ART & ORGANISM
What is NORMAL?
A&O-in Health and Disease
I hope it is clear that disorders of the mind (mental) or the body (corporeal) exist more-or-less in all of us. We accept that while we are different there is a more-or-less tolerance for difference: Read more about this idea, crucial to an inclusive culture. Read the Introduction to ideas about NEURODIVERSITY (Neurodiversity is the nonmedical term used to describe anyone living with brain function outside of what’s typical for the majority (those known as neurotypical). While often used in reference to people living with autism spectrum disorders, neurodivergent is an umbrella term for many conditions with altered cognitive function. (from “Making Room for Neurodiversity in the Workplace”)
Is ANYONE NORMAL? [READ “SHADOW SYNDROMES” by Ratey: https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-excerpt-from-review-of-shadow-syndromes-by-ratey/ & A more recent related essay, l Jonathan Sholl’s “Nobody is Normal,” published in Aeon on-line magazine]
When they influence our abilities to meet our needs, we seek mitigation or cure. Too often it is only in those situations that they get our conscious attention and we turn to our principle means of corrective coping: medicine. We are rarely aware of processes that work well well: we may not notice anomalies in the way neuro/perceptual/conceptual processes cope with stimuli.
Read: HALLUCINATIONS by Sacks rev: https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-reading-hallucinations-by-oliver-sacks-reviewed/
SHADOW SYNDROMES by Ratey: https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-excerpt-from-review-of-shadow-syndromes-by-ratey/ & A more recent related essay, l Jonathan Sholl’s[i] “Nobody is Normal,” published in Aeon on-line magazine
“The Czech philosopher Jiří Vácha provided a helpful taxonomy of normality’s various meanings in 1978. Normality could mean frequent in the sense of being the most common within a population, such as having brown eyes in Mediterranean countries or blue eyes in Nordic countries. It could mean average in the sense of a mathematical mean, such as the average weight or height of a population, often represented with the familiar bell curve, or typical, as in representative of a group, population or general type. Sometimes, normal meant adequate in the sense of being free from defect, deficiency or disorder, and other times it meant optimal in the sense of peak functioning – being physically fit or mentally sharp. Or, it could refer to an ideal Platonic essence, as in the perfect beauty or the perfect body. Finally, there is our basic everyday usage of the word, which often slip-slides among these different meanings and tropes, from the orthodox and standard to what is expected and good.
In any parlance, the specific meaning of ‘normal’ has important consequences, especially if it is given a privileged position in the world. Anything that veers – from having green eyes or hearing voices to living with hydrocephalus – would be abnormal in one sense or another: uncommon, rare, atypical, potentially inadequate, suboptimal or deficient in some way – and in need of being brought back to some norm. Yet, it could be controversial, or just plain odd, to pathologise such variations; especially if they are functional in some way.
This basic insight has lent ambiguity to the word ‘normal’ in medicine for hundreds of years. In the 19th century, just as Bernard was defining disease as deviation from the norm, the Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quetelet was applying statistics to the human body to find a series of ‘types’ across a range of individual variations. Because every variation could be subject to this statistical tool, it seemed that averages could explain anything: hence, height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate, birth and death rates etc. could all be presented in nice, even bell curves.”
(from https://aeon.co/essays/is-it-time-to-abandon-the-medical-construct-of-being-normal )
WORDS are IMPORTANT! “A long-smoldering debate among scientists studying autism has erupted. At issue is language—for example, whether researchers should describe autism as a “disorder,” “disability,” or “difference,” and whether its associated features should be called “symptoms” or simply “traits.” In scientific papers and commentaries published in recent months, some have decried ableist language among their colleagues whereas others have defended traditional terminology—with both sides saying they have the best interests of autistic people in mind.” read Disorder or difference? Autism researchers face off over field’s terminology
LESSONS of the EXTREMES: “Parkinson’s and its treatments have yielded a serendipitous glimpse into the nature of creativity and the neurological complexity of creating art.” … “Links between changes in art making and neurodegeneration are not unique to Parkinson’s. Patients with frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer ’s disease have also been reported to display sudden, newfound interest in creating art, and in more expressive, “looser” artistic techniques.” Connect the ideas that this leads to with its “anchor” in the center of the spectrum of possibilities: notes on “Know thyself” and “nothing in excess”
- Making a virtue of necessity? Reading: Witty Ticcy Ray by Oliver Sacks
- READING: Brain Hemmorhage and art as a symptom: Tommy McHugh
- OUTSIDER ART and PATHOLOGY as a window on “normality” (“outsiders” are “outliers” — is there something we can learn from them about creativity? about the functions of expression and the limits of expressive capacity?) READING: “In Their Own Worlds by Sanford Schwartz in NYRB 7 June 2018