November 19th, 2013 / 12:05 pm

Some Unscientific Thoughts on Depression

For whatever reason, I’ve always found precedents quite comforting. Either that, or they’re a nuisance. For instance, discovering the precedent of John Fante’s writing as something quite personal yet hovering in the realm of high art, was sufficiently comforting to impel me through the writing of my first real manuscripts. The precedent of John Haskell’s book of meta-celebri-fantasies documenting some of my personal favorites—and desired fictional subjects, probably—I AM NOT JACKSON POLLOCK was at first a nuisance. He’d written about Glenn Gould and Jackson Pollock in exactly the way I hoped to someday accomplish it. But you move on, you doff your cap, and you realize that for every precedent there’s just as likely an accompanying void where nobody’s accomplished what you can fathom, and there you are. is a different animal entirely. For the depressed person, the bulk of precedents—be they figures one admires that also dealt with depression, or works that seem to encapsulate the modern understanding of this phenomenon—have occurred in the last hundred years or so; and although it’s not difficult to develop a strong empathy for depressed figures like Lincoln, Nietzsche, or Albrecht Dürer, the lines of history tend to blur and complicate personal afflictions to such an extent that for every book that might exist exploring the various miserable icons we’ve had, there are hundreds documenting their triumphs and love affairs to bury these desired texts neath the fantastical self help mega library.



The first, and perhaps most obvious best friend to the depressed person post-1995 who happens to enjoy literature, is probably David Foster Wallace. Before him, the aforesaid lines of history tend to make the case of Sylvia Plath or Van Gogh fairly cut and dry, to the extent that Plath’s life might be seen as her sitting down at a desk and writing some beautiful works, then immediately falling into such a vat of misery that she stuck her head in an oven, the same model largely applies for Van Gogh except it’s paint, with a bit of ear-severing—though not as drastic as history has made it out to be—and the man shooting himself in the heart twice before walking back into the city undead, only to die two days later. With Wallace, however, we have an accomplished intellect who came to suffer severely from depression after the road had begun to be mapped out for him. Already well into his college career—and of course you can argue that his depressive tendency existed before this, but as I understand it this was when Wallace really came to blows with the malady—he seemed destined for literary accomplishment before being thrust into the void of chemical dissonance and thus forced to consider contemporary (this is important) means of salving the indiscernible wound.  And, luckily for us, he managed to write some of the most fascinating fiction and non- about the subject to happen in years. This is a curious thing to me. For all the talk I’ve heard of Wallace’s mastery over the contemporary form, or something, I seldom hear discussed his great command over the subject of fucking misery, modern boredom, or complete and total suicidal ideation. I guess it’s hinted at much of the time, but as far as I’m concerned the guy is close to our American Foucault as it relates to the depressive animal, with “Good Old Neon” or the Kate Gompert portions of Infinite Jest—perhaps my favorite in the whole book, weirdly enough—or Wallace’s nonfiction and more—the subject tends to permeate everything as far as I’ve gathered—what we have in Wallace is a guide for the solving of the plight described by Scott Fitzgerald years prior to this, that “the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness.” For more on this I highly recommend Postitbreakup’s fairly recent post for Dennis Cooper’s blog, “David Foster Wallace’s triptych on depression.


Moving on, we have the bizarre cinematic force that is Lars Von Trier, an artist both on par with his predecessors and surpassing them in many ways via films that hold a brutalist mirror to modern modes of thinking, and don’t let up. Von Trier, thankfully enough, has been fairly outspoken about both his personal life, and his views on depression, as well as commonly-agreed-upon treatments for this sort of thing. In interviews he speaks with little trepidation about his willingness to take an antidepressant to deal for a year or so when things become particularly dark, and doesn’t for a moment seem to question its potential effects on the work. I admire this to no end, especially considering the polarizing horrific density of the man’s oeuvre. Some part of me imagines the prescribing psychiatrist watching Antichrist after a session with Von Trier and wondering what in god’s name they’ve just amplified. Some part of me realizes that the lines between art and the functionality and wellness of the mind should not necessarily be blurred. And yet, as human beings, as curious fucking things, we cannot—or rather, I cannot—seem to shake this question of the integrity of any statement or decision or creation depending upon the chemicals coursing through my body while any of the aforesaid processes went on. I’ve now come to a personal decision where I’m comfortable with an amount of antidepressant under the present circumstances to create a tolerant and malleable existence for myself, but I wonder about the prospect of working hard at something, perhaps for years on end without finish, and whether in these years medication either taken or not will contribute or detract from the honest-to-goodness potential of the thing itself. This is a sort of atheist’s attempt at religion, I’m afraid. This question of the thing being some mysterious entity already essentially created and one simply needs to find oneself in the proper state to bring it into the physical realm is dangerous indeed. I think of the books I truly love, and that if they ran from start to finish with no digression or flaw how difficult said love would be to maintain. Foucault encouraged never to ask him to be the same person, nor to expect it or the work to reflect one single human entity’s perspective, and I guess my views fall more in line with this of late.



I’ll never exactly know what I’m saying. This is not why individuals write things. It’s why brochures or pamphlets are written, perhaps, but anything aside seems more driven by a lack of knowledge or insight than by the courage and confidence of one’s convictions. I didn’t write this, for instance, to pre- or pro-scribe some ideal way to deal with modern malaise because I know it doesn’t exist. And even that, I do not know. It might exist but I have no interest in finding it. I’d rather take cracks at various methods of tolerating the day and consciously work toward things that make some semblance of sense than go out searching for the thing that will put me in a state of orgasm for the next fifty years or so. I don’t need to feel extremely happy. I don’t even need to find the end of this sentence.


Grant Maierhofer is the author of various things. All of them should largely be accounted for here.

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  1. herocious

      dig it.

  2. Tracy Dimond

      Thank you.

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      […] first noticed Maierhofer after reading his piece “Some Unscientific Thoughts on Depression.” The brief essay begins by stating his belief that “precedents” offer comfort. By […]


      […] Some Unscientific Thoughts on Depression. […]


      […] first noticed Maierhofer after reading his piece “Some Unscientific Thoughts on Depression.” The brief essay begins by stating his belief that “precedents” offer comfort. By […]