Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

The above words are spoken by the character of Polonius in Shakespeare's play, "Hamlet", and refer to the main protagonist's state of mind, which, although seemingly unbalanced, appears to contain elements of reason. Thus there are doubts expressed throughout the play as to whether the most famous melancholic of them all, Hamlet, is truly mad or simply, as he says himself, putting on an "antic disposition". If Hamlet's madness is genuine, though, it is interesting that it is suffused with apparent significance, which got me wondering whether one can actually find a meaning in madness, particularly in terms of psychotic illness; whether one can, as Karl Jaspers, the German psychiatrist and philosopher, put it, render understandable that which, by definition, is "un-understandable".
I suppose that the stereotypical image of the "mad man" is one of someone who babbles incoherently. He is mad precisely because he doesn't make any sense. Indeed, if I remember correctly I think that Freud made some sort of comment suggesting that understanding someone in the throes of psychosis was like trying to decipher hieroglyphics- it was a "language", as it were, which the sane could not understand.
However, in his book, "The Divided Self", R.D. Laing set out to demonstrate meaning in psychosis. With his concept of "ontological uncertainty" and the elaboration of this with his "false self/real self" system, Laing suggested that it was an indefinable feeling of something lacking and a primary disturbance of the self which was the root of schizoid and schizophrenic disorders. He postulated that those who have their "real self" undermined throughout childhood develop a "false self" to interact with the world. When under pressure, the real self shrinks and dies and the false self can no longer cope, leading to the development of psychosis.
Radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing.

In one of the most famous cases, that of Mary Barnes, the potential of Laing's radical psychiatry was shown.
Barnes stayed at the London experimental community of Kingsley Hall, founded by Laing and the Philadelphia Association in the 1960s. During her stay, having developed psychotic symptoms previously, she regressed to infantile behaviour, often wetting and soiling herself and having uninhibited outbursts of rage and fear. Her psychiatrist there, Joseph Berke, responded by seemingly acquiescing to this behaviour, treating her like a child. When she began to paint her faeces on walls and on her own body, Berke gave her paper and crayons as an alternative means of expressing herself. What resulted was quite amazing, with Barnes eventually growing out of her regressive state to become an internationally recognised artist.
Her art was deeply influenced by her Catholicism, and one of her favourite images was that of the crucifixion, showing not only the agony of the cross, but also the joy of resurrection, perhaps reflecting her own experience. Of her paintings, Berke remarked that they "came screaming out of her psyche".
Artist Mary Barnes, surrounded by her paintings.

So, both Laing's theories and Barnes' art would appear to suggest that meaning can be found in even the most serious of mental health conditions. Indeed, in later years, there has been the suggestion that to create a narrative of one's experiences can be useful for service users in understanding and perhaps imposing some sense on that which, at first, may appear unintelligible. Radical psychologist Rufus May even suggests that, once diagnosed as having psychotic experiences, one enters a "taboo identity", and so a "sense of loss of one's normality" follows, which might require one to "mourn the loss of a former identity and reassess one's expectations and values".
For me, seeing my own experience as the result of some form of emotional trauma has helped give meaning to it, and I can also relate to Laing's theories regarding psychosis. Also, I can say that this blog is, perhaps, my attempt at giving meaning to my experiences and creating an understandable narrative of them. It has, then, been a great aid in helping me make sense of that which seems unintelligible, and I would thank all those who have commented and followed me on that journey. Together, it seems, we have put the method into the madness.


Pearl said…
Over from khalanie and have read your last three posts. So well-spoken, and such smart stuff. Thank you.

David said…
Thanks Pearl.
Gary is a very good friend of mine, so it is nice to have one of his many followers comment on my own little blog, especially with such kind remarks.
I'm very glad you have enjoyed what you've read, and hope that you will continue to visit.
With Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Outstanding, David.
I recall Polonius Balonyiest from high school. I've never presumed him to be the madman; only that his lines were well written.

Interestingly my collage feces was in Art... but I slung paint.. potential commoner that I am.

I do have one behavior sorty that never leaves my head. Since the days of my own particular journey of mad-cap-ness...whenever the post I'm reading (or writing) grabs my total focal... I hear music. (No I was not going to site the 'babbles incoherently' sentence.) It's just that I have a certain musical feel for the words as they pour forth. The faster I read, the more the melody takes on persona. (Let no crescendo get you down.)

Gosh David, you simply must put your blogs to music. ("Mad World, mad world...")

David said…
Dear Dxie,
Thank you.
I think it's really interesting that you hear music when reading. Words, after all, do have a rhythm, especially poetry.
I wonder what you're hearing now? I hope it's something not too discordant!
With Very Best Wishes,

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