Monday, October 21, 2013

The New Inquiry reviews DSM-5 as dystopian fiction

It goes very well.
...The word “disorder” occurs so many times that it almost detaches itself from any real signification, so that the implied existence of an ordered state against which a disorder can be measured nearly vanishes is almost forgotten. Throughout the novel, this ordered normality never appears except as an inference; it is the object of a subdued, hopeless yearning. With normality as a negatively defined and nebulously perfect ideal, anything and everything can then be condemned as a deviation from it. Even an outburst of happiness can be diagnosed as a manic episode. And then there are the “not otherwise specified” personality disorder categories. Here all pretensions to objectivity fall apart and the novel’s carefully warped imitation of scientific categories fades into an examination of petty viciousness. A personality disorder not otherwise specified is the diagnosis for anyone whose behaviors “do not meet the full criteria for any one Personality Disorder, but that together cause clinically significant distress […] eg. social or occupational.” It’s hard not to be reminded of a few people who’ve historically caused social or occupational distress. If you don’t believe that people really exist, any radical call for their emancipation is just sickness at its most annoying.

If there is a normality here, it’s a state of near-catatonia. DSM-5 seems to have no definition of happiness other than the absence of suffering. The normal individual in this book is tranquilized and bovine-eyed,* mutely accepting everything in a sometimes painful world without ever feeling much in the way of anything about it. The vast absurd excesses of passion that form the raw matter of art, literature, love, and humanity are too distressing; it’s easier to stop being human altogether, to simply plod on as a heaped collection of diagnoses with a body vaguely attached....
* Grr.

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