Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
Styron begins his tale at the peak of his decline. He acknowledges that he had been suffering and struggling for some months, but it was a trip to Paris in 1985 that revealed to him the true nature of his illness.
The moment of revelation came as the car in which I was riding moved down a rain-slick street not far from the Champs-Elysees and slid past a dully glowing neon sign that read HOTEL WASHINGTON. I had not seen that hotel in nearly thirty-five years, since the spring of 1952, when for several nights it had become my initial Parisian roosting place. . . . It reappeared, however, that October night when I passed the gray stone facade in a drizzle, and the recollection of my arrival so many years before started flooding back, causing me to feel that I had come fatally full circle. I recall saying to myself that when I left Paris for New York the next morning it would be a matter of forever. I was shaken by the certainty with which I accepted the idea that I would never see France again, just as I would never recapture a lucidity that was slipping away from me with terrifying speed. (3-4)
Because of the subject matter, there is nothing here to recommend Paris to the reader. But it is Styron's attachment to the place, the force of feeling that attachment withdrawn, that causes him to see his condition for what it truly was - even though he was in little position to control it at the time.
As he describes his descent into (and subsequent emergence from) the "darkness," Styron notes that he suffered from hypochondria and makes reference to the 17-century perception of melancholia and hypochondria as interchangeable concepts.
It is easy to see how this condition is part of the psyche's apparatus of defense: unwilling to accept its own gathering deterioration, the mind announces to its indwelling consciousness that it is the body with its perhaps correctable defects - not the precious and irreplaceable mind - that is going haywire. (44).
This astute analysis caused me considerable reflection. It is true: we can much more easily replace a failing body part (knee, hip, even heart) than we can repair a mind that is broken. Thankfully, Styron's great mind did return from that brink. And even though he contributed nothing else to the literary canon after that break, this memoir offers something to those who need to hear his voice. To see the evidence of his healed mind. To attempt to understand the unknowable.
Now - even though I know I am really stretching the boundaries of Paris in July here, I am actually using this concept as a launching point for a new challenge. I have the complete set of these fantastic interviews, and each of the authors included has at least one work that I have yet to read. So, my goal is to regularly (time-frame yet to be established; watch for official launch post next month) read an interview alongside one of the TBRs from these masters. There are 16 interviews in each collection, which totals 64 authors. Should I go in the order they were collected? Chronologically? Your thoughts, questions, concerns, or even excitement about such a challenge are welcomed.
Finally, I leave you with this quip from Styron:
Interviewer: Do you enjoy writing?
Styron: I certainly don't. I get a fine, warm feeling when I'm doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let's face it, writing is hell.