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Culture and Psychopathology

The Anthropology of Mental Illness

Georgi Onchev

The book sets itself the ambitious task of exploring the relationship between human culture and the phenomenon of mental illness, that which has embarrassed, fascinated, and challenged educated minds throughout the centuries. Various manifestations of this phenomenon are examined in specific cultural contexts, presented with notable competence, and illustrated with memorable descriptions of clinical cases. (…) The book and its author have many merits—the capacity to present a highly specialized subject in an intelligible, absorbing, and simultaneously profound manner; respectable erudition and academic self-discipline; and the notable skill of handling different domains of knowledge, among others. The most remarkable quality, however, is the author’s concern both for the reader—who is carefully led into quite unknown and still frightening territory—as well as for his protagonists, the mentally ill. All told, I believe that this book will be of interest not just to students of psychiatry, psychology, and anthropology, but also to a broader circle of readers who are excited by the wretched and admirable destiny of being human.

Haralan Alexandrov

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13 Epilogue: After Tomorrow


The answer is blowing in the wind.

B. Dylan

In the epilogue of his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, R. Pirsig makes a brilliant comparison between the Renaissance era and the modern age with the eloquent reminder that Renaissance period was only defined as such years later.160 Unlike the evaluation of later generations, its contemporaries had extremely negative opinions about their time. The journeys which led to great geographical discoveries were perceived as simple adventures; new dramatic works, poetry, and paintings—as in poor taste; and the urban way of life—a moral disgrace. The era’s scientific discoveries and social upheavals were met with shock and were viewed as signs of an overt rejection of Medieval rules, security, and predictability. The indecency of stage plays (frequently welcomed by throwing rotten eggs), widespread drunkenness in ports, on the streets, and at universities, undisguised prostitution, and widespread disrespect to social norms, traditions, and even the church left no doubt about the collapse of revered centuries-old feudal values. These changes were experienced painfully. The reference term “Renaissance”, as well as the evaluation of progress made in all areas of life, would only appear almost two centuries later.

Similarly, today’s cultural changes are perceived with nostalgia for old values and without recognizing their potential for the future. The velocity of these changes is scary, leaving many to feel that global chaos is replacing the coziness and slower pace from the hierarchically more ordered...

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