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Battling the Gorgon

In this little "Memoir of Madness," first delivered in abbreviated form at a symposium on affective disorders sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and then greatly expanded for publication in Vanity Fair, William Styron recounts, and attempts to account for, his descent into a mental depression that led him to the brink of suicide. What finally enabled him to escape his life-threatening despair is never, almost needless to say, made clear; he just somehow lived through the depression, aided to be sure by the solicitude of family and friends, and by a seven-week stay in the hospital. Although he confesses that the Croup Therapy in the hospital did nothing more than make him seethe, "possibly because it was supervised by an odiously smug young shrink, with a spade-shaped beard," it probably did him no harm. And although the "organized infantilism" of the Art Therapy sessions seemed to him little better, they probably helped him regain his sense of comedy. It is, more than anything else, that sense of comedy or humor, as H.L. Mencken once noted, that keeps a reflective and skeptical man alive. In any case, Styron outlived his depression (or Melancholia, as he prefers to call it), and near the end of his hospitalization had his "first dream in many months, confused but to this day imperishable, with a flute in it somewhere, and a wild goose, and...

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