Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Diseased Minds

Russell and Cooper have clearly made a point of not allowing Pat to become what mentally ill characters often become in Hollywood movies: someone magnetic and full of wise secrets that we “normals” would benefit from if only we could open our tiny minds and see past all the “rules” we foolishly allow ourselves to be corralled by" - MaryAnn Johanson, self-proclaimed flick filosopher, in a positive review

Other reviews of this very very good film have also tended to be positive, but what I've mainly noticed is all the approving, knowing talk about how this film goes about presenting its characters in a grown-up way, not sugarcoating or romanticising the reality of living with crippling mental illness.

This odd expression of empathy reminded me of Styron's Darkness Visible again. If we get together and advocate effectively enough, we have it in us to convince society that our inferiority is not our fault. It's a somewhat questionable aspiration in any case, but it sure as hell wasn't what the film I was watching was about.

One problem with the sickness paradigm is that you can't really attribute it to something external, which once you've dealt with you're then healthy. They're coming to fix your emotions and personality, and you'll only be truly healthy once you're someone else. The second problem is that - as opposed to the body, whose organs have definite functions attached to them which illness impedes - with the mind it's only a question of conventions. Of course, it is then explained that these transgressions of norms impede their functioning in society, and therefore necessitate treatment. Had this philosophy of medicine managed to establish itself in other fields beyond psychiatry, we might have heard dermatologists earlier on in the previous century pronouncing black people cutaneously (that means of the skin, I looked it up) ill, and supposing a future environment where small stature would be looked down on far more hostilely than we ourselves would consider reasonable, whatever branch of medicine deals with those things would undoubtedly declare them vertically ill.

Without a doubt these people suffer. Without a doubt this suffering of theirs is also generally eased by people devoted to their care, though I would guess that less by psychiatrists with their super-pills than by systematic emotional support and aided introspection, which would do good for anyone.

A higher than usual degree of suffering is probably a more accurate and sensible general characterisation of the so-called mentally ill than mental dysfunction. Another one might be deviation from emotional and ideological orthodoxy. Institutionalisation occurs when they stray, in turn, too far out of behavioural orthodoxy, but even before that, all who feel and think wrongly are at best miserable sick people needful of our empathy and help.

I have something of an odd recurring crisis. Every time somebody asks me how I am (though it doesn't always sound like a question and probably often isn't), it feels like a test of character that I fail by saying "Great! How are you?" I think what I'm hearing when I'm asked it is "How much do you belong here?" and I respond with a frantic enthusiasm "A whole lot! I'm the belongiest damn belonger around."

Every once in a while, I will get my courage up and say "Not that much. This is a strange place I don't really understand." Invariably, the reassuring response will be "Never mind! Here's how to pretend that you do!" I'm getting off easy here. If they would have considered me too far gone, all they'd be able to offer me is pity, if not disgust. At any rate, what their response amounts to is "Your apology is graciously accepted."

So, here's what I think, in the hope this post is maintaining some sort of coherence: Madness is a truth impulse. I'm not sure how and whether psychosis factors into it, but what the feelcrimes at least appear to have in common is a kind of rejection of self-confidence, of the viability of the status quo and of the realness of conventions. The mad have to be differentiated and ostracised because if they're like you, then you're like them, and life is doubtful and frightening and arbitrary and fucking stupid.

Here's my wise secret: "It's a crock of shit." Almost everything everybody does completely misses the point. It sort of gleefully misses the point in a what-are-you-gonna-do?-gotta-do-something kind of way. Most things are meant essentially as distractions, as assistance in avoiding "sinking into yourself." But I like it here, sunk in myself as I am. It probably is much more painful that the apparent alternative lifestyle, but it enables me to maintain self respect. It helps my good things be satisfying. It's like the difference, say 200 years ago, between being self-deludedly religious and secure, and embracing secularity and doubt and approaching life like a fucking grown-up.

One distinction grown-ups should be able to make is between empathy for a person in pain and condescension towards and implicit condemnation of him. The tendency to merge the two together is INSANE. Can't you just hope that the person feels better?

That's what I think the movie was about, anyway. Basically.

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