Sunday, July 4, 2010

Schizophrenia and Creativity

There is a strong and well documented link between the vicissitudes of schizophrenia and creative and cultural production. While all instances of schizophrenic psychosis do not inevitably lead to creative outcomes, there have been some important and famous examples. My last post detailed the work of Karl Jaspers, and his examination of the two highly influential artists - Holderlin and Strindberg. Holderlin's fragmentation in poetry, and his disconnected images have influenced whole generations of poets, most notably (I believe) the modernists. Heidegger's interest in Holderlin has given his poetry a cultural significance that is of great importance for understanding the intersection of creativity and schizophrenia.

What is it about schizophrenia that lends itself to creativity? One important aspect of the condition is what is diagnostically known as 'loosening of association'. Words and concepts can combine in the speech and writing of schizophrenics in ways of association that are highly unusual. In refractory schizophrenics, these associations lead to word-salad type expressions that run counter to meaning. In some schizophrenics however, this unusual and loosened conceptual play can lead to quite successful creative outcomes. Writing, especially in mediums such as poetry, associations of words and concepts has to be loosened via an imaginary obfuscation which gives a pleasant unusualness. With the right vocabulary, this unusualness can lead to expression of beauty which are at the heart of poetry. Schizophrenics are in a perfect position to capitalise on this linguistic gymnastics, due to the above mentioned symptom - loosening of association.

There may be other aspects of schizophrenia that lend the condition to acts of creativity. I will leave these to further blog posts in the future.

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