Thesis: Dostoevsky’s manic and depressive episodes aided in his ability toproperly illustrate the workings of the human mind, through his writing.
Outline: I. Introduction II. What is Manic Depression and Depression? III. OtherWriters with Mental Illnesses IV.
Dostoevsky’s Life V. Analysis of”Notes-” VI. Conclusion Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, authorof several acclaimed books-including “Notes From Underground”-asemi-autobiographical story, introduced a new form of writing,”stream-of-consciousness”, to Russia and Europe. Soon, this form ofwriting that would become the mark of the Existentialist, spread to theAmerica’s. Interestingly enough, the “stream-of-consciousness” thatmanifested itself in his writing was actually the product of a mood disorder,which can be characterized by intensely emotional thoughts. Caught in a rift ofcontrasting thoughts, the Manic-Depressive-commonly endowed with superiorartistic abilities, can be very insightful to the ways of man.
Manic-depressioncan clinically be defined as a mood disorder with two contrasting states: maniaand depression. There must be an occurrence of one or more Manic or Mixedepisodes and often, the individual has also had one or more Major Depressiveepisodes in the past. In Manic-Depressive disorder, also known as Bipolardisorder, the manic and depressive episodes recur in varying degrees ofintensity. The DSM-IV describes Manic and Depressive episodes as: “Theessential feature is a distinct period when the predominant mood is eitherelevated, expansive or irritable, and when there are associated symptoms of themanic syndrome. ” These symptoms include hyperactivity, pressure of speech,flight of ideas, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep,distractibility, and excessive involvement in activities that have a highpotential for painful consequences, which are not recognized. The manualdescribes depressive episodes as: “The essential feature is either adysphoric mood, usually depression, or loss of interest or pleasure in mostusual activities and pass-times.
This disturbance is prominent, relativelypersistent, and associated with other symptoms of the depressive syndrome. “These symptoms include appetite disturbance, change in weight, sleepdisturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, decreased energy, feelings ofworthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating or thinking, and thoughts ofdeath or suicide, or suicidal attempts. Manic Depression is also due to abiochemical imbalance in the brain. These biochemical reactions include the”increasing and decreasing of intra- and extracellular sodium, chloride,and potassium (Beck 65).
” The inclining and declining of these functionssupport the contrasting manic and depressive moods. “The spirit of geniusno free-floating, absolute power, but is strictly bound to the laws ofbiochemistry and the endocrine glands. ” This again credits the idea thatmanic-depression can stimulate artistry. Though it is difficult to proveManic-Depressive disorder among those who have passed away, the occurrence ofthis behavior and has been traced through letters written to friends and family,and personal accounts.
Creative people, such as Keats, Woolf, and Dostoevsky,have been named among those who had this illness. Keats’s notes and letters wereevidence of his violent mood swings; his surgery lecture notes, embellished withmany impromptu sketches in the margins were evidence of his wide-ranginginterests, and also of his mercurial nature. Woolf became violent and delusionalin her manic episodes, and when she was in a depressive state, she barely spokeor ate, and attempted suicide. Born in the hospital for the poor, Dostoevsky wasthe second of seven children. He led a happy and peaceful childhood where heheld particular warm feelings towards his family.
“It is not abnormal forone with the Manic-depressive syndrome to live a life of normalcy- thatis, of course, until an element of unpleasantry enters his life (Ostow82). ” His father, murdered by his own serfs, had a hot tempered andirritable state of mind. His mother, described as tender and sensitive with aliterary and musical talent, died when Fyodor was fifteen-years-old. Aftergraduating from St.
Petersburg’s Academy of Military Engineers as lieutenant, hewas assigned to a military department. Dostoevsky worked there for one yearbefore he realized that working in a department gave him no satisfaction, andthat he wanted to write and work as an author. Later, he became acquainted withthe utopian socialist group, for which he seemed to have become strongman. Thisassociation got him four years in Siberian prison. After a four-year stay at theSiberian prison, he married a widow and later regained his rights as a nobleman. Periods of relative prosperity and happiness stopped abruptly Dostoevsky’s wifeand brother died.
He was left alone with his brother’s debts, and was resortedto gambling as a way out from economic difficulties. Except for the last tenyears, the Dostoevsky family suffered from economical difficulties caused bybrother’s debts, an always-begging stepson and Fyodor’s gambling spree. Theyalso were extremely unlucky regarding their three children. Like Dostoevsky’slife, his writing contained many avenues down which one could lose his- orherself. He begins his two-part “Notes From Underground” with a streamof ironies, a forewarning to the reader of what lies ahead. Seemingly unfocusedand ambiguous, it is possible to see through his writing, and detect hismanic-depression in his style.
An obvious example of this is the terminalconfusion in his writing: “I am a sick man. . . I am a week man.
Anunattractive man. I think my liver hurts. However, I don’t know a fig about mysickness, and am not sure what it is that hurts me. I am not being treated andnever have been, though I respect medicine and doctors.
What’s more, I am alsosuperstitious in the extreme; well, at least enough to respect medicine. (I’msufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am. ) No, sir, I refuse tobe treated out of weakness. ” This terminal confusion is reminiscent ofhuman nature, and its never-ending cycle.
Throughout calamity and affirmativeevents in human life, we, as human beings have the tendency to chase ourthoughts, analyzing and dissecting them. Like those in the depressive state,Dostoevsky, who wrote in the same tempo as his thought patterns, basicallyillustrated the way our thought processes work. As though in the midst ofconversation, Dostoevsky assumes the reader’s irritability, “what preciselyam I? — then I will answer you: I am one Collegiate assessor”. He refersto himself as his post. Dostoevsky’s depressive episode comes into play. “During a depressive episode, feelings of detachment may be exhibited bythe patient, as he may refer to himself in the third person or as an object (Ostow128).
” Likely, it is very much so like humans to refer to themselves aswhat they are capable of contributing to society. Detached and forlorn,depressives get lost in their own worlds. Frantically grasping for what is solidbefore them is, at times, the only thing that will keep them together. In thisexample, Dostoevsky referring to himself as his post is his way of affirming hishumanity. Dostoevsky was obviously very aware of his Manic-depressive disorder,He repeatedly points out that he is “overly conscious”, and that it ishis sickness and a real sickness. Like some manic-depressives-those being few innumber, he was somehow able to predict his mood changes and was able to make useof them accordingly.
An example of a manic stream of consciousness is asfollows: “To live beyond forty is indecent, banal, immoral! Who does beyondforty — answer me sincerely, honestly? I’ll tell you who does: fools andscoundrels do. I’ll say it in the faces of the elders, all these venerableelders, all the silver-haired and sweet-smelling elders quotation marks! I’llsay it in the whole world’s face! I have the right to speak this way, because Imyself live to be sixty. A live to be seventy! I’ll live to beeighty!. . . weights! Let me catch my breath.
. . ” Extremely energetic andfeisty, characteristic of a manic episode, Dostoevsky once again chases histail, and we see into the mind of a human being. We have a front row seat of hishyperactivity rise to the point of exhaustion.
He begins with tuning forty, andgoes on to explain how aging beyond this would be indecent-a morbid thought. Wesee him quickly rise to the point of pure babble. Excessive speech is alsocharacteristic of the mania syndrome. Woolf was known to speak on end, night andday for three whole days, unceasingly (Jamison 56). Dostoevsky refers to himselfa “normal” human being — one who is not overly conscious, as aninsect. There should be no shock that one would think so lowly of himself.
Behind the mask of “the Underground Man”, he examines his emotionalstamina, referring to himself as an insect, or a low species of the living (Murry3). According to Dostoevsky, not thinking and not being conscious, bothinternally and externally, is a luxury. In “Notes From Underground”,Dostoevsky takes on a guided tour of the functions of the mind. Debilitatingpsychological illnesses can be held accountable for one compulsivelyquestioning, and burdening themselves with existential thoughts.
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