Sunday, January 3, 2010

Inspiration from Self-Inflicted Solitude: Therapy or Psychosis?

I left work late one evening, jumped in my car, turned on the radio and the first thing I heard was “he lived in a cabin for a year and had no connections to the outside world.” I had caught NPR in the middle of an interview with Griffin Dunne who was speaking about his father Dominick Dunne who just passed away in August. I’ll admit I’m not as cultured as I’d like to be and never heard of Dunne (who was a famous author, television producer and personality). However, I was interested in why he decided to cut himself off from humanity and what came out of this period in his life. Doing some light research on Wikipedia, I discovered Dunne went into hiding in 1979 to “overcome personal demons.” (His son said during the NPR interview that elder Dunne was trying to stop drinking.) But most importantly, Dunne wrote his first book during this period. This self-inflicted solitude had been a huge muse for Dunne.

This perfectly timed NPR clip inspired me for two reasons. First, I’ve always had a mild obsession with cutting myself off from the rest of the world as some sort of personal experiment. Second, I have a borderline obsession with Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote his most influential book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, while living in solitude after suffering some traumatic love triangle drama (Read about it here). Nietzsche, like Dunn, placed himself in voluntary isolation where he conceived and wrote the first part of Zarathustra (the best work of his career) in only ten days.

This idea of facing your demons and being left to deal only with yourself is powerful. While it definitely is mildly psychotic it can bring forth some intensely creative energy.

What are your thoughts about these forms of extreme measures to overcome issues in your life? Is the creative by-product a transmutation of negative forces into something positive? Or are such extreme measures childish, attention-driven and narcissistic?

Tom Murtaugh

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  1. Really interesting! I think to put yourself in isolation takes courage, but also should not be for the faint of heart. What if some ugly stuff comes out and you're not equipped to deal with it? How does you transition back into the "real world?" Much to ponder..

  2. Wildly interesting. I think that part of creativity and agility (...writing a book in 10 days) is pain and being able to be with that pain and embrace it. Takes a lot of courage and inner strength!

  3. I like the 'mildly psychotic' label to do that. So many creative productive people ARE mildly psychotic. Not a bad thing overall, depending... keep it 'mild'! Great article, inspires ME that my desire for solitude is NOT isolation.... and it can be productive. I am so 'sensitive' that without ALL of today's influences, I can find my voice stronger and clearer....

  4. Lisa, Raymond and Chris, thanks so much for your insight! I'm so glad we all agree that solitude can be a powerful inspiration. Going into, using and coming out of solitude are all important steps in this process - I think each of your comments highlight a different aspect. If wielded properly, I'm sure some amazing things will come!