Today’s image is brought to you by inspirobot.me which has become a deeply addictive hobby.
On their website, you press a button labelled ‘generate’ and the AI bot will scramble and serve you a statement of profound meaningless, a wonderful antidote to the virus of ‘inspiring’ platitudes which plague my newsfeed, my life.
And then occasionally, like today, inspirobot randomly chucks out a slither of truth.
Melancholy is not genius.
Which is a shame because if it were I would definitely be on course for a Nobel prize.
Melancholy does not, in my experience, lead to making work of intense creative genius.
Melancholy is exhausting, frightening and deeply unattractive. Melancholy makes you weak, trembly and ugly. Your eyes look allergic. Your wrinkles deepen. You either can’t eat or you over-eat. Your thoughts come in waves of incredulous bollocks. Decisions are impossible. Creativity is killed.
In short, and to clarify: melancholy is kinda…melancholic.
It was Hippocrates who gave us the term ‘melancholia’ which he identified as one of the four temperaments, linked to the four humours. For those of you unfamiliar with Ancient Greek philosophy (state-educated plebs), the four temperaments/personality types are:
- Sanguine – enthusiastic, active, social. (This is mostly me, apart from the active bit, obvs)
- Choleric – short-tempered, irritable. (This is never me)
- Melancholic – sad, wise, quiet. (Only the first of these is me)
- Phlegmatic – relaxed, peaceful. (This is me with wine)
The corresponding four humours stem from the belief that there are four bodily fluids which affect personality and behaviour: blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm. When these fluids are in balance you are galavanting around the streets of Athens, kicking up dust and letting your toga slip provocatively. When these fluids are imbalanced you are lying in bed all day, smoking and crying, believing yourself to be an unprecedented arsehole and should probs throw yourself off the roof of the Coliseum.
And by the way, melancholia signals an excess of black bile. Which sounds about right.
I had planned to spend this afternoon mooching around an art gallery, but art galleries are sad, solitary places. You tread the vast polished floors with the softest step, the quietest breath, gazing at images of death and doomed lovers, either bewildered or moved or both. No good can come from a melancholic visiting an art gallery.
What about music?
In 1621, Robert Burton wrote that music and dance were “a sovereign remedy against despair and melancholy.” But he hadn’t heard Joy Division. Music makes the melancholic wallow ever more deeply. And dancing is for the sanguine.
So when you can’t look, can’t listen and can’t move, what can you do?
Read. Three novels in three days. That pure comfort of the paper friend who lulls you to sleep and is there when you snap awake ten minutes later, heart racing, eyes leaking again. The friend who shuts up your inner bollocks and tells you different stories, better ones, ones where people hurt each other but love still happens, ones where people are good to each other and pain still happens. The friend who will make all the decisions in this story, even the ending, especially the ending, and all you have to do is come along for the ride.
Hippocrates characterised melancholia as being “all fears and despondencies, if they last a long time.” He also believed that incurable cases were the result of demonic possession.
If you have the number for a reliable exorcist, do let me know…
And remember, when all is bollocks, you can always rely on inspirobot to make sense of it for you: