Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dürer's Melencolia I: The Why

I've spilled a lot of pixels on Melencolia I by this point. So now the big question is... why. Why is this piece so important to me, why do I obsess on it, why does it hit me in such a profound way on a personal level?

And I guess the best answer I can give is, because this is what it feels like inside my own head.

A clutter of ideas – weird, occult ideas at that – sitting before an ambivalent thinker. Reminders of death, yes, but also endless, obsessive puzzles to dive into, weird landscapes, tools laid carelessly aside, a flurry of information spiraling down to the furthest detail.

Sounds a bit like this blog, doesn't it?

And moreover, sounds a bit like my life. I tend to dive deeply into things that interest me for a short period, filled with inspiration from Elsewhere and then, once I am done with the idea, it lays me carelessly aside. David Foster Wallace put it best in Infinite Jest when his protagonist Hal Incandenza (a last name itself redolent of being afire with inspiration) speaks of his own genius-troubled childhood: "I too had moved serially between obsessions, as a child." Hal's speaking of his own father's incessant, unstoppable need to conquer a new obsession once the old one had worn off. "His record up until [the filmmaking career which he took up until the end of his life] indicated that he remained obsessed with something until he became successful at it, then transferred his obsession to something else."

Of course, some of us gripped by melancholia imaginativa never become a success.

And that's I think what someone like me gets out of Melencolia I. Albrecht Dürer? A true Renaissance man, skilled in art, architecture, mathematics, the occult and spiritual. His furious melancholy picked him up, used him, and put him down again but with great works left behind. My melancholy? It renders me heavy and weighed down, obsessing on minutiae, an angelic figure of inspiration sinisterly placed upon my shoulder, taunting me with what might be.

I guess the challenge of having this kind of brain (I'm not saying I'm anything like a genius, by the way; just that I have the kind of brain susceptible to a) obsessiveness and b) depression) is being able to systematically organize and process one's obsessions, put them into the field of vision of one's own life, and catalogue them accordingly. Which is one of the reasons I started this blog, to be honest.

Being mired in depression has always been something I've reveled in a bit, which I think is part of the condition, but what Melencolia I offers me is the promise of a way to make something beautiful out of a condition that is painful, shockingly painful on almost every day of my life.

I want to be picked up by inspiration, ultimately, picked up and not put down carelessly when it is done with me.

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