Albrecht Durer, Melncholia 1
Many of you may already have seen it, but if not you could do a lot worse than to head over to The Rumpus and check out Sam Twyford-Moore’s piece about writing and depression, ‘Don’t Get Me Down’. I don’t want to preempt what Sam has to say in the piece, but I will say that I think it’s both a brave piece and an intelligent one, and that I suspect a lot of it will ring true for many readers.
The piece is doubly interesting to me because Sam talks at some length about my own essay about depression and creativity, ‘Never Real and Always True’, which was published in Griffith Review last year. I’m not in a hurry to revisit the territory or the times that piece explores, but I will say how moved I’ve been by the number of people who, like Sam, have written to say the piece has helped them or spoke to them in some way: it’s not often as a writer you get to feel you’ve really touched people but with this piece I know I did, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
It’s also sort of exciting to find myself in dialogue in this way with Sam, who’s someone I don’t know well, but have a lot of time for. I’ve not read a lot of his fiction but I like what I’ve read, and as I said in my piece about literary magazines for the ALR last year, it’s difficult not to be impressed by what he’s done with the literary journal he founded a couple of years back, Cutwater. It probably makes me sound old to say this, but Sam – along with other younger writers like Rebecca Giggs, Sam Cooney and Jessica Au – makes me really excited about the future of writing: they seem not just to be a group of genuinely new voices, but to be negotiating a moment of profound cultural transformation with energy and aplomb.
PET scans of a schizophrenia sufferer's brain (left) and normal brain (right).
New Scientist is reporting a fascinating study suggesting a statistical correlation between a gene linked to schizophrenia and creativity. The study, conducted by Szabolcs Kéri, a researcher at Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary:
“examined a gene involved in brain development called neuregulin 1, which previous studies have linked to a slightly increased risk of schizophrenia. Moreover, a single DNA letter mutation that affects how much of the neuregulin 1 protein is made in the brain has been linked to psychosis, poor memory and sensitivity to criticism . . .
“To determine how these variations affect creativity, Kéri genotyped 200 adults who responded to adverts seeking creative and accomplished volunteers. He also gave the volunteers two tests of creative thinking, and devised an objective score of their creative achievements, such as filing a patent or writing a book.
“People with two copies of the neuregulin 1 mutation – about 12 per cent of the study participants – tended to score notably higher on these measures of creativity, compared with other volunteers with one or no copy of the mutation. Those with one copy were also judged to be more creative, on average, than volunteers without the mutation. All told, the mutation explained between 3 and 8 per cent of the differences in creativity”.
I’m always a little sceptical of such studies, not least because of the reductive assumptions inherent in their methodology. But this research fits neatly with a number of other studies suggesting a link between mood disorders and creativity (some of which I’ve mentioned before).
You can read more at New Scientist. And while you’re there, take a minute or two to read this story about researchers turning brain scans into sound, a process which not only reveals patterns and rhythms not always visible to the eye, but also allows the “unsteady rhythms and cadences” (a lovely expression) of dysfunctions such as schizophrenia to emerge. Stranger still is the fact the music of the (hemi)spheres sounds just like early Philip Glass.
I’ve not seen it yet, but the print edition of Saturday’s Age has an extract from my Griffith Review piece on depression and creativity. If it ever turns up online I’ll link to it, but in the meantime, just a reminder I’ve posted the complete, unedited version on this site, or you can download it as a pdf from the Griffith Review site. And please remember you can subscribe to Griffith Review by visiting their website, or purchase individual copies of Essentially Creative from Gleebooks, Readings or bricks and mortar bookshops everywhere.
Meanwhile, following on from Friday’s post about The Second Pass, I thought I’d link to another site I hadn’t seen until very recently, The Millions. A group blog with a very impressive list of regular and guest contributors, it offers intelligent – and substantial – commentary about books, arts and culture, and has recently offered a series of excellent articles about the future of book coverage.
That short piece about The Second Pass (and more particularly Genevieve, of Reeling and Writhing’s characteristically generous comment on it) reminded me that when I set this site up, one of my aims was to share links to articles and sites I thought were worth reading. That ambition rather fell by the wayside, largely because I found the tone of the site as it developed didn’t really suit a lot of linking and aggregation. I’m currently working on a major redesign which will allow me to aggregate links more effectively (a redesign which may also involve a name change, since I’ve rather taken against the name), but in the meantime, I though I’d offer a link to another site, and in particular a piece, I think everybody with an interest in the future of media should read, which is Clay Shirky’s ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’. It’s a month or so old now, but if you haven’t read it you should – it’s probably the most significant piece of writing the blogosphere has seen in the last twelve months.
And finally, my apologies if the content on the site has been a bit rackety recently. I’ve had a bit of a messy few weeks health and work-wise, so I’ve not really been on top of things (the WordPress system’s decision to eat my long post about the death of J.G. Ballard didn’t help either). But I’ve got good things planned for coming weeks, so stay tuned.
I’ve just realized the full text of my essay about depression and creativity, ‘Never real and always true’ is available for download on the Griffith Review site. Unfortunately it’s only in pdf format, so I’ve taken the liberty of cutting and pasting the text onto this site. And remember you can subscribe to Griffith Review by visiting their website, or purchase individual copies of Essentially Creative online from Gleebooks, Readings or bricks and mortar bookshops everywhere.
‘Never real and always true: on depression and creativity’
I’ve got a piece about depression and creativity in the latest Griffith Review, Essentially Creative. The piece explores the links between mood disorders and creativity, and asks what we’re losing when we define behaviours intimately connected with creativity as disorders. It’s also a very personal piece, and one I found quite confronting to write.
As I say in the article:
I am not sure that if, fifteen or twenty years ago when I began writing, I was asked whether it was connected with my troubled moods, I would have seen the connection. Yet, looking back, it seems obvious. I came to writing almost by mistake, stumbling on it in my final year at university. At first I wrote poetry, partly as a way of sublimating desire, partly because it seemed to offer the most immediate vehicle for the feelings and experiences I sought to explore. Later, when I began to write fiction, my motivations were more complex, but the writing remained grounded in these same feelings and experiences.
But these feelings and experiences, and more particularly their intensity and what seemed to me their singularity, were inextricably bound up with the cyclic episodes of sadness and irrationality that have afflicted me since I was twelve.
Unfortunately the piece isn’t available online, but you can buy Essentially Creative from Readings or Gleebooks, as well as in any decent bricks and mortar bookshop. Or you can subscribe to Griffith Review on their website.
I meant to post this link a couple of weeks ago when it was first published, but this piece by the wonderful John Lanchester about video games is well worth a look. Lanchester is essentially trying to think his way around the question of what the aesthetics of a form which is built around interaction and creativity might look like. They’re not new questions, and anyone with a passing interest in science fiction would be able to invoke a half a dozen examples of imaginary worlds in which video games and their descendants are genuine art forms, but Lanchester is canny enough to grasp that there’s a gap between imagining such a thing and actually creating it, and that the question of how that gap is bridged, and in what context, depends in large part on the ways in which the conflicting desires of the visionaries who are driving the form’s development and the studio heads who are financing their vision are resolved.
John Lanchester: Is it Art?