2017-10, Elliott Wall, Shouting at the Ground, oil on panel, 27×40, 02

Shouting at the Ground (detail)

In looking at the possibility of destigmatizing depression, it may be worthwhile to consider exploring whether sometimes Depression, as such, might be a form of weaponized humility and systematized “victim” blaming. There are those vital moments when I recognize it in another, where I pull forth as close as I can stand to warm myself at the radiance of this fire and anguish. I then know I’ve found someone who is actually spiritual, resplendent, in humanness. The depression I speak of is the cognitive kind, not the physiological kind, although one often has so much to do with the other. The method I propose for fighting depression is to understand it, and I undertake to understand it by first looking at the social backdrop, since the depression must exist in relation to something else. I am not trying to unsympathetically suggest it is a good thing, only that it may have important unappreciated significance.

The arguments against Depression are usually quite bad, that is, if they aren’t even so incoherent as to not even rise to badness (Pauli: “That is not only not right; it is not even wrong.”); the main good argument seems to be something like, “you are not an end in yourself, you are a kind of instrument of others’ happiness and your own, so you have a responsibility to maintain yourself to be a useful tool.” Remember, this is supposed to be the good argument.

For me, being depressed seems quite reasonable in light of the state of things, and if one isn’t then I begin to wonder if one is either in denial, distraction, or ignorance, or else extremely fortunate to possess greatly elevated consciousness and knowledge that we don’t. For those of the latter, the burden of proof will be on them to show they are not actually among the former. The Myth of the Individual foisted upon us compounds the depressive’s despair and self-blame, when the reality is that each of us is the expression of everything that came before: there is no good reason why remediation of depression as a task, insofar as it is even possible or desirable, should not be a fully social matter, for to deny this is to invoke the deus ex machina. Furthermore, let me offer this distinction between responsibility and accountability by asking, who is responsible for your actions? Who is accountable? The idea of Individual can only survive these questions if you are also a solipsist.

In any case, anhedonia matters— it is no use to appeal to pleasures or happiness when prevailing upon a depressive to “snap out of it”, because they quite literally are functioning on another plane altogether, from a kind of pre-conscious rejection of these things. I am absolutely convinced that what interests the cognitive depressive is virtue itself— honesty, compassion, honor, justice, humility— no mere technique or instrumentality; but then we all each day witness unbounded outrage against virtue. It is true we all need some comfort or happiness, but the question is whether this should be the prime-mover, since after all, as Aristotle points out (I may be in paraphrase of Russell with regard to Mill), a child or animal may seek and easily secure different forms of happiness or pleasure— yet no adult would wish to remain in that childlike or feral state, having an idea that there are higher-order states, ultimately leaving behind altogether the idea of states. Amor fati, eudaimonia (flourishing), and Blake’s “man was made for joy and woe” are not states to be in, rather (pun intended), a immortalist view of the self as a unique, living, artful document.

I condemn depression only when we can clearly see that it does not lead to knowledge.

“Shouting at the Ground” is a term taken from a 1990 art project by Zoviet France and composed by Robin Storey, whom I wrote to ask about the context of the quote on the record sleeve:

“Shouting at the ground won’t enable it to hear any better.”

He responded, recollecting that perhaps a former co-founder of the group’s much hated school teacher was known for saying this. I was inspired to make this painting by the theme of Self Care, by this phrase haunting me, and by the death this month of two old elm trees that sheltered our home. The ground is the earth, the entire world, and it is such an intense, exhilarating, noble image for me that one might ever endeavor to project the existential needs of the World back onto oneself.

Shouting at the Ground is an apology dedicated to my wife Monique.