Diversity/Madness

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It struck me that we conceive of cultural difference, or difference in general, primarily in aesthetic terms: we use this drum and this beat, they use that drum and that beat, we use these lines and colors, they use those lines and colors, etc. As is the plague of all aesthetics, it can be superficial. These differences are real, and do have real meanings and implications, but to be talked about and conceived in terms of the aesthetic makes them susceptible to the all-encompassing whims of the market. It may feel like all things are equal, but they’re just dispensed into discrete market niches.

To talk of difference-as-aesthetics de-fangs difference itself. At this point you could talk of the ethical and Levinas-ian obligation to the face of the Other, but it seems even Levinas sidesteps the question of horror. What if alterity isn’t just something new, what if it’s something terrifying?

Even when considering Levinas, the face of the Other is thought of in terms of appearance: a black face, a Jewish face, an Hispanic face, etc. What happens when you consider mental states? Isn’t it harder to come to terms with the schizophrenic face? The psychopathic face? The clinically depressed face? Are we not horrified and disturbed by these faces?

In Nick Land’s essay “Circuitries” he remarks that schizophrenics are POWs from the future, that what we’re dealing with is not necessarily a personal defect, but a new mode of consciousness/cognition that the present sociopolitical order can’t adequately deal with. The reaction is horror, unknowing. We sedate the schizophrenic with potent psychoactive drugs, warehouse her in the mental hospital. Capitalism has no use for the schizophrenic, because she cannot produce or effectively reproduce.

To truly meet and reconcile difference is no longer a matter of appearance (aesthetics) , but of radical interiority. Perhaps true resistance occurs when we can think of mental illness unshackled from the burdens of efficiency/productivity, even the nuclear family, “normativity”.

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2 thoughts on “Diversity/Madness

  1. I haven’t read Land’s essay, so this could be out of left field, but I have been reading a lot of psychoanalysis lately (mostly Kristeva and Lacan, and some Olthuis stuff). Is he/are you suggesting that we shouldn’t consider folks with alternative brain states as “unhealthy” and in need of “treatment?” If so, I have to be honest and suggest I have an intuitive aversion to that notion, but I’m willing to hear you out further. I see the point of recognizing that the way we handle what we’ve labeled mental “illness” and “health” is in need of serious overhauling, but I’m not sure I’m ready to rule out a notion of normativity. For example, is the way this issue is handled in L’Arche, wherein mental health workers and patients live in intentional community, guilty of these injustices? A notion of health is important, I think, as allowing everything to “roam free,” as it were, is precisely what capitalism desires, if anything. A robust sense of health is able to cut across these differences.

    As a sidebar, I suppose I’m also convicted by the kinds of exorcisms we see in the NT performed by Jesus, which have been read as a religious means of dealing with mental illness. I’m not suggesting we go around performing exorcisms on those who find their identities dispersed or in flux, but it’s worth noting that Jesus thought it was worth it to go to work healing folks who had real identity crises.

    But perhaps I’ve completely misunderstood, in which case I’ll just repent in dust and ashes.

  2. I wouldn’t say you completely misunderstood, as I kind of overstepped my bounds at the end there (I fired this thing off in about 20 minutes this afternoon, so it might be worth revising). I wound up landing in the clinical when I was trying to use mental illness as a case study. As far as actual treatment, yes, a sense of health is vital. I’d rail against the dominant conceptions of treatment, firmly finding myself in a sort of Foucaldian/Deleuzian anti-psychiatry. I think a place like L’Arche might be the closest thing to what I’m attempting to get at: an intentional meeting and reconciling of difference deeper than skin color and cultural affect. While I’m intrigued by chaos and uninhibited boundary-breaking, I can’t in good faith espouse it. That is to say, as much as I want to follow Land into his cybernetic techno-barbarian accelerationist wilderness, I just don’t have the balls.

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