Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Day one, Book one

A social History of Madness -Stories of the Insane 1987
Roy Porter
Chapter 6. Mad Women.

There is no chapter in this book called 'mad men', presumably because it would get mixed up with a BBC4 drama series set in the world of advertising in 1960s New York. Or it could be because women are just notably CRAZY. I certainly get this impression but I've only read this one chapter, I'm sure the rest of the book, I have 11 chapters left to read, will tell many stories of many crazy crazy men.

Margery Kemp features quite heavily in the first 9 pages of the chapter. I have only been introduced to Margery's writing in my 'History of English' lectures before so I didn't know too much about her apart from an in depth knowledge of her pronouns. (if there's one thing I can write an essay about it's the history of pronouns in the English language). Margery Kemp is important in historical linguistics as it is the first known biography written in English. It was nice to read something about what she actually wrote in the autobiography rather than just analysing the grammar. I now have an overview of who she was and how fucking insane she was.
The pages just map instances of weeping, wailing, abandoning children, talking to imaginary friends and blaming all of this on religious intervention. No one ever sent her to a doctor and she just ran from priest to priest some of whom encouraged her and some of whom told her to piss off. My favourite sentence on the matter is this;
“Her fellow English pilgrims had found her a nuisance with her continual wailing.”
She has only been diagnosed for her madness posthumusly, using her biography to list the symptoms and her madness has been put down to 'religious hysteria'. It is absolutely amazing to see how many of these stories of 'mad women' are linked to religion and it is very hard to correlate whether it is the madness that has driven the women to religion or the religion that has driven the women to madness, they probably encourage each other I expect.
Another of the main factors which madness is generally attributed to in women, at least historically, is sexual frustration. I shall certainly keep this in mind when self diagnosing myself if I'm feeling a bit 'mad'. I'm quite sure, however, that if I ever start getting an overwhelming urge to kiss male lepers that kissing female ones instead is not the best solution as someone advised Margery that it was;
“At another point she was overcome by a desire to kiss male lepers; her confessor advised her to stick to women.”
If I ever come to you with this problem please advise me to go to a psychiatrist, and not a psychoanalyst;
I've never read any Freud and maybe that should be a task for later in this project but I'm sure after reading this chapter that he was full of shit. Diagnosing a girl as being sexually attracted to her father because she didn't want to shag her father's friend seems a bit silly. His assertion that 'it simply is not healthy for an adolescent girl, when kissed out of the blue by a close friend of her father, to feel disgust.' Taking some of my dad's friends as examples, if they had kissed me when I was 14 I'm almost certain I would have vomited in their face. Maybe I'm just bloody insane! Freud also claims that the same girl must be in want of him sexually because she could smell smoke in her dreams and he was a smoker, this must say more about his desires than hers but who am I to start psychoanalysing Freud?
As I have said above I should probably read more about this before dismissing him completely, he seems to have had a big impact in literary theory if nothing else. It all seems madder than the madness he's analysising though.

The main thing I've learned reading this chapter is that despite all of my anxieties, oddities and occasional outbursts I'm probably not 'mad' and that I'm glad that if I do go 'mad' I live in a society where the best treatment won't be to lock me in a plain room to wail. Reading this chapter also caused me to look up the word 'vainglory' the definition of which is “excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one's achievements”. I shall use it tomorrow.


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