Thursday, 6 March 2014



Today is Michelangelo’s birthday.

I was going to continue today to talk about the contents of my bedside bookshelf, but have decided instead to talk about madness; a subject on which I’m quite knowledgeable, both at second hand from the many books about it I’ve read, and first hand from the many periods of more or less severe madness I’ve been through.

Today, just a little story that used to be told by Ronnie Laing, generally regarded as the father of the anti-psychiatry movement. (Forget, if you can, Thomas Szasz or whatever his name is — sounds like a Turkish musical instrument — he’s just someone who feels about the mentally distressed much as the Nazis felt about Jews.)

The story concerns a patient in a Glasgow mental hospital in the 1950s, when some of the ‘treatments’ were of a barbarity not seen since the middle ages. It seems this chap was tormented by voices which made obscene suggestions, and he would go about muttering ‘Away tae hell, ye filthy-minded sods’. ‘So’ they gave him a frontal lobotomy; an operation to remove parts of the brain or, in ‘milder’ cases, ‘merely’ to cut the connections to and between them. The operation was only partially successful: after it he would wander about the grounds muttering ‘What’s that ye say? Speak up, ye sods!’

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