Complete Story

ROTHFELDER, Katy and Davi Johnson THORNTON

Fall 2017, 47.4, pages 359-382

Man Interrupted: Mental Illness Narrative as a Rhetoric of Proximity

Abstract:  David Adam’s book, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, combines history and science with his personal story of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), addressing recent shifts in cultural sensibilities toward OCD. These shifts are characterized by transformations of stigma, or negative views of mental illness as dangerous and “other,” to increasingly encompass attitudes of acceptance, tolerance, and self-identification. We argue that Adam responds to the complex exigencies created by these new modes of stigma by playing with readers’ sense of proximity to OCD. Specifically, Adam manages proximity through two distinct chronotopes, or arrangements of time and space, an “OCD chronotope” and a “bird’s eye” chronotope. This play with proximity ultimately produces effects of disorientation and estrangement, leaving readers to work through their own relationships to OCD and the experiences of others.


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