We’ll give you a complex, and we’ll give it a name

I was wandering back from the shops earlier today, and stopped to admire a newly flowering shrub in a neighbour’s front garden. Inevitably, being a typical smartphone-addicted twenty-first century girl et cetera et cetera, I found myself wishing there were an app that would identify what kind of plant it was. A little while later I remembered that there are such things as BOOKS that contain things like WORDS and PICTURES, and certain kinds of these books can help you find out what things are, similar to how an app works (if a little slower and heavier). Besides, I could have googled a description of the shrub and found out that way. The point is, I wanted to know its name. Why? So that I could remember it, and maybe have one in my front garden when I have a house of my own (sometime in the indeterminable future). Naming things is useful like that.

What happens, though, if the name of something becomes more important than the thing it represents? Earlier this year, I read Jon Ronson‘s excellent book The Psychopath Test, in which the investigative journalist looks into a variety of psychiatric conditions, and into psychiatry itself, and how people view psychiatrists … it’s very interesting, and I thoroughly recommend it. One part of the book that interested me in particular was the description of how new mental disorders are ‘discovered’, and entered into a textbook on psychiatric conditions called DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), published by the American Psychiatric Association. It seems the disorders are constantly reviewed, revised, renamed, conglomerated, divided, deleted … Some things that were previously considered disorders are now considered to be normal, and vice-versa. I suppose it’s probably the same with all fields of medicine, but it did strike me. Ronson also mentions that a disorder called ‘Internet Addiction’ was rejected by the DSM board for inclusion in the latest edition … Apparently they felt that spending too long on the internet could be a symptom of depression, but it wasn’t an isolated mental condition in itself.

Anyway, this all got me thinking (hardly a ground-breaking thought but here it is…), isn’t it funny how we so often want to label and pigeon-hole things? I feel that sometimes, giving a name to something can be as restrictive as it can be helpful. I’m no expert, but I have had experience working with a fair few autistic children. Now, in the UK, a diagnosis of autism entitles a child to an education action plan, and schools receive extra funding to help autistic children remain in mainstream schools for the same education as children without autistic spectrum disorders. Fair enough – there are evidently pros and cons to this, generally speaking I’m in favour, but like I say, I’m not an expert. But I have heard anecdotal evidence of children being rushed through a diagnosis so that they can get these benefits, and then turning out not to have an ASD after all. More and more children are being diagnosed with ASDs – something else that Jon Ronson talks about in his book – but how much are they really benefitting from the diagnosis?

I’ve gone off on a massive tangent, really, and I’m out of my depth now. I suppose I should really delete all of that and start again (I’m not going to … not that I really need to tell you I’m not going to as you’ve already read all that and seen that I didn’t delete it). At least it’s relevant to the general themes of this blog … I had intended to write about knitting along to post-rock records, because that’s what I’ve been doing all day. But then I started musing on how much I dislike the names of genres. I mean, if you haven’t heard of post-rock before, then you aren’t going to learn anything from the name, are you? Then again, I suppose it’s better than a lot of genre names. Chillwave and slowcore and all that nonsense. Who cares of something is described as punk when technically it’s new-wave? Does it make it sound any better or worse?

(Insert obligatory Shakespeare quote here)

Let’s end on another vaguely relevant song. Might blog about the actual knitting and that tomorrow.


About Sarah

Still just trying to make sense of the world.
This entry was posted in issues, music, waffle and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to We’ll give you a complex, and we’ll give it a name

  1. I agree a lot. In archaeology we keep on creating typologies: sword typologies, pin typologies, figurines pots and clay bin typologies, but they are just an interpretive tool; they’re inapplicable to the past cultures we’re trying to study, and unless they can help us take our interpretation one step further it’s not useful, and can just trap us in a box of assigning designations to things without meaning. I feel the same way about genre – it’s useful, but it can confine.

  2. Knoob says:

    I’m feeling a little more generous today, and I suppose that these terms are useful (when applied correctly) if you’re talking with other people who know what you’re talking about. But so often I read interviews with musicians saying things like, “we’ve been identified with the neo-acid-post-hard-anti-folkcore movement, but we just see ourselves as a jam band” and so on.
    Today I couldn’t resist buying a copy of the re-issued-with-documentary-DVD edition of Neon Golden by The Notwist, and a quote from the liner notes sums it up for me: “Music biz types speak a mysterious language. Instead of talking about the quality or the sound of a band, they write that the whole thing has vibes and that it’s mega checked-out.” It’s just too many people talking about the same thing and trying to outdo each other with clever words. The same thing happens in the ‘education industry’ – consultants are paid many times what teachers are paid, to come up with new ways of saying things that have always happened anyway. Assessment for learning. Behaviour for learning. All this nonsense. Tell the b*ggers to be quiet and mark their books! What’s new about that?

    At least the words in knitting actually mean something!

  3. Pingback: Advice sought! | knittingformentalhealth

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