A mind map of the soul

A prob­lem­atic yet evoca­tive term, mad­ness has been com­man­deered by le­gions of artists who are search­ing for mean­ing and, of­ten, for God

Mail & Guardian - - Mental Health - Kwanele Sosibo

In his bi­og­ra­phy Peo­ple Funny Boy, reg­gae pro­ducer and artist Lee Perry re­sponds to ques­tions about the ori­gin of the song I Am a Mad­man by say­ing: “When I tell peo­ple to re­pent in Ja­maica then them say me mad, so me just com­pete with what they say. I didn’t say I am mad, they say I am mad. So if they say I am mad, then I say yes, I am a mad man.”

Mad­ness is of­ten used as a catchall pe­jo­ra­tive for peo­ple with vary­ing man­i­fes­ta­tions of men­tal ill­ness. How­ever, many have ex­er­cised the great lib­er­a­tory power of re­claim­ing it, es­pe­cially with an artis­tic or philo­soph­i­cal ri­poste.

Some­times, the peo­ple who have adopted the per­sona of the so-called “mad­man” do it cheaply, to mine its mys­tique. At other times, it rep­re­sents the fail­ings of lan­guage — a quick­ness to la­bel what we do not un­der­stand or what will not sub­scribe to our mores.

Speak­ing about her book Call It a Dif­fi­cult Night, au­thor Mishka Hoosen told The Daily Vox that she uses the “ar­chaic and very prob­lem­atic term mad­ness”, be­cause “it is more ac­cu­rate for me be­cause it al­lows for more kinds of def­i­ni­tion. A big part of the book is talk­ing about that, about those dif­fer­ent ways of be­ing that can’t nec­es­sar­ily be re­duced to a staid and clin­i­cised term.”

The fol­low­ing pro­ces­sion of quotes and frag­ments fol­lows no ap­par­ent train of thought. But, as a se­ries of im­ages, it seeks to map the lived con­di­tions un­der which this la­bel pre­vails and, per­haps, cel­e­brates those who speak back to it.

“I have found both free­dom and safety in my mad­ness; the free­dom of lone­li­ness and the safety from be­ing un­der­stood, for those who un­der­stand us en­slave some­thing in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a thief in a jail is safe from an­other thief.” — Khalil Gi­bran, in­tro­duc­tion to

“I am a bad­man. I am a mad­man yeah yeah yeah/ Hu­man rights dec­la­ra­tion through­out the uni­verse. Say Lord/ … Shak­ing hand with light­ning, shak­ing hand with thun­der. Rid­dim from the earth …/ I was taught by all spliff, ba­nana spliff.” Lee Perry,

Mas­ter Al­lah Di­vine — The Supreme Al­pha­bet

“It’s of­ten hard to see the line be­tween re­li­gious fa­nati­cism and men­tal ill­ness. Talk­ing to God is con­sid­ered a sign of re­li­gious de­vo­tion, but when God talks back, it’s a symp­tom of schizophre­nia … Moses com­mu­ni­cated with a burn­ing bush. John the Bap­tist lived in the wilder­ness and warned of the end of the world. Jesus Christ said things to the rul­ing author­i­ties that made his fam­ily worry that he was a dan­ger to him­self.” — Farah Stock­man, the

June 10 2014 “The beat don’t stop when soul­less mat­ter blows/ Into the cosmos, try­ing to be stars/ The beat don’t stop when Earth sends out satel­lites/ To spy on Satur­nites and con­trol Mars/ ’Cause nig­gas got a peace treaty with Mar­tians/ And we be keepin’ ’em up to date with sa­cred gib­ber­ish/ Like ‘sho’ nuff’ and ‘it’s on’/ The beat goes on, the beat goes on. The beat goes ‘ohm’.” — Saul Williams,

“Wasi­ga­b­he­lani is­pani mfwethu? [Why did you quit your job?]” Asked daily in many black house­holds

“From the In­qui­si­tion and the Salem witch tri­als to the Soviet tri­als of the 1930s and Abu Ghraib, va­ri­eties of ‘ex­treme in­ter­ro­ga­tion’, or out­right phys­i­cal and men­tal tor­ture, have been used to ex­tract re­li­gious or po­lit­i­cal ‘con­fes­sions’. While such in­ter­ro­ga­tion may be de­signed to ex­tract in­for­ma­tion in the first place, its deeper in­ten­tions may be to brain­wash, to ef­fect gen­uine change of mind, to fill it with im­planted, self­in­cul­pa­tory mem­o­ries — and in this, it may be fright­en­ingly suc­cess­ful. (There is no para­ble more rel­e­vant here than [Ge­orge] Or­well’s 1984, where Win­ston, at the end, un­der un­bear­able pres­sure, is fi­nally bro­ken, be­trays Ju­lia, be­trays him­self and all his ideals, be­trays his mem­ory and judg­ment, too, and ends up lov­ing Big Brother.)” — Oliver Sacks, in the chap­ter “The Fal­li­bil­ity of Mem­ory” from “Like many other UCKG [Uni­ver­sal Church of the King­dom of God] mem­bers and pas­tors, Phuk­ile as­serted that her fam­ily, friends, fel­low church­go­ers, neigh­bours and to­tal strangers, for in­stance, might all be work­ing against her and ought not to be trusted.

“Fore­most among her en­e­mies was Phuk­ile’s aunt, who al­legedly ‘worked’ to keep her poor and un­lucky. On the other hand, the church’s claims to priv­i­leged knowl­edge of the spir­i­tual war im­plied an eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards peo­ple who ‘do not know the truth about the demons’ … Phuk­ile took this re­spon­si­bil­ity se­ri­ously by urg­ing me to at­tend an isi­washo (spir­i­tual cleans­ing) ser­vice and by sur­rep­ti­tiously daub­ing holy oil and blessed wa­ter on her aunt’s house.

“Many other mem­bers sim­i­larly pro­tected the homes and bodies of their non-UCKG fam­ily and friends and sprin­kled the church’s holy sub­stances on roads, in homes, in food and on cloth­ing.” — from Ilana van Wyk’s “Ek vat hulle al­mal aan: al­mal die slamse, al­mal die ly­ing jews en al­mal die mal chris­tians [I take them all on: all the Mus­lims, all the ly­ing Jews and all the mad Chris­tians]. I feel im­mea­sur­ably sad that peo­ple have sold their lives so eas­ily to reli­gion, have sold their souls to pas­tors, imams, rab­bis that of­fer them noth­ing but en­slave­ment.

“One of my great pre­de­ces­sor gu­rus said ‘the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal thieves have dammed the river of spir­i­tu­al­ity and re­placed it with the lakes of dogma’. And what is dog ma, mother of dog, bark­ing, bark­ing, this is mine, my Earth, my reli­gion, my God, only my saviour can save you, my god is big­ger than yours.” — Ze­bu­lon Dread con­nects with Gael Reagon in a small ashram on the Cape Flats. He drops jew­els about the “misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the self with the body” and “the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween mad­ness and san­ity”. July 2014)

“Hey Kwanele, do you know how Kwa Mai-Mai [a Jo­han­nes­burg mar­ket] ac­tu­ally got its name?”

“I don’t, but it sounds like the screams of a boy who will never see his fa­ther again.”

“Well, you know, the Zu­lus were the first group to be brought to Jo­han­nes­burg. So in that state, of

— Mas­ter racon­teur S’fiso Ntuli sits down on his sto­ry­telling chair in a new sec­tion of the Rov­ing Bantu Kitchen in Caro­line Street, Brix­ton, Novem­ber

“What time is it?”

“Team time, huuh!”

— Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion team war cry

“It’s a bless­ing to live an­other day they say/ ’Cause the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away/ So my nig­gas pray five times a day and still/ Carry a trey-five-seven (on the planet, as it is in heaven).” — Ras Kass,

from the al­bum “In pre-Chris­tian times in the Ro­man Em­pire, kuri­akos … sig­ni­fied ‘im­pe­rial’ or ‘be­long­ing to the lord’, the em­peror. As the em­pire be­came Chris­tian, it is not sur­pris­ing that they would mod­ify ‘be­long­ing to the lord’ to re­late to Christ as a part of their protest against Cae­sar-wor­ship. As time went by, many of the rules of the Sab­bath were trans­ferred to the first day of the week, but this was re­jected in the Re­for­ma­tion by Luther and Calvin. Calvin even pro­posed to adopt Thurs­day in the place of Sun­day. May we rightly con­sider Thurs­day as the Lord’s day? Yes, Thurs­day is the Lord’s day!” — Ce­cil Hook, (who could have fore­seen the links to Phuza Thurs­day?)

“Blacks cer­tainly don’t have the monopoly on mad­ness. There is ‘queer mad­ness’, of course. A man I met just the other day at the gym, a jour­nal­ist, shared with me the sur­vivor’s guilt he still feels over the deaths of his friends dur­ing the Aids cri­sis in the Eight­ies. After at­tend­ing a fu­neral ev­ery week for months, he shut down, then broke down.” — Max S Gor­don on “black mad­ness”, which he de­scribes in the es­say

as a re­sponse to liv­ing a life con­stantly sub­jected to vi­o­lence — psy­chic, phys­i­cal, so­cial, po­lit­i­cal

Short Story Day Africa: A male writer writ­ing a fe­male hero­ine, while not un­heard of, is un­usual. In fact, some could call it ca­reer sui­cide and there is data to sup­port this stance. What was it about Taty that made you need to tell it through her eyes rather than, say, Tau’s?

Nikhil: I’m not male, I’m Venu­sian. Your gen­der bias, although not un­ex­pected, is still no bet­ter than an as­sump­tion. Don’t judge me by your own lim­i­ta­tions. Thanks! PS: I could re­ally give a fuck about data. — From an 2016 Short Story Day Africa in­ter­view with Nikhil Singh about the il­lus­trated novel “I dwell in the midst of a per­fect race, I the most im­per­fect/ I, a hu­man chaos, a ne­bula of con­fused el­e­ments/ I move amongst fin­ished worlds — peo­ples of com­plete laws and pure or­der/ Whose thoughts are as­sorted, whose dreams are ar­ranged, and whose/ Vi­sions are en­rolled and reg­is­tered.” — Khalil Gi­bran, ex­cerpt from the chap­ter “The Per­fect World” in

Lee Perry: ‘If they say I am mad, then I say yes, I am a mad man.’ Photo: James Green/Getty Im­ages

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