241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

JUST CALL ME DAD

Benjamin Rush is often referred to as “the father of American psychiatry,” and indeed his portrait still adorns the seal of the American Psychiatric Association. In 1965, the APA placed a bronze plaque by his grave at Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, affirming and consecrating his paternity.

Rush’s seminal opus, Medical Inquiries and Observations, Upon the Diseases of the Mind nowreads like a primer for psychological torture. Suggested punishments for the misbehavior of mentally ill patients include tranquilization through the imposition of physical restraints; food modification or deprivation; cold water treatments; and prolonged shower baths.

“If all these modes of punishment should fail of their intended effects, it will be proper to resort to fear of death.”

Other fears also come in handy, as well as an acute sense of shame, though Rush asserts that because of some neurological process he fails to specify, the patient will have erased all memory of such fears, once returned to mental health. Also, we should note Rush’s deft distancing from the brutal exercise of the whip; clearly he prefers other more refined techniques.

FROM CHAPTER VI, TREATMENTS

In many cases, the line between punishments and treatments is quite flexible within the medical philosophy of Dr. Rush. Thus the tranquilizer performs a highly useful secondary role in facilitating the application of other treatments:

“The tranquilizer [chair] has several advantages over the strait waistcoat or madshirt. It opposes the impetus of the blood towards the brain, it lessens muscular action every where, it reduces the force and frequency of the pulse, it favours the application of cold water and ice to the head, and warm water to the feet, both of which I shall say are excellent remedies in this disease; it enables the physician to feel the pulse and to bleed without any trouble, or altering the erect position of the patient’s body; and lastly, it relieves him, by means of a close stool, half filled with water, over which he constantly sits, from the foetor and filth of his alvine evacuations.”

On the website of the Pennsylvania Hospital, the tranquilizer is described as “doing neither harm nor good.” The statement is made without reference to any supporting documentation or testimonials from patients or doctors:
Though Rush mentions in his book that a fully functioning tranquilizer was used by the hospital at the time of publication (1812), I have been unable to confirm its present existence as a physical object; a copy of an engraving endorsed by Rush as accurate appears on the website for the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
A small scale model of the chair on display at the Mütter Medical Museum, also in Philadelphia, shows a rather different device (purple gloves belong to Mütter curator Anna Dhody):

DISPLAY MODIFICATION

Of particular note is the absence of the “close stool”; and the innovation, apparently devised by the model maker, of the blinders. With this modification in place, the patient can neither move his head nor bear visual witness to anything happening within his environs.

It is possible that the design change was introduced by the model maker simply to make the head structure more durable, yet whatever the explanation, the modification is remarkably prescient in anticipating a key attribute of contemporary psychological torture as developed by the CIA since the 1950s: the merging of corporeal restraint with sensory deprivation and/or perceptual disorientation.

NO TOUCH TORTURE

Interestingly, the two most recent recipients of the APA’s Benjamin Rush award, together with the titles of their lectures, are:

2008

Mark S. Micale, Ph.D., Associate Professor, History of Science and Medicine at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.Psychological Trauma and the Lessons of History.

2011

Andrea Tone, Ph.D., Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Social History of Medicine, McGill University. Spies and Lies: Cold War Psychiatry and the CIA.

Compared to nightsticks, Kalasjnikovs and bats, whips don’t come across as very intimidating. Who ever heard of a war won by an army armed with whips? Or of bank robbers using whips as their method of coercion?

The whip’s power to induce fear is as good as lost in the Western world. Slaves were whipped to death. Children were covered in welts after educational beatings. Now, the whip has become a decorative attribute, a prop. From being an instrument of power, it’s transitioned into a representation of an instrument of power, a symbol.

In other parts of the world, the whip is still used as an instrument of punishment. For example, two Saudi Arabian men were recently convicted to two thousand whiplashes and ten years of imprisonment. They had uploaded a video on which they were dancing on a car naked.

The other day, a smart looking older gentleman lifted his cane towards me and yelled: “Would you like a free slap?” I politely declined his offer. Later I regretted it. Why hadn’t I enquired further? Maybe the gentleman could have provided me with some convincing arguments regarding the free slap. What I know for sure is that I would have interpreted his offer much differently had he offered me a knife wound, or a gunshot wound. I would have been scared, now I was merely surprised.

Why does the whip no longer strike fear into the hearts of Westerners? Has the whip been overtaken by large scaled, advanced weaponry, that in comparison transform the whip into an old fashioned, primitive, and nearly innocent object? Are we so inexperienced with the force of the whip that even our imagination falters?

Erotica thrives on taboo. It comes as no surprise, then, that the whip is a staple item in every sex shop. Like the penis, the whip seems to possess a certain level of autonomy, although both remain dependent on a body in order to come to life and to discharge.

One particularly commanding whip is the metal chain whip, made of two metal rods joined together by metal rods. Because of the many chain links between the rods, it takes endless practice in order to comprehend how movement courses its way through, and furthermore how to use it without injuring yourself.

The chain whip is popular with the Taoist and Buddhist monks of China. Into the air they endlessly crack their formidable whips, breaking through the sound barrier in their search for salvation.

Dutch theatre maker Boukje Schweigman and dancer Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti trained with these fighting monks, and in 2011 made the performance Zweep (Whip.) In a making of the film, Guardia Ferragutti says: “A whip has no master. The master is the whip itself.”

Raymond Talis, author of Michelangelo’s Finger (2010,) explores why humans, in contrast to animals, point using their fingers. According to Talis, we point thanks to our consciousness. We experience ourselves as separate individuals, and thus do not become one with our surroundings. But in our fellow humans, we recognise isolated peers, we can see each other looking. We’re able to guide the gaze of the other by drawing invisible lines using our eyes or our index finger. Is the whip an extension of the index finger, with which we can impose our will onto the bodies of others? Still, no one will ever have complete control over a whip. The first flick of the whip may be under your control, but you’ll never know exactly what path you’ve set into motion. Before you know it, the whip you’ve cracked will rebound and hit you with twice as much power and take you down. The real force of the whip remains impossible to truly fathom.