In this breathtakingly original book, John Wylie proposes a new theory of mind, one that reconciles evolutionary biology with psychodynamics. This is a great endeavor of the intellect and a deep review of consciousness itself.
In this post, I return the compliment.
Solomon’s Noonday Demon, An Atlas of Depression is a lavish gift of sympathy to those who suffer from the horrors of severe clinical depression, as well as providing a compendium of information about the disease. In my book I quote what I consider the best description to be found anywhere of what it feels like to be in the throes of a major depression. To a connoisseur of clinical descriptions such as myself, this passage is a dream come true. In the process of describing his own illness he reveals the “anatomy” his malady: the “depressed” component of his depression is actually a reaction to the sustained intense fear that is the fundamental, underlying pathology. He provides the perfect metaphor for depression: he is frozen by fear:
Depression minutes are like dog years, based on some artificial notion of time. I can remember lying frozen in bed, crying because I was too frightened to take a shower, and at the same time knowing that showers are not scary. I kept running through the individual steps in my mind: you turn and put your feet on the floor; you stand; you walk from here to the bathroom; you open the bathroom door; you walk to the edge of the tub; you turn on the water; you step under the water; you rub yourself with soap; you rinse; you step out; you dry yourself; you walk back to the bed. Twelve steps, which sounded to me as onerous as a tour through the stations of the cross.
The rich culture of Deafness, the LPA [Little People of America]-centered empowerment of dwarfism, … the self-actualization of the autism rights brigade—none of this is really present in the world of schizophrenia.
Since Solomon was writing about identity politics in the families of people with “handicaps,” it would have been natural for him to fit social behavior associated with schizophrenia into the theme of his book. But no; he reported what he saw. For me this was a profound observation because it points straight to the basic function that is disturbed: the reason for this lack of cultural identity is that in schizophrenia, the very means by which group identities are formed is itself disrupted. I believe that rendering schizophrenia intelligible is the most significant achievement of Old Mind, New Mind. The one percent of world’s population that are afflicted by this enigmatic sickness still suffer from the same stigma, caused by fear borne of ignorance, that has plagued these people from time immemorial. The understanding provided in this book will lead to no cures, but rather lifts this ancient scourge out from the arcane jungle of the brain and makes it comprehensible with no training but the experience of one’s own inner life.