Not so long ago, Jo posted a link to a blog post which linked to Jonah Lehrer’s New York Times article on why depression is a great thing. I read both and had what I later described as an allergic reaction. PychCentral have published an article by Ronald Pies M.D. called ‘The Myth of Depression’s Upside‘ which quite neatly points out the flaws in Lehrer’s piece. I don’t want to point out the flaws, so much as poke Lehrer in the eye. With a stick. (I know he’s a regular reader here at Looking up at the Sky.)
See, regular readers like Lehrer–and those who have read the side-bar–will know that I suffer from depression, and have done for a long time. Lehrer goes to great lengths to link depression and creativity, especially writing. I have something of a vested interest in this topic.
The ‘madness = genius’ narrative is incredibly strong in Western culture. Lehrer’s article is another drop on its prayer wheel, and I lost an awful lot of my life to it. I spent years and years convinced that my ‘great darkness’ was the source of my creative power and if you took my darkness away, you would destroy me. Well guess what, Lehrer: since learning to manage my darkness, I have become a far, far better artist. The only way I can describe it is like being able to breathe after a lifetime of drowning. And that’s why you made me so angry.
There’s more to Lehrer’s piece then bad science (although we’ll get to that). Lehrer’s article is a little over five thousand words long and makes a compelling narrative. NYT is a site with a huge readership, and the majority of them aren’t going to read past the article. They’re just going to get to the end, think, ‘hey, science has proved that genius does equal madness!’ and go on repeating that bullshit, just like Anne R. Allen did. But the narrative hides the fact that the proof is shaky indeed, seducing us with a well-told story.