Excerpt from “The Care of the Soul”


I am currently reading and enjoying Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore (not that guy, a recent guy). I found this section particularly pertinent to the act of writing and creating as an artist. I have more thoughts forthcoming on the issue, mostly pertaining the currently, hypervigilant, hyperaware climate of both culture and the internet these days, and though there are good intentions to these things, they can lend themselves to an environment which is patiently hostile to creativity, to creative failure, and creative risks — all of which are absolutely necessary to making any kind of art.

One aspect of creative risk is dealing with content and topics that people love to label “controversial”. The word “controversial” is used so much any more that it’s completely diluted of meaning. I think, often, that “controversial” in its current context and usage actually means “this makes people uncomfortable in some fashion, but if we use the label controversial we won’t actually have to deal with that discomfort and the source of it”. At any rate, there are times when it is necessary and appropriate for writers and artists to deal with material that is uncomfortable — arguably dealing with the perverse and “not-normal”. And Moore states pretty clearly why we need to discover and embrace the perverse and not-normal in the following passages:

As we get to know the soul and fearlessly consider its oddities and the many different ways it shows itself among individuals, we may develop a taste for the perverse.   We may come to appreciate its quirks and deviances.  Indeed we may come to realize that individuality is born in the eccentricities  and unexpected shadow tendencies of the soul, more so than in normality and conformity. One who cares for the soul becomes someone at ease with  idiosyncracies and the unexpected. When I lecture on shadow to therapists-in-training, I sometimes ask them, “Where is the line of perversity drawn for you, where is the place where you come up against your own fear and repulsion?” Some people say that sexual abuse is that line, and I wonder how they can work professionally with abused or abusing patients. Others say it is violence of any kind. Others find sexual fantasy perverse. We might ask yourselves the same question. Where do I run up against a wall when I look into my own heart? What is the limit?

Care of the soul is interested in the not-so-normal, the way that soul makes itself felt most clearly in the unusual expressions of a life, even and maybe especially in the problematical ones.

… It is no accident that the history of art is filled with grotesque images — bloody and twisted crucifixions, gracefully distorted bodies, and surrealistic landscapes. Sometimes deviation from the usual is a special revelation of truth. In alchemy this was referred to as the opus contra naturam, an effect contrary to nature. We might see the same kind of artful unnatural expression within our own lives. When normality explodes or breaks out into craziness or shadow, we might look closely, before running for cover and before attempting to restore familiar order, at the potential meaningfulness of the event. If we are going to be curious about the soul, we may need to explore its deviations, its perverse tendency to contradict expectations. And as a corollary, we might be suspicious of normality. A facade of normality can hide a wealth of deviance, and besides, it is fairly easy to recognize the soullessness in the standardizing of experience.

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