Friday, December 12, 2014

Creativity, insanity's landscape

Sachitra Mahendra

Having published several books and research articles on psychology and literature, Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge is positive of one daring factor: creativity could stem from some psychological disorder. Dr Jayatunge closely worked with the Sri Lankan war veterans at the Military Hospital Colombo profoundly studying the impact of combat related PTSD. Now he furthers his studies in psychology at the York University, Canada.
This week's encounter is quite brave enough - he even names the psychological disorders that inspired some eminent literary figures.
Q: Your analysis of Sinhabahu is that it entertains the 'incest' concept. At the same time, the contemporary Sinhala literature is accused to be infested with sexually driven concepts. How do you view this phenomenon?
A: Incest refers to any sexual activity between close relatives often within the immediate family irrespective of the ages of the participants and irrespective of their consent which is illegal or socially taboo. Incest is considered as the oldest crime. Incest has been documented in most civilizations. The incestuous relations were discussed in the Jathaka Stories as well as in the Holy Bible. The Jathaka stories reveal an incestuous attempt in Seggu Jathaka. The Holy Bible describes father - daughter incest in the story of Lot.
In 1913, Dr. Sigmund Freud published his 'Totem and Taboo' that profoundly discussed the horror of incest. According to Sigmund Freud, people repress their incestuous urges. Freud vividly described incestuous desires that occur during the Phallic Stage through Oedipus and Electra Complexes.
Freud believed that many cases of hysteria had a basis in childhood incest.
The mythological story of Sinhabahu describes the origin of Sinhala nation. The Sinhabahu mythology has a cultural significance and it describes the social taboos such as patricide and incest.
Prof Gananath Obeyesekere postulates that Sinhabahu myth is the paradigmatic myth of the Sri Lankan Oedipus.
There are many mythological stories like Sinhabahu that could be found in the ancient cultures. Dr Wijaya Dissanayaka - Consultant Psychiatrist and the eminent lecturer was on the view that most of these stories narrate the killing of the beast or the dragon by the hero, which truly depicts the oedipal conflict. The Story of Sinhabahu illustrates the incestuous relationship between brother and sister.
The contemporary Sinhala literature scrutinizes incestuous relationships. For instance, K Jayathilaka's short story 'Ekageyi Avurudda' and Gunadasa Amarasekara's 'famous' novel 'Karumakkarayo' narrates series of incestuous relationships. But I cannot agree with the point that the contemporary Sinhala literature is accused to be infested with sexually driven concepts. In psychological terms, human sexuality is the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. It is a basic human instinct.
Sexuality has been discussed in the Jathaka stories (Eg: Nalini Jataka, Asathamanthra Jataka). It is a part of mundane life and the literarian cannot avoid it when they describe human nature.
The contemporary novels such as Manjula Wediwardana's 'Batthalangunduva' and Upul Shantha Sannasgala's 'Pirimi Godai Mama Witharai' intensely discuss sexuality. But I would not see these novels as full of sexuality or overuse sexuality. There is no solid evidence to prove that classic Sinhala literature is infested with sexually driven concepts.
Q: How do you differentiate erotic literature from the pornographic literature? Is there a difference between erotic classics such as Lawrence and pornography?
A: Indeed, there are vast differences between erotic literature and the pornographic literature. Pornographic literature is detrimental and it increase negative views toward women, destructively affect human relations sometimes causing sex addiction. People like Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Karla Homolka etc. who committed murders and sexual crime was believed to be influenced by pornographic literature.
According to Dr. Ana J. Bridges (Department of Psychology, University of Arkansas) young men and women who report higher pornography use and from earlier ages engage in more risky sexual behaviors. On the other hand, erotic classics such as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Madame Bovary do not cause such damaging impact and these novels were adored by continuing generations of readers.
Q: Why can't pornographic literature be called classics?
A: This is a very controversial question. I think it depends on the readers view. Some of the literature found in the ancient Pompeii narrates contentious form of sexuality. How would you define this type of literature? Either pornographic or classic?
Q: Your analyses on the works of Tolstoy, and Dostoeyevski indicate the man is eternally caught in the struggle between spirituality and otherwise. How do you further explain this?
A: In 'War and Peace', Tolstoy argued his own idiosyncratic theory of life. He was struggling between his Christian ideals and his conflicts with lust and the hypocrisies. Tolstoy discussed the free will in War and Peace.
War and Peace reflects Tolstoy's view that all is predestined. He writes that no one controls events not even Napoleon or Kutuzov Commander-in-chief of the Russian forces or the Tsar Alexander I.
This philosophy was later grasped by many novelists and film directors. For instance in the movie 'Wind and the Lion' (starring Sean Connery) the nomad leader of the desert Raisuli compares his place in the universe as a pawn in the chess board which he has no control.
Tolstoy once said man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of the historic, universal, aims of humanity.
Dostoyevsky was greatly influenced by religion and philosophy. He lived in a society where justice and equality had been seriously violated.
Obviously he did question the hypocrisy and double standards of the clergy and the state that continuously violated the basic human rights in the Imperial Russia. Fyodor Dostoyevsky believed that the human nature is complex and has two different poles. Man can act nobly and in the same time he can be a savage.
There is an esteem part in the human and also a vicious element. In his own character Dostoyevsky demonstrated these two contradictory sides.
At one time he was a generous warm and a kind man and on other times he was acting jealous and even committed a rape. These contradictions can be found in his great novel Brothers Karamazov.
Q: A great novel, according to you, is a question paper. Comment please.
A: The best five books I have read were - War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy), The Brothers Karamazov, (Fyodor Dostoevsky) The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway), Moby-Dick (Herman Melville), Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) and Viragaya (Martin Wicramasinghe). All these books pose questions to the reader to think and rethink.
A great novel gives insight into human behavior and the human condition. It provides emotional connection.
Leo Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' may be the greatest novel ever written. It's a novel that runs through time and space. War and Peace is a question paper submitted to the reader. Tolstoy submits a question - how to lead a perfect life in an imperfect world?
In 'Brothers Karamazov' Fyodor Dostoyevsky epitomizes the psychodynamic portions of the human personality into its finest detail. There are many similarities between Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov and the Asthramanthra Jataka story of the Buddhist Khuddaka Nikaya. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov is a psycho-philosophical novel that strongly discusses ethics, morality and dark side of the human nature. The novel itself is a moral dilemma and a question paper that is presented to the readers. Brothers Karamazov is exploring the secret depths of humanity's struggles and sins.
Martin Wicramasinghe's Viragaya is a turning point in Sinhala literature. Wickramasinghe vibrantly portrays Aravinda's character in Viragaya digging in to the inner psyche. Therefore Viragaya can be considered as one of the first and best psychological novels in Sinhala literature. Aravinda was a virtuous character trapped in biological instincts and cultural pressure. The complexity of Aravinda's character reveals the inner world of a man who was brought up according to the Buddhist village traditions and how he struggles to fulfill his hidden desires leading to a dramatic transformation. Viragaya poses questions based on moral dilemmas.
Q: You touch the personal character of the authors too. You indicate they might have had psychological disorders. Do you mean to say psychological disorder is required for creative writing?
A: No I do not say that psychological disorder is required for creative writing.
But sometimes negative experiences steaming from psychopathology could be used as row materials in creative writing. There is ample evidence to prove that novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Nikolai Gogol and Edgar Allan Poe suffered from DEPRESSION and other psychological ailments. Sometimes these melancholic feelings that they experienced were used in creative writing.
In my opinion the prominent Sinhala writer G B Senanayake suffered from clinical DEPRESSION. His autobiography 'Mama Eda Saha Ada' narrates numerous signs and symptoms that are suggestive of clinical depression. G B Senanayake elegantly wrote about human experiences and inner psyche.
Perhaps these negative emotions boosted his creative thinking. It allowed him to see human experiences in a different perspective.
Q: Would you like to say a few words about your recent novel 'Manasika Rogiyage Parikalpanaya' (Imaginary world of a psychiatric patient)?
A: This novel is based on hallucinatory images of a person suffering from Schizophrenia. Our understanding of Schizophrenia is limited. For most of us it is a brain disease caused due to chemical imbalance. But there is something beyond something exotic in this illness. They may not be in the same frequency as we are, but they see the world in an unique way. What is sanity and insanity? Although sanity refers to the soundness, rationality and healthiness of the human mind there is no clear demarcation between sanity and insanity. There is a thin line between sanity and insanity.
The difference may be a few nanometers. The Psychologist Eric Fromm proposed that, not just individuals, but entire societies 'may be lacking in sanity'.
In this novel, a patient suffering from paranoid Schizophrenia analyses and dissects his outer environment. His interpretation of world is different from us.
But sometimes he sees what most of us are unable to see. My attempt was to present these differences in a literary form. 

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