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House’s Leg and van Gogh’s Ear. The Fiction of the Tortured Genius.

In an episode of House, M.D., the almost always excellent Andre Bruagher plays a therapist who treats the almost always excellent, Hugh Laurie.

Laurie’s turn as House was, and remains, an entertaining ride. The show was, at its best, self aware, and even witty, providing an intelligent if inherently ridiculous premise. At its worst it fell victim to that absurd premise and a series of equally absurd ideas having to do primarily with the fiction that there is a correlation between genius and insanity.

This is an old idea that began to take on the current recognizable form during the 19th century when tortured artists were thought to be consumed from within, by a fire that burned so brightly and with such heat, that while it gave them inspiration, in the end it killed them. Tuberculosis was a disease and had nothing to do with inspiration, per se and Romantic narrative systems that created a set of coordinates in which talent and inspiration, and the price paid for both, were detached from the brutal socio-economic conditions of the era. The fiction was a product of both a genuine ignorance (versus deliberate obfuscation) but also a product of a dominant narrative system that defined poverty as part of a natural order.

The idea never really went away but it did fade until the period soon after 9/11 and the sudden growth of television shows featuring quasi or full-blown, high-functioning autistic geniuses.

In Numbers, the brilliant math genius doesn’t know how to speak with women (a recurring theme in these narrative systems) and is prone to episodes of crippling OCD which he “can’t control.”

In various other shows, “odd” high functioning autistics, unable to socialize “normally” none the less assist the “authorities” by providing extraordinary, “outside the box” solutions to complex problems. Their very “defects” are reconfigured as positive attributes and the “normal” types must learn to accommodate them as their “odd” behavior is the price paid by the dominant system for access to their “genius.”

Laurie’s Gregory House is probably the most successful of these fictions.

House’s “defect” is primarily down to an injury he received. An infarction in his leg resulted in a terrible scar, a debilitating limp, worse pain, and the pain has provided him with a pretext to develop an addiction to painkillers in the form of Vicodin.

There is also a deep symbolism in House having, with his omni-present cane, effectively, three legs. The most ancient of these characters is of course Oedipus who solves the ultimate mystery and pays the price for it. But in the formation of that narrative one must be aware of the riddle that he solves initially – the riddle of the sphinx – which is echoed by House’s cane.

The sphinx is the totemic animal of Hera whose name means, to throttle or choke. The sphinx asks, what crawls on four legs in the morning, walks on two in the afternoon, and three at night. Oedipus, no dummy if terminally stupid, answers correctly, – man.

What is buried in that is the double meaning of the phrase “the riddle of the sphinx.” The riddle is of course the cipher that the sphinx speaks but the other riddle, is what the sphinx conceals; that it exists to represent the power structure of the dominant narrative system which, even if temporarily defeated, will in the end be victorious. Oedipus of course ends his life blind and pursued by the furies transformed into an unperson.

And so to House, who is in pursuit of the answer to the riddle of existence, and ends, as an unperson.

Layered over and through that issue House is portrayed as a borderline, and at times full blown, sociopath if not a psychopath and a genius – one part Spock, one part Sherlock Holmes but potentially, likely to end up on a roof with a high-powered rifle (Oedipus never being addressed except by the omni-present cane and thus a cipher available to those “in the know” but covered by plausible deniability) and, a misanthrope who, assumes everyone always lies and that honesty, however brutal is morally superior to the falsities, half truths and outright lies that most people rely on both to hold themselves together and that they use to maintain social cohesion.

Like the other “savants” (a term no longer used) House cannot engage with women. While he cannot generally socialize with men either is true, but in all of these shows the autistic genius is always male and a case of arrested development in which, while aware of women and sexuality generally and female sexuality specifically (and prone to expressing “inappropriate” blunt comments on their anatomy and sexual wiles), they cannot act in what is generally thought of as an adult male manner.

The show often made use of this by creating a sophisticated meta-narrative in which the specifically undeniably attractive actors, were used as plot points in which House comments on their physical attractiveness. Olivia Wilde who played “Thirteen” (a name that we assume was a reference to the equally stunning Jerry Ryan who played Seven of Nine in Star Trek Voyager and whose striking physical presence was occasionally used as a plot device) was often the subject of House’s “honesty” and her beauty was openly discussed, which gave the show a sense of self awareness even as the meta-narrative was used to conceal.

In House’s case (sic) this means blunt flirtations governed by a combination of innuendo, crude commentary, and paying prostitutes for sex.

Eventually he develops a relationship with the director of the hospital (Lisa Edelstein) – Dr. Cuddy.

Inevitably the relationship fails and House drives a car into Cuddy’s home.

The action, while psychotic, is inevitable not only because the trajectory of the character was always heading towards something like that but, also because the straight jacket, and prefabricated template, made it inevitable. House had to act that way because the dominant narrative system demands “genius” be portrayed as compromised, and unable to function inside the system. The television autistic cannot be brilliant and socialized let alone brilliant, and not autistic.

Which brings us to House’s therapy session with Braugher.

Braugher offers House anti-depressants and they verbally fence over their efficacy with specific attention paid to House’s concern that the drugs will, as Braugher says, cut the connection between House’s ability to see things differently; to see things that “normal people” don’t see.

House makes the point that if van Gogh had been given such drugs he’d have been content to paint houses instead of Starry Night. Braugher counters that van Gogh would have been content to go on painting brilliantly just not from a room in an asylum. House counters the thrust and says that’s not knowable to which Braugher says he knows van Gogh would still have both of his ears and House surrenders and takes the drugs.

Needless to say, House is right. No one knows (though we really do know) but what we can be certain of, is the truth that the dominant system does not want to admit or even discuss. Vincent van Gogh was not “insane” because “sanity” is a fiction relative to what passed as “normal” in 19th century Europe.

The “normal” people were the ones building empires, enslaving millions, policing mass systems of subjugation, mass surveillance, exploitation, prostitution (with its coordinates of enforced narrative systems about “health” and the fictional connections between “health” and “morality”), and genocidal imperialism.

There was of course a wide spectrum in which one could be “normal” and for example, be part of the campaign to end the opium trade but that only proves the point; that there was an international opium trade and that it was used to create a set of coordinates within a narrative system of morality, health and power and that none of those coordinates were objectively true but were all contextualized by relationships of power and thus, elaborate fictions.

To create a narrative system in which van Gogh is “insane” means to either posit a contrary narrative defined as “normal” or it requires designating previously “normal” narratives as “insane” or all human action as “insane” or all of it as neither one or the other.

For example, while van Gogh is one of the focal points of the era, so to is Leon Rom, the possible model for Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz. Rom’s idea of sending a message of normalcy and authority was to display severed heads around his command post in “The Belgian Congo” and when asked about he said, that the natives did the same and so it was “normal” for him to do it as a sign of his power. And, more disturbing than the severed heads, is the fact that, within the narrative system of his world, Rom was not wrong. But that does not mean, it’s not immoral because his narrative system was a subcategory of the dominant narrative system – imperialism, which in turn renders the assertion of van Gogh’s “insanity” problematic at best.

That it was within the wider narrative system of imperialism which one could easily designate as “insane” forces us into a loop or logical cul de sac.

The dilemma of van Gogh then becomes what is our basis for “normal?” And from that we then have another dilemma which is that his paintings were produced within the narrative facts of who he was at the time and not a hypothetical “van Gogh” on anti-depressants.

The “logic” of House’s therapist is of course the logic of the pharmaceutical industrial complex which includes but is not limited to, advertising revenue, and the salaries of the people who run the networks that own the production companies that hire the writers and directors who produce the shows that pay the salaries of the actors. The PIS is in turn part of a dominant narrative system that designates a binary reality in which “normal” is x and “not normal” is anything that is not x.

Therefore, House is not “normal” and it is precisely because he is not “normal” that he is a genius. That this is true is not the issue because while genius is rare and thus not average or “normal” in this context, or narrative system “not normal and a genius” demands also being abrasive if not ultimately dangerous. In other words, consumed from within by a heat that while able to produce brilliance will ultimately require confinement or death, or being transformed into an unperson.

In the case of House, he has to fake his own death. That he does it to assist his terminally ill friend is a sop to sentimentality, but it is also a footnote to the more important narrative trope of the “insane genius” who cannot participate in “normal society.”

This begs the question as to why the dominant narrative system cannot allow for being both a genius and socially successful. The answer is, in large part, to be found in the fact that the genius poses a threat to the status quo. The ability to perceive what is beneath the surface of most social interactions destabilizes hierarchies of authority. But more importantly, it has the ability to reveal the imposition of artificial hierarchies based not on ability but on power.

Power does not need to be genius only successful. From time to time the two combine but brilliance is not a requirement of power to be successful.

This truth, which is an imbalance that manifests as anxiety, is expressed in (among other places) Dylan’s highway 61 Revisited. God, absent but present, everywhere but nowhere, all powerful but in need of followers and obedience, appears (as a disembodied voice) and says, hey Abe go kill me a son. Abe/Dylan/Everyone who is not powerful, responds with, you must be putt’n me on, and God says, you can do what you want but Abe, the next time you see me com’n, you better run.

Needles to say, Abe gives in and asks where God wants this kill’n done.

This is a reflection of the sense that power is arbitrary but full of rules. Justice is thus also arbitrary and power is a question only of its tautology. Power is power because it is power. Nothing else matters. As Guy Debord has it in, The Society of the Spectacle, “What appears is good and what is good appears.” Thus “God” is transformed into the tautology of power, and power is transformed into the tautology of the dominant narrative system.

In such a system with narratives that conform and demand conformity, “normal” is a kind of placid existence that does not threaten anything. In such an environment, van Gogh continues to paint with the same sense of existential despair, the same passion, the same love, and contempt and sense of standing on the razor’s edge. But of course this is not just impossible it is blatantly contradictory. It requires the drugs to either be ineffective, allowing van Gogh to remain unchanged, or it requires him to be susceptible to a surgical cherry picking that removes, and amputates only those aspects of his personality of which the power structure does not approve. But it also requires the belief that those aspects are not essential to what we call his talent, which if true, a priori, eliminates the need for the drug.

What we know, and the only thing we can know, is that the gestalt of van Gogh was just that – a totality. In other words, if you want Born to Run then you are required to also accept the post industrial waste land, and the mad house that is the immigration and exodus of the Italian and Irish Catholics, which in turn requires accepting the totality or gestalt of 19th century Europe. Thus, Mr. Kurtz isn’t dead, he’s a pimp, running guns and whores in Jersey, and an admittedly self-described “manic-depressive” is here to tell us about it, and ourselves, because his genius is a gestalt and not a question of cherry picking.

This reveals the truth of the dominant narrative system. Its purpose is not to help van Gogh or House but to control them. The television show “House M.D.” is thus betrayed by its prefabricated limits, into revealing that its goal is to seduce the viewer into believing in the pale imitation of the genuine “maverick” the “trickster” and “anti-hero” who, ultimately either succumbs to being neutered or must vanish. The result being that the television show’s purpose is to neuter the viewer. To take the show at face value and critique it accordingly, is met with a response of, but it’s just entertainment. To take it as only entertainment is to ignore its impact. Or as the line goes in North Dallas Forty: When we say it’s just a game, you say it’s a business, and when we say it’s a business, you say it’s just a game.

Contrast this with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in which the trickster, Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy, disrupts the power of Nurse Rachid and is, in the end, both electro-shocked into compliance and then (mercy) killed by Chief Bromden. The difference being that McMurphy is shown to be defeated; broken and then killed. House in contrast, rides off into the infinite falsity of the television landscape. And in particular consider that the pivotal moment in Cuckoo’s Nest, is when McMurphy uses his “magic” (i.e., his imagination which then is itself transformed into an alternative language and narrative system with its own hierarchies) to invent the details of a baseball game which the “lunatics” believe is genuine. The true power of the genuine trickster is thus manifest and must be destroyed versus House, who in a sense has absolutely no imagination and instead has a relentless, ruthless application of the facts and nothing but the facts. McMurphy imagines in order to subvert and free, where House destroys what is imagined in order to prove. Thus House and “House, M.D.” are transformed into a sphinx who offers a riddle but is actually the riddle whose purpose is to fool the viewer into believing that both the show (a product) and the character (a simulacrum of the product), are on their side.

The wider purpose of this, is to create a narrative system in which real world examples of destructive sociopathic and psychopathic behavior are excused or justified and thus, carpet bombing civilians, torture, assassinations, coups, environmental genocide, industrial scale genocide, and wars, coups, counter coups, and systemic bigotry, misogyny, economic exploitation, and the socio-economic gulag, are all defined as policy decisions and not blatant examples of psychosis. House is allowed to offer cryptic and direct sarcasm of real world events and yet, in keeping with the standard templates of television’s narrative system, no one has any genuine political convictions or genuine, by which we mean authentic, existence in the world as we know it.

As a result, the world goes missing.

The idea that the patient is terminally ill, that it is a plague vector; a patient Zero, potentially infecting everyone, is of course, disallowed.

If only House had been called in to diagnose America, and the system that created him.

 

Addendum: an interesting side note to the character, House, and his cane. Robert Sean Leonard, Dr. Wilson, has a large framed poster in his office. It is an advertising poster for, the Orson Wells’ film, A Touch of Evil, in which, Wells’ character, uses a cane similar to the one usually used by House. There is of course a touch of evil, and evil genius to House but Wells’ character is utterly corrupt, and dies a violent death. The connection would seem more of a meta-meta reference to nothing more significant than the writers and producers of the show making a joke for their own amusement and for anyone in the audience who notices the detail, or touch.

However, we speculate that the reference operate son at least two additional levels.

The first is that either Wells’ character is to be considered less evil than one assumes or more ambiguous than is supposed, or House is more sinister than his charm and latent and repressed decency allows. This iteration of House is less Frankenstein and more Dr. Moreau.

The second is that the reference to A Touch of Evil is a coded message – a message in a bottle that speaks to the production of the show within the larger system of television which in this context becomes a corrupt border town where none of the usual suspects can be trusted.

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17 comments on “House’s Leg and van Gogh’s Ear. The Fiction of the Tortured Genius.

  1. I’d take a slightly different perspective. In certain areas, there is a connection between various extremes of abilities and behavior, some perceived as ‘genius’ and others as ‘insane’.

    For example, epileptic seizures can lead to visions. Or for something more mundane, mercury toxicity can simultaneously cause abnormal behaviors and above average IQ. There is also such things as depressives tending toward what is called depressive realism, in that they on average do assess reality more accurately.

    That doesn’t change your larger argument. As a narrative device, this is used to justify the abusive system of power, to muddle the process of normalizing sociopathic perversion. And as you say, it helps avoid the issue of how insane is our society.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      It’s pertinent that I’m not sure we disagree. That is both sets of coordinates/statements may be variations on the same idea.

      This is on the fly and a rough idea but I think we’d have to start with a working definition of “insane.” for example, what’s the difference between Kissinger and C. Manson? Scale? Job title?

      I’m not saying you’re wrong but that we may be inside a system of references rather than stating empirical facts.

      “I’d take a slightly different perspective. In certain areas, there is a connection between various extremes of abilities and behavior, some perceived as ‘genius’ and others as ‘insane’. ”

      I don’t disagree but I wonder if there are connections between “various extremes of ability…” then the system that contains the set that is how we discuss the “various extremes” is itself subject to arbitrary assertions.

      Not to be reduction ad absurdum (at least not intentionally).

      Again to emphasize I’m being a bit nit-picky but also that email is not ideal for most discussions let alone one that requires a lot of precision. And that I’m not sure we disagree – or even that divergent points may also still work within the larger context of the “larger argument. As a narrative device, this is used to justify…”

      Sorry if this is circular or unclear. More to follow.

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      1. The problem is that much of the language is arbitrary. Or maybe that isn’t quite correct. It surely is carefully intentional, as part of rhetoric and propaganda. But, yeah, it is arbitrary in terms of fair-minded discussion and analysis.

        The system of language is part of the system of power, which takes on greater significance from the view of linguistic relativity. As for Kissinger and Manson, the primary difference is one was part of the system of power (and hence of the system that controls language) while the other was not.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. rauldukeblog says:

        Absolutely. Agree with all of that.

        I’m up to my eyeballs in various iterations by various geniuses discussing “systems” from which “meaning” is asserted. And as is now standard I keep finding that they are all locked into “repetition-compulsion.”

        I just tripped over a guy named Willard Van Orman Quine who is Foucault if Foucault had been American and used a stripped down pragmatic patois instead of a “fancy” French. But WVOC s not only essentially making Foucault’s argument about a decade before Foucault, he’s repeating the ancient Greek discussion of first causes and then connects to Hume.

        And that means “Bundle Theory” and that means “systems” and “narrative systems” that claim to be based on objective truths but are about arbitrary power relationships, so “Kissinger” had power and C.M. had far less power but the narrative system places one in a cell and the other delivers a eulogy at McCain’s funeral. One is a “psychopath” and the other is a “statesman” or at most a “controversial statesman.”

        “The system of language is part of the system of power, which takes on greater significance from the view of linguistic relativity” And the system of language is itself a form of power. My current favorite examples are people who say: “In your opinion” by which they mean that because it is your opinion it is both subjective and also not true because, a priori, it is your opinion. It is a system that disputes facts without making the effort to prove them wrong. The other is:” No one I know believes that.” Which is a variation on the first example and means the same thing but it adds an appeal to group power – “we” don’t do x, therefore anyone who does, is wrong.

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      3. I’ve heard of Quint. But I don’t know anything about him. You already have me curious.

        Quine preceding Foucalt reminds me of other similar examples. Roger Williams was making an argument for Lockean land rights before John Locke and took it much further, as an actual argument for civil liberties rather than propaganda for power as Locke co-opted it.

        So what is it about a Foucalt or a Locke that gets credit and gets remembered when earlier thinkers are all but forgotten?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. rauldukeblog says:

        “So what is it about a Foucalt or a Locke that gets credit and gets remembered when earlier thinkers are all but forgotten?”

        In Foucauldian terms (haha) who gets remembered and who is forgotten has to do with power structures. In other words who is in charge of the curricula and who runs the universities and the publishing companies etc.

        Quine is fascinating. He’s arguing “first causes” which is Aristotle and he’s doing it without saying he’s doing it and instead is writing as if he’s being original. He does mention Aristotle but not in the way I mean. He mentions Leibnitz, Hume and Kant but at no point does he, or anyone that I’ve read (a limited sample) say: wait a minute; why are we having the same argument for 2500 years? What is it about human consciousness that this keeps repeating?

        As to Quine and Foucault as I said they are working the same field – targeting the system of systems.

        Very interesting about Locke. What seems to always go missing is an examination of what these people were reading. We get brief glimpses but very rarely does the general narrative include an excavation/inventory of their reading. I thought it was interesting, as an example of this, to look at Kant’s essay What is Enlightenment not only for its content but because he was one of several people who answered the question as it had been submitted as a general question to the European “philosophes” mid/later 18th century and gives a sense of the zeitgeist and how these people were all reading each other.

        But then we come full circle back to how/why certain people vanish from the narrative system. If the universities don’t teach it, it doesn’t exist.

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      5. “In Foucauldian terms (haha) who gets remembered and who is forgotten has to do with power structures.”

        Yep. Williams fell out of favor with power. And even though he gained his freedom and managed to found his own colony, the powers that be have been glad to let his memory be buried. Williams was defending the land rights of Native Americans and did so on a specifically pre-Lockean basis of ‘Lockean’ land rights. He was arguing that the natives were using their land just fine — an argument he made from personal experience of living among the natives.

        Locke, instead, was seeking to justify land theft but on a basis other than the old right by conquest that the Spanish Empire had relied upon. In writing the Carolina constitution, he was justifying not only land theft but the rights of the landed aristocracy and plantation owners who stole the land (or procured the land from others who stole it), related to how they stole the commons back in England.

        That is all the explanation we need for why Locke is remembered and Williams is not, the same reason Locke overshadows Spinoza. This is in spite Williams and Spinoza maybe having direct or indirect influences on Locke. Sweep the radicals under the rug in order to present a more respectable defender of the respectable order.

        “Quine is fascinating. He’s arguing “first causes” which is Aristotle and he’s doing it without saying he’s doing it and instead is writing as if he’s being original.”

        I have suspicions that even someone like Aristotle was repeating the ideas and words of many others without giving credit. It’s merely that he was one of the earliest thinkers to be more fully written down. During the Axial Age, lots of new and interesting views were floating around. And writers of that era were even less prone to cite their sources. Such a name as ‘Aristotle’, along the lines of ‘Homer’, maybe more meaningfully represents a wide confluence of individuals. We are too obsessed with individuals, an obsession that began in the Axial Age.

        “why are we having the same argument for 2500 years? What is it about human consciousness that this keeps repeating?

        Daniel Everett uses the difference between Plato and Aristotle to map out the terrain of modern linguistics. That can be done because there was a pattern of thought set down back then, with Plato and Aristotle being symbolic examples closer to the origin point. But what interests you and I is how it keeps repeating, seemingly in an unbroken chain of thought, even if it is hidden because of unacknowledged influences and the pretense of originality. What hasn’t occurred to many is that maybe the pattern itself (and what is behind it) is more significant than the outward form and framing of the Great Debate.

        This could bring us back around to the topic of the post. Schizoid division of polarized thought is deep within consciousness. With the ending of the bicameral mind, such things as madness and demonic possession became a central concern. And those who still heard voices were to be either feared or revered. Socrates was a target of this dual response.

        As you argue above, this isn’t only about some supposedly exceptional individuals. The repetition-compulsion (or whatever you want to call it) is more about how consciousness is the social order — the individual caught up in the pattern distracting from the pattern itself. There has been a sense of internal conflict to consciousness that typically plays out through external proxies, including intellectual debates.

        I’m inclined to throw in the essentialism issue as well. The conflict between essentialism and relativity also goes back millennia. But for some reason, maybe linguistic, the essentialists have mostly dominated and framed the debate, such that relativists are misportrayed such that their actual position is obscured (akin to how the real Federalists lost the war of rhetoric and became called Anti-Federalists; as a side note, some of the real Federalists were at the same time going after organized religion and Christian theology, indicating that they were going after the foundations of the social order in challenging claims to both absolute power and absolute truth). This debate in maintaining a sense of conflict is maybe more important for one side than the other, a thought that occurs to me.

        Egoic consciousness, by the way, is on the essentialist side of the argument. And it indeed it is on the winning side of power, to such a degree that few moderns can comprehend, much less imagine, the bundle theory of mind. It is the bundle theory of mind that would otherwise allow us to understand more complex views that can’t be simplified down to dualistic conflicts with two sides (and no more) to every debate. With essentialism, all we get is the view of essentialism and the caricature of non-essentialism. It goes without saying that the bundle theory of mind as alived experience, specifically voice-hearing, is limited to the insane, genius or otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. rauldukeblog says:

        I didn’t know that about Williams and Locke. I’m not surprised. the old and banal (but accurate) phrase that comes to mind is: The winners write history.

        You may be correct about “Aristotle.” Even contemporary scholars talk about how “Socrates” may have been invented by Plato. I’m mulling the idea that Plato did invent him as a proto-Christ myth (that’s not an original idea) and that the purpose of it was that Plato’s target was the bicameral mind.

        My rough idea is that the context for Plato’s antagonism against the “poets” is explained in Jaynesian terms as a moment where the bicameralists (the poets) were being attacked by the emerging post bicameralists, of which “Plato” is one of the chief figures.

        I’ve read that “Socrates'” trial was one of many and that makes me think even more that there’s a big piece of the story that’s missing and that Plato was responding to what we would now call/define as show trials or a witch hunt.

        Regardless it’s a valid question as to who these people were. “Homer” is a great example as in instead of Homer it’s more accurate to say, the men we refer to as “Homer” and in the same sense it’s more accurate to say, the men we call “Shakespeare.”

        “What hasn’t occurred to many is that maybe the pattern itself (and what is behind it) is more significant than the outward form and framing of the Great Debate.”

        Agreed. Seems to me to be the key issue. It’s such a fascinating pattern and as I’ve mentioned while it’s interesting it is less interesting to me to think about who’s right and who’s wrong – Foucault vs x, or Descartes vs y, etc. The pattern of repetition is what’s so intriguing.

        “Schizoid division of polarized thought is deep within consciousness. With the ending of the bicameral mind, such things as madness and demonic possession became a central concern. And those who still heard voices were to be either feared or revered. Socrates was a target of this dual response. ”

        Absolutely. Freud’s context is a perfect case study for this. The power to be a bourgeois Viennese doctor or a member of the 19th century aristocracy meant the power to act “insanely” without being labeled as “insane.” Of course that echoes in the narrative of “House” which plays a pantomime of meta-awareness but doesn’t really engage in it because it’s not genuinely or authentically subversive.

        I’ve been reworking an earlier paper on “Socrates” sparked by Foucault’s comment in Madness and Civilization that the ancient Greeks had no word for “insane.”

        My view is that “Socrates” was the scapegoat for Jaynesian bicameralism and that it was Plato” who crucified him and that pattern has been with us ever since. so yes, a target of the “dual response.”

        “…consciousness is the social order.” Yes absolutely and at the same time it insists that it is an objective set of facts and rejection of that is a form of “insanity.”

        When you say the individual is distracted from the pattern it puts me in mind of the vast artistic response which has been in many cases an attempt to draw attention back to the pattern and it’s then crucial to excavate all the ways in which art and artists have been castigated as “deviant” and “crazy” which of course brings us right back to van Gogh though there are plenty of others. It’s easy to define Antonin Artaud as nuts but compared to what? His context if the First World War and then we’re back to the Kissinger/Manson issue.

        I agree about essentialism vs relativism. the accusation of moral relativism as “immoral” is always used to assert the authority of essentialism. I’m often wryly amused to remember that in Augustine said: concern yourself not with whether or not your actions are good or evil for both are of the mind of god.

        Hardly anyone’s idea of a moral relativist but there it is all the same.

        Your point about the switch with federalists and anti-federalists makes sense. It reminds me of Camille Paglia’s anti Foucault diatribes which reference a Brazilian anti-Foucault-ist. Both she and the Brazilian use “Postmodernism” s a stalking horse to conceal other agendas. He’s an apologist for reactionary neoliberalism and his real target was Lulu di Silva and her real target is the tenure system in America.

        But to excavate that requires a “Postmodern” system based on the idea that systems are subjective constructions. Or, as you point out, a bundle theory which is a priori, rejected.

        And on that point and to add another layer to the consistent refusal to acknowledge sources, it is amazing to me to sift material and see the extent to which Hume is the basis but is never mentioned.

        I’ve been looking at Rene Saussure and his Structuralism sounds exactly like Bundle Theory/Hume just applied to linguistics. Foucault in The Order of things sounds like Hume and Roland Barthes S/Z is pure Bundle theory applied to reading/text analysis, etc.

        “With essentialism, all we get is the view of essentialism and the caricature of non-essentialism.’

        That’s true and a central dilemma. Part of my point about House is how he’s a caricature of the trickster vs McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest who’s authentic and dies. Essentialism triumphs and we get “House” and “Cuckoo’s Nest” becomes a point of reference (a coordinate) but is defanged in order for the essentialist narrative system to thrive.

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      7. “I didn’t know that about Williams and Locke.”

        Here is a detail. Like Daniel Everett, Williams went to convert the natives, and in the process he was deconverted. And as with Everett, he studied the native languages and wrote about them. That could be an example of the power of linguistic relativity, in that studying another language could cause you to enter another cultural worldview.

        (On a related note, Spinoza did textual analysis, Paine did Biblical criticism, Nietzsche did philology, etc. It makes one wonder how studying language might help shape the thought and redirect the life trajectory of certain thinkers.)

        Whatever influence it had on Williams, his writings were influential back in England and maybe in continental Europe, as accounts of the New World were highly popular. I don’t know that Locke ever read any of Williams’ writings, but it seems plausible considering he had enough curiosity about the New World that he thought of visiting.

        “I’m mulling the idea that Plato did invent him as a proto-Christ myth (that’s not an original idea) and that the purpose of it was that Plato’s target was the bicameral mind.”

        Well, proto-Christ myths were dime a dozen back then. It was the commonality of it that made it useful for Christians to borrow it. Plus, it was the neo-Platonic Alexandrian Jews who had some of the greatest influence on the early Christians. So the Socrates story very well might have been the prototype for the Jesus story. The Christians, as with everyone else, were still coming to terms with the new mindset and for some reason sacrificial heroes were seen as useful in embodying and containing that struggle within consciousness.

        Agreed. Seems to me to be the key issue. It’s such a fascinating pattern and as I’ve mentioned while it’s interesting it is less interesting to me to think about who’s right and who’s wrong – Foucault vs x, or Descartes vs y, etc. The pattern of repetition is what’s so intriguing.

        “My view is that “Socrates” was the scapegoat for Jaynesian bicameralism and that it was Plato” who crucified him and that pattern has been with us ever since. so yes, a target of the “dual response.””

        The basic mythological script is ancient and widespread. It preceded the Axial Age, but it was transformed after the Bronze Age collapse. I don’t know what specific myths Plato might have used to help construct his Socrates story. As the Greeks were a trading people, the influence could have come from almost anywhere. It could be argued that the Platonic version has had a more powerful impact than the Christian version, and that the Christian version maybe would never have taken hold otherwise. Plato helped prime the Mediterranean consciousness.

        “When you say the individual is distracted from the pattern it puts me in mind of the vast artistic response which has been in many cases an attempt to draw attention back to the pattern and it’s then crucial to excavate all the ways in which art and artists have been castigated as “deviant” and “crazy””

        The individual is both the product and sacrifice of consciousness for sake of the social order. In consciousness, it is the role of the individual to struggle and suffer. That is what consciousness is about. The individual is the scapegoat. That is true for any of us to some degree, but we need specific individuals such as artists to play the role as a publicly enacted myth.

        “But to excavate that requires a “Postmodern” system based on the idea that systems are subjective constructions. Or, as you point out, a bundle theory which is a priori, rejected.”

        Subjective constructions and social constructions maybe always hint toward the bundle theory. And so they are a threat to the ego theory, to the essentialism of egoic consciousness and the order it represents. The mind constructs its place in the world. But if that is the case, consciousness faces a stark reality of groundlessness, an identity built on the shifting sands of abstractions. This might have been less of a problem for the bicameral mind as, in focusing on concrete particulars and local realities, it seems to have more openly embraced this constructivist nature: the world is born through a ritual of dance and song, etc.

        “And on that point and to add another layer to the consistent refusal to acknowledge sources, it is amazing to me to sift material and see the extent to which Hume is the basis but is never mentioned.”

        I hadn’t noticed that. You’ve been reading different books than I’ve been reading. It’s odd that I knew little about Hume until researching consciousness studies, voice-hearing, and related topics. Now I’m beginning to notice his name a bit more. And as you point out, the idea of bundle theory seems to have a lot of currency beyond mere psychology.

        “That’s true and a central dilemma. Part of my point about House is how he’s a caricature of the trickster vs McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest who’s authentic and dies. Essentialism triumphs and we get “House” and “Cuckoo’s Nest” becomes a point of reference (a coordinate) but is defanged in order for the essentialist narrative system to thrive.”

        My thought is that the seeming dilemma is the central dynamic. Essentialism needs relativity but in a controlled form to inoculate itself from the threat. Meanwhile, the reality and power of relativity is kept hidden.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. rauldukeblog says:

        That’s interesting. There’s probably a plasticity in consciousness that is adaptive and the mechanism or trigger of adaptation is exposure to language. It may be a survival mechanism.

        Dime a dozen indeed. Almost all of the surviving myths either sound identical or close to identical.

        “The individual is both the product and sacrifice of consciousness for sake of the social order. In consciousness, it is the role of the individual to struggle and suffer. That is what consciousness is about. The individual is the scapegoat. That is true for any of us to some degree, but we need specific individuals such as artists to play the role as a publicly enacted myth.”

        There is something violent at work in the system – the enforced roles of the individual and the artists. It’s in part capitalism but as ruthless as that is there’s something far more ruthless behind that – the stew that cooked the bicameral mind and the post bicameral mind.

        Which brings us to: “My thought is that the seeming dilemma is the central dynamic. Essentialism needs relativity but in a controlled form to inoculate itself from the threat. Meanwhile, the reality and power of relativity is kept hidden.”

        I agree. We get requests/excavations of and for that in some art and thoughtful texts but we know what wins out.

        Re: Hume. I find references to him but I also consistently find what seems to be clear uses/references to Bundle Theory but no commentary linking the “new theory” to Hume.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. The main factor in your post is individuality, specifically as it relates to insanity and genius. One thing that stands out to me is that, in our society, we tend to talk about insanity on individual terms. It’s only on rare occasions when the social fabric is tearing that there is more open references to collective insanity, but this is a passing phenomenon until order is reestablished. That is the nature of our society in general. We tend to look at everything through an individual lens. For example, criminals are perceived as individuals, instead of as the nexus point of thousands of environmental factors — we ignore the high rates of poverty, inequality, untreated health conditions, lead toxicity, etc. Or if they are wealthier white criminals, we might secretly admire them as individuals in their getting around the law.

        That is why we look to individuals that aren’t only eponymous but may have never historically existed (e.,g., Socrates). If individuals don’t exist to represent something, we have to invent an individual as a symbolic placeholder. After all, individuality is always a fiction and so it is irrelevant how it does or does not correspond to historical records (e.g., the damning silence about Jesus outside of the Gospels, even Paul never referring to Jesus as an actual person as opposed to a spiritual being). What matters is the claim of individuality and the narratives we create about it. That is the staying power of Axial Age myths, specifically that of the heroic individual who is sacrificed. In it original form, the male figure would have been reborn through a virgin mother-consort goddess. But in the Axial Age, the goddess was demoted and her rejuvenativing abilities were taken on by the heroic individual who now needed no one and so could resurrect himself. The autonomous individual was born or rather reborn.

        This made me think about Jaynesian consciousness. An internal space was created as consciousness. It wasn’t only created but creative. Consciousness as metaphorical space is rather womb-like. Suddenly, humans perceive themselves as creating thoughts and actions ex nihilo, as if like the new mythical heroes they had taken on the creative power of the ancient Creatrix. That obviously plays into the heroic individual as insane genius. That is how Jesus was portrayed, in being seen as a madman by almost everyone but of course being vindicated as the embodiment of god on earth. Talk about an insane genius, to the point of being divine. The heroic individual stands alone and through pure willpower can change the world or else be destroyed in trying.

        Another thing is that these heroic individuals, whether or not they were portrayed as literate, it was through text that they were portrayed. We know of Socrates and Jesus as stories written down. They are products of literacy and of the literate mind, that is to say of Jaynesian consciousness. It makes wonder about the connection of language as text to the language of sanity and insanity. With linguistic relativism, what is the exact power of language? In studying foreign languages and being confronted by the cultures themselves, as I pointed out, Everett and Williams were deconverted from their former religious views. Many radicals have a history of studying languages and texts. The same thing is seen with a high number of academics, ministers, and apologists turning into agnostics and atheists through an originally faithful study of the Bible (e.g., Robert M. Price).

        There is a trickster quality to language, something observed by many others. To closely study language and the products of language is to risk having one’s mind unsettled and then to risk being scorned by those in power. That was an important part of the Jesus story when his parents lost him and then found him in the temple debate the religious teachers. What the religious teachers represented was the literary elite who safeguarded sacred text from improper interpretation, to hold the Holy Bible above the heads of the dirty masses. What Everett found was that, in trying to translate the Bible for the Piraha, he was destabilizing his place within the religious order and also, in discovering the lack of recursion, destabilizing his place within the academic order. Both organized religion and organized academia are institutions of power that maintain the proper order, in which sanity and insanity is framed and defined. Consciousness in its trying to be its own self-creation is highly unstable and so requires constant upkeep. It doesn’t take much to tip the delicate balance.

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  2. This article below seems related. To challenge the system is to be insane. Of course, the alphabet agencies are looking to recruit geniuses or those generally talented. But then it has to be explained why they go ‘insane’ in speaking the truth or rather, in leaking, letting the truth speak for itself. What is left out of the equation is maybe the system drives people insane, maybe the system is insane. And most of the insanity within the system never results in leaks for the ‘normal’ functioning is insane.

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/25/npr-the-cia-and-corporatism/

    “Instead, the official story is simple. Each and every leaker, Wilder maintained, suffers from some DSM psychopathy, such as impulsiveness, narcissism or drug addiction, often compounded by exigencies such as marital discord or gambling debts. Leaks all stem from character defects, Wilder says—and Kelly doesn’t contradict—not to blowback by thwarted careerists or misdeeds the agency wants to disappear. She also neglected to point out that leaks should only happen when authorized by superiors, but Kelly didn’t ask about that kind either.

    “Wilder’s job description implies she treats agents for PTSD but she probably doesn’t admit to it. Wants the world to think they’re all so well motivated, trained, equipped, and managed as to be impervious to shock and awe. If they’re stressed, it’s likely that their personal lives are out of control, their problems self-inflicted. Any time you have a problem with power, the problem is you.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      Very briefly: This makes me think of Catch 22 – to assert one is insane means that one must be able to recognize one’s insanity which is a priori proof that one is not insane and thus must continue to serve.

      My other favorite line from the book: Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Here is a thought not directly related to the post. But I’ll lightly force a connection. Let’s categorize it under health. And I’ll loosely tie it in through individuality. We’ve talked recently about agriculture. You mentioned ergot and its affect on mind and culture. I then brought up the whole host of changes that happened with agriculture, from increase of carbs to shift in microbes and parasites.

    For a sense of completeness, maybe we should throw in James Scott’s Against the Grain. He argues that wheat in particular helped create the conditions for legibility, a key factor in the operations of large governments and extensive territories. It’s also related to taxation and recordkeeping and hence related to writing and eventually texts, further key factors in humanity’s development such as individuality and consciousness.

    So we got that straight. Agriculture in general and wheat in particular are at the heart of the civilizational project. But that still leaves us hanging about how it all began. Why agriculture at all? Sure, it made large populations possible. That doesn’t really explain anything. There is no inherent value to large populations, especially considering those larger populations were generally unhealthier, shorter-lived, and plain miserable compared to hunter-gatherers.

    Nora T. Gedgaudas offers some explanations in Primal Body, Primal Mind. First, she notes that early humans had little access to edible plants. It was rather late that cooking fires became common and most wild plants are inedible for humans without cooking (tough fibers, tannins, lectins, etc). Besides, during the extended ice ages, humans had little access to plants. From 300-50,000 years ago, humans ate mostly meat with plant-based foods as a rare treat — as shown in the studies of fossilized human poop.

    So what happened? Well, one answer is rather simple. There was a massive die-off of the large animals humans had hunted. Their main sources of meat and fat were gone. And with one ice age ending and plants proliferating, humans as omnivores turned to what was available which meant more plants in the diet. Even then, humans didn’t turn to grains and farming, although when available occasionally gathering a few wild grains that before cultivation were less useful as a food.

    Why grains? The first humans to build permanent structures weren’t farmers. It took a while for it to occur to humans to cultivate grains. The immediate value of them wouldn’t have been apparent. Maybe there was something motivating a desire for grains. That is where I’ll sort of bring it back to the topic at hand. Gedgaudas points out that some speculate a contributing factor was the exorphins in wheat, which are morphine-like compounds. That is to say wheat is highly addictive. Maybe all of civilization was built on addiction and (along with ergot, high carbs, malnutrtion, etc) that would be the connection to health, the presently relevant part being mental health.

    During early civilization, including the Bronze Age, most agricultural societies were still heavily supplementing their grain diets with a lot of hunting and gathering. Grains, for all their advantages, are a highly unreliable food source that lead to regular food shortages and famines. With rudimentary farming of that time, they couldn’t maintain a stable society on grains alone. The addictive nature of wheat would have been kept in check. Maybe the further growth of farming along with imperial trade in the Axial Age unleashed this addiction and made it widespread.

    This leads me back to Johann Hari’s conclusion. The addict is the ultimate individual. In that light, we shouldn’t be surprised that the mad/visionary genius of certain individuals is often celebrated in the stories told about and by artists. Maybe that is why we see this pattern most strongly in WEIRD societies that just so happen to also be societies of heavy wheat consumption. Research has shown areas of wheat farming have higher rates of individualism, whereas areas of rice farming have higher rates of collectivism. Coincidence? Probably not.

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    1. “Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase with the progress of civilization.”

      Stanislas Tanchou,
      mid-nineteenth century French physician

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    2. rauldukeblog says:

      Very interesting about the addictive qualities of grain.

      “Gedgaudas points out that some speculate a contributing factor was the exorphins in wheat, which are morphine-like compounds. That is to say wheat is highly addictive.”

      I’d guess that part of the attraction in spite of the drawbacks to agricultural efforts was because of addiction. Hallucinations with their Jaynesian commands and addictive aspects to wheat go a long way to explaining why people bothered/made the effort.

      You mention early writing and record keeping and what comes to mind is that the earliest Babylonian and Ur tablets are all inventories – food, money, etc. Those were what mattered and of course because they were “sacred.”

      Here’s a very interesting review of Against the Grain:

      https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n23/steven-mithen/why-did-we-start-farming

      I included it in an addendum to Faulkner’s Sparrows with commentary that I think makes clear the Jaynesian context and adds some answers to questions the review asks but (w/o Jaynes) doesn’t answer.

      The artist/junkie/individual nexus makes me think of Burroughs of course but also Rimbaud and Baudelaire (that’s just scratching the surface of course) and they all fit your point. there’s something there about the tricksters/anarchist/outlaw that is still potent despite cheap efforts by media/movies – though they work in spite of themselves almost on an unconscious level as the totemic energy still speaks to people even if the rites are long since forgotten.

      ” Maybe that is why we see this pattern most strongly in WEIRD societies that just so happen to also be societies of heavy wheat consumption. Research has shown areas of wheat farming have higher rates of individualism, whereas areas of rice farming have higher rates of collectivism. Coincidence? Probably not.”

      Makes perfect sense. There’s so much that seems right there – to be excavated and contextualized.

      I read somewhere years ago about a cult of Apollo where they deliberately left wheat on the floor until it got moldy and then they ground it up and turned it into a drink for use in “sacred secret rites.”

      It does all fit together and seem fairly obvious but on the other hand if you read that review I linked to you can see that they don’t reach the (to us) obvious conclusions.

      From the review of Against the Grain:

      “The mystery is why cereal-farming came to be so dominant. Why hunter-gatherers passed up their affluent lifestyle in favour of far more onerous and risky existences growing a narrow range of crops and managing livestock is a fundamental question to which we have no good answer. Was it by choice, or was that first sowing of seed a trap, locking people into a seasonal cycle of planting and harvesting from which we have been unable to escape?”

      And:

      “Scott overlooks another possible factor: religious belief. The discovery of the Neolithic hill-top sanctuary of Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey in 1994 went against the grain of conventional archaeological understanding of the Neolithic. Here, around 11,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers had constructed a vast complex of massive decorated stone pillars in exactly the same place that domesticated strains of wheat had evolved.”

      Crucially, notice that the review and Scott aren’t making the connection between the food and the ideology – that they were one and the same.

      “As Scott explains, the city-states were dependent on grain: wheat and barley in Mesopotamia, millet in China, maize in Mesoamerica. The reason is that cereals are easy to tax: they ripen at predictable times, the size of the harvest can easily be assessed, and the grain can be divided, transported and distributed in precisely measured rations by weight and volume.”

      It does seem to me, and I mentioned this in the addendum, that the Jaynesian context is proven and just about irrefutable.

      And lastly: “Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase…” That made me laugh even if in a somewhat macabre manner. Of course the idea that the very system of “civilization” is “insane” or that there is no such thing as “insanity” is enough to provoke any number of delicate right wing snowflakes into a frenzy;-)

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    3. rauldukeblog says:

      “I’ll lightly force a connection. Let’s categorize it under health. And I’ll loosely tie it in through individuality”

      I would add that I wouldn’t qualify it as “lightly” as it makes perfect sense. “Health” is a perfectly valid organizing narrative system from which one can then contextualize the details – identity, community, hierarchies, rituals, religion, trade, writing, communication/speech and so on.

      conversely one could work the narrative system in another direction and start with “language” but I think you’re correct – “Health” is an excellent tentpole.

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