The Creativity Mystique and the Rhetoric of Mood Disorders

Katie Rose Guest Pryal


Many contemporary scientific researchers are interested in drawing associations between mental illness and creativity. These studies have contributed to the popular image of the "mad genius," an image whose history stretches back as far as Plato and Aristotle. Recently, a new rhetorical manifestation of the mad genius image has emerged, what I call the creativity mystique of mood disorders. The creativity mystique, a product of the era of modern psychiatry, suggests not only that mood disorders are sources of creative genius, but also that medical treatment should take patient creativity into account. The texts I study here demonstrate a rhetorical shift from arguments for correlation between mood disorders and creativity (in the most conservative of the studies, published for traditional scientific audiences), to arguments for a causal link from mood disorders to creativity (most prevalent in fringe literature texts and pop-science texts), to arguments for inverse-causation, that is, a causal link from creativity to mood disorders (only found in fringe literature and pop-science texts). These arguments shift from more conservative to more controversial as the intended audience of the writing shifts from the scientific to the lay. As I demonstrate below, this rhetorical shift reveals how the creativity mystique has influenced research, diagnoses, and treatment of mood disorders.


Bipolar disorder; creativity; depression; genius; Kay Redfield Jamison; mental illness; mood disorders; psychiatry; rhetoric

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Copyright (c) 2011 Katie Rose Guest Pryal

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