The Creativity Mystique and the Rhetoric of Mood Disorders

31 Disability Studies Quarterly (Issue 3, 2011)

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1906838

19 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2011 Last revised: 21 Oct 2013

See all articles by Katie Rose Guest Pryal

Katie Rose Guest Pryal

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: August 8, 2011


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 observing correlation between mood disorders and creativity (in the most conservative of the studies, published for traditional scientific audiences), to arguments observing a causal link from mood disorders to creativity (most prevalent in fringe literature texts and pop-science texts), to arguments observing 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.

Keywords: mood disorder, depression, disability, creativity, bipolar disorder, manic-depression, rhetoric, rhetoric of science, pseudoscience, mad genius, Kay Redfield Jamison

Suggested Citation

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest, The Creativity Mystique and the Rhetoric of Mood Disorders (August 8, 2011). 31 Disability Studies Quarterly (Issue 3, 2011), UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1906838, Available at SSRN:

Katie Rose Guest Pryal (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-2558 (Phone)


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