Sad Genius

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 5 2011 @ 8:03am

Will Wilkinson ponders David Foster Wallace’s depression and wonders how it interacted with his fiction:

There’s some evidence that the moderately depressed are less self-deceived. “Depressive realism” is said to leave us less disposed to happy illusions about our abilities or our degree of control over our behavior. It’s easy to see how an unblinkered sense of the self could be an asset to a novelist.

Moreover, an unshakable sense of dissatisfaction and hopelessness in the face of the forces that control us, even if muted, can act as a powerful prod to serious contemplation of the conditions for happiness and autonomy. Of course, if depression can make seeing the truth about some things easier, it makes doing everything more difficult. And Wallace appears to have adopted, by choice or chance, demanding standards both in literature and life, and these standards seem not to have been unreasonable. He could, sometimes, live up to them.

But a foible of neurology that keeps us from meeting our own high standards consistently can put us in a terrible bind.

Much of the same could be said of Elliott Smith, another sad genius who took his life too soon.