Within the first two paragraphs of this article, Needleman (in paraphrase) has invoked a roll call of prominent depressives and suicides: Tolstoy, Plath, Nietszche, Kierkegaard, William James.
Do only the mentally ill have anything to teach us? This is glorification of suffering, a secular version of the death-cult. Wallowing. Is an echo of our own suffering really the best medicine? How much harm would it do us to hear from someone who is happy, whole and sane? Or merely hear that they are happy, whole and sane, as presumably they are too busy doing unangsty, mundane things, and that makes dull reading.
So many words written about the struggle, living well, living with “presence” (whatever that is). Maybe the uncomfortable truth is that truly living well makes poor reading. That only life’s failures are sitting in the study penning Great Works, which the rest of us then use to find company in our own failure. And hence the proportion of lost souls in the first paragraphs of this article is 100%. Articulate, thoughtful, thought provoking lost souls, to be sure. But still lost.
Ask yourself, those of you who are parents: would you say to your child, would you hope for your child, “I hope and I dream for you that you grow up to be like Sylvia Plath. To know what she knew, experience what she experienced”. Or Tolstoy, or James, etc.
No? If these people aren’t role models for our most loved, why are they role models for ourselves? Is this obsession with the tortured just a highly literate way for us to express our self-hatred?