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Friday, 16 January 2009

Addictions, Angst & Ecstasy

The 'addiction' to angst, I think, is no different than the addiction to ecstasy and awe - in fact they are one and the same. In the wonderful self-indulgence of feeling things to their very depths, the difference between agony, angst and ecstasy is very flimsy. It is interesting that some of the so-called best works of the Romantic poets were induced by opium; the art of some of the great Impressionists came through absinthe or that Branwell Bronte's alluring angst came from his alcohol/laudanum-induced fantasies.

Without for a moment advocating the use of any external substances to create that ecstasy or angst, I wonder which came first in the poets and artists of the past: the drug or the longing in the mind/heart to find expression. I suspect it was the former. The feelings that go right down to the depths of what it is to be human. The thoughts, which have been largely crushed by a world in which everything is explained by a 'rational' mind. We have concreted over forest paths. We have cut down trees, stifled creativity and made everything safe in our attempt to combat disease. But the greatest disease, as I see it, is the stifling of the spirit - of what it really means to be human. To be human means feeling it all; experiencing it all - the agony, the ecstasy, the wonder, the childhood, the passion of being alive. We have made it all clinical and safe. Prior to industrialization, there was no drugs problem. There was no alcoholism on such a large scale. When people listened to the Earth; listened to their own rhythms and didn't feel a need to be conventional, there was no need for that escape. They could think and feel in freedom - to the core. Now, there are addictions because every now and again, people find a glimmer of what used to be an everyday experience and can only recapture it through the use of external substances. Keats understood it - without the need of hemlock or 'some dull opiate' - in his 'Ode to a Nightingale'. The agony, angst and ecstasy is within us all:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, -
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

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