I live in the shadow of the Toronto Asylum, in Parkdale, Toronto’s great ghetto for gays, blacks, paupers, psychiatric survivors, etc. The neighbourhood begins at the overpass for the Canadian Pacific Railroad, where King and Queen Streets symbolically descend a little, so as not to interfere with the trains. Joseph Workman, Medical Superintendent 1853-1875, the “Nestor of Alienists,” fretted that the steepness would cause accidents. He also wanted the structure to be aesthetically pleasing, since it was so close to “his” grounds.
What marked the boundary of the Asylum, now marks the beginning of Parkdale. The patients of the Queen Street Mental Health Centre, the successor of the Toronto Asylum, rent the neighbourhood’s old houses and apartment buildings, more or less out-patient boarding-homes, many of them fire-traps. Workman observed that asylum treatment was at least better than an auto-da-fe; occasionally it seems no different.
The following is a discussion of the writings of the patients, inmates, and principal alienists of the Toronto Asylum, circa 1840 to 1920, organized around such themes as the relationship between medical authority and authorship, the textuality of disease, and the meanings of asylum.
My principal thesis is that doctors in rather self-interested ways constructed medical authority as authors, by troping the asylum and its diseases until, thanks to the perceived failure of things like “moral therapy,” and professional self-interest, they “virtually” troped it out of existence. I describe this troping in the doctors’ own texts, focused on the Toronto Asylum, because of its paradigmatic, long and troubled history. In the process I have probably reversed the usual relationship of such texts to history; what are usually treated as glosses are here treated as main text.
Toronto’s asylum doctors looked and gazed, but they also read and wrote. Their texts demonstrate, among other things, the persistent and even obsessive textuality of medical authority, even as they themselves protested — too much — that it was based on something more. These texts parallel, are affected by but also help to facilitate developments in the history of alienism and early psychiatry, from the failure of “moral therapy,” through the depressing period of “custodial care,” to the beginnings of clinical psychiatry, the “discovery” of dementia praecox, and the “Mental Hygiene” movement of the 1920s.
These texts describe a kind of North American “birth of the clinic,” not the austere Foucauldian clinic of the 19th-century, but something related to it in its capacity to generate, however crudely but viciously, the knowledge that not only enhances its power but also disseminates it. Of this phenomenon it is appropriate to ask, as Foucault does of the 18th-century clinic, whether one can rightfully “transform into an object of clinical observation a patient whose poverty has compelled him to seek assistance” (83), or whether it is not “a tacit form of violence … upon a sick body that demands to be comforted, not displayed” (84). The latter question dogs not only C.K. Clarke’s vociferations in the name of the Asylum on behalf of the clinic, but also the rhetoric of his predecessors, George Hamilton Park, Daniel Clark, and above all, of Joseph Workman, Clarke’s mentor as well as predecessor. In their various arguments, in pamphlets, articles, and annual reports these doctors continually display the bodies of the sick, to no good effect. Ironically, instead of the “dense and wealthy population of a metropolitan city,” which the original commissioners anticipated in the 1840s would mean a steady supply of students, an ever-growing population of urban poor supply it with variously depicted “plagues” of masturbators, monomaniacs, erotomaniacs, paretics, degenerates, schizophrenics, defective immigrants, low to high-grade morons, and feeble-minded women. The doctors play fast and loose not only with these diseases but also with the poor who seem to be especially vulnerable to them, and whose diseases it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish from poverty. The diseases vary with the role of the Asylum in professional imagination, but their epidemic and endemic character remains constant.
Beginning in the 1960s historians such as Erving Goffman, Gerald Grob, David Rothman, Ellen Dwyer, Constance McGovern, Roy Porter, and Andrew Scull have narrated the origins and described the character of asylums and mental hospitals. Most of their studies have been influenced by Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization: A History of Madness in the Age of Reason, with its idea of the “great confinement,” and its systematic debunking of the “Whiggish” or naively “progressive” view of such history. The most significant of these historians, Andrew Scull, has refined and qualified his earlier Foucauldianism (arguing that the idea of the “great confinement” is itself a myth, or a development peculiar to French history), but has retained and more clearly articulated his connection of the rise of the asylum in England to the development of a market economy. He remains an eloquent critic of psychiatric “professionalism.”
The following parallels these earlier histories, as in some ways it must, as a study of texts focused on an institution subject to the same economic and social forces as any other in a developing capitalist society. But it is also intended to elaborate another issue initially raised by Foucault, the absolute separation of reason and non-reason which he argues characterizes attitudes to madness in the “Age of Reason,” and marks its “constitution as a mental illness” (x). The texts that form the basis of this study, because of the common affiliation of their medical authors, together comprise a peculiarly intense “monologue of reason about madness” (x-xi) which helps us to understand some of the effects on discourse of its separation from its ostensible subject. The peculiar character of these texts owes much to their being “monologues,” an effect on the sane of their silencing of the mad. Despite (or because of) their monologic character, these texts are also curiously lopsided, self-incriminatingly polyvalent, and embarrassingly lacunar. At the risk of further one-sidedness, I confess that I sometimes read in them the “mirror writing” of the “silenced” mad, an effect on the sane of their silencing of themselves. Please note that, till further notice, this item is availabe to users of the archive, only to digitally copy for reading, entire and unaltered, including the author’s name and copyright on every page, strictly for personal and individual, non-insitutional, non-commercial use. It may not be hosted elsewhere, without permission.
January 28, 2011
I was glad to find a review by someone with more recent experience of CAMH, and willing to share it. I wish there were an accessible place for it. Maybe this will have to do. It’s long been a dream of mine, so why not.
It might interest some people to know that there’s now very little physically remaining of the old CAMH. Just the grounds, a few trees, and the much-fetishized walls.
It’s being replaced by a conference facility, a parking garage, and RETAIL COMMERCIAL SPACE.
This has plenty to do with the history described here – the long-awaited realization of C.K. Clarke’s dream, no asylum (in any sense of the word?) but an expensive “psychiatric facility” (clinic) where he could try out all his new machinery. A land-grab, touted as a TRANSFORMATION.
That’s the term appropriated by the folks supporting this, TRANSFORMING LIVES. False advertising, ironically in the name of REMOVING STIGMA, while reinforcing the worst stereotypes. People as passive “transformable” subjects. Who do these “transformers” think they are!
I suppose it’s a moot point whether people even can transform themselves. I think most Christians would argue, not without Jesus. It’s that order of thing. However, IF they can, they must do it themselves. Not some public corporation.
Simply on the empirical level, I know many clients of CAMH (I prefer the new moniker, SCAMH), whose lives have NOT been “transformed” by them. I don’t think they’d necessarily even want them to have been, lest they be screwed up worse. Then again, how could one prove it? Such claims seem inappropriate, excessive, self-aggrandizing, especially from a HOSPITAL.
Actually, we don’t have a hospital any more. That’s part of the problem. They’ll can it an “interagenerational wellness centre” (isn’t that a SPA?), with “alternative milieu units” (could that be ROOMS?).
It’s chilling to consider, that all all the great “transformers” have been quacks. Freud would never have used such language.
I think the new epithet, SCAMH (for SHOPPING CENTRES AND MODEL HOMES?) is well-deserved. It’s also better english.
I hope others will comment. Thanks, Boxcar.
February 27, 2011
I decided to upload some more images, now in the form of video clips made on a cheap Sony camcorder from Value Village (if anyone’s interested in the hardware). I wanted a few more images of the old “catchment area” — the neighborhood that SCAMH boasts its such a vital integral part of.
What came out, just from scanning the signage and store-fronts, looks like desuetude to me. I wondered if anything could unify such a crude and scattered assortment of images. I think something does.
It’s all the clinics and animal hospitals. The animal clinics, in other words. By which I don’t mean clients are animals, but that would have to be the inference of the way they’re being treated, at least from the signage — which isn’t the whole story, but which has to be a significant part of it. The animal clinics definitely look better than the human ones.
How come? This isn’t simply because all the human clinics are newer and temporary. Archway has been there for decades, and it looks cheap and nasty. The so-called Treatment Centre looks downright gross, parts thankly to the accidental irony which they probably didn’t think to do anything about: FRESH MEAT! Maybe that’s good. Maybe that says it all, like a found poem.
But where are all the MILLIONS going? Into something that at least helps people to feel a little better, that indicates that there’s respect somewhere? Evidently, NOT!
Creative Commons license: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
– March 8, 2011
I like the video-clips, which help contextualize what the asylum’s been replaced with. Clinics less-inviting than an ANIMAL hospital. The front of the demolition site plastered with bullshit and lies. It really begs the question, what’s being done with all the millions the self-designated TRANSFORMING LIVES campaign has raised. So ugly, cheap, NASTY and FALSE! So much for the kinder/gentler society! It’s MEAN and MENDACIOUS!
It seems the more things get “TRANSFORMED” the more they STAY THE SAME! I live in the hood, and the only difference now is we get to live in tiny, over-priced, bug-ridden apartments (like the welfare hotels at the bitter end of Queen West, for instance) and group-homes (this a BIYBY neighborhood, not in my but in your back yard) and we cut our clozapine with CRACK.
Face it, to paraphrase BIG DADDY. There’s an ODOUR OF MENDACITY AT SCAMH! It lies so bad, it STINKS!
Reviewer: boxcaro – – January 24, 2011
Subject: I lived in Parkside-Pierre Trudeu Died
Yesh, I rode into “T” Towen, From Detroit, on a CP Freight Train, a Undocumented Alien Hobo, With a Gibson Guitar. Some Kind Person took me to Sleep & Shower on Rancesvalles, in the AM told me; Doen by the Lakeside you can Camp. I stayed under the Walk Over from Parkside, King % Queen Terminus, hung about PARC Day Shelter, Played Guitar all over “T” Towen, Made Friends, Bought a Bicycle, drank GOOD STRONG CANADIAN BEER, met MAYOR MEL at the Food Bank Benefit ( I played & Sang Hobo-Johnny Original Songs,) Ate the Big Thanksgiving Feast, returned where I’d left my Back Pack, found the Lady was a Crack-Head, had RIFILED THROUGH my Pack, Screamed And Threatened, Left on a Freight, went Over the Niagra Falls, on a Canadian Freight Train, wound Up in Tijuana, Mexico, Got a PASS PORT, now am Ready To Go Back to “RUSH” and “NOVA SCOTIA” home of “Beauty,Eh?” the ‘Great White North!” I made better as a Schizophreniac Homeless Hobo Guitar & Harmonicaist in TORONTO than I do as a Social Security 62 Year Old Retired Hobo Tramp in AmeriKKKa.
QUEENS LUNATIC ASYLUM, I went there often to EAT & Play Music, & I learned COMPUTER SCIENCES there. The People I Met (Even the C.O.P.s= Constables On Patrol) told me : “We Liuke Ya’, BOXCAR! We are going to make ya’ a ‘Offical Canadian!”
I listen to CBC often, I heard a song released within the past year or so..a Guitar Piece, named “BOXCAR BOB” well, I MET & STAYED with the Gentleman who Composed that song, He Played it for me, he had a Classical Guitar! Lived in a “Rented Loft” up North of Parkside. (I cannot remember exactlyt…) But EVERYBODY was Very Good, in TORONTO the GOOD.
Lest I Forget, I Made a Very Dear Friend, a Agent of Canadian Immigration & Deportation Authority, (Now Retired) I.B. Tingley. a World Traveler, a Scholar & Genius, a Manic Depressive, a MODERN DAY KANT, a Reincarnate GOTHE, a Small Version of PAUL BUNYON, a Gentle Caligula, a Pope Pious Perfected, a MALE counterpointe of Mother Thresa, a LAPTOP COWBOY.
“Hi Ya’ BRAD!”