Against Happiness: is depression actually good for us?

The English professor at Wake Forest University wants to be clear that he is not “romanticizing” clinical depression and that he believes it is a serious condition that should be treated.

But he worries that today’s cornucopia of antidepressants – used to treat even what he calls “mild to moderate sadness” – might make “sweet sorrow” a thing of the past.

“And if that happens, I wonder, what will the future hold? Will our culture become less vital? Will it become less creative?” he asks.

[…]

We can picture this in the primitive world. While the healthy bodies of the tribe were out mindlessly hacking beasts or other humans, the melancholy soul remained behind brooding in a cave or under a tree. There he imagined new structures, oval and amber, or fresh verbal rhythms, sacred summonings, or songs superior to even those of the birds. Envisioning these things, and more, this melancholy malingerer became just as useful for his culture as did the hunters and the gatherers for theirs. He pushed his world ahead. He moved it forward. He dwelled always in the insecure realm of the avant-garde.

This primitive visionary was the first of many such avant-garde melancholics. Of course not all innovators are melancholy, and not all melancholy souls are innovative. However, the scientifically proved relationship between genius and depression, between gloom and greatness suggests that the majority of our cultural innovators, ranging from the ancient dreamer in the bush to the more recent Dadaist in the city, have grounded their originality in the melancholy mood. We can of course by now understand why.

Full Story: NPR.

Counter arguments: Hedonistic Imperative.

5 Comments

  1. Ei. believe it is that longing that binds us…
    and it is that longing that devides us…
    Or perhaps it is the longing for physical separation from the shell hosts we inhabit. Either way division from the design breeds concept. and thee psi kill continues…

    SeeITwell

  2. I sort of agree that there’s an over-readiness to medicate (and use medications which effectively cripple the creative imagination and bind people into their “functional” self-images of themselves) but I don’t subscribe to the thoughtful-loner myth. It’s a sort of emo history of the world, where the sensitive ones are doing all the “real work”. There’s bound to be an element of truth but I’d tend toward the Terence McKenna notion that the shamanic role tends to be filled by those who are alienated from the culture as opposed to those who are emotionally dysfunctional. My own experience of depression has almost never led to anything constructive.

  3. “My own experience of depression has almost never led to anything constructive.”

    Well, Wilson does comment on this: “Of course not all innovators are melancholy, and not all melancholy souls are innovative. However, the scientifically proved relationship between genius and depression…”

    I don’t know what the scientific evidence for a link between depression and genius is, or if it holds up but I guess that’s probably covered in the book…

  4. as in alchemical formulation strip the emotions down to the first matter or in ae manner ov speaking the ‘psychological program’ is then in the hands ov the imprinted and it can becoum ne thing. our aim to turn this to gold/purity/etc.
    although this is just an outlook.

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