In Which, Mortal or Immortal, Our Heroine Doesn't Buy It

2 February 2005

I do not believe in the depressive fallacy.

I don't know if it has another name. That's what I've been calling it. It's the idea that in order to create great art, one must "truly" suffer. I take exception to it on a number of grounds, not least the hierarchy of suffering implied. Every other human being over the age of maybe 10 has suffered. Some of those incidents are clearly worse than others, but many are in a jumbled, hard-to-differentiate mass. Even people who have gone through, say, both childbirth and gallstones, can only tell you which of theirs was more painful, not which is more painful always, in general, for other people. It's not our job to judge the worthiness of our fellow humans' suffering. That's not what we're around for. Nor are we around to make their (or our own) lives more miserable in the name of getting better art. It doesn't work that way. When people experiencing the worst humanity has to offer manage to create art, it's an amazing feat, not a force of nature.

It's always supposed to be properly artistic madness, isn't it? Properly artistic pain, properly artistic depression. I'm reading Elizabeth Hand's Mortal Love, and in some ways I really like it, but I'm afraid its treatment of mental illness is pretty problematic for me so far. I find myself stuck: I don't think it's a good thing for a book to deliberately downplay the possible side effects of psychiatric treatment, especially treatments in the past. I don't want to take a pure "better living through chemistry" approach to human suffering. I think that's a mistake. On the other hand, I really think that emphasizing past mistakes in psychiatry to the point of correlating them with the "treatment kills art" meme does a disservice to many, many people with brain chemistry that's making them miserable. Often it doesn't kill art. Often it makes the artist better able to function and create. Not always, no, but often. And waiting until things are as bad as they can possibly get before seeking help is not a good thing for anyone, not for the artist or the art lover.

In case any of this is worrying any of you, no, I'm not depressed myself. I'm worried about more than one person in that regard, though; they've made locked journal posts or comments in private e-mail or in phone conversations, so I don't really want to say who. But it's been weighing on my mind lately on other people's behalf, and the Hand book is really not helping.

In other ways, this book is very well-done. I have to confess to a certain eye-rolling when Our Hero drinks absinthe; it's just so done. But still, worth reading, worth finishing. It's just that it's also worth poking with a long mental stick.

Also, I find that I compare all painter-heavy books to The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, and not generally favorably. I have a harder time articulating what I like about that one than about his other stuff, but it keeps popping up in my head, so.

I'm feeling extremely scattered this morning. I think I have too much stuff on my desk. The problem is, most of it is there to remind me to do something with it. Putting it elsewhere does not solve the fundamental problem of stuff that needs stuff done with it. I am mostly cluttered of desk when I am cluttered of brain.

One of the things I could really use is a nifty little notecard-container. I have bunches of revision notecards for Sampo currently wedged between my monitor and one of my speakers, and if I get any more (which I will: this book will need much revision), this will no longer be feasible. (It might help if I didn't have Yoon's critiqued pages of Fortress of Thorns and Dwarf's Blood Mead stuffed between the same speaker and the tower, but I need to do something with those, too: these are the pages for which I looked at the comments and said, yes, oh, better do something about that.) The list goes on. And I'm not sure clearing off the desk should be the highest priority for this morning, and yet I'm not sure if it'll help me to do other things more efficiently. So we'll see; probably I'll clean off some of the easier stuff and then hit the manuscript again, if I can. Seems like the obvious course of action. The less-easy stuff to clear off the desk will still be waiting there tomorrow if I don't do it today. It's amazing how some people manage to make that sort of thing sound relaxed....

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