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Wednesday, 01 May 2013 22:33

MSN: A DAY AT THE ZOO

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MSN: A DAY AT THE ZOO.

hebephrenic child dwg.small

Hebephrenic child self portrait

Our party had. been visiting a new Rumpus Room at the Mental Hospital. 15,000 Pounds of top-lit, cubic social therapy. Our next port of call was to be the Mentally Sub-normal (MSN) childrens’ wing some 200 yards along, in the same direction. As we came into the Rumpus area the doors were opened to receive us, releasing an all-pervading stench of excretion, stale sweat, and. animal fear. It lacked that background smell of damp sawdust, otherwise it might well have been a zoo. But it was even more disgusting. I found myself having to breathe through my mouth to avoid retching. And even then, I noticed that the other members of the party had averted their faces so as not to be seen swallowing their own vomit.....

In 1968, I was engaged with one of my final year students in a study of mental hospitals. The idea was to try to discover how they might be designed to assist in the care and healing of their inmates - to be "therapeutic". Two years earlier, and following similar studies in Prisons I had the very good fortune to meet and have extended discussions with the late great and infamos R.D. Laing, the Glasgowegian psychiatrist who had turned the psychiatric world on its head with his two books The Divided Self and the Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise. Coming from an Existentialist position but with a specific radical Marxist perspective, Laing held that the so-called insane were making choices to cope with untenable situations in their lives - often caused by insensitive and experience-denying others. I had sought Laing out to talk to him about the difficulties I was having in my prison research, which mirrored in many ways the experiences he had described in The Politics.

Now, two years later, here I was in a mental hospital, witnessing first hand the experiences he had described there, and trying at the same time to preserve my own humanity. 

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