Touched With Fire

byKay Redfield Jamison. Free Press, $24.95. Dr. Jamison, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, discusses “ManicDepressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” Her list of artists in varied fields who were, in her opinion, manic-depressives is so long and so spangled with great names that one wonders whether any artists of merit escaped the condition. One also wonders whether art would progress, or even survive, if the alleged abnormality were to be eliminated in the future. This last question preoccupies the author as well. Dr. Jamison is frankly not certain that a cure preventing Van Gogh’s painting or Byron’s admission that “I should, many a good day, have blown my brains out, but for the recollection that it would have given pleasure to my mother-in-law; and even then, if I could have been certain to haunt her . . would be beneficial to society. Her position is disarmingly unpretentious.