Monday, 31 January 2011

It is madness?

'You can never define madness in terms of an external, visible manifestation'

Psychoanalyst Darian Leader on certainty, madness, and what it means to be normal

Video discussion here. (Sorry, won't allow embedding.)

This is interesting and, to an extent, has a certain merit: how does one clearly define the boundaries of sanity and madness? But this is not the way he poses the question; he forgets to mention, just as their is problem defining the exact boundaries of madness, conversely there must be a symmetrical problem with that of sanity. You could say they're not necessarily mutually exclusive “conditions”. In any case, his argument displays a slight of hand, otherwise known as the "slippery-slope argument". That is: because we cannot provide a clear-cut distinction, as there are levels of ambiguity in diagnosis, as well as social factors, there is none to be made. You might say, even the very categorization involves a kind of madness itself. Now, if there is no – even “in principle” – method by which we could solve these ambiguities, then it is unreasonable to demand one as a measure. However, we do have other methods available to us that utilise a combination of diagnostic tools: from behavioural observations, biology, pharmacology, to psychiatry, neurology, and so on. On their own, they may be insufficient, but together they build a patchwork of inter-disciplinary knowledge and experience which is more clinically robust – that's not say it doesn't have its flaws. Of course, this knowledge has not always been used for merely therapeutic purposes, but ones of social oppression - merely because some did not conform to the statistical norm, doesn't mean they're mad. Indeed, there's a tradition of genius which seems could only have existed by going against, challenging, entrenched assumptions and cherished beliefs. Hopefully, as we become more sensitive to the way our views of madness and sanity are formed, we can at least try to avoid sweeping, dehumanising, tendencies. He offers no substantive reason to abandon our attempts to at least draw some boundaries, other than it's difficult. For example, it's difficult to say what art is; not to mention, agree on whether it's good. Does that mean we should abandon the distinction between “art” and “not art”? There are artists whose work challenges those boundaries, but implicit in such attempts, is the idea that there is something that can be “said” about it; there is a debate to be had, otherwise, why bother calling yourself “an artist” or denying that you were one? We accept art exists, while also accepting there is no overarching theory or understanding that encapsulates every putative instance of its manifestation. The relation between madness and art I will leave for another discussion. Or not.


  1. We must have had the same thing for breakfast this morning...fried buttermilk biscuits (from the night before) and syrup for me. :)

    We're on similar tracks today.

    I hate to be simple minded about madness...but, while I believe in it as something separate from long as people aren't a danger to themselves or others then let it be. I would hate for the potential for madness (genetic, etc.) to become an issue...there are people who have gone way off the reservation that function just fine.

  2. It's difficult: there's a parallel problem in how you classify "danger" - there's a physical issue and also a psychological issue. For example, some people form a physical threat to themselves or others; some people may form a threat to their own or others' mental wellbeing, for example the dissemination of beliefs that may inspire harm to, or oppression, of others. It would also seem that such decisions need to make use of a broader context of our understanding of madness to justify them. I don't think its merely an issue of health and safety and civil liberties, but they are factors. Toleration is not a virtue if it is without an attempt at understanding. Also, the attempts to reduce certain "conditions" to genetic determinism are, as you point out, worrisome. So I'm party agreeing and disagreeing. It's a tangled weave. No doubt about it.

    Meh, just had coffee for breakfast today, fried buttermilk biscuits on the other hand, sounds just the ticket.

  3. It's tough...I was thinking of my maternal grand-parents. Their relationship was frightening at times...and at one point my grandmother was institutionalized. She did things like walking a track through her house repeating the same Bible verse over and over again (a little scary maybe...dangerous?) to drinking so much water she nearly washed all the minerals out of her body...definitely dangerous.

    My Grandfather was the best fella you'd ever meet, but he had a vicious, ferocious temper...disturbingly bad temper. He was womanizer when he was younger, a drinker...a real handle.

    They seemed to be genuinely bad for one another...exacerbating each others mental problems.

    He lost his mother when he was a little boy, and she believed that she was responsible for a stroke that left her mother disabled.

    Yet they were married for 60 Grandaddy made it less than a year after she was gone.

    They both had certifiable issues...and in a sense were dangerous to one another, but I don't if there was justification for outside authorities to intervene...if they make sense as an example of what is indeed a tangled web.

    More biscuits this morning...the flippin business.

  4. Reading your comments, I am remind of Hamlet's fatalism, or perhaps just resignation, even possible relaxation, into the rhythms - the ebbs and flows - of fate. He says:

    “Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is't to leave betimes, let be.”

    Now I'm no great fan of Shakespeare, but there's something in his turn of phrase that occasionally sticks to the noggin. While some see providence, if at all, as being entirely blind, I see it as being defined as the tension between tendencies, laws and limitations, which, we, in turn, resist and submit to. From this conflagration, self-determination is either forged or feigned. As old Heraclitus says: “Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony.” I don't exactly know if this make any sense, but your account of your grandparents struck that chord with me.

    I wouldn't presume to gainsay what's right for others insofar as it's their own private business, nor because something doesn't work for me it, it can't for them, but at some point lines have to be drawn and one lives in the hope it doesn't have to get to that.

    Now, somewhere, in the jumble of the weekend just past, I added some further thoughts on comedy to the Conrad entry. Not as satisfying as the ones I had originally crafted before losing them, but I had another go anyway.

    Happy travels.

  5. My Grandmother is especially hard to think of in light of fate.

    Evidently she was quite a g'itar player and singer. My Moma had mentioned it before, but it wasn't 'til her funeral that I realized the extent of her exploits. Propped up against the casket was a white guitar with flowers painted on it..and when the preacher mentioned that she was known to pick and sing a rousing Bacon County chorus of "You got that right"s and "Sho nuff"s came from the back of the church.

    Evidently when they were young they used to throw a lot of house-parties staring my Grandmother. The problem was my Grandaddy would get drunk and mean-jealous...that put an end to it.

    She was an autodidact too...there was a time when she'd read anything she could get her hands on and loved Baroque art. I remember her, a woman who was married at 16 and left school after the sixth grade, using a tennis ball and pebble to teach me and my buddy about gravity.

    I've made it sound more one sided than it was...she had her issues too. It's all too much to comprehend at one time really.

    I'm still chewing on the last Heart of Darkness comment...a good one.

  6. You write very well. Clearly, and you have good ear for conversational style. I should make more effort to read your blog, which, I have only so far skimmed. Anyway, thanks, I've really enjoyed reading your thoughtful comments.

  7. 'You can never define madness in terms of an external, visible manifestation'

    Not to belabour, the point, but where does one separate the "internal" from the "external"? What is the nature of that barrier? If we merely "lived inside our heads", what physical manifestation of that "inner" activity could possibly change the "external" world? Are "we" not part - included - in the world?

  8. Thank you sir...I appreciate that.

    It's easy to have thoughtful responses...when thoughtful questions are being asked. It's a good blog you've got here.

    Please do come on by...make yourself at home.

    We have a serious aesthetics debate being carried out in a very facetious manner on offer at the moment.

  9. LOL - I've got one going here: