more prone to insomnia. That one I understand. All too well, in fact.

I wonder if the first one only applies to good writers? Did the original scribbler of "It was a dark and stormy night" also kill himself, only to have nobody notice?

In a perfect world, only the truly crappy would even think about sticking their heads in ovens. Jeff Foxworthy, for instance. He'd obsess about his own widely chronicled mediocrity. Or Clay Aiken. For God's sake, give George Bush a little introspection and guilt poison cocktail and give Sylvia Plath a second chance!

Perhaps part of the answer lies within Woolf's own theory, from "A Room of One's Own." In it she argues that the unfortunate by-product of genius is the susceptibility to the opinions of others, a certain heightening of the sensibilities that not only allows for the ability to look inward from an outside position, but requires such insight in order to bring to life universal truths.

Too much self-consciousness keeps one from focus on the subject of a writer's work; too little self-confidence inhibits a writer from reaching full potential and revealing greater truths. An imbalance in either can completely derail not only one's writing, but one's life:

"Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others."


That's not to discount organic mental disturbances within Woolf, Plath or any other creative genius who tragically chose to take their own life. And it doesn't really address the connection between creativity, depression and suicide.

But in an imperfect world, it's maybe a start.
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