Friday, 19 December 2008

Mental Illness and Creativity.

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, for a good while in fact, and Seaneen's post about the same subject the other week had the effect of a spur in the flank of my laziness and ineptitude, but that same flagrant torpor and that distillation of maladroitness that make up my general nature have won out until now. (Coughs, clears throat with the leaf-rake, wipes the Dettol sponge over the flysheet of his hippopotacampus, squares shoulders with masonic implements, and blinks while trying to catch his scurrying thread through the eye of the Camel's needle)... I feel the urge not to break this into paragraphs. But in(outa)sight wins the day again, and paragraphs, from the mowing heaths of gibberish, I summon you hence...

There we are, digestible chunks. Where was I? It is indeed exceptionally irritating when one is expected to spin gold from the horrible sludge of one's brain. Most mad people are not creative, and most creative people are not mad. However, it's not as simple as that.

Firstly, there is a preponderance of mad-creative people - by which I mean that more creative people are mad, and more mad people are creative, than would be expected, going by the general population. The two cohabit well enough for the two conditions to be given the high-falutin description of a correlation.

Secondly, the 'mad' people who benefit are generally the 'less' mad. Or the 1st degree relatives of the mad. For instance, cyclothymia and BPii have a far higher correlation with creativity than BPi and schizophrenia.

Thirdly, there appears to be a strong correlation with psychoticism expressed as a trait, and creativity (see Eysenck). This increases as psychoticism increases, with more widely and wildly differing frames of reference being brought together, bearing gorgeous fruit, and then decreasing as the frames of reference are torn apart, letting all logic drift away into incoherence.

Eg. The cat pounced like the flick of a whip. Very close frames of reference: cat/cat'o'nine tails/whip. But the cat pounced like the flick of a bridle... Ok... so cat/cat'o'nine tails/whip
/leather/bridle - the sense begins to wander - too weak for the sense. And then the cat pounced, bucking against constraints... We're leaving commonsense...
Etc. Apologies, first simile that came to mind. (edit, I can't resist: "the cat pounced, leather-lick quick"... hmmm...)

There may well be some biasing factors: mad people can't survive in steady stable professions as easily as in the creative professions. Perhaps. But it is interesting to note that there is a correlation between madness and hard scientists too. Then again, hard science is just as much an oddball pond as poetry.

In conclusion, there may well be creative benefits, so long as the madness is not too disruptive, for which read the degree of psychoticism* doesn't overwhelm the organising and editing part of the intellect.

And yes, I know I have kept my tongue in my cheek writing this. I just wish I was either a tad less nuts, or else clever enough to take advantage of it.

Further reading:

Eysenck - Genius - The Natural History of Creativity

Koestler - The Act of Creation
Jamison - Touched by Fire
Goodwin & Jamison - Manic Depressive Illness (chapter 12 - pretty much a rehash of the previous)

* I'm using this word in the psychological sense of the trait of psychoticism, not the clinical sense of psychosis, although they hie from the same stable.


edit, and if anyone has any better 'cat pounced' metaphors, then share them here, and we can make a case study :-)


Abysmal Musings said...

Thanks Marian, I need to reread and think. But briefly, have you seen Lacan's thoughts on Joyce? Afraid the only link I can put my hand on is secondhand, but you may find it interesting:

Abysmal Musings said...

And Christ, when I was demonstrating stuff using bits of rope tied into Borromean knots, that's when everyone started to back away.... Until they understood finally what I was trying to say.

Abysmal Musings said...

I must read Kristeva. I think you're the third person to recommend her in the last 12 months... (shakes head, trying to get the memory cells working).

Abysmal Musings said...

Reply to Marian per paragraph.

1st. If there is no-one to listen, you're yelling into a void, listening to the chaos of the echoes that don't even exist.

2nd. Joyce, see earlier on sinthome. Regarding what I call diagsupposed, I can certainly identify with some of the usual suspects, knowing their difficulties that they managed to somehow extricate some wonderfulness from. Strangely, almost all of the writers, poets, artists I've admired and had a close sympathy for, have all turned out to be diagsupposed manic-depressive. Which is also a pile of shite and bollocks. The term didn't exist when they were alive. They described themselves as melancholics. They certainly seemed to have an intuition of a proto-nosology towards their own conditions, but.... the more I read, the more I realise there are a thousand so-called diseases of the mind, and who had which?

3rd. Most 'great art' [sic from somewhere] doesn't get appreciated in its day. The neologisms... if they weren't invented... where would we, now, be? The lot of the so-called in retro 'great artist' is often unrecognition in his or her time.

4th. Agree.

5th. I agree, with reservations. I think it has something to do with the 3rd paragraph, and also the 'day' may never come, or may be so far in the future that the original utterance is still meaningless even if it is understood then. Take Homer. It is the 3000 year old computer game. But the art, the meaning, the interpretation has been added and smeared over by 3000 years of critics and of course, translators. Of course I love Homer :-) but he is a joint effort, continually updated. As for drawing maps, spelling poems, that is spot on.

6th. Neigh!

Marian said...

I haven't read Lacan on Joyce. I'll certainly do that! Thanks for the link.

Kristeva is great, to a certain extent. Powers of Horror and Soleil noir - Dark sun it is in English, isn't it? - is really great stuff. I must admit though, that I have distanced myself a bit from French postmodernism, Lacan, Kristeva, etc., as it is quite influenced by Freud, and I have a huge problem with especially the late Freud and his concept of the oedipal complex. I simply don't buy it anymore. While it somehow is a corner stone in both Lacan's and Kristeva's thinking...

Another problem I see with both Freud and French postmodernism is that it is - or they are - somehow like caught in modern western thinking. Cartesian. Body and soul, intellect and intuition, as clearly separated from each other, almost opposed to each other.

On the other hand, I don't necessarily see any reason to dismiss the whole Lacan or Kristeva because of that. They still are fascinating (and without having had them in the back of my mind, I might very well have bought into Big Pharma's message...).

I wrote a weird little piece about Kristeva's latest book recently, for my Danish blog. I think, I will translate it one of these days.

I'm rambling. Need to go to bed. Hope, you can find some sleep tonight!

Abysmal Musings said...

Personally, I find the inherent sexism of Freud the biggest turn-off. He also managed to poison the field with his own problems. IMHO.

I can just about stomach Jung.

As for the hangers on, well, we take from any of them what is useful, eh?

Speaking of Jung, I read recently his account of how he 'discovered' the concept of the anima.

He was writing late at night (forgive me if you've all heard it before) and was wondering what on earth he was writing. He said something to the effect of: "This isn't science; but what is it?" And a female voice answered him: "It's art."

When I read that, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.

Back in February, I was sat, and not in the happiest state to be honest... flying and sinking. I heard a female voice. I'm ashamed and embarrassed to make it public. But it said: "You're not allowed to be a genius. .... You are, ok?" And it said it three times.

It is so embarrassng. It makes me curl up and cringe. Revealing. Disasterously. Horrible. But it was like a voice spoke just behind my ear.

And it freaked me out considerably. I scribbled the page of the notebook I was writing in, through several pages.

Who the fuck was she? No-one I've ever met, or am likely to. Must have been a lump of me. A female lump of me. Telling me what I really shouldn't hear. Despite being told it by the elders who know better over and over again throughout my life.

I must have the knack for conversation.

But sustained creation? No longer. Did it when I was young. And it read like it too.

Abysmal Musings said...

(I suspect strongly that drink had been taken last night... my apologies, ladies and gentlemen...)