on the streets of valetta

many years — almost a half life-time  —  ago I travelled to Malta. One afternoon, walking on the streets of Valetta, I found myself almost blind. I could vaguely recognize very bright lights and I had some remaining dim view of the cobblestones on the streets. Barely could I move without endangering myself. I kept to the main street that cuts right through Valetta, from the city gates to the Mediterranean. But it wasn’t actually dark — not that dark — and I wasn’t really, physically blind. I just could not see. Vision returned later, and I’m still unsure how long I experienced this blindness. Unlike my other afflictions of the mind, this one clearly affected my physical abilities in a very concrete manner. Even if the eyes functioned, my brain couldn’t process the input. It was as if it didn’t even exist. It was dark. I was temporarily madder. Luckily it didn’t last. At least my normal self wasn’t psychotic, even though it was in many other ways deficient, disturbed, deluded, depressed.

So, the reason I’m mentioning this is an email-correspondence (well, emails were sent to me, at this stage, there wasn’t much of an exchange) the other week. I was “asked” — I’d say it wasn’t so much a question as it was a kind of statement meant to be derogatory, I’m fairly certain — if I, me being as mad and wrong-headed as I am, hadn’t seen a psychologist. Well, I can hardly even remember anymore. I probably have. Mostly, though, I’ve seen psychiatrists. For a multitude of reasons (the Valetta incident wasn’t one of them; it was over when it was over, there wasn’t anything to treat). I’m not exactly sure what came first — my mental deficiencies that made me extra vulnerable to the maltreatment of waldorf education, or if waldorf education itself caused all or some of these deficiencies. I believe the likely answer is the former of the two alternatives. It seems to me waldorf did a great job making worse what was already bad, complicating further a life that was already meant to be too complicated, making me suffer in ways and in depths I couldn’t have otherwise reached, and though on my own I would have come fairly close even without them, it would have been different.

In any case, overall I’m relatively sane. But I can see how that “question” was supposed to be uncomfortable. You’re supposed to be offended if asked whether you’ve been consulting psychologists or other mental health services. But what if the answer is yes? And if this yes is a prerequisite for being alive and well at all? For the person who asked, on the other hand, what did this question signify: an implicit judgement that I am guilty by reason of insanity?

I believe that if people — with whom you have, as it were, fallen out with completely a couple of months ago —  are audacious enough to pose such a question, they need also be brave enough to ask this question publically and openly, not in emails. It is my privilege to avoid replying, but do please have the guts to spit these psychophobic prejudices out in the open. Let people see them. Let people know you think I’m wrong because I’m not right in the head rather than that I’m wrong because my claims don’t match reality (if that’s the case, but as it wasn’t, this idea wasn’t worth pursuing in the first place).

This kind of reasoning re-emerges regarding Steiner. But Steiner was wrong because his arguments were wrong; or, put differently, when he was wrong it was because his arguments were wrong. Not because he was insane. Because even though I do think Steiner’s mental states and his problems are interesting — and they are, in fact, very interesting and highly relevant when trying to figure out how he came to believe what he believed and do what he came to do — they don’t have anything much to do with the truth or falsity of his factual arguments. It’s just too easy sometimes, isn’t it, to bring up insanity.

Actually, if Steiner was insane this would rather have the effect to make him personally less culpable for his wrong beliefs than we would have deemed him to be, had he been sane and just plain wrong. However, even in this case the factual status of Steiner’s statements has not changed, and determining the content of these statements is, to further emphasize the point, not about putting Steiner on some imaginary trial to determine his guilt because that is rather a different question all together. I got the impression certain people contend that if Steiner was mad, his claims were to be disregarded because of his mental illness rather than because of the actual content of these claims (the content, which in itself was enough reason to reject them, by the way) and that, him being an ill man, we have more reason to spit on him than we would otherwise have had. Or so, at least, was my comprehension of this particular kind of attitude.

In a discussion, in which I didn’t take part, my email-writer had posited just that: Steiner’s madness should alter the interpretation of Steiner’s claims. This is absolutely misguided. Steiner’s mental states and constitution may be interesting when trying to understand who he was, who the person Steiner was, what made him think, believe and do the things he did, but it is not relevant to the interpretation of a text or any other statement. The mental state of a person does not change the content of the text, it does not affect the validity of a statement. It should not change how we understand the text. If the text is psychotic (if that is even a meaningful description of a text, I doubt it), it is psychotic on its own terms — because of its content, its lack of logic, its incoherence, and so forth. Rudolf Steiner’s mental states — as they manifest themselves in his writing for example — may change how we understand the person Rudolf Steiner, but it does not really change our reading of the text itself. To figure that the author’s mental short-comings ought to make a difference to our understanding and interpretation of a text’s content is to reduce the author to his illness and to reject his arguments on the grounds that he wasn’t of a sound mind is to degrade him — when this is done regardless of the quality of his argument. Furthermore, weird beliefs or wrong claims don’t necessarily indicate mental disease. Eccentricity isn’t an illness, and being wrong not a medical condition (although, clearly, it is a condition that can be cured).

I may be mad as a gnome, and I can still be right. And I can be the sanest person on earth, and still be wrong. The point: there’s no way to ascertain the falseness of my claims by alluding to madness or any other alleged state of my mind. Not even if you could find evidence of madness, would it make any difference. It’s just not a valid counter-argument; an argument really needs something more. But to use this as a line of argumentation — assuming it wasn’t just an attempt create discomfort? or to make me feel that such questions were damning towards me? –, tells us a whole lot about the inquirer or claimant, that is, my email-correspondent. And that he does it privately, and then protest when it isn’t kept private, tells me even more. He didn’t actually want people to see that, didn’t anticipate people would. And it wasn’t because he had any consideration for me. More likely there was an unwillingness to appear silly and mean in public.

The thing about Steiner is that he may very well have been a bit mad or very mad. I certainly believe he wasn’t fully sane at all times in his life. His writings, his paintings and his beliefs suggest, at a minimum, a loss of complete sanity at crucial moments — but he seems to have continued to function in other ways as a healthy person would. Maybe having followers in your delusions helps. And there’s nothing wrong in discussing this — I guess there are people who find it rude or inappropriate, but to those of us who are fascinated by these things, it’s impossible to resist. Actually, it’s Steiner’s relative madness that makes him an interesting person. I wrote, earlier, that “[y]ou only find sane and normal people fascinating — well, good. I feel differently about that. No need to try to convince me Steiner was quite an odd fellow, to say the least, I know. That’s the point. A point which you seem to be missing. To you people who are wrong or mistaken or even deluded are dull and boring.” But whatever is the case, and whether we enjoy it or loathe it, sanity or madness doesn’t change any of the claims he made. They are still the same. The way we see him can, however, change when we know more about him, for example through the texts.

There was probably a reason for my temporary blindness in Valetta. But the actual state of lightness and darkness in the outer world was unaffected by my subjective experience. I was mistaken about the degree of darkness, but my appreciation of facts was wrong no matter how and why they came to be wrong. Its wrongness was determined not by looking at my state of mind but at my experience compared with actual reality. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I had been fully sane at the time, and that I had had a scarf placed over my eyes making me think it was dark out. In such a case, it isn’t dark in reality, however much it appears so to me, and my sanity doesn’t change reality, and it doesn’t, apparently, prevent me from making silly mistakes.

It is mistaken to conclude that because someone doesn’t agree with something they should seek the help of a psychologist and that suggesting this is just another nice thing to do when the suggestion is offered as an insult. It is to make a mockery of illness, and, for that matter, of discussion. It’s about as stupid as threatening with lawyers to shut people up from speaking their minds.

7 thoughts on “on the streets of valetta

  1. Pingback: bizarre « zooey
  2. I’m slightly confused by you commenting (to everyone else, see pingbacks) this post in your post, Sune. From the pingback I gather it has something to do with you wanting to point out that it wasn’t you who wrote any of these emails. If it had been you, I would have tagged the post ‘the-bee’. And I think it’s clear to most people who read this blog that it wasn’t you. In case it isn’t, I’ll say it again. It wasn’t Sune. It was this person:
    https://zooey.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/unenlightened/
    The blog comments and emails were pretty vile, actually.

  3. In the interest of understandability (well, maybe) and since these two men in particular seem rather preoccupied with this post — it’s supposedly significant in that it (supposedly again) tells people something about my mental health — it may be worth noting, once again, that the incident referred to occurred almost two decades ago. Sune has had this mixed up in the past, and not that it matters to anybody but me, but the incident when I fell on a cliff in the Stockholm archipelago is an entirely different incident. The latter happened only a few years ago. Valetta, moreover, is the capital of Malta. You don’t find it on a small island outside Stockholm. These two incidents aren’t related at all, they’re completely different and have at least a decade between them. I didn’t have any accidents on Malta, and in contrast to what happened in Valetta, the incident by the Swedish seaside was a straightforward physical accident. No less pleasant of course.

    I honestly can’t see how what happened in Valetta has any bearing at all in terms of who I am today and what I’m writing in regard to the waldorf years. The only interesting thing is, perhaps, that the incident in Valetta happened only a few years after I’d left waldorf (after 6th grade). I was a big mess. Just because you’re allowed to leave your personal hell, which for me was waldorf, doesn’t mean you’re ok. I was not.

    I hardly slept at all, and if I did, I dreamt nightmares. Ghastly nightmares. Not being able to sleep makes you go mad. It’s a miracle I wasn’t madder than I was. (I should have been given sleeping pills already when I was a kindergarten kid, because I could never sleep. It’s awful not to be able to sleep. In addition, I was always scared and stress, which didn’t actually help. But nobody in my environment believed in mediction.)

    Anyway, I was going to treat you to a couple of photos from Malta. I had an old and broken Yashica Lynx camera. Sadly, I must have thrown both the negatives and the contact sheet in the bin, and I have only one (1!!) photo in my photo album. It’s this one:

    malta

    It’s not so great in this format (the copy is shot with my digital camera) but this camera took marvellous pictures once you managed to overcome the obvious deficiencies (it was, as I mentioned, broken). You can’t really see the waves hitting the shore, the fishermen at work on the beach or the nuances of the sky. But they’re there!

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