“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” So Claudius told Polonius.
The rest of us can be as mad as we like.
I was reading my copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – and a couple of things stood out to me. I’m in no way minimizing the difficulties faced by those with mental illnesses. But I find myself concerned with the vagaries of some diagnostic criteria.
For example, it can be important to differentiate between bizarre and non-bizarre delusions. The difference often comes down to the logical possibility and plausibility of the particular belief. A non-bizarre delusion may be a false belief about something that could genuinely happen. A bizarre delusion, on the other hand, would either make no sense at all, or be, on its face, impossible. It seems to me that such distinction may prove far more difficult and fluid than you might suspect. It also seems to me that cultural differences would play a role in our perceptions of the ‘bizarreness’ of a particular belief.
The DSM IV actually emphasizes the importance of “distinguishing symptoms … from culturally sanctioned response patterns.” It uses certain religious ceremonies and beliefs as examples.
My point here is the reliance on the phrase ‘culturally sanctioned’. While I fully acknowledge the existence of patterns in mental disorders that are observable and verifiable – I’m stumped by this. The truth or falsehood of a belief has little to do with its cultural sanction. It may also have little to do with our estimation of its plausibility. This is complicated (for me) because many implausible, seemingly impossible, outright false beliefs may have no discernable negative consequences. At the same, many true beliefs, or at least partially true beliefs can have very vicious consequences. But ultimately, the fact that a culture approves a belief in no way makes that belief good or right – or even likely to yield desirable consequences.
From within one culture or sub-cultural grouping it is often quite easy to identify those beliefs that are sanctioned by another such grouping – that are detrimental, silly, outright false. It is far harder to do so within one’s own cultural milieu. The vast (I mean 99.99999%) majority of cultural self-criticism is NOT SELF-CRITICISM at all. It is criticism of one sub-cultural grouping by members of another such grouping – using their own group-sanctioned criteria as measure.
I find myself wondering how large a role fear of difference plays in this whole process.
But all of that (while inherently interesting to me) is mildly irrelevant to my purpose this evening.
When we use the word ‘madness’ we do not usually mean mental disorder. Instead, we are describing odd behaviors, eccentricities, choices that deviate from the norm. A lot of the time we mean to indicate that the ‘madman’ or ‘madwoman’ is acting in ways and choosing practices that will have predictable consequences they don’t want. (Or consequences we would not want were we in their position.) Madness in this sense is oddity.
And I’m about to make one of those mad, odd choices.
I fully acknowledge the fact that I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into. I take full responsibility for that fact. But I’m modifying the terms of my writing experiment.
Some time ago – a couple of months at least – I happened across a website / blog produced by Partly Pixie. She is currently working on a project to write twelve novels in twelve months. I was completely intrigued. A little horrified – the task strikes me as Herculean. And drawn to the idea.
I think the impulse (at least in me) is utterly mad. I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS. Seriously … I have no idea where the time is going to come from. But I also know that the novel beginnings floating around in notebooks, on hard drives, on printouts, even on random scraps of papers, will never write themselves.
So, starting today (yesterday by the time I post this), I will be joining in this endeavor.
I have no idea how that will affect my blog postings – I’m not planning to post all of my work on this. Though I will likely post excerpts as they come up. I’m also unlikely to stop writing poetry or opining about random things. I will, of course, update you on my progress. This may turn out to be a colossal disaster … but it is certainly worth beginning the journey.
It’s said God looks out for fools and drunks. I sure hope that applies to madmen.