Friday, November 30, 2007

Emily Martin's "Bipolar Expeditions"

Emily Martin is professor of anthropology and a member of the Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge at New York University. Her books include Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS and The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture, and reported the following:
In writing Bipolar Expeditions, I thought of the book like a house with many windows through which readers could look at moods, mood disorders, and bipolar disorder in particular. Pg 99 of the book opens one of those windows, beginning a chapter that explores how psychiatrists learn to diagnose bipolar disorder in "affective disorder rounds." Rounds is a teaching setting in which a patient who has been admitted to the hospital with mood problems is "presented" to a group of medical students. In that chapter, we see how fuzzy the lines between different mood disorders are and how difficult it is for psychiatrists and medical students to decide among alternative possibilities. We also see how patients contest the doctors' efforts to extract information from them, which they anticipate will be used to diagnose them in ways they might not appreciate.

By looking through the other windows in the book, the reader will be able to trace the processes by which a psychiatric diagnosis, like the mood disorders in evidence at Rounds, has emerged into a wide territory beyond psychiatry.

Anyone, from a reader of a teen magazine to a high powered CEO, might regularly chart their moods to determine whether they have a “mood disorder.” Workers undergo training in how to be "manic" so that they can recreate “manic” states – high energy, no sleep, innovative thoughts -- later in the workplace. Hollywood actors show up at their psychiatrists’ offices with their agents in tow, the agents’ job being to make sure that any drugs the doctors prescribe will not take the edge off the actors’ “mania.”

Both depression and mania have become fascinating cultural symbols in schools, the workplace and the market place. The low end of the mood spectrum (depression) signifies failure and unproductivity; the high end (mania) signifies creativity and productivity. Bipolar Expeditions argues 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.
Read the introduction to Bipolar Expeditions and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue