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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sadness as a Muse

Does happiness chase away the creative ability? This intriguing New York Times article suggests that depression and its attendant emotions might play an evolutionary role that has led to its being preserved in the human species across time, perhaps for the creative advantages that it confers.
Imagine, no Lascaux cave art, if it weren't for a miserable young hunter who missed his great prey on the plains. Instead, he decided to draw his quarry on the walls, trying to recapture the  figure and spirit of the animal that had eluded him in reality.
I exaggerate of course, but there's no proof to the contrary, either. As to the article's premise that heightened pain can result in a heightened attention to detail, I can attest to that from just merely the experience of physical pain (as in a migraine), tiny things jump out with greater clarity, cutting through the pain and embedding themselves in the brain- the angle of the sun,  the smell of cooking oil twenty yards away, the imperceptible sway of a branch, the suddenly deafening rendition of the same phrase for the nth time by the robin outside in the yew tree...
Just imagine how it must be for someone who is under the considerable mental anguish that accompanies a depressive state, and it becomes easier to postulate why this horrendous condition might have persisted over the millenia that it took for homo sapiens to evolve to their current state.

5 comments:

M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sujatha said...

Oops, M. You removed the post before I could reply to it.

Sorry, I sometimes take a while to respond, was busy at work today.

M said...

hello there. i had posted a comment but noticed way too many spelling errors...so i took it down, but then ran out of time.

i was imagining what it would be like if some of our best writers were happy, well-adjusted sorts.

an outgoing, happy proust? unimaginable. his book never would have happened. but still, it's fun to think about. an extrovert proust. hee

Sujatha said...

An extrovert Proust wouldn't have become an author. He would have been a world-class showman, no longer stuck in his room scratching away with long, run-on thoughts like"Cette croyance survivait pendant quelques secondes à mon réveil; elle ne choquait pas ma raison mais pesait comme des écailles sur mes yeux et les empêchait de se rendre compte que le bougeoir n’était plus allumé. Puis elle commençait à me devenir inintelligible, comme après la métempsycose les pensées d’une existence antérieure; le sujet du livre se détachait de moi, j’étais libre de m’y appliquer ou non; aussitôt je recouvrais la vue et j’étais bien étonné de trouver autour de moi une obscurité, douce et reposante pour mes yeux, mais peut-être plus encore pour mon esprit, à qui elle apparaissait comme une chose sans cause, incompréhensible, comme une chose vraiment obscure."

Ouch...my head hurts!

Sujatha said...

Translated, the passage above from Swann's Way:
"This impression would persist for some moments after I was awake ; it did not disturb my mind, but it lay like scales upon my eyes and prevented them from registering the fact that the candle was no longer burning. Then it would begin to seem unintelligible, as the thoughts of a former existence must be to a reincarnate spirit; the subject of my book would separate itself from me, leaving me free to choose whether I would form part of it or no :" and at the same time my sight would return and I would be astonished to find myself in a state of darkness, pleasant and restful enough for the eyes, and even more, perhaps, for my mind, to which it appeared incomprehensible, without a cause, a matter dark indeed."