Sunday, May 15, 2011

Writing to defeat the darkness (Books - The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon)

I really have no business being here, as I'm in the middle of writing a final paper on depression, hence the parade of cheerful books, however, I did find The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression written by Andrew Solomon in 2001 remarkably well-written. Like Styron's Darkness Visible it is a writer's memoir of the experience of depression, but where Styron's is a fleeting paean to the indescribable blackness, his white flag to the black dog, Solomon unleashes a flood of fellow sufferer's personal narratives, merciless descriptions of his defenseless self, a history of melancholia from the Greeks to Freud to the latest genetics research, as though the very acts of knowing and writing will vanquish his demon. They make for a bone-shaking, yet gripping account of suffering that, though it is 300 pages long, one can fly through.
Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one's self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself. Medications and psychotherapy can renew that protection, making it easier to love and be loved, and that is why they work... In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance.
It would be worth going on at length if I convince you to read Solomon's book, but I have to get back to convincing a professor that I've done some substantive reading on psychopathology. I'll close with a brief plug for Solomon's earlier book: The Irony Tower, which is also well worth a read. It follows a group of contemporary Moscow artists as they try to figure out what their art means and why they make it, as their country transitions from Soviet empire to whatever Russia is now - plutocracy? Capitalist anarchy? I found it fascinating.

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