Friday, November 6, 2009

Man and Superman

For the many people who cling to the notion that schizophrenia is a brain disease, I wonder how come writers spend so much time on the subject of schizophrenia as an archetypal struggle for survival and growth? Cancer and diabetes don't get the same literary star treatment.

Today's thought has been brought to me by my office colleague, Bruce, who handed me an article about the book The Denial of Death, from where else? - Wikipedia. The book was written in 1973 by Ernest Becker, who died a year following its publication. Even he could only deny death for so long!

The Denial of Death postulates that civilization is engaged in an elaborate symbolic defense mechanism against our own mortality which is linked to our survival mechanism. Man has a dualistic nature, on the one hand, the physical which death releases, and on the other, the symbolic world of meaning. The tension between these two natures can be overcome by becoming "heroic" as a way of circumventing death.

"From this premise," Ernest Becker argues, "mental illness is most insightfully extrapolated as a bogging down in one's hero system(s)."

What part of the so-called diseased brain deals with a "bogging down in one's hero system(s)", I ask? Try as many scientists do to find an elusive gene or a pill that controls the impulse to be heroic and to act in one's own elaborate mythology, it hasn't happened. Yet, writers persist in linking schizophrenia and depression to this heroic survival instinct.

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