The Madness of Art

"In relation to Gauguin, Van Gogh and Rimbaud, I have a distinct inferiority complex because they managed to destroy themselves. . . . I am more and more convinced that, in order to achieve authenticity, something has to snap."

In "Resolution and Independence," Wordsworth lamented that "We Poets in our youth begin in gladness, / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness." This observation, as well as Sartre's in the epigraph, testifies to the self-destructive risk to the writer who may be drawn to poetry as a means of expressing, rather than objectifying and controlling, the anarchy of feeling that occasionally threatens to erupt. In any case, since the time of Wordsworth, we have had a long, unbroken Romantic literary tradition marked by the idealization and indulgence of feeling, especially despondency and madness—at the expense of reflective thought. Some years ago, Winfield Scott remarked that "Our saddest stories are biographies of 20th Century America writers, Thomas Wolfe, Hart Crane, Vachel Lindsay, Scott Fitzgerald, Edna Millay, Eugene O'Neill, probably Hemingway when we know it." He went on to remark that it would take "a combination of psychologist, sociologist, literary historian and critic, as well as an expert in alcoholism, to try to explain why."

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