Friday, December 5, 2008

Depressing Thoughts on Depression and Death

I'm back on the wagon in a big way, and am now 783 pages in, 72.6% of the novel. I came across some really thought-provoking and sad sections this week, especially, again, in looking at the book through the lens of DFW's suicide. In one part, DFW describes two different types of depression. Anhedonia is basically "spiritual numbness, a kind of emotional novicaine." There's nothing inside, you can't find yourself, you just don't have any feeling. Hal, it is revealed, is afflicted with this type of depression.

The other type is much more severe - "predator-grade" clinical depression. It is just incredibly, unimaginably painful. DFW says that for someone with clinical depression, anhedonia is a "fond dream." By way of further explanation, DFW says that if you put two people next to each other, one depressed and one not, and tortured the not-depressed person with electric current, that person would scream in pain, and the screams would be "circumstantially appropriate." But the depressed person is in similar pain, but if s/he did scream, s/he'd be considered "psychotic." His/her pain/screams aren't appropriate because, there is nothing tangible to be screaming about - to the outside world.

And here's an analogy to further convey the severity of clinical depression: When someone who is clinically depressed kills him/herself, it's akin to a person on the ledge of burning building jumping to their death instead of being burned to death by the fire. S/he'll die either way, but jumping is the less scary, and less painful. A depressed person views the pain DFW calls "It" as worse than death. I thought that was really profound and incredibly insightful, especially because DFW says it's nearly impossible for non-depressed people to empathize with depressed people, and vice-versa. It's also another frightening window into DFW's own life...and death.

In another section describing Hal and his relationship with his suicided father, DFW writes: "It's weird to feel like you miss someone you're not even really sure you know." Ah, the pathos of that quote! Incredible. And it made me think about how whenever I think about DFW's death, and the fact that there will be no more of his brilliant writing, I miss......him? his work? I'm not sure. It's weird.

On a slightly happier note, sort of - I was thrilled to find that one of the members of my favorite band (Smashing Pumpkins), guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who was working on Ph.D. in comparative literature at UCLA before joining Pumpkins, recently wrote a mini-tribute to DFW on a Pumpkins blog. It's not exactly sunny, but it was fun to see two of my favorite things intersecting like that.

And on a much happier note, GO MARQUETTE!

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