Madness and Creativity

Madness and Creativity

Madness and Creativity

Madness and Creativity


Analyst and author Ann Belford Ulanov draws on her years of clinical work and reflection to make the point that madness and creativity share a kinship, an insight that shakes both analysand and analyst to the core, reminding us as it does that the suffering places of the human psyche are inextricably--and, often inexplicably--related to the fountains of creativity, service, and even genius. She poses disturbing questions: How do we depend on order, when chaos is a necessary part of existence? What are we to make of evil--both that surrounding us and that within us? Is there a myth of meaning that can contain all the differences that threaten to shatter us?

Ulanov's insights unfold in conversation with themes in Jung's Red Book which, according to Jung, present the most important experiences of his life, themes he explicated in his subsequent theories. In words and paintings Jung displays his psychic encounters from1913-1928, describing them as inner images that "burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me."

Responding to some of Jung's more fantastic encounters as he illustrated them, Ulanov suggests that our problems and compulsions may show us the path our creativity should take. With Jung she asserts that the multiplicities within and around us are, paradoxically, pieces of a greater whole that can provide healing and unity as, in her words, "every part of us and of our world gets a seat at the table." Taken from Ulanov's addresses at the 2012 Fay Lectures in Analytical Psychology, Madness and Creativity stands as a carefully crafted presentation, with many clinical examples of human courage and fulfillment.


Ann Ulanov’s meditations in relationship to The Red Book resonate with my own. She is correct in that reading that book precipitates a crisis. As the Chinese say, a crisis is both dangerous and an opportunity to grow and develop. Reading The Red Book brought back memories of my own brush with suicide. So be prepared for your own egg to crack or shatter. Hence, I recommend that you create or join a group to read and discuss Jung’s exciting volume. I also suggest contacting a Jungian society or a Jungian analyst if need be. The Red Book is upsetting—even shocking—yet there is quiet after the storm. Finally, digesting Ulanov’s fine book will assist anyone attempting to read Jung’s great work. The Red Book and Ulanov’s thoughtful reflections remind me of the accounts of brave individuals who creatively processed their own experiences of madness: William James, Clifford Beers, James Hillman, William Styron, and Kay Redfield Jamison, to name only a few. Jamison, in particular, has written a brilliant text on madness and creativity. All of these souls, including Jung, feel like fellow travelers into a wild, dark, and uncharted land.

Synchronistically, like Ulanov, I have always focused on the light in the darkness and the healing nature of the creative arts. Stanton Marlan, a previous Fay author, also highlights finding light in darkness as a critical healing process. In addition to “letting go and going deeper,” I endorse the sacrifice of the ego or “ruling principle” and the rebirth of one’s authentic self. The ego is secondary to that which is beyond the ego, which resembles some kind of higher power. Truth be known: this is why I gravitated from Freud to Jung.

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