17 August 2009

The Grand Mentalisms Reference Project

The Grand Mentalisms Reference Project is something I have had in mind for a while. At the moment of starting, I am stuck in omphaloskepsitis (navel-gazing-itis) and I am glad to have thought of something to offer up that's more in tune with the original purpose of this blog.

I am asking all of you who read to save up and share any and all references you come across in literature, journalism, blogs, television, magazines, movies, day to day conversation, scholarly articles, academically dubious articles and sources: in short, anything that reflects a popular conception of the nature of mental illness and especially the perceived nature or character of those who are mentally interesting, negative or positive. I would also welcome more selective contributions from older (pre-1970) psychiatric and psychological texts.

My aim is to build up a database of popular references to mental illness so that, in true pragmatist philosophy mode, I can gain a fuller idea of what exists in the minds of the living, the influences that shapes these perceptions and the historical discursive context of current understandings of mental illness in the popular social dialectic. With this understanding, I hope to be better able to address mentalisms philosophically in a more relevant way.

If you're not sure whether a reference you have come across is relevant to this project, just go ahead and stick it up anyway. I need your help and I welcome and appreciate any and all contributions.

When posting a reference, please try to give sufficient citation in whatever form. Sufficient citation for anything in print would consist of the date of publication, author, publisher, page number and title. For blogs, as much as can be gathered of the publication citation plus a link would be great. For conversational references, date, time, local and a brief description of the relationship between the participants (e.g. psychiatrist to patient, parent to child who is mentally interesting) would be appreciated. Names and personal details are not requested or necessary. If you do not have all of the information requested, don't worry, just give as much as you are able.

I am particularly interested in anything that strikes you as a recurring conception and particularly interested in anything that strikes you as unusual.

With your help, I hope to make a useful contribution to political philosophy and, eventually, public policy for the greater good of the mentally interesting and the benefit of greater understanding to the non-mentally interesting. Thank you in advance and know that I will faithfully give due credit to any aid you can afford me in this project.


  1. The following are jokes from the 'Scenes We'd Like To See' round on the topical comedy show 'Mock The Week'. It was first broadcast on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursday, August 13th. I retrieved it on Tuesday, August 18th from the BBC iPlayer.

    The subject is 'Bad Things To Hear At The Psychiatrist's.'

    Frankie Boyle: "I don't want you to think of me as a psychiatrist. I want you to think of me as a mental patient who killed the psychiatrist before you got here."

    Hugh Dennis: "You think you are a potato? On the couch, please."

    Ed Byrne: "Welcome to your first session of Freudian analysis. What seems to be the penis?"

    Frankie Boyle: "Well, you say that you're paranoid, but I have a report here that says you looked very relaxed in the bath this morning."

    Andy Parsons: "Oh yes, I can see why you fancy your mother - she's something of a fox."

    Russell Howard: "I see you've tried to commit suicide five times. Your dad was right - you are useless."

    Frankie Boyle: "You've been coming here for six months to talk about your trust issues while we've been filming you for Britain's Nuttiest Bastards."

    Hugh Dennis: "Yes, I think your parents caused you problems from a very early age, Clitorina."

    Stewart Francis: "Your thoughts that you're horrifically unattractive are all in your mind... Mr Johnson?"

    Russell Howard: "Okay, word association. I'm going to say a word and I want you to say the first thing that pops into your breasts."

    Ed Byrne: "Wow, that's really interesting. Do you mind if I use some of this stuff as lyrics for my band?"

    Frankie Boyle: "You have emotional problems and a below-average IQ. I'm prescribing Hollyoaks."

    Ed Byrne: "Oh, that's a classic dream. It means you're a paedophile."

    Russell Howard: "I want you to go to your happy place. Judging by the size of you, that's probably Greggs."

    Frankie Boyle: "Hypnosis could certainly help with your intimacy issues. While you were unconscious, I rested my nuts on your head."

  2. Thank you, Lucy, for making the initial contribution! I hope that many will follow.

    Here's my first go. All of the following are from a novel, "The Secret History", Donna Tartt, Vintage, 2004 [orig. 1992]

    "I was at Dr. Roland's office every morning like clockwork. He, an alleged psychologist, noticed not one of the Ten Warning Signs of Nervous Collapse or whatever it was that he was educated to see, and qualified to teach. Instead, he took advantage of my silence to talk to himself about football, and dogs he had had as a boy." (119)

    "There was a life-or-death attempt being made near my table by a couple of Neanderthals looking to collect money for a beer blast in the sculpture studio. [...] They were widely held to be good guys, and maybe they were decent enough if you lent them your car for beer runs or sold them pot or something; but both of them - the movie producer's kid in particular - had a piggish, schizophrenic glitter about the eye that I did not care for at all." (147)

    "'Not that we were in any condition to explain,' Henry said dreamily. 'Really. I wonder if you understand what sort of state we were in. Scarcely an hour before, we'd all been really, truly out of our minds. And it may be a superhuman effort to lose oneself so completely, but that's nothing compared to the effort of getting oneself back again.'

    'It certainly wasn't as if something snapped and there we were, our jolly old selves,' said Francis. 'Believe me. We might as well have had shock treatments.'" (175)

    "But Bunny, happy as a mental patient, would rattle for hours about his delusions of the Riviera, oblivious to a certain tightness about Henry's jaw, or to the empty, ominous silences which fell when he was talked out and sat, chin in hand, staring dreamily into space." (215)

    "How was it that a complex, a nervous and delicately calibrated mind like my own, was able to adjust itself perfectly after a shock like a murder, while Bunny's eminently more sturdy and ordinary one was knocked out of kilter? [...] Or were his own actions as inexplicable to him as they were to us?
    Or perhaps they weren't as inexplicable as that. Because the worst thing about all of this, as Camilla once remarked, was not that Bunny had suffered some total change of personality, some schizophrenic break, but rather that various unpleasant elements of his personality which heretofore we had only glimpsed had orchestrated and magnified themselves to a startling level of potency." (222)

    "'You think I'm a lunatic. Bats in the belfry. Nobody listens to me,' he said, his voice rising." (245)

    There will be more, I'm sure, but I'm only halfway through the book.

  3. And here's one from the daily blog reading:

    "I am not shocked by the news that Fr. Maciel had a mistress because it confirms what I have always believed about him, that he is a fallen human being (perhaps more fallen than most people, perhaps even a sociopath)."

    Betty, since I know you read this sometimes, I hope that you will understand that by putting this here, I am not trying to pick on you. The purpose of this project is to try to understand how people use words and concepts related to mental illness and not to judge the whether they do so rightly or wrongly, just to note how they do it. What struck me about this was the connection you made between sin and being a sociopath; I worry a lot about the moral content attached to some psychiatric diagnoses - I've written about it here before in July - so it is interesting to me to see the connection made.

    The link is here:

  4. On September 22nd 2003, Frank Bruno was taken to hospital to undergo psychological and psychiatric tests. The Sun reported it under the headline 'Bonkers Bruno Locked Up'. You can read all about it on Frank Bruno's Wikipedia page, should you wish to follow this story further.

  5. Sebastian Faulks has moved quickly in an attempt to avert criticism over his comments about the Qur'an, which he was quoted describing as "just the rantings of a schizophrenic" with "no ethical dimension" in an interview with the Sunday Times yesterday.

    "While I believe the voice-hearing of many Old Testament prophets and of John the Baptist in the New might well raise psychiatric eyebrows today, it is absurd to suggest that the Prophet, who achieved so much in military and political – quite apart from religious – terms, can have suffered from any acute illness. Only a fully cogent and healthy person could have done what he did," Faulks told the Guardian today. He went on to offer "a simple but unqualified apology to my Muslim friends and readers for anything that has come out sounding crude or intolerant. Happily, there is more to the book than that."

    From the Guardian, 24 August, 2009. Accessed through their website.

  6. "One of the books I read as background to my novel was Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong. She writes movingly of how Arabs in the Peninsula longed for a voice-hearing prophet of their own to match the many Jewish prophets, famed for hearing the voice of God over many generations, and the twin voice-hearers of Christianity, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. The ability to hear voices was much prized in the long period covered by the holy books of the great religions – and long before, going back to the time of Homer.

    This led some writers in the 1970s (notably the American psychologist Julian Jaynes and the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz) to speculate that voice-hearing might once have been a very widespread – indeed indispensable – human ability.

    Today, it is more usually regarded as a core symptom of schizophrenia. When I look at the Bible, I see many people whose experiences might today have them certified insane. John the Baptist, clad in rags, eating locusts and talking to the moon, resembles the men turned out of the long-stay hospitals in New York and left to wander the streets in the 1990s."

    Mr. Faulks speaking for himself in the Telegraph, 24 August, 2009.

  7. re: above

    It's worth noting how very widely and completely discredited Szasz is now.

  8. Oh this is a very interesting project! I shall be on the look-out for such references.

    For now here is something my mental health social worker (who has the power to detain people) said to me last Tuesday - we had been talking about how she is to start working 2/3 days a week at a therapeutic community and continue her normal work the rest of the time, we were saying good-bye and she said "Yes I'm off to start my schizophrenic lifestyle" Then she realised what she'd said and got rather flustered and tried to correct it to "my split-personality lifestyle". At that point, I have to confess, I shut the door.

  9. I have just discovered your blog and wondered if you might be interested in this.

  10. Recently the UK blogosphere has been awash with speculation about the mental health of our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. I hope to provide you with several interesting snippets as this story unfolds. I've heard that it will soon reach the newspapers, with the Sunday Times prepared to do an article on it this Sunday.

    My first offering is a piece by Fraser Nelson. Incidentally, he's the new editor of the Spectator (a right-wing magazine I enjoy), but this piece comes from the website of the News of the World (a popular British low-brow tabloid published every Sunday, most famous for reporting on the sexual misdemeanours of the rich and famous). It's dated September 12th 2009, and I retrieved it at 10:30am on September 15th 2009. There is a link below the extract I found most telling:

    "Rumours are swirling around Westminster. Our PM is cracking under the strain, it is said, and may quit on health grounds.

    But David Cameron can relax. I can assure him that Gordo, the Tories’ No1 weapon, is alive, well and hatching a new cunning plan.

    First, the rumours are true. Brown is shouting, screaming, hurling objects around the room, behaving like a maniac. In other words, business as usual. This is how he operates — and has done since he cocooned himself in the Treasury 12 years ago.

    It may seem bonkers to promise free healthcare to the Nepalese when so many British kids can’t read and write. But he’ll do so this month.

    It seems crazy apologising for the way gay computer pioneer Alan Turing was treated in 1954 — when Gordo was three years old.

    Our PM was 49 when he sold the nation’s gold reserves for $275 an ounce. It passed $1,000 last week. Where’s our apology for that?

    But madness is often what passes for politics (ie poll tax). The trick is to have policies so utterly barking that you actually get away with it. Gordo has a new trick, about to be unleashed when he addresses the Trades Union Congress next week."

  11. My next offering is from the blog 'Order Order', written by a man who calls himself Guido Fawkes. He came to the attention of the political mainstream when, earlier this year, he broke a story about the Prime Minister's advisor Damian McBride spreading disgusting smears about the Prime Minister's political opponents.

    Since then he's been a 'talking head' on the news a couple of times, and as you will see the post I've linked to refers to him being on a panel chaired by Jeremy Vine. (I'm not sure who Jeremy Vine is - I think he's some sort of BBC radio presenter.)Guido's real name is Paul Staines. Overall, it's fair to say that his influence on British thought is greater than that of your average anonymous blogger furiously stabbing out diatribes from a back bedroom somewhere in Ipswich.

    The article refers to the main story about Gordon Brown's health that has been doing the rounds recently: that he has been prescribed MAOIs for depression.

    I retrieved this on September 15th 2009 at 10:43am, and it is dated September 10th 2009, 11:36am.

    I have cut-and-pasted a telling extract for you, but I strongly recommend reading the whole article, if only to see the distasteful cartoon which accompanies it.

    "The evidence is first and foremost his behaviour – what some have previously put down to a lack of EQ or emotional intelligence, is now being attributed to drugs to control his dark depressions. We all know the stories of rages, flying Nokias, smashed laser printers, tables kicked over and crying Downing Street secretaries subjected to foul-mouthed tirades. We have seen the deranged YouTube performances, the bizarre facial contortions, the incongruent emotional responses – smiling when offering condolences, frowning when giving best wishes ... In the context of all this speculation and his manifest physical unease, surely somebody in the Lobby has to publicly ask the question at the PM’s next monthly briefing: 'Prime Minister, have you been taking medication that may affect your judgement?'"

  12. Here is a blog by Matthew Norman, who writes for the Independent, on the Gordon Brown/MAOI story:

    I retrieved it on September 15th 2009 at 10:52am and it is dated September 10th 2009.

    Below, a telling extract:

    "So begins the final act of the enchanting little play working titled Waiting for Gordtogo, with rumours concerning the Prime Minister's mental wellbeing infusing the internet. Gossip of the kind often afflicts PMs. Margaret Thatcher was regarded as deranged by the late 1980s, even by her admirers, and some concluded that Mr Tony Blair was bananas long before he went off to sprinkle the fairy dust of peace upon the Middle East ... You'd have thought that whether our Prime Minister is severely clinically depressed falls loosely under the public interest header, but what can you do? Our political system regards secrecy less as desirable than its raison d'etre."

  13. Okay, here are three articles from the man who broke the Gordon Brown/MAOI story, John Ward, who has a blog called 'Not Born Yesterday'.

    In the first one he breaks the story, and in the course of the article makes several allegations/observations about the Prime Minister's mental health which are well worth a look. I retrieved it at 10:59am on September 15th 2009 and at the bottom it just says 'Copyright 2009':

    The next article, copyright September 2009, merely adds a few 'supporting details' for the thesis, but I include it just to be complete. I retrieved it at 11:01am on September 15th 2009:

    The third article was retrieved at 11:02 am on September 15th 2009, and doesn't have a date on it (that I can see). I find it interesting for the way Mr Ward comments on how so much attention has been paid to the Prime Minister's mental health, rather than the other major allegation in Mr Ward's inital post - that Gordon Brown is losing the sight in his remaining eye. (He lost the first one playing rugby when he was 16.) Here it is:

  14. There's this site of a wonderful woman whose brother has schizophrenia and who started an anti-stigma campaign. You'll find lots of material on her blog:

    Do you plan to start a similar campaign or is it just for academic research? I see you're affected personally as well, and anything we can do to better our lots will be great.

    I was schizophrenic myself, for many years, but my case is the proof that there is the possibility of a cure, without medication, provided you have the necessary intelligence and sensitivity to deal with your inner vision adequately. I'm going to write down my story in my blog, in the moment it's just the preparation phase (huh, first have to read more English to strengthen my vocabulary, being Austrian, and learn more about the brain).
    The plan is to make a book of it, and let the readers decide via comments which parts should be emphasized and described further. Kind of an online book writing project. Don't know if it works, but I'm sure you might be interested to participate, and I'll send you an invitation once there is more material. (Or probably you like my poems already, on your path towards being a peripatetic metaphysical poet.) (I'm a musician, too, btw, but all those years of craziness have somehow delayed my path, and you'll have to wait a little until I put some of my work online.)

  15. Well, I might also be able to contribute some ideas on my own to your research. Let me sit back and think a little...

    One way to begin would be to consider that we are a biological species, and like every biological species we have some innate instincts, and there's also one that makes us fight other species if they are a competition for us. I have studied biology for some years, but it's some time ago, and I can't recall the exact animal species they used for the example, but it's sometimes two species that are quite close that fight each other with more fervor than species that are more different. One example would be the lion and the cheetah, lions hate cheetahs more than anything else and kill them whenever there's a chance, without eating them. Just to get rid of them. Of course it's because of food competition, but the baseline is that the lion doesn't do so because of thinking about it, but because of this instinct, which you can find in many animal species, and this instinct must feel to the animals like "there's someone who is like you, but not exactly like you, so get rid of him".
    Surely the animals can put other animal species in categories, so this was one category, and other categories are "this is my kin" (so use the mating and hierarchy instincts), "this is similar to my kin" (don't use mating, but use hierarchy) (like in our farm, horse and goats, or chicken and ducks), "this is much smaller than me" (treat it as irrelevant, like goats with rabbits), "this is much bigger than me" (treat it as irrelevant if it doesn't hunt you, but don't let it step on you), "this is prey" (cats and birds), "this eats me" (remember).
    (As a human on a farm, you're usually "this is similar to my kin" to them, and they are the same to you, except the occasions where "this is prey".)
    Now the thing is, the first category from above is just "this is similar to my kin" plus "I don't like it", and "I don't like it" also happens when you fight over hierarchy in the "this is my kin".

    Well, I'm getting into a mess, but I'm just writing as I make the idea - is more entertainable to me -, so let's cut it short.

    We can also say, people with a mental disorder are disliked because there's this instinct involved, the same instinct that once made white people dislike black ones, and that makes Israelis dislike Palestinians, and vice versa, and so on.

    Except for the cultural conditioning, of course, but one may also ask, where does a cultural conditioning come from in the first place, and why is it as it is, if there's no biological background? (Which can also be indirect, like competition over land in the case of peoples in adjacent territory, but the bottomline is, when someone rejects to be controlled by instincts, it's quite easy to get out of a certain behavior guided by rational arguments.)

    (But as long as the instinct is stronger, rational arguments are futile.)

    That's why being a philosophical singer poet is sometimes more effective than presenting academic papers to politics. (Who are ridiculously possessed by the hierarchy instinct and the fight-with-competition.) (Hiding all this in well-worded debate, the old story, reminds me on the Catholics and their disgust of everything animal, which btw is the real reason why they can't accept the theory of evolution, and their effort to hide their animal side with overcultivated behavior and rituals and gowns and sterile buildings and who knows what, the gorilla in the suit, in the case of the ministers and the parliament.)
    Well, nice topic to write about, maybe should have made a blog post of it, but I guess that subject will show up in many variations throughout my work, anyway.