Inventing the Self

Climate Crisis

October 14th, 2013 by Shona Mari Sapphire · 4 Comments

I found McCarthy-Jones’ comparative outline of qualitative research literature with Romme’s emancipation approach provided a framework from which to absorb the significance of Wray’s work of fiction. McCarthy Jones’ analysis acted as somewhat of an anchor for navigating the sometimes winding, wobbly road of Lowboy’s fictional narrative.  To me, McCarthy-Jones’ discussion of some of the outcomes of voice-hearing or psychotic person’s becoming patients in the mental health system revealed details for understanding further what might have been experienced by the fictional characters Lowboy and his mother.

In Lowboy, I found it less dizzying to stay in tune with the chapters delivered through the perspective of Lateef and Violet/Yda’s journey than those composed through the lens of Lowboy/William himself. The sections portraying Lowboy’s condition during his subterranean psychotic spree seemed to effectively envelope the reader into the non-stop disarray of his consciousness, as I often felt a headache coming on during certain sections.

Lowboy’s relationship with his voices was one of importance to his identity, (or what he knew of his identity as an adolescent), and certainly did not seem to be rejected by him as a way of “trying to maintain a sense of self”, (McCarthy,135). Skull and Bones were pivotal keepers of Lowboy’s understanding of his purpose in solving the global temperature crisis. I read Covington/Rafa as a heard voice, but also the Sikh man and the Dutchman (?) Although voice-hearing is not detailed in  Yda’s experience with her illness, it would seem that she rejected her voices as much as possible in order to keep a semblance of agency in her role as caregiver; and in her desire to be viewed as a “whole person” (McCarthy,140), without abdicating autonomy.

McCarthy Jones documents the de-humanizing often debilitating affect of the mental healthcare system on voice-hearers. Similarly, Wray’s depiction certainly conveys the tragedy of unmanaged or mismanaged schizophrenia. One can imagine how Romme’s emancipation approach might have provided a path of alleviation for characters such as Lowboy and perhaps his mother. The ability to harness the individual’s capacity for transforming voice-hearing into a functional facet of self-understanding rather than an impediment to such seems logical and perhaps feasible. While McCarthy points out this approach still requires more empirical research to create solid and broad psychiatric application, it would seem to make a lot more sense than the de-dismantling of selfhood which occurs in treatment commonly administered in the mental health system.

Voice-hearing represents an important aspect of selfhood, for those diagnosed with this condition, which despite its functional flaws in “normal” reality, needs to be embraced and re-worked in a way that allows for the ill patient to preserve and further nourish their sense of self and identity. Where in the voice-hearer’s consciousness lies the autobiographical self? Or might they perhaps benefit from a concert of autobiographical accounts of the world housed within one mind, brain and body?

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4 responses so far ↓

  • Jason Tougaw (he/him/his) // Oct 15th 2013 at 8:55 am

    I could imagine a really interesting research project addressing your questions:

    “Where in the voice-hearer’s consciousness lies the autobiographical self? Or might they perhaps benefit from a concert of autobiographical accounts of the world housed within one mind, brain and body?”

    A research project like this would “crossbreed” McCarthy Jones and others writing about hearing voices with theories of the autobiographical self–probably Damasio and Eakin.

  • John Giunta // Oct 15th 2013 at 4:54 pm

    I was also wondering about how we read Dutchman and Covington/Rafa in relation to Lowboy (are they “real”, are they heard-voices?) but I think then that this question needs to be followed through to its next logical step, in the question of how do we read any of the characters, “real” or not, in this book? Wray creates an amazingly destabilized vision of the pursuit of a runaway schizophrenic, and portrays ALL of the involved characters in an ambiguous enough way to cause me, at least, to question the “sanity” of all parties involved.
    This, I’d wager, is the point: there is no true sense of normal sanity that can be readily produced when asked to judge an apparent “abnormal” mind alongside a “healthy” or “normal” mind. This is a point that can be enforced by McCarthy Jones argument about how readily (eagerly) diagnoses of schizophrenia or other mental maladies are handed out and then treated with a medley of expensive patent drugs – abnormal minds are subject to a kind of “mental disability” status quo. This would make it possible to identify a kind of normal abnormal mind, or rather an average or acceptable or statistical abnormal mind, a process that is necessitated by political and economical constraints built around the health care system. Determination of abnormality in any true objective sense becomes confused, and again, I’d say this is the point of Wray’s work. (Note his [over]usage of double-names and embedded mental states)

  • Adam Wagner // Oct 16th 2013 at 3:39 pm

    The more I read the comments, the more I wonder if any of the characters in the book were real or was it all just a fantastical illusion of one schizophrenic person. Each character had at least more than one name and/or role and story. Ali/Rufus, Yda/Violet, Lowboy/William/Heller, etc. I kept thinking they were all fabrications of the same person, one interconnected web of character roles and personalities.

    I do especially like the two questions you posed at the end of this post. Does that perhaps discount the autobiographical self as being a true testament to self hood, or can schizophrenics and other people with such conditions gain a semblance of an autobiographical self like you said, as a “concert of autobiographical accounts of the world housed in one mind, brain, and body.”

  • Yana Walton // Oct 17th 2013 at 12:10 am

    I too thought your question about locating a schizophrenic person’s autobiographical self/narrative was really interesting. As I read Lowboy, I also thought about a certain dislocatedness of William’s self that was happening – A literary one where Wray creates William’s self, as all fiction writers do, so we may only have access to that’s character’s self through the author’s self – a silent as he tells the story. And in order to understand and recognize this fictional (from a Hegelian standpoint), we only have ourselves to understand this displaced self that William does not narrate himself (since he’s fictional). And none of this even gets into his illness, but his illness makes it all the more interesting, as we try to understand it/him, where his schizophrenia collapses into totalizing identity. So to understand William, we have to understand the illness from this removed account, and to understand the illness, we have to see William in ourselves and ourselves in William.

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