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'It's a Mad, Creative World'

May 03, 1987

Here in the Philosophy Department at Santa Barbara City College we took issue with The Times editorial of April 21, "It's a Mad/Creative World." Creativity is by nature different because it is rare, but not everything that is different is creative--there is some qualitative separation, albeit ambiguous, between a sculpture and a brick wall. Is a paranoid schizophrenic, because he is radically different just a misunderstood manic genius?

The apparent madness that writers suffer from is not necessarily the impetus for their writing but more often the result of social forces on their craft. The primary motivation in a writer's quest to be published is the need to express oneself; a need that is often stifled by the business of publishing, by the hard mental work of writing, the mundane tasks of typing, photocopying, stuffing envelopes, the mounds of rejection and the financial hardships of being a "struggling artist."

The writers in Dr. Nancy C. Andreasen's study were described as "top-flight" and I assume are financially successful. This makes them quite unrepresentative of writers in general and is the same as assuming that all actors are drug addicts because so many of the famous ones end up at the Betty Ford Clinic. Granted, there are many famous tortured souls who have managed to express their suffering creatively, Dante leaps to mind. They, however, are the exception; the rule is shown in the human beings whose minor doubts, fears and idiosyncrasies have been magnified by the frustration of simply trying to express their thoughts and feelings--the same frustrations that plagued me when deciding to respond to your editorial; I said to myself, "Me write a letter to the prestigious L.A. Times? . . . they will never print my letter . . . it is a trivial matter, why bother?"

Postulating that mental illness is a symptom of creativity that writers exhibit is like saying that people with weak hearts and high blood pressure tend to choose stressful jobs in business or medicine. Your editorial has inadvertently exhibited the social influences over thought that have always plagued our attitude toward science. When theories arise that justify social situations, such as racism or poverty, society embraces them rather than admit to its own deficiencies. American society places so much emphasis on individualism that we would tend to want to explain people's eccentricities or mental illness as "creative differences" rather than forces in society that cause personal distress.

CHRIS THOMAS RYTHER

Santa Barbara

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