Gwreiddiau ar gyfer Gwella
Pride at the Mind "Roots to Recovery" Annual Conference
11.30am, Thursday 14 November 2002, Cardiff.
In common with the dialogic, surrationalist, get-up-and-use-me principles of MAD PRIDE, the Mind audience was addressed from three contrasting viewpoints, the speakers united only in their loathing of New Labour's Mental Health Act - and in their conviction that honesty, impolitesse, conviviality, silliness, great music and the trashing of professional jargon are the way forward for Mental Health users.
JASON PEGLER read sections from his book A Can of Madness (Brentwood: www.chipmunkapublishing.com, 2002), and explained his project: a series of books in which people relate their experiences of mental illness without censorship, starting with Dolly Sen's The World is Full of Laughter (Brentwood: www.chipmunkapublishing.com, 2002), launched in a Vauxhall pub on 19 October. He also amused delegates with his chipmunk glove-puppet, which was found in a charity shop when Jason was depressed and which encouraged him to take on the system.
ROB DELLAR talked about the history of Mad Pride in Hackney, and how everyone had cracked up again after the stress of the Clissold Park two-stage all-dayer in July 2000. He also read sections from the collectively-written novel Seaton Point (London: Spare Change Books, 1998) which centres on vampires, gratuitous shagging and bricklayer alchemy - doing for Tennents Super ("self-medication") what Trainspotting did for heroin.
was the only speaker with a specially-written text, which ran as follows: Early
this year, a music magazine asked for an article about madness and music [The
Wire Feb 2002; reprinted Southwark Mind Newsletter Mar 2002]. Wire magazine
allows its writers to roam across every musical genre, so I planned to write
about madness in classical music, as well as in pop and rock. Mad Pride had
already staged several rock gigs, so I was well prepared to talk about Punk
as subaltern expression and mental relief for the under-privileged. What came
as a surprise was to discover that actually the WHOLE of twentieth-century classical
music stems from a "mad" composition - namely Arnold Schoenberg's
Pierrot Lunaire, a suite of semi-spoken songs for a moon-touched loon, which
he composed in 1912. With Pierrot Lunaire Schoenberg broke through the "tempered
system" which had been formulated by Bach and used and abused by Beethoven.
His "atonality" proposed a complete reordering of the musical elements.
Schoenberg was the Public Enemy of his day, smashing traditional musical syntax
in favour of sonority, timbral contrast and rhythm, making the exposed, stressed-out
human voice the sole guarantee of continuity.
Schoenberg was an expressionist. The Expressionists were interested in the derangement of the human faculties, focussing on extreme emotions - despair, eroticism, jealousy - and experimenting with mind-altering drugs. This Viennese cultural movement encouraged the initial researches of Sigmund Freud, and hence the birth of modern psychiatry and psychoanalytic concepts of the unconscious and sexual liberation. Yet today, Modern Music is deemed an elitist minority pastime with no relevance to the rest of society, and especially with no relevance to those who are seen as the victims of society, that is, the insane. Wrong!
This image of Modern Music - and of Modern Art in general - is thrust on it by corporate interests who hate the way Modern Art stands in the way of maximising sales. As a message from a different mode of social production, a different epoch for humanity, authentic Modern Art challenges capitalist power structures. In common with R.D. Laing, I believe it's actually the pressures and alienation of the capitalist system - mediated via the nuclear family - which drive people mad in the first place. This explains the strong affinity beteen effective mental therapy and Modern Art. Schoenberg - and visual artists like Paul Klee and Max Ernst - found direct, even savage expression more telling than the carefully-constructed illusions of orchestration or single-point perspective (now brought to a pitch of capitalised perfection in the Hollywood film). In fact, the more you research its history - and the further you get away from the image of Modern Art cultivated by the mass media and Charles Saatchi and the Turner Prize - the more obvious become the links. Hans Prinzhorn in the 1920s and Jean Dubuffet in the 1960s drew attention to the value of schizophrenic art. As we approach another period of anti-capitalism, we must snatch back the meaning of Modern Art from the money-men too.
However, these links between Artistic and Social Truth are not self-evident. Glimpsing them requires political activity and collective struggle by those without power: MAD PRIDE. Personally, Mad Pride made me reflect on my own mental breakdown in the early 80s. Instead of simply blotting out that period of my life - suppressing it as a personal failing, a shameful episode - Mad Pride made me connect it to my passion for atonal music and non-illusionistic art, and also my hatred for the injustice of class society. Briefly, my story is: in 1983, at the age of 27, after helping to organise the Carnival Against Racism with the Specials in Leeds, and after a fantastic summer holiday with twenty-or-so political contacts and friends when I learned to fuck for the first time, I went manic and was sectioned to Highroyds mental hospital for several weeks. A prescription of largactyl was followed by rather more nuanced medications. After I'd come down from this "high", I experienced two year's depression (and even longer employment in information technology as a junior programmer, and then as a trainer). After an interview at the Leeds General Infirmary Psychiatric Unit, I avoided contact with any mental-health organisations. Being clinically depressed, the last thing I wanted was to sit in a shabby room and be asked "how do you feel `in yourself'?" by someone with authority over me. I also avoided "survivor poetry" and "art therapy" - I remember the "someone with authority" suggested I do a pottery course - because these activities felt so patronising. I'd studied History and English at Cambridge, I understood the politics of the poetry scene and how the great revolutionary poets of the 60s - Bill Griffiths, Barry MacSweeney, J.H. Prynne, Tom Raworth - had been written out of literary history in favour of safe liberal milksops. The last thing I wanted to do was to listen to people reading pathetic, sentimental, self-obsessed poetry about mental-health issues. However, when I heard about Mad Pride organising a gig with the Astronauts - the punk band from Welwyn Garden City - with Lol Coxhill on saxophone, I was interested. I'd discovered Lol Coxhill by seeing him perform under a sack at the Bath Festival of Alternative Technology in 1976, and I knew he'd toured with The Damned a year later. I'd written about his CDs for The Wire, Hi-Fi News and Yorkshire Evening Post. In my considered critical judgement, Lol Coxhill is the best saxophonist in Britain, an unacknowledged musical legislator, a fact the establishment won't recognise because they only honour "composers" (i.e. someone who sits and writes music behind a desk - a nice bourgeois like them - and does not do anything so demeaning as blow air through a tin tube or go onstage with punk bands). So I went to the gig at Chats Palace, which was great, and started reading Rob Dellar's Southwark Mind News, and wound up getting involved with editing Mad Pride: an Anthology of Mad Culture (London: Spare Change Books, 2000; London: Handsell, 2001 ... who went bust, so it's now "out of print", though AK Distribution have some).
I don't hold that drugs are totally useless in treating mental illness. By the time I was staying up all night believing I was the combined reincarnation of William Shakespeare and Vladimir Lenin, and that Frank Zappa was constructing his next album by bribing council-workers to demolish the adjacent row of houses and to relandscape Woodhouse Common with bulldozers, I needed something to calm me down. However, I'm convinced that mental ill-balance and depression are actually caused by lack of social recognition. Which is why Jason Pegler is right to claim that his imprint Chipmunkapublishing will save lives: he gives ex-mental-health patients an opportunity to communicate their experiences to the wider world.
Deluded by the commercial dreams of the Jazz Revival in the Thatcherite 80s, I used to think my activity as a music critic would make the musicians I supported rich. I've since learned that for genuine artists, it's social recognition that matters, not economic rewards. The really gratifying thing is finding someone - anyone - who understands what you're trying to do. I see a real correspondence between my efforts to support radical musicians and effective therapy - ie therapy which isn't patronising, but really grapples with the uniqueness of a person and their needs. As a critic, I want to assure musicians like Lol Coxhill and Roger Turner and and Maggie Nicols that they are not "mad" to persist in artistic behaviour which is "unpopular", and therefore mocked by those in charge of TV and the tabloids and broadsheets: on the contrary, I think what they're doing - anti-glamour, anti-commodity, anti-alienation, in-person radical art-making - is an oasis of sanity in a fucked-up, insane and cruel system.
To do this work of critical support without revolutionary politics is impossible - just as psycho-therapy without politics is patronising and deluding, and inevitably becomes a slimy, hypocritical apology for the injustice of class society. I recognise that religion and mysticism can look like solutions in individual cases - my own oldest brother, who has also had mental problems, has been helped by adherents of Rudolf Steiner and Theosophy, for example - but illusory answers are like medication. They fix symptoms rather than dealing with causes. When you realise how hurtful the mass media and its manipulation of sexual desire and celebrity are to people's sense of self-esteem - something which surfaces again and again in "mad" expression - then it's impossible not to become critical of capitalism and what it does to our brains. There is a reason why the artists and poets who I think are the real thing - the William Blakes and Van Goghs and James Joyces of our time - are names you've never heard of. They are in revolt against the commercial system of acclaim and reward. Nevertheless if we break down the alienation of our "specialties" we can discover that we have allies in other pockets of the culture. Mental health workers and avantgarde musicians unite, you have nothing to lose but your boring conformist careers!
Many of the musicians and poets and artists I know tell me that the most amazing moments in their lives have happened when they had chances to hold workshops in psychiatric institutions. These situations are not "glamorous" in the Tate Modern/Saatchi sense, but they're opportunities for the human immediacy which authentic Modern Art has always pursued. Time, safe situations and artistic materials are expensive commodities, but when one looks at the vast amounts of money made by the pharmaceutical companies from the NHS, this kind of therapy is actually very cheap. So, at this Annual Mind Conference, I'd like to cast my vote in favour of "art therapy" - just so long as the art is genuine and collective, by which I mean in the tradition of such tireless cultural agitators as John Stevens and Bob Cobbing - drummer and poet, both unfortunately now dead - a tradition kept alive by the singer Maggie Nicols, whose regular Monday night "gatherings" should be attended by anyone interested in artistic expression as therapy.
Rob wanted 7½ minutes of explanation and 7½ minutes of "performance", so I am now going to read you two poems. They are NOT windows onto my own "personal", "private" "soul". As a socialist, I believe that social being determines consciousness and that "we" are all products of social activity - real, material histories of interaction, conversation and mutual influence. I hold with Valentin Voloshinov that even unspoken thoughts - "inner speech" - are actually social through and through. These poems could not have been written without "'Twas Brillig and the slithy toves", without William Burroughs, without Dr Who - and without the network of poets and free improvisors who keep alive a radical modernism which is universally derided by reviewers in the bourgeois broadsheets. I think these poems have a lot to say to anyone concerned with Mental Health - partly because they're semi-automatic, and so reveal the unconscious - my "mental sickness" - partly because they make connections betwen mental areas which categorical reason keeps separate.
I'd like to dedicate this reading to Bob Cobbing, who died in October aged 82, and who excluded me from the final edition of his magazine And because I hadn't come up with anything "new". Such impatience with the already-known is what I hope every one of us can carry to the grave. Please don't ask me afterwards what the poems "mean": they mean their meaninglessness quite deliberately. They mean what they say, and can't be said in any other words - which is why they aren't my "personal expression", but verbal art of world-historic significance. Of course they are! What other poetry would be worth writing? How mad is that?
[OTL stands up and walks among the audience, spitting out two "poems" from BENISON FENCE-OFF (Cambridge: Barque, 1999) with Sean Bonney-style vehemence ...]
When rue fails, foster
Queues simulate eggyweg -
Rasputin forgeries at each elbow.
The Paisley creaks, every
Instant toiled with grimace fat.
Buttons sewn to a mod jacket.
The breath hangs, fronds
Of kaolin and shape-changes,
Hot head drowsy as pea soup.
Febrile projection quivers with
Sexsmell hide intent, surface
On groundswells of planet burn.
Plumes of pride, funereal
Sine-wave camera, cut. Court
Planiferous liar, the ennoble
Plot of fur, or civet rage
Spiking the skin, faces
Serfed by ogling experts.
Paced bitterness, first
Brinkles in boiling snow.
With knuckles split to the
Wrist, ant intimacy cooled.
Person lapse, keen kids piling
Draped movables, in slot.
And here's another one ...
Chuck loose, the spavin king primed
By textbook itch; he wants an essence
Of bacon flavour freed from earthly lard.
The fidget minuscule is cantilevered to the
Arch procession of greats. Where we site the pivot
Depends upon the piles of multi-subject fact,
Layers of experience intuited by throatsong shams
And voluntaries steeped in cliff. Scrammer days.
Do be forbidden in the closed rank, the shamed
Ankle tensile in the coffle offer. It's 11.00am,
And ham rolls are fresh buttered in the delicatessen.
Odour of new plastic, harbinger of money.
Your docked license shows knowledge of multivalent
Conductors, the home logic of the lame & tearful.
This wince is really too much, a cranium hoist
Carving numerous slogans in the unpacked ice.
Twenty teeth chattering in the trees, willow
Parts draped with useless decor. Taught eulogy,
The repeated eye of education in boox. Tenerife.
The stifled violence, the gun beneath the chemise.
No chemical incantation allowing pearly gates
To calculate a coup in AT&T. Hot snuff.
Cancelled fun-time heats the cunt, wet-slaps
Herded & goaded. The teeming arriviste.
[tumultous applause, hats in air, "for he's a jolly good loonie" etc ... well, actually a bit of clapping and then the inevitable "Why don't your poems tell us about your experiences?" "Why are your words going over our heads?" ... Out To Lunch exits weeping ...]
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