Thursday, July 26, 2007
Much disease, mental or physical, expresses itself in the symptoms made available at the time. This was one of the great insights of Ian Hacking's superb book Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory. Multiple personality disorder was virtually unknown for most of the nineteenth century, then a few cases were discovered and more began to appear. But, even by 1972, it was said, fewer than a dozen cases had appeared in the previous fifty years in the US. In 1973 the book of Sybil appeared and, in 1976, it became a film. By 1992, every town in America had MPD cases, often hundreds. It is easy to say this was just hysteria, but Hacking's point is that these people are genuinely sick. MPD is simply the language they seize upon to express their sickness.
In recent years, people have been complaining of an allergy to phone masts. But now a fairly definitive study has concluded there is no direct physical connection between signals from the masts and the symptoms. 'Belief,' says the leader of the study, 'is a powerful thing.' The people suffering the symptoms were ill and fixed on mobile phone masts as the cause.
Madeleine McCann's father has been to America to meet the Attorney General to discuss child abduction. This makes no practical sense and is best seen as a symptom of a kind of madness brought on by grief. Ever since the abduction, the McCanns have expressed this madness in the symptoms made available by our age - they have pursued fame and publicity in the name of their cause and they have exhibited a manic desire to be seen 'doing something', even though much of what is done is of no relevance to the attempt to find their daughter.
Human disease is endlessly creative.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:23 am