Abstract is Whack

I am going to disappear from posting anything for another 2 weeks. I have my master’s thesis due June 1st, and, well, basically I’m living and breathing the thesis writing process right now. This is in no way enjoyable, but eventually it will be done…and that’s enjoyable.

When I tell people I’m working on my thesis, they always ask what it is about. This question is inevitable, but seriously people, the only thing I’ve been thinking about for the past week is this damn thesis, so the last thing I want to do is try to explain it in a few sentences to someone. It just gets complicated and starts to feel overwhelming. But, I’m sure you’re curious. So here’s my abstract.


And a lady loves some feedback.

Bipolar Bodies:
Trauma, Healing, and The Performance of Crazy

By Chelsey Clammer

This project begins by looking at how feminists have viewed madness in women as a site of resistance. I first show how a patriarchal society is quick to label a woman who defies the social construction of femininity as insane, and then move to how feminists, in turn, have celebrated the “madwoman” as an exemplary figure of social rebellion. But, I question, what are the oppressing affects of using madness as a metaphor for female resistance? And, is it really the madness that is being celebrated, or is it the resistance to social norms? Following Marta Caminero-Santangelo’s thoughts in her text The Madwoman Can’t Speak, I believe that madness is not something to be celebrated, but rather it is the ways in which women have survived misogynist societies that should be honored.

Part of this survival is performance. The second portion of my thesis looks at the ways in which women have performed their own emotions in order to survive in a society that constantly degrades them. I believe there is something to this performance of “crazy” that have helped women to survive misogynist cultures. Furthermore, and for the final part of my thesis, I am interested in not just the conscious performance of madness, but the subtle ways in which our bodies perform our emotions. Using the Alexander Technique, a theory based in Performance Studies, I look at how the body holds the trauma of a mental illness diagnosis, and how we need to learn how to listen to our bodies in different ways in order to more fully understand our emotions.

My project, therefore, has three main points that overlap and inform each other. First of all, I examine how women’s mental illness has been celebrated as a source of rebellion, and point to the ways in which by celebrating madness the voices of the mentally ill are lost. Secondly, I look at how madness—specifically Bipolar Disorder—has become a sort of performance in our society. I look at how madness is performed through diagnosis, how society constructs women’s madness through misogyny, and how madness is both celebrated and shunned in the academia. Finally, and in order to bring these two sections of my project together, I introduce new ways of listening to the body in order to fully understand our mental states. By doing so, I hope to re-conceive the function of the madwoman in our society not as a site of rebellion, but as bodied subject that points to how society treats women. Through different types of bodywork, and by understanding the ways in which the body holds trauma, I conclude my project by presenting different ways to listen to the “mentally ill.” If we can begin to listen to and witness the physicality of mental illness, then we can see that it’s not the actual madness that is the rebellion, but it’s the survival of an unlivable situation—a misogynist society in particular—that is the site of rebellion to be celebrated.


5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Gene Taylor said,

    Fascinating approach Chelsey. Sounds like pulling it together is a thesis-ability undertaking.
    Good Luck and don’t forget to run occasionally,
    GT from the Ultralist

  2. 2

    Mindy Clammer said,

    Chelsey – Write…write…write it all down. Even as a child your beautifully written thoughts and ideas flowed vividly on scribbled pages. Do not be overwhelmed. Each intriguing point on trauma, healing and the performance of crazy will join together in your final draft helping to reshape society’s views of women. You can say it better than anyone I know. Love, Mom

  3. 3

    Connie said,


    I can’t wait to see the finished product. Will you please send me a copy of your thesis when completed?

    I find your subject matter fascinating. It reminds me of several relationships in my life as well as many clients I’ve had the privilege of helping as an exercise physiologist.

    So often it’s not the mere presence of the actual illness/condition as much as a) society’s views of the illness/condition (stigma) and b) the changes in one’s self (mind, body, soul, spirit, etc.) caused by the chronic effects of the illness/condition that is so difficult to cope with.

    I’ve had many clients with diabetes over the years and my significant other had it since the age of twelve – it has since taken her life. It was the realization that it’s never going away…this reluctant “acceptance” that she has a chronic illness that will never be cured and disrupts her life (she could never totally relax, not knowing when her blood glucose would drop, which caused anxiety in and of itself). I know diabetes is not a “mental” illness; however, chronic illness is chronic illness and one of the travesties of Western civilization is how allopathic medicine attempts to separate the whole into parts that are one and the same. Mental illness is just as physical/phsyiological as it is spiritual – the case with all illness. But don’t tell the average MD in this country that. Hell, they don’t even believe in the efficacy of prayer.

    Your thesis will be completed soon and you can then relax! I’ve worked into the wee hours many years to finish papers so I know how you feel.

    Hope you’re being good to yourself…

    Connie 🙂

  4. 4

    Chelsey, this sounds awesome! Hope the writing is going well and congrats on finding such an interesting, creative and important project. Best wishes–

  5. 5

    Re(a)d Robin said,

    mmm, yes. As someone who has suffered from severe clinical depression since the age of 12, I feel that your work is both powerful and necessary. I think that you are right to point out the limits of glorifying madness, for I often find myself yearning for mental health while simultaneously fearing that in achieving it, I will lose my creative and intellectual perspective/edge. This is further complicated by the widespread description of the subversive as crazy, leading to a conflation of the “crazy” (read: subversive) with the mentally ill. Additionally, in reflecting upon the fact that the majority of my identity (and many others’) is based upon a general sense of subversive queerness; sexually, racially, and in relation to gender, it is easy to see the ways in which not only subversive women, but also subversive queers get entangled in these ideologies. Thus when confronted with the idea of “normalizing” my mind (I say normalizing because that is essentially what the majority of health care professionals equate with mental health), I often find myself resistant and am left searching for another way to achieve a healthy level of functioning. In this way I think there are also discourses of difference, exclusion, and identity at work as well, leading to an ever-complicating quilt of implications. Congrats on finishing!

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