I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but things have gotten away from me, as they tend to do now that Thing 2 has shown up.
I've been reading Catherynne Valente's blog for a few months now (see here for my comments upon discovering her work about a year and a half ago). About 2 weeks ago, she wrote an extended post about a lecture Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) did on the topic of creativity and inspiration, particularly in writing. Ms. Valente had quite a rant about it (it was wonderful, actually, very witty). I found the lecture on YouTube, and watched it a couple of times, as this topic is very near and dear to my heart, and is the subject of my someday doctoral dissertation at Pacifica.
Watching Elizabeth Gilbert's lecture, I understood her to be saying that, essentially, writers as a group have a reputation for mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide (true). She lays the blame for this reputation on the Renaissance-era switch from attributing the creation of new work to a daimon or muse, to the author owing the creation of the work for him or herself. Ms. Gilbert seems to be in quite a state of anxiety about her own work, understanding as she does how difficult it is to follow a huge success like Eat, Pray, Love, and, for the protection of her own psyche, she prefers to lay the responsibility for her work's creation at the feet of a daimon or muse. It appears to be her way of externalizing the pressure of publishing a new work, after the worldwide acceptance of her last. I suppose I can understand the temptation in her own situation to do this, but I must say I was more in agreement with Ms. Valente, who was calling bullshit on this argument (to put it mildly).
Ms. Valente's point is that writing, like anything else, is extremely hard work, and although sometimes when the work is going well it can seem to feel like the work is flowing through the writer from another source, this is actually a function of the artist's psyche, and the whole muse business is a metaphor for this process.
I was, of course, very interested in this whole discussion, in both sides, but I would take Ms. Valente's argument a step farther. I believe that a great deal is required of the artist in the creation of meaningful work, and that true sacrifice must be made in the journey to the unconscious and back. I use the imagery of Inanna. She descends, is killed, and hangs from a meathook. Her life essence drips from her, into the ground at the lowest point of the descent, and it is only after she has given of herself that she is able to make the ascent back to the light.