The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

The future is coming on

I am still reading the Freeman biography. Very, very slowly. There are days when I feel I can't deal with Walter, for various reasons. When I got to the part where he started doing transorbital lobotomies (that's "go in through the eyes," for those of you who aren't keeping obsessive track) I had to stop reading for several days because it was making me anxious like Medea or something where the chorus keeps pleading with her to be different but we know it's useless because we all know what happens. In Medea's case it's "Don't kill your sons just to spite your asshole husband"; in Walter's it's "Don't go in through the eyes even if the recovery period is way shorter, prefrontal lobotomy was self-limiting precisely because you needed a surgeon and nurses and stuff and that's what prevented you from operating on some hysterical dude on the floor of a motel room or prescribing lobotomy for headaches, which is where I know this is going." But the past is a country whose shores our fragile barks can never reach, and Walter isn't listening. He wouldn't listen even if he could hear; it wasn't as if he didn't have critics, very vocal critics, and he dismissed them by saying that they were just like the people who criticized his famous grandfather W. W. Keen (America's very first neurosurgeon, for those of you who aren't keeping obsessive track). Which may actually have been in some measure true, but the thing is, when Dr. Keen got up on a box to perform one of the world's first successful brain tumor removals, HE WASN'T DOING IT IN A MOTEL ROOM WITH INSTRUMENTS HE HAD IN HIS COAT POCKET. But even when you yell, Walter isn't listening.

Anyway, I am still reading the Freeman biography. And one thing I keep noticing is the difference between how people talk about mental illness now and how people talked about it in the nineteen-thirties and -forties. Specifically two words that keep coming up in contemporary descriptions of the mentally ill are useful and useless. People who looked at horrifying state hospitals that were little more than warehouses for the insane saw the suffering, of course, and there was plenty of it to see, but they also saw the loss to society of people who could be doing something. There was a war on and your country needed you to not squeak and gibber uselessly like a Tartarean shade, especially not at the public expense. So lobotomy wasn't promoted only as something that would make you feel better; it was also something that would enable you to get married, hold down a job, and generally participate in a society that presumably benefited from your not being so crazy.

These days my crazy is mostly my own private problem. I'm depressed, I take some pills, I'm not as depressed anymore. If I don't want people to know I don't have to tell them. And no one ever suggested to me that one of the reasons I should take the pills was that they would make me more useful -- even though they have! Certainly no one ever said that I owed it to society to take the pills so I could work, for Chrissake, and not lie in bed fully clothed with the covers over my head.

I think this dichotomy between what's good for the individual and what's good for society, and the question of what to do when they're different, is essential to understanding the history of the lobotomy, and who wouldn't want to do that? But that word useless tripped something in my head last night (as I was coming home on the train from that Neoangin show that NO ONE WANTED TO GO TO WITH ME, SPEAKING OF USELESSNESS). It's that line from Gorillaz' "Clint Eastwood":

I'm useless, but not for long

It was then that I understood my life's mission: to create a stix fan video of this song starring Walter Freeman. Or maybe the ghost of Walter Freeman. The more you think of it, the more appropriate it seems. That is, if by "you" I mean "I":

You think it's fictional? Mystical? Maybe
Spiritual hero who appears in you to clear your view when you're too crazy
Feeling sensations that you thought was dead,
No squealing, remember that it's all in your head

And of course

Possess you with one blow

Walter's been fictionalized before, most notoriously as Dr. Harlington, who lobotomizes Frances Farmer in the movie Frances, even though she probably wasn't even lobotomized and if she was it wasn't by Walter. (They never use Walter's name in the movie but look at that goatee. Some people say maybe he lobotomized Frances in secret and that's why there's no record, apparently not realizing that Walter kept notes on all his patients and that if he had ever lobotomized a movie star he probably would have sold tickets and raffled off the ice pick afterward.) But I doubt anyone has ever put him in a rock video. I think it's time.

Time to make myself useful.
Tags: dysthymia, gruesome historical information, neoangin, operation cease and desist letter, uselessbutnotforlong, w. w. keen, walter freeman
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