The Write Stuff
A brief overview of typomania and graphomania
Posted Dec 05, 2013
“Life is a series of addictions and without them we die”
This opening quote is my favourite quote from the addiction literature and was made by Professor Isaac Marks in a 1990 issue of the British Journal of Addiction. Whether the statement is true or not depends upon what the definition of addiction is. It’s also a quote that makes me think about my own life and to what extent I have any addictions. Most people that know me well would say that my passion for listening to music borders on the obsessive. Others have called me a ‘workaholic’ (which again depends on the definition of workaholism). Personally, I don’t think I’m addicted to either work or music (and no, I’m not in denial), but I did come across a condition called ‘typomania’ that I can’t so easily deny.
These latter definitional variations (i.e., obsessive impulse or unhealthy passion to write) has been observed in the psychiatric community as in addition to typomania, has also been termed ‘graphomania’ and ‘scribomania’ (although some of these other definitions claim that the condition concerns the obsession to write books). The term 'graphomania' has been used since the early 19th century by both French psychiatrist Dr. Jean-Étienne Esquirol and Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Eugen Bleuler (the man who first coined the term ‘schizophrenia’). A number of independent sources (such as Svetlana Boym in her 1995 book Common Places. Mythologies in Everyday Life in Russia) also claim that the term ‘graphomania’ is a well established concept in Russian culture.
In a 2004 issue of the journal Neurocase, two French academics (I. Barrière and M. Lorch) wrote a paper called “Premature thoughts on writing disorders”. They noted (based on some earlier work by Artières) that writing disorders were one of the 'hallmarks' of the 19th century medical world. The paper reported:
One of the first uses of the word ‘graphomania’ in a wider public context, was in the New York Times (September 27, 1896) in an article about US Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (under the title ‘Bryan’s Mental Condition’). The article noted that:
"The habit of excessive writing, of explaining, amplifying, and reiterating, of letter making and pamphleteering, forms a morbid symptom of known as ‘graphomania’. Some men may overload their natural tendency to write, but a certain class of lunatics use nearly all their mental activities in this occupation, to the endless annoyance of their friends, relatives and physicians”.
In his 1979 Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the Czech novelist Milan Kundera noted that:
“Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of a mass epidemic whenever society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions: (1) a high enough degree of general wellbeing to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities; (2) an advanced state of social atomisation and the resultant general feeling of the isolation of the individual; (3) a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation. (In this connection, I find it symptomatic that in France, a country where nothing really happens, the percentage of writers is twenty one times higher than in Israel)…The irresisitable proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down the streets and shout: 'We are all writers!'"
There doesn’t appear to be much academic or clinical research on graphomania although papers dating back to the early twentieth century exist. For instance, in 1921, Dr. F.T. Hunter wrote about graphomania when reviewing the 1920 French book La Graphomanie (Essai de Psychologie Morbide) by Ossip-Lourie. Graphomania was described as a “psychopathic tendency to write”. To differentiate between whether writing was normal or abnormal, it was observed that:
"All writings which do not convey a positive fact, the result of observation or of experience, which do not bring forth an idea, which do not materialize an image – a personal artistic product – which do not reflect the interior life and the personality of the author, are in the domain of graphomania".
So, do I suffer from typomania and/or graphomania? Based on what I have read, absolutely not. Life may well be a series of addictions, but – as yet – I don’t think I have any.
References and further reading
Artières, P. (1998). Clinique de l’écriture: une histoire du regard médical sur l’écriture. Institut Synthélabo pour le progrès de la connaissance. Le Plessis-Robinson.
Barrière, I. & Lorch, M. (2004). Premature thoughts on writing disorders. Neurocase, 10, 91-108.
Boym, S. (1995), Common Places. Mythologies in Everyday Life in Russia. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press.
Cambler, J., Masson, C., Benammou, S. & Robine, B. (1988). [Graphomania. Compulsive graphic activity as a manifestation of fronto-callosal glioma]. Revue Neurol, 144, 158-164.
History Matters (undated). “Bryan’s Mental Condition:” One Psychiatrist’s View. Located at: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5353/
Hunter, F.T. (1921). Review of La graphomanie (Essai de psychologie morbide). Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 16, 279-280.
Marks, I. (1990). Behaviour (non-chemical) addictions. British Journal of Addiction, 85, 1389-1394.
Wayne R. LaFave (2003). Rotunda: Il professore prolifico ma piccolo. University of Illinois Law Review, 5, 1161-1168.
Wikipedia (2012). Graphomania. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphomania