Kay Redfield Jamison | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kay Redfield Jamison


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Kay Redfield Jamison, a MacArthur "genius" fellow and an authority on manic depression and mood disorders, has built much of her reputation on explorations of the dark mysteries of the human temperament: melancholia, psychosis, suicide. But with Exuberance: The Passion for Life she's decided to lighten up a bit. This "abounding, ebullient, effervescent emotion" is, she argues, critical to prosperity--in particular, to discovery and exploration and artistic creation--and yet it remains the benignly neglected stepchild of psychiatric study. Exuberance is her attempt to set things right, and if nothing else she leaves no enthusiast unturned in her quest. In fact, her book is both an examination and a manifestation of its subject. As the discussion bounces from Teddy Roosevelt to dolphins to Watson and Crick, cocaine, General Patton, and Tigger, it's hard to shake the impression that Jamison's erudition has outpaced her point--her reach is exhaustive and exhausting. But while remaining on message she tempers her appreciation with some sober warnings: exuberance untethered "lives in close proximity to mania," and though a boon to creativity, the same passion fuels the intellectual compulsion that created the A-bomb and the adrenaline rush that sends soldiers into slaughter. "The juxtaposition of the exuberant and the malignant is potentially dangerous," she writes, "but a balance between the two can provide ballast and gravitas, . . . excessive lightness can be given a grace note by the dark." Thu 9/23, 7 PM, Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tom Wolff.

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