Touched with Fire

I’ve been reading Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison and in the early chapters, she talks about historical figures whose behaviour has lead her (and others) to believe they were suffering from bi-polar or mono- depression. She includes many quotes from other writers and creatives – which are very eloquent and descriptive and I found both artistically inspirational and humorous where intended.

I picked out some of the quotes that spoke to me in terms of making work. I have listed these below, with images in the slideshow of experimental pieces I made from those. I have been reading this on my Kindle, so am using Locations instead of page numbers for references.

Hugo Wolf: “I appear at times merry and in good heart, talk, too, God knows how well within my skin; yet the soul maintains its deathly sleep and the heart bleeds from a thousand wounds.” Location 382

“Excessive preoccupation with sin and religion are not uncommon in depression; likewise, thoughts of suicide often accompany feelings of despair and apathy.” Location 401

“Sure enough, the old symptoms began to reappear. His sleep was troubled by dreams, his waking hours by accusing voices… His shaken nerves could muster up no power of resistance. Every day he grew rapidly worse. Melancholy swelled to obsession, obsession to delusion… For the third time in his life Cowper was a raving maniac…” Location 405

“I stay because I am too weak to go. I crawl on because it is easier than to stop. I put my face to the window. There is nothing out there but the blackness and the sound of rain. Neither when I shut my eyes can I see anything. I am alone… There is nothing else in my world but my dead heart and brain within me and the rain without.” Location 425 [Poet: Edward Thomas]

‘My nervous and hypochondriacal [melancholic] feelings almost verged upon insanity. I seemed to myself to be shut up in a cavern with serpents and scorpians and all hideous and monstrous things, which writhed and hissed around me and discharged their slime and venom over my person…” Location 429 [Poet: James Clarence Mangan]

Sylvia Plath “I saw the days of the year stretching ahead like a series of bright, white boxes, and separating one box from another was sleep, like a black shade. Only for me, the long perspective of shades that set off one box from the next had suddenly snapped up, and I could see day after day glaring ahead of me like a white, broad, infinitely desolate adventure.” Location 487

Benjamin Haydon “I have been like a man with air balloons under his armpits and ether in his soul.” Location 511

John Ruskin “I roll on like a ball, with this exception, that contrary to the usual laws of motion I have no friction to contend with in my mind, and of course have some difficulty in stopping myself when there is nothing else to stop me… I am almost sick and giddy with the quantity of things in my head – trains of thought beginning and branching to infinity, crossing each other, and all tempting and wanting to be worked out.” Location 534

“In a recent novel by Jonathan Carroll: There was no screech of tires, screams or thunderous crash when my mind went flying over the cliff into madness, as I gather is true in many cases. Besides, we’ve all seen too many bad movies where characters scratch their faces or make hyena sounds to indicate they’ve gone nuts. Not me. One minute I was famous, successful, self-assured Harry Radcliffe in the trick store, looking for inspiration in a favourite spot. The next, I was quietly but very seriously mad, walking out of that shop with two hundred and fifty yellow pencil sharpeners. I don’t know how other people go insane, but my way was at least novel.” Location 576

“In a letter to his friend and fellow poet Thomas Moore, Byron wrote ‘I should, many a good day, have blown my brains out, but for the recollection that it would have given pleasure to my mother-in-law; and, even then, if I could have been certain to haunt her – but I won’t dwell upon these trifling family matters.'” Location 812

“Poet and critic A. Alvarez in his book The Savage God… he drew on the contrast between the normal and the depressed worlds, portraying an abyss that cannot be spanned: A suicidal depression is a kind of spiritual winter, frozen, sterile, unmoving. The richer, softer and more delectable nature becomes, the deeper that internal winter seems, and the wider and more intolerable the abyss which separates the inner world from the outer. Thus suicide becomes a natural reaction to an unnatural condition.” Location 856

Lord Byron
“Yet must I think less wildly: – I have thought
Too long and darkly, till my brain became,
In its own eddy boiling and o’erwrought,
A whirling gulf of phantasy and flame:
And thus, untaught in youth my heart to tame,
My springs of life were poison’d”
Location 952

Discussions on William Blake begin at Location 1501

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