Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Theodore Dalrymple

I have just begun reading a collection of essays by Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist that works in a slum hospital and a prison in England.

First, the caution: he occasionally quotes his patients verbatim, which leads to... well... colorful, if mono-adjectival, conversations.

I don't think I would be able to praise this book highly enough. It is simply magnificent. I just finished reading Rodney Stark, so the prose seems to simply float by (I've been reading for two or three hours and I'm on page 162), and is, in tone, magnificent intelligence interspersed with wry drolleries. He seems to be one of those British chappies who's immaculately dressed, extremely intelligent, and I keep expecting him to say at any moment "Bless me, what do they teach them in these schools?" So it's been loads of fun so far.

A few quotes from the first half; forgive me for not giving pages and what not (I'm taking a break from job-hunting, and it needs to be a short one):

"It just didn't work out," they say, the "it" in question being the relationship that they conceive of having an existence independent of the two people who form it, and that exerts an influence on their lives rather like an astral conjunction.

Another burglar demanded to know from me why he repeatedly broke into houses and stole VCRs. He asked the question aggressively, as if "the system" had so far let him down in not supplying him with the answer; as if it were my duty as a doctor to provide him with the buried psychological secret that, once revealed, would in and of itself lead him unfailingly on the path of virtue. Until then he would continue to break into houses and steal VCRs (when at liberty to do so), and the blame would be mine.
When I refused to examine his past, he exclaimed, "But something must make me do it!"
"How about greed, laziness, and a thirst for excitement?" I suggested. "What about my childhood?" he asked.

My patient was intelligent but badly educated, as only products of the British educational system can be after eleven years of compulsory school attendance.

A surprisingly large number of auto-tattooists choose for the exercise of their dermatological art the chief motto of British service industries, namely F*** OFF. Why anyone should want these words indelibly printed in his skin is a mystery whose meaning I have not yet penetrated, though my researches continue, but I recall a patient who had the two words tattooed in mirror writing upon his forehead, no doubt that he might read them in the bathroom mirror every morning and be reminded of the vanity of earthly concerns.

It is a regrettable fact that psychological distress expands to meet the supply of publicly funded services available to reduce it.

(On someone turning the TV back on in the rooms of incapacitated patients): There is someone in the ward, however (a postmodernist, perhaps), who believes otherwise, who believes that a moment unentertained is a moment wasted, and that a mind unfilled by someone else's drivel is a vacuum of the kind Nature abhors.

The young men--especially those with ironmongery in their noses and eyebrows...

(In a club): Two young girls, one fat and one so drunk that she must surely throw up soon, gyrate to the music, but without reference to its rhythm.

Not a single one of my young patients has known the dates of the Second World War, let alone of the First; some have never heard of these wars, though recently one young patient who had heard of the Second World War thought it took place in the eighteenth century. In the prevailing circumstances of total ignorance, I was impressed that he had heard of the eighteenth century.

...parents whose philosophy of child rearing is laissez-faire tempered by insensate rage.

...a murderer who once said to me that he had had to kill his victim, otherwise he didn't know what he might have done.

(After relating truly horrific stories of Africa): Yet nothing I saw--neither the poverty nor the overt oppression--ever had the same devastating effect on the human personality as the undiscriminating welfare state. I never saw the loss of dignity, the self-centeredness, the spiritual and emotional vacuity, or the sheer ignorance of how to live that I see daily in England...I and the doctors from India and the Philippines have come to the same terrible conclusion: that the worst poverty is in England--and it is not material poverty but poverty of the soul.

Medical correctness hasn't reached the bingo hall yet. It is with a certain pleasure--no, joy--that I watch women with the physiques and mobility of beached whales refresh themselves constantly (as they mark their cards) with large piles of cholesterol-raising fried foods and large volumes of tepid, watery English beer. Tomorrow, of course, they'll go to their doctors and tell them that, however hard they try, they just can't seem to lose weight: they only have to look at food, and the pounds go on.

Blessings from the (currently) sunny land of ice and snow.
Jesse Broussard

1 comment:

rebec said...

Well that just about ran the gamut of responses on my part. Great stuff!

Wodehousian Fun