A PERMANENT CROSS
He remembered his doctor looking at him in sceptical surprise and saying: "Why, you're not a nutcase! You've got musical taste and culture and ...!"
Michael had discussed classical music with his doctor on a previous occasion, but had gone along to the surgery, this time, for some anti-depressants in order to combat a depression the doctor knew all about, and the latter had kindly scribbled out a prescription for tryptizol or dothiepin or some such soothing drug. But he hadn't been encouraged to pay a visit to a specialist at the nearest mental hospital. Indeed, he had been dissuaded from pursuing a more intensive course of treatment, though, god knows, he knew that something more was needed than recourse to mild anti-depressants! In fact, he had long been of the opinion that his depression was due to overlong confinement in an urban environment, the city he inhabited more as a foreigner blown in from the provinces than as a genuine native, an outsider as opposed to an insider, and a fundamentally Catholic one at that! The doctor was clearly an insider, a native Londoner sceptical of depressions caused by environmental incompatibility, doubtless on account of his own environmental compatibility. A kind of sophisticated proletarian was how he saw his doctor - jolly, rotund, prone to self-inflected accidents, hooked on valium, which he swallowed more, apparently, to keep himself calm than to ease depression; though if he had one it was evidently attributable to some other source than environment - possibly matrimonial or hereditary.
But whilst, as a patient, Michael was of the opinion that environment was chiefly responsible for his depression, he had never claimed that it was solely responsible. Simply the root cause that led to certain effects conducive to depression. Like, for instance, being alone in one's room most of the time because the outside world was too obnoxious to encourage socializing and, in any case, appeared bereft of the types of people who would have appealed to one's sense of friendship, its inhabitants being either mostly of the simple or yobbish proletarian varieties, or of the stand-offish and unintelligible immigrant varieties, with but a scattering of petty bourgeoisie and bohemian intellectuals thrown-in for good measure. And being alone of course meant that one wasn't talking or copulating, two things which, providing they were indulged in regularly enough, served to release pent-up tensions and keep one relatively free from depression.
Yet if the environment was a cause of these effects, which stood like a thistle on a jaded stalk, it was also a direct contributory factor to his depression, not only in the sense that it was too artificial and built-up for his liking, or too squalid and ugly, too smelly and polluted, but, worse still, too noisy and thus a constant source of tension - tension which entered his head in the form of noise and stayed there, he having no social or sexual way of releasing it again. So he was in a kind of tension trap, with noise - in the extremely disagreeable forms of dog-barkings, worker-hammerings, door-slammings, pop-screechings, kid-shoutings, phone-ringings, car-hummings, radio- and/or TV-blarings, etc. - going into his head, but no noise - in the more agreeable forms of speaking, grunting, laughing, singing, etc. - coming out of it. All one-way traffic, so to speak. And coupled to this, a lack of deep steady sleep, in part attributable to increased tension and intellectuality within a highly artificial environment, in part doubtless deriving from his solitary and sordid lot, a lot compounded by the poverty of a social security allowance which, to say the least, further inhibited socializing, there being relatively few contexts where one could meet people free-of-charge, and still fewer women who would want to meet anyone who lacked the means to date them regularly, particularly someone whose sartorial appearance left something to be desired on account of his poverty!
No, Michael knew well enough that females were highly
appearance-conscious, linking a smart exterior with financial affluence and an unsmart one with a want of financial solvency, thoroughly
worldly in their estimations of men, a consequence, no doubt, of their
fundamentally materialistic natures, which induced them to attach greater
importance to externals than to internals, to the flesh than to the spirit, to
appearances than to essences. Not all
women of course, but still too many of them too much of the time! And particularly within an open-society
context, and one, moreover, that existed in a traditionally materialistic
Well, Michael had not gone along to the doctor in order to
lecture him on ethnic characteristics or to give him an unprecedentedly
bold lesson in free speech, but simply to acquire some anti-depressants which,
from previous experience, he knew would be of minimal avail against the
depression that was a permanent aspect of his life and had more than a few
cogent causes, not least of all the isolation of an intelligent Irishman in a
major English city! He knew, too, that
his writings would never be accepted by the English, since too honest and
radical for their middle-of-the-road, bourgeois taste and lack of understanding
of anything that transcended the literary mask, like his philosophical
collectivized writings and poetic autobiographical writings, not to mention his
revolutionary politico-religious ones.
The English were always somehow false and lying, he, a true son of
Ah, Michael had not allowed his depression to prevent him from working on his own, necessarily superior terms - terms which, through various literary or anti-literary or poetic stages, had brought him to Truth while the majority of British writers continued to wallow in illusions and lies, superficiality and dirt, after their commercial fashions! Unlike them, he had never 'kissed the bourgeois' arse', to paraphrase Goebbels, but gone his own way, the way of Truth. He had quite admired their better authors, men like Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, Anthony Burgess and Lawrence Durrell, but had never identified with them, preferring to regard most of his work as a continuation beyond Joyce and Beckett, at least technically ... with regard to a developing absolutism in poetic truth. He could no longer take the novel genre seriously, since he equated it with bourgeois limitations both thematically and technically. A democratic art-form, lacking the inspiration of true genius as much on account of its pedantic technical considerations as of its restricted subject-matter.
For true genius of expression demands the maximum concern with
content and the minimum concern with style or grammar. It cannot emerge if there is a lack of
inspiration on account of one's being bound to technicalities which necessarily
impede the flow as well as inhibit the development of Truth. Great insights, the product of inspiration,
mostly come 'on the wing', not when one is at rest or bogged down in
stultifying pedantic considerations! The
more you gain on the grammatical roundabout, the less you can have on the
conceptual swings. The more positive
truth you desire, the less concern you must give to technicalities, which
merely conform, after all, to the proton and/or neutron side of writing, its
materialistic as opposed to spiritualistic, or electron, side. The British make for good novelists but,
contrary to literary myth, relatively poor poets, since they are never
sufficiently free from technical considerations to soar to the heights of
imaginative freedom. Having Irish blood
in their veins, Burgess and Durrell are less literary
than poetic and produce better or, at any rate, more poetic novels in
consequence. James Joyce and Samuel
Beckett are more poetic again, and it's unlikely that any major Irish writer
could ever be less than highly poetic, granted a free-electron
predilection. He had seen the age of
English writing superseded, in
But a revolutionary leader had to write, and Michael had written as much as anyone, Lenin included, on subjects and in a way that Lenin would never have contemplated, being too much the politician for anything so theocratic as poetry. A Social Transcendentalist leader was an altogether different proposition from a Bolshevik or a Communist one, closer, in essence, to Hitler and to fascist leaders generally - men who scorned mere politics and literary philistinism. Michael was also a writer in the higher sense, not just a political or revolutionary propagandist. Probably more a writer, if the truth were known, than a revolutionary. A writer who imagined himself a revolutionary rather than a revolutionary who also dabbled, à la Trotsky, in writing. A kind of literary schizophrenia, an illness probably shared by such illustrious writers as Gide and Camus, Malraux and Sartre, Koestler and Mailer, who were expected and inclined to be political but were never quite sure to what extent or exactly where the demarcation line between literature and politics actually stood. Was it perhaps a failing of a certain type of writer that he imagined himself capable of major participation in revolutionary politics? Or a madness? That political participation was a writer's dream, the grass being greener the other side of the professional fence, every profession having a kind of connection with some other, to which one was more than likely to be drawn? So after a writer, a fascist or communist dictator? Was that the only way one could, as it were, progress? He had often thought so, and was still of the opinion that a revolutionary dictator was more likely to come from the intellectual class, particularly on its literary side, than from any other. Certainly a Social Transcendentalist would have to be highly literate, if his sovereignty as embodied Holy Spirit was to be justified. No mere labourer or philistine politician! Michael had no reason to doubt his sanity on that account, even if he wasn't altogether sure that he was sane to imagine himself a potential dictator, when he had spent so much time scribbling literary or poetic truth!
But was Social Transcendentalism merely a figment of his imagination, a mere literary game? He didn't think so, couldn't bring himself to believe that he was merely concocting imaginary worlds for literary appreciation. He had gone too far and in too much depth and earnestness to be a mere purveyor of political fictions. He knew that what he stood for was the Truth, and that the Truth would have to prevail in the world in future if it was to be redeemed. He was no fool to doubt the authenticity of his Truth. But whether or not he would actually implement it ... time alone would tell. At least he didn't feel that he was in need of a state psychiatrist on account of his uncertainty in this matter, though his mental health might well have profited from some psychiatric attention. The depression was still there, and if it was a Cross he had to bear on account of his solitary and celibate lifestyle, then so be it! Writers were more often than not depressive, if not manic, in any case, since too much alone. It was a professional hazard and drawback, not something of which to be cured if one wished to continue in one's chosen tracks, since writing could only be done in solitude or, at any rate, without professional assistance from, say, a colleague. Most serious writers sooner or later took to drink as an antidote to depression on a kind of intermittent or temporary basis. Also tobacco of course, another sensual indulgence to counter the enforced asceticism of solitary intellectual activity, to sensualize the brain, soak it, drag it down from its too tense and rarefied heights, if only to watch the TV or listen to discs.
Such it was for him, and he didn't think himself altogether unique in this respect, even if there were writers - authors really - who fared better on account of their wealth and social life, always a friend or wife around with whom to talk, not really alone all that much, too bourgeois to want the heights. But madness, mental illness, depression, delirium - so prevalent these days, and not simply among writers and would-be revolutionaries, either! He considered himself essentially sane, despite his depression. But there were others who had regular need of psychiatric attention, were, in fact, more often mentally ill than physically ill. He had thought about this negatively, in regard to his own problem in the past, but now he was beginning to see it in a positive light. After all, why had psychology and psychiatry taken so long to materialize? Why was it only this century that they really came into their own, so to speak, as respectable medical professions? Surely the answer to these questions had to be: because it was only in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries that, in certain parts of the world and in certain individuals, the human psyche had become sufficiently evolved to permit of a looking back and down on the subconscious from the vantage-point of the ego and/or superconscious - in short, because until then humanity had been insufficiently advanced to be either capable of or particularly interested in any such psychic scrutiny.
Well, what applies to the subconscious may well apply to the brain in general and to mental illness in particular, so that the growth of interest in the former and increasing prevalence of the latter were but reflections of the ongoing sophistication of the age, its coming to maturity on terms that stressed the mental at the expense of the physical, the brain at the expense of the body. He had little doubt that, paradoxically, the expansion of mental illness was a symptom of evolutionary progress; for if bodily illness had hitherto been the human norm, might we not be approaching a time when it would be the exception and, by contrast, only mental illness be the human norm - a humanity grown beyond the merely physical and become ever-more deeply engrossed in the mental and spiritual, a humanity which had passed from the body to the mind?
Ah, there were sufficient grounds in this hypothesis for optimism about the future, for seeing in mental illness not a sign of decay and pessimism, but, on the contrary, of growth and optimism concerning the evolution of mankind away from the body and ever deeper into the mind. Could it be, he wondered, that a day would come when all or most physical illnesses would be attributed to mental causes, to psychosomatic origins? Would humanity reach such a pitch of evolutionary sophistication that doctors and surgeons would become redundant, their dedication to physical illness no longer necessary, the psychologists and psychiatrists ruling an absolutist roost, and so attending to the prevalent and, in a sense, only morally respectable types of illness of that age?
Michael wasn't entirely prepared to rule out such a possibility. For it seemed to him that psychology and psychiatry were complementary aspects of a growth industry, the spiritualistic and materialistic sides, as it were, of the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, and that the ratio of mental to physical illness could only change in the course of time, the former developing at the expense of the latter, in accordance with the evolutionary requirements of a more absolutist age, an age when the representative medical practitioners would be psychologists and psychiatrists, in contrast to the norms of an open society where, to all appearances, doctors and surgeons constituted the medical norm, and to such an extent, in certain countries, that their psychic counterparts were still regarded with if not contempt then, at any rate, deep suspicion, as if their vocations were somehow irrelevant to the established order, beyond or outside the pale of representative medical practice, a kind of emerging poetic threat to a novelistic status quo, not to be taken too seriously, but scarcely to be underestimated, either!
Perhaps this would apply more in traditionally democratic than in traditionally theocratic societies, where the materialistic was always so much more the accepted norm? Certainly a closed society derived from the latter kinds of societies would reverse this situation or, at any rate, expand the psychic side, and maybe to a point where psychologists and psychiatrists would greatly preponderate, with but a minimum quantity of bodily doctors to deal, in the main, with accidents and emergency cases, they being regarded as a left-over from bourgeois society, corresponding, in their reformed status, to the 'Social', and hence inferior, side of Social Transcendentalism, the ideological integrity of a truly theocratic closed society, necessarily placing maximum emphasis on the noun. Probably by then only mental illnesses, he reasoned, would be socially respectable, contrary to the current open-society situation, which inclines to regard mental illness from a bodily, materialistic point of view, and thus to apply such derogatory expressions as 'nutcase', 'fruitcake', and 'lune' to those so afflicted. Just as his doctor had done with regard to himself, albeit on the assumption that he couldn't possibly be one, since stable and healthy and ... interested in serious music!
Well, at the time, Michael had been almost relieved to hear this, though he knew that his depression was a kind of mental illness and was more serious than perhaps the doctor, with his limited knowledge of such things, had supposed. Yet now, when he reflected on his situation from a higher vantage-point, he was almost disappointed in the doctor for not having credited him with more sophistication and thereby acknowledged his superior afflicted status. Indeed, now he was almost proud to be in some degree mentally ill and thus one of the elect of suffering, no mere physical democrat but a psychical theocrat, as he had long conceived of himself. He might not be a 'nutcase' in any flagrantly exhibitionist or delirious or violent or deranged or abusive or non-communicative sense, but at least he was prone to mental rather than simply physical ill-health, if on a comparatively low-key and tolerable basis. This was, he supposed, the price one paid for one's genius as a writer/thinker, the degree of sophistication and spiritual insight to which he had attained being impossible without a commensurate degree of physical solitariness and social simplicity.
Yet it was also a mark of his inherent sophistication, his status as one of the spiritual elect for whom mere bodily ill-health would have been demeaning, a kind of left-wing affliction more suited, he supposed, to a person of anti-natural inclination and/or temperament. If he was not mad in any seriously permanent sense, he was yet capable of mental ill-health and not simply on an intermittent basis either! It was his shadow self, the price he paid for the light of his truth. Better of course to be mentally well than mentally sick; but if one had to be ill, better to be mentally sick than physically sick. He was part of a long tradition of great minds whose common lot had been mental ill-health. Like Nietzsche, Strindberg, Baudelaire, Hermann Hesse, Ezra Pound, and Wilhelm Reich, Michael Somers would carry his cross until the end - the end, in his case, of the World.