A Treatise on Madness and Artistry
This article was originally published on The Pittsburgher’s predecessor, The Dog Door Cultural.
I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want anything to do with the subjects and systems of belief that have been thought out and organised before me. This might read as an expression of superiority on my part. However, I do not see the problem with being skeptical of living by the rules of others. Nietzsche once said that ‘To get up in the morning, in the fullness of youth, and open a book, now that’s what I call vicious!’ That being said, I have decided to give up my life to create. My statements are paradoxical in nature and often obscure. If I don’t want to submit to preconceived notions, why is it that I am okay giving up my life to ‘create’? Is that in itself not a preconceived notion?
It may be, but it is much more forgiving than some other modes of existence. ‘To create’, is to live under the pretense that I am not submitting to the systems of existence set out before me. It is a form of delusion that I am willing to give in to. To rid myself of the strings of the puppet master is futile. Who is this master I speak of? Some give him the face of God and some give him the face of the machine.
People say that mental illness is associated with creativity and artistry, a convenient association. The whole pretext of mental illness is that it is unfamiliar, uncommon and does not fit the patterns we organise people into. Naturally, we mark them as errors. If in a contemporary context, the criteria for ‘good art’ is ‘art’ that is original or unprecedented, is it a coincidence then that people who are mentally ill are ‘good’ artists? Interestingly, artists who created ‘good art’ under these terms were once called The Wild Beasts.
What is this mental illness you speak of? The vagueness of its concept makes it vulnerable to too many interpretations. Maybe it was never meant to be interpreted. Maybe we were never broken. I believe that to understand mental illness is to understand the origins of our existence. Not surprisingly, we already have too many anecdotes that try to explain the origins of existence, too often they are presented as universal truths. See; religion.
I once read that mental illness is a disconnection between the mind and the body. What is this mind you speak of?
While my previous statement — to understand mental illness is to understand the origins of our existence — is submitting to a preconceived conceptualisation of mental illness, it is a sacrifice I am willing to make; of course, because it conveniently fits my agenda. I am a victim of people’s agendas and the nicknames they enjoy giving me like ‘consumer’, ‘patient’, ‘service user’, ‘survivor’. It is only fair that I have an agenda of my own.
Reading the prescribed texts for class — which usually brings me great delight — I was frustrated by different academic tribes trying to conceptualise mental illness by their own terms. Sociology, Biology, Psychology and Philosophy all have a turn in cracking the code. Mental illness is a free for all, a free playing field for the power hungry. We are more barbaric than ever.
I — a victim of these ideologies — have to live by the terms of other people; people with an outside perspective, who know nothing about what it is like to be me, dictate the way I live my life. That is why I create.
A guest speaker in my mental health class — a Jung enthusiast, a former science enthusiast and an expert on psychosis — once said that ‘Spirituality better be a thing or else we are in big trouble’. What is this spirituality you speak of? I believe spirituality is anything that is beyond both our comprehension and our familiarity unfairly lumped in one box. I do in fact believe that some people on the ‘pointier end’ of the mental illness continuum have access to a part of ourselves that we do not.
My professor once remarked that I am a walking juxtaposition, I often contradict myself without being aware of it. I complain that I exist based on other people's terms, yet I consistently refer to other people's perceptions of me as accurate representations of myself. I also believe that I exist via relationships. Without other people, I simply do not exist. I like comparing this to looking in the mirror, the mirror holds a reflection of myself. The mirror is the holder, not I. The same way I depend on other people to explain who I am, they also hold a reflection of me that I will never have access to.
I am many stories, I am many people, I am as lonely as I am popular.
I fell in love with a person who I thought understood the world better than I did and I found solace in my inferiority. I found them to be otherworldly, profound and scarily unusual. Lifeless and empty, I felt most lively when I interacted with them. We shared the same discomforts.
When I found out they were just as clueless as I was and, in fact, could learn from me as much as I could learn from them, I was terrified. Again I fell into the trap of existing according to other people's terms. That is why I create. It is terrifying to know more than other people. It is terrifying to experience something unprecedented, spiritual or independent of our existing beliefs. Some call this variable madness. Madness is transcendence. Madness is knowing what others don’t. Madness is the height of human experience. That is why I create. ▲
Zara K. is a masters student in social work and is the director of content of La Trobe University’s student magazine. Her writing is concerned with madness, literature and fine arts.