email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecoming AnnaBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Why are so many creative people
apparently crazy? Is mental illness, for some people, a doorway to creativity,
something that unlocks latent genius that would otherwise lie dormant? Jeffrey
Kottler attempts to answer this question in Divine Madness, Ten Stories of
Creative Struggle. The book presents ten case studies of well-known
artists, using the term in a broad sense. They are all people who have pushed
their creative talents to the limits. In most cases they finally lost the
struggle, and died at their own hand or as a consequence of drug abuse. Their
lives pose questions about creativity, about suffering, and about art. Finding
answers is very much harder.
The individuals Kottler chooses to
study are a mixed group of writers, visual artists, and performing artists.
Their names are familiar: Plath, Woolf, Monroe, Garland, Nijinski, Hemingway
and others, a roll call of the famously mad. Kottler is a psychologist. His aim
in writing this book is to explore the links between madness and creativity.
His interest, he informs us in the preface, is to find ways of helping such
people find ways of rising above their disabilities and expressing themselves
more productively. Kottler identifies two poles of discussion on this sort of
biography: "the search for "truth" or some illusion of objective
reality about what "really" happened". He aims to establish a
balance between these extremes. Thus he adopts an apparently skeptical stance,
although perhaps at the cost of accepting a bit of every explanation available:
consensus by democracy rather than adherence to a standard.
The criterion for choosing the ten
artists was the "diversity of their artistic expression". Thus we
find intuitive performers such as Nijinsky and Lenny Bruce alongside those with
a studied intellectual basis to their art, such as Hemingway and Woolf. Marilyn
Monroe is a genius alongside Mark Rothko; Judy Garland alongside Sylvia Plath.
Aside from whether these are equivalent geniuses, there are some remarkable
similarities in their lives. All suffered as children and emerged wounded into
adulthood. All had a yearning for perfection through self expression, but were
dissatisfied even as they approximated it. All sought solace in chemicals,
either at the behest of doctors, or on their own initiative, often both. And
there is little question that their lives got worse under the influence of
Kottler records his hope that in
our more enlightened time the traumatic developmental experiences of these
individuals would be acknowledged, and that any therapy would not lock them
into their past, but help them find a way to live with their continuing distress,
and to make choices that would enhance rather than inhibit their lives. He
rightly condemns the appalling breaches of ethical standards exhibited by
doctors and therapists in many of these cases. The actions of exploitative and
abusive parents, friends and spouses are also highlighted; it is hard to read
this book without a sense of anger at how vulnerable individuals were, in many
cases, continually exploited by self-interested and abusive individuals. Kottler
also recalls the kindness of lovers, spouses and others who did what they could
but were often rebuffed.
One issue that is not put to rest
in Divine Madness is that of what is to be accepted as 'madness'. Kottler
cites discoverers such as Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein as exemplifying the
notion that madness frees individuals from taken for granted ideas, and allows
insights not available to others. But this seems to stretch the concept of
madness too far if it is to serve any purpose as a synonym for mental illness.
Neither are Kottler's criteria for mental illness especially helpful. Self
defeating behavior, dysfunctional relationships, self-medication and feeling
worthless are not unique to mental illness, although they often accompany it.
But Kottler is not alone with this difficulty. Psychiatric diagnostic systems
are similarly unclear.
There is a
considerable literature that appears to confirm a link between creativity and
mental illness. There are simply too many tortured geniuses to be accounted for
by chance. But as with many well known associations, moving from correlation to
causation, or even establishing a consistent underlying link proves
problematic. One view is that an underlying predisposition may manifest as
either creativity or madness. At its most extreme this perspective holds that creativity
offers of form of 'compensatory advantage' for individuals genetically
predisposed to psychosis. But genetic predisposition to psychosis is itself
contentious, weakening any claim of a simple genetics of creativity. A less
extreme position is that both madness and creativity result from personality
traits that can lead to either creativity or psychosis. The problem with this
latter view is the Kottler's examples are those of artists who are both mad and
Divine Madness sits
somewhere between an academic work and popular psychology, leaning towards the
latter. There is a list of references for each chapter, but not every empirical
claim can be traced to a source of evidence. The writing, too, varies between
an objective authorial voice, and occasional lapses into the imagined voice of
the subject. And for all the equivocal statements about whether the individuals
were mad or just eccentric, talented, and struggling with inner conflicts,
there is a lack of critical analysis of "mental illness". Diagnoses
are generally accepted as accurate. There is little distinction made between
depression consequent on drug abuse and an underlying depressive state that
might be called an illness.
Divine Madness is a
compelling read. Each case study is richly detailed and highly descriptive. The
writing flows well, and the book avoids settling into a predictable format.
Some chapters begin in childhood, others in later life, some with key
incidents. In all cases early development is explored, almost invariably to
discover trauma, abuse and neglect. Sylvia Plath is perhaps the sole
exception. Kottler retraces each life with commendable economy given the
complexity of the individuals, the volumes written about them and the
limitations imposed by compressing a life into a single chapter. Whether you
agree with all of his interpretations or not, each case study is thoroughly
informative. In the final chapter Kottler attempts to provide a general
explanation of madness and creativity. In this chapter he retreats from a
commitment to the idea that the subjects of these case studies are mad.
Instead, he points to similarities in the language used to describe creativity
and madness. Asking how anyone could survive the sort of abuse suffered by
Monroe, Garland and Brian Wilson, he answers "lots of people"
(original emphasis). He points out that although the family trees of many mad
creative people show familial evidence of madness, they also show abundant
evidence that genetics do not provide a total explanation. He also points to
the insights gained in states of mania and depression that have informed the
art of many of his subjects. Kottler would concede, based on his
acknowledgement that not everyone would agree with his interpretations, that
his sample of ten is arbitrarily selected. These are all famous people after
all; there are others less famous who might tell a different story.
The book is an enjoyable read. If
it does not answer the questions it raises it at least brings together a group
of people who have a lot in common, although are also importantly different.
Their lives give us pause to reflect on some important issues in the
construction of madness. Divine Madness is definitely worth a read.
2006 Tony O'Brien
Tony O'Brien RN, M.Phil, Senior
Lecturer, Mental Health Nursing, University of Auckland, email@example.com