An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The love and pain that cannot speak their names.

Yesterday's piece was very supportively received and I thank you all for your sympathies. Now let me let you in on why I wrote it.

I was listening some time ago, maybe a week maybe a month to a radio programme where Louis Wolpert was talking about his depression. It was Radio4, courtesy of the internet broadcast of their "It's all in the mind" (or was it "A Good Read") programme, and the thing that caught my ear and started me to puzzle was Wolpert complaining that despite the fact that many authors have suffered from depression, and especially Virginia Woolf, and yet not a one of them has written about depression. He also brushed very briefly around the impact that living with a depressive can have on partners and family of the sufferer.

It can't have been months - I know that because I had just buggered my back - it must have been weeks. The forced inaction of the back injury allowed me focussed time to think. And when the pain was at its worst I tried to write about it. And couldn't. And wondered why. And spoke to G about how I was when I was in deepest pain. And I filed it all away.

Yesterday I found that I could write about it at last. Sitting achingly drinking coffee in Xania both before and after my painful session with our osteopath the thing began to form itself lucidly at last. It formed but it was immediately clear to me that what I could write was a washed out version of the reality. A word picture wherein the gamma correction of distance had faded it all out - focussed but undersaturated. And there I think is the key to the glaring omission that Wolpert bemoans: you cannot write at all when you are in the thing, the mood, the moment. You cannot write until you have a certain subjective distance from the thing, the mood, the moment. And then, what you can write is a pitiful shadow of the thing itself. Almost an insult to the subjective reality. Perhaps it is some kind of protection mechanism that the mind has. Perhaps it is the thing, be it pain physical or pain existential or pain psychological, is so foregrounded in the actual experience that there is not enough of you left to write it.

So yesterday's piece was actually about the unwritability of certain realities. A concrete demonstration if you will. That and a paean to the forebearance of G and the triumph of the will.

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years, as Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.

His book Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression was published by Faber in 1999.

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