Writing and the Dark Place

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and I thought that her positive disposition towards writing admirable. While it is obviously fluffy, and Gilbert’s magnum opus is the fluff piece Eat, Pray, Love, I just wanted to read something on writing and mental health state of writers (e.g. Edgar Allan Poe=seminal Gothic author=also alcoholic, incredibly erratic life, Ernest Hemingway=PTSD sufferer, alcoholic, etc.= recognized for writing style… etc., Virginia Woolf = well known modernist authors = depression and suicide). Do you think the tragic plot of the author’s life made them more famous? Did the torture of the soul make for beautiful writing? This can be too big, so feel free to trim this down. It can also extend to other artistic medium (think Van Gogh= cut off his ear… )

  • Hi Jill, what a great choice of topic. You've provided wonderful starting points, though it's a little broad at the moment, so I'd advise anyone hoping to pick this up to perhaps narrow it down a bit (pick one perhaps, Alcoholism, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, etc). The question of whether an artist requires a struggle with something innate for the production of good art has been around for quite a while, so it'd also be interesting to see examples of those who've conquered their demons, or whose demons play little part in their pursuit of creating art. – Matchbox 5 years ago
  • I've thought about this topic a lot, and what I find so interesting about it is how people who are so broken manage to create beautiful works of art, even if they are very dark works. I think because these authors were dealing with things such as mental illness, drugs and alcohol, etc., it allowed them to gain a new perspective on the world (and maybe on themselves as writers), one that "normal" people cannot not see. I don't necessarily think that these authors' tragic lives is what made them famous, but I think it is the work that came out of such a tragic life that is remarkable. Even if they didn't think these works were any good, these authors created something curious, beautiful, and appealing. I'm not sure how helpful this note is, but I hope I sparked some thinking! This is a really cool topic! – oqville5 5 years ago
  • I was very drawn to this topic during high school and then I read Samuel Beckett--I can't even remember what it was--but it really turned me off to the idea that one has to suffer to produce great art. That doesn't seem to be what you mean, but so many people think it's "necessary", not just something an artist overcomes or deals with. One of my favorite lines in Kerouac's The Dharma Bums was when he visits his depressing home and his father gives a sermon about how suffering makes you grow. Kerouac replied, "If that was true, I'd be the size of a house." I couldn't stop laughing! Later, I really turned away from miserable artists like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Celine and Van Gogh, to embrace people who really did suffer, yet managed not to focus on it. Mozart comes to mind. He even appears in Hesse's novel Steppenwolf, to tell protagonist Harry Haller, "Learn to laugh at yourself." I was in a dark place when I read that and suddenly, everything became brighter and less important! I'd like to focus on those artists who did suffer yet had a sort of cosmic sense of humor about it. – SharonGenet 4 years ago
  • It would be useful to look at how unhealthy it can be for the public to buy into the idea that the dark parts of one's soul make for beautiful literature, because you can also have beautiful literature the other way round, and still have it be a portrayal of the human life for example. I think that the authors you have used as examples, have that talent for writing regardless of their mental state. – Zohal99 4 years ago

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