Updates and plan for the year
It's been a while since I've posted or added anything to the site and I've picked up a few new readers, so I
figured Of Unsound Mind was due for a short update and a reintroduction.
What is this site all about?
Of Unsound Mind is a translation of the legal category "non compos mentis" used to identify those who are too mad or incompetent to stand trial. It's not a criminal determination, but it has served as a basis to take away civil rights or status; it's not a psychiatric determination, but it is dependent on psychiatric knowledge and expertise. It's precisely the in-between space and the real interdependence of psychiatry and civil law seen so clearly in this category that Of Unsound Mind set out to explore. The initial impetus to create this project was my deep skepticism of various reformist proposals pursued in Minneapolis (where I live) following the George Floyd Uprising, many of which involved investment proposals in mental health schemes, that were supposed to solve the problem of policing. The main site consists of landing pages centered around various themes related to the connections between psychiatry and law, some of which have interactive timelines that allow one to trace the development of those connections.
What's been going on in the last year?
If you've visited the site in the last year, you may have noticed various changes and that some pages that went down for a while. Those are all back up now, but they have been pared down and had most of the distracting color and image overlays removed for an easier reading experience. The purpose of these pages is simple: they are intended solely to pose questions and outline open lines of inquiry around psychiatric matters that are taken for granted while pointing the reader towards classic or overlooked works and resources on those themes. Of course, such a process involves pointing the reader's attention in a specific direction or implying my own lines of inquiry are the essential ones, but I tried to keep the more direct declarations in the writing section and have the pages be much more open-ended.
More substantially, the focus of the project has expanded beyond the initial vision's limited focus on psychiatry and law. Once that door was opened, it quickly became clear that a sufficient research and writing project could not stay confined to either psychiatry or law, that the riddle of their interdependence was much more complicated and tied especially to the development of capitalism and bourgeois revolutions. The discovery that psychiatry was originally touted as a rationalizing and humanizing movement that "broke the chains" of the mad in the dungeons and jails throughout Europe as they experienced said revolutions led me away from the relays between law and psychiatry. The fact that the latter was originally positioned as an anti-carceral alternative to jails and poorhouses compelled me to do a series of talks in 2021 on the connection between revolution and psychiatry, in which I tried to square this rhetoric and intent with the reality of the congregate snake pits we're all familiar with from exposes and articles or from gothic fiction and horror movies.
That talk series evolved into a book on the relationships between capitalism, utopian/radical politics, and psychiatry, which is complete, under review, and is scheduled to be released in 2023 by Common Notions. I will post more info as soon as it is available here and on my social accounts, but working on this while also working my normal jobs is the main reason I didn't publish anything on the site for the last year. While I was working on the book, Lyn Corelle and I also made a film called A Corpse Among Corpses, which was the result of a series of trips taken to former asylum graveyards mostly in the Midwestern United States and is a film essay of sorts on death, the rituals around death, and medical institutions with a lot more in between. I'm very proud of it and it's on YouTube now (link hyperlinked above), but we're still up for doing online or even in-person screenings, depending on where it is. If you're interested, send me an email at email@example.com.
What's in store for this project in the near future?
A little further down the line, there are other exciting publications and projects I have in store that I will properly announce as they come together. One of these is a journal or anthology all about psychopolitics (by which we mean everything to do with the "psych-" and "politics" writ large, i.e. psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychology, etc) I will be releasing with my brilliant friend and collaborator Mel Butler. We don't have a set date on when that will be announced or published yet, but I am so excited about how it's shaping out.
As we work on that, I intend to use the blog part of my site to post ephemera, extra pieces, or even just interesting notes that won't fit for those texts. I'm currently in the research phase of a text on pre-capitalist social forms' and institutions' capacities to absorb or incorporate what they referred to as madness (without assuming this is the same as mental illness or other contemporary concepts). It is often claimed in various critique of psychiatry—especially when citing Foucault's History of Madness—that the Renaissance worldview or some other form of thought was better capable of making space for mad people or madness. I intend to investigate these sorts of claims and look at specific institutions' formulations of madness, how such absorption actually worked, and under what conditions. I've already amassed a sizable pile of notes, much of them fascinating but likely unusable on things like the lunar theory of madness, the court and holy fool, treatment regimens of melancholia, and the fear of werewolves (lycanthropy). I'll be working the most interesting of these notes and drafts into short texts to publish here for curiosity's sake and to see where it leads. We've also got texts on the political economy of social services, patient self-organization, medical objectivity, and much more, and there may be a few blog posts on those themes to come as well.
Also keep your eyes out for some online courses through the Institute for the Development of the Human Arts I'm helping to develop, a potential new film project from Lyn and I (a short version of which will be screened in a lead up event prior to the Guattari 30+ event in Paris), and some new Minnesota based research pages for the Historical Society on mental health related topics.