Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield JamisonThe 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 worlds greatest artists including Lord Byron, Vincent Van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf.
Touched with Fire
She has a very different take on their shared condition, experiencing it as a source of shame and distress until she hooks up with Marco at an in-patient psychiatric hospital, where the two meet late at night in the activities room, bonding over a shared conviction that they are aliens from another planet and a shared obsession with heavenly bodies—the sun for her and the moon for him. Carla has trouble articulating her feelings, but Holmes eloquently embodies them. Marco, conversely, is always talking. Hyped up on manic certitude, he keeps ditching his medication, insisting that it just tamps down the fire that fuels his creativity and asking the nurses if they would have medicated Van Gogh, implying that he would never painted masterpieces like Starry Night if they had. But then Carla starts to develop doubts and asks Jamison, playing herself, for advice. When he does so, he magically affects natural objects: Initially, Everest makes things grow a flower blooms, blueberries sprout , but as Abominable goes on, his powers become essentially boundless, morphing to suit the situation or, quite overtly, to realize some spectacular concept art, as when Everest, Yi, and her friends Jin Tenzing Norgay Trainor and Peng Albert Tsai take a ride on some dolphin-shaped clouds.
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Marco tries leaning into his manic episodes, insisting that it makes him experience the world with deeper, more vivid feelings, decrying medication as the real problem. Carla is more self-conscious, showing up at her childhood home in the middle of the night to ask her mother Christine Lahti when it was, exactly, that her mental health problems first emerged. Touched With Fire follows Marco and Carla on the individual paths that land them in the same therapy group, and continues as they attempt to build a life together, often against the advice of their families and doctors. That expressiveness continues and changes with the story. When Marco and Carla wind up in the psychiatric hospital, the camera stays more locked down; when they begin their relationship, staying up late together and conspiring in circles, it floats along with them in a reverie. Holmes channels the nervous energy that has hummed behind her best performances into a character whose anxieties have real yearning and weight.