Schizophrenia, Hyper-Mentalism, and the Happy Puppet

Couldn’t stop thinking about it.

What to make of the Firecracker’s attraction to schizophrenia as a word and lifestyle, and why did it become the writer-singer-songwriter’s passport into a different kind of world? Schizophrenia, after all, goes beyond the mere desire for altered states of mind. Yeah, Coleridge loved opium, but this exceeds drugs, hallucinations, trumps the scope and governance of the will. Is this why it’s appealing? Is it a release from an oppressive hyper-consciousness? Is it a kind of Fate?

As evidence that what I’m saying actually happens, and that the word crops up in oddly reverential ways, some examples:

  • Talking about Lynch’s union of the banal and the grotesque, DFW says, admiringly, that “there’s a certain schizophrenia about it.”
  • From “In the Company of Creeps”, an article in Publisher’s Weekly:

    Wallace characterizes the public reception of both Infinite Jest and a followup essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (Little, Brown, 1997) as a ‘schizophrenia of attention.’

  • The Firecracker I married described his turmoil over whether or not his desires were compatible with being married to me as being sliced in half while in the shower. He called this his schizophrenia, and declared finally that his interest in madness isn’t intellectual, but religious. In my lower moments I think he yearns for it.

My sister is schizophrenic. She’s plagued daily by origami devils and monster faces in her food. She spends hours tracking down hackers breaking into her computer, scratches strips of skin off to get at the bugs beneath, turns sly and calculating whenever a collection agency calls to collect on one of the forty cell phone accounts she’s opened and closed and left unpaid. She resents that no one will believe that the doctor removed her temporal lobe during one the many unnecessary surgeries she’s convinced them to perform. She’s tried to kill herself three times.

I mention this to justify—or at least disclose—what might be an unreasonably rigid sense of what schizophrenia means. For me, it’s always meant a clinical condition.

So I thought I should check and see what it actually means. The word was coined in 1910 (or 1896, depending on whether you ask the OED or The Guardian). The OED defines it thusly:

A mental disorder occurring in various forms, all characterized by a breakdown in the relation between thoughts, feelings, and actions, usu. with a withdrawal from social activity and the occurrence of delusions and hallucinations.
Used in the U.S. with a broader meaning than in Britain (cf. quots. 1979, 1980).

The earlier term was “dementia praecox,” the premature unraveling of the mind. Schizophrenia means “split mind,” a term coined by Eugen Beuler to describe the splitting of mental functions. (It’s kind of ironic that these days “split-brain” patients are epileptic survivors whose corpus callosa—the bundle of fibers connecting the two cerebral hemispheres—have been surgically cut.)

In fact, the word seems to be losing status in the scientific community. The romance is unfelt in this quarter, and some people are trying to get rid of it as a category altogether: From Kate Hilpern’s article “Muddy Thinking” in The Guardian

“As a single word, schizophrenia can ruin a life as surely as any bullet,” says Hammersley. “I know of one woman whose psychiatrist told her it would have been better for her to have cancer. Our desire to dump schizophrenia in the diagnostic dustbin is therefore not just about the poor science that surrounds it, but the immense damage that this label brings about. Lives are being ruined on the basis of a highly suspect diagnostic system.”

Other scientists defend the label. Vague and bland as it is, to dispose of it would eliminate research funding. They’ve pressed on, and two in particular have come to a pretty awesome conclusion about a possible genetic basis for autism and schizophrenia.

Turns out the quest for a baby’s mental health is the ultimate Boy vs. Girl genetic free-for-all, the egg-and-sperm version of the bedroom scene in A Pocketful of Miracles. Nature recently published an opinion piece by Christopher Badcock (heh) and Bernard Crespi called “Battle of the Sexes”.

Here is what they found. Read more of this post

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Madwomen in the Attic, Madmen in the Garage

Dearest Carla Fran,

I can’t help wondering if the “sensual pleasures” the ladies received as a result of their chocolate and eggs are the subject of the “grateful confidences” that gratify the Professor’s ears. It puts me in mind of the “traditional” cures for female hysteria in the 19th century, and the peculiar forms therapy took to cure the problem of the wandering womb in those days. (And these, I suppose—remember Peggy’s weight-loss Rejuvenator on Mad Men, which gives you that “flush and glow?”)

I’ve got more to say later about therapy then and now. But for now, here’s a question, spurred by the discussions everywhere of DFW’s death and whether or not one can read anything biographical into his corpus of psychotics, addicts, and sociopaths: if schizophrenia means madness, and the hysterics were the madwomen in the attic, are schizophrenics the madmen in the garage? Has “schizophrenia” become, not just a catch-all concept for mental illness, but a more nebulous, even poetic certification of unfitness for society? In Firecracker parlance specifically, is the schizophrenic the official figure of alienation and off-kilter genius, the Fool, the visionary truth-teller, the creature who’s ascended (or descended) a stage towards Hegel’s concrete reality and gets the joke the rest of us didn’t even hear?

And why does this prophetic dimension seem to strike down male Firecrackers in much higher numbers? And—I ask this with fear and trembling, and wish, again, that David Foster Wallace could answer—what’s their yellow wallpaper?

Fondly,
Millicent

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Dear CF,

I started the evening rereading “Brief Interviews” and felt convicted and abased, recognizing in myself too much of what the Depressed Person says. And you, dear friend, are the beleaguered Support System with whom I (i.e. the depressed person) try constantly to really truly literally “share,” to whom I reach out for a glimmer of connectedness, for whom I try to Be There. To see myself thusly has only exacerbated my isolation-feelings, my anguish, my sense of injury, my feelings of abandonment. I’m nothing but a cracked bundle of need, a pail of neuroses. I think my three therapists would agree.

In that story the therapist dies “without leaving any sort of note or cassette or encouraging final words for any of the persons and/or clients in his life.”

For a moment I fantasized about DFW being my fourth therapist and indulged the ghoulish question that first struck me when I heard about his suicide:


Did he leave a note?


At any rate he left a cassette, and you found it. You’re right. It may be eleven years old, but Charlie Rose’s interview of David Foster Wallace covers 80% of what we’ve talked about, minus the sex. And I mean that literally–every time women appear, it’s a negative for him. He’s unhappy or exasperated with their role in his artistic world, and the feeling seems mutual.

On Unforgiven:

What’s interesting is that I don’t know a single female who likes the film. Females think ‘Western?’ It stinks. And if you can get them to watch it, it’s not a western at all. It’s a moral drama. It’s Henry James, basically. It’s very odd.”

Charlie gets worked up about this, agrees, and adds that this is the greatest rift his girlfriend and he have ever had about a movie.

(And there’s Henry James, king of the tragedy of manners, large as life. In a Western, no less–the one genre he might be least expected to appear in. I may have to watch Unforgiven after all.)

Wallace is even less happy with feminists who interpret the length of his books as having to do the length of his dick. I don’t blame him. First, it’s not true. Secondly, it’s not surprising that he prickles. The stakes of that sort of criticism are higher for him than they are for most. Returning for a moment to the irony of our generation constituting a Demographic, nothing would be quite so humiliating, for the culminating practitioner of a particular brand of artistic self-awareness, than to be found guilty of a truly unconscious influence.

But the dick’s not totally off the table. The Chronicle published an article on “intellectual crushes”–the brainy attraction a student feels to a certain kind of teacher. If anything, it’s the organ responsible for this feeling, the “intellectual dick,” that is the Firecracker’s great preoccupation (and Wallace is one, make no mistake). The writers he mentions—Delillo, Barthelme, Barth, Pynchon—were all well-hung in this department, and are all regular recipients of the male Firecracker’s admiration and energy. This isn’t penis envy, which Freud reserved for girls, and which it is evident, I think, that I suffer from. But it’s close.

Wallace says Lynch’s obsession is “The unbelievably grotesque existing in a kind of union with the unbelievably banal.” This truly brilliant take on Lynch gestures, I think, at what appeals to the cerebral Male. Let’s drag Henry’s brother William into this and call the Firecracker’s fierce (and not unjustified) admiration for Lynch, Barth et al. what it is, at least in part: a drive. Earlier than sex, but post-pre-Oedipal. It’s tribal and does not easily admit women–let’s be frank, it works better without them. It’s the universal desire to get lost in the funhouse and wee vigorously into the Po-Mo Stream of Consciousness (sponsored, alas, by the Depend Adult Undergarment).

Urinal cakes, mirrors, death diapers and the sublime, all in a tidy package.
Read more of this post

Where Are The Miracles?

1.) The other best part of the strangest goat-belly compared fight scene ever? That after harshly throwing her on the bed (really, not okay–way to hard for a comedy), he says “Queenie! You have one thing coming to me!” and then he rolls her off the bed and they start making out (as you aptly described). I assume he means sex since she has been holding out on him for two years apparently? Maybe because she didn’t want to mix her body in with the debt she was paying off? And even more odd–she looks like she was somehow slipped a muscle relaxer once off the bed–or are we supposed to assume that his kisses are soooooo good that they have the same effect as Valium?

2.) What is wrong with Ann Margaret’s voice? She can’t say her fiance’s family name without slurring, and then the rest of the time she sounds like she is five-year-old. Also–if you had never ever seen your mother before, don’t you think there would be some deeper conversation going on, like “who is my father?” or something?

3.) Bette Davis can’t behave destitute. Her posture is too good.

4.) Was the pacing strangely slow for a comedy? It took forever for the shenanigans to begin. I really wanted the whole movie to be about Queenie in the nightclub. My favorite scene is her jumping around in that silver costume.

5.) David Foster Wallace died. I don’t know where this fits in, but it marked my night. I just watched a Charlie Rose clip from ten years ago, and it all fits strangely into our conversations earlier today. Thoughts?

CF