How we, the consumers of their art feel, is quite different. Our maladjustment still requires the salve of success to qualify it from “just being dramatic”. I’m not sure if it can simply be chalked up to a sense of kinship as that requires an equal kinship of genius, of poetry and overwhelming, bubbling art-enough to excuse your you-ness. Most of us don’t have that. And without it, we are just borderline nihilists perpetually playing around with the ideals of romance.
I have always been haunted by the overwhelming realization that I can’t write because I am all too aware of what great writing is. The pathological phobia of entering a pool so deep, so ephemerally immersed in immortal words and ideas always keeps one at the periphery looking in. The ability to recognize great art, is perhaps the most crippling barrier to being an artist oneself. Words flow from me sometimes… occasionally they are even good ones. I am not utterly oblivious to that fact, but they are never great and sadly, I know the difference painfully well. In my quotient of damage vs. artistic damages, I end up weighing far too heavily in the former column and far too lightly in the latter. I have often thought that these words might be the death of me, that not expressing them would kill me. But then I think, what if I did express them and they couldn’t stand up to the ones I need them to. It’s the worst form of purgatory, to be killed by words that aren’t even your own. It is impossible to determine what makes art great but suicide certainly makes one search for greatness in art. It’s almost as if we need to find some beauty to mitigate the tragedy or justify it or worse… encourage it.
What then, is the fate of the rest of us morbid, escapist, lonely, fuck-ups, who lack the genius to justify ourselves? Do we produce art, regardless of consequences… or do we tailor it for consequences?
And yet, this pathos is not synonymous with fantasy in any way. Most writers who delve into the dark tend not to steep themselves too deep in metaphor. They don’t summon dragons and ride unicorns as often as choosing to wage a much more dangerous battle. They wear their heart and their words on their sleeve, both literal and literary. These are artists who do not try to make sense out of nonsense or light out of their darkness, they wrap their darkness like a shroud. They live it and breathe it. French sociologist E’mile Durkheim, in his 1897 book ‘Suicide’ termed the condition “anomie”. He described it as a state of “derangement and insatiable will. Of seeking solace in soul-destruction”. For Durkheim, Anomie generally arose due to a mismatch between personal and societal standards of ethics, morality, passion and aspiration. The irony was almost always that the despairing artist was in that state because their standards were invariably, unalterably higher. Camus’s ‘Stranger Meursault’ exemplifies this beautifully “There is not love of life without despair about life.”
“So he was deserted. The whole world was clamouring: Kill yourself, kill yourself, for our sakes. But why should he kill himself for their sakes? Food was pleasant; the sun hot; and this killing oneself, how does one set about it, with a table knife, uglily, with floods of blood, – by sucking a gas pipe? He was too weak; he could scarcely raise his hand. Besides, now that he was quite alone, condemned, deserted, as those who are about to die are alone, there was a luxury in it, an isolation full of sublimity; a freedom which the attached can never know.” [xiii]
I suppose some of suicide in art is about ownership and acceptance as much as one might hate to acknowledge it. There is some sad, solitary sort of honesty in the act of admitting defeat in the face of life. There are times after all, where one thinks, there has to be something fundamentally wrong with us to be able to live with ourselves and what we do to each other. I definitely know that I personally continue to struggle with these themes and I do so without the burden of both talent and genius. It is not hard to recognize that many an artist is defined by maladjustment; everything that follows merely romanticizes the enterprise. Sure, you can say that they “didn’t try hard enough to battle their demons” but then it’s an impossible task isn’t it: to make art out of carnage, beauty out of blasphemy, to define your world against theirs, give birth to your own people to avoid people and still shine brighter for it.
Maria Amir is Features Editor for the magazine.
Endnotes[i] ‘Infinite Jest’, David Foster Wallace, 2006, Back Bay Books; 10 Anv edition [ii] ‘A Room of One’s Own’, Virginia Woolf, 2012 (reprint of 1929 edition), Martino Fine Books [iii] ‘The Bell Jar’, Sylvia Plath, Harper Perennial Modern Classics (October 17, 2006) [iv] David Foster Wallace Interview Series with David Lipsky. [v] Wallace, pp. 606 [vi] Plath, pp.77 [vii] ‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’, David Foster Wallace, 2000, Back Bay Books [viii] ‘Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace’, David Lipsky, Broadway [ix] Plath, pp.81 [x] ‘The Diary of Virginia Woolf’, 17 February 1922 [xi] Not Dark Yet, Bob Dylan (Time Out of Mind Album, 1997) [xii] ‘Notes from the Underground’, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1992 (new edition) Dover Publications; [xiii] ‘Mrs Dalloway’, Virginia Woolf, 2012 (1947 reprint) Martino Fine Books