The girls are in the library.* Even the voices only some hear are quiet.** Reading and note-taking furiously in journals bent softened from their usual abode under shirts and waistbands. Hidden text.
*This paper is meant as an extremely modest and Mad homage-prequel to Monique Wittig’s Les Guerilleres. In her future which is already our past, the women were girls confined to a contemporary version of the asylum, a level two lockdown facility. Before the jungle, the desert.
** This paper is Mad scholarship written from an explicitly Mad standpoint. To clarify this position I will briefly explicate some terms of Madness vs. Mental Illness. “…modern man no longer communicates with the madman […] There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only have come into existence in such a silence.” (Foucault, Preface to the 1961 edition)
Sometimes the liberal responses to the term “illness” is to just change our language to “mental health” like “my mental health isn’t so great”. But ideas of health can’t operate without ideas of illness, and they both reify each other and the idea of their separation… “Mental Illness” implies a cause-and-effect world, often invoking what I guess I’ll call the “trauma narrative”, in which the IP (identified patient) is interpreted as normal and sane until a traumatic event, which is seen as the “cause”, creates for them an affliction, a mental illness, which now needs to be fixed.
This need to be fixed translates to a specific political activism which has a tendency to engage with the State in terms of “rights and demands”. As illustrated by Reagan era/20th century, when the State is in an (ongoing) state (pun) of violent fluctuation (esp regarding who can in/voluntarily be confined, who can be provided for in what state state state) it quickly becomes obvious why trying to get some rights and some demands never really seems to impact systemic change… Sidenote, isn’t it interesting that John Hinkley Jr., the man who attempted to assassinate Reagan, was the first case to use the Insanity Defense?
As the above Foucault quote says, mental illness is in an intense relationship to authority which authorizes. We are made legible via diagnoses derived from the superior intellect of our captors and/or doctors, who have studied (us) enough to understand how to communicate with us; they know how to “fix” us, unlike the rest of the “reasonable” population. We are effectively removed from the grander conversation. Are our attorneys speaking for us? No, it’s our doctors (and families).
“Madness” actively seeks to reframe all of these things. “Madness” says “wait hold on, what? you’re telling me there were different historical moments when members of my community were seen as someone channeling something Greater and non-Mad people were kickin’ it with them, respecting our special differences? you’re telling me some cultures and historical moments would see me not as a deficient and ill person needing to be fixed, but rather a poetprophet and a bringer of new knowledges????????? THAT’S CRAZYYYYY.” “Madness” says “i might see myself as fixable or not. i might want to be fixed or helped in certain ways or not. I might see myself as excellent as the loon i am!” Madness says “like Britney, it’s my prerogative. (shoutout to Jijian Voranka). i am much more self-determined and autonomous and capable than you or I knew.” Madness as well as Murray Bowen reminds us to tie the symptom back to the system. Madness (and disability studies) reject the (assimilationist medical) mainstream centering of IP – individualized pathology, individual person, identified patient and says, “illness (brilliance, etc) is a systemic, energetic phenomenon and actuality, which finds expression in certain bodies.” “Society is eeking out all sorts of crazy vibes man and some people are feelin’ it super hard.” Strong people indeed to survive this concentration of collective feeling. In this way Madness ties itself to Field Theories of Psychology, three (of my personal favorites) being Bowen Family Systems Theory (as sometimes taken up by Edwin Friedman, Peggy Papp, Carl Rogers), Gestalt Therapy, and Jungian Depth Psychology (as sometimes taken up by Joseph Campbell, James Hillman). Our contextualization of pathology pushes us to radical, anti-assimilationist politix.
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