The intervening years have witnessed a significant, and appropriate, tightening of ethical guidelines whereby such levels of deception are virtually taboo. I wondered – albeit without following the field very closely – whether social psychology might become less exciting as a result. Psychology overall is open to criticism for shining a torch on what can be investigated rather than on what we need to know. I’m pleased to say that Richard Crisp’s highly accessible overview of recent research into cultural diversity has not only revitalised my interest in social psychology but is highly relevant to how we all live today. I touched on one of his papers in my recent post on Looking at difference, embracing diversity. The Social Brain develops those ideas in more depth and detail.
Playthings is the story of a man who wants to go home, but can’t. Paul Schreber is crippled by an illness he can’t understand; unluckily for him, the professionals tasked to help him don’t do much better. Based on the true story of a High Court judge who was the subject of one of Freud’s most important case studies, Alex Pheby’s second novel is a poignant and engaging exploration of a disturbed mind. As well as addressing the potential psychological causes, the author considers the potential sociocultural influences, including the rise of fascism.
And that, Dear Reader, takes me, particularly via Adorno’s work on the authoritarian personality, to my own studies of social psychology, as well as those that have influenced Crisp. As The Social Brain also references Freud, there’s a third connection between these two books I’ve reviewed. (But don’t worry, I manage to avoid over linking in my reviews on Shiny.)
Furthermore, I don’t know about you, but I always read the acknowledgements in a novel – oh look, another link, must be to mine! – mostly out of bog standard nosiness. But Alex Pheby’s was especially interesting. Is it an indictment of the creative writing industry or of publishing in general that the author should thank his publishers (Galley Beggar Press) for taking “the brave step of publishing this difficult book”? Difficult for whom, I wonder, certainly not for readers. This is rather too reminiscent of the strange case of the angry woman character.
The high notes battered my rib cage, a bird struggling to break free. How I admired them. How I envied them. Even the one who turned the page a beat behind the rest.
At the interval, I queued for tea between two of them. Blushing, like they were film stars, I confessed I was impressed.
“You should join us,” they said.
I shook my head. “Can’t read music. Can’t hold a tune.”
“Nonsense,” they said. “Everyone can sing.”
If I could stand among them, my voice mingling with theirs. Soaring to the vaulted ceiling. Like a flock of songbirds.