Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament
Kay Redfield Jamison
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The definitive work on the profound and surprising links between manic-depression and creativity, from the bestselling psychologist of bipolar disorders who wrote An Unquiet Mind.
One of the foremost psychologists in America, “Kay Jamison is plainly among the few who have a profound understanding of the relationship that exists between art and madness” (William Styron).
The anguished and volatile intensity associated with the artistic temperament was once thought to be a symptom of genius or eccentricity peculiar to artists, writers, and musicians. Her work, based on her study as a clinical psychologist and researcher in mood disorders, reveals that many artists subject to exalted highs and despairing lows were in fact engaged in a struggle with clinically identifiable manic-depressive illness.
Jamison presents proof of the biological foundations of this disease and applies what is known about the illness to the lives and works of some of the world's greatest artists including Lord Byron, Vincent Van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf.
elevated mood, a sense of well-being, expansive and grandiose thought, and intensified perceptual awareness. Examples of manic grandiosity, visionary expansiveness, and unbridled euphoria are abundant in writers and artists. Benjamin Haydon—friend of John Keats, and a painter who eventually killed himself—once wrote exuberantly in his journal that “I have been like a man with air balloons under his armpits and ether in his soul,”44 and Theodore Roethke captured the mystical merging of identities
musicians: 1. Robert Schumann, Confinia Psychiatrica, 2 (1959): 65-94. 135 Sorley MacLean, “Glen Eyre,” lines 49-60, Spring Tide and Neap Tide: Selected Poems 1932-72 (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1977), p. 70. 136 George Gordon, Lord Byron, “Manfred,” act III, scene 1, lines 138-145, Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, vol. 4, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 92. CHAPTER 5 THE MIND’S CANKER IN ITS SAVAGE MOOD 1 Byron, “The Lament of Tasso,” lines 5-10, Lord Byron: The
Schachter, Lithium and memory: A long-term follow-up study, Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 8 (1988): 207-212. 19 See Goodwin and Jamison, “Thought Disorder, Perception, and Cognition.” 20 C. J. Kestenbaum, Children at risk for manic-depressive illness: Possible predictors, American Journal of Psychiatry, 136 (1979): 1206-1208; P. Decina, C. J. Kestenbaum, S. Farber, L. Kron, M. Gargan, H. A. Sackeim, and R. R. Fieve, Clinical and psychological assessment of children of bipolar
him mad the night before: “I assure you,” said he, “I often think myself not in my right senses, and this is perhaps the only opinion I have in common with Lady Byron.”172 Byron had earlier commented to her: As long as I can remember anything, I recollect being subject to violent paroxysms of rage, so disproportioned to the cause, as to surprise me when they were over, and this still continues. I cannot coolly view anything that excites my feelings; and once the lurking devil in me is roused, I
said: “I know that without sleep one must either die or go mad. I would sooner die a thousand times,”177 and it was only by using his fear that he might lose his reason that his doctors were able to persuade Byron to be bled. “Do you suppose that I wish for life?” Byron asked his physician, “I have grown heartily sick of it, and shall welcome the hour I depart from it.”178 At another point he said, “Your efforts to preserve my life will be vain. Die I must: I feel it. Its loss I do not lament;