- Depression: A Public Feeling by Ann Cvetkovich
In Depression: A Public Feeling, Ann Cvetkovich explores depression as a “cultural and social phenomenon rather than a medical disease” (2). Resonating with disability studies, Cvetkovich moves away from discourses that depict depression as cause for pharmaceutical palliatives aimed at restoring a labor-based sense of self and societal worth. Continuing in her contributions to affect studies, Cvetkovich examines depression as a historical, cultural, and felt experience—one occurring in political and personal spheres. Through analyses on racial injustice, displacement, and spirituality, Cvetkovich situates depression as less of a medical or inherited condition and more of a sentient and even appropriate human response to modern life. By making depressed feelings public through creative works, the “stuckness” of depression might be mitigated and transformed into something that is not perhaps markedly “useful,” in a neoliberal sense, but that is personally meaningful and reparative. In this way, depression becomes a “public feeling” capable of bringing together emotion, affect, and the political. Cvetkovich aims not to hierarchize or even [End Page 370] classify depression as a disability in a legal or medical sense, but to examine the struggles and feelings experienced by depressed persons, which may include experiences of immobilization, stigma, misfitting, and barricades to access. Her explanation of affect as a category encompassing sensations, named emotions, and feelings, including “impulses, desires, and feelings that get historically constructed” (4), is both functional and generous to readers—especially those becoming familiar with affect studies as a field.
Considering the work recently published in JLCDS on criphystemologies, cripistemologies, and bodymind relations, we can see affect studies and disability studies already in conversation with one another—although perhaps not self-consciously or at least not very overtly. Disability studies scholars may find Cvetkovich’s turn away from medicalization and pathologization resonant with Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky’s foundational introduction to The New Disability Studies Reader, in which they reject the medical model of disability and instead examine the “social experience of disability as not the exclusive and inevitable sequelae of disease or physiological conditions but a product of the interactions between individuals with such conditions and the arrangements of sociocultural, policy, and architectural environments” (19). Some disability studies scholars might worry that an affect studies lens could circumvent the political, legal, and activist work of disability studies scholars and conflate various individual, corporeal, and cognitive experiences. However, if we are to take seriously the idea that disability is not only a catalogue of injustice, but a mode of analysis that helps us to understand “all spheres of intellectual inquiry” (Longmore and Umansky 14), Cvetkovich’s marking of the “ambiguity between feelings as embodied sensations and feelings as psychic or cognitive experiences” (4) can generate richer understandings of the world and our differently abled positions within it.
My hope is that this review highlights not only the importance of Cvetkovich’s insightful analysis, but also the fruitful nexus of ideas forming between the fields of affect studies and disability studies, broadly speaking.1 Especially given affect scholars’ recent inquiries into issues of labor and the failure of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentalities—longstanding concerns of disability studies scholars—we can see how both fields might name and embrace one another as explicit interlocutors. Finally, reading Cvetkovich in the context of disability studies raises questions about the relationship between [End Page 371] bodily incapacity and psychiatric disability and how struggle and suffering are catalogued when experienced without marked, physical difference.
Depression’s Part I is a memoir in which Cvetkovich narrates her own experience with depression and anxiety. Some scholars might find a turn to the personal disruptive or even indulgent; however, Cvetkovich’s memoir section reminds readers how critical analysis privileges language-mediated ways of knowing and that memoir and narrative can often move beyond language structures into affective experiences. We have seen such writing in works like Kim Hall’s edited collection Feminist Disability Studies and Susan Wendell’s...