I Will Cure Mental Illness Through The Power Of My Contempt

Apparently it’s stupid season again. Over at the Valve, one of my threads is in danger of being strangled to death by a commenter who not only believes that all communicative acts are “propaganda,” but also believes that he should be appointed to dictate to all the well-meaning novelists and poets out there exactly what kind of propaganda will help most. Right now, for example, all novels should concern the tragedy of the war in Iraq. (No, sadly, I’m not making this up. You can read his comment to me here, and the Iraq comment here. But I wouldn’t even recommend it.) Meanwhile, over here, in the usually pastoral setting of The Kugelmass Episodes, new commenter parodycenter has come blazing onto the scene. He said, in response to my last post on difference and symptom (written in honor of Larval Subjects), the following:

Awww Kugelmas you just made me weep from the bottom of my ass. How alarming, Western undecidability! Especially in comparison to Eastern poverty, famine, war and disease. Call the United Nations, the Red Cross and BAD AID. We must jump to the rescue of your decadent Western asses – IMMEDIATELY!

Of course, I just had to follow up with parodycenter. It turns out (Note: the following is not true, at all) that not only, in the course of his everyday life, does he manage to combat famine, poverty, war, and disease, but he is also a practicing psychiatrist. He sent me the following transcript of a discussion with a patient who we’ll call Georg L.

GEORG L: I don’t feel very well. I think I may have a psychological disorder.

DR PARODYCENTER: I see. Insomnia, delusions, narcissism, eating disorders, depression, anxiety — that sort of thing?

GEORG L: Yes, exactly. All of that. It all started after I became only concerned with myself and yet couldn’t fill the emptiness inside me.

DR PARODYCENTER: Of course! You’ve contracted a bad case of decadence.

GEORG L: Is it serious, doctor? Is it curable?

DR PARODYCENTER: Of course it is. You see, what happens is that the Western decadent, who has never had to struggle for anything in his life, becomes ill with bourgeois avarice and a creeping sense of guilt. This is the cause of all mental illness.

In such cases, the greatest mistake one can make is to feel compassion. Instead, the only treatment is Eastern famine and poverty.

GEORG L: Do poverty and famine happen only in the East?

DR PARODYCENTER: Yes. But the East is also a veiled land of mystery, and soft sensual delights.

GEORG L: Well, that’s wonderful! I thought nothing good could come of their sufferings, but it turns out that thinking about their sufferings works better than aspirin and Prozac combined! Plus, afterwards, I’m sure I will feel a patronizing gratitude towards these diseased, warlike nations.

Wait a second, what did you do for the patient with anorexia?

DR PARODYCENTER: We discussed the delightful ironies of the case, with an eye towards famine. I prescribed one year reading Adbusters. And like that — cured.


One can, and should, differentiate between neuroses and serious mental illness. But such differentiations have nothing to do with trying to cure neurosis by waving an arm in the direction of Bangladesh.

I will end with The Magic Mountain, at the moment when Settembrini’s humanism fails:

The humanist then took advantage of this animated mood to explain further about how one ought to pay no attention to those who suffered from hallucinations, to pazzi in general, advancing the proposition that such people let themselves get carried away, quite illegitimately, and often had it within their power to control their madness, as he had himself observed on several visits to madhouses….Letting oneself go, in fact, was doubtless a definition of madness in many cases, inasmuch as it was a way of fleeing from great affliction and served weak natures as a defense against the overpowering blows of fate, which such people felt they could not withstand in their right mind. But then anyone could use that excuse, so to speak; and he, Settembrini, had brought many a madman back to reality, at least temporarily, by confronting his fiddle-faddle with a pose of unrelenting reason.