The other night I watched “Game 6”, a movie written by Don DeLillo and released in 2006. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as a theater critic named Steven Schwimmer who goes to play with a gun in his pants. Why? Because for Schwimmer, criticism is as important an issue as any job. (This belief is presented as evidence of his delusional nature.)
The character has other quirks, such as an apartment with no toilet and a preference for white makeup. It’s not a flawless movie, but it does feature several excellent deadpan comic exchanges, like this one:
Wife: I spoke to a prominent divorce lawyer.
Husband: How much?
Woman: He has his own submarine.
Plus, it has the signature DeLillo effect of altering the texture of reality. Below are two books that do the same thing, but with different instruments and results.
In your face and out of your life,*
*Another line from “Game 6”
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“Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry’s Stormy Quest to Cure Mental Illness,” by Andrew Scull
In 2015, I bought a vintage button on eBay (the kind you pin on your jacket) that read: You’re just jealous ’cause the little voices talk to me. The seller had included a note that read: “THEY TALK TO ME TOO!!!” We have recorded positive feedback for each other on eBay. All in all, it was one of the most satisfying mental health-related transactions of my life.
Anyone who’s been burned in a ball of fire while haggling with an insurance company over matters of mind will need a minimum of 10 new highlighters while reading Andrew Scull’s ‘Desperate Remedies’, a story and analysis intensely skeptical of psychiatry. The gist of his argument is this: while there has been undeniable progress, mental illness remains baffling, and no discipline has done a great job of addressing the symptoms and understanding the causes. To get there, he travels through neurology, genetics, anthropology, dentistry, lobotomies, asylums, drug therapies, CBT, ECT, Robert Redford’s 1980 film debut, “Ordinary People” …and, as they say, everything else.
Scull, a professor of sociology, wrote the best kind of “feeling bad” book, whipping offenders left and right with his whip of evidence. Whether the vitriol resonates or alienates will depend on your matrix of experiences and beliefs. What a controversy!
Read if you like: Rachel Aviv’s writing, Danielle Carr’s excellent article on the anti-psychiatric museum of Scientology, Upton Sinclair
Available from: Harvard University Press
“Battle in the Desert” by José Emilio Pacheco, translated by Katherine Silver
How can such a short story contain so many lessons in perception? The ship is a schoolboy named Carlos, whose father owns a soap factory in Mexico City in the late 1940s. One of Carlos’ friends lives in a slum built with scrap wood. Another friend lives in a mansion with a wine cellar; he was sent to Carlos’ school so he could get to know the people who would become his servants. Part of the story is about that turbulent time in a child’s life when he discovers his place in a class system: if he is rich compared to some children and poor compared to others, that means… what exactly ?
The main event is Carlos’ crush on Mariana, the 28-year-old mistress of a high government official. When he confesses his delight, Mariana gently pushes the boy away. But somehow Carlos’ family finds out and he is sent to a priest, who asks lustful questions, and then to a psychiatrist, who diagnoses him with an “inferiority complex”. All this in about 70 pages of deep immersion in experience and feeling.
Read if you like: “The 400 Blows” by François Truffaut, the films of Robert Bresson, Roland Barthes, Carlos Fuentes
Available from: New Directions (or in Spanish here)
Why not you…
Find out if surrealist art can KILL THE FASCISTS?
Find out why 11 men turned blue after eating TOXIC OAT FLOUR at the same restaurant in 1944? (This is an article, not a book – although I would love to order an entire volume of food poisoning case studies exactly like this.)
Refer to good old Iris Murdoch for a terrific description of BE LACQUERED? (“His sudden decision not to see her again was completely incomprehensible to the young girl, it was a death sentence from a hidden authority for an unknown crime.”)
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