Can Literature as a discipline help alleviate the pain and suffering caused by depression? The hope that this may occur arises from its allegiance to both the written and spoken word. To engage literature in this role as a healing agent is to broaden its range of ‘accepted’ forms and to (re)strengthen its links to other modes of discourse. This paper sets out to determine the efficacy of the literary perspective in giving voice to the pain and suffering caused by depression by delineating ‘twin projects of bringing together discourses and disciplines invoked by literature – the aim first is to understand the pain of depression and secondly to gauge literature’s ability to express the supposedly inexpressible nature of pain. The first project whilst exploring the possibilities of literature’s forms in the treatment of pain and suffering draws upon disciplines peripheral to literature, such as philosophy, psychology and history illustrating how a literary perspective on pain and suffering naturally invokes and involves these discourses. The second project focuses on the traditional literature forms of the novel and the short story. Could this dynamic reading of texts concerning pain and depression be the struggle to create a discursive form of Morris’ ‘moral community’ of suffering, one that recognizes the inherent unity between various disciplines on the object of depression ultimately transforming the inexpressible nature of pain and depression into a shared and accepted discourse? In order to answer this question, this discussion will first attempt to trace the development and constituency of this shared discourse as well as focus on the nature of pain and its representations in literature.
The role of psychoanalysis acquires a privileged place in literary discussions of pain and suffering. The immediate ‘painkilling placebo effect’ of words and their healing powers (Morris, 1996: 4) which is the foundation of psychotherapy, forms a link to literature whereby the isolated nature of the pain and suffering brought on by depression is given voice and expression. The importance of this voice lies in its empowerment of those suffering in silence, with the possibility of providing a link to a wider community of sufferers through literature:
Many who today suffer silently and in confusion might be helped if we learned how to tap the resources of literature in restoring significance to an individual human voice. (Morris, 1996: 4)
However, any discussion on the role of literature in discussing pain, suffering and depression must consider the tenuous position of literary theory. Its role of propagating ideas within the discipline of literature must be able to accommodate the many voices of pain and suffering, each voice often characterized by ‘quite extraordinary personal and cultural divergences in experiences and expressions of depression that seem irreconcilable with each other’ (McCulloch & Clemens, 2003: 9). This task is made complicated by the preponderance of what Morris calls ‘interpretative communities’. These communities or pre-existing theoretical frameworks inevitably accompany and burden literary discussions. For although the ‘great works of literature can serve to elucidate the themes of pain and suffering’, it is the interpretative communities that ‘can limit’ the framework in which these topics are viewed [by] often simply [replicating] contested theoretical assumptions’ (Morris, 1996: 1). In for example the novel When Nietzsche Wept, Irvin Yalom’s depiction of the birth of psychoanalysis through the narrative voice of Dr. Breuer is also aware of the possible futility of staging theoretical forays into unknown territories:
‘…it would be unwise to ignore the observations and conclusions of these excellent men -yet there is great disadvantage in my beginning with them. Too much authority, too many prestigious opinions and conclusions oppress one’s own imaginative synthetic powers (Yalom, 1993: 51).
Yalom’s metaphor for the birth of psychoanalysis as a discipline mirrors Morris’ description of literature’s ‘synthesising’ of disparate discourses on pain.
Sidestepping specialized or essentialist definitions, I prefer to invoke an exploratory spirit and a provisionary vocabulary as a means of respecting both the diversity of materials on suffering and the urgent need for dialogue among disparate disciplines, which always tend to see things a bit differently. (Morris, 1996: 1)
The disparity between the disciplines however, is not easily overcome. Nietzsche’s chronological inversion of the process of pain perception whereby pain is situated after the deliberation of consciousness, coupled with the tyranny of conditioned forms of language in understanding our inner experiences of pain, suggests that a truly new understanding and vocabulary of pain is implausible. Nietzsche would see it as a ‘lack of philology: to be able to read off a text as a text without interposing an interpretation is, perhaps, one that is hardly possible’ (1968: 266). Nietzsche’s philosophy however, does provide a solution. The erroneous effect of memory’s ‘causal connections’ [culminating in an arbitrary morality designed towards the preservation of existing power structures, is replaced by an experimental morality driven towards a goal whose agency is determined by the individual (1968: 150). In relation to the construction of a new discourse on suffering, Nietzsche’s experiential morality can be likened to Morris’ attempt to create a ‘moral community’ unhindered by the possible vagaries of political or institutional agendas and one in which literature possesses ‘the power to reinvent suffering by extending or contracting the borders of [that community]’ a process that includes ‘orchestrating the language that validates or invalidates certain experiences as suffering’ (Morris, 1996: 1). As in the expression of pain, recognition of the individual voice and its agency is paramount in any reformulation of morality. Collectively, an inclusive moral community through literature aims at reorienting the treatment and definition of suffering in medical and legal discourse to (re)affirm the agency of the individual voice. Literature’s task of creating a moral community aspires to overcome the exclusivity of past definitions of suffering and by taking its cue from Nietzsche’s maxim of the eternal recurrence, strive to nullify the oppressiveness of ‘duration in vain’, without end or aim, [which] is the most paralysing idea’ (Nietzsche, 1968:35).
If literature’s task is to create a discourse capable of encompassing the many perspectives and expressions of pain as well as the varying discourses that engage in its definition and treatment, it may be contained in the form of the pathography. A pathography is an intensely personal account of pain and suffering, serving as a testament to the overcoming of the silence inherent to depression. Yalom’s novel is a biographical/fictional variant of this form, one whose expression of pain relies on divergent disciplines as a way of creating a shared discourse on suffering. The bringing together of disparate discourses: psychoanalysis, philosophy and biography in Yalom’s novel serves as an example of how an expression of pain need not be subjugated to the strictures of a single discursive community. Yalom’s text participates in the formation of a literary form dedicated to the discussion of pain and depression unfettered from , but not completely unencumbered by, discursive singularity. The success of this project of creating an inclusive discourse depends on its ability to transform the discussion of pain and depression into a dynamic unity that brings together existing discourses, no matter how disparate they may seem. Underlying this project is an attempt to rectify the inconclusive understanding of depression and its treatment today, which has led to ‘genuine problems in diagnosis, treatment and prognosis’ (McCulloch & Clemens, 2003: 9). A psychoanalytic reading of Yalom’s text is invaluable to the overall understanding of Nietzsche’s depression due to its diagnostic function in the treatment of depression whilst the importance placed upon Nietzsche’s characterisation takes into consideration his philosophy.
Yalom’s text presents the reader with a discourse that brings together the disciplines of literature, psychology and philosophy. The fictional account of Dr. Breuer’s treatment of Nietzsche’s malaise (as well as his own) invites varying readings on the nature of pain based on psychoanalytic theory and its paradigms and philosophical inquiry. Yalom’s biographical account of Dr. Breuer focuses on a period in his professional and intellectual development that signifies an important turning point in the treatment of depression. Sigmund Freud’s essays ‘Repression’ and ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ published in 1915 and 1917 respectively, some thirty years after the events in Yalom’s novel, provide a theoretical framework that underpins Breuer’s treatment of Nietzsche. It is within these margins that depression/melancholia as distinct from mourning is first recognized as a pathological disposition requiring medical treatment, albeit implied:
In some people the same influences [loss of loved object] produce melancholia instead of mourning and we consequently suspect them of a pathological disposition- it never occurs to us to regard it as a pathological condition and to refer it to medical treatment. (Freud, 1991: 252)
Concerning the problem of discursive singularity, what are the dangers of ascribing a purely psychoanalytic reading of Nietzsche’s suffering? Do we merely circumscribe Nietzsche’s suffering to a list of phenomena recognizable only to psychoanalysis thereby predetermining the nature of his pain as well as his historical person and relationships? The counterweight to such a situation comes in the form of Nietzsche’s philosophical observations on pain woven into the text as an alternative view to that of psychoanalysis, one that celebrates the transformative and creative qualities of pain in the individual and their art. Nietzsche’s ‘neuronal hyper-alertness’ diagnosed as the source of his migraines from stress ‘is not undesirable: it is necessary to my work’ (Yalom, 1993: 99), a notion that stresses the importance of the role of suffering in creativity dating back to ancient tragedy and Aristotelian theory on tragedy. This coupling of discourses alters our interpretation and understanding of pain, bringing with it a new textual form and language of pain, which hopefully has the capacity of empowering the individual reader.
The interweaving of discourses in When Nietzsche Wept is metaphorically embodied in the characterizations of Breuer and Nietzsche. Following this analogy, a third agent can be introduced, that of the reader/interpreter:
… to act as a go-between, to generate implications between literature and psychoanalysis – to explore, bring to light and articulate the various (indirect) ways in which the two domains do indeed implicate each other, each one finding itself enlightened, informed but also affected, displaced, by the other (Felman, 1977: 9).
The reader acts as the catalyst for the transformative and unifying process typifying the creation of a new discourse. However, in light of the biographical nature of the text, Yalom’s discursive collage becomes problematic for the reader. The use of biography whilst descriptive of the intellectual milieu, in which psychology was first developed, highlights the limitations of both Nietzsche’s philosophy and psychoanalysis as distinct entities when constructing a contemporary language of pain.
The limitation of Breuer’s treatment of Nietzsche’s pain stems from the mechanistic perspective underpinning its approach to the body as the site of pain. For Breuer, Nietzsche’s pain derives from two sources, the corpus in the form of debilitating migraines and his despair. It is through Lou Salome’s concern for the pain caused by the latter that the plot is established. Breuer’s initial response to her request encapsulates the response to depression by the European medical establishment in the late-Nineteenth century before the onset of psychoanalysis:
Despair is not a medical symptom… it is vague, imprecise. Each of Anna O.’s symptoms involved some discrete part of her body; each was caused by the discharge of intracerebral excitation through some neural causeway. Insofar as you’ve described it, your friend’s despair is entirely ideational. No treatment approach exists for such a condition. (Yalom, 1993: 10)
Depression/despair is seen as an ‘ideational’ or fictional condition, outside the causal-mechanistic paradigm of illness and thus beyond the reach of medical science. Nietzsche’s attitude towards the mechanistic perspective highlights its deficiency in the treatment of depression:
Mechanistic interpretation: desires nothing but quantities; but force is to be found in quality. Mechanistic theory can therefore only describe processes, not explain them (Nietzsche, 1968: 349).
Yalom’s highlighting of the deficiencies of the mechanistic paradigm in its historical context is integral to his presentation of the birth of psychoanalysis thereby empowering literature’s role in the understanding and representation of sadness. Breuer’s response to the problem of diagnosis and treatment is to employ the ‘talking cure’, now synonymous with psychotherapy. It is through the flow of words and attempts at self-scrutiny by both characters that Nietzsche’s philosophy comes to bear on the discussion of pain. Yet, it is precisely his philosophy, especially his ideas on the will to power that exerts a subversive yet creative force ultimately transforming Breuer’s initial mechanistic approach into a reflexive dialogue that opens up a curative pathway for Nietzsche’s sadness.
Yalom’s fictional characterisation of Nietzsche however, does depict a nihilistic distrust of Breuer as physician. Whether this distrust is driven by his politics or by neurosis is a question that suggests a tenuous overlapping of the philosophical and psychoanalytical discourses active in the text. Nietzsche’s views on the appropriation of power in society based on arbitrary ideas of morality, considers even physicians, who by their very inclusion in that society, as having an illegitimate claim to their position. On the question of Breuer’s motivation, Nietzsche uncovers what he considers part of the grand conceit:
Such claims [to alleviate my pain] have nothing to do with human motivation. They are part of the slave mentality artfully engineered by priestly propaganda (Yalom, 1993: 10).
Part of this conceit is deliberately engineered by Breuer himself in the aim of coercing Nietzsche’s participation in the discussion of his despair. It is questionable as to whether his methods are warranted given Nietzsche’s insistence on ‘reciprocal honesty’ (1993: 66). The resulting inversion of the roles of physician and patient along with Nietzsche’s distrust of Breuer describe just how difficult the ideational process can be in the revision of set ideals. Nitzsche’s aversion toward the construction of axioms in such an endeavour further complicates the discursive aim. The significance of their consultations lies in Breuer’s upholding of Nietzsche’s integrity and their ongoing process of constant re-evaluation. The success of Yalom’s novel is apparent in the fact that no single discourse prevails. Furthermore, Nietzsche’s description of his suffering as well as the parameters in which it is discussed retains its integrity whilst Breuer, by following Nietzsche’s philosophical guidance, finds the cure to his own anguish. Although the steps taken to reach this end owe much to the spectre of Freudian analysis, it could not have been reached without Nietzsche’s philosophical training and spiritual guidance on matters of the self, especially his maxim of the ‘eternal recurrence’ and its impetus towards re-evaluating one’s own life. Much to their own surprise, Breuer’s casting off of his demons is achieved through a shared belief:
Overcoming his agitation, Nietzsche was struck by Breuer’s words.
‘Amor fati, – love your fate. It’s eerie, Josef how twin-minded we are!
-’You said you wanted to give me something. Remember?’ Nietzsche cried, his desperate tone alarming Breuer. ‘Then give me something concrete. Tell me how you cast her out! I want every detail!’ (1993:282)
Nietzsche’s impatient desire to be told the mechanism behind his doctor’s recovery is an inversion of his own teachings and moreover his initial predilections towards psychology. Breuer’s recovery marks a therapeutic transformation, one which concludes with mutual recognition of their friendship and respect for each other’s ideas. Despite Breuer’s initial conceit, Nietzsche’s trust is never betrayed. Their relationship represents a shared experience of suffering made possible through the words and ideas they communicate. The collusion of two discourses in Yalom’s novel whilst surpassing the limitations of each discourse in themselves highlights the importance of individual agency over established ideals in the representation of suffering in literature.
There is a question of morality in literature’s project of (re)reading the pain and suffering of depression/despair. Much like its object, this as yet undefined discourse has the potential to determine the way in which depression will be viewed in the deliberations of wider society i.e. the medico-legal apparatus. Representations of sadness, whether they are fictional as in the discursive characterisations of Dr. Breuer and Nietzsche or the iconic obscurity of Bartleby, fill the emptiness between the silence of suffering and society’s understanding and discursive expression. Deleuze identifies the importance of representation in the propagation of new expressions of sadness. His reference to Jean Luc Godard’s assertion that ‘between a tracking shot and a panoramic shot – lies a ‘moral problemí’(Deleuze, 1997:83) alludes to the aftermath of a destructive force such as Bartleby and the responsibility inherent to its representation. Bartleby, a being of ‘Primary Nature’ reveals the worlds ‘emptiness [and] the imperfections of its laws’ (1997: 83). The stillness of panoramic destruction and the ‘unspeakable confusion and trouble’ left in its wake can only be explained through the tracking of these effects by secondary mediums who through their representations and its rhythms give meaning to the confusion (1997: 83). Moreover, there lies a peculiar burden in literature’s representation of sadness. Deleuze’s theoretical portrait of Bartleby as an ‘Original’ captures the essence of sadness as a destabilising force on the sureties of language and discursive knowledge, in effect allowing for the projection of an alternative theoretical discourse on sadness.
Each original is a powerful solitary Figure that exceeds any explicable form; it projects flamboyant traits of expression that mark the stubbornness of a thought without image, a question without response, an extreme non-rational -they know something inexpressible, live something unfathomable. They have nothing general about them, and are not peculiar ñ…they escape knowledge, defy psychology. (Deleuze, 1997:83)
If the new unifying understanding of sadness is to capture the ‘non-rational’ logic of suffering, it must avoid the immovable perspective of established discourse and present to the reader a panoramic view that encompasses the divergent nature of suffering and the discursive approaches that have constituted its understanding thus far.
If sadness as portrayed in the figure of Bartleby does indeed, as Deleuze implies, defy psychology, what is the role of psychology and psychoanalytic theory in the reading of literary expressions/representations of sadness? Does it merely provide a tracking shot in the vast panorama of approaches to sadness each being lesser than the whole? To answer these questions, let us apply the psychoanalytic approach to the suffering of Nietzsche and Bartleby and look at the implications for literature’s effort of constructing an understanding of pain.
Whilst the expression of pain in Yalom’s novel is presented through language, character and scenes as well as the discourses of philosophy and psychology implied by characterisation, Bartleby with his lack of self or awareness of self tests the limits of representation and expression. Deleuze argues that Bartleby is a character that resists theoretical reading especially from a psychological perspective. For Robert Abrams however, Bartleby’s ‘unblinking lack of self-wonder and self-concern – overtly yields to the psychological’ (Abrams, 1978: 489-90). This fissure between literary theory and psychoanalysis is symptomatic of Melville’s stripping of Bartleby’s subjectivity leading to Deleuze’s description of him as an ‘Original’. He is a unique expression of pain, indicative of pain’s paradoxical silence. The silence inherent to suffering is a destructive force that stifles language and therefore the relations between speaking subjects. Bartleby stands out in the literature of sadness, as a personification of that destructive silence. Whilst a Freudian analysis views Bartleby’s sadness as a form of ‘hallucinatory wishful psychosis’, narcissistic regression or social revolt as identified in melancholia (Freud, 1991: 253), it is for Deleuze the very destruction of self-referentiality, the absence of voice and self. Its expression is resistant to a psychoanalytic reading based on the power of language to express ideas or feelings because it is beyond language and its construction of understanding. If words and their healing effect are the basis of psychoanalysis, it is useless in the face of his utterance ‘I’d prefer not to’ which ‘severs language from all reference’ (Deleuze, 1997: 74). However, at the same instance it opens up the possibility for different psychological approaches and understandings. Society’s reaction to his depression: his loss of social position and subsequent incarceration is a material effect of his depression and one which shows a particular representation of suffering; its occurrence and treatment within restrictive social mores.
Bartleby stands out from amongst his fellow employees. The demands of the scrivener’s lot confine them to a life surrounded by ‘lofty brick walls, black by age and everlasting shade’ somewhere between the ‘justice’s courts’ and the ‘Tombs’, these descriptions being ‘indispensable to an adequate understanding of the chief character’. Their confinement extends to the authority of their employer, a benevolent, church- going and ‘rather old man’ well respected in the ‘Courts of Chancery’ (Melville, 1998: 818-21). Whether this relationship of power is arbitrary or not, its configuration paints a picture of hierarchical social relations in mid-19th century American society. Under the gaze of the Nietzschean perspective, the scrivener’s lot is the life of subjugation under an arbitrary morality of which the doctor/patient relationship is an extension. Bartleby as an example of Nietzsche’s liberated ‘free will’ escapes both his employee’s circumscription and the narrator[s description:
‘Bartleby, who was a scrivener, the strangest I ever saw, or heard of. While of other law-copyists, I might write the complete life, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done- Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable…’ (1998: 819)
Bartleby escapes all attempts to engage him in social description or activity, attempts whose eventual descent into scorn and distaste for his person reveals the destructive nature of depression and its silence. Respectively, society expresses its non-apprehension by incarceration. There is however, a positive aspect to his utterance; ‘I’d prefer not to’. The negation of his responsibilities to his work and to the relationships of power in which society places him, transforms the logic of presuppositions into a logic of preference (Deleuze, 1997: 73). By uttering his preference for being non-committal, Bartleby overturns society and in the process creates a logic whereby language is freed from the constrictions of constructed meaning. This is the cue for a discourse of sadness, its direction determined by the ‘preference’ of those who give voice to its silence.
In his treatment of Nietzsche’s malady, Breuer’s rudimentary tools of psychoanalysis allow him to frame the questions as to the causes of his own malaise. In his dreams and waking life, his self-loathing is ever-present skipping from self to self-image and back again. Dissatisfaction with his life, job and family stemming from the pressure of lofty ambitions from an early age: a lad of infinite promise (Yalom, 1993: 185-7). Although these realizations are the symbiotic product of discussions with Nietzsche, they emphasize the importance of the psychoanalytic paradigm in framing a curative pathway for depression and its suffering. For Breuer, the aim of psychological enquiry is one of uncovering the cause of illness from the unconscious. In Nietzsche’s case it is also the attempt to bring him out of his isolation and more importantly, to gain his consent for treatment. In his discussions with the young Freud, Breuer articulates psychoanalysis’ identification of the unconscious as the framework for treating depression.
‘You know, Sig, maybe that should be the goal of treatment ñ to liberate that hidden consciousness, to allow him to ask for help in the daylight (1993: 153)’.
In reply, Freud contends that it is the integration of the unconscious, not liberation that would allow that part of Nietzsche that inhibits close relationships, to participate in an altruistic personal relationship without negating his own philosophy. Breuer’s attempt at finding the source of Nietzsche’s pain is not unlike the free will’s aspiration towards truth and the ‘great liberation’ where pain and suffering are a necessary part of the struggle.
‘ … for all – such things of pain and ill belong to the history of the great liberation. And it is at the same time a malady that can destroy a man, this first outbreak of strength and will for self-destination, self-valuation, this will for free will … ‘ (Nietzsche, 1915: 10)
Similarly, as Breuer experiences, he must understand his own pain before the search for the source of Nietzsche’s suffering. The path to liberation leaves no stone unturned:
Can we not upset every standard? And is good perhaps evil? Is God only an invention and a subtlety of the devil? Is everything, in the last resort, false? (1915: 11)
Although Nietzsche’s idea of the ‘free will’ leads to further pain and isolation, it ultimately leads to positions of greater understanding of the nature of being human. This is the precarious and possibly terminal position to which sadness and the search for knowledge and self-awareness arrives. In this seemingly hopeless tryst between sadness and knowledge, the role of psychoanalysis becomes seemingly clear. Liberation’s compulsion towards upheaval is replaced by the integration of all aspects of self and self-image, philosophy and suffering. Breuer’s psychoanalytic method based on integration is unhampered by the tyranny of absolutes and truth but rather focuses on the individual’s expression of their depression (or non-expression as in Nietzsche’s case) to be processed through the framework of the unconscious. Integration is an approach in which the many varying expressions of sadness, seen as a kind of freedom from the strictures of suffering, can be encompassed into a community of suffering with its own inclusive discourse.
How successful is Yalom in creating a new understanding of sadness? By pitting the philosophy of Nietzsche with Breuer’s rudimentary discourse on psychoanalysis, Yalom’s text illustrates the inherent difficulties in bringing together distinct discourses in the formation of cross-disciplinary interpretations. The irony of Yalom’s text is that despite Nietzsche’s role as the unwilling subject of treatment, it is Breuer the physician who is cured of his despair and not the patient. Nietzsche’s stubborn refusal to be the subject of Breuer’s treatment may point either to the failing of psychoanalytic theory in the treatment of Nietzsche, the disruptive nature of his philosophy pointing to a profound distrust of European society in the late 19th century, or the ultimate inexpressibility of suffering. Nietzsche’s refusal is revealing as to the nature of his suffering. Breuer’s engagement of Nietzsche in dialogues of ‘self-psychoanalysis’ leads to Nietzsche’s identifying the betrayals of Lou Salome, Paul Ree and Wagner as the source of his pain. As Nietzsche leaves the care of Dr. Breuer, he leaves as a close friend, a sign of his transformation. However, he does not leave cured of his despair and nor would he want to. Melanie Klein’s ‘Depressive’ and ‘Paranoid-Schizoid’ positions offer an explanation to Nietzsche’s suffering and the behaviour it creates.
Melanie Klein’s ‘Depressive’ and ‘Paranoid-Schizoid’ positions constitute a divergence from and challenge to Freud’s work on mourning. They both consider the ‘loss of the loved object’ as a germinal event in the onset of depression. But, whilst Freud defines depression/melancholia as a negation or disavowal of loss, Klein’s two positions link the adult self to the early stages of psychic development occurring in infancy. In these early stages, the infant’s psychic life is already beset by sadistic phantasies involving good and bad objects. The infant’s relation to objects is dominated and characterized by an innate aggressive drive that will continue to define his/her psychic life in adulthood. Yalom’s use of letters both real and fictional between Nietzsche, Lou Salome and Wagner provide a background to the dialogues of self-awareness between Nietzsche and Breuer. Nietzsche’s fictional correspondences with Lou Salome based on Yalom’s biographical representation; exhibit a vehemence that characterizes the ‘paranoid-schizoid position’.
‘[You are] without spirit and incapable of love, in effect always sick and near to madness … a brain with the first signs of a soul, character of a cat – the predator clothed as a house pet … a strong will, but not a large object, without diligence or purity … childish egoism as a result of sexual atrophy and delay’ (Yalom, 1993: 194).
Nietzsche’s unrelenting attack on Lou Salome’s character is the expression of her objectification as a ‘mental event’ bearing the weight of his anxiety and primitive defences. This can be traced back to infancy whereby the ‘infant’s characteristic defences are those of splitting and projection, defending sadistically and fearfully against the part-objects that assault it’ (McCulloch & Clemens, 2003: 32). Nietzsche’s letters to Lou Salome also exhibit a movement between the ‘paranoid-schizoid position’ and the ‘depressive position’.
You have in me the best advocate but also the most merciless judge! I demand you judge yourself and that you determine your own punishment …. I had decided for myself back in Orta to reveal my whole philosophy to you. Oh you have no idea what a decision that was: I believed I couldn’t make a better present to anyone …’ (Yalom, 1993: 169).
Nietzsche’s reliance on phantasies of omnipotence finds its expression in a benevolence that masks his realization and guilt of his attitude towards Lou Salome as the recipient of his destructive impulses. Although the letters do not follow the chronological progression of Klein’s paradigm of psychic development in infancy, they do give us a biographical account of Nietzsche’s troubled relationships and his isolation.
Given that ‘object-relations theorists locate the origins of creativity in the depressive position’, by applying a Kleinian reading to this account of Nietzsche, we are given an insight into his despair, its possible causes and a confirmation of Nietzsche’s creative genius that ‘reaffirms the ancient bond between creativity and depression’ (McCulloch & Clemens, 2003: 41). Nietzsche similarly identifies the function of his sickness in relation to his philosophy:
‘A philosopher who has traversed many kinds of health … has passed through an equal number of philosophies; he simply cannot keep from transposing his states every time into the most spiritual form and distance: this art of transfiguration is philosophy … Only great pain is the ultimate liberator of the spirit, being the teacher of the great suspicion that turns every U into an X, a real, genuine X…’ (Nietzsche,1974: 35-6).
Could we not liken Nietzsche’s paradigm of transfiguration through sickness and creativity to literature’s role in the creation of a moral community of suffering? And therefore evoke the principle of transfiguration as a process, which recognizes the curative function of creativity in the expression and sublimation of pain as well as its ongoing re-evaluation of our understanding of pain and depression. If as Nietzsche proclaims, we are to be liberated, in this case from the harmful and unjust effects of an arbitrary morality, literature’s construction of a discourse based on a ‘moral community’ of suffering takes on a profound aspect.
The placement of literature and psychology side by side in the reading of sadness, suffering and the pain of depression creates an understanding, which is greater than the sum of its parts. Whilst the representation of sadness in literature aims to communicate the paradoxical silence of depression as well as the uniqueness of each expression, the discourse of psychoanalysis like philosophical enquiry provides an alternative perspective on the nature of pain and suffering. In the aim of creating a ‘moral community’ of suffering, the two disciplines share an obligation to uphold the integrity of the individual subject and their voice. The transformative element central to addressing the shortcomings of previous treatment regimes, whilst indicative of the play between literature and its peripheral discourses attempts to re-evaluate society’s understanding of sadness. Literature’s role would therefore be to encompass the diversity of pain’s representations and to create a shared discursive community aimed at alleviating the pain of suffering and depression
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