Home/Prufrock/The Crisis in Psychiatry, Rejecting English, and Winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature

The Crisis in Psychiatry, Rejecting English, and Winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature

The winners Nobel Prize in Literature have been announced (yes, that plural is correct—there are two winners this year). They are: Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian Peter Handke.

In other news: Next week, it will have been 50 years since Caravaggio’s Nativity was stolen from the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo. Have the police been chasing red herrings all this time?

The Mona Lisa is back in its old spot at the Louvre, and a new “queuing system promises shorter waiting times and a more intimate experience with Leonardo’s celebrated oil-on-poplar painting, the museum insists.”

The crisis in psychiatry: “Anne Harrington begins Mind Fixers with a fairy tale. Once upon a time, psychiatry (or at least German psychiatry) rightly saw mental illness as rooted in biology, more specifically in the brain. Its laboratories developed new ways of slicing and dicing brains, and new techniques to stain and fix slices of brain tissue as it sought the sources of craziness. Then Freud came along and turned people’s heads. Talk of egos and ids, Oedipus and the unconscious, of murdered memories and hidden meanings, seduced generation after generation, luring psychiatry off into a ‘scientific wasteland’ and condemning sufferers to analysis terminable and interminable. From this nightmare, we suddenly awoke in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Advances in genetics, neuroscience and psychopharmacology all at once reminded psychiatrists that biology ruled, that talk could be dispensed with, and a truly medical psychiatry could finally emerge . . . Like all good fairy stories, this one has a happy ending. It is a fantasy, Harrington immediately asserts – indeed, deeply wrong – in every particular. It wasn’t the siren song of psychoanalysis that heralded the demise of German biological psychiatry; it was its own failures. Further, psychoanalysis did not replace it all at once. Analysis rose to prominence and dominance only after the Second World War. And Freudianism did not fall ‘because science triumphed over dogmatism’. The ‘science’ has turned out to be remarkably thin. Psychiatry continues to rely not on biological markers of disease but on clusters of clinical symptoms. Its vaunted diagnostic process is, in the words of a recent director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, ‘equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever’. That problem is now obvious.”

Dominic Green laments the decline of American arts: “Everything is derivative and nostalgic. Nothing of note happened in painting or dance — or criticism, because the task of the American critic is to write obituaries and rewrite press releases. In music, Taylor Swift, once the Great White Hope of a dying industry, emitted a scrupulously bland album by committee. The jazz album of the year was, as it was last year, a studio off cut from John Coltrane, who died in 1967. The show, or what remained of it, was stolen by Lizzo, an obese but self-affirming squawker who, befitting an age of irony and multi-tasking, is the first person to twerk and play the flute at the same time. Meanwhile at the Alamo of high culture, 87-year-old John Williams marked the Tanglewood Festival’s 80th anniversary by perpetrating selections from Star Wars and Saving Private Ryan for an audience of equally geriatric and tasteless boomers.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New York Review of Books, Adam Kirsch surveys the work of Minae Mizumura:

“The writer from an immigrant background who exchanges his or her ancestral language for English is an American literary archetype. From Henry Roth, who arrived in Brooklyn in the 1900s from what is now Ukraine, to Junot Díaz, who came to New Jersey in the 1970s from the Dominican Republic, these writers often tell tales of alienation and hardship, but they also reinforce the idea, sometimes even despite themselves, that America is the land of the future—a place where people come to be remade, with all the gains and losses that process involves.

“But this model of what it means to be an immigrant writer may be breaking down in the twenty-first century. From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah to Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, some of the most accomplished twenty-first-century English-language novelists explore globalized and diasporic lives that self-consciously resist Americanization. Jhumpa Lahiri, whose stories about Bengali families in New England bridge the gap between these older and newer models of immigrant writing, has recently turned to writing in Italian, hoping, she told The New Yorker, ‘to free my work from geographic coördinates, and to arrive at a more abstract sense of place.’

“Most subversive of all, however, is the writer who has the chance to become American and write in the American language but deliberately rejects it. That is the story of Minae Mizumura, a distinguished Japanese novelist who has made her ambivalent feelings about English a central theme of her work.”

Read the rest.

Photos: Moving Hasankeyf

Forthcoming:

Flannery O’Connor, Good Things Out of Nazareth: The Uncollected Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Friends, edited by Ben Alexander (Convergent, October 15): “A literary treasure of over one hundred unpublished letters from National Book Award-winning author Flannery O’Connor and her circle of extraordinary friends.” Available at Amazon.

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University. Follow him on Twitter.

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