The Clare Spark Blog

March 2, 2014

Roy Porter and the anti-psychiatry movement

Roy Porter

Roy Porter

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-psychiatry. In this long and seemingly exhaustive article on the anti-psychiatry movement, I note that Roy Porter’s name is not mentioned, though he was considered an academic superstar in Britain, incomprehensibly productive, and that his “social histories” of madness and medical quackery in general were original, unrepetitive, and exemplary.

Since we had an intense friendship between 1989 and his early death on March 4, 2002 at the age of 55, and since he was a reader of all my work in draft form, and a major influence on my career and interests, I thought that I should reread his major works, including the big book on the British Enlightenment (published in 2000), and a book he sent me from the UK after he did a semester’s residency at UCLA in 1988-89, A Social History of Madness. His last words to me before he left Los Angeles were that “we should read Freud together.” That is a statement that seems odd to me now. Had he never read Freud earlier? Or did he intend to convert me away from my interest in the mental health profession?

Porter was considered to be secretive (about his politics, for one thing) by his colleagues in England, but Simon Schama, a classmate at the University of Cambridge, has confirmed that Porter would not go to doctors—something he told me as well, owing to not wanting doctors to witness “the chaos inside me.” A worshipful colleague has put up a website in Porter’s honor, and it claims that his hero was never in need of much sleep, since early childhood.  What neither of these close friends revealed, was that Roy Porter was Jewish, a fact or factoid confided to me by Margaret Jacob, a leading American historian of science several years after his death. The jeweler father made sense in establishing some kind of Jewish descent, but what about the widowed Cockney mother he described to me, and what about his working class uncles, mentioned perhaps to establish his radical, even working class credentials?

Why does all this matter to readers of my website? First of all, most of my essays have been concerned with the twentieth-century move away from empiricism and rationalism to various types of irrationalism, including primitivism and counter-Enlightenment theories such as critical theory or postmodernism. I have also been busy tracking the takeover of the humanities by activist scholars involved with either social democracy or factions within Marxist-Leninism, to the point now where social democrats and communists are so blended in their statism that they are hard to separate from one another.

But more, while giving subjectivism its due, I have insisted on what Freud called “the observing ego” capable of standing outside the psyche and learning to observe its various evasions, selective memories, idealizations, crushing disillusionments,  and so on. In short, I believe that it is possible to create a history that is relatively accurate, if always subject to revision. I was not prepared for Porter’s belligerent approach to Freud in his misleadingly titled “social history” of madness. Worse, he left out Freud’s theory of the instincts, that include both sex and aggression. In the voluminous commentary on Freud, there is plenty of criticism of the pan-sexualism of many of Freud’s followers, but in Porter’s  book, nothing about aggression or “the unhappiness of everyday life” in the ongoing civil war between ego and Id. Rather, the civil war is limited to various types of sexuality, for instance repressed homosexuality.

Consider first the methods of the social historians. Social history was an innovation of the Left, that sought to recover life from “the bottom up,” to restore the lives of ordinary people through the scouring of diaries, court records, and other materials, hitherto considered to be irrelevant to the records of famous men. Since this was a leftist innovation, the aim was obviously to highlight class struggle and resistance to elites and their supposedly self-serving records or tendentious biographies and memoirs.

Porter’s social history of madness starts off mildly enough, seeking to redress the balance between authorities and patients by listening to the voices of the patients, thus taking their sides in a rather scandalous picture of repression by religious leaders, asylum entrepreneurs, and self-serving psychiatrists. No problem there, as no enlightened modern believes in demonic possession, or considers most mental health treatment in the modern period as anything but punitive and disciplinary. We didn’t need Michel Foucault to tell us that. The movie industry had long made that case, particularly in the movies of Ingmar Bergman or Tennessee Williams to name two of the more talented cineastes dealing with mental illness.

Several chapters deeply shocked me about the social history of madness as told by Roy Porter. Although I knew that he had campaigned on behalf of the British Labour Party, I was not prepared for his strong hint that he was not only anti-Freudian and mocking of the pretensions of “the American Dream,” but that he came down on the side of behaviorism (a.k.a. behavious modification, and “taking responsibility” for one’s mental health. Moreover, he relied on published accounts of his various sufferers and victims of evil psychiatry, taking them at their words as if their own memoirs were not deeply problematic. (This error was partially addressed in Porter’s 2002 book Madness: A Brief History (Oxford UP), where he advises “historians” to “read between the lines and judge for themselves….” (p.161: i.e., in case of contested realities. In my view, a judgment none of is qualified to make, though technocratic elites are inseparable from the progressive movement). And revealingly, none of his characters was working class: the closest he got to the proles was John Clare, a “peasant poet” and we know that peasants are not proletarians.  (See comment below: Clare was an agricultural laborer, never a landowner. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Clare) And how did Porter come to write at length about the would-be Superman Nietzsche, surely no friend of the plebs.

Porter had confided in me once that as a child, he wore a hat with the word “alien” embroidered on it. (Did he make that up too?) His colleagues in the UK remember his stories of childhood precocity, and I have no doubt that his brilliance exhibited itself at an early age. I knew that he was depressed after his retirement, and that he was having fantasies of playing the trumpet in heaven. I consider his death a form of suicide, as he was indulging in unaccustomed heavy exercise, and died of a massive heart attack.

But it was not until I finally read all of A Social History of Madness (1989) that I suspected that my dear friend and mentor had projected himself into all his characters; that he too was both adjusting and rebelling; that he was the madman who had been misunderstood and mistreated by the “publish or perish” demands of his profession, and perhaps the exorbitant expectations of his imperceptive following.  Nowhere did Porter admit to me or to his readers that academe was hostile to the independent thinker by reason of its conflicting demands for both truth and order.

Now I harbor the deep and unsettling suspicion that he may have been sometimes an anarchist, sometimes a Stalinist (the behaviorism remark), but at all times, deeply ill and suffering all the torments of the arriviste, assimilating “Jew,” opportunistically masked like the rest of them/us. [For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/10/what-remains-useful-about-freud/.]

(Update; 7-9-15: In retrospect, Porter was, like his friend Margaret Jacob, a rehabilitator of mysticism, vitalism, and the Middle Ages, a social democratic movement that has been underway for centuries: see the latest paean to the Middle Ages here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/two-cheers-middle-ages/.)

sochistmad

Advertisements

March 28, 2013

“Power,” Foucault, and other aristocratic radicals

Foucaltcard03For those interested in how others interpret “power” in socio-political terms see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_(social_and_political).

Several Facebook friends have expressed concern about “power,” seemingly equating it with illegitimate desires for malevolent control over other persons. Such notions of total control are usually implied in the notion of “totalitarianism” especially as the latter word equates communism and Nazism (a notion that I have challenged here: https://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/.)

This blog tries to sort out how one fashionable academic ideology abuses the notion of “power.”

Postmodernists/poststructuralists and Foucauldians. For these intellectuals, power is what the bourgeoisie, through total surveillance, wields over hapless Others, and one of the “pomo” villains is the bourgeois Enlightenment figure of “Freud”. For instance, take these sentences from Terry Eagleton’s chapter in “Self-Undoing Subjects” in Rewriting the Self, ed. Roy Porter (Routledge, 1997): p.264. “Isn’t Freud all about the unfathomable subject of the unconscious, about the production of some eternally elusive psyche folded upon its own inscrutable depths?” This is a wild misreading of Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis, as if he preached helplessness, not insight and potential cure in a collaborative relationship between psychoanalyst and analysand, wherein, through a variety of techniques, the patient would ultimately gain a measure of power over neurotic anxiety and psychogenic illnesses: “Where Id was, let Ego be!”*

Freud, even in his time, was a master in stepping outside the self to observe self-sabotaging subjectivity, but Eagleton has taken this power away from Freud and his followers, for like other contributors to this volume, there is no “self” except that which is constituted through dominant discourses in modern/bourgeois institutions intent on doing us in.

It is not irrelevant that Eagleton is writing from the Left, and that psychiatrists were incarcerated in the Soviet Union.

There is no doubt in my mind that numerous authoritarian forces push us around, diminishing political participation, or that language matters and can affect political and/or personal choices, not to speak of our emotional configurations, our loves and taboos, our sense of the possible and impossible. But to so drastically historicize “the self” to the point where we may not distinguish between sanity (having a relatively accurate grip on reality) and insanity (being ruled by delusions) is a romantic fantasy, and it is no accident that R. D. Laing’s name is mentioned in other articles in this volume, as if he were an accepted authority on mental illness, and not a marginal Romantic who saw schizophrenia as an adventure into the world made invisible by the uptight [bourgeois]. See https://clarespark.com/2012/02/19/the-romantic-repudiation-of-freud-co/.

foucault-info-panopticon

What is wrong with the Foucault/poststructuralist picture? Their panopticon makes no distinction between sectors of the bourgeoisie, for instance between classical liberals and social democrats, for the latter do favor “the watchbird state,” and their suspicious movements have been traced throughout this website, for instance here: https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/.

Many a “leftist” intellectual has more in common with displaced aristocrats than with the working class they claim to champion. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/10/11/the-other/.) While researching various social psychologists affiliated with the Roosevelt administration, I noted that some stigmatized the rising [crypto-Jewish] middle class as having a wicked yen for “power,” which they then “projected” upon minorities and women, even “business.” It was these potential quasi-fascist agitator-adoring usurpers who projected their illicit “will to power” upon favored authority figures, and knuckles were rapped accordingly. If you know your Nietzsche, you will recognize an aristocratic anti-plebeian ideology, one that spurned “history” as written by “the plebs.” Is it any accident that the sub-title of the anthology referenced above is “Histories from the Renaissance to the Present.” There is no one magisterial history dominating academia; there are only histories, or as is widely bruited about, only unreliable points of view. Granted that we all struggle with subjectivity, even seeking the power to see through ourselves and others, but to throw out a coherent self, able to make sense of her surroundings, to identify friends and enemies, is not only to kill off the author of literary texts (as some academics nail Foucauldians), but is a new peak (or low) in the annals of nihilism, one worthy of the Marquis de Sade himself.

*Another questionable reading of a classic text is found in Jonathan Sawday’s chapter “Self and Selfhood in the Seventeenth Century” (p.44), where he gets John Milton’s ambivalent reading of Satan all wrong: “Technology, invention, discovery, in Milton’s political poetics, are ideas associated with the absolutist, monarchical world of Hell.” I suppose Blake and Shelley were poor readers of Paradise Lost when they suggested that Milton was secretly of the Devil’s Party. A reminder that the regicide Milton was writing under censorship and could have been hanged for his role in the Interregnum.

Glenda Jackson, Marat/Sade

Glenda Jackson, Marat/Sade

February 19, 2012

The Romantic repudiation of Freud & Co.

R. D. Laing

[Note: in the blog that follows, I am more concerned with neurosis and/or everyday unhappiness than with clinical definitions of insanity or “personality disorders,” though I do mention Laing and Szasz.]

In the History of Antisemitism discussion group, a professor of European history has objected to a recent posting of mine that posed this question: “Is psychiatry a ‘Jewish’ profession?”  I was most interested in his claim that “Freud provides one major challenge to bourgeois culture in the late 19th century,” for Freud was considered to be the ultimate bourgeois, the creature of Enlightenment, by both fans and critics. I did agree with him about the weight he gives to “anti-intellectualism” for popular culture in America is dominated by populism, but if you ask even an ordinary educated American about the meaning and significance of populism (and its offspring, progressivism) in American political history, s/he may be clueless. But I am not sure that such a one would make a connection to the revulsion against psychoanalysis and mental health services in general, a revulsion that animates a large anti-psychiatry movement among libertarians (say those who follow Foucault, Thomas Szasz or R. D. Laing), and many social democrats, not to speak of those religious thinkers who object to Freud’s atheism, or who might go on to believe that all Jews are atheists, lacking the Christian “heart” that enables community and selflessness. Hence Jews are “crazy Jews.”

(Illustrated: “Mad Pride”] I first found about psychiatry as a “Jewish” profession in graduate school, when I was asked to read and summarize a standard work in sociology: The Social Construction of Reality by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The authors said straight out that psychoanalysis was a Jewish thing that only worked with New York Jews. I.e., Freud was presumably obsessed with sex, and Jews, excessively carnal (by which they mean worldly/puffed-up with pride) would flock to these Jewish quacks. (When I complained about this, I was sternly reproved.)

Recently, I read almost all of Benjamin Disraeli’s novels, and paid special attention to his depiction of the genius magnate “Sidonia,” perhaps a projection of the author himself, and most notably, a character who was excessively cerebral, hence incapable of emotional attachments. Sidonia was the epitome of the rootless cosmopolitan, a type that was anathema to both Hitler and Stalin.  (Here is the link to my blog on Disraeli’s novels and his role in the development of British social democracy: https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/. How Disraeli adapted to the dominant Anglicanism is also taken up: he moved the center of Christianity to Jerusalem, not Rome, and  identified the theological debt Christianity owed to the parent religion, a move that did not always endear him to his readers, who still adhered to the antagonism between Judaism and Christianity.)

Now why would Freud (along with a gigantic field of therapists)  be tossed out by those I have mentioned above? It is difficult to engage in any self-scrutiny, i.e., therapy, at all without taking a family history involving the minute examination of every family relationship, including traumas and semi-traumas. Many modern novelists and other seekers after truth about one’s feelings about the family of origin or later love objects, will find ambivalence, and a good “shrink” will focus on both idealization and demonization of lovers,  parents and siblings, along with the mixed feelings that we label as “ambivalence.” The client may also find a pattern of determinism that contradicts the doctrine of “free will” espoused by many Christian sects. That is, we are only partly responsible for our actions, but often follow patterned responses laid down in family life.

Thomas Szasz, Frenchified

Because of the predominant populism, not just “Jewish” bankers but “Jewish” mental health workers are viewed as autocratic and mystifying “experts” or technocrats with designs on the majority. We need more talk about this, not just a quick dismissal. Or a pill.

May 15, 2010

Foucault Follies Redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:44 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Foucault with UC Berkeley students, 1983, photo by Paul Rabinow

In the annals of “diversity” training, nothing could be more startling than this description of the “archaeological” or “excavating” project of Michel Foucault as elucidated by one of his publicists, C. G. Prado, in his Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy (Westview Press, 1995):

“Archaeology has a diversifying effect in that its objective is to fracture the smooth totality of a disciplinary tradition’s picture of itself or of one of its constitutive elements. The objective is to unearth, to excavate factors and events, overlooked likenesses, discontinuities and disruptions, anomalies and suppressed items, which yield a new picture of whatever has previously gone unquestioned and has been taken as definitive knowledge and truth with respect to a particular subject matter and more generally of how the world is. Foucault is everywhere concerned with exhuming the hidden, the obscure, the marginal, the accidental, the forgotten, the overlooked, the covered-up, the displaced. His subjects for investigation are whatever is taken as most natural, obvious, evident, undeniable, manifest, prominent, and indisputable.

Shored up by meticulous empirical research, Foucault’s basic strategy in both archaeology and genealogy is to retell the history of a discipline or institution or practice by highlighting previously marginal and obscured elements and events, thereby presenting a very different picture of that discipline, institution, or practice….Cases in point are madness, the subject matter of psychiatry as dealt with in the asylum, and illness, the subject matter of medicine as dealt with in the clinic” (25, 26).

What is startling in Prado’s exegesis is the notion that no one had ever thought of doing this before: no historian, no psychoanalyst, no alert journalist, no sociologist or political scientist, no artist or author or composer—as if reconfiguring our pictures of what is real had gone uninvestigated before the great philosopher weighed in:  Foucault, the son of a surgeon, whose reputation Prado was rehabilitating in his book after years of protest against postmodernism and its domination of comparative literature, literary history, or the history of science/madness/medicine, all in the name of “theory”  and “interdisciplinarity.”

Is the Foucault folly over? Even the young conservative commentator S. E. Cupp asked in one appearance on “Red Eye”, “should we be studying Foucault?” She is not alone. Here is  a call to papers that appeared in my Inbox several days ago. Read it and weep, students of antisemitism. It appears that yet another academic entity will be attacking what has been studied for eons. But of course, that would be missing the point: modernity and the Enlightenment, hitherto broadly represented in the rise of “the Jews,” must be in crisis. Here is how Yale University, once home to Paul De Man, presents itself :

 YIISA: The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism

and

The International Association for the Study of Antisemitism (IASA)

CALL FOR PAPERS
For The Upcoming Conference

“Global Antisemitism:

A Crisis of Modernity”

Monday, August 23rd – Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Yale University, New Haven, CT

 The International Association for the Study of Antisemitism (IASA) is a newly formed professional association which aims to represent scholars and intellectuals engaged in the study of antisemitism across the globe regardless of school of thought, scientific approach, academic discipline or ideological view.  Created to advance knowledge pertaining to the origins and manifestations of antisemitism, IASA recognizes the aspirations of scholars in all disciplines.

Antisemitism, is one of the most complex and, at times, perplexing forms of hatred.  It spans history, infecting different societies, religious and philosophical movements, and even civilizations.  In the aftermath of the Shoah, some contend that antisemitism illustrates the limitations of the Enlightenment and modernity itself.  In the contemporary context of globalised relations it appears that antisemitism has taken on new and changing forms that need to be decoded, mapped and critiqued.  In fact, given the rise of current genocidal antisemitic discourse as a social movement, and the limited response to it by the human rights community, this could point to a possible crisis of modernity.  This conference aims to explore this discursive phenomenon from an interdisciplinary approach. [End, call for papers, my emph.]

    “Discourse,” the favorite word of postmodernists who are unremittingly disdainful of panopticons and all other bourgeois innovations to perpetrate universal surveillance, the better to control our minds,  is described as “a social movement.” To the postmodernists, this is no big whoop. Speech is a performative act. Discourse creates reality. Genocide will be halted by one great inclusive conference, in which anti-Zionists and supporters of radical Islam presumably will be welcome to join the cultural anthropologists and hip philosophers. The exemplary multiplicity of interpretations (“truths”) the conference promises (that is pomospeak), along with the renewed Ivy-League enabled assault upon the modern critical tools that could help us analyze our institutions and ourselves, will leave us kinder, gentler world citizens. Your tax dollars are paying for this charade, boys and girls. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/06/04/modernity-and-mass-death/, or https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/.)

January 3, 2010

This witch is not for burning: science as magic

Living Idol from the S-M Collection, UCLA

Living Idol from the S-M Collection, UCLA

I was talking to my sister this morning about how the history of science is being taught in history departments. Barbara used to work for the E.P.A., and is an expert on indoor air and toxic molds. One of her projects is the campaign to address asthma in the public schools. 7% of the population suffers from asthma, while among blacks, the figure is at least 25%. (Moreover, in poor neighborhoods, not all doctors are competent to treat asthma, a controllable disease.) This is a disgraceful disparity, but brings out the necessity for any public health measure to consider the dire effects of environmental contaminants, surely one reason that health-care costs cannot be brought be under control without preventive medicine. And our legislators see public health through such a clouded and narrow lens that any legislation that does not extend its vision into every nook and cranny of how we live, will be severely limited.  Will our politicians, at any level of government, address this and related matters affecting public health? It is up to each and every one of us to resist the ferocious anti-science bias in some aspects of “humanistic” Western culture.

I mention this discussion with my sister because she was incredulous (she shouted out in disbelief) when I told her that the UCLA Department of History has a special program in the history of science, taught as cultural anthropology, as if scientists should be studied as primitive tribes, as exotics. I audited a seminar in 1989, led by Cambridge U. academic star Simon Schaffer, in which he confidently declared that “science was, essentially, a swindle.” Schaffer views himself as a leftist, and probably so do the other members of the group that treats science as part of cultural studies. They follow Foucault, who believed that the bourgeoisie created knowledge in their institutions as a route to total mind-control, having their way with the rest of us, the easily bamboozled by the evidence of progress in combating disease, say, increased life expectancy. (I have blogged about this incessantly, but bear with me, or see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/.) When I fought back in the Schaffer seminar, the much younger graduate students were silent, or joined in the general mockery of Clare, the troglodyte, who was not only not with it, but who would never get a job. (They were correct of course; if it were possible, I would have been burned at the stake for my pro-science heresy.)

But now consider this: if you know the UCLA campus, the humanities are taught on North Campus, while mathematics and the sciences are located in the South Campus.  The students in the South Campus were nearly all Asian, while North Campus was the home to non-Asians. Do you suppose this was a coincidence, or was it a harbinger of the decline of the West at the hands of its groovy postmodernists and multiculturalists? If you think I am describing an atypical episode, take a look at the career of one of the coolest modernist authors of the twentieth century, William Gaddis, for instance, who described the medical profession as witch-doctors in “The Recognitions.” Misanthropy wins awards these days.

On this website and in my comments on Facebook I have often stood with libertarians. But to argue against “Big Government” without specifying what  positive role government can and should play in promoting a healthful life for us and our children, is a lapse of citizenship. Like other vague abstractions, the phrase can mean anything a demagogue wants it to. Localism has too often been a device to perpetuate reactionary social policies, in this sense a reiteration of the antebellum states’ rights ploy to perpetuate slavery. See blogs https://clarespark.com/2009/07/11/multiculturalists-and-wilsonians-cant-diagnose-the-new-antisemitism/, https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/and https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. At its best, localism can result in a tight community committed to creative problem solving, but at its worst, localism can go parochial/provincial, condemning ourselves and our children to ignorance, undeserved suffering, and early death.

[Added 1-6-10: A note on the burgeoning Green movement. Beware, science students, of fringe groups that have bonded opportunistically with the respected ecologists. I have seen 60s mystical hippies, mystics of the New Age, and their soul-brothers– white supremacist or separatist groups– following the precepts of  the European New Right in order to add to their numbers and to rescue “spirituality” from capitalists, a.k.a. the Jews. Some very foolish Jews have allowed themselves to be used by these far Rightists, but apparently fail to recognize that they are dealing with arch-segregationists. I have read materials from one group suggesting that all Jews should to go to Israel, a reminder of the attitudes reported by Ralph Bunche in 1947 (i.e., there were numerous states that supported “Zionism” and the partition of Palestine in order to rid their country of Jews). The point is that these “new” rightists follow the degeneration narrative so popular in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and expect new, ethnically homogeneous local [tribes] to spring up with autarkic economies after the great crumbling that they expect to commence any day now. When I wrote to one of their leaders, he did not shy away from the label “national socialist.” It is worth while contrasting those who oppose “multiculturalism” because they are modern Nordics, with those like myself who see multiculturalism as an elite strategy for micromanaging group conflict, subtly reiterating the racial discourse of old.]

Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878

Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878

Blog at WordPress.com.