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Bipolar Expeditions

Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture

Emily Martin
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Bipolar Expeditions
    Book Description:

    Manic behavior holds an undeniable fascination in American culture today. It fuels the plots of best-selling novels and the imagery of MTV videos, is acknowledged as the driving force for successful entrepreneurs like Ted Turner, and is celebrated as the source of the creativity of artists like Vincent Van Gogh and movie stars like Robin Williams.Bipolar Expeditionsseeks to understand mania's appeal and how it weighs on the lives of Americans diagnosed with manic depression.

    Anthropologist Emily Martin guides us into the fascinating and sometimes disturbing worlds of mental-health support groups, mood charts, psychiatric rounds, the pharmaceutical industry, and psychotropic drugs. Charting how these worlds intersect with the wider popular culture, she reveals how people living under the description of bipolar disorder are often denied the status of being fully human, even while contemporary America exhibits a powerful affinity for manic behavior. Mania, Martin shows, has come to be regarded as a distant frontier that invites exploration because it seems to offer fame and profits to pioneers, while depression is imagined as something that should be eliminated altogether with the help of drugs.

    Bipolar Expeditionsargues that mania and depression have a cultural life outside the confines of diagnosis, that the experiences of people living with bipolar disorder belong fully to the human condition, and that even the most so-called rational everyday practices are intertwined with irrational ones. Martin's own experience with bipolar disorder informs her analysis and lends a personal perspective to this complex story.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2959-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Preface: Ethnographic Ways and Means
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION Manic Depression in America
    (pp. 1-34)

    American culture today has a strong affinity with manic behavior. Advertisements use the quality of mania to sell products from Macintosh computers to luxury linens, from perfumes by Armani to shoes by Adidas. Manic energy fuels the plots of detective novels, MTV shows, and television dramas such asER; it rings through the lyrics of songs like Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.” Serious academic tomes as well as patient advocacy Web sites and professional psychiatry meetings celebrate the creative mania of artists from Vincent van Gogh to Georgia O’Keeffe. During my ethnographic research in the years since 1996, I have found...

  7. PART ONE Manic Depression as Experience

    • CHAPTER ONE Personhood and Emotion
      (pp. 37-54)

      When one is diagnosed with manic depression, one’s status as a rational person is thrown into question. What it means to be rational or irrational depends on what notions of personhood are in play, notions that must be understood in their cultural context.¹ In Western culture since the seventeenth century, a particular kind of person, the “individual,” has been the norm. In the writings of John Locke and others, the individual was defined as “essentially the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them. The individual was seen neither as a moral whole, nor as...

    • CHAPTER TWO Performing the “Rationality” of “Irrationality”
      (pp. 55-85)

      In all its forms, “irrationality” is the enemy of “rationality,” the enemy of order, stability, and civilization. In this chapter I challenge the integrity of this battle line by showing how the rational and the irrational are not clearly separable. I begin with the point of view of patients diagnosed with a mood disorder.

      The psychologist Louis Sass has brought to light the term “double bookkeeping,” which psychiatrists use to refer to a schizophrenic patient’s ability to “live in two parallel but separate worlds: consensual reality and the realm of their hallucinations and delusions.” For example, some schizophrenics who hold...

    • CHAPTER THREE Managing Mania and Depression
      (pp. 86-98)

      The people I introduced in the previous chapter were neither helplessly mired in mania nor so medicated that they were incapable of displaying mania. Rather, they were able to perform mania in a situationally appropriate way, commenting through meta-action on the condition itself. As I sketched in the book’s introduction, at the heart of the degradation often felt by those diagnosed with mental illness is the loss of one or more of the central components of personhood as it has been understood in Western societies since the seventeenth century. These components included being an autonomous individual who had control over...

    • CHAPTER FOUR I Now Pronounce You Manic Depressive
      (pp. 99-133)

      How do people adapt their sense of themselves as persons when they receive the diagnosis of manic depression? Although the form of DSM-IV categories—the orderly, nested, numerically coded organization we saw on display in the teaching video—would seem to speak for their unambiguousness and clarity, in practice they are anything but. Nor do psychiatrists who have the authority to apply these terms to other people always find the process straightforward. What the terms mean, how they should be applied, and even whether doctor or patient will get to apply them are all matters of contention.¹ In this chapter,...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Inside the Diagnosis
      (pp. 134-149)

      When I sat in on medical rounds, I knew I was in territory where medical authority would largely be able to form and control the terms of debate. Keith Burton and the others could try to refuse or divert this authority, and they could frequently apply medical terms in novel ways suited to their own purposes. But in the end there was no question who determined the diagnosis and the treatment. In contrast, roaming around among manic depression support groups, I often fancied myself in a sort of ethnographic wilderness, far on the outskirts of medical authority. I thought of...

    • CHAPTER SIX Pharmaceutical Personalities
      (pp. 150-174)

      Drugs are inanimate products that cannot literally speak, think, or feel. Nonetheless, pharmaceutical marketers and advertisers attempt to invest psychotropic drugs with attributes that make it possible to think of them as “persons,” as if they were social beings with individual personalities and the ability to have nurturing relationships with the patients who take them. However, patients who take these drugs do not necessarily relate to them as friendly living “persons” who take up residence inside them. Patients are as likely to think of drugs as biological tools, whose potency lies in their specific line of action on something in...

  8. PART TWO Mania as a Resource

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Taking the Measure of Moods and Motivations
      (pp. 177-196)

      As we move from the small-scale daily experiences of people to the larger-scale phenomena of markets and popular media, a bridging concept is Raymond Williams’s “structures of feeling.”¹ Structures of feeling are actively felt sensibilities that can be vague rather than explicit, informally sensed rather than formally codified. Comedians who use manic energy to draw audiences into hilarious laughter, support groups who turn to an enactment of mania to demonstrate the volitional aspects of going manic, a doctor who uneasily relies on a group of manic depressives to care for a schizophrenic man—all these fleeting events draw on a...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Revaluing Mania
      (pp. 197-233)

      In contemporary Euro-American culture there is a pervasive imperative to experience emotion. Ubiquitous advertisements incite our desire and demand that we engage our strongest feelings. Managers of employees and creators of ad campaigns learn detailed, practical ways of arousing and harnessing emotion to increase productivity and increase market share. As we will see, no less an economist than John Maynard Keynes wrote that the market itself depended on the arousal of our “animal spirits.”¹ Yet, as I mentioned in the introduction, people in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries are also profoundly anxious and hence characteristically preoccupied with emotionally flat...

    • CHAPTER NINE Manic Markets
      (pp. 234-268)

      In the world of financial markets, commentators on the economy often speak of alternation between extreme highs and lows as a disease, and sometimes describe it as a form of “manic depression.” But in practice, for the adept, such volatility can act as a resource, because the volatility provides profit-taking possibilities for those who can anticipate when the market will shift either way. Mania’s interstitial position between mood (floating, changeable feelings in the psyche) and motivation (organized, goal-directed behavior) is crucial for understanding why the “manic” artist or CEO seems to function well in the corporate world of the twenty-first...

  9. CONCLUSION The Bipolar Condition
    (pp. 269-280)

    It can be terrifying to face the darkness around forms of madness like manic depression. A person living under the description of manic depression is a threat to the conception of American personhood that has prevailed for centuries: a person with a central controlling principle based on the will, who is owner of himself and acts out of individual intention and desire toward rational ends. Manic depression, with its strong emotional cycles and multiplicity that interrupts the unitary individual, would indeed be a genuine threat to such a fragile understanding of personhood. But on another view, one I have promoted...

  10. Appendix Guide to Medical Terms
    (pp. 281-286)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 287-338)
  12. References
    (pp. 339-362)
  13. Index
    (pp. 363-370)