Let's mock the very firmament modern psychiatry is based on by pretending their bible is a work of fiction.
Book of Lamentations – The New Inquiry
The best dystopian literature, or at least the most effective, manages to show us a hideous and contorted future while resisting the temptation to point fingers and invent villains. This is one of the major flaws in George Orwells’s 1984: When O’Brien laughingly expounds on his vision of “a boot stamping on a human face – forever” he starts to acquire the ludicrousness of a Bond villain; he may as well be a cartoon – one of the Krusty Kamp counsellors in The Simpsons, raising a glass “to Evil.” Orwell’s satire of Stalinism, or Margaret Atwood’s on the religious right in The Handmaid’s Tale tend to let our present world off the hook a little by comparison. More subtle works, like Huxley’s Brave New World, are far more effective. His Controller, when interrogated, doesn’t burst out in maniacal laughter and start twiddling his moustache. He explains, in quite reasonable terms, why the dystopia he lives in is the best way to ensure the happiness of all – and he means it. Everything’s broken, but it’s not anyone’s fault; it’s terrifying because it’s so familiar.
American Psychiatric Association DSM-5 American Psychiatric Publishing (991 pages)Great dystopia isn’t so much fantasy as a kind of estrangement or dislocation from the present; the ability to stand outside time and see the situation in its full hideousness. The dystopian novel doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel. Maybe the greatest piece of dystopian literature ever written is Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia, a collection of observations and aphorisms penned by the philosopher while in exile in America during and after the Second World War. Even if, like I do, you disagree enthusiastically with his blanket condemnation of all “degenerated” popular culture, it’s hard not to be convinced that what we are living is “damaged life.” It’s not an argument so much as revelation. In Adorno’s bitterly lucid critique everything we take for “The libidinal achievements demanded of an individual behaving as healthy in body and mind are such as can be performed only at the cost of the profoundest mutilation … the regular guy, the popular girl, have to repress not only their desires and insights, but even the symptoms that in bourgeois times resulted from repression.” – Minima Moraliagranted is suddenly revealed in all its hideousness. The world Adorno lives in isn’t quite the same as ours; he’s coming at his subjects from a reflex angle – they’re a bunch of average Joes and Janes, he’s a misanthropic German cultural theorist with a preternaturally spherical head – but his insights are all the more relevant because of this. Something has gone terribly wrong in the world; we are living the wrong life, a life without any real fulfillment. The newly published DSM-5 is a classic dsytopian novel in this mold.
It’s also not exactly a conventional novel. Its full title is an unwieldy mouthful: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. The author (or authors) writes under the ungainly nom de plume of The American Psychiatric Association – although a list of enjoyably silly pseudonyms is provided inside (including Maritza Rubio-Stipec, Dan Blazer, and the superbly alliterative Susan Swedo). The thing itself is on the cumbersome side. Over two inches thick and with a thousand pages, it’s unlikely to find its way to many beaches. Not that this should deter anyone; within is a brilliantly realized satire, at turns luridly absurd, chillingly perceptive, and profoundly disturbing.
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