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Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Paperback – January 8, 1992
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In 1985 William Styron fell victim to a crippling and almost suicidal depression, the same illness that took the lives of Randall Jarrell, Primo Levi and Virginia Woolf. That Styron survived his descent into madness is something of a miracle. That he manages to convey its tortuous progression and his eventual recovery with such candor and precision makes Darkness Visible a rare feat of literature, a book that will arouse a shock of recognition even in those readers who have been spared the suffering it describes.
From Publishers Weekly
A meditation on Styron's ( Sophie's Choice ) serious depression at the age of 60, this essay evokes with detachment and dignity the months-long turmoil whose symptoms included the novelist's "dank joylessness," insomnia, physical aversion to alcohol (previously "an invaluable senior partner of my intellect") and his persistent "fantasies of self-destruction" leading to psychiatric treatment and hospitalization. The book's virtues--considerable--are twofold. First, it is a pitiless and chastened record of a nearly fatal human trial far commoner than assumed--and then a literary discourse on the ways and means of our cultural discontents, observed in the figures of poet Randall Jarrell, activist Abbie Hoffman, writer Albert Camus and others. Written by one whose book-learning proves a match for his misery, the memoir travels fastidiously over perilous ground, receiving intimations of mortality and reckoning delicately with them. Always clarifying his demons, never succumbing to them in his prose, Styron's neat, tight narrative carries the bemusement of the worldly wise suddenly set off-course--and the hard-won wisdom therein. In abridged form, the essay first appeared in Vanity Fair.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
William Styron is such a fine writer that his honest essay of how he was affected by a disease is deeply moving. I was touched by his honesty about it from the first page of the book. By the time I reached chapter Five I was crying because everything, every word, every emotion, every conclusion he drew was so close to what it feels to suffer from an illness like this that has been stigmatized form the beginning of times. I was shaken to the core of my being.
I read many of Mr. Styron's book, but this is the only time I read his own account on what it means to be mentally ill and how it affects not only a person who is suffering from the illness, but also that person's immediate family, friends and professional contacts. It is my belief that every medical professional working and helping mentally ill should read this book so they can truly understand the inner works of what it feels like to be depressed written by one of the finest minds and writers of out time. As much as this book shook me up emotionally, I am grateful that there was a person like Mr. Styron who has a courage to write it.
Well, at first I [thought] it was going to be a dreary book; after all, it's about depression. I was a practicing mental health
professional when it was published and I bought it to see what one of my favorite writers had to say about such a depressing subject. I did put off reading it, however, and finally brought it with me on a coast-to-coast flight when I knew I couldn't escape reading it any longer.
This brilliant writer squarely hit the nail on the head and I literally laughed out loud with the turn of every page. I didn't just chuckle....I laughed until tears came to my eyes. Of course, they were squished laughs because, after all, I was sitting on a crowded plane with people all around me. This was years ago and I still remember how I hid my face in the book trying to thwart my insane giggles.
What?! you say. I was laughing over this poor man's struggle with depression!?
Not at all. This brilliant and profound intellect took a mere 84 pages to completely trash the prevailing methods of treating depression in the mainstream mental health system. This depressed wordsmith of wordsmiths was relegated to a group therapy practice along with a cadre of fellow depression sufferers. Not only did they not realize who was sitting in their midst, neither did the lowly little social worker who ran the weekly group therapy sessions. Mr. Styron immediately saw the absurdities of the situation he found himself in and deftly laid bare the follies of a treatment process conducted by a cooky-cutter social worker in an abjectly dark and dreary mental health system.
His carefully worded, knife-like asides humorously shredded this dreary system as he contemplated the "David and Goliath" aspects of the predicament he found himself in. He spoke the unspeakable with such acuity that I felt my own professional insides about to burst in anticipation as I turned the pages.
Depression sufferers tend to see the world in grayscale anyway, so those readers probably totally miss Mr. Styron's literary shenanigans. But professionals like me, who cannot abide our "state of the art" psychiatric system, find solace and great joy in this man's subtle condemnations.
He helped lift himself up out the black hole he was in by giving free-reign to his utter and hilarious disregard for group therapy, social workers, and the domain of psychiatry itself. He was right, and they were wrong...and it is as true today as it was back then when the book was written.
The truth is, mainstream psychiatry leaves much to be desired. It has never recognized depression for what it is, which is primarily a struggle of the intellect with the absurd realities that can sometimes consume it. The greater the intellect, the more gargantuan the struggle. Canned treatment processes totally miss the intellectual component that the system doesn't know what to do with anyway, as Mr. Stryon clearly saw for himself.
He must have had great fun writing this book that still today graces my list of treasured possessions.
BTW, dozens of passengers demanded to know what book I was reading as we disembarked. I held the book up as they furiously scribbled the title on any available piece of paper.
Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph
If you live with depression or have a loved one you would like to understand better, DARKNESS VISIBLE is an excellent place to start.
I have recommended this book to many people since reading it, to both friends who have never been depressed and to the clinicians who are helping me through this difficult experience. I plan to read it again very soon primarily because I think it is a masterpiece of language.
I recommend it to anyone who appreciates truly magnificent writing or to those who would like to understand more about one person's experience both experiencing and conquering depression.