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all that is old is new again

In light of the googly-woogly about Tom Cruise’s recent bout of eccentricity, a few thoughts. (I know.)

  1. Dianetics and Scientology emerged around the time of the ‘anti-psychiatric’ movement’s first flourishings. This was the period of Szasz’s Myth of Mental Illness, RD Laing’s work at Kingsley Hall to provide schizophrenics with an environment in which they could live ‘normally’, etc. Indeed, Szasz co-founded the anti-psychiatry Citizens Commission on Human Rights in 1969, although he makes it pretty damn clear that he isn’t ‘one of them’

    In an era in which ECT, lobotomies and very rough medication was much more commonplace,and those benzodiazepines and opiates and god-knows-what-else were being peddled to US consumers — think of Robert Lowell’s ‘These are the tranquillized fifties’ — that critique had a lot of validity. Even now, there are important debates on the DSM‘s classification model and models of treatment. But Scientology makes more historical sense when seen in the context of, say, the Human Potential Movement. Sort of. Its terms of reference are certainly somewhat obsolescent, and remain rooted in a superseded psychiatric past.

  2. But the secret scripture bollocks reveals Scientology as profoundly pre-modern in its approach to mental illness: a return to models of external possession (engrams) in place of internal self-possession and dispossession. In short, ‘auditing’ is nothing less than exorcism, the driving out of demons. Yes, it’s wrapped up in sci-fi mumbo jumbo (Xenu! Xenu!) but it’s actually more primitive than animal spirits and overzealous humours. Pre-Renaissance primitive. Match that with 21st century litigiousness, and you’ve got a right old mess.

Knowing the work of Georges Canguilhem is really helpful here. It’s curious, to say the least, that what comes around goes around, a bit like Linda Blair’s head.