No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness
Aristotle (384BC-322 BC).
Depression, madness, insanity, paranoia and schizophrenia are the themes which have been intertwined with creativity throughout the history of poetry. The incidence of mood disorders, suicide and institutionalisation was 20 times higher among major British and Irish poets between 1600 and 1800 according to a study by psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison. The evidence of a link between creativity and mental illness has mostly been anecdotal in the past, although there have been some studies showing correlation.
Socrates declared, "If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman." Aristotle asked, "Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry or the arts are melancholic?"
The notion that creativity and insanity are interconnected has been reflected in the writings of many writers, artists and philosophers over the centuries. Robert Burton in the seventeenth century noted, "All poets are mad." Some artists observed that insanity ran in families. Poets generally think out of the box, are unconventional and try to transform the world around them. The creative person wants to change reality to beautify it or enlarge the field of human knowledge or experience in order to provide usefulness, understanding and predictability or to evoke a universal response. The turbulent lives of great poets Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell also seem to testify to a link between creativity and psychic instability. But can a connection between mental disorder and enhanced creativity be identified? Is there really a connection?
It is widely accepted that insight gained through intense, extreme, even painful experiences can add depth and meaning to creative work. Poet Anne Sexton explained how she used pain in her work: "I, myself, alternate between hiding behind my own hands, protecting myself anyway possible, and this other, this seeing ouching other. I guess I mean that creative people must not avoid the pain that they get dealt.... Hurt must be examined like a plague.”As Sylvia Plath later said, "When you are insane, you are busy being insane - all the time...”
Part of poetry is making words do more work than they usually should do and so looking for every angle of what a word might mean, the brain starts working like as well - over-analysing everything and zooming in to minute details. In a way we may say that all great poets may be depressed people but not all depressed people can be great poets. So being insane is not that harmful as it seems, there is creativity in insanity.
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