January 3, 2005

"We live in an era that has placed too much emphasis on diagnosis."

In the Washington Post, Tim Page writes about Glenn Gould:
[H]e talked happily, obliviously, on and on into the night about any subject that crossed his mind -- this composer, that recording, his favorite television programs (he loved "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), the stock market (he played actively and lucratively), his love for animals, which he generally preferred to people.

His sex life seems to have been virtually nonexistent; his friendships were kept up mainly through the telephone (how he would have delighted in the Internet!); he worked by night and slept by day. It has been suggested that Gould may have had a touch of autism -- he was profoundly uncomfortable with most physical contact and demanded, throughout his life, the psychological safety of unbroken routines whenever possible. But we live in an era that has placed too much emphasis on diagnosis...

Is it true that back in the 1950s, there wasn't an emphasis on diagnosis? It seems to me that back then, people were intent on framing all sorts of behavior in Freudian terms. Popular culture was full of Freudian analysis, while today's culture is full of talk of mental disorders that have drugs and other treatments of the sort that do not demand the services of a psychoanalyst. Here's some analysis from a psychiatrist, Helen Mesaros, who studied Gould:
Although some of Gould’s symptoms on the surface may be similar to those typical for Asperger’s disorder, they differ because they have a psychodynamical origin; they are functional in nature and have a symbolic meaning as opposed to being nonfunctional and involuntary.

The old psychoanalytic diagnoses were colorful family stories of distant fathers and suffocating mothers. Today's talk of autism is not a new pathologizing of human behavior, just a new perspective on the origin of pathology.

Side note: I adore the movie "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould."

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