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Spider and Smart

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In class today we talked about whether or not it was Spider’s fault that he killed his mother.  We talked about how determining fault is a sticky task since it’s nearly impossible to separate Spider from his mental disability.  Amanda suggested that without the mental disability, Spider wouldn’t be who he was so it’s impossible to know if he killed his mother solely because if his mental disability.  I think it was Dr. Foss who mentioned that this is a tricky issue in the court of law today.  If a person is mentally unstable (like Spider) how should they be treated in court?

That discussion reminded me of an article I read before class about the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.  For those of you who don’t know you Elizabeth Smart is, she was abducted from her home at the age of 14 in Utah in 2002.  She was found alive and returned to her family nine months later after being made into her kidnapper’s second wife and being sexually abused among other things (here’s a link to the whole story).  Since I have family living in Utah, I remember being out there and seeing billboards with her face on them, both in search of her and after she was found.

The man who abducted her was Brian David Mitchell and the article I read was about how he is  being brought to court, eight years after the actual kidnapping.  The reason it has taken this long is because Mitchell’s mental health was in question.  The article says,

Mitchell was diagnosed with a delusional disorder and was twice deemed incompetent for trial in state court.  Defense attorneys maintain Mitchell is unable to participate in his own defense. In court papers, attorneys have said they’ll mount an insanity defense, claiming Mitchell was so impaired in 2002 that he can’t be held legally responsible.

However, earlier this year, a district judge deemed Mitchell “competent to face trial.”

What does everyone think?  Should Mitchell be exempt from legal responsibilities because of his mental state?  What should happen to him?  This is an issue Spider obviously didn’t have to deal with being a fictional character.

Written by Susan

November 1st, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Mairin Martin’s Formal Blog Post on Patrick McGrath’s Spider (part 3)

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“[The creatures] have learned too, the insidious technique of taking the content of my days thoughts and rendering it filthy or absurd or grotesque, and sometimes even as I’m writing I can’t stop myself looking up, I see a skewed imitation of the very matter on the page in front of me- see now! See them do it now! See how huge my hands are, disproportionately huge, and my face long and yellow with the skin flaking off in a shower like the scales of a cod under the fish monger’s knife! Oh see him fumbling there, the poor monster, fumbling with his pencil with those great misshapen paws- the pencil so tiny and delicate now as he tried to grasp and manipulate it- and I tear my eyes away, force myself back to the book…”
– Spider pg. 213

As Dennis goes longer and longer without his medications, his mind sinks further and further in to the realm of the world he creates with his schizophrenia. While in this state of mind, Dennis no longer has control over the splitting of himself into different beings. As he unravels, the narrator reveals to the reader the reasons behind his need to create Spider, to displace the blame for his mother’s murder. With an unlocked mind, Dennis allows himself to remember that he killed his mother. Immediately upon doing so, the narrator reverts to speaking of Spider in the third person. This time, it is not with a loving and sentimental voice that he speaks of Spider, as he did earlier in the novel, reflecting on the only times of contentment in his life which were spent alone with his mother who called him Spider because she knew that was who he really was. Now that the narrator has discovered he is responsible for his mother’s death he speaks of the Spider in himself as an “other”. There is a man separate from himself who is writing in his diary. This man, Spider, is a monster. Dennis wants to be able to blame someone else for his horrific actions and so he creates Spider. Here, Dennis is displaying the desire of the “normal” people to reassure themselves of their normality by dwelling on the monstrosity of the “others”. Dennis’ half of the brain, the “good lunatic” side, describes Spider as a monster in order to make sense of why he would murder his mother.

Another result of the lack of medication is that the creatures are not only more prevalent, but they have become more active beings, beginning just as loud voices scuffling in the attics then speaking directly to Spider (“kill her”) and now openly mocking and ridiculing the narrator. Rather than subject himself to this torture, the narrator pulls himself aside and leaves Spider behind. In this way, he can be Dennis and he can be on the stronger side; he can be one of the crowd and join with the creatures in the attic, mocking the deformed Spider rather than sitting weak and lonely, the object of their ridicule. Through the mechanics of blame and desperation to separate himself from the part responsible for his mother’s death, the narrator begins to show, for the first time, the origins of his schizophrenia that are based in the need to shift blame from himself. In doing so, Dennis displays an acute sense of understanding of social norms. He attempts to convince himself of his normality and sanity by casting out and chastising the “other”, the Spider, within him. He uses the mentally disabled part of himself as a scapegoat for the actions for which he is too weak to take responsibility.

Written by Mairin Martin

November 1st, 2010 at 9:44 am

McGrath on the Problem of Drawing on Psychiatry for a Fiction Writer

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Thought some of you might find this interesting– McGrath talks specifically here about mental illness and Spider.

Written by gormanda

October 29th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Sarah Roop’s Formal Blog Post on Patrick McGrath’s Spider, Part 2

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“(I know this feeling, I too have been tormented in this way, I too have felt them clacking and clicking round the back of my head like the teeth of a hound, like a cloud of chattering gnats, in fact the sound is rarely absent, though most of the time it is mercifully subdued, more of a hum than anything else.)” pg. 88

Plagued by images that haunt his mind, Denis, known as Spider, is left to live in the horrors he has witnessed and those that his mind creates and tends to dwell upon. As a young child, Spider’s father commits the horrific crime of murder, which impacts Spider’s life and his memories surrounding that time in his life.  Spider’s narrative demonstrates his impressive mental capability for remembering the facts and details of a situation, however he does not relay his own feelings and reactions to the story. After his father comes to realize the fullness of his actions of killing his wife, about two days after the murder, a wave hits him. It is to this is what Spider is relating to in the passage. He describes his head as an epicenter of perceptions, a constant and dull part of his life. It is through this passage that it is shown that the loss of control illustrated overwhelms Spider after the loss of his mother and does not permit him to fully grasp the situation.

The narrative of Spider’s life lacks complexity and great emotion that is often present, especially after a young child loses their mother. He is left unaware of the full situation for a period of time, simply recounting the details of the home and the smell of his father’s mistress, Hilda Wilkinson. He admits to not knowing where his mother was, and wonders where she has gone? But he does not appear to go looking for her, instead retreats to his room or spies on his father and Hilda Wilkinson. It is as if he is unable to fully comprehend at the time, that she is gone. Spider’s narrative then comes back to the present, and he states that “familiar running together of past and present has occurred”, as he is unable to differentiate the fine line in his mind. The jumble in his mind relates to the “clanking and clicking”, and though he says it is often subdued, it overwhelms him to the point that it interferes with his mental processes. A constant hum can be as excruciating as the chaos itself.

The memory and loss of his mother left Spider in a state of shock, lost to confusion. In turn, this added to the disarray that he identified in the back of his mind. The inability to completely realize and comprehend left Spider at a disadvantage. The event further illuminated that Spider is victim to his mind, as he simply describes his surroundings in a blunt, matter-of-fact manner.

Written by sroop

October 29th, 2010 at 11:29 am

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Susan’s Formal Post on Patrick McGrath’s Spider, part 1

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I am not a fast walker; I shuffle, rather than walk, and often I am forced to stop dead in the middle of the pavement.  I forget how to do it, you see, for nothing is automatic with me anymore, not since I came back from Canada.  The simplest actions—eating, dressing, going to the lavatory—can sometimes pose near-insurmountable problems, not because I am physically handicapped in any way, but rather because I lose the easy, fluid sense of being-in-the-body that I once had; the linkage of brain and limb is a delicate mechanism, and often, now, for me, it becomes uncoupled. (10)

This passage from Patrick McGrath’s Spider comes from the very beginning of the book.  I found it to be important because it is the first instance that allows us to know of Spider’s mental disability, a significant influence throughout the rest of the book.

Spider’s mental disability is established not by an explicit statement, but rather as a foil to physical disability. He reveals that he is challenged by walking, along with “eating, dressing, going to the lavatory,” and that these activities “can sometimes pose insurmountable problems” (10).  These challenges could easily be classified as the result of a physical disability since they are activities difficult for Spider to complete.  However, in this passage Spider makes it clear that physical disability is not the case.  He states he has these problems “not because I am physically handicapped in any way,” but because his “linkage of brain and limb” sometimes becomes “uncoupled” (10).  This is the reasoning presented to us as an explanation behind the disconnect between Spider’s mind and the rest of his body.

Although this is an abstract representation of mental disability (as most representations are), it is firmly established that Spider is suffering from something inside his mind, rather than a physical impairment.  Without this important insight into the character of Spider, a reader would have difficulty understanding the character and motivations of Spider for the remainder of the book.

Written by Susan

October 27th, 2010 at 11:53 am

Sarah S.’s Formal Blog Post on Spider pt 1

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“It was the cloak of spectral unreality I loved, the cloak it spread over the familiar forms of the world. All was strange in a fog, buildings grew vague, human beings groped and became lost, the landmarks, the compass points, by which they navigated melted into nothingness and the world was transfigured into a country of the blind. But if the sighted became blind, then the blind—and for some odd reason I have always regarded myself as one of the blind—the blind became sighted, and I remember feeling at home in a  fog, happily at ease in the murk and gloom that so confused my neighbors. I moved quickly and confidently through fog-blanketed streets, unvisited by the terrors that lurked everywhere in the visible material world; I stayed out as late as I could in a fog.” (page 67)

Spider is unique in that we get a close (legible) inner monologue from a mentally disabled character. Certain passages, such as the one above, give us a valuable insight into the thought process of a mentally disabled person (although it would help to know what disability). In the passage above, we see Spider’s alienation from the world around him and his inability to cope with normal perspectives.

Spider’s love of fog sets him apart from his “neighbors,” from the normal inhabitants of the city and their behaviors. Most people are disoriented in the fog, not able to rely on their usual landmarks and sense of direction. Spider, because he is so unlike the rest of the population, likes when these roles are reversed, so that he can walk like a normal person would, unhindered through the streets. To Spider, the real fear is in the “visible material world,” which is blanketed by the fog and thus obscured. The fog covers over all of the stressful real world sights and sounds that Spider is unable to deal with because of his disability.

It is interesting when he says that he has considered himself as “one of the blind,” because it shows a strange self-awareness of this disability, but a misplaced awareness nonetheless. He seems to understand that he does not fit in with normal society, but cannot pinpoint exactly what is wrong with him that sets him apart. For instance, he has no perception that the voices in the attic aren’t actually there, but figures out that the gas is not leaking from him and he was just freaking out.

Spider does not fit in with the world around him, and thus enjoys the cloaking atmosphere of the fog because it allows him to behave “normally,” at least compared with the rest of the world.

Written by sarahsmile

October 27th, 2010 at 1:42 am