i dream of being possible

the slip and slide of depression metaphors

So I’m looking at this audiobook and trying to decide if I want to get it. Looking at the reviews the most common description for the overall tone of the book is… ‘dark’. One person mentions that it was nominated (or won?) some kind of award for best dark mm novel (or whatever). Some of them just use ‘mental illness’ as a catch all and some mention that its depression in particular that the protag deals with.

I can’t help but be arrested by all the metaphorical entailments that attach to the idea of ‘depression as darkness’1. At this point no one should be super surprised by the idea that no metaphor is an island. That is, using a metaphor like ‘depression is dark’ isn’t only about a lack of light. I mean… even in this context you can tell they aren’t talking about a literal lack of light but rather the overall emotion/tone/texture of the novel.

And of course, once we start talking about darkness as an emotional tone, we are really talking about something that is ‘bad’. This novel is ~dark~ because it deals with mental illness (in this case depression). Based on the reviews, it isn’t dark because of some tragedy or trauma but simply because of the character’s depression (and part of the book is told from his point of view).

I’m not trying to say that depression isn’t dark/bad (particularly from the perspective of a depressed person) but rather…. the inevitable moral valuation that adheres to this metaphor: if depression is bad, then depressed people are bad.

See what I mean?

I’m sure ppl can think of a bunch of other examples where mental illness, on its own, is considered a ‘dark’ thing in media (I’m talking about examples where the mental illness isn’t given any additional context like trauma or whatever). I’m also sure that ppl can think of a bunch other disabilities that are likewise ‘dark’.

(um… my brain just pooped out on me and i can’t remember what else – if anything – i was going to say…)

  1. In case anyone is interested in metaphors and cognitive linguistics, Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By is a great intro. http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3637992.html