“A web of flesh spun over a void”

Francisco_Goya_-_Casa_de_locos

“The Madhouse” by Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So brilliant: an implicitly ironic but outwardly straight-faced reading of the DSM-5 as a dystopian horror novel, complete with a quasi-Ligottian assessment of the book’s narrative voice and view of humanity.

Great dystopia isn’t so much fantasy as a kind of estrangement or dislocation from the present; the ability to stand outside time and see the situation in its full hideousness. The dystopian novel doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel. . . . Something has gone terribly wrong in the world; we are living the wrong life, a life without any real fulfillment. The newly published DSM-5 is a classic dystopian novel in this mold.

Here, we have an entire book, something that purports to be a kind of encyclopedia of madness, a Library of Babel for the mind, containing everything that can possibly be wrong with a human being. . . . DSM-5 arranges its various strains of madness solely in terms of the behaviors exhibited. This is a recurring theme in the novel, while any consideration of the mind itself is entirely absent. . . . The idea emerges that every person’s illness is somehow their own fault, that it comes from nowhere but themselves: their genes, their addictions, and their inherent human insufficiency. We enter a strange shadow-world where for someone to engage in prostitution isn’t the result of intersecting environmental factors (gender relations, economic class, family and social relationships) but a symptom of “conduct disorder,” along with “lying, truancy, [and] running away.” A mad person is like a faulty machine. The pseudo-objective gaze only sees what they do, rather than what they think or how they feel. A person who shits on the kitchen floor because it gives them erotic pleasure and a person who shits on the kitchen floor to ward off the demons living in the cupboard are both shunted into the diagnostic category of encopresis. It’s not just that their thought-processes don’t matter, it’s as if they don’t exist. The human being is a web of flesh spun over a void.

. . . The word “disorder” occurs so many times that it almost detaches itself from any real signification, so that the implied existence of an ordered state against which a disorder can be measured nearly vanishes is almost forgotten. Throughout the novel, this ordered normality never appears except as an inference; it is the object of a subdued, hopeless yearning. With normality as a negatively defined and nebulously perfect ideal, anything and everything can then be condemned as a deviation from it. . . . If there is a normality here, it’s a state of near-catatonia. DSM-5 seems to have no definition of happiness other than the absence of suffering. The normal individual in this book is tranquilized and bovine-eyed, mutely accepting everything in a sometimes painful world without ever feeling much in the way of anything about it. The vast absurd excesses of passion that form the raw matter of art, literature, love, and humanity are too distressing; it’s easier to stop being human altogether, to simply plod on as a heaped collection of diagnoses with a body vaguely attached.

. . . For all the subtlety of its characterization, the book doesn’t just provide a chilling psychological portrait, it conjures up an entire world. The clue is in the name: On some level we’re to imagine that the American Psychiatric Association is a body with real powers, that the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” is something that might actually be used, and that its caricature of our inner lives could have serious consequences. Sections like those on the personality disorders offer a terrifying glimpse of a futuristic system of repression, one in which deviance isn’t furiously stamped out like it is in Orwell’s unsubtle Oceania, but pathologized instead. Here there’s no need for any rats, and the diagnostician can honestly believe she’s doing the right thing; it’s all in the name of restoring the sick to health. DSM-5 describes a nightmare society in which human beings are individuated, sick, and alone. For much of the novel, what the narrator of this story is describing is its own solitude, its own inability to appreciate other people, and its own overpowering desire for death — but the real horror lies in the world that could produce such a voice.

MORE: “Book of Lamentations

For more on the DSM-V and the controversy it has elicited, see this.

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on February 6, 2015, in Psychology & Consciousness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I hold no sympathy for anyone in western society whatsoever save for myself and some few others who actually publish scholarship on esotericism when it concerns major world religions and distressing experiences.. authors like T. M. Luhrmann, Robert DeCaroli (“Haunting the Buddha”) and films like Nang Nak (upside down world paradox) or Korean dramas like The Master’s Sun that outright portray in no uncertain terms religion as a purely negative pursuit destructive to the individuals involved. If you get involved in religion, and weren’t utterly lowered and destroyed then you’re relying on those who have to purify you. In order to be cleansed and experience grace it is required that someone be a vacuum. Random song by Mortiis. This DSM manual is literally a poison to society. Grief builds upon grief and it is an attack on those with the means to alleviate suffering.

  2. Recommended starter Buddhist text on ego-death ,

    The Vimuttimagga (Path to liberation, 解脫道論) is an early meditation manual by the arahant Upatissa preserved only in a sixth century Chinese translation. The stages of insight outlined by the Vimuttimagga are:[2]

    Comprehension (廣觀) Rise and fall (起滅) Dissolution (滅) Fear & disadvantage & disenchantment (畏 & 過患 & 厭離) Delight in deliverance & equanimity (樂解脫 & 捨) Conformity (相似)

  3. In order to not discriminate against those who have had ego death you’d have to have had one. Those who have ego death are often paranoid of those who have destroyed them so much as to not express themselves and advocate for people in their religions that have distressing experiences. So its a vicious cycle of the people who know not saying anything, because of esotericism, and the people who don’t know anything berating those who have weird experiences that they themselves have never had. Define normal? In order to know you have to bite a bullet. Then you are able to comprehend what other states are like.

  4. Dante’s Inferno to me is an intense religious experience where the veil on the supernatural is lifted and its this elaborate chapel perilous thing. I love Inferno and was disappointed to have it compared to the DSM . But I appreciated the satire though it was hard to read because I find none of it funny . Hilarious and Painful article in the best of ways.

  5. I don’t get what it is with Buddhism … that Mortiis album is really great.. he’s made an artistic statement not long off from Japanese buddhism.. he’s a tengu.. a troglodyte or mountain ascetic.. like a yamabushi.. the long nosed man feels the breath at their nostrils whereas the short nosed man feels the breath on their upper lip.. a healer.. the band name symbol of the chaoscampf combined with the ouroboros represents the Self-Loss, the ritual death for the vacuous embodiment of alien minds, the ritual death wakens the engine of the new consciousness to expand beyond the former limits of the soul as well as it creates a way for the soul to vacate the body’s presence if it doesn’t conform to the Will of the sorcerer who resurrected and transplanted it. A lineage is a chain of souls , see Clark Chilson’s Covert Shin . This is why I really don’t like yoga there seems to be this perspective that the soul somehow belongs to the yogi but this simply isn’t true. I also really like David Gordon White’s Sinister Yogis. I’m really new to the study of religion but having had particular experiences had gravitated to this kind of model because it is the one that repeats and is found everywhere. However, religions and occult societies can’t make money selling ritual death. I’m vehemently against capitalism when it concerns its effect on the market of available religious experiences. Religion is vehemently anti capitalist since ego death compromises the Will to be in search of bettering one-self. This is as it should be .

  6. I don’t get what it is with Buddhism … that Mortiis album is really great.. he’s made an artistic statement not long off from Japanese buddhism.. he’s a tengu.. a troglodyte or mountain ascetic.. like a yamabushi.. the long nosed man feels the breath at their nostrils whereas the short nosed man feels the breath on their upper lip.. a healer.. the band name symbol of the chaoscampf combined with the ouroboros represents the Self-Loss, the ritual death for the vacuous embodiment of alien minds, the ritual death wakens the engine of the new consciousness to expand beyond the former limits of the soul as well as it creates a way for the soul to vacate the body’s presence if it doesn’t conform to the Will of the sorcerer who resurrected and transplanted it. A lineage is a chain of souls , see Clark Chilson’s Covert Shin . This is why I really don’t like yoga there seems to be this perspective that the soul somehow belongs to the yogi but this simply isn’t true. I also really like David Gordon White’s Sinister Yogis. I’m really new to the study of religion but having had particular experiences had gravitated to this kind of model because it is the one that repeats and is found everywhere. However, religions and occult societies can’t make money selling ritual death. I’m vehemently against capitalism when it concerns its effect on the market of available religious experiences. Religion is vehemently anti capitalist since ego death compromises the Will to be in search of bettering one-self. This is as it should be .

  7. I made a duplicate comment but anyway bottom line is that religion is the most negative worse thing to ever happen to –you–.

    “No Angel don’t!”

    “There is no One!” (eureka!)

    “I’m receiving every wave!”

    Self-Loss . Ritual Sacrifice . Erotic Crystallization Inertia as Anton LaVey called it. Lament , Compassion and Sympathy . Greater Vehicle . It was this film and not Heavy Metal from 1981 that inspired Japanese anime . Canadian movie .

    Canadian poetry, indigenous shamanism. I’m not being flippant when I say this. Japan copied Canadian poetry and gothicism in the creation of their animated films. We did it first.

    Soon, thro’ their dew-wet frames, in the live keen freshness of morning,
    Out of the teeth of the dawn blows back the awakening wind.
    Then, as the blue day mounts, and the low-shot shafts of the sunlight
    Glance from the tide to the shore, gossamers jewelled with dew
    Sparkle and wave, where late sea-spoiling fathoms of drift-net
    Myriad-meshed, uploomed sombrely over the land.

    Well I remember it all. The salt, raw scent of the margin;
    While, with men at the windlass, groaned each reel, and the net,
    Surging in ponderous lengths, uprose and coiled in its station;
    Then each man to his home, — well I remember it all!

    Yet, as I sit and watch, this present peace of the landscape, —
    Stranded boats, these reels empty and idle, the hush,
    One grey hawk slow-wheeling above yon cluster of haystacks,
    More than the old-time stir this stillness welcomes me home.
    Ah, the old-time stir, how once it stung me with rapture, —
    Old-time sweetness, the winds freighted with honey and salt!
    Yet will I stay my steps and not go down to the marshland, —
    Muse and recall far off, rather remember than see, —
    Lest on too close sight I miss the darling illusion,
    Spy at their task even here the hands of chance and change.

    — Sir Charles G D Roberts , Tantramar Revisited

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