Friday, July 26, 2013

crazy people and philosophers (and other academics)

We were at a philosophy conference this past week. It was good.

A couple of papers dealt directly or indirectly with mental illness, which led to a discussion of mental illness among faculty. The group there assented generally to the idea that academics "are all OCD" and many are more significantly sick. This was amusing to all.

Meanwhile, I was reading Jung during respites from the conference itself, and came across this passage:
So the difference between [the sick person] and Schopenhauer is that, in him, the vision remained at the stage of a mere spontaneous growth, while Schopenhauer abstracted it and expressed it in language of universal validity... A man is a philosopher of genius only when he succeeds in transmuting the primitive and merely natural vision into an abstract idea belonging to the common stock of consciousness. This achievement, and this alone, constitutes his personal value, for which he may take credit without necessarily succumbing to inflation. But the sick man's vision is an impersonal value, a natural growth against which he is powerless to defend himself, by which he is swallowed up and "wafted" clean out of the world... The golden apples fall from the same tree, whether they are gathered by an imbecile locksmith's apprentice or by a Schopenhauer. ("The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious," The Portable Jung, 90f.)
I know a lot of academics who are quick to self-diagnose. I also know a lot of academics who are the objects of bona fide psychiatric diagnoses, myself among them.

Now that I'm reading Jung's account of the extraverted personality and its unconscious, I'm seeing this behavior in a different way. There's something weirdly self-inflating about the self-diagnosis. It places one on a strange kind of pedestal, I think. It creates a status, a twisted status no doubt, but one prevalent in academia and one with related echoes.

Academics constantly speak of how busy they are, how frenetic their work schedules are, how many deadlines they are under, and how seldom they meet deadlines because they take on too much work. We chortle to one another about our poor social skills, poorer social lives, often our poor health and eating habits, chemical dependencies, and other marks of malaise.

This is a bizarre expression of arrogance and self-aggrandizement, according to a value system we adopt to be full-fledged members of the academy. Sickness, self-imposed sickness, physical, social, and psychological deformities, are virtues in this system.

And so, we recognize ourselves and one another (to the extent we do recognize one another--see social deformities, supra) as super-functioning pathological cases, in a gesture that expresses astounding antipathy for the truly and severely ill, and profound alienation from ourselves, one another, our communities, our humanity, and, yes, our work.

I may start to experiment this fall, responding to all the myriad expressions of this habitus, by saying something about my health, well-being, and free time. I suppose that means I'll be telling stories of cycling, guitar playing, and writing music.

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