Saturday, September 04, 2010

Solitude and its Graces 10

The Search for Coherence

Coherence is about being connected and making sense.  We all like to be coherent, and it is the mark of an integrated character that it makes sense.  When we meet persons who are either drunk or under the influence of drugs we say that they do not make sense at all, that they are, in fact, incoherent.  Their thoughts, and indeed feelings, are not connecting well, are not cohering into a pattern that makes any sense at all to those of us whom they encounter.  Storr looks upon personal development as the search for coherence.  Elsewhere in his other writings he refers to the integration of the psyche or personality, another term for coherence.  Jung calls this phenomenon individuation, and other scholars, psychiatrists and psychologists have given it various names like "self-actualization" (Carl Rogers) or self-realization (Eastern Relgions: Buddhism and Hinduism).  Though the names differ the reality referred to is the one and the same.

Storr refers to the crucial importance of intimate human relationships to the formation of a healthy psyche and that when such relationships go wrong the human psyche is thrown out of kilter to a considerable extent.  Likewise, it is singularly crucial, as we have recounted in many of the nine preceeding posts in this series, that the infant and young child bonds well with the mother and other significant adults if it is to develop in a healthy manner in life as is evidenced by the ground-breaking work of the pyschiatrist and analyst Dr John Bowlby on attachment and loss.  However, in this seminal work, while he acknowledges the crucial role of relationships in the formation of a healthy psyche, he also acknowledges the role of solitude, interests and hobbies in its formation and stabilization.

A person, like Kafka, who is pathologically introverted, that is a person who can make little or no intimate contacts with others, is described by psychiatrists as schizoid.  However, there are others, and quite a number too, who are not schizoid at all, but who can manage to relinquish a need for intimacy.  In Storr's own words: "They are not so disturbed when relationships go wrong because, for them, the meaning of life is less bound up with intimate relationships than it is in the case of most people."  (Solitude, p. 146)

Who are these others?  They are mostly creative geniuses who can be found among all the arts and sciences, as well as monks, nuns, hermits and loners.  They are in no sense pathological or schizoid.  Once again I reurn here to Storr's words:

In an earlier book, I stressed the need for interpersonal relationships in the maturing of personality... I still believe this; but I want to add a rider to the effect that maturation and integration can take place within the isolated individual to a greater extent that I had allowed for.  The great introverted creators are able to define identity and achieve self-realization by self-reference, that is, by interacting with their own past work rather than by interacting with other people. (Ibid., p. 147)
Heinz Kohut

Heinz Kohut
Storr next mentions the great psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Heinz Kohut (1913 – 1981) who was an Austrian-born American psychoanalyst best known for his development of Self Psychology, an influential school of thought within psychodynamic/psychoanalytic theory.  Kohut was a very original thinker who abandoned the orthodox psycholanalysis propounded by Freud, jettisoning even the latter's structural model of the psyche, that is, Id, Ego and Superego for his own theory of Self.  He held that the development of a healthy, secure, coherent structure of personality depends on the child's repeated experience of being recognized and sustained by what he calls "empathically resonant self-objects." (See ibid., p.148).  In other words the child needs to interact with parents or parent-figures who continually reinforce its sense of its Self.  These significant others empathize with the child's feelings, and, of course, allay its fears and meet all its needs for physical and emotional sustenance.  This theory, then, holds that self-selfobject relationships form the essence of psychological life from birth to death.

Disintegration Anxiety

This is another term that appeals greatly to me.  It is much in keeping with the thought of Jung and indeed of Storr and the great late Dr Ronnie Laing. If integration or coherence or individuation or self-realization or self-actualization - call this by whichever term you wish - is the goal of life, it becomes the very essence of life's meaning by being such.  Therefore, disintegration or lack of integration is the very essence of meaninglessness, absurdity and sheer desolation.  Hence, it is no wonder that Kohut believes that disintegration anxiety is the worst anxiety that any human being can suffer.  The individuals whom he considers liable to this are those who, because of the immaturity of their parents' responses to them in childhood have not built up a strong coherent personality.  Once again disintegration anxiety can be compared with the fears of destruction of the "inner self" in schizoid subjects which Ronnie Laing describes so well in his wonderful The Divided Self.

Three Geniuses who preferred Solitude

Sir Isaac Newton
Storr finishes his chapter by giving three short biographies of the lives of three geniuses and focuses on their solitary and highly abstract pursuits.  The three are:  Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) and Isaac Newton. (1643-1727)   Without a doubt most psychoanalysts point to the obvious fact that these three geniuses were technicallyt "abnormal," and Storr concedes that they did indeed show more than the usual share of psychopathology.  However, all three survived and made very important contributions to human knowledge and understanding, which Storr contends they would not have made if they had not been predominantly solitary:

The psychopathology of such men is no more than an exaggeration  of traits which can be found in all of us.  We all need to find some order in the world, to make some sense out of our existence.  Those who are particularly concerned with such a search bear witness to the fact that interpersonal relationships are not the only way of finding emothional fulfilment.  (Ibid., p. 167)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Solitude and its Graces 9

Gate into Malahide Castle
Chapter 9 of Dr Anthony Storr's little classic on the importance of solitude in the building up of the human identity and spirit is called Bereavement, Depression and Repair.  This chapter indicates that those who suffer the loss of a parent - especially the mother - when eleven years or less are decidely more prone to more serious bouts of depression in later life. (See Solitude, p. 125)  It also suggests that creative pursuits - whether writing, music or any of the arts, crafts work or hobbies of all types - help to repair the broken spirit, the fractured self, the hurt soul.  As I already indicated the epigraphs with which Storr begins each chapter are worth their weight in gold insofar as they indicate the main meat of the forthcoming chapter and provide a very strong illuminating light on the whole thrust of the same.  Let me, therefore, quote here one of the two with which he begins this chapter:
"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation."  Graham Green, quoted Solitude, p. 123
This, then, is the substance of this chapter in a nutshell.  Yes indeed, we do use our imaginative capacities to escape from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," or simply to unwind or deal with day-to-day stress.  This is one very worthwhile role that the immagination plays, but it is a decidedly negative one in a sense as it is a way of coping with or escaping reality.  Of course, that is no bad thing - in fact it is a very good thing.  However, the imagination also has a more positive role, too, in that, when we follow our creative pursuits, we literally help to make our souls whole, to nourish the child within, to express our deepest feelings and to unlock the treasures of our more intimate visions and dreams.  Let us listen to the illuminating words of Anthony Storr here:

By creating a new unity in a poem or other work of art, the artist is attempting to restore a lost unity, or to find a new unity , within the inner world of the psyche, as well as producing work which has a real existence in the external world... In Winnicott's phrase, 'creative apperception' is what makes individuals feel that life is worth living; and those who are gifted are perhaps more able than most to repair loss in symbolic fashion.  The human mind seems so constructed that a new balance or restoration within the subjective, imaginative world is felt as if it were a change for the better in the external world.  In thus linking objective and subjective, we are approaching the limits of human understanding; but I believe that the secrets of human creative adaptation are to be found at just those limits.  The hunger of imagination which drives men to seek new understanding and new connections in the external world is, at the same time, a hunger for integration and unity within. (Ibid., p. 124)
Once again Storr illustrates this chapter  once again with copious references to authors like: Graham Greene who suffered from manic-depression; Alfred Lord Tennyson who had bouts of depression on regular occasions, and was a heavy smoker and drinker; to John Donne who likewise suffered from such bouts and was recurrently suicidal; and to William Cowper was also manic-depressive.  Storr goes on to list many others, too: S.T. Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, John Berryman, Louis McNeice who was also an alcoholic and Sylvia Plath.  All of these last mentioned here lost a parent before the age of twelve.  Of those listed Berryman and Plath committed suicide.

Gas Lamp in The Phoenix Park
Oftentimes, creative geniuses fear the loss of their inspiration if their mania or depression or whatever lifts.  In writing or in composing or in playing their musical instrument or in performing whatever is their specific calling they somehow work their way through their "suffering" and transform it into art.  In so doing they "cure" or more correctly heal their depression which is in all likelihood one source of inspiration.  Edward Thomas expressed such a concern or fear (See ibid., epigraph p. 123)

Now, I'd like to finish with a short quotation from Storr which is very relevant to my psychological explorations:

The creative response to loss is only one example of the use of the imagination.  Onlt those who exalt human relationships to an ideal position in the hierarchy of human values could think that creativity was no more than a substitute for such relationships. (Ibid., p. 144)