“And when I look around the apartment where I now am,—when I see Charlotte’s apparel lying before me, and Albert’s writings, and all those articles of furniture which are so familiar to me, even to the very inkstand which I am using,—when I think what I am to this family—everything. My friends esteem me; I often contribute to their happiness, and my heart seems as if it could not beat without them; and yet—if I were to die, if I were to be summoned from the midst of this circle, would they feel—or how long would they feel—the void which my loss would make in their existence? How long! Yes, such is the frailty of man, that even there, where he has the greatest consciousness of his own being, where he makes the strongest and most forcible impression, even in the memory, in the heart of his beloved, there also he must perish,—vanish,—and that quickly.
Here we’ll explore quotes from The Bell Jar, an influential modern novel that took mental illness head on in a chronicle both terrifying and tender.
The Bell Jar wasn’t published in the U.S. until 1971, in accordance with the wishes of Ted Hughes, to whom she had been married at the time of her death (though they were separated at the time). From the 1971 Harper and Row edition:
“This extraordinary work chronicles the crackup of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful — but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time.
Step by careful step, Sylvia Plath takes us with Esther through a painful month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a magazine, her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and the boy she dated in college, and eventually, devastatingly, into the madness itself.”
The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes completely real and completely rational, as probably and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration in the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is far in any novel.”
“Want your boat, Georgie?’ Pennywise asked. ‘I only repeat myself because you really do not seem that eager.’ He held it up, smiling. He was wearing a baggy silk suit with great big orange buttons. A bright tie, electric-blue, flopped down his front, and on his hands were big white gloves, like the kind Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck always wore.
“But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness.
If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, ‘mercy’ killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer.
Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch.”
Ted Chiang writes…
The initial impulse to write “Understand” arose from an offhand remark made by my roommate in college; he was reading Sartre’s Nausea at the time, whose protagonist finds only meaninglessness in everything he sees. But what would it be like, my roommate wondered, to find meaning and order in everything you saw? To me that suggested a kind of heightened perception, which in turn suggested superintelligence. I started thinking about the point at which quantitative improvements — better memory, faster pattern recognition — turn into a qualitative difference, a fundamentally different mode of cognition.
Something else I wondered about was the possibility of truly understanding how our minds works. Some people are certain that it’s impossible for us to understand our minds, offering analogies like “you can’t see your face with your own eyes.” I never found that persuasive. It may turn out that we can’t, in fact, understand our minds (for certain values of “understand” and “mind”), but it’ll take an argument much more persuasive than that to convince me.
The following is respectfully quoted from “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker:
Many homicides have occurred at the courthouse where women were seeking protection orders, or just prior to the hearings. Why? Because the murderers were allergic to rejection. They found it hard enough in private but intolerable in public. For men like this, rejection is a threat to identity, the persona, to the entire self, and in this sense their crimes could be called murder in defense of the self. In To Have or To Harm, the first major book on stalking, author Linden Gross details case after case in which court orders did not prevent homicides. Here are just a few:
“Why aren’t you in school? I see you every day wandering around.”
“Oh, they don’t miss me,” she said. “I’m antisocial, they say. I don’t mix. It’s so strange. I’m very social indeed. It all depends on what you mean by social, doesn’t it?
Social to me means talking to you about things like this.”
She rattled some chestnuts that had fallen off the tree in the front yard.
“Or talking about how strange the world is. Being with people is nice. But I don’t think it’s social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film-teacher. That’s not social to me at all.
It’s a lot of funnels and lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not. They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can’t do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cars in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball. Or go out in the cars and race on the streets, trying to see how close you can get to lampposts, playing ‘chicken’ and ‘knock hubcaps.’
I guess I’m everything they say I am, all right. I haven’t any friends. That’s supposed to prove I’m abnormal. But everyone I know is either shouting or dancing around like wild or beating up one another.
Do you notice how people hurt each other nowadays?”
My life thou shalt command, but not my shame:
The one my duty owes; but my fair name,
Despite of death that lives upon my grave,
To dark dishonour’s use thou shalt not have.
I am disgraced, impeach’d and baffled here,
Pierced to the soul with slander’s venom’d spear,
The which no balm can cure but his heart-blood
Which breathed this poison.
The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess.
—Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?”
Fear of the unknown is possibly the only thing keeping a man from killing himself to end his troubles. And the sleep might still take over!
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.