Monomania and Literature.

There is probably no other field of human activity where delirious ideas blossom so visibly as in literature. Whole subcultures have been developing themselves around the works of certain writers. One just has to think about the latest hype that surrounded the “Game of Thrones”, to name the most recent one.

Monomania is also a condition that intrigued many writers. The 19th century writer Edgar Allan Poe would often write tales in which the narrator and protagonist would suffer some form of monomania, becoming excessively fixated on an idea, an urge, an object, or a person, often to the point of mental and/or physical destruction.

Flaubert’s hatred of the bourgeois and their willful idiocy that began in his childhood developed into a kind of monomania. It is monomania from which Flaubert’s tragic heroine, Madame Bovary suffers; in her case it takes the form of an incessant guilt and fear of discovery.

In Crime and Punishment, the magnum opus of renowned 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, the main character, Raskolnikov, is said to be a monomaniac on numerous occasions.

There are many other literary examples; Captain Ahab in Melville’s Moby Dick, Heatcliff in Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, etc…

400px-The_monomanies_series_by_Géricault
The monomanies series by Géricault (1821-24) by Théodore Géricault. From left to right: Portrait of a Woman Suffering from Obsessive Envy, A Kleptomaniac, Military Obsessive, Monomaniac of Gambling and Monomania of Child Kidnapping

The most common monomaniacal behavior associated with the literary field is however of a more mundane nature: the obsession of writers with writing and that of the readers with reading.

Most renowned successful prolific writers are so occupied with their craft that it undermines their mental health and/or social life. Robert Pirsig, the writer of Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance suffered several mental breakdowns and spent time in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Michael Crichton, the writer of Jurassic Park and many other bestsellers was married five times and his marriages lasted on the average for 3 years because he was an nonredeemable workaholic.

On the other side of the literary specter you have the obsessive readers that fall in two different categories. Those who’re so obsessed with the work of an author that they configure a whole subculture around it, and those who’re submerging themselves into the fictional reality that literature offers by hopping from one book to another.

Like every obsession, also an obsession with literature is a symptom of an unbalanced mind. Where a well integrated personality resembles a sun around which several planets are turning, a monomaniacal mind is like a moon circling around one planet.

Literature can add value to a life, but a life where value is only found in literature, creates monsters.

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15 Comments

  1. Ooh. I’m strangely tickled by that last phrase. Because monsters are human too… and for another, Adolf’s rejection from art school was the impetus for everything that followed. Perhaps there are more devastating obsessions to have.

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  2. The question many of us must answer at least once in our lives: when is it too much?
    Without focus, the results are likely to be less spectacular. But is “good enough” actually good enough? We have come to almost expect extraordinary in our forms of entertainment. We don’t just want good. We want great. It takes the focus of monomania, I suppose, to produce “extraordinary”. A human life requires some modicum of balance, though, that works against being hyper-focused on something. So, when someone achieves hyper-focus and produces “extraordinary”, some portion of their life is being neglected. They can become a monster. But what kind of monsters are we, the “normal”, when we consume what they sacrificed to produce and demand more? What a crazy world…

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    1. I tend to agree with you that to put down a good result, you need focus. What people sometimes forget is that you can take your time.
      Gunther Grass took five years to write a good book. Crichton produced almost every year a best seller; be it a novel, a film script, etc…. At the end of his life his net-worth was around 100 million USD.
      I believe one can live comfortably with one million USD. I doubt that Gunther Grass had 1 million on his account when he died at the age of 87 (on a personal note, G.G. lived his whole left-leaning literary career with the time bomb of his SS involvement at the age of 17).
      It’s just so tempting to keep only doing what you’re good at and take pleasure in, and to neglect the other challenges that life presents you with.

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    1. The geniuses are usually not lauded for their obsessive behavior by those who have to live with them. It can safely been said that almost everyone has a talent for something. Try now to imagine a world where everyone is just doing what they’re good at while neglecting all the other stuff that keeps the world going around.

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      1. There exist expert systems who’re able to make a lot of human experts redundant. A robotic future may look very bleak for those who don’t have the financial means to own one or whose job can be executed by a robot. Those humans will become a surplus that weights on the planet’s ecosystem.

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  3. ”Literature can add value to a life, but a life where value is only found in literature, creates monsters.” This phrase isgoing to haunt me for sooo many days now, whenever I will pick up a new book!
    Every single word in this post is a gem! You got me hooked on your blog with one post. And there are not many blogs I have come across recently like these! ❤

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    1. It wasn’t my aim to give people a guilty consciousness for finding pleasure in literature. I’m just pleading to approach it with the same common sense as the other facets of life.
      Take eating as an example. What and how people eat, can tell us a lot of the kind of person they are. Food is also one of the main portals to come to an understanding of other cultures and to expand our horizon.
      To resume: there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal, but also here is moderation an art that has to be cultivated. Everyone is familiar with the kind of monsters that gluttony and “comfort food” can create.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, I totally agree with you. You cannot allow just a single thing to control and steer your life. It must be a balanced approach. In fact, when you mix things up, everything ends up being far more enjoyable than if you immerse yourself in just a single activity. 😊😊

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