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Ovi Symposium; Thirty-fourth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Thirty-fourth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-09-11 11:16:40
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Thirty-fourth Meeting: 11 September 2014

symposium01

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 34: Part I: The Dark Side of Creativity, or the Link between Genius and Madness

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Munch, Van Gogh, Poe, Plath, Socrates, Koestler, Freud, Michelangelo, Dickens, Williams, O’Neill, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Woolf, Pollock, Nietzsche, Martins, Kiaga, Szaboles, Byron, James, Tennyson, Blake, Eliot, Maru, Jonker, Gordimer, Rilke, Shakespeare, Keats, Sexton, Arbus, Kitchener, Fugard, Head, Martins, Wurtzel, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Styron, Vico, De Sanctis, Labriola, Sorel, Pirandello, Rimbaud, Valery, Dannunzio.

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Table of Contents for the 34th Session of the Ovi Symposium (11 September 2014)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “The Dark Side of Creativity” a presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2:  “Bipolar Self-Portrait: Reflections regarding the Artist, Illness and the Pain of Others.”A presentation by Abigail George

Section 3: “A Short Biography of Benedetto Croce.” A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In this 34th meeting of the Ovi Symposium we will explore the complex theme of the link between creativity  and mental illness. The ancient Greeks dubbed the phenomenon “divine madness,” a seizing experienced by a creating artist at the moment of inspiration. We will continue the exploration of this theme in the next issue of the Symposium.

Indeed, the analysis and description of the creative act has attracted attention and curiosity since time immemorial. What makes it even more interesting and fascinating in our times is that now we may call upon the scientific discipline of psychology and an ongoing psychological research to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the phenomenon.

Our exploration begins in section one with a theoretical presentation by Paparella. It briefly surveys the latest data regarding the link between genius and madness, followed by some concluding philosophical observations and suggestions. The insight that Paparella hopes to get across to the reader is that, if there is a link between mental illness and creativity, as it is likely, then it may be misguided to give priority to the cure of a mental illness, considered abnormal, and in the process enfeeble the creative thrust of an artist. A proper balance needs to be achieved.

This theoretical-philosophical presentation, partly based on a renowned book on the phenomenon: Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, by psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, is followed-up in section two by Abigail George’s poetical, particular, presentation anchored in her own poignant personal experiences, those of a creative writer, and an African feminist one at that, very much concerned with the aforementioned link. Here practice meets theory, the philosophical is transformed into the poetical, and the reader is called upon not only to empathize and admire aesthetically, but also to complement with her/his imagination what may be lacking in the two presentations. In fact, those presentations are incomplete since they are merely part one; part two will be posted in two weeks’ time at our next meeting, and if any readers’ comments are attached to the first part in the comment’s section of part one, we will surely consider those carefully and incorporate a proper response in part two. Meanwhile we trust that the Ovi magazine’s readers will find this session’s insights inspiring and thought-provoking.

In section three Ernesto Paolozzi gifts us with a brief biography of Benedetto Croce. Although Croce’s life seems to be free of mental illnesses, his personal life did not lack moments of anguish and intense suffering. In 1883, at the age of 17 he lost both his parents and his sisters in an earthquake which buried the whole family when he himself was buried for hours and almost lost his life from the severe injuries incurred. The traumatic event forced him to go and live with an uncle in Rome. Later on, in his middle age, for two decades he had to confront Italian fascism (1921-1943) which represented the antithesis of everything he and his philosophy stood for. Paolozzi’s biography supplies some hints on how valiantly and nobly Croce dealt with the anguish of the Fascist  persecution, not to speak of the neglect that his philosophy, his reputation and influence underwent for several decades after his death in 1952. Thanks to the likes of Ernesto Paolozzi Croce is finally being accorded his due by the critics.

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Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament
by Kay Redfield Jamison (1996)

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1

The Dark Side of Creativity
A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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The Scream by Edward Munch 

"My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art."

                                                                                      --From the diary of Edward Munch

I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause.
                                                                                       --Vincent van Gogh

Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence--whether much that is glorious--whether all that is profound--does not spring from disease of thought--from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night

                                                                                       -- Edgar Allen Poe

When you are insane, you are busy being insane - all the time... When I was crazy, that's all I was.

                                                                                        -- Sylvia Plath

"For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication."

                                                                                        --Friedrich Nietzsche

The ancient Greeks thought that creative inspiration was the result of altered states of mind which they called "divine madness." Socrates said: "If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the inspired madman." Artistic inspiration -- has been associated with the sampling of dark "depths" of irrationality even when some connection to everyday reality is maintained. Arthur Koestler in his The Act of Creation writes that this dive into underground forces "reminds one of a skin-diver with a breathing tube,” and that "the creative act always involves a regression to earlier, more primitive levels on the mental hierarchy."

Aside from Freud’s power of the subconscious, many creative people have considered the angst of modern man, which they often experienced personally in their own psyche, as an indispensable drive of their artistic genius. They seem to sway between genius and madness. Besides the above quoted notables, we can also list Michelangelo, Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Wolf, Jackson Pollock, William Styron, Friedrich Nietzsche. They were all high achievers and they all suffered from manic depression or bi-polar mood disorders, or hallucinations and feelings of grandeur, or schizophrenia, or autism, or angst. The question naturally arises: are artists more susceptible to mental illnesses than ordinary people are? Is mental illness also present wherever creativity is found?

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Modern science has occupied itself with this conundrum. Simon Kyaga and a team of researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, using a registry of psychiatric patients, tracked nearly 1.2 million Swedes and their relatives. The patients demonstrated conditions ranging from schizophrenia and depression to anxiety syndromes. They found that people working in creative fields, including dancers, photographers and authors, were 8% more likely to live with bipolar disorder. Writers were a staggering 121% more likely to suffer from the condition, and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

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Circumcision by Jackson Pollock

There is even evidence that creativity and mental illness may be genetic. Albert Einstein's son lived with schizophrenia, as did James Joyce's daughter. Keri Szaboles, a psychiatrist at Semmelweis University in Hungary, gave 128 participants a creativity test followed by a blood test. He found that those who demonstrated the greatest creativity carried a gene associated with severe mental disorders.

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Michelangelo who suffered from manic depression

Surveying the most recent scientific data on the phenomenon, one begins to wonder if creative genius is somehow woven together with mental illness. The dictionary defines “creation” as “the act of bringing into being or forming out of nothing.” Such a powerful and mysterious act may well be beyond even the scope of scientific inquiry! Thus creativity has for so long been "explained" as the expression of an irrational, intuitive psychic "underground" teaming with forces (perhaps divine and in touch with the cosmic mind or the nous, as the Greeks suspected) that are unknown and unknowable, at least to the "sane" conventional mind.

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Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

Geniuses often depict moments of inspiration as an electrifying convergence of rational and irrational thought. If there is an edge to be found between the rational and the irrational; between the known and the unknown; between the conventional and the innovative, and if this edge is where creativity takes place, it makes sense that a creative mind runs the risk of going "too far." As Koestler has aptly put it, "skin-divers are prone to fall victim to the rapture of the deep and tear their breathing tubes off". Further reinforcing the association of creativity with illogical, disruptive psychic forces are great numbers of influential 18th and 19th century poets, including William Blake, Lord Byron and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who wrote extensively about their emotional extremes.

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Psychologist William James wrote that "when a superior intellect and a psychopathic temperament coalesce, we have the best possible condition for the kind of effective genius that gets into the biographical dictionaries. Such men do not remain mere critics and understanders with their intellect. Their ideas posses them, they inflict them, for better or worse, upon their companions of their age". While there are positive aspects to psychological disorders, in as much as they lead to extraordinary creativity, we ought not romanticize the condition, for there are debilitating extremes of psychiatric illness, and there is a need for balance to remain an effective creative person.

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William Blake (1759-1827)

Perhaps Sylvia Plath explained it best when she wrote, as quoted above, that  "When you are insane, you are busy being insane - all the time... When I was crazy, that's all I was". Against this background, some current research into the interaction between creativity and psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and manic depression suggests that there may indeed be a vital connection between "genius" and "insanity" in some instances. Here Friedrich Nietzsche (whom we will treat more extensively at the next symposium meeting) jumps to mind. He literally went mad at the end of his life and has lent credence to the romanticized notion of the “mad genius.” But in fact, in the real every-day world, most emotionally unstable people are not extraordinarily creative, and most extraordinarily creative people are not emotionally unstable.

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T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

It is important here to note that many psychologists point out that it is only the milder forms of mania that resemble creative thought and find expression in acutely tuned senses, restlessness, irritability, grandiosity, thought diversity, and the ability to associate rapidly divergent ideas and thoughts. The sheer volume or density of ideas spewing from a manic person's mind increases the likelihood that at least some of those ideas will be creative ones. A person who goes to bat a thousand times is more likely to get a hit than someone who only steps to the plate ten times. But talent must also be present to begin with.

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Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

The other side of the coin is the cold, ruminative, introspection of depression. It is widely accepted that insight gained through intense, extreme, even painful experiences can add depth and meaning to creative work. The creative person who suffers from manic-depression also has a built-in editing process for the excesses and lunacies expressed during manic episodes. Mild depression can actually put into perspective what had seemed, in a manic-state, to be brilliant and in fact, people in mildly depressed states are more "realistic" than people in "normal" states of mind. It is in the face of too much reality that creative work can be turned to as a solace and a means of working out of a depressive episode. As T.S. Eliot, working through a bout of depression, wrote: "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotions, but an escape from emotions, it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions, know what it means to want to escape from those things".

Thus, although it is certainly not the case that all creative individuals suffer from manic depression, it seems that characteristics of mania and depression aid the development and expression of creative thought and action. Mania combines new and heretofore unconnected ideas at a rapid pace and has even been shown to elevate IQ scores. Mania also imbues the individual with relentless drive and confidence that can, very often, lead to creative output. Balancing mania, depression not only can serve as a "reality-check" to manic excesses of thought and action, but also can itself provide fuel for creativity.

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Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953)

Thus artist Edward Munch when told he could end the cycle of bipolar psychiatric hospitalizations with available medicine and treatment replied that "I want to keep those sufferings, emotional torments are part of me and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and it would destroy my art". That is to say, he refused to be sedated and thus transformed into a normal, well-adjusted, dampened, and bloodless individual, a kind of zombie no longer capable or moved to creativity. The tragedy here is that refusal of medical treatement can at times lead to psychosis, which is something dangerous to one’s mental health and ought not be over-romanticized.

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Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

When all is said and done, it cannot be denied that there is an elusive but persistent link between genius and “madness,” or mental illness. It is also true that we would all be diminished were we to “normalize,” via powerful drugs, those geniuses who have given us great musical, literary, and visual works of art. Which is to say that their pain and suffering is ultimately beneficial to us; they are our gain. That simple consideration alone ought to motivate us to tolerance and compassion, even gratitude, toward those creative persons who suffer from mental illness and make it possible for us to enjoy their sublime works of art.

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2

Bipolar Self-Portrait:
Reflections regarding the Artist, Illness and the Pain of Others

A Presentation by Abigail George

I

Note by Abigail George: The following essay was published in the book ‘Being Bipolar: Stories from Those Living with the Disorder and Those Who Love Them’ by Rachel Ellen Koski (Editor).  

The reason I am writing this is to help someone who is in the same situation where I found myself eighteen years ago so they can benefit from my own funny, unique, sometimes hurtful, painful, uncomfortable and even humiliating personal experience.

I am writing this is to answer the questions I had about myself, the discovery that my depression was not clinical depression but that it was manic depression, the onset of my mood swings and Christianity in my own life. If North America can be described as the ‘Prozac Nation’ by the North American author Elizabeth Wurtzel and the USA coined the terms ‘hype’ and ‘spin’ then why is mental health such a low on the list of priorities of the people we voted into power when it basically affects everyone around us directly or indirectly, in a significant manner or otherwise?

Bipolar or manic depression is a psychiatric illness also known as bipolar mood disorder or having mood swings. I have lived with this debilitating, mysterious and deadly disease my whole life. I have struggled to overcome the stigma attached to this disease by people who are intimidated by anything that they do not have any control over.

This is my story. Sometimes I imagine that I am standing on a stage giving a seminar when I say those words.

I am just like you. I believe there is nothing extraordinary about my life except the way I choose to live it. Some people have to have physical proof that something is amiss with their body. We put so much of our faith into the hands of healers. Faith is a supernatural force of will. Time, God, homeopathy, holistic repatterning, reflexology, full body massage, tea, herbal infusions, therapists, psychiatrists and doctors are all healers. We don’t have time to visualise and reflect what our bodies are trying to tell us why we are hurting.

The illness was there for a long time. Now when I look back the truth about it is undeniable. It can be cured, or at best prevented from recurring, to the best of the patient, the doctor and the pharmacist’s ability.

I don’t believe in labels like gifted, talented, creative genius or eccentric.

It is such a fine illness that influences subtle nuances in an individual’s behaviour, that it takes a cluster of specific symptoms to diagnose it. It takes charge of your brain’s serotonin and dopamine levels. The feel- good hormones in your brain and that are when your slow descent into a personal and very private hell begins – your secret pain.

I was brought up in a liberal-minded household by parents who believed that love, happiness and peacefulness where greater aspirations than prestige, position and status. I am part of only a lucky few. I was taught not to bear grudges. I was told when someone hurt my feelings to ignore him or her and see him or her for who they truly were. I was taught to be forgiving and understanding and that there wasn’t any difference between the rich and the poor children at the schools I went to. I was taught that the noblest profession in the world was being a teacher. Re-enforcing values and excellence, as well as enriching wonderfully young lives filled with so much hope and promise.

My parents taught by example. My father is a community leader and my mother is a teacher.

What I do believe is that the word stigma is a synonym for phobia. I believe people choose to see the very best in someone and that their judgement is clouded when they ignore the rest. Acceptance is something that I think we all think comes at a very high price. It is the denial of human dignity that comes at a great price with unforeseeable circumstances.

The signs and symptoms of a hypomanic episode are as follows. You behave wild and free, have depressive slumps, spiralling depression. You don’t sleep. You don’t nap. You are the focus - the centre of the universe. You are beautiful, smart, determined but the reflection that everybody else sees is militant, horribly annoying and irritating.

You feel humiliated in later introspection while others felt uncomfortable in your presence. You were Dr. Jekyll incognito and Mr Hyde in the flesh.

There is a genetic predisposition to depression and mania as well. There has been a history of mental illness on my father’s side including alcoholism, depression and suicide. Depression is a devastating illness that affects millions of people worldwide. The more family values are on the decrease the more suicide is on the increase.

People refer to their depression as sadness and stress. Mental health seems not to be a moot point for people in government.  To the world at large that are still suffering in silence, I say, break the silence; add a visible, outspoken voice. There are more of us out there than you realise. Keep on fighting. I did. I do every day and as I take my first breath for the day, I thank God I am alive. It’s not brave when you’re not scared and sometimes I am both good days and bad.

I had no idea I was sick for a long time. Later in the beginning stages it defined who I was. My whole life revolved around hiding my disease. Sometimes it was easy to hide and sometimes it wasn’t. It was cerebral. It was a catalyst. There was no scarring, no wound, no stitches and sutures required. I have changed. I have changed for the better only just these last few years. I am a nicer person. I am kinder. My rough edges are softer. Perhaps it is a cliché but it has become true. As the popular song goes, ‘We can find love if we search within ourselves,’ but also, I believe, everywhere if we look hard enough.

People who suffer from mental illness think that they are a burden to society. Fact. The suicide rate amongst teenagers – the most vulnerable group – is growing. Fact. Social grants are on the increase as well due to a decrease in family values, growing up as orphans or having a single parent, poverty, unemployment, depression and stress. The list goes on. Rape, domestic violence, battered woman syndrome and the stigmatisation of mental illness is never-ending.

Fact. Some people still continue to have a blind faith in their medical aid or fund, that is, if they have one. Ignorance is like scar tissue, subterranean and lurking beneath the surface. Whoever said ignorance is bliss was duping her or himself. Unless a forum or a platform can be raised to break the silence, annihilate in one blow the stigma of mental illness and of prejudice. Suffering in silence from depression and stress, families will break up and kids will be caught in the crossfire of divorce. There is nothing more devastating in the world than a child who feels unloved and has no self-esteem.

Both Princess Diana and Mother Theresa said that the greatest disease that exists today is the feeling of being unloved.

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William Styron (1925-2006)

I felt bewildered when I read ‘The girl in the Parisian dress’, an article that was published in another popular women’s magazine on Ingrid Jonker; a celebrated South African poet. She was a genius that goes without saying, but also deeply emotionally unstable because of her childhood and her past, and the one man who she would never gain approval or love from – her father. You can’t colour happiness outside the edges of your life and imagine it’s a sea mist surrounding your body when inside you’re backsliding and waning in gloom and doom. Everything around you is blacker than night. William Styron, an American writer, described depression as ‘darkness visible’ and that was the name of the book he wrote chronicling his own depression as well. I think that there are no two words that describe depression and stress better than ‘darkness visible’.

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Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965)

There is one thing that I have learned during the past eighteen years. The future is still in my power, even though the past cannot be changed. Mental illness is not a human stain. Currently I am working on an anthology of my poetry, a collection of short stories and I am beginning work on a novel co-authored with my father called ‘From hell to eternity: A memoir of madness’. Earlier this year I received a grant from the National Arts Council which not only encouraged me to begin to write again - this time with both my survival and my experience in mind - but to put together some of my earlier poetry in a collection entitled ‘Africa, where art thou?’ Yes, my life has turned out rather unconventionally from who, what, where I’d envisaged myself being, but not a day goes by now that I am not thankful for. I do not question why I am here, or what my divine purpose is. I am not driven by fear and uncertainties anymore, or if I behave self-consciously. Although there is still a sorrow here I cannot reform, that yields stillness in quiet moments of reflection or contemplation, every event in my life composes furious life anew. Through all the infinite wisdom of my mistakes that came before, the love of my family still remains. It is both a reminder of what came before and what lies ahead in my future.

II

I want to be a poet. I want to a modern poet and I want to be the best modern poet out there. I just have to find a way out of this near-madness, this state of melancholy, the pathetic little me syndrome, the pain, and the sorrow that I feel comes upon me. I have to reach for the formidable and become that. I have to reach for the celestial. Depression is the sickness of our time. I see it all around me. In the sick, men who are stressed out by their jobs, women who have babies get depressed, people who leave home for brighter, greener pastures. Then there are those who retire, who get old, on the faces of immigrants and even the young people who go to university, people who get homesick for the loved ones they left behind. Ah, the pain of the mind the doctor would say to me. All you need is rest. You have a young family and they must keep you running up and down at all hours of the day. I’ve never stopped believing in that. 

Maybe it is all in my mind, the pain of the mind. I went to the doctor. I was feeling out of sorts. Not the way I usually felt and all he said was that the children and their energy must wear me out. So I was put into a situation where I had to agree. It is just this belief that I am something special because I have this talent. ‘Don’t gush. It’s only poetry and most people find poetry obscure. Who reads it?’ My mother said. ‘Don’t be in awe of yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you forget to see that God is in the details and all around you. Always remember that I love you for who you are. I don’t think he is the right kind of man for you.’ I have time now to reflect when I am on my own and he comes and watches the children for me and keeps an eye on them while I can get some work done. The writing of poetry does not come with instructions. Scientists dispel myths. Poets have to reckon with truth.

There’s something sensual about writing and the order and the routine in it. I wish it could last forever but it doesn’t. It’s temporary like the sun-age on the surface of a ripe cloudburst. I feel as if I’m an alcoholic, hippie or a druggie while I experience the sensation of the morning quiet. I take it all in. My consciousness becomes a dream factory that I am still trying to find all the answers to. It must be very cold where he is tonight, wherever he is. I don’t care where he is and who his with. If I did it might mean that I still love him, that I covet feeling his the warmth of him beside me at night? He makes my heart and nerves still and soft. He fills my head with accusations and lies and every time that we come into contact now, I feel like a chip of glass. I must keep my chin up and my head held high but these days I’m prone to panic. What one earth will guide me to the courage I was once accustomed to having?

When I enter the body of poetry a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction washes over me. There are explosions of tiny waves behind my eyes. My soul has made it thus far. I have to end the poverty in my mind but I find a cold comfort in the not knowing of things. If depression happened in nature what would we call it then? Would it be organic in origin? In a marriage when it ends whom is to blame for its demise. Who is the culprit? On the approaching betrayal in any relationship I have this to say. Lock down your heart dear and look away. It means that there may be something incomplete in the moving against the current of love. It means to love and die simultaneously. I think there’s a theory behind light. When my body feels full of that stuff, the light, and the hidden energies in my aura I feel as if I have got free tickets to the centre of winter.

III

Reflections on Rape in Post-apartheid South Africa

Self-learning is discovered throughout humanity firstly in childhood, then in spirituality. The artist tells their higher self that if they are going to survive they have to study the survival of other artists. The damaged know how to survive. Sexual violence is illustrated by childhood trauma, anticipatory desire, nostalgia for the known (which gives birth to a feeling of pleasure which in reality subjugates the victimisation they felt as a child), which is the sexual impulse, the sex drive. The damaged (a man, or woman with intimacies of self-possessed torment) meditating on the complexity of the remoteness from understanding what I have phrased above. Paedophilia is perversion. There is no cause for humanity there. Childhood trauma, the feeling of being wholly unloved, wholly unwanted, rejected by the same-sex parent is not an all-knowing pure feeling. So the inheritance from the psychological perspective of the dysfunctional nuclear family (that becomes a blended family as the young adult seeks temporary or permanent release from the unbalanced equilibrium of their adolescence and youth from likeminded others, or their contemporaries) is fostered. And so to mend the past, those difficulties, we create unpretending love medicine, the grandeur of a museum, and a ballad of a love story to heal, to retrieve the future even with impressions that endure. The feminist is dehumanised by her own femininity, her own sexuality which must feel bewildering to her sometimes, her own sensuality, and even by the maelstrom of her own intelligence, and her animate beauty. The feminist comprehends equality by interpreting the worldly relationships she has in her environment. To her beauty is a myth. She regards her femininity as a wasteful, wanton exercise (because as she grows older it will become more of a burden to her, than promising freedom). What in her reality gives her relief is her education, her culture, her faith, her philosophy, her spirituality, and that she is recognised as an intellectual amongst intellectuals. She has a heritage. She is gifted, and considering all of the above therein lies the power of her acumen, and her intellectual expression, and creative genius.

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Diane Arbus (1923-1971) Photographer of the Abnormal

The Artist: Chronicler of the Extraordinary

When I think of female South African writers, writers, and poets in general, or rather just artists, their depression, acute or mild, I think of Bessie Head's ‘Maru’, Ingrid Jonker's ‘Black Butterflies’, and Nadine Gordimer's ‘Oral History’. And it makes me want to write sensitively, with understanding about the 'pain of the physical body' and 'the more acute pain of the mind'. The Austrian Rainer Maria Rilke was inspired by art, and ‘Russia, the land that borders on God’. Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ was inspired by Paris. Shakespeare by love, Keats by romanticism, nature, his environment, and Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton were inspired by their mental illness, the effortless weight that that burden carried with it, in their personal, and intimate relationships, and the American photographer Dianne Arbus in her own words said, “Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there's a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can't help people knowing about you. And that has to do with what I've always called the gap between intention and effect.” I think about all the ghosts that haunted them from childhood. You will find that I will speak about childhood often in Ovi’s Symposium. It is something that feel very strongly about, and I here is where I will tell you why this is so. I think if you have ever been abused as a child, or something very traumatic happened to you in childhood, then for the rest of your life you live in a parallel world so to speak (a childhood continued if that can be imagined). And so I have decided to turn away for now from the primitive, and ancient art forms of writing poetry, short stories and weave the self-fulfilling prophecies of justice and injustice in pursuing liberalism, positivism, and the educated guesswork of philosophy. Braiding the spirit and the soul of the South African woman, the child-woman, the girl-child and the cycle of violence, bonds of family, their courage, human rights abuses, human nature, trafficking tangled with the politics of social cohesion and the formidable dominance of men. Everything that is unfairly negative, that affects, impacts women has slowly become distorted in the media. Can you believe it when I say that we look at evil (for example domestic violence, pornography, promiscuity, suicidal, mental, terminal illness|) with boredom these days?

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Bessie Head (1937-1986)

The Rare Power of the Artistic Confession

Women are taught from a young age 'to obey'. What does this mean in this century? In contemporary South Africa? To me South Africa is Africa. Africa is a country. We've become a paranoid community. We exploit women and even to a certain extent men. We project exhibitionism furiously, and you'd think that by now we would be experts at understanding the themes of power and knowledge. What are the ‘right life choices', the personalities, philosophies, progress made by great thinkers (masculine or feminine), living or dead, the awful horror of sexual violence, and daily humiliation of refugees, speaking particularly of women who are refugees, and their rites of passage into womanhood, into modern society in post-apartheid South Africa, Africa, and the world at large. What of the inhibitions, and exhibitionism of the African feminist, the conquest of spirituality, eternity and suicide? The darker parts of South Africa, detention, banning orders, colonialism, the colonial masters, the rape of Africa, Lord Kitchener’s scorched earth policy, the wuthering heights of apartheid, to the legacy of post-apartheid South Africa has always been there but have they been written about completely or sugar-coated with worth, and with the stranglehold of beauty by the entertainment world in impending films, by visionary novelists, by futurists, by artists, and by the contemporary ideology of philosophers or rather eternal maintenances of the different schools of philosophy? All these taskmasters although they have arbitrary dimensions I like to think that they are all governed by a simplistic reasoning, which is defensiveness. Defending a self-fulfilling prophecy, defending the innerness of aloneness, and when coming to the structures of anathemas defending that sometimes verbal perspicacity that comes with it, and of course always defending the communion of a vision.

An Imaginary Humanity

Now I have spoken about rape in its most controversial form. The physical. Must I not talk about the emotional impact it can have on nations, the fractured growth of the intellectualism of the African feminist, scholar, academic, writer, artist, poet, and teacher (mother, daughter, and matriarch, and their male counterparts). Here I am also speaking about the fractured growth of the identity, and the psyche (this cannot be spoken about conscientiously enough). Without heritage, indigenous knowledge systems, oral traditions, historical knowledge, culture, and heritage (the basics) there will be no growth, and not only the child’s, the woman’s, the man who experienced that trauma, and the fact that the spirit’s progress is now hampered, that their pretentious pursuits cease to be harmonic but stilted, and desolate, as does their spirituality. They begin to sense the pressures of delusion, lunacy, illness, externally and intrinsically (but the thing is they begin to sense this intuitively, and cannot give a name yet to spiritual poverty, futility, and mental illness).  In a world fraught with these misgivings how can the African feminist exist with her male counterpart? She will forever search for gestures.

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Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014) Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991

A Diary on Illness, Madness and Despair

Most people think that the wisdom of children and sexual violence are territorial meaning that although both are prevalent in today's society we must write mostly about one and not the other because one is beautiful and will inspire us to even greater wuthering heights. Literature opens self-learning pathways, imaginative thinking, illuminates and transforms the world around us. Cycles must be overcome even if it is emotionally intense, traumatic, and the motivation for me is to peruse these things, study, and observe them, and then to write about them. As far as I am concerned African writers must be encouraged to begin to write about their destiny (we are beginning to live in democratic societies in Africa, it is becoming the norm). African writers (even those in self-imposed exile) must begin to write about world poverty, spiritual poverty, the brutality of man against man (and perhaps not only the profusion of child soldiers, of arms, of warfare in Africa, but in other war torn areas throughout the world), the vulnerable woman, children, and what of the demagogue who yields this trauma. We must begin to talk about peace, negotiation, diplomacy, and reconciliation in these changing times.

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Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

IV

On Helen Martins

This is how I remember Helen Martins. The Magi and the Owl House; their tethers tug like flame at my heartstrings and I wonder about her wounds, her coy magical healing, did she ever prepare a delicious, warm cake for her friend, that social worker that Fugard spoke so highly of. What stalked her for so long; a lifetime and then she had to go and die still so young, fighting fit? Oh, suicide is a forlorn, lonely way to go. Don’t do it, I would have said and she would have looked at me. Our eyes, I imagined would have connected the way the white sunlight connects with the angles and corners of shadows of furniture, against the wall, against the panes, against panels and cupboards, on summertime afternoons and then I would have understood her motives, the intention behind it all, the mystery, the spell that ‘it’, suicide, had cast over her, her life’s work and as I wander through her house I can feel her presence.

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Helen Martins (1897-1978)

I don’t think her unstable. She doesn’t haunt me, my waking thoughts as much as her body of magnificent work, her ‘art’ does; if I can call it that. Writers write, poets lose themselves in translation, philosophers who pose as academics during the day intellectualise debate over wine and sushi until the early hours of the morning. When did she know her jig was up, that her time had come to bid this cruel world adieu in the worst possible way? Who found her with her insides eaten away? I read Fugard’s The Road to Mecca. I was jealous. Jealousy and cowardice are in the sticky blood of every writer and it simply does not boil away to a faint, hot zone of grieving nothingness, fumbling bits and pieces like crushed autumn leaves dead in the centre of the flushed palm of your hand. Helen’s Mecca cast its own spell on me. To me it felt magical. A love spell launched into the language of the pathways of a warring fraction of nerves, anxious to please like a child with the limbs, eyes, soft, sweet-smelling tufts of hair and a smile of a doll’s features and yet, a spell that was blank up front, to take comfort in that blankness as if it was purified like a chalice of Communion wine and it was also a spell that spelled, ‘be faithful as a servant of God, a man of the cloth’.

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Athol Fugard

He, Fugard, seemed to craft the impossible in a way that did justice to Helen, the insecure, little, belittled bird afraid of the outside world; Helen, the Outsider in a way I knew I could never because I did not get the ‘hook’, the ‘bait’ but fishing for information, our keen sense, our powers of observation of human behaviour is what writers and poets know best as we drink our coffee, brew pots of tea, grow a hunched back bent over our ancient computer. How did she, Helen who was not so insecure after all, build that wall around her? How did she approach each subject, each project; as an assignment? Did she miss the feeling of the warmth in her bedroom of another human being? The company of her dead husband, their daily rituals filled with breakfasts, hot, buttered toasts, meals that came out of cans, processed foods that could easily be heated up and eaten with bread like pilchards or sardines. They would probably have imbibed hot drinks during the day; warm milk at bedtime, lukewarm tea when it was called for, the bitter taste of coffee with grounds at the bottom of the cup in the morning. I think she had an inkling she would live on even in death and in her gift that she left to the world, was the method in her madness.

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Anne Sexton (1928-1974) Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1967

Did these apparitions that came to life see her as a mystic; a prophetess bound for crucifixion and resurrection, with her own shroud of Turin, God forbid, did they come to life under her splayed fingertips, come to her from above, heaven-sent, as natural as night and day? Were they angelic utterances whispered in her ear while she slumbered, as she turned in her sleep, twisting the sheets between her legs until finally she dreamed until daybreak or were they the of hallucinations induced by the isolated landscape, the barren countryside which surrounded her, the wilderness of her antisocial behaviour of her own making, induced by the mind of a woman slowly going mad, losing common sense, lacking that quintessential backbone of what made the English, the liberal-minded, so organised in their group or sporting activities like tennis for example, cricket or high tea; activities that required teams and cliques, so formal even in their games, proud of their progeny that followed in their footsteps, productive in the world, a world of their own making that was to a certain extent selfish, self-absorbed, not welcoming and friendly to people they considered to be not a fit partner in their climate; so genteel were they and conservative in their broad outlook on life. When I read of how people take their lives into their own hands I wonder what will happen, if there will ever be any substantial record of proof of their life here on earth. In the end, does it really matter to them, I question, yes, perhaps I judge their actions harshly and too quickly but to me it does matter because I was brought up that way; to believe that there is something holy and godlike about your spirit, your soul, your physical and emotional body and to take what does not belong wholeheartedly to you is stealing and there is nothing pretty about being caught after the act. If only, I imagine people who stumble across, infiltrate the place where the deceased lays, the body arranged in death, find the fragile creature as if taking a nap, resting, face composed, still, nothing amiss except the silence in the room where the unfortunate act of defiance, of quiet desperation had taken place without anyone’s knowledge.

If only, I had come sooner, not said this, said that in a moment when all my thoughts were focussed perfectly, perhaps if I had acted swiftly but depression is both mean-spirited and long-suffering and there is no escape from that if it is passed down from generation to generation, inherent in the highly feminine woman prone to emotional outbursts, hysterics, tantrums, panic attacks, melancholy, mania, self-medication with painkillers and potions brewed with herbs and the effeminate man. Most people live in altered states of minds when something traumatic has happened to them. Most people think that therapy can help them with this. Sitting down face-to-face with someone who has studied the maladies of the mind for years and years they bare the deepest, darkest secrets of their soul and then leave, feeling relieved, as if they have just done something noble. They think they will find the answers their soul is seeking once a week ongoing sometimes for several years or for their natural life. They find someone who they feel is suitable, someone motherly, fatherly or someone young who reminds them of a loved one, someone they lost or who even reminds them of their own children or a substitute for the absent parent from their childhood and adolescence and young adult life. But I was really writing this about Helen Martins and for her, in defence of her and of the life she lived. Some people just can’t help making waves and the more flawed they are, the more they can’t stop making waves. Perhaps she found the answers she was looking for, the elegant solutions she craved like scientists or mathematicians craved in their own work, in her art, her sculptures, her friendship. I wanted to make sense of her thinking. What was it, inside her head that was making her tick insatiably, behind her eyes that was making her see, what exactly was her fruitful, the blooming flowers of her subconscious telling her to do, willing her to do consciously, conscientiously, consistently, efficiently and at a time unbeknownst to the world at large while she was still alive. In death, she has survived it all that she couldn’t in life and yet she is still remembered as a woman made of skin and bone; a bone-woman, shapeless, caught in a thoroughfare like kittens to be drowned in a bag; her features like a sandscape, opening and shutting, through which seawater spills. Martyrs are made of this.

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3

A Short Biography of Benedetto Croce
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi (as translated by E. Paparella)

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Benedetto Croce

Italian critic, philosopher, politician, historian. Croce deeply influenced aesthetic thought in the first half of the 20th century, including Robin C. Collingwood's Principles of Art (1934) and John Dewey's Art as Experience (1934), although in the latter the philosophical background is totally different. Croce's main thesis was that art is intuition. His best-known work in the English-speaking world is Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic (1902).

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"It is deeply ironic that Croce, defender of the autonomy of art, aesthetician, a man endowed with a great sensibility, good taste, and judgment, was finally unable to develop a theoretical and analytical scheme of criticism and had to be content (like many other critics) with defining his own taste, selecting his canon of classics, and persuading others that he was right. He was successful only for a time." (René Wellek in A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950, vol. 8, 1992)

Benedetto Croce was born in Pescasseroli, Abruzzi, into a moderately wealthy land-owning family. His parents, who were both pious Catholics, had him educated at a Catholic boarding school. In 1883 Croce lost his parents and his sisters in an earthquake on the island of Ischia – he was buried for several hours and severely injured. He went to live with his uncle in Rome and studied law at the university. Croce left without taking a degree and returned to Naples, where he lived the life of a gentleman-scholar, writing about every issue of contemporary concern. He never held a university position.

During the next years Croce travelled in Spain, Germany, France, and England. He became interested in history after reading the literary historian Francesco De Sanctis. Under the influence of Gianbattista Vico's (1668-1744) thoughts about art and history he turned to philosophy in 1893. Croce also purchased the house in which Vico had lived. His friend, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile encouraged him to read Hegel. Croce's famous commentary on Hegel, What is Living and What is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel, appeared in 1907.

Croce, Antonio Labriola (1843-1904), and Georges Sorel (1847-1922) were known as the Holy Trinity of Latin Marxist studies, but Croce rejected Marx's determinism. In art nothing can determine in advance the direction our expression will take. In Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx (1900) Croce stated that "the capitalist society studied by Marx is not any society that ever existed or does exist."

Croce entered the cultural scene in 1896 with his book about the concept of history in its relationship to the concept of art. He noticed that the philosophical foundations of aesthetics did not yet exist and in the following works he attempted to demonstrate the superiority of arts over the natural sciences, which Croce considered as a system of "pseudo-concepts." In 1903 he founded with Gentile the magazine La Critica, which appeared until 1943. However, when Gentile started to support fascism and signed the 'Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals,' in the 1920s, Croce denounced the paper. From 1906 Croce worked as an adviser with his publisher, Laterza and Sons, Bari, to produce three highly influential literature series, 'Writers of Italy,' 'Classics of Philosophy,' and 'The Library of Modern Culture.'

In 1910 Croce was made senator for life. He married Adela Rossi in 1914; they had four daughters. In 1920-21 he was Minister of Public Instruction and planned school reform. During the reign of Mussolini and World War II, Croce supported democratic principles, although he was skeptical about democracy: "Sound political sense has never regarded the masses as the directing focus of society..." During the Fascist period Croce lived in isolation as one of the major anti-fascist thinkers in Italy. He never joined any underground movement, but his historical essays, in which he defended the liberal ideals of the Risorgimento, made him a high-profile opponent of the regiment. Visitors at his home were listed in police reports and his houses were under surveillance. As a senator, Croce could not be arrested without the consent of the Senate, but fascist partisans planned in 1944 to kidnap him in the Villa Tritone in Sorrento, where he lived after leaving Naples to escape the bombings.

After the war Croce was appointed Minister without Portfolio of the new democratic government and member of the Constituent Assembly. From 1943 to 1947 he served as President of the reconstituted Liberal Party. In 1947 he resigned from politics. On his retirement Croce established the Institute for Historical Studies in his Naples home, where he had a magnificent collection of books. Croce died in Naples on November 20, 1952.

Croce maintained that there is no physical reality, nothing exists except the activity of spirit in history. Like Hegel, he identified philosophy with the history of philosophy. History moves on with no final stage: it is the only reality, and the only conceptual and genuine form of knowledge. The physical is solely a construction of mind. Croce distinguished two basic aspects of experience – the theoretical, which included among others intuition, and the practical. In this category he placed all economic, political and utilitarian activities. The categories are dialectical, there is no action without thought. In normal experience intuition and concept combine, but in aesthetic experience we hold the two apart. In a work of art, form and content are inseparable. Intuition is free from concepts, it "is blind: the intellect lends its eyes to it." Criticism cannot be founded on rules or theories. "It is said that there are certain truths of which definitions cannot be given; that cannot be demonstrated by syllogistic reasoning; that must be grasped intuitively... The critic holds himself honor-bound to set aside, when confronted by a work of art, all theories and abstractions and to judge it by intuiting it directly. " (from The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General, trans. by Colin Lyas).

As a critic he started from the widely used assumption that analysis of texts themselves must precede other analysis. Works of art must be viewed in the light of their own, entire context. The intentional world of the poet is one thing and, and poetry is another – "what matters is not what the poet proposes or believes to make, but only what he has actually made." Croce distinguished expression from representation. Representational works of art tell a story, and if our interest is merely in the story, then the work has for us instrumental value. But when we are interested in expression, we are interested in the unique experience expressed by this special work of art.

"The artist is always morally blameless and philosophically irreproachable, even though his art may have for subject matter a low morality and philosophy: insofar he is an artist, he does not act and does not reason, but composes poetry, paints, sings, and in short, expresses himself." (from Nuovi saggi di estetica, 3th ed., 1948)

Croce believed in intuition as the main source of artistic creation. Art is based on intuition which exists before it is apprehended by an individual artist. A poet realizes his intuition verbally, through the process of writing. According to Croce, poetry is emotion, an expression of the soul at the moment of intuition. The task of an art critic is to characterize the image of the work, a unified mental picture of a particular thing, define its emotional aspects and evaluate how faithful the image is to emotion. Image consists of smaller parts, plot, setting, language.

Croce's conservative, classical taste led him to view with suspicion French symbolist poetry and experimental movements. He also dismissed translation as a logically impossible task, which probably delayed the development of translation studies in Italy. Croce disliked Pirandello, Rimbaud's 'Bal des pendus' showed him "stupid inhumanity," he ridiculed Valéry for his poetic theory, and criticized D'Annunzio for not having inner clarity. Thoroughly disappointed with contemporary literature, he eventually gave up writing.

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 END  OF 34th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (11/09/2014)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -

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