How are you feeling today? A little obsessive, compulsive, autistic, narcissistic, schizophrenic, over stimulated, easily distracted? Yeah, me, too. Join the party.
In Mondays post, I noted the popularity of a new TV show called Monk. The “defective detective” suffers from OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. The show finds a way to make Monk’s condition funny without disguising the misery it causes him. Still, we like the character, and some of this comes, I was suggesting, from the fact that we identify with this man and his frailty. Something in Monk resembles something in us.
Leora Kornfeld and I have been corresponding about the new book called The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, an imagined first-person account of an autistic child who investigates a crime. Christopher knows every prime number up to 7,057. He cannot read people’s emotions and keeps a “cheat sheet” in his pocket to decode facial expressions. Food cant touch on his plate. He particularly fears the color yellow.
For all of these peculiarities, Christopher is likeable. More than that, he is, as Leora and I have been noting, plausible. Something in him speaks to something in us. (It may well be that Leora knows all the prime numbers up to 7,057. She remembers a credit card number she saw very briefly 10 years ago. This sticks with me because it was my number.)
Some years ago, Christopher Lasch suggested that our “culture of competitive individualism has taken ‘the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self.” Normally on this one, I would plead the fifth, but in the interests of science and good blogging, I am prepared to say: guilty as charged. Why else would I blog?
A few years later, Frederic Jameson suggested that we are now like schizophrenics who are “condemned to live a perpetual present with which the various moments of [the] past have little connection and for which there is no conceivable future on the horizon. I do sometimes live in a very narrow present, and as Leora can tell you, I am famous for having only the dimmest memory of even important life events, but I am not now, nor have I ever been, a schizophrenic. (Touch wood. Often and obsessively.)
I have been guilty of this reckless use of symptoms myself, suggesting in Plenitude that we are now so multiple in our interests and responsive to so much stimuli, that it is as if we all suffer from ADD, attention deficit disorder. Those of you who read email the moment it arrives will know what I mean. In a recent post, I had a look at new Harvard research on “latent inhibition diminishment with a view to showing its larger cultural significance.
But Im wondering, “Is this profusion of symptoms perhaps a symptom of its own? Call it SAMS: symptom as metaphor syndrome. SAMS is a new scourge of our time, as intellectuals anxiously search the DSM (as above) for psychiatric symptoms that they can use to make sense of things.
But hold on. We cannot all be suffering all these symptoms. What are the chances that we should be afflicted en masse with OCD, autistic tendencies, narcissism, schizophrenia, ADD, and latent inhibition diminishment? Pretty slim. Taken together these would be enough to kill a man or at least send him out into the street wearing a metal hat, shouting and waving his arms. We may have our problems, but we are “high functioning.”
SAMS has the tell-tale signs of intellectual crisis. We are resorting to the old models to make sense of new phenomena. Isnt this what intellectuals usually do? Confronted by novelty, they resort to existing explanations. They dont much care that this ends up as an alphabet salad of implausible imputations. Their work is done. Faced with grappling with novelty and restoring to old paradigms, they take the lazy way out.
Clearly, something is happening here. Clearly, we are responding to the demands of a new world, and reinventing how we behave within it. But perhaps its time to start fresh. Watch this space.
Haddon, Mark. 2003. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. New York: Anchor.
Jameson, Frederic. 1983. Postmoderism and Consumer Society. in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern culture. editor Hall Foster, 111-25. Port Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, p. 119.
Lasch, Christopher. 1978. The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expections. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, p. XV
(sorry about not posting yesterday, my @%&! ISP was down.)