DeLillo, Psychiatry and a Novel

Dear readers,

The other night I sawgame 6”, a film written by Don DeLillo and released in 2006. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as a drama critic named Steven Schwimmer who goes to plays with a gun tucked in his pants. Why? Because for Schwimmer, criticism is the most important thing any job can have. (This belief is presented as evidence of his delusional nature.)

The character has other quirks, such as an apartment with no bathroom and a preference for wearing white face paint. It’s not a perfect movie, but it does feature some excellent, deadpan comedic exchanges, like this one:

Wife: I’ve been talking to a prominent divorce attorney.

Husband: How prominent?

Wife: He has his own submarine.

Plus, it has DeLillo’s signature effect of altering the texture of reality. Below are two books that do the same thing, albeit with different instruments and results.

In your face and out of your life,*


*Another line from “Game 6”

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Nonfiction, 2022

In 2015 I bought a vintage button on eBay (the kind you wear on your jacket) that said: You’re just jealous ’cause the little voices talk to me. The seller had included a note that read: “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We had positive feedback from each other on eBay, and overall it was one of the most successful mental health related transactions of my life.

Anyone who has burst into a ball of fire while haggling with an insurance company over matters of the mind will need a minimum of 10 new highlighters while reading Andrew Scull’s “Desperate Remedies,” an intensely skeptical history and analysis of psychiatry. The gist of his argument is: while there have been undeniable advances, mental illness remains perplexing and no one discipline has done a great job of treating the symptoms and understanding the causes. To get there, he travels through neurology, genetics, anthropology, dentistry, lobotomies, insane asylums, drug therapies, CBT, ECT, Robert Redford’s 1980 directorial debut, “Ordinary People.” …and, as they say, everything else.

Scull, a sociology professor, has written the best kind of book on “feeling bad,” attacking offenders left and right with his whip of evidence. Whether vitriol resonates or alienates will depend on your matrix of experiences and beliefs. What controversy!

Read if you like: Rachel Aviv writingby Danielle Carr excellent piece About the Scientology Antipsychiatric Museum, Upton Sinclair
Available from: Harvard University Press

Fiction, 1981

How can such a small novel contain so many lessons in perception? The vessel is a schoolboy named Carlos, whose father owns a soap factory in Mexico City in the late 1940s. One of Carlos’s friends lives in a slum built from scrap wood. Another friend lives in a mansion with a cellar; he has been sent to Carlos’ school to meet the people who will become his servants. Part of the story is about that turbulent period in a boy’s life when he discovers his place in a class system: if he’s rich compared to some kids and poor compared to others, that means…what exactly? ?

The main event is Carlos’s infatuation with Mariana, the 28-year-old mistress of a high-ranking government official. When she confesses her charm, Mariana politely rejects the boy. But somehow Carlos’ family finds out and they send him to a priest, who asks lewd questions, and then to a psychiatrist, who diagnoses him with an “inferiority complex.” All of this in over 70 pages of deep dive into the experience and feel.

Read if you like: “The 400 Blows” by François Truffaut, the films of Robert Bresson, Roland Barthes, Carlos Fuentes
Available from: New directions (or in Spanish here)

  • Discover if surrealist art can KILL FASCISTS?

  • Find out why 11 men turned blue after eating TOXIC OATS in the same restaurant in 1944? (This is an article, not a book, although I would love to commission an entire volume of food poisoning case studies exactly like this one.)

  • Put off the good old Iris Murdock for an excellent description of BE DELETED? (“His sudden decision of hers not to see her again was completely incomprehensible to the girl, it was a death sentence from a hidden authority for an unknown crime”).

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