Saturday, November 24, 2007

Capgras', Fregoli's, Cotard's, Oh My!

While reading, I made hundreds of connections from this reading to other readings, things we discuss in class etc., but when I looked back on all of the pages I folded or highlighted, I can’t seem to recall what I wanted to write about them. My memory has really been failing me, which I suppose is a connection to our class in itself. I managed to salvage half of what I wanted to share with you all, so here goes.

I find it interesting that each sub-story relates to a syndrome the book and our class have been discussing. On page 347, Karin has this devastating revelation that zings throughout her body during the crane debate. What if everybody had Capgras’? I think the characters in the book express the fear we joked about in our last class. Orienting yourself so fully in a disease or syndrome can almost make it contagious; it appears as if everyone has it. On page 353, Powers draws a parallel to Fregoli’s syndrome. Weber’s talking to Sylvie about how Barbara reminds him of someone, and until then, he hadn’t been able to put his finger on whom. Turns out, she reminded him of himself (would a patient suffering from Fregoli’s syndrome ever have this mistaken reminder? Is that another syndrome?) This reminds me of the two books we read by Margot Livesey. She made her undiagnosed characters appear even more ill or affected than the so-called “sick” characters.

Mark suffers from the array of syndromes we read about in Chapter 5 of Hirstein’s book. He lives through a years worth of Capgras’ syndrome, only for it to get worse. It triggers Fregoli’s syndrome, and eventually Cotard’s syndrome. Reading about Cotard’s in Hirstein’s book made it seem really unrealistic to me. Powers illustrated the severity of the syndrome in an urgent way. When Mark calls her in the middle of the night, I wanted her to go get him! I wouldn’t believe in his safety, despite how much he reassured me. I have some questions about Mark’s ailments. Might this be a typical series of events for actual Capgras’ patients? Is it normal for a person to experience all three syndromes or was this just a particular case? I remember Weber saying that accident induced Capgras’ is a rare occurrence, so it makes sense if this is case specific.

There are a couple of things I don’t feel resolved about. On page 374, very briefly, only a line, Karin asks is Cappy ever touched Mark. Is this the slightest allusion to sexual abuse? What would that mean for the story, the relationship between the characters, Mark’s personality? Why was this line included? The second thing that has been bugging me is Daniel. He was the dullest character for the first 300 pages, I hated reading about him. He didn’t respond much to Karin’s tooling him around; he didn’t feel like a realistic character. But then all this crazy information drops on you like a bomb. Mark accuses Daniel of homosexuality and bestiality. And I just wonder, are these theories grounded? Is this to show the failure of Marks mind, does it have any real significance? Why would this be included in the story?

After Hirstein’s chapters, I am even more curious about this creation phase. The example is given that two people can sustain the same kind of damage and one will confabulate while the other will not. What does this mean? Is confabulation a good or bad thing? Does it show a healthy brain trying to overcome an illness or does it show an unhealthy brain? Will we find out more about a patient when they confabulate? Would a doctor rather see a patient confabulating (after suffering from such damage) or not? On page 196, it is mentioned that patients who spontaneously voice confabulations are sicker than the ones who only confabulate when questioned. I guess this would prove that the more the confabulation occurs, the worse off the patient is, but isn’t being vocal better than being non-responsive at all? I think I’m not getting something here. Hirstein seems to be repetitive so you can learn things, but doesn’t go far into the detail that he should.

On 199, it is made clear that a patient that confabulates can sometimes unconsciously tell the truth. Even though I understand his points on this matter, why can’t the patient be noted on being truthful? It’s not like the patient is consciously lying and accidentally telling the truth. It’s all unconscious!

One last thing on the last few chapters or Hirstein’s book… Did anyone else detest the structure of “if p then q” mathematics symbolism? It made everything twenty times harder to understand. I came to Sarah Lawrence for a reason, guys.


Madeline said...

I liked that you noted that the "healthy" characters in both Powers' and Livesey's books are more screwed up, in a way, than the brain-damaged ones. It's really true. Mark, when you think about it, is not the most complex character - even with his Capgras considered. He was a very ordinary person before his accident, and I don't think the accident made him any more "special" or interesting. His condition is interesting, to an extent, but even his delusions are limited in their creativity. When he talks about government conspiracies and Karin 2 having parts of Karin "downloaded" into her, he seems like he's just drawing off of movies he's watched.

Barbara, in contrast, is a much more complex and mysterious character. Ironically, the only person whom Mark does not perceive as an impostor turns out to be the only real impostor in the book. That says a lot about Mark - he is not too insightful. Neither is Karin, who fawns over Barbara. Unfortunately, I don't think we get a chance to learn very much about the "real" Barbara. We have only one small section written from her perspective, and since it takes place before the book started, it doesn't tell us much about the person Barbara is throughout the course of the action in the story, or afterward.

Powers' characterization of Weber in the last few chapters seemed very inconsistent to me. He never struck me as the noblest of characters, but I would never have expected him to cheat, or sort-of cheat, or cheat emotionally - I was so confused by his intentions - on his wife. In addition, it struck me as unnecessarily cruel for him to tell Sylvie about an "other woman" when he hadn't even done anything with her yet. I've never been married, so I can't really say, but I'd expect that throughout the course of such a long marriage it's perhaps inevitable that at least one person might feel an attraction to someone else. While it's important to be open with your spouse, I believe that that's something you should keep to yourself. Unless, of course, Weber already knew that he intended to cheat on Sylvie when he told her about Barbara, which is a whole other story.

The allusion to sexual abuse that you mention stood out to me, but at the same time I was not that surprised by it. It seemed consistent with what we know about Karin and Mark's family. It seemed obvious that their mother, because of her religious conversion, repressed any conversations about sex that might have gone on in their household, and that Mark and Karin probably grew up very ignorant about it. I think that such ignorance can make children vulnerable to abuse. In addition, Cappy doesn't seem like a model father to begin with, so it all makes sense to me.

I was a little confused as well by Mark's changing symptoms toward the end of the book. It's Capgras! No, now he has Fregoli's! Now he has Cotard's! It didn't seem, though, that Mark's pathology was really changing as much as the delusions that it produced were being interpreted in different ways by Mark. His brain injury causes him to perceive things differently, and then Mark - unconsciously - makes up explanations for it. His changing diagnosis is just evidence of his attempts to explain what is going on when faced with contradictory evidence.

Lauren S said...

I think that in the normal vs. brain damaged dynamic illustrated by Powers, he used a lot of what Hirstein wrote about regarding self-deception and the varying degrees to which we all confabulate, or lie, or deceive. Karin may have been the most honest character in the book because she admitted difficult feelings like not being sure she wanted Mark cured. From Barbara to Weber to Daniel to Rupp and Duane, these characters lied and deceived, sometimes out of a need for self-protection, sometimes out of fear. Karin lied too, of course, by cheating on Daniel for one thing, but I still think she was perhaps the least delusional of the bunch. (Or maybe that would be Bonnie, though her religious convictions may put her in the category of self-deceiver...)

All the characters struggle with issues of identity--their own and the identities of the people in their lives--showing how we all have moments of Capgras, Fregoli's, etc. Hirstein's mind reading issue is also explored, I think, especially in Karin and Daniel's relationship and Weber and Sylvie's (although I can't quite wrap my head around the whole mind reading thing, or at least Hirstein's emphasis on it, because isn't so much of mind reading projection?). I think one purpose of the cranes is to compare the simplicty of a bird's identity to complicated humanity. If not burdended with consciousness and our silly sense of self, how much easier life would be? Weber was obeying his animal instincts, more mammal than man, by giving in to his feelings for Barbara.

I never liked that Barbara, she was just a little too perfect, but I didn't suspect her until about halfway through part 4. My opinions of the other characters vacillated but I ended up liking, or at least sympathizing with, all of them (except that Barbara).

RandyO said...

You might be interested in the new movie, "Synecdoche, New York." The story is not about mental illness per se; it really deals more with art and mortality. But the name of the main character (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is Cotard. At one point, he gets on an elevator and punches a button for the floor he wants; next to the button is the name "Capgras." Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman ("Eternal Sunshine," "Adaptation," etc.), the movie has been greeted with the usual -- for Kaufman -- mix of praise, scoffing and confusion. I haven't seen any critics who picked up on the Cotard / Capgras allusions, but then I don't read many reviews. You wouldn't need to recognize the references in order to enjoy the very well crafted (and acted!) story. Interesting, though.