email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecoming AnnaBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Whats Normal? is a collection of readings for a
course in literature and medicine taught in the weekend college at Hiram
College. It focuses on mental and
behavioral deviations from the norm, and is a complement to an earlier
Tyranny of the Normal, designed for a course on physical
divided into seven sections:
and Bioethical Perspectives
and Adolescents with Mental Disorder
Experiences with Mental Disorder
Experiences with War Trauma, Including PTSD
and Mental Disorder
This is a rather odd way to categorize readings about mental
disorders, and this oddness is multiplied in the choices of readings. This eccentric collection includes some
excellent pieces, but I would not recommend it as a represented survey of narratives
of mental and emotional disorders.
Of course, there are many possible
ways to organize such a book, but one would expect any such book to include
sections on depression, mania, anxiety and panic disorders, eating disorders
and self-mutilation, addiction and substance abuse, schizophrenia and
personality disorders. One might also
expect a major section on patients reactions to various treatments, especially
the experiences of taking psychotropic medication and being in psychotherapy. Unfortunately, Whats Normal? hardly
covers these at all.
Instead, the book provides a highly
eclectic and rather critical collection of readings concerning psychological
normality. The first section, of
clinical and bioethical perspectives, does not aim to provide a balanced
selection of views, but rather sets the tone of the book with a selection of
critical views. Among the pieces is an
extract from Seth Farbers bizarre antipsychiatric book Madness,
Heresy and the Rumor of Angels, in which he presents some thoroughly
Szaszian cases of people diagnosed with serious mental illnesses such as manic
depression or schizophrenia. Farber
claims that these people, who did not seem to benefit from psychiatric
treatment, were not suffering from mental illness, but rather were experiencing
spiritual crises or transformations.
Also included in this section is a selection from Ian Hackings book Rewriting
the Soul, about multiple personality and the diagnosis of dissociative
identity disorder. Hacking, who takes a
skeptical view of the diagnosis multiple personality, is a superb writer who
documents his claims fairly carefully, but of course multiple personality
remains an extremely rare diagnosis.
The famous article by D.L.
Rosenhan, On Being Sane in Insane Places, is another of the articles in this
section. Published in 1973, it recounts
an experiment in which graduate students got admitted to psychiatric wards by
going to emergency rooms and claiming that they had delusions, and then ceased
to pretend any further that they had any psychiatric problems. These pseudopatients were never detected
by the psychiatrists, and all but one was discharged with a diagnosis of
schizophrenia in remission. It is a
major piece of evidence for those who claim that the label of mental illness
stays with people once attached, no matter how sane they are. But its also a massively out-of-date
article: the length of hospitalization of these pseudopatients was between 7
and 52 days, with an average of 19 days.
These days, unless patients are a danger to themselves or others, it is
extremely unlikely that they will be admitted as inpatients at all, and it
would be very unusual for them to be in hospitals for more than a few
This is not to say Rosenhans
article is not still relevant, but it is astonishing that this book makes no effort
to reflect the current experience of patients dealing with managed care and the
bureaucracy of health care, where often they or their families have to fight to
get decent and consistent treatment.
The situation of the 1970s, when patients could be admitted to hospitals
for several weeks if doctors thought it necessary, seems very attractive in
many ways. Its a major deficit of the
book that it does not reflect in the changes in the provision of health care over
the last 30 years. But rather than suggest
that the book should include more modern discussion of the nature of health
care by historians, sociologists or philosophers, it strikes me as a mistake to
include a theoretical section in this book at all, because it is impossible to
be at all inclusive. The editors would
have done better to stick to the central theme of the book, that of
first-person and literary perspectives on the experience of emotional problems
and mental disorders.
Most of the other
sections also fail to give a picture of the experience of mental illness in
contemporary life. For example, the
most modern piece in the section on children and adolescents is by Susanna
Kaysen, from her book Girl,
Interrupted, which is a meditation on her hospitalization in the late
1960s, when she was given a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. This section also includes an extract from
Peter Shaffers overwrought 1973 play Equus,
Graham Greenes short story The End of the Party, and Conrad Aikens story
Silent Snow, Secret Snow. These
latter two are both from the early twentieth century, and are both unusual and
interesting choices on the part of the editors. However, for teachers who might be using this book in a course on
the medical humanities (which is presumably what this book is mainly designed
for), these are somewhat tricky stories to use as examples to educate
students. Its far from clear how one
might relate these stories to modern health care. If teachers are comfortable explaining the background of writers
such as Greene and Aiken, they may well have success in using these stories in
class, but I know Id be somewhat apprehensive in attempting it myself.
Id make similar
observations about most of the other sections.
I found it hard to relate the writings in the section on mental
disability including Peter Nichols, Flannery OConnor, John Steinbeck, Anne
Tyler, and Eudora Welty to contemporary issues in the diagnosis and social
and medical treatment of the condition.
Why the editors include a whole section on war trauma is unclear to me,
since war trauma is not a problem we have to face much today, even now that the
US is engaged in a war on terror. It
would have made more sense to fold it into the section on men and mental
successful section, in my opinion, is the last on Alzheimers and
dementia. It includes an imaginative
selection of authors, all of whom were new to me. These pieces help convey the experience of the progressive
dementia from a variety of perspectives, in works of great literary power. They are the most successful in
accomplishing what the book claims it sets out to do in its title, which is
provide narratives of mental and emotional disorders.
My comments have
been critical, but I should acknowledge that the task of this book is
daunting. To examine the themes of
mental illness in literature requires a good knowledge of both the history of
literature and of psychology, and anything approaching a satisfactory survey
would require a massive collection of literature. The collection of pieces in Whats Normal? is highly
idiosyncratic, so other teachers considering it for use in their courses will
find it hard to adapt to their needs.
Id suggest that for the purpose of conveying ethical and humanistic
issues in mental illness faced in contemporary life, it would be far more
profitable to focus on the narratives found in the proliferation of memoirs of
mental illness published in the last thirty years by patients and their family
members. (A fair number of these are
reviewed in the Memoirs
section of Metapsychology.)
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster
communication between philosophers, mental health professionals,
and the general public.