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Monday, August 19, 2013

Observing Sweden 19 August 2013

The Sleep of Reason

We went to another historical event in Säter this weekend. The last asylum, opened 1912, closed 1967. Inmates fell into three categories: the calm, the dirty and dull, the unreliable.

        There was a gallery of artwork done by long-gone patients; amateurs with less than average talent. There were lots of portraits, a few buildings, trees and cows, that sort of thing. I expected to see a lot of emotion, but the drawings were bland . . . flat. Maybe that was the emotion.  This one stopped me.

Feels so sad, aloneness . . . emptiness. There was a farm patients worked.  Poor Lars.

            There were the usual torture devices, restraints . . . A tub tie down for the agitated and disturbed. ‘Continuous Bath,’ the treatment was called. Patients were immersed in room temperature water for half a day . . . or more.

            They used electroshock. I watched an ongoing black and white film of some guy getting the juice . . . jerking around like one of those old dancing knee puppet kids used to have. A teacher I once taught with had shock treatment as a teenager. He escaped from where he was somehow, and hitchhiked from Seattle to Los Angeles. How do we survive these things . . . ? Most of us do.

            They were using all this in the States as well, of course. These asylums were a great improvement, state of the art. The best care possible. They were clean, with patients under nonstop observation and care. Nobody got hurt beyond the occasional lobotomy.

            I passed a lace making machine on my way out. Had no idea what it was at first. My wife did. Seems amazingly complex. You can see a narrow strip of lace coming out at the top center of the device.

        These scales were in the kitchen. Such amazing craftsmanship, the detail, from a time when there was lots of time, no cell phones or TV.


          Now we have psychotropic drugs, and no asylums. There are 40 buildings here. The well kept grounds are like a park, picturesque rolling lawns and trees. Reminded me of something I once read, about a man sitting on a comfortable chair, in a beautiful garden. It’s a perfect, sunlit, summer day, and he’s losing his mind and knows it, feels it crumbling away. Now we have drugs, you can lose your mind without noticing it.

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