Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Yellow Wallpaper

Thanks for your comment Praymont. I will look for Lenz. As for the The Yellow Wallpaper it is a wonderful nineteenth century instance of madness used for polemical purposes, that I have used in teaching about the history of psychiatry. Charlotte Perkins Gilman said, as I recall, that she wrote this story as a satire of the treatment, known as the 'rest cure' that she received from the illustrious Philadelphia neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Anyone interested in the history of psychiatry in the late nineteenth century should read this. The link above is to a free online version of the story. For more background on this period you might read my article "Neurology's Influence on American Psychiatry:1865-1915."

Monday, December 21, 2009


I would love to find a history, or even a list, of novels, short stories etc with mentally ill protagonists. Such a history would trace the changing ways the mentally ill have been portrayed and the ways such portrayals reflect the ideas current at the time. One of my favorites was Frank Norris' McTeague, where, as I recall, the protagonist commits senseless violence and is described as an instance of hereditary degeneration. Now we have John Wray's Lowboy, where the protagonist is a sixteen year-old schizophrenic boy know as "Lowboy." Lowboy is a Holden Caulfield type character whose quest to lose his virginity is shown as refracted through his delusions. While the depiction of Lowboy seems true to what one might read in twenty-first century textbooks, it seemed that the author was taking advantage of contemporary fascination with psychotic people "off their meds" and roaming the streets, or in this case haunting the New York subway system. I couldn't help feeling that it was the latest edition to a genre that I might call "madsploitation."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Joy Luck Club

I haven't read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, but I had the pleasure the other evening of seeing the film version directed by Wayne Wang with a screenplay by Ms. Tan [and someone else]. It is a beautiful film that my wife, who has read the book, says does justice to the book. What struck me was the way it showed relationships changing. As so much of my psychotherapeutic work focuses on people stuck in relationships, often influenced by ghosts from their past, it can seem that such circumstances are diseases like and in need of treatment. In the Joy Luck Club, however, we see four mothers and four daughters knotted up in their relationships with each other [and others] and we also see knots become undone and relationships change. I found it refreshing to see a portrayal of the normal processes in relationships at work. It left me thinking again about what a feeble tool psychotherapy is compared to the good fortune of having relationships that allow for revision. I have included a link to Janet Maslin's review, which will give you a fuller sense of the film.