poetry and crazy


Insanity and poetry are old kin. The number of canonical poets who suffered from mental illness is immense: Blake, Holderlin, Pound, Plath, Lowell, Berryman, Hill, to name just a few. The distinction between insanity and genius is typically judged by the extent of an artist's transgressions as well as their social class. The blue-blood can afford his or her illness. A struggling mother or teacher is suffocated by it. And although poets may be granted some leniency, they're hardly alone. Many vocations provide a similar amount of societal absolution, from obsessive-compulsive computer programmers to sociopathic business executives and egomaniacal radio hosts. This special relationship between mental illness and vocation also reveals a significant dilemma about the nature of insanity. Say, for example, that the expression of some mental illnesses fulfills the needs of a profession especially well, and a large number of people with that illness hold it. This could be the coincidence of industry, society, and psychology: a particular job happens to suit those with a given illness, allowing them a productive place in the world. This assumes an atomized world of isolated forces and a certain amount of good luck. On the other hand, it could be that insanity exists as an expression of socioeconomic forces: that the behaviors and cognitive patterns which are judged to be disordered are, in fact, manifestations of economic and social power structures already in place.

more from Daniel Evans Pritchard at The Critical Flame here.