“All the literary masters had depression”

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I haven’t been keeping up with my writing (or blogging), but I have been reading. I recently finished a Japanese book called 「 文豪はみんな、うつ」, which translates as “all the literary masters had depression”. It was written by a psychiatrist called Iwanami Akira. The book introduces ten famous Japanese literary figures from the Meiji to Showa periods, and details their struggles with mental illness.

It is rare to find literary criticism written by a psychiatrist. Mental illness is often “glorified” (if that is the right word) in writers and artists. This book doesn’t glorify anything. It shows the struggles the writers faced, and how they wrote “in spite of” and not “because of” their illnesses, while also showing how elements of their illnesses influenced their writings.

The writers featured are Natsume Soseki, Arishima Takeo, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Shimada Seijiro, Miyazawa Kenji, Nakahara Chuya, Shimazaki Toson, Dazai Osamu, Tanizaki Junichiro and Kawabata Yasunari.

Seven of the writers had a serious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and four committed suicide. Many suffered from delusions and hallucinations. Some had troubled personal lives. I’m interested in mental illness and its effects on daily life and creativity for personal reasons. The main character in my first novel In the Shadows of Mountains suffers from mental illness. In her case, it was brought on by her upbringing and life circumstances.

The book only details the lives of ten writers, but as we know, there were many more who struggled (and struggle) with mental illness. If you can read Japanese, the book is well worth a read, if not, you can read about them here on this blog. I’m going to write posts about the writers in the book and others from the perspective of mental health. Hopefully, I can keep up posting regularly (she says, noting it has been about two months since her last post….)

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