Monday, 30 July 2012

Sadness as Homosexuality

The more I think about this analogy, the more complete it seems. One day, a comprehensive study may find that all of us appear somewhere on the sadness scale, with, say, 15% categorised as full-blown sad. Some time down the line, sadness will be permanently removed from the list of undesirable social phenomena, and it will become politically incorrect to regard it as a setback.

I am deliberately using the term sadness rather than depression, because the word depression is itself a kind of negative value judgement. Its apparently commoner meaning is a kind of casual and belittling appropriation of "clinical depression", signifying a momentary but undramatic deflation, but the meaning it's ripping off is that of the melancholic mental disease. I'm comfortable with calling it that, when it's active, but it's curious that we have no middle ground between a debilitating and life-threatening disease of intense sadness and the condition of being cheerful. To not toe the emotional line, like not toeing the sexual one, is to be a deviant, and to be either accused of perversion or compassionately pitied, and have earnest attempts made to cure you. Until, one day, someone will figure out that what you "have" is just a thing, like hair colour, and it's completely harmless, and if left alone we'd as soon forget to get excited about it.

It's not "psychiatric", or psychological, as much as it is political. The monotheistic world didn't want homosexuals, and it had them more or less forced upon it, because that's what reality eventually does. They screwed up its teleological paradigm. Sad people screw up somebody else's grand vision of what the world is supposed to be. My theory is that it's a conception of the world as rightfully static. Sad people, represented as a demographic most conspicuously by artists, are the ultimate subversives. They are the ones who take a look at the world and have a visceral reaction of "fuck this".

You can level the same accusations at sadness as at homosexuality. You can say it's unnatural, or unsound evolutionarily. You can worry that if left unchecked it will start to infect the populace, that your children might turn sad. You can say that you don't mind people being sad, as long as they don't "act" sad. You can point to their dubious emotional habits, and to the preponderance of emotional diseases among them. You'd have to be a callous dipshit and possibly an idiot, but it's not like that's stopping people now.

Nobody has to bother with any of these things now, because the sad are hiding in the corners, ashamed of their existence and of their emotional urges. You have some fronting rock bands like you always had gays fronting drag shows, but for the non-exhibitionist, or for the somewhat timid, which is something that seems to come with the territory, it's of only limited encouragement. For every Kurt Cobain defiantly screaming "Rape me" there are a million smiling-nodders terrified of being ostracised and humiliated if they ever lose their guard and express themselves.

I don't know what the price is that gays pay for living in the closet. I'm kind of curious to know. For sads, I'm fairly sure it results in clinical depression.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Artistic Temperament

In the past few days, possibly because I'm studying for an exam in French Literature, I keep coming across these people whose mental illnesses appear to have played a major part in their creativity – which is to say, in their identity and their life.

You hear this said about these Van Gogh types sometimes – they were brilliant, but they were miserable, or their misery would contribute to and be assuaged by their beautiful creations. It always seemed a bit off to me, because what was the point of devoting yourself to art, if it had nothing to do with happiness?

The specific example running through my mind is of Robert M. Pirsig. After many years of persistent nagging, my younger brother has finally relented and begun reading his quasi-autobiographical Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Today he pointed out, quite rightly, that its protagonist wasn't really very Zen.

Which led me to think that what he is, actually, is an artist. Even before writing his two books, while he was a technical writer and university teacher and whatnot; he was an artist simply by virtue of his wanting to do things properly – critically, non-conventionally – in an insistence that put him at odds with society. Giving up this struggle, this criticism, to try and fall in line with convention was what made him bitter, torn, deadened; engaging in it essentially just made him rejected.

Rejection is unpleasant, and a much bigger deal than the platitudes would have you think in any case, but I don’t think it can hold a candle to the experience of being subjected to industrial processing.
Both experiences count as mental illness, in principle. If you stray too far and if you suffer too much you're a whack job, but in both cases your experiences would make fascinating fodder for aficionados if rendered properly.

William S. Burroughs seems to have considered his homosexuality and drug-addiction equally parts of this, as maladaptive and invigorating aspects of his life and personality.  One more piece in a long chain of evidence that seems to suggest that if you want to not suck, it is inevitable that you get into quite serious conflict with those who do.

Art is an arena, or institution, where this antagonistic conduct is relatively tolerated; sometimes more or less encouraged – which may be why those are the weirdos and freaks we remember and revere, but it's fully possible that the forgotten others, in less obliging professional circumstances, led tense but fulfilling lives as well.

Sometimes, of course, art doesn't seem to have ultimately been enough. Van Gogh really seems to have been pretty comprehensively miserable (do does Cobain, who for some reason I keep thinking of when I think of Van Gogh); Flaubert, if the introductory note I read about him can be believed, on top of everything else gone wrong in his life, in the tyrannical self-discipline as well as the unpleasant subject matter involved in writing Madame Bovary, made himself so miserable he grew to resent its success.

On the other hand, there are these Zen monks, and Taoist types, presumably, who claim to be happy through a different kind of non-conformism. So what is the Zen way to maintain your motorcycle? It doesn't have to be about calm – because who the fuck is ever calm anyway? - but if you're doing things properly, I think you should be able to feel the exultation that comes from being free of bullshit, even if people around you are calling you names. Or hospitalising you. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012


My life no longer feels lubricated. With a massive effort, I have managed effective detoxification. It's like childhood is back now, and things that happen in my interactions with people actually mean something.

When I was a kid the stakes seemed quite high. It didn't require much for you to annoy people out of liking you. The rejections seemed so arbitrary I couldn't figure out what set apart those that happened from those that didn't. Wherever there was tension, I would assume there could be a split, and would proceed only as far as my self-confidence and principles would justify it.

Here in grown-up world, at least theoretically the stakes are much higher. If I'm not careful, I might just find myself forced to drink hemlock for corrupting the youth. Self-confidence varies almost daily, ideology is confused and self-contradictory, and rejections seem as random as ever, possibly even more so, as people these days actually have brains that they could technically use to settle what's acceptable and what's pariah-material. Operating without lubrication and feeling like a human being, I find myself having trouble pinpointing exactly when friction becomes explosion.

Very possibly, you can't preclude explosion, and it's a serious risk you must be willing to regularly take, like getting into a car. Still, you should have an idea of where the car is supposed to be, so you don't drive on the wrong side of the road, or through a park, even if you're in a justified hurry.

It's a bad example because unlike cars, being eccentric is not something that is likely to kill anyone, or even harm them. But it can place you sufficiently out of people's comfort zones for them to not hazard treating you like a person. On the other hand it's an appropriate example because it's not limited to my wanting to do things differently; I also think that I'm doing things right and everybody else (well, most of them) are doing it wrong - which is a problem, because it's a little like the equivalent of being the only guy driving on the right side of the road.

Car crashes, explosions, executions - I'm sure there's a saner way of expressing disagreement. I see it all the time. People roll their eyes at each other, shout at each other, fucking denounce each other sometimes, and then go on being friends, which is a phenomenon I kind of remember from childhood, but it's been so long that it's getting a little fuzzy. What sets these clashes apart from those understood as demonstrating ultimate incompatibility? And how much compatibility is absolutely necessary? How much advisable?

I suspect that if I do what people sometimes tell me, and ignore arbitrary conventions and expectations completely, I'll get fired, and alienate and embarrass my friends to the point of insulting them. There's a certain degree of respecting people's arbitrary expectations in wanting to be their friend. It doesn't seem inherently unreasonable, but the question is where should I not have this flexibility, and where exactly are these red lines, in terms of other people. The main question is, I suppose, where is it almost definitely not an issue, and it's just me seeing explosions in regular life-sustaining friction?