Monday, December 15, 2008


From Princeton University Press (Mar 2009),  Emily Martin's,  "Bipolar Expeditions:  Mania and Depression in American Culture"

Martin has written an interesting analysis and exploration of mania and depression,  and its place in American Culture.  Preferring the term "manic-depressive"  to "bipolar",  she asks the reader to allow her to use the former term throughout her text.  The very changing of the name in her opinion constitutes a verbal shift which is offensive to many who live with the psychological state,  because it seems to imply a sort of neatly catergorized,  black and white shifting state. 

Going beyond the debate of biological vs cultural causation of the "illness",  Martin asks us to imagine that the m-d state is simply part of the scope of human experience and the richness of existence;  indeed,  she lays great stress on the fact that many artists and geniuses have lived with the alleged disorder,  and devotes an entire chapter to the link with creativity.  Citing Edgar Allen Poe, van Gogh.  Whitman,  TS Eliot,  and Anne Sexton,  among others,  Martin delves deeply into the consideration that the bipolar state might be biologically advantageous.  (Indeed,  may who have  personal encounter with the illness through intimate contact with family members or friends who are sufferers,  can vouche for this.   Speaking for myself,  I know a man who is considered bipolar,  and he is indeed one of the most creative,  brilliant and dynamic  individuals I have encountered,  and has a genius IQ.)

In delving into the history of mania and its counterpart,  depression and melancholia,  Martin takes into account clinical research and experience,  but also offers rich philosophical, literary and cultural roots of the state.  From Plato's idea that mania was inspiration from the gods,  to the American CEO in his state of aggressive stance toward enterprise,  Martin proposes that we learn to accept with good grace,  and even thanks,  the wide-ranging human states, and the "afflicted"  or gifted individuals who know its heights and depths,  and who dwell among us.  


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