Monday, March 21, 2016

A Madness of Art

We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.
--Henry James, “The Middle Years”

The writing of fiction is a kind of madness. Specifically, it is a controlled, voluntary delusion in which the mind's grip on reality is loosened and the writer permits her consciousness to drift away into unreality. A talent for fictional composition might be indistinguishable from a susceptibility to what our culture has decided to call 'psychosis.' There is thus an aspect of terror in all artistic creation (when it truly is creation, not imitation or hackwork), a fear that we're fucking around with the foundation of everything we are. Artists who, outside the arena of page or stage, have felt the brush of madness's wing, who have experienced their streams of thought slowly and involuntarily forking off from reality, and who remember the dull, blank fear ("Could it be Madness — this?") occasioned by such drifting, a fear like a hollow sphere embedded in the chest where the heart should be--these artists are the ones for whom creation is a game of fire, an activity so dangerous they might choose sanity and make nothing, nothing of themselves... For it is impossible to write--or even to imagine--fiction when one's mind is held at rigid attention, when consciousness clutches reality like a white-knuckled fist. If we are to create, it is necessary to ignore that fear of madness (we've been there, after all; we've done that; we've come through); it is necessary to open the mind's hand, to let go the dreary dead weight of reality and roar down the runway that flies us into fiction, to soar.

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