Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison

May 2nd, 2010

I recently finished reading Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison whose subtitle, “Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” is an apt description.

She devotes nearly a hundred pages to genealogies and histories of famous artists she believes were manic depressive. Although some of them were interesting, the general concept didn’t interest me as much as it apparently interested her. The highlight of the book is a story from the life of Lord Byron (page 168-169):

In fall 1807, having been told that regulations would not allow him to keep his dog at Cambridge, he acquired a tame bear – there being no rule forbidding bears – and housed it in the turret of his college rooms. His pleasure in the bear, which he walked through the streets of Cambridge, was obvious: “I have got a new friend, the finest in the world, a tame bear, when I brought him here, they asked me what I meant to do with him, and my reply was ‘he should sit in for a fellowship….’ This answer delighted them not.”

What I really wished, was that before either book was written, the authors of this book and Seized (Eve LaPlante) had sat down together and had a long chat. Seized describes Gershwind Syndrome and a potential relationship between Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and manic depression. Each author diagnoses Vincent Van Gogh with the disease they write about. Both books were released in 1993, so neither was available for the other to consult, but as a person who had read both, I would have loved to hear the authors discuss how Manic Depression, Epilepsy and creativity might be related.

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