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I haven’t been updating the blog regularly for a long time now, and I suppose it still has its readers, so I will try to put up some new material. One thing that has been happening in my life — longtime Rubard watchers may be surprised, or unsurprised, to find out — is recovery from my alcohol addiction. There are many famous stories of “lost weekends” and the like, and people who straighten up good, but one topic that merits more attention than it usually gets is “dual diagnosis” — mentally ill people with substance abuse problems. If you suffer from a mental illness and are a drug or alcohol user, listen up: a key condition of recovering from depression or psychosis may be ditching the beer or the weed.
I wouldn’t have believed this myself a few years ago. I had been binge-drinking since I was 13 and an occasional user of weed since 14, but early in my mental illness I believed that substance abuse was treatment for my mental illness — “something to take the edge off” — not one of its causes. Though I had been experimenting with hallucinogens shortly before becoming ill, and the causal links between LSD and psychosis are no joke — and I noticed that weed didn’t really improve matters — I hewed to the alcoholic’s line that a drink or three was a civilized way to relax. Many people may see through this line for “normies” — but for the mentally ill the stakes are much higher. Mixing anti-psychotics and alcohol is a recipe for brain damage, and after a year of drinking and Risperdal I partially lost the ability to speak and write fluent English.
It must have been a trip in itself to be around me at the time. I would test my enfeebled grammatical “intuitions” by Googling potentially leaden phrases — I would drop important words from sentences; and later on, I could hardly sign my own name. Apparently mixing anti-psychotics and booze raises one’s blood pressure to dangerously high levels; perhaps I had some transient ischemic events, but at any rate I was f-ed up long after the drinks wore off. Yet I still kept drinking: even if I only did it once a month, I kept my toe in the muddy waters of alcoholism even when the stakes got higher and higher. I alienated family and friends, harassed people while under the influence — I suppose it’s a good thing I never learned to drive, since I probably would have crashed a car.
But what I really want to talk about are a different set of “stakes”: mental wellness for the severely ill is improved drastically by sobriety. Today, like an AA infomercial, I can see through delusions that plagued me for years: I never understood how to “let go and let God”, since I thought large swaths of our social world were nods to my vexed noggin. Now I have a much saner approach to illness and wellness, and can let the past be what it was and not what I cooked it up to be. If you suffer from schizophrenia or schizophreniform disorders, please, please, consider that sobriety may be the thing for you; the “insight” you lack may be that your already-troubled brain is too clouded by drugs and alcohol to see the sun that shines on all of us.
Ten years ago today, I was working as a call representative for a class-action lawsuit by government workers related to their cost-of-living adjustments. I got to work at 7 AM Pacific time, and people were saying that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I thought that it was unusual mayhem, but not more; When we got inside, it was revealed by a co-worker that the towers had collapsed. I said “that’s impossible”, relating to the incident where a US Army Air Force bomber hit the Empire State Building during World War II. It wasn’t impossible, and after an hour or two they let us go. I was pretty deep down the insanity hole, and instead of going home crying I went to Portland State University for a couple of hours of stimulating reading in the library. It seemed oddly beautiful, and oddly like being in New York itself [I haven’t been to the Big Apple since Dinkins – JR]. We found out later that day that air travel, and a thousand other things, were shuttered for an indefinite period of time as a result of the attacks.
Like I said, I took the War On Terror pretty casually; my whole life seemed like a terror attack, so I was dead to the deepening ethical significances of 9/11 as it ramified to Afghanistan (I was against it) and Iraq (I was for it, enough to write GWB an email telling him he was the commander-in-chief in a time of crisis; in a separate incident, I mailed him copies of Weber and Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus). Does any of this make sense? I don’t know what you would ask of my sensibilities at the time. We didn’t put up an American flag, or commiserate about the events; even as a cautious supporter of the Palestinian intifada against the Israelis, I didn’t feel like I had very much to apologize for in terms of Islamist attacks. In early 2002, I took a plane trip back to Pittsburgh, where I went to college and started going crazy. A country on edge, Eastern standard time.
I was struck by how very similar airplane travel was after 9/11, making me think that people weren’t taking the ramifications seriously enough. Then the very-casually related Iraq War started piling up casualties, and I, faced with aggressive new liberals slagging Bush, started to keep quiet about anything not related to my system of delusions about academia. Over the years, I’ve read many articles about the World Trade Center (which I visited the top of as a child) and how its powerful futurism — viewed from Arab-heavy Northern New Jersey, it was like landing on the moon — is about as obsolescent as Saturn V rockets. More and more obvious ramifications continued to pile up as many terrorism-free but wary years followed.
On this anniversary, I guess what I can say is that the system of ‘social and economic organization’ represented by the WTC and its victims seems alive in the Lebensform of many Americans today; and that those of us emotionally distant from the tragedy of that day have missed a lot since. Still, the truth is the truth and like a T-shirt on an old Riot Grrl record had it I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN —
Something I’ve been thinking about: I’ve been diagnosed as mentally ill for a third of my lifetime now. Time frameworks I used to live and breathe by (Get through the month, you’re a legal adult now, that upsetting event was ‘only yesterday’) pale in comparison to being thirty-two and schizoaffective tout court, crazy without license from a going system of delusions. All that lost time — or was it? Research programs, prolix essays, fevered emails, and in the end this blog too — something to do, something to fill the time, all this time — And fill it I did, even if I ultimately have nothing to show for it. J.G. Ballard once said: “Life is long”. Even if you disagree, twelve years is a long time at least.
In a way, being older helps immensely: young people in their twenties are supposed to be shot from cannons, achieving the world even if they gain little from it. As a “zero-worker” for several years now, I was as “far from the madding crowd” as you could be — and it was okay, but it just takes something out of you to be off the grid that long. A friend of mine once asked me, as we were listening to a Notwist record: “Do you think you’ll still like this music when you’re thirty?” Something for young people in general to consider: do you think that your “idols”, your goals, the standards that you vehemently uphold, the praise you want to win from others — do you think it will still matter to you ten or twenty years later? Never occurred to me —
Another year, another stop on the crazy train. I seemed to have figured out how my college years went off track, without yet grasping how to deal with all the people I’ve alienated in the ten years since I graduated. Manic riffs that sustained me for months seem irreparably delusional — this is probably well and good, as it’s the kind of thinking that centered me before I became insane.
My “Dark Lady” was an ordinary middle-aged professional, with a European timeshare and a ‘boyfriend’; my fevered manifestos (much worse than here, if you’re curious) distributed to uninterested colleagues of same contain little susceptible of redemption. There’s something to stop worrying about and something to give up, and not much else than that.
I guess this is what sanity, or ‘stability’ amounts to: precious little to call one’s own, the stresses and strains of modern society raining down on an immature thirtysomething with a slender curriculum vitae. And yet it’s so much better than thinking a vast, sinister conspiracy had taken exceptional notice of a young radical and aimed to spend years thwarting him in the most recondite fashion. Thusly, I’d like to encourage mentally ill readers (surely a large enough component of the readership) to stay in treatment: after a long time, the world may start to look like — what you really think it is like. Eventually, it is anybody’s guess, after all.
Also, Pere Ubu’s “Navvy”, as good as anything as a manifesto concerning disabled rights.
When I was a little boy, I went to Grand Rapids with my family; there was a department store there like no other I had ever visited, and I had been to the various varieties of Macy’s (at that time, solamente NY and SF); fascinating fixtures outside, ovoid elegance within, delicious food of a type not available at the Battle Creek mall or Abraham and Strauss or even Gourmet Gulch. I thought to myself, what a strangely cosmpolitan place this city on the east bank of the uninviting Lake Michigan is — the wooden paneling of the Chicago rail terminal was a piece of alte Amerika shit, one’s learning about faits worse than Sheetrock, comparatively.
Then we went back a year later, and we couldn’t go to the department store; we went to the Gerald Ford Museum, an imposing building all of steel, where we learned what there was to know about the great man who somehow unmade Nixon without killing him stone dead or dying in such a “process”. Have I seen that again, molybdenum of the mind stronger than GENERAL MOTORS HEADQUARTERS? In Cheeelay, in Argentin, in Brazil amongst the erotetic mulatos and the straightforward outros. No, of course not; but yes, I ever have, and plus I never will. The “silent majority” knows whereof it cannot speak; and I don’t know about Grand Rapids, a place I was, supposedly in my country, in the ’80s, with the killer clown in chief.
Bedtime reading these days: Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. I’m going where thousands of Borders customers have gone before, but, as with my aforementioned cessation of Lacan-reading, I previously didn’t think my “febrile” mental illness would be improved by dipping into Marxist antipsychiatry. (An “identity-political” reclamation of the schizophrenic status is rendered impossible by the fact that the schizophrenic is not only not an expert on what it is to be a schizophrenic, in certain cases they are not considered to even be experts on what it is like to be one.) However, as I learned when I picked up Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze is not that Marxist and Guattari not that antipsychiatric; in fact, the works can profitably be read as adumbrating a loose-texture analysis of the form rationality took during the 1970s — this loose texture (only mildly critical of late capitalism and open to the idea that some people are just mad) being essential to avoiding the ‘hysteria of reason’ one might well attribute to over-enthusiastic taking-up of Althusserian or Habermasian ideals.
I’m only about a third of the way through A Thousand Plateaus, but I want to say something about Deleuze and Guattari’s use of the term “pragmatics”. “Pragmatics” came into use as a linguistic term in the early 20th century, the result of pragmatist semiotician Charles Morris’ tripartite distinction between syntax, the non-context-dependent features of meaning treated by semantics, and the context-dependent features not previously studied as an independent class: “pragmatics”. Early essays by logical positivists like Rudolf Carnap gave formal treatments of “indexical” or “token-reflexive” terms like “I” and “here”, and this strain of thought persists to this day in the work of Montagovian semanticists; there are also those who have attempted to provide overarching rules for pragmatics to some philosophical point (e.g., the “universal pragmatics” of Habermas and the “normative pragmatics” of Robert Brandom).
Pragmatics in the hands of Deleuze and Guattari, however, is fully identified with their program of “schizoanalysis”; taking “regimes of signs” and nonreductively tracing their “rhizomatic” lines of filiation and influence upon the subjectivity of the subject. In the hands of a Sokal this instantly could become laughable (without any desire to, say, read David Kaplan instead cropping up) but it seems to me there is a perfectly acceptable point D&G, who are not ignorant of the history of semantics, are trying to make. Their schizoanalysis is an insistence upon the material reality of language, not a Platonism akin to Frege’s third realm but (as with Agamben) a Stoic-influenced awareness of the two-sidededness of the scratches and sounds that incarnate language. Unlike Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari are not fighting to liberate the text from constructions, but to situate all utterances as part of the total social matrix; the “schizo’s stroll” or his ravings are not part of some Robinsonade of the neurologically unfortunate, but interact with the dominant regimes of signification and the social systems which they enable in material, real ways.
In this sense Deleuze and Guattari’s pure pragmatics is a socioanalysis as well: the eclipse took place even though Dean Swift said it would not, but his declaration was clearly not ominous Unsinn of the sort those who assimilate every linguistic failing — including the famous “failure to communicate” — to dementia or aphasia might desire it to be.
Six months have elapsed, and I’m now available for parties. However, much that the Democrats say and do still displeases me, and there are less jovial questions to ask about the viability of other left formations at present; I might try to join the CPUSA again, but I can already read the People’s Weekly World and vote for Dems by myself.
Short note: I recently went to see Synechdoche, New York — an enthralling experience in its own right, but perhaps even more notable as a culmination of a trend in moviemaking I’ll call (with some right, I think) schizoid cinema. The narratives of movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Science of Sleep and Kaufman’s pictures just don’t hold up, absurdly so: anyone with half a mind will laugh at the “375th Street Y”, but the visual signatures are just as strange, mixtures of “technologies for living” that never coexisted and impossible spatialities. Compared to this intentional nonsense, the Coen brothers’ jerking-around of film theorists (the “letter that never arrives at its destination” in The Hudsucker Proxy) is tame, and yet people of the very best mental equilibrium enjoy the movies: which makes me wonder what, exactly, is being said about real mental illness by their circulation.
Traffic has calmed down since the big surge related to Mark Rothko (and due, apparently, to his being featured on an episode of Mad Men — not that I’ve seen any of those). However, those of you still following along longer than necessary to grab a JPEG may be interested in knowing that although I walk the streets with impunity and write mini-essays on hot new intellectuals I kind of understand, I am still committed. This is perhaps due not so much to my expansive delusional and behavioral problems, as it is due to a ‘quirk’ of Oregon state law and its interpretation by the various counties.
I live in Washington County, comprised of most of the western suburbs of Portland and farmland beyond the Urban Growth Boundary. As far as I can tell from visiting their website, Washington County mental health is about two things: 1) families and 2) locking up dysfunctional members of functional families for as long as possible. The Oregon civil commitment statutes, which are rather vague, aid in this second goal.
Under Oregon law, a civil commitment ordered by a judge lasts up to 180 days. According to Washington County employees, “up to” means “exactly”, which would seem to render the further proviso in the statute that a psychiatrist can terminate the commitment when the person under commitment has sufficiently recovered a bit moot. Perhaps it is in fact moot: perhaps psychiatric consensus has evolved to the point where anyone needing extended help taking their “meds” and working on not “decompensating” (although this latter turn of phrase appears not to involve compensating for other people’s inadequacies) ought to run a six-month course, being gradually stepped down in supervision and stepped up in the amount of money they are personally contributing for the treatment.
However, I doubt it very much. This seems like a brazen attempt to wrest a criminal-like punishment for bad behavior and general lack of “seaworthiness” out of the medicine-based civil status, which could always be changed but should not be enforced as though it already has been changed. Although I had a perfectly nice afternoon showing someone around the Belmont district, it would be even nicer if I was not effectively sidelined from life for half a year based on phun phacts about my “hearing voices” and trajectory through life, supplemented by a clearly defective interpretation of state law. But hey, at least I can’t have everything.
Or, Thanksgiving Selbstbeschreibungen
Bei meiner Aufnahme in die 1969 gegründete Fakultät für Soziologie der Universität Bielefeld fand ich mich konfrontiert mit der Aufforderung, Forschungsprojekte zu benennen, an denen ich arbeitete. Mein Projekt lautete damals und seitdem: Theorie der Gesellschaft; Laufzeit: 30 Jahre; Kosten: keine.
Luhmann, “Vorwort”, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft
Although generally speaking the commitment has been filled with excitement (that is, alternating periods of bureaucratic terror and mild if real self-amusement) today was just a bummer. I was to have lunch with my partner in psychical research Kit, but I ended up barely having money for lunch myself; the meal, a Czech version of spaetzle interspersed with sausage pieces, left me as cool as it was served and things didn’t improve much from there. In fact, the day was so depressing that my enthusiasm for achieving a long-awaited goal — finishing the 1150 pages of Luhmann’s Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft — was significantly dampened. However, finish it I did, bringing to completion ten years of a desire to read those pages; a desire that was thwarted in 2003 when I had Sam at Powell’s order it from Schoenhof’s (back when I had money to spend on such things and was relatively more welcome at Powell’s, but had neither the will nor the way to make it through).
This year began by finally wading through the Wissenschaft der Logik, and ending it with Luhmann’s survey of world society and mechanisms historical and materialistic for describing its systems seems rather fitting: Habermas’ attempt to upbraid Luhmann by calling his social theory “Hegelian” has outlived the enthusiasm for “postmetaphysical thought” (mythologemes rung on earlier, “modernist” work) and awareness of Hegelianism’s conservative tint, and so I sometimes I wonder whether I ought to translate the thing — this being one of the few tasks my “poor judgment” would qualify me for, although I can always hope the recursion and type theory I will turn to mañana will pay off in some relatively short term. Strange that what by all rights should have been considered the most important sociology book of the late ’90s has never made it through the Stanford University Press; I think that perhaps a samizdat translation of whole or part accomplished with the help of a dedicated blog (blogger, commenters) might help the sick man of academia out a little.
However, although one can always hope the future will be relatively brighter, I think that in all honesty I have strong reason to consider 2008 a “year of miracles”. Although perhaps it resembles another ‘episode’ in the so-called life of a schizophrenic from the outside, lots of good things happened this year: a serious melioration of my cognitive and writerly abilities, an increasing sense of safety, truth spoken between me and my real (i.e., distanced) friends, psychiatric help that took a suitably skeptical attitude towards events in contemporary society and provided me with medications that actually seem to help a little, a “romance of ideas” that ended peacefully but not too soon (and even a date or two with what I guess is called a “bobby dazzler”). Oh, and some black guy won the Presidency.
Based on my condition in the past few years I had no reason to expect any of this, but happen it did (!), for very good if slightly obscure reasons, and part of having a full life is realizing when things are happening that will probably never happen again. So, although in my position as “Early American crank” I find the concept of Thanksgiving questionable — a part of Lincoln’s dubiously sincere Christianization of the Republic’s functioning, it was — and in my position as latter-day saint I’m not going to have a very special holiday (hearkening back to Thanksgiving hotdogs eaten at 7-11, the only thing open in Pittsburgh on that day) I think I’m more or less in tune with the spirit of the event this year.