Saturday, December 27, 2003

Listen Crazy?

In their wonderfully whacky translation of Chuang Tzu, Hamill and Seaton have Mr Tall Wu Tree say to Chu the Magpie, "I'll talk a little crazy to you. See whether you can't listen a little crazy too."

I'm no good at talking crazy; I'm too self-conscious. (Yes, I know, I know; I'm working on it...) But surely I could learn to listen crazy?

I've been struggling for days to figure out how I might listen crazy. I guess I should stop giving authors the benefit of the doubt, trying to make sense of their writing. Instead, I could take nonsense at its face value, get upset, do my best to misunderstand.

I could read between the lines, try to find the sub-text that contradicts what the writer tries to be saying. And I could read it like a paranoiac - the writer is plotting against me, against all that is good and proper, he's trying to subvert me, he's warping my mind with his insidious prose!

Take things to the extreme - exaggerate claims to the point where they no longer seem to make sense.

Susan, of course, had the more general solution when I asked for her help: read as if I had various mental pathologies. Paranoia, sure, as well as neurosis and schizophrenia; read some passages as if manic, others as if depressive.

This presents a good reason to go find out what the various kinds of mental illnesses are. Encarta gives a good list, which I'll use here. (A rip-off, sorry, an unattributed extract, of the Encarta article can be found on

Anxiety disorders: excessive apprehension, worry, and fear. They include phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. When listening crazy in this mode, experience the speaker as threatening your very existence. Fixate on one sentence or phrase. Excessive apprehension, worry, and fear. Excessive apprehension, worry, and fear. Excessive apprehension, worry, and fear. Excessive apprehension, worry, and fear.

Mood disorders, also called affective disorders, create disturbances in a person’s emotional life. Examples include depression, mania, and bipolar disorder. Practice depressive listening by finding proof in what you hear of your worthlessness, and hopelessness of life in general. Practice manic listening by impatiently discovering that everything being said merely demonstrates your innate superiority.

Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders: loss of contact with reality. While standing on one leg and tapping your right buttock with your left hand, imagine that the Voice of God is contradicting everything that is being said, as it is being said.

Personality disorders like low self-esteem or overwhelming narcissism. Since, according to Encarta, "considerable controversy exists over where to draw the distinction between a normal personality and a personality disorder," use this disorder as an excuse to just listen in the way you usually. You're probably pretty crazy even when you're normal, with any luck.

Impulse-control disorders: the inability to control the impulse to engage in harmful behaviour, like stealing, setting fires, gambling, or invading countries who were nasty to your Daddy. When listening to someone, explode in anger at any claim you find in the least threatening or idiotic.

Working through the other major categories is left to advanced listeners as an exercise. (Put another way, I couldn't figure out how to fit them into this story - not to mention that some seem to overlap with ones I've already covered.) Figure out for yourself how to listen with cognitive disorders (e.g., delirium and dementia), dissociative disorders (e.g., amnesia and depersonalization disorder), somatoform disorders (e.g. hypochondria), factitious disorders (e.g., Munchausen syndrome), substance-related disorders, and eating disorders.

Now this is probably not what Mr Tall Wu Tree had in mind - but if so, I'm actually beginning to learn how to listen crazy. Woo hoo! Though just being a geek might not count as being crazy...

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