Shrink Resistant

Shrink Resistant Exhibit

By Megan Davies with Tracey Mitchell
distinctive black, pink, yellow, green and wine coloured Shrink Resistant book cover
Shrink Resistant and its distinctive cover.

The 1988 publication of Shrink Resistant was a milestone in English Canadian survivor culture, the first collective representation of the experiences of people who had been patients in psychiatric institutions. Produced by the Vancouver alternative publisher, New Star Press, Shrink Resistant was deeply and deliberately political. It was about giving voice to the silenced, about speaking out and speaking back to oppression, to forced treatment, and to professional power.

As editors Bonnie Burstow and Don Weitz pointed out when  interviewed, the book was a product of a particular historical moment, a time when there was a zeitgeist to make public that which had been hidden, and for the disempowered to come together and take political action. This connects the publication of Shrink Resistant to patient activism and new openness about stigmatized medical conditions among AIDS and breast cancer patients in the conservative period of the late 1980s.

The overarching theme of the Survivor Culture exhibits on this site is a justifiably laudatory tale of marginalized survivor voices finding a public forum. This exhibit includes this theme, but also illuminates a backstory of high hopes and unmet expectations. No mainstream publisher would take on the book, and no other alternative press had expressed interest when New Star came forward with an offer. Yet, the editors wanted a bigger public canvas for the collection than they got, and they remain ambivalent at best about the role of their publisher in marketing and promoting the book that was so important to them. Others involved in Shrink Resistant, like politician and activist David Reville, see New Star as the heroine of the moment, the only midwife willing to deliver such a book.

This exhibit maps out the process by which Shrink Resistant was envisioned, created, and launched to the world. As Bonnie Burstow stated at the outset of her interview, this is not intended to be a sanitized version of the past, so this exhibit is also a meditation on the different aims that lie behind a political project (the book) and a political/ commercial enterprise (the press) – one is a singular effort, and the other is an engine that needs to keep running in order that other books can be produced.  Excerpts from an extensive interview with the editors, some shorter recollections from contributors David Reville and Susan Musgrave, and key historical documents from both Don Weitz’s personal papers and the New Star collection are presented thematically to tell the story of this seminal publication. Practicing the craft of history involves dealing with multiple perspectives, so sometimes these pieces tell different tales. Read Shrink Resistant.