Thursday, January 03, 2008

Interview: Christopher Lane

New at Author Interviews: Christopher Lane, Herman and Beulah Pearce Miller Research Professor at Northwestern University and author, most recently, of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.

Lane generously responded to a few questions about his new book.

Cary Federman, author of The Body and the State: Habeas Corpus and American Jurisprudence and a professor in the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University, researched and developed the questions.

One exchange from the interview:
Federman: Literature and madness have been joined since Plato. But your book, Shyness, is not an investigation into the works of Rabelais, de Sade, or Flaubert, authors of classic works of literature that explore madness's various meanings. Rather, you discuss Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Will Self's Dr. Mukti and Other Tales of Woe, both of which characterize mental illness as a problem to be solved by pharmaceutical companies. Is chemical dependency the new madness?

Lane: It’s true that I focus more on anxiety than madness in the book — and that’s partly because madness has received quite a lot of airtime, especially in studies on nineteenth-century psychiatry. By contrast, anxiety is a timely, engaging subject that neuropsychiatrists treat as if it’s completely explainable because they view it as arising almost exclusively from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Actually, anxiety is a complex phenomenon that varies greatly from one culture to the next, and certainly one age to the next. It also straddles psychology, biology, and society — the mind, brain, and environment, if you will — so it’s a mistake to reduce it to one of these areas, such as the brain, and to neglect other factors, such as the mind.

I wanted to focus on contemporary literature, in particular, because some of it and quite a lot of films not only engage with the complexities of our minds but also question the widespread changes in neuropsychiatry and ask if they’re sound, appropriate, and necessary. I view Jonathan Franzen, Will Self, Alan Lightman’s novel The Diagnosis, and Zach Braff’s film Garden State as very much part of a cultural backlash against psychiatry and, indeed, the overdiagnosis and overmedication of ourselves and our children. So I wouldn’t exactly say that these writers characterize mental illness as a problem to be solved by pharmaceutical companies. It’s more that they ask whether so much medication is necessary in our culture, what its side effects are, and what the overall emphasis on meds is doing to us in the long-term. [read on]
Read an excerpt from Shyness and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Christopher Lane's website.

Author Interviews: Christopher Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue