Article Response: Rephrasing the madness and creativity debate: What is the nature of the creativity construct?

The correlation between creativity and madness is an intriguing one, and was recognized early in human-history by ancient philosophers Socrates and Plato. In Emilie Glazer’s article entitled “Rephrasing the madness and creativity debate”, she first describes the two main forms of psychosis as affective disorder and schizophrenia, stating that individuals with different psychosis will have their creativity affected differently. Early studies that the author cites, often published what were later determined by the scientific community as incorrect hypothesis; regardless, the authors of these studies were able to recognize “an empirical relationship between creativity and a predisposition to mental illness” (756). An interesting specimen to study with regards to mental illness and creativity would be the acclaimed author, plagued over the centuries by depression, substance abuse, suicide and psychosis. Glazer notes that research into select “British and Irish poets between 1705 and 1805” was able to “demonstrate [a] greater prevalence of psychosis among the eminent creators of the past compared to the general population” (756).

The two main forms of psychosis, previously defined as affective disorder (bipolar) and schizophrenia, have been studied and debated by scholars in relation to creativity. Affective disorder has been noted by Jamison to have a higher prevalence of “eminent creators” (qtd. in Glazer 757) than the general population, or the schizophrenic population. The transition between a state of manic emotion and depression supposedly allows the creator, first, bursts of “high energy… flexibility… fluidity of thought” and then the depressed state “allows [for] meticulous refinement… of the wild ideas formed during the manic period” (757). This rhythmic immersion allows the creators a wide understanding of emotion, and therefore a greater empathy with their audience. Examples used of possible creators with affective disorder are William Blake and Lord Byron. A schizophrenic, however, “[experiences] a sense of alienation, hyper self-consciousness… and affinity for non-conformist thought” (757). Storr suggests that the schizophrenic is “free from social boundaries” due to their illness, and therefore “[produces] creativity within the ‘revolutionary’ sphere” (qtd. in Glazer 757). Famous artists stated by the author to be on the “schizotypy spectrum”, are noted by her as Salvador Dalí and Franz Kafka, both of whom are known for their unconventional creativity (757).

Armed with their psychosis, many creators have been able to effectively wield their illness throughout careers and famous bodies of work, only for the gift to end in their demise. Ernest Hemingway, considered one of the greatest American novelists, ended his own life on the sea after a life-time of depression and alcohol abuse. Hunter S. Thompson, considered one of the greatest American journalists, ended his own life in the mountains after a life-time of depression and drug abuse. Sylvia Plath, considered one of the greatest American poets and short-story writers, ended her own life in her home after a life-time of depression. From Robert Louis Stevenson’s the Strange Case Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Coleridge and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, many great works of literature are written by their creators under the influence of narcotics. While suicide and substance abuse can not always be associated with mental illness, the increased rate by which they can be observed among famous authors can lead to a conventionalization of writers.

In a world inundated with ideas, it is increasingly difficult to create that which is novel and appreciated in society—that which is creative. Psychosis often allows those who suffer the ability to formulate drastically different concepts, occasionally fitting within the sphere of appreciation by the general population, but quite often exceeding those bounds and becoming incomprehensible. The distinction between controlled, carefully crafted creativity seen among the general population, and the lack of restraint and entrance into “unrecognizable creativity” (760) that the insane produce, explains why there are not more “eminent creators” (qtd. in Glazer 757) with mental illness, as many are simply written off as insane by those others who can not understand them.