You are here where the silky mist hides the deserter

Ian Hacking’s “Mad Travelers”, served to be the skeleton Maud Casey hung her novel on.  I read Casey’s first and now I wonder if I should have read the Hacking chapters first. Casey moved about the minds of her characters in a knowing fashion. Through Casey’s work the Albert Dada’ character   Albert was a timid, boyish figure. She invited the reader to empathize with this “odd boy”.

In Casey’s piece Albert’s walking was a transient issue exacerbated by the tragic loss of his father his last bastion of love and home. His cottage with his father and his bedtime stories, the lamplighter neighbor, and Baptiste was his home.  His travels were to find his home I thought that was obviously the meaning of the “silky mist”.

“A silky, silky mist, lifted into the air, his sadness becomes part of the clouds” (Casey P 29) this mist is the fugue state… an ethereal moment of being there, but not.  But then there seemed to be a mingling of the fairy tales his father told him and a need to find a home.  The fairy tales gave him a grounding point, something to replace the sadness with.  Hacking aptly defines Fugue as Strange unexpected trips, often in states of obscured consciousness.  (p 8) He further defines Fugue as being highly gender specific, class specific, it is directly involved with systems of control.” (p 13)

In the Asylum he was allowed a space to acquire a home and family. Casey fully fleshed out the characters in the asylum  Marian with her brusque attitude and loss of internal organs to the sun,  Timid Samuel, Pudding scented Walter, the  patriotic  Veteran whom served to be the voice of reality  calling him a deserter and real label  “ He is a man like any other” (Casey  P 86) … As I type this ,it hits me that perhaps all the patients in the asylum were really facets of Albert’s life and or personality.  Perhaps Marion’s character was his wife? Perhaps Elizabeth was Marguerite- Gabrielle, his daughter?

Hacking does touch on the theory that male’s that suffer from dissociative identity disorder are frequently  fugueurs.  “ ..”Nine out of ten people suffering from multiple personality, or dissociative identity disorder, are women. That has prompted the odd question, where are the male multiples? “

The answer after Albert was on the road… So I wonder if In Casey’s efforts to give life and a story to Hacking’s “analytical philosophizing” she softened Albert, and made him magnificent. Because after reading the Hacking account, it seems that Albert had a serious head injury as a child, leading to physical issues, He was able enough to enlist in the military and then desert, he was married had a child. Almost a basic life peppered with these episodes where he was in a mental “silky mist”, yet still able to reasonably work and get paid and live.

I enjoyed Maud Casey’s work for the landscape she created around Albert and his Doctor. Hacking has a more acrid view.  In the introduction Hacking makes it clear that he will not be painting pretty pictures of mental illness. In fact he will question the validity or realness of many mental illnesses. He reveals his skepticism of neurosis that are seemingly ambiguously based. The unexplainable behaviors that have no real physiological or scientific explanation.

“What counts as evidence that a psychiatric disorder is legitimate, natural real and entity in its’ own right? “ (p 10)

Hacking looks at Tisse Albert Dadas’s therapist similarly to Casey. The Doctor is a man with his own strange obsessive demons.   “ The man and his doctor were made for each other, opposite but parallel”  (p 14) The doctor finds his stability in his frantic bicycling and marking time Casey clearly described this complimentary relationship with her vivid descriptions of the doctor’s bike and train rides  “ his only concern is finding the watch that has marked the minutes of his life.” (Casey P 132)

Major issues that I felt are quite relevant in the discussion of mental illness where illuminated by Hacking’s piece. Mental ailments have been associated with societal and cultural issues; some neuroses serve as scapegoats for the ills of society at that moment in history.

Key Ideas that frame Hacking’s theory:

“Cultural polarity; the illness should be situated between 2 elements of contemporary culture, one romantic and virtuous, the other vicious tending to crime. “ (p 3)

“Ecological Niche: the concatenation of an extraordinarily large number of diverse types of elements which for a moment provide a stable home for certain types of manifestations of illness”


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