THE ANGER OF THE WEAK
If only she had a glass of red wine. Even beer would taste good and blur the knife edges, but she had only supermarket-brand cola, and not much of that. At one time she bought the New York Times every night, when she had been working as secretary – let’s say, secretary-mistress – to Professor Silvester at CUNY…
Everett Silvester had been fond of calling down the world, one item at a time. A fight was creeping through her wall from the next apartment in Spanish about money. Even though an oil company ad featuring an ocean full of singing fish was on now, she turned the sound back up. Finally she spread out her Daily News and skimmed it
GIRL SHOOTS MD IN LA LOVE SPAT
She smiled, tucking her small chin into her palm. She saw herself marching into Everett’s Riverside Drive apartment and pulling out of a ratty shopping bag a Saturday Night Special. Mama, how scared he would be; he would shit his pants with terror. Would the newspapermen ask her to sit on a table showing her legs? It would be sordid but by no means unsatisfying, to pump at leisure and with careful and by no means wasteful aim several bullets into Professor Everett Silvester of the Romance Languages Department at CUNY, who liked to have a Spanish-speaking secretary, that is, a new one every year – dismissed when he went away for summer vacation. He called them all Chiquita, like bananas. So many years had run over her since then, he might not recognize her, he might confuse her with last year’s hot Latin secretary. The anger of the weak never goes away, Professor, it just gets a little moldy. It molds like a beautiful blue cheese in the dark, growing stronger and more interesting. The poor and the weak die with all their anger intact and probably those angers go on growing in the dark of the grave like the hair and the nails.
Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time, 1979
1:35 pm • 15 April 2014 • 2 notes
Alexandra Ekster, costume design for Aelita: Queen of Mars, 1924
1:41 pm • 14 April 2014 • 2 notes
At the climax of his illness, under the influence of visions which were ‘partly of a terrifying character, but partly, too, of an indescribable grandeur’, Schreber became convinced of the imminence of a great catastrophe, of the end of the world. Voices told him that the work of the past 14,000 years had now come to nothing and that the earth’s allotted span was only 212 years more; and during the last part of his stay in Flechsig’s clinic he believed that the period had already elapsed. He himself was ‘the only real man left alive’, and the few human shapes that he still saw—the doctor, the attendants, the other patients—he explained as being ‘miracled up, cursorily improvised men’… He had various theories of the cause of the catastrophe. At one time he had in mind a process of glaciation owing to the withdrawal of the sun; at another it was to be destruction by an earthquake…
Years afterwards, when Dr Schreber had returned to human society, he could find no trace in the books, the muscial scores, or the other articles of daily use which fell into his hands once more, of anything to bear out his theory that there had been a gap of vast duration in the history of mankind, he admitted that his view was no longer tenable: ‘I can no longer avoid recognising that externally considered, everything is as it used to be. Whether, nevertheless, there may not have been a profound internal change is a question to which I shall return later.’ He could not bring himself ti doubt that during his illness the world had come to an end and that, in spite of everything, the one he now saw before him was a different one.
A world catastrophe of this kind is not infrequent during the agitated stage in other cases of paranoia. If we base ourselves on our theory of libidinal cathexis, and if we follow the hint given by Schreber’s view of other people as being ‘cursorily improvised men’, we shall not find it difficult to explain these catastrophes. The patient has withdrawn from the people in his environment and from the external world generally the libidinal cathexis which he has hitherto directed on to them. Thus everything has become indifferent and irrelevant to him, and has to be explained by means of a secondary rationalization as being ‘miracled up, cursorily improvised’. The end of the world is the projection of this internal catastrophe; his subjective world has come to an end since his withdrawal of his love from it.
After Faust has uttered the curses which free him from the world the Chorus of Spirits sings:
Thou hast it destroyed,
The beautiful world,
With powerful fist!
In ruins tis hurled,
By the blow of a demigod shattered!
For the children of men,
Build it again,
In thine own bosom build it anew!
Goethe, Faust, Part I, Scene 4
And the paranoiac builds it again, not more splendid, it is true, but at least so that he can once more live in it. He builds it with the work of his delusions. The delusional formation, which we take to be the pathological product, is in reality an attempt at recovery, a process of reconstruction. Such a reconstruction after the catastrophe is successful to a greater or lesser extent, but never wholly so; in Schreber’s words, there has been a ‘profound internal change’ in the world.
From Sigmund Freud, Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paradoides) [On Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of my Nervous Illness], 1911, Standard Edition, vol. XII, pp. 68-71.
12:18 pm • 11 April 2014
We the precocious, we the repressed of culture, our lovely mouths gagged with pollen, our wind knocked out of us, we the labyrinths, the ladders, the trampled spaces
We’re stormy, and that which is ours breaks loose from us without our fearing any debilitation. Our glances, our smiles, are spent; laughs exude from all our mouths; our blood flows and we extend ourselves without ever reaching an end; we never hold back our thoughts, our signs, our writing; and we’re not afraid of lacking.
What happiness for us who are omitted, brushed aside at the scene
of inheritances; we inspire ourselves and we expire without running out
of breath, we are everywhere!
Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of Medusa
7:30 am • 8 April 2014
LIBRARY OF PATHOLOGY - WALTER BENJAMIN AND THE DSM-V
‘Psychiatry has long since progressed beyond the time when every symptom was misused to characterize a particular form of insanity; if this were not the case, we might well speak of a ‘cataloguing psychosis’, Walter Benjamin declared in a 1928 essay ’Books by the Mentally Ill’ (SW, vol 2, pp. 123-130). In this short piece Benjamin discusses his ‘Library of Pathology’, books in his collection written by mentally ill people, from Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness made famous by Freud to Carl Gehrmann’s Body, Brain, Soul, God, which sought to draw a map of the brain locating the origins of everything from sweaty feet to the fear of mortal sin.
But the ‘progression’ of psychiatry seems to have resulted in a diagnostic procedure that closely resembles Benjamin’s description of the superseded past. The recently published fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) functions by categorizing mental illness according to menus of external symptoms. A mania for cataloguing might easily figure as a symptom in the DSM-V, as a glance at the recently expanded section Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders attests. But the contemporary mode of classifying and treating mental illness is itself governed by a kind of cataloguing psychosis that seeks to assign people their shelves in a neatly arranged library of pathology.
According to the DSM-V, the accumulative behaviour of a hoarder causes ‘significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning’. Hoarding is differentiated from ‘normal collecting behaviours’ because the amassed objects encroach on living or working space ‘to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible.’ This might have harmful ‘emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal' effects (my emphasis). The focus is less on the experience of the hoarder than on the disruptions their unusual behaviour might wreak on the routine functioning of family and working life. Such behaviour, the DSM warns, might not only create a 'public health issue' but could even cause distress to landlords. The interests being served by this mode of diagnosis are clear.
Benjamin calls for the writing of the mentally ill to be granted access to the tightly patrolled borders of publishing. In the past such writers managed ‘to slip past the passport control of the city of books, this Thebes with a hundred doors’ but might now be granted a ‘valid passport’.
But his border control metaphor is inadequate, as it succumbs to the same zeal for taxonomy and assimilation exhibited by the DSM-V. It is significant that Benjamin’s engagement with these texts was prompted by their refusal to be assimilated into the existing order he had established for his books.
Certainly ‘interest in the manifestations of madness’ Benjamin discerns in the 1920s continues today, now transposed into the neurological mode - from popular fiction to neurological case histories (think of Ian McEwan’s repulsive Saturday or anything by Oliver Sacks). But these writings consolidate normative values. Benign-seeming calls for compassion and empathy are often thinly disguised injunctions to integrate. To render oneself intelligible - but intelligible to whom?
To apply for a valid passport is to seek admission into the existing territory. But addressing the significant distress that people experience in the world cannot be based on the implicit assumption that all is well with it.
9:21 am • 4 April 2014 • 3 notes
Arūnas Tarabilda, Confusion of the Stars, 1963
1:53 pm • 25 March 2014 • 1 note
Charles Dedoyard, Gosprom buildings under construction, Kharkov, 1932
12:14 pm • 21 March 2014 • 1 note