Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Beautiful Strangeness

I'm interested in the idea of strangeness.  I think strangeness can be hypnotic, beautiful, and receptive.  I have met some women with so-called mental health problems who are like this.  Strangeness can mean anything from which is beyond our idea of the ordinary.  Being radical could be considered as strange, as by conventional standards it is beyond the norm. I'm also very fond of surrealism and weirdness.  I like weird ideas and things because they are more creative and interesting.

Strangeness is often thought of as related to ugliness or to something which is frightening, worrying, and disturbing, but from listening to avant-garde classical and modern music and appreciating modern art, I wonder if there is such a thing as a beautiful and intelligent strangeness and how this can be described in human and other terms.

To be strange, can mean relating differently to the way others relate, or it can mean having a sense of detachment, receptivity, or an intelligent and sensitive sense of awareness.  Maybe there is also a wise strangeness which is accompanied by a knowing yet unexclaming presence about a person.

These are all matters that interest me, as some people's expectation or judgement about people who are diagnosed with mental health problems are that we are "strange".  Strangeness in music or art is usually described as a positive thing - even in surrealism where strangeness is there to disturb, it is still valued as a positive quality - yet in other fields like psychiatry all human strangeness is suspect in being seen as a negative thing or an indication of a symptom of a mental health problem.

I like the way Jim Morrison describes people as strange in the track People are Strange, as when you're a stranger, faces seem ugly, when you're alone. This identifies strangeness with marginalisation and alienation, whilst Billie Holiday uses the metaphor of Strange Fruit as being black human bodies hung from tress, and so racism is equated with strangeness, again as a negative connotation.

There are also ways that strangeness can just be a way of saying we don't understand, or that we dislike somebody, even though no such real strangeness actually exists about a person or racial group.  Sometimes strange can simply be equated with being offensive, even though no such offence is neither witnessed nor intended.  Strangeness is also just that which is by it's very definition unfamiliar or unusual, and can be a way of describing a different cultural, personal, or social perspective.

Strangeness is also innovation, and it strikes a chord for that which is unexplored of our emotional and intellectual capacities and functioning. The strange goes beyond the narrow and conservative ideas and concepts of normality, and goes beyond the mundane into the new or radical.  As love is also a spiritual concept, I wonder if strangeness can be can be related to wonder and openness, which are surely normal human and spiritual qualities.


Madness, Psychotherapy, the Avant-garde and Mental Health

I'm very interested in both psychotherapy and avant-garde art and music, as well as mental health. When I was in psychiatric hospital as a diagnosed patient in 2000, I met a guy called James who was a patient from another ward, and who used to come down into the smoking room in our ward, to chat with the other diagnosed patients. Some of the psychiatric nurses let him do this, because they considered that he was very intelligent and good at mixing with people, and that this might help himself and others. This was good that some of the psychiatric nurses, realised that sometimes as psychiatric diagnosed patients, we can sometimes help and understand each other a lot better than the psychiatrists or other professionals can.

 James told me about a friend of his, who was locked up in psychiatric hospital, because in his words, the guy was "too avant-garde for the system and considered mad". This made me think about what the connections are, between the avant-garde and so-called madness. Are having strange ideas necessarily mad?, or can they be a form of avant-garde art and thinking? I'm not saying that madness doesn't exist, but that sometimes the avant-garde and madness can go together or be combined, and that sometimes the avant-garde is a separate thing but which gets misdiagnosed as madness.

In 2004, I had psychotherapy for a year, from two different female psychotherapists, and which helped me tremendously. The first psychotherapist was a very creative thinker, and from some of my own way of thinking that was considered mad, and from her personal way of thinking as a psychotherapist, I realised that there were some similarities.

One major similarity, was that we both had a way of thinking which involved overlapping contexts of meaning, interpretation, and knowledge. I would say a sentence or a word to the psychotherapist, and she would go off onto a stream of metaphors and would ask questions in relation to them.

For example, if I said that I had dreamt about a cave, the psychotherapist asked me if I had hidden or empty feelings, or had I caved in. If I said there was treasure in the cave, she'd say that maybe I had treasured thoughts, that I was treasured by others, or that I was holding something back. Her metaphorical way of thinking, was similar to the metaphorical way of thinking, of a diagnosed manic-depressive or schizophrenic.

The female psychotherapist, would also interpret things that I was saying to her, as if I was saying this to my friends and family, and I interpreted some of her remarks and questions in much the same way. There were therefore overlapping contexts of relatedness in meaning. This was also similar to the way that I interpreted hearing voices, as overlapping situation contexts, of talking with people in different times or different circumstances, but jumbled up with another present context or situation.

One aspect, technique, or method of the avant-garde, is to put very ordinary, mundane, or simple things into an unusual or extraordinary context. This is a method used my many avant-garde artists and musicians and also used in some comedy. It is also used in some psychotherapy.

Another method used in avant-garde art and music, is to put one context of meaning, conversation, or theory, along side or over and above another very different context of meaning, conversation, or theory, and to associate and compare the two as if they are related, when they are not related in an obvious or direct way. This can be simply an art form, or it can be a more scientific method. It can also be political.

I sometimes notice that this can be the nature of much ordinary everyday conversation to some extent, and also the language or method that a lot of diagnosed mad people make use of, especially when talking to one another. In this respect, mad conversation is not that different to everyday ordinary conversation, although the overlapping contexts are more exaggerated or prominent.

The methods of avant-garde art and thinking, can very easily be misinterpreted as madness, especially seeing as anything which is "out of context" is seen as mad in psychiatry and mental health.

However, all these avant-garde methods and approaches, are both more creative and scientific than very conventional methods, lead to a better and wider understanding, and make for a much more sane perspective and a firmer grasp of reality. They also enable us to form an awareness of details, apply other models to these details, and to filter the details down into simple ideas, relate them to another context, put them into a coherent whole, and apply a new understanding of their meaning and significance.

This article is written from an avant-garde approach, and which combines my simplicity with my treasured borderline genius.