︎ Prev          Current Issue          Next ︎

Kid Twist 
– PALE DISSOLVING MAIDENS



To AG, who remembers the Pearl


For ray by ray, as morning came, she paled,
And like a snow of air, dissolved i’ th’ light.

                                              —Death’s Jest-Book



It was concluded of the philosopher Plotinus that he seemed “ashamed of being in the body,” for he found it painful to speak of his parents, observed strange dietary abstentions, and even refused to allow painters and sculptors to take his likeness. Here indeed is an invitation to today’s psychotherapists to perform a “multiaxial assessment”!— social phobia, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, repressed childhood trauma—and to, as they say, treat. No doubt the learned professionals who would interest themselves in his “case” would dismiss the metaphysic in accordance with which he conducted his life as a “rationale,” and, as “intellectualizing,” that subtle dialectic by which he attained to it; but anyone who has negotiated the complexity of his Enneads, not to mention, has been ravished by their continual beauty, might wonder if it is not in the therapists who would pathologize the integrity of his thought and life, and not in the philosopher himself, that the true pathology resides and flourishes; for implicit in the aforecited “diagnostic and statistical” characterizations as disorders what had been in all times before these regarded as askeses, and even as consecrations, is an animus, unexamined in its presumptions, punitive in its ministrations, and (as we can already gather) unbeautiful in its expressions.

I do not insist on an inevitable nexus of beauty, transcendence and longing; I assert only that the therapeutical confidence with which these values are pathologized whenever they appear conjoined is itself a pathology in need of diagnosis and treatment, or, at least, of exposure. That this particular pathology is universal, not just among therapists, but in the population at large, is shown by the remarkable coincidence of the therapeutical assessment with that of common sense, specifically, on the question of self-starvation, a practice which, though innocent of consequences to any but the starveling, and thus nobody’s business but hers, is at once and reflexively repugned and subjected to parental and professional interventions (as they are called), up to and including gavage. That most professionals in the relevant disciplines of psychology, medicine, counselling and social work are themselves parents goes some way toward explaining this concert of opinion and abhorrence; but that the whole complex is—as the irrational vehemence of aversion and the pure gratuity of interference indicate—symptomatic, and not sympathetic, no less scientific, in nature, appears in many ways, as it will now be our business to demonstrate.

And first, as to its irrationality.

There is, in logic, a fallacy known as petitio principii, or “begging the question,” which, though taking many forms, may be defined as assuming as proven the very point in question; a sophistical operation that, as Bentham noted long ago, may be effected, and in the starveling’s case routinely is effected (whether with conscious malice or unconscious comes to the same things, psychologically speaking), by the use of a single, heavily pregnant word. To let two such words stand for many (for it is only as a symptom that we are interested in this manoeuver): to declare that practice in question, tout court, an “(eating) disorder,” as in the therapeutic community and among the mass of mankind it seems compulsory to do, is to assume as settled the very issue raised, namely, the existence of an order in these matters; and to define (circularly) said “disorder”—as the diagnosticians of the American Psychiatric Association, apparently unaware of just whom they are diagnosing, so artlessly do—as the “refusal (to maintain normal body weight)” takes as proven a further point that is still to prove, namely, the nomothetic authority of the order whose existence has yet to be established, in the first instance, as prescriptive generally, and then as applying specifically in each starveling’s particular case.

We may note is passing that, in shifting from the (pseudo) scientific neutrality of “disorder” to the dramatic “refusal,” with its suggestion of recusancy, the diagnosticians have (again, artlessly) provided a significant clue as to the pathology underlying the whole professional and parental animus; for now, however, observe that question-begging terms like these two are intellectually vicious in a further way, viz., in being, functionally, if not always formally, privatives, terms, that is, defined as the absence, or negation, of some positive quality or state assumed to be antecedent and implied to be superior; for the same mischievous operation that denies to such privative terms a positive existence of their own endows them with their presumptive prejudicial force. Now, the technical and colloquial term used to designate the whole practice of self-starvation itself sits, as it were, at the confluence of these fallacious currents, for it is, formally as well as functionally, a genuine alpha-privative (an-), and contains within it the positive state in reference to which it is the (presumed pathological) negation, namely, reaching after (ὄρεξις); and the question thus naïvely begged is whether there be no other object to be approvedly hungered after and thirsted for but one.

To the further question of what that uniquely approvable object might be, the therapeutically-minded (to lump the professional and parental interests together) may be fairly characterized as answering: the world and the flesh. And here something of the ætiology of the aforementioned irrational rationalizations (for that is what those petitiones principiorum truly are) begins to come into view, as does the explanation of the distinctive emotional tone of the entire pathologizing animus—for where the first two Persons of that interesting trinity are gathered together, we may confidently expect the third. For there must be something more at stake for the therapeutically-minded than simply a girl’s continence to rationalize their interfering in what is after all the most intimate of relations, that between an individual and her own person. And they are right—as, after their fashion, the children of the world are apt to be in what most obsesses them, in this case, food—in sensing in the starveling’s a comprehensive attitude toward existence antipathetic to their own common-sensical acceptance of it, and totally alienated from it. But we would be falling into what we may now call the therapeutical fallacy were we to define the starveling’s existential orientation negatively in relation to her antagonists. We must rather wonder what it is that she is positively longing after, that constitutes the real object of her profound orexis.

It goes without saying that I speak here of the true, the metaphysical type of starveling, who is ever to be distinguished from the teenaged faddist competing with her peers, or her mother, for who is thinnest, for such a middle school dieter’s objectives—to be admired for her body—remain comfortably within the confines of the world and the flesh, and, from this point of view, the “therapy” that boasts of succeeding in normalizing her is a null operation, as such an “eating disordered” “patient” is already normal; and perhaps this explains the high rate of success loudly claimed for it. But as the true starveling’s objectives lie outside of these confines, the same null ministrations imposed “successfully” on the former type will prove null—in a different sense—when inflicted on the latter, as indeed is the case. They will, moreover, wholly change their character; for with the change of objectives all the terms in the therapeutical armamentarium undergo a corresponding inversion of meaning, as do the techniques, of effectiveness, “cure”, for example, becoming a protraction of suffering, and “treatment,” mere persecution.

Now, that the same protocols, even unto force-feeding, are obdurately persisted in, despite their evident inanity in these latter cases, is a telling symptom; for such repetitive behaviours, or, in psychological terms, compulsions, are diagnostic of an underlying anxiety, related, in this instance, to the starveling’s existence as such, though exactly how related we have yet to determine. We may note, however, of the fallacious privatives aforecited that they would never pass, as currently and universally they do pass, as neutral, no less scientific, descriptors, did they not coöperate with this particular compulsion to reduce the anxiety in question; and, indeed, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognizes what it calls “poor insight” as a specific complication of compulsive disorders in general. But, further, it is the peculiar advantage of the species of fallacy favored by the therapeutically-minded that it not only inoculates its own against opposing arguments, but altogether relieves itself of the burden of having to examine its own grounds. It is, symptomatically understood, a defense mechanism; and in this light the vehemence of the repugnance noted at the outset, and what we may now call the vindictive character of the futile therapeutical protocols it sanctions, reveal themselves as the exaggerated responses typical of the “reaction formations” by means of which patients in the grip of some psychopathology or other stave off having to acknowledge to themselves some unbearable truth.

We may gain an insight into what this dread truth might be by noting how anxious are the therapeutically-minded to discover the causes, not of their own, but of the starveling’s condition, for here, too, as we have come to expect, their animus is symptomatic rather than scientific, and, we may now add, defensive rather than disinterested; for the causes not only offered, but indeed accepted, as conclusive, are so plainly inadequate to the effect, that they could answer only to a psychological need and not to an intellectual standard.

To dispose of the two explanations most popularly embraced, one (pseudo) sociological, one (selectively) human-developmental.

Were it really efficacious in producing the effect, so global an influence as the oft-cited “impossible images of female beauty” retailed by “the media” would surely affect in just this way (for that is what is in question) more than a numerically negligible few; and—since it could be as effectively satisfied by gaining body mass as by shedding it—the adolescent’s “desire to control her body” falls somewhat short (again) of explaining why the former is by far the more prevailing expedient, and not only among adolescents.

Now, the first of these explanations advances a cause that—allowing it to be operative—is more regularly associated with the absence of the effect in question than with its presence;  while the second alleges a cause that—allowing it to exist—would account as readily for the opposite of the effect as for the effect itself. Both are, then, intellectually speaking, not merely untenable but manifestly inane; but what interests us symptomatically (and what makes these inanities more than just a further instance of “poor insight”) is that both explanations retort the responsibility for the starveling’s condition—in psychological terms, deflect it—elsewhere, the one onto what we before called the world, here present as “the media,” and the other, onto the flesh, for it is after all “the natural and normal changes of adolescence” that the starveling is pathologized for striving to resist and reverse—tendentiously pathologized, of course, for so, too, are the changes incident to aging natural and normal, and no one is sent to therapy for trying to resist or reverse these; the only difference being, that the starveling’s (putatively counter-) measures actually succeed. Now, these two entities of the world and the flesh—or if you prefer, culture and nature—comprising, as they do, the total existential horizon of the therapeutically-minded, would seem to exhaust the roster of possible culprits to whom the liability for the conditions in question may be assigned; but the imputations would not be a defense mechanism were there not a third party from whom that very liability is thereby deflected.

The psychotherapists themselves have recognized this third factor. They call it “the family,” and have gone on to treat self-starvation, and to treat it, in the main, successfully, by their lights, as a pathology of “family dynamics.” But, as we have seen, the extreme dieter is not the true starveling; her condition is metaphysical; it is not from “lack of attention,” or “high expectations,” or domestic squabbling, or from any of the other household  trivialities that form the substance of adolescent self-dramatization, that she suffers, but from being as such, from existence in this form itself. But that existence was not its own cause; nor did society or clan call it into being; and the only parties really chargeable with authoring the metaphysical starveling’s misery are the very ones whose identity the diagnostical-therapeutical-ætiological prevarications aforementioned significantly conspire to leave altogether out of account, or, in psychological terms, to repress: her progenerators; that is, generally speaking, parents—in which regiment we may include therapists, counsellors, doctors and so on, either as members or as minions—in their function, not of inmates of the same household, but of breeders per se.

It is easy to see why a starveling’s parents, perceiving, how so dimly, in her revolt against existence, what it incidentally is, an indictment of the complacency with which they called hers into being, would be possessed with evading any recognition of their culpability, and become anxious when any insight threatened to breach the oblivion to which they have desperately relegated their guilt; hence their intellectual dishonestly, their rationalizing, their vehemence, and their acquiescence in the assorted barbarities loudly acclaimed as cure; and why these find so universal a reception.

As to the starveling herself, we find any form of life she adopts fully justified and worthy of respect, and even of admiration, as achieving a beautiful integrity of self-awareness and outward expression, and this, in the very teeth of the self-delusions and prevarications of the parental and professional—or what we may now call the secular—powers and principalities determined to violate and debase it. Plotinus’s mode of enduring will not be every starveling’s, of course; each will find her own personal form and degree of askesis, though, indeed, some never do, and these, the, as it were, doubly cosmically orphaned, deserve our solidarity the most; but each will be found in her particular endura to be living conformably with his final charge to all those who hunger after transcendence and thirst for release: ἄφαλε πάντα.