A week or so before I got a job as a support worker on a psychiatric ward, Lou Reed died of liver cancer at his home in Southampton, New York.
From my own narrow perspective, it was a sad, strange thing to experience the loss and very public mourning of someone who had got me through so much loss, mourning and general misery of my own. In terms of managing to find words (and more) which just got whatever psychological wreckage I was attempting to untangle, there was no-one who had even come close to Lou. Even at his more upbeat points he’d still hit you with a lyric like “Just a perfect day, you made me forget myself, I thought I was someone else, someone good.” And of course this post couldn’t be without a mention of the exquisitely depressing “Sunday Morning”; full of these restless, miserable feelings that sink and tumble down on top of each other, and pull you into half-believing you’ve wasted your entire life and everything is over, and then that bass lazily bumps back up again to the beginning of the riff, and things roll on and on and you can’t help smiling at the beauty and artistry of it all.
The strange ability of words and music (and indeed other art forms) to transfigure and alleviate human suffering is hardly a neglected topic (though I still think Nietzsche does it best.) However the person I want to spend the remainder of this post talking about- the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein- isn’t someone really known for his writings on aesthetics, and in fact the paragraph quoted below doesn’t purport to be about art at all. What it does do, though, is attempt to undermine a heap of misconceptions about language and misery, misconceptions which make explaining the effect of the former on the latter much harder to suss out. Continue reading