YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 25, 2014

Links to blogs on mass murder/pop culture

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

(Image from populist website: painting by Herbert James Draper (1909) attacks “vampire bankers” who send Sirens to destroy Ulysses—an image of The People beset by finance capital. By using this painting, I am not endorsing populist demagoguery. See comments below.)

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/ (Ulysses)

https://clarespark.com/2010/08/15/nazis-exhibit-der-ewige-jude-1937/ (“Christian” love as antidote to “Jewish” hate)

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/15/healing-trauma-mystery/ (Jared Lee Loughner)

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/ (James Eagan Holmes)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/ (Adam Lanza)

https://clarespark.com/2013/08/22/how-i-spent-my-summer-vacation/ (retitled “The Godfather….)


https://clarespark.com/2014/03/02/roy-porter-and-the-anti-psychiatry-movement/ (How the punkish Foucauldians discourage mental health interventions.)

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger


May 8, 2014

Index to blogs on postmodernism and its spawn

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:20 pm
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Frank Gehry's Stata Center, MIT

Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, MIT

The following was just distributed by a discussion group involving art historians in academe. It is the latest startling move from the academic counter-culture. Apparently, postmodernism is out. The author seems to conflate postmodernism with “interdisciplinary” cultural studies/multiculturalism, preferring the [sacrificial?] gestures of mystical minimalism, a refutation of all Romantic tendencies in favor of neoclassical Order/simplicity/reductiveness– a value system that George Mosse associated with fascism.
Here is the confused (?) and anonymous call for papers:

“Neomodernism is a term in philosophy that describes the critique of modernism as promoting both universalism and human rights; the relativism of the one is said to contradict the universality assumed in the other. Neomodernism is also a term used by architects to describe sleek, contemporary skyscrapers and office complexes. In sound art, Neomodernism names an emerging generation of musicians committed to “sound-in-itself,” to abstraction, reduction, and self-reference; it makes perceptual links to the visual arts and particularly the minimalism of Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and James Turrell. Literary criticism—which has long recognized the NeoVictorian in contemporary fiction as a nostalgic return to the nineteenth century, its aesthetic principles, and moral sensibilities,—has no complementary understanding of a current fictional return to the early twentieth century. Neomodernism offers a conceptual alternative to the postmodern designation and indicates continuity in aesthetic principles across the twentieth century and into the present. This panel will explore the aesthetic, philosophical, historical, or ethical principles the Neomodern might express.”

The notion that modernists promoted “both universalism and human rights” is peculiar, and refutes Western civilization entirely. I saw modernists as mostly irrationalist, antiwar and primitivist, as theorists of decadence brought about by the feminization of culture as men left the traditional peasant households for white collar or industrial jobs during and after the Industrial Revolution. As for human rights, they are the West’s proudest achievement but the subversiveness of “rights” as a quality inhering in individuals (against arbitrary and tyrannical States), is not acknowledged by these pseudo-radicals.

To be sure, postmodernism rejected the 19th century turn toward realism and naturalism—creations of the despised hypocritical bourgeoisie and their science or technology that had ostensibly mechanized the world. The art historians who wrote this call for papers got the critique of Neo-Victorianism right.

But as for postmodernism promoting universalism, that is just plain wrong. The pomos are radical subjectivists, and insist that all knowledge is local and “historically contingent”—that means we are entirely prisoners of our context and that the past is unknowable. To be anti-bourgeois and anti-intellectual at the same time, is to be populist and entirely petit-bourgeois.

Nicolai Soren Goodich, "Anamnesis & Aporia"

Nicolai Soren Goodich, “Anamnesis & Aporia”

Here are a few of my prior blogs explicating the very hip, yet reactionary, ideas promoted by Michel Foucault and his voluble followers (including Judith Butler):
https://clarespark.com/2013/09/08/postmodernism-cultural-pluralism-and-the-will-to-power/ (retitled “Reading between the lines”)

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

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/.)


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/.


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

October 27, 2012

Melville, Orwell, Doublethink

 This is my second major Orwell blog: see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/ for the first one.

During my recent forays into the changing interpretations of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949), I was surprised to learn that Orwell had read passages from Herman Melville’s White-Jacket (1850) while broadcasting on the BBC during the early years of WW2. Specifically, he excerpted a gory description of a naval doctor performing an unnecessary and fatal amputation on a wounded U.S. sailor. Elsewhere in White-Jacket, HM had sharply and vividly written about “flogging through the fleet,” a practice that he abhorred, possibly because he had been caned as a child by his own father. Indeed, Roy Porter sent me an ad from a British newspaper offering White-Jacket as sadomasochistic porn. (On the dynamics of sadomasochism see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/21/managerial-psychiatry-jung-murray-and-sadomasochism-2/.)

Though at least one Orwell biographer (Jeffrey Meyers) has emphasized GO’s masochism, I have not found a source yet that relates where the conception of Doublethink originated. Did Orwell know about “cognitive dissonance” from experience, or reading, or had he read Melville’s Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), where Melville not only describes his mother’s frequent mixed messages, but invents “Plinlimmon’s Pamphlet” that praises “virtuous expediency” as the best morality attainable on this deceptive earth. My book on the Melville Revival (Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival)  is nearly entirely devoted to this theme of the double bind/cognitive dissonance/virtuous expediency, all of which signify what Orwell chose to call Doublethink.

Here are the double binds that I suggest were made apparent in Melville’s novels, and then may have driven his academic revivers in the 20th century into all manner of psychogenic symptoms and illnesses. (It is my contention that Melville readers who wished to advance in academe had to suppress the evidence before them in order to please the reigning ideology in the universities that employed them, so many derided Melville/Ahab as crazy, while defending Plinlimmon’s sensible philosophy, that they attributed to their “moderate” Melville/Ishmael .) But first take Doublethink in Pierre.

  1. There is no conflict between “truth” and Order. Mary Glendinning, Pierre’s mother in the novel, wants her son “just emerging from his teens” to grow into a manly individual, but not such an individual that he disobeys her choice  in choosing his future wife, who will also be perfectly obedient to her wishes.
  2. Pierre is expected to revere his dear perfect (Christian) father, but he must not be so good a Christian as to rescue from near-beggary his “natural” half-sister Isabel.
  3. Pierre reads the double bind, jilts his mother-chosen fiancée, runs off with Isabel, and mother dies of insanity. This book will not end well. (See Pierre’s scolding mother in this hard to find set of illustrations by Maurice Sendak, for a truncated edition of Pierre. https://yankeedoodlesoc.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/pierre3.jpg.)

In the much quoted Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick, the abolitionist preacher speaks of snatching the truth even if it lies hidden under the skirts of judges and Senators. It is unclear here whether “truth” signifies the truth of Christ, or of the truth as defined by lawyers (or today, scientists). But it is a fact that during Captain Ahab’s speech on “the quarter-deck”, he declares that “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Since Ahab is widely described as a blasphemer, I suspect that it is empirical truth that the relatively powerless see, and which is denied by their superiors, that Melville meant to call out. Which links him now to Orwell’s famous “dystopia.”

For Winston Smith works in “the Ministry of Truth” where he rewrites history to suit the propaganda requirements of Big Brother and the Inner Party. Recall Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), where he denounces journalists for taking the Soviet line that all anarchists and Trotskyists were in league with Franco’s fascists. John Dos Passos, in Century’s Ebb, remembered Orwell as an individualist striking out at those man-made institutions that forced him to lie for the sake of Order. Compare Dos’s elevation of Orwell as truth-seeker to the trendier line that Orwell, like Melville, was a premature anti-imperialist, and for that alone we honor his life and work.

[Added 11-10-12 Dos quote: )“If one thinks of the artist as…an autonomous individual who owes nothing to society, then the golden age of the artist was the age of capitalism. He had then escaped the patron and had not yet been captured by the bureaucrat…. Yet it remains true that capitalism, which in many ways was kind to the artist and to the intellectual generally, is doomed and is not worth saving anyway. So you arrive at these two antithetical facts: (1) Society cannot be arranged for the benefit of artists; (2) without artists civilisation perishes. I have not yet seen this dilemma solved (there must be a solution), and it is not often that it is honestly discussed.” (George Orwell, in TRIBUNE, 1944). Quoted by Arthur M. Eckstein, “George Orwell’s Second Thoughts on Capitalism,” The Revised Orwell, ed. Jonathan Rose (Michigan State UP, 1992), p.204.

Another double bind that is especially relevant today:  There is no conflict between national identity and international identity. Hence, the United Nations is our best bet to avoid wars of the catastrophic magnitude of the world wars of the 20th century, or to halt “voter suppression” on November 6, 2012. Such are the psychic requirements of political correctness, the term itself an example of Doublethink, for facts (correctness) are non-partisan. Melville’s takedown of “virtuous expediency” is more to the point.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/14/reality-and-the-left/. For “political correctness” as decorum, an idea passed out by liberal elites, see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/, especially the suggestion by Christopher Edley, whose career has been remarkable.

March 11, 2011

Review excerpts re Hunting Captain Ahab

Eaton portrait of HM, hung in Houghton Library, Harvard

Someone has been searching for reviews of my book on the Melville Revival, so I dug up a summary of review excerpts prepared for the second edition, along with my (unpublished) letter to the editor of The Journal of Cold War Studies. My letter precedes the review excerpts.

Letter to the editor, Journal of Cold War Studies:

In his review of my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001), Brian Etheridge advised diplomatic historians or others interested in the Cold War, i.e., your readership, not to read my book, supposedly a study of interest primarily to Melville scholars like myself. This was a surprising judgment as it ignored my reporting of such weighty matters as the Harvard course on civilian morale (1941), the 1942 yearbook of the American Psychological Associations’s Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the inception of the Committee for Economic Development, and how the Harvard functionalists and their cohort (including Henry Murray, Gordon Allport, Talcott Parsons, and Harold Lasswell) defined the base of fascism and formulated their programs of social relations and “preventive politics” with an unapologetic irrationalist approach (see especially my chapters 2 and 9).  Since I made constant connections between the (mis)handling of evidence in Melville studies and the efforts to maintain “social equilibrium” by the political scientists and social theorists mentioned above, one might think that I had justified my sub-title of “psychological warfare and the Melville Revival,” especially as one of my chief subjects was the career of Jay Leyda, a Stalinist intellectual and authority on propaganda, who helped to write the film Mission to Moscow, and whose leading role in postwar Melville studies contributed to an Orwellian inversion confusing freedom and slavery and, hence, vindicated double-talking “moderate men” who were the targets of Melville’s more daring characters. And yet the Etheridge review did not note the existence of such materials in my book.

I believe that the ideological tendency that I tracked over five centuries forms the substrate for revisionist views of the Cold War and even the assumptions of the United Nations and the “peace studies” that have proliferated since the second world war. Briefly, the practices of  the men and institutions that I studied operated on the assumption that all conflict could be resolved through the mediation of skilled individuals, noted for their objectivity, superior self-control and adroitness at manipulation of quarreling groups or individuals. In other words, there are no irreconcilable conflicts, and prejudice and hatred are simply projections of aggression onto “the Other” by the malleable masses who have been whipped up by autodidacts/demagogues like Captain Ahab. And of course, for the revisionists, the Soviet Union was “the Other” whose military threat had been wildly exaggerated by extremist anticommunists, held to be extreme individualists (narcissists) resisting the humanitarianism of the welfare state.

An example: Andrew Delbanco, a prominent figure in American Studies and director of the Columbia University program, has just published a widely publicized popular book on Herman Melville, in which he makes the claim that “some eighty years before it emerged as the central political fact of the twentieth century, Melville had described in Moby-Dick the reciprocal love between a demagogue and his adoring followers.” (173). This justifies Delbanco’s ahistoric linking of Ahab, Hitler and George W. Bush, now a pervasive gesture in left-wing journalism. Revealingly, the Soviet Union and its anti-American propaganda are invisible in Delbanco’s book. Similar appropriations of Melville’s writings for present-day partisan purposes (including the construction of the “multicultural” curriculum) are the chief subject of my book, page after page. And yet Etheridge claims that I failed to connect Henry A. Murray’s and Charles Olson’s propaganda services to the Roosevelt administration with Melville scholarship.

It is stressed throughout Hunting Captain Ahab, and most explicitly in chapter 7, that readings transforming Ahab into a totalitarian dictator occurred in tandem with a major growth in state power under the New Deal during the late 1930s, while during the same period Hitler turned decisively against the West. Before that turning point, Ahab was seen as either Melville the Promethean romantic artist on the side of “the people,” or as a democratic reformer reminiscent of Chartism, or as a symbol of indomitable humanity, doomed to failure but noble and tragic. It is Henry A. Murray’s confidential report to FDR on Hitler’s mind (filed in 1943, but begun in 1938) that explicitly links Ahab, romantic artists, Melville and Hitler himself. And Charles Olson worshipped Murray, following his lead as their correspondence strongly demonstrates. The outcome was a shift in Olson’s criticism away from his youthful admiration of the Ahab character, and dramatically displayed in his Call Me Ishmael (1947), that could have been dictated by Murray himself. In other words, Leviathan was increasingly acceptable in the late New Deal, displacing earlier Wilsonian localism; thus Ahab as Leviathan’s opponent had to be discredited, while Hitler became simply the tool of laissez-faire fascist Republicans.

Etheridge also implies that I have left the reader stranded in the 1940s; hence recent developments in Melville scholarship, like my Ahab-self, are muddled, which brings us to the matter of macro-history and scale. Prior to my book, the shift to an “anti-imperialist” reading of Moby-Dick (the ruthless demagogue Ahab as an “anticipation” of  Hitler, and the voyage of the Pequod as a representation of capitalist exploitation and doomed American imperialism) was assumed to be a New Left post-60s phenomenon. Such periodization glosses over not only the contested growth of a benevolent “progressive” Leviathan throughout the twentieth-century Melville revival, but ongoing “sykewar” against autodidacts and “Hebraic” radical puritans, initiated by the Tory party in England from its inception. By not transmitting the major theme of my book, i.e., persistent elite resistance to the popular decoding of antidemocratic propaganda, even in the progressive movement, Etheridge suggests that I have jumped willy-nilly across the centuries, abandoning historicism. Chapter 5 on the radical puritan as red specter, as well as quotations from David Hume throughout, should have justified my insistence on continuities in upper-class psychological warfare against the lower orders, from the Reformation to the present.

Surely it cannot be the case that “psychological warfare” refers solely to propaganda efforts by such agencies as the 1950s Psychological Strategy Board, or the Voice of America, or the USIA, etc. as Etheridge states. If diplomatic historians are not considering the intertwined issues of foreign policy and institutional control of domestic populations through mind-management within the humanities and social science curricula (either in the U.S. or in other countries), then I must ask for a reconsideration of their position. [End, letter to the editor, accepted but not yet published.]


[From Brian Etheridge’s review in Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2005, the first historian to review HCA:] “…a bold and challenging work that seeks to illuminate the role that scholarship has played in competing discourses on the relationship between individual and  society in the modern world. …Without question, Spark knows and is passionate about her scholarship. She ranges widely across the landscape of Melvillian scholarship, expertly addressing the various contexts in which Melville’s work has been appropriated. To this end, she has done an admirable job of unearthing unpublished commentaries and correspondence…. She also has a firm grasp of the larger cultural milieu in which M’s works circulated, and she ably charts the changing contexts in which these works have been debated.  …For those interested in learning about Melville’s life, his work, and his scholars, this is the book for you.” [I include these excerpts because he importantly validates my skills as an historian charting change, but curiously does not recommend my book to diplomatic historians. C.S.]

[Roy Porter (deceased):] “…light-years ahead of most academic monographs.” [in a letter of evaluation to Bucknell UP. Roy wrote to me that I could use anything he ever wrote to me personally or on my behalf for promoting my work.  See also his final letter to Kent State UP, using the word “superb” which I had never seen.]

[Kris Lackey, Southern Humanities Review, Spring 2002:] “Spark pursues two principle objectives: first, to liberate Ahab from his dictator’s reputation and to restore his radical birthright as a figure of the defiant artist; second, to liberate Melville from static and reductive identities that have served academics across the political spectrum. …Embedded in this vast prickly montage…are eloquent, moving passages that show us why Spark has fought this long battle to win him back from his revivers…. Insights like [hers] belong in the hornbook of Melville criticism.”

[Jason G. Horn, Christianity and Literature (Summer 2002):] “More is at stake than just another analysis of Herman Melville in this hefty, detailed, and wide-ranging study….And getting the facts to the public, whose own critical range of thinking is partially formed by institutional and intellectual debates, is all important for Spark.”

[Sharon L. Dean: American Literature :] “Spark puts the brow of Melville scholarship before us. Read it if you can.”

[Jeremy Harding, London Review of Books, Oct.31, 2002:] “Clare Spark is a devotee of Ahab the fallen angel. She believes that Ishmael has been puffed at the expense of Ahab, largely because Ahab’s free spirit is too anti-social. She objects especially to the idea that he is a one-legged Fuehrer hobbling up and down the bunker of the quarterdeck…which she considers a misrepresentation for socially proscriptive, leftish-centrist ends. …[Ishmael is] a ‘corporatist’–a non-revolutionary, consensual figure–whose star has risen as Ahab’s has declined; and, of course, he is a ‘multiculturalist’ (another form of conformism) who condescends, like Melville, to all races, as to most species, more or less impartially. He is also given to hair-splitting and the patient telling of like from like, while basking, too, in the reconciliation of opposites. He is the dialectician of the piece, and the great procastinator. [it goes on….]

[Guy Davenport, Harper’s Magazine, June 2002:] “It is [her] diagnosis…that the Melville Revival was a conspiracy to bring Melville in line with the kind of Orwellian liberalism that is teleologically indistinguishable from totalitarianism. …[it is] intricately argued and documented, requiring as patient a reading as Parker’s biography. And it delivers the goods.”

[S. I. Bellman, CHOICE, Nov. 2001:] “Spark’s meticulous study should appeal both to Melville scholars and to academic and general readers not primarily concerned with Melville’s career and hard times. …the book deserves consideration for a major literary award.”

[Robert E. Abrams, Modern Language Quarterly, June 2003:] “Yet Ahab exerts…a powerful pull on the very critics and scholars who demonize him. No doubt Hunting Captain Ahab itself is a valuable, highly unusual study because of how it gathers all sorts of academic marginalia to challenge and supplement a legacy of official scholarship. On the one hand, the ways in which such scholarship remains historically embedded in a matrix of political and institutional pressures are revealed; on the other hand, in the movement beyond officially published writing into a nether world of notes, remembered conversations, drafts, recorded interviews, and even crossed-out phraseology, we come upon confessions and lines of speculation that tell a considerably less straitjacketed story than the one told simply by scholarship cleansed of its messy origins.”

[The Year’s Work in English Studies, 2002:] “…a thought-provoking detailed analysis…She focuses on the political, institutional agendas of each site of Melville scholarship, locating a history of critical thinking on one of America’s most fought over writers, offering essential and compelling reading for Melville scholars.”

[Peter Thorpe, Bloomsbury Review, Jan-Feb, 2003:] “…an engaging work of scholarship by Clare Spark, an old-time, no-nonsense scholar who knows how to entertain us and keep our interest as she goes about the serious business of finding Captain Ahab…She writes about life itself and the perilous balancing act between things Ahabian and things Ishmaelian. …[She writes with] verve…hard-nosed joy and force. She brings Herman Melville alive again and helps us to understand what’s going on in our own American minds.”

November 6, 2009

Is the history of psychiatry one big mess?

Image (83)

Martin Johnson Heade, "The Coming Storm" (1859)

 Like many others I am in shock after the Fort Hood Massacre of November 5, 2009, particularly since the assault on American soldiers did not come out of the blue, but could have been prevented, for numerous ominous signals in the conduct of Dr. Nidal Hasan had been overlooked, for reasons that may boil down to political correctness and the pieties of multiculturalism.

      Illustrated on this blog is the famous painting by Martin Johnson Heade, “The Coming Storm,” dated 1859 and on view in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum, NYC. Does anyone today think it was about American landscape and a fisherman with a little dog? Obviously, the title linked it to the growing polarization and apprehensiveness that the nation was headed toward Civil War. The 1850s were the years of increasing polarization over the question of the labor system in Western territories: would it be slave labor or “free soil?”  And did you notice the brown face on the red-shirted male figure in the foreground? Was he a free black (or even a mulatto, for the face seems coffee-colored), contemplating his future in a tumultuous period?

     Today we have a polarization that is not much different and with similar anxieties, but with a media industry that is less diverse in its politics than that prevailing during the 1830s on. Except that there is no resemblance between the antislavery men or abolitionists and the PC establishment that prevails in the humanities departments of our leading universities and apparently, much of network television, including those who run Fox News Channel, an outlet that is often more “moderate” than its detractors think (take the Arab-Israeli conflict for example).

     In the research that led up to my book on the revival of Herman Melville during the interwar period of the twentieth century, I had reason to educate myself in the history of psychiatry, for in the nineteenth century, that hyper-individualist Melville was held to be “crazy” and at times, the accusors included members of  his own family. While still on the radio (mostly the 1970s), I did a show on the proposed Center for the Study of Violence at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, and when it was aired, I was so frightened by the awful politics of the place, that I was faint with fear the next morning: my internist suggested that I take up another line of work (I didn’t listen to him). Later, in graduate school from 1988 onward, with the comradely assistance of the late Roy Porter, a leader in the field, I became acquainted with the generally bohemian thought of the Foucault contingent (huge), and matched them with the anti-psychiatry people I already knew about,  such as Thomas Szasz, R. D. Laing, and the Scientologists. In the history of science, there is tremendous interest in the contextualization of “scientific” knowledge altogether, so that all medical treatment, like science in general,  becomes ideological and the result of power plays in oppressive institutions in order to control dissidents or other rebels, such as housewives who balk at their tasks. There is much evidence to support this premise, such as the bizarre vogue for lobotomy, that flourished in the late 1930s and afterwards (I have lots of pictures and collages that I will post on the website). But there is also something called “evidence-based medicine and psychiatry” that deserves respect. I know at least one of these practitioners and he is a scientist, through and through, but often embattled within his profession, notwithstanding his international reputation. What do we know exactly about military psychiatry, its philosophy, and its oversight? Anything? *

     Nearly all the blogs on this website deal with problems that affect our emotions, including the political aims of that group I call “the moderate men” after a character, “the herb doctor,”  in Melville’s The Confidence-Man (1857). We have seen the dubious premises of the Jungians or pseudo-Freudians, some of whom affected corporatist liberal remedies (e.g. preventive politics) for the maintenance of “social cohesion.” I did a two-part blog on the new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, formerly of Harvard University. I have taken my readers on numerous tours through the tortured and ambivalent psyche of Harvard’s onetime Director of the Harvard Clinic, Dr. Henry A. Murray. There were fewer readers of these blogs than there should have been, given the gravity of what my research had uncovered. What to make of this?

     In private conversation and on the blogs, I have repeatedly called for education in mental health and physical health (intertwined concerns) beginning as early as children can understand and absorb the material. That means extensive parent education in the ways of a democratic polity, including the separation of Church and State. Some friends have called me absurdly utopian for demanding such a curriculum. Why? Because there is no agreement, none, on what constitutes a mentally healthy human being, let alone related matters such as meaning of patriotism, how far the state can or should reach into our private and public lives, or how to decode authoritarian propaganda and demagoguery in general, or what caused catastrophic wars and mass death in the twentieth century.  And how many political activists remain allergic to looking into their own family relationships, and how these may have affected their political choices and partisan affiliations, not to speak of their more intimate relationships and passions? I am only an historian, trained to examine selected aspects of the past and to create new interpretations as new evidence  becomes available to researchers. But I can say this about the future: if Americans and other Westerners refuse to look inside their own psyches to examine their most fundamental beliefs and relationships (with or without professional help), then there is bound to be the continued disappearance of what Melville, in another century, called “the Founder’s dream.”

*Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist himself, observed today that any psychiatrist who attempts to indoctrinate his patients (referring to Hasan) is guilty of malpractice. But what if other psychiatrists in the military are also indoctrinating, advocating medications and goals that are formulated from ideological motives, if not Islamic? This is not a trivial question and brings me back to the near panic I experienced when researching the state-funded UCLA Center for the Study of Violence.

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