Monday, February 23, 2009

a' dios mio! Shame on Piercy

This novel is about more than utopian visions and dystopian possbilities. It is about mental illness.

In being about mental illness Piercy takes upon herself a large endeavour of representing a mental illness and its mis/treatment accurately. Upon engaging this book, I had a reservation about fictional treatment (in the form of her text) being an appropriate medium for dealing with such a grossly misunderstood subject. And my concern in not unfounded given that at the time this book was produced there was a serious concern within the field of phychiatry about the diagnosis of schizophrenia. The following is an excerpt from the wiki regarding the matter:
"The diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia was the subject of a number of controversies which eventually led to the operational criteria used today. It became clear after the 1971 US-UK Diagnostic Study that schizophrenia was diagnosed to a far greater extent in America than in Europe.[208] This was partly due to looser diagnostic criteria in the US, which used the DSM-II manual, contrasting with Europe and its ICD-9. David Rosenhan's 1972 study, published in the journal Science under the title On being sane in insane places, concluded that the diagnosis of schizophrenia in the US was often subjective and unreliable.[209] These were some of the factors in leading to the revision not only of the diagnosis of schizophrenia, but the revision of the whole DSM manual, resulting in the publication of the DSM-III in 1980.[210] Since the 1970s more than 40 diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia have been proposed and evaluated.[33]"

I bring up this point because Piercy brings schizophrenia under critical investigation within this piece by bringing focus to temporality (through discussing the loss of chronological "real time" by hallucination or time travel..a'hem hallucination), physical disassociation from the environment, and paranoia. In addition, she interrogates and lashes out at the system of treatment in place for schizophrenics or mentally disturbed individuals.

Some argue that Piercy does the above to deconstruct societal taboos and uninformed views about schizophrenia and mental illness so as to open up dialogue about conditions often dismissed and misunderstood. I argue that Piercy is irresponsible in her treatement of mental illness in that by creating the time travel / schizophrenic dichotomy she actively works to sustain the misunderstanding of mental illness and succeeds only in a minimal sense the humanizing of Connie and the others within the Bellvue Ward. And perhaps Peircy was only looking to humanize those of society that have been dismissed due to psychological deviance; however, in doing so perhaps she should have realized the subversive potential of the utopian narrative in negating those characteristics of Connie, Sybil, etc that made them...recognizable as more than just another loon.

Booker was right in celebrating Piercy's book as making contributions to the dystopia/utopia tradition; however, he does not discuss at what cost such a text achieved it's standing. The aforementioned, I hope begins that dialogue