Provence of "Mind"

Carrol Cox cbcox at rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Sat Jul 1 21:44:51 MDT 1995


    I'm glad you saw my message as free of machismo, and it was more a
compliment than otherwise to assume I was female.

    A number of points have been raised, but I wish here to focus on one of
them, that I did not replace "social relations" with neurology, nor did I even
replace psychology with neurology. I replaced "psycho-social" with
"neuro-social." For decades I tried to understand why during long periods of
time I could work and think with minimal efficiency, and over other periods of
time I sank into a "slump." Back in the early 1950's I told my first wife that
some day I would have to consult a psychiatrist about my "procrastination." She
said I was crazy, but she was wrong, I was crazy. At that time I was more or
less friendly to psychoanalysis, let alone psychiatry  generically conceived.

    During the late 50s and early 60s I spent a great deal of time reading
Pound's Cantos, and early in my reading one line came as an almost supernatural
revelation: "The mortal fatigue of action postponed." It seemed to explain my
whole life to me.

    During all this time my basic understanding of myself was that I was in a
career field, pursuing a Ph.D. in English, in which there was never a time when
one could say, "There is nothing for me to do now!" One could always read
another book, think about a future class, take some notes towards a course to
be taken or taught the next semester. Hence it always seemed I was in the
position of the mortal fatigue due to postponing action.

    About two years before I finally sought treatment for depression, a
peculiar incident occurred which only made sense later. My wife was
(legitimately) complaining that I had been no damn use lately, and everything
was left to her. I started to reply, "As soon as I'm feeling better" (as though
I had been suffering an illness), when it suddenly occurred to me that the
proposition was incoherent: I hadn't been sick. Later, looking back, I could
see that I had been enduring a siege of depression. without identifying it as
such.
    As a metaphor: "Mind" is the area of overlap of brain and society;
"Psychology" is the area of overlap between neurology and politics. This leaves
a good deal of room for most of what you had to say in your messages. My
depression would have been much less (regardless of neuronic status) within a
set of social relations in which one did not have to exist as that unreal
reality, the "abstract individual." There is much discussion of that entity in
Marxist writings: for my own conception of it see my article on Milton in
Volume 23 (1987) of _Milton Studies_. My core conception is that in capitalist
society the "individual" is "forced to be free" because his/her choices are
made in abstraction from their meaning. A farmer plants field of wheat with no
real sense of its meaning, which is revealed only later by the abstract market.
So (neurons or no neurons) we are all more or less crazy in capitalist society.

    NEVERTHELESS, it is absolutely essential to remember that we are social
animals, enter into social relations, only because we are biological entities.
One may blush because one has been exercising vigorously in the sun or because
one is embarassed, but in either case the blush consists of the activity of the
blood vessels, and one can understand neither the exercise nor the (social)
embarassment if one forgets that biology. (I am thinking particularly here of
the work of Sebastiano Timpanaro, _On Materialism_ and _The Freudian Slip_.))

    And returning to the pharmacology of depression: when a medication works it
does not "drug" me; it lets me be me. I always took amitryptilene before in the
evening, and never felt "drugged" during the day. When I switched finally to
paxil, I had to add amitryptilene (50 mg) at night, or otherwise I would awaken
and be unable to get back to sleep at around 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. The feeling was
completely different from that given by a barbiturate (I took them after the
death of my first week, and they made me feel dead the next day).

    Incidentally, I was a cold-war liberal, trained in the history of ideas and
the New Criticism until my late 30s, and only became a Marxist in my early 40s.
That might make some difference in how I hold my ideas.
        Carrol Cox
        Illinois State Univ.


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