Wittgenstein and A.M. Homes

I’m currently reading the brilliant, wry and completely heartbreaking ‘May We Be Forgiven’ by A.M. Homes. (With serious thanks to Hannah G for lending it to me.) As some measure of these things, yesterday on the train the man sitting opposite me asked if I was alright because I was making anguished faces and clutching my collarbone so hard with my fingertips that they left marks. After a time I trawled my eyes upward from the page to realise he’d moved away.

Many things struck me in the book, but the below extract struck me because of the obvious relevance to Wittgenstein:

“I’m thinking of days that never were, the perfect childhood that existed only in my imagination. When I was growing up, the playground wasn’t so much a well-coiffed green as an empty lot. Our families had no desire for us to have a safe, clean place to play- as far as they were concerned, playing was a waste of time. Supplies were limited; one guy might have a mitt, another guy a bat, and the rest of us caught barehanded, sucking up the incredible sting, hands smarting not only with pain but with the thrill of success at having plucked the ball out of the sky, having interrupted the trajectory and likely spared someone the cost of replacing a window. The bottom line was, if you had time to play, you didn’t tell anyone, because if your parents knew, they would find something for you to do.

So we played quietly and out of sight, making toys out of whatever happened to be nearby- my father’s shoes made a most excellent navy, his size-nine wingtips gliding in formatting across the carpet, the smell of leather and foot sweat. And what did I use as the aircraft carrier? A silver platter that I borrowed from the dining room. And when my mother discovered the platter surrounded by shoes, she accused me of having mental problems. Why wasn’t it obvious to her that the carpet was the ocean, the battleground? She called me a nogoodnik, and I remember crying and George thinking it was all so funny.” (p. 102)

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Striking, Nursing and Role Morality

Last week Dr Peter Carter (general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing) angered a large proportion of the nurses and support workers he is supposed to represent by urging them not to strike, since doing so would involve “abandoning their patients.”

One of the things he said in his speech to the RCN’s annual congress is less controversial; not giving NHS workers their 1% pay rise in line with the cost of living is obviously “insulting”, and as someone on the lowest rung of their pay scale, I can attest to the fact that what I earn is enough for a young, childless person to just about subsist on but not a lot more. And whilst striking is clearly at its most effective (and ethically defensible) when the individuals setting working conditions and wages are the ones directly harmed by the strike (i.e. corporation owners), public sector strikes  do often work, and can do so in a way which either does not harm, or only negligibly harms, the public (and may even help them.)

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“What you can’t cure, you can medicate”: Brandy Clark, Country, and the Anti-Psychiatry Movement

(Note: All underlined words/sentences are links which can, and indeed should, be clicked on.)

Shortly after it was released in October last year my friend Anna introduced me to Brandy Clark’s debut album, 12 Stories. Up to that point I had been at most a dabbler in country music- with a fairly healthy collection of Johnny Cash and not much else- but it was 12 Stories which got me hooked. To be specific it was track Number 8 which actually got me hooked; ‘Take a little Pill’.

“Mama got depressed, when daddy was a -dying, so the doctor gave her something, to help her with the crying” she begins in a voice like powdered milk, and then you’re in, wound into her story of miserable, broken people addicted to psychiatric medication because they can’t fix their miserable, broken lives. When I listened to it first, by the time she got to “What you can’t cure, you can medicate” I was half in love with her, and wholly convinced that there is yet to be a better statement of the aims of the anti-psychiatry movement. Not because she talks about being addicted to medication, which other musicians frequently do and have been doing since at least the 1960s  but because what she’s implicitly criticizing is the pathologization and medication of valid human experiences such as grief and loss. Because sometimes the appropriate response to an unbearable situation just is that special brand of human suffering which lamentably gets carved up and and labelled by psychiatrists as depression or catatonia or schizophrenia and the like. Because people who respond in this way are not “infirm” or “sick”, but gloriously human.

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From the Box: Amy Hempel

“Linguistic practice is not for something…[it is not] a means to secure some other end specifiable in advance of engaging in linguistic practice- not adaptation to the environment, survival, reproduction, nor co-operation- though it may serve to promote those ends. Even if.. those functions explain why we came to have language, once we did have it, our transformation into discursive creatures swept all such considerations aside. For discursive practice is a mighty engine for the envisaging and engendering of new ends.” – Robert Brandon

If this is true- which I believe it is- then the languages we use to talk and write are weighty, wonderful things.

But it is also true that there are simpler languages,  ones which skulk around the edges of our linguistic practice and cannot hope to transform us in the same way. These languages are sometimes imagined, sometimes stipulated, sometimes required to fulfil a certain role. They rub uneasily against our native languages- too different for adequate translation, too similar for us to not try and attempt it. Continue reading

Two Genealogies of Madness: Part Two

(Continued from here https://thebeetlebox.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/two-genealogies-of-madness-part-one/)

If our concepts of ‘madness” are socially constructed and as such don’t latch onto to an independent reality, it does indeed seem like a death knell for them. They are just fantasies, and worse than that, fantasies which were created to serve a malign social purpose- that of separation, ostracisation and false-reassurance.

This is where the above discussion of Nietzsche becomes important. The genealogy of morals succeeds in undermining the value of the “value-judgements good and evil” at least partly because Christianity cares about truth, and it cares about it’s value system being tied to some external truth about the world. But we do not need to see the conceptual framework behind the practice of psychiatry in this problematic way, as descriptive of a purely scientific phenomenon which is distinct from us and our own mode of life and flourishing .

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Two Genealogies of Madness: Part One

In my experience people tend to mean one of two very different things when they claim that mental illness is socially constructed.

The first of these is that broader social, economic and historical conditions make people mentally unwell in certain ways. This idea arguably found its most famous express in the work of the philosopher/psychoanalyst pairing Deleuze and Guattari; the rough summary of their work being that the contradictions of capitalism cause people to become schizophrenic.

This kind thought is interesting, complex and something which I obviously have a lot of time for. However it is the second meaning which I want to focus on in the remainder of this post. This meaning is perhaps better expressed as the claim that “mental illness” is socially constructed; that our concepts and understandings of mental illness are ones created through our social history and as such do not tie onto any objective external reality. The conclusion drawn from this often ends up being that we should recognize them as fraudulent and rid ourselves of them. Continue reading

From the Box: Sharon Van Etten

The psychiatric term for it is experiencing intrusive thoughts (or obsessive thinking,) but most of us know it simply as the inability to stop turning something over and over in your mind, to worry at it like a dog even as you desperately try and drive it from your consciousness.

I get it worst when I’m trying and failing to sleep. Sometimes, in those miserable minutes or hours, my chain of thought becomes so involuntary that it almost seems those thought processes have a serpentine life of their own, writhing and turning back in and over each other. Pulling up thought after awful thought until what is happening no longer feels like something I am doing, but something that is done to me.

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