When Death and Dream Became Sister and Brother

1988

Text excerpted from Milorad Pavic’s The Dictionary of the Khazars (1984 in Serbian, 1988 in English). The second paragraph of this excerpt was used by singer-songwriter Peter Murphy in lyrics to the song Shy [Deep (1989/90)]. This creation was simultaneous to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe, which first began to publish October of 1988 (cover dated January of 1989). In Gaiman’s archetypal system, Dream and Death are brother and sister.

Akshany, Yabir Ibn (17th Century)

Anatolian minstrels (lute and tambourine players) believed that Satan used this name for a while and that he appeared under it before one of the most celebrated lute players of the 17th century – Yusef Masudi. Ibn Akshany was himself a very deft player. There exists a written record of his fingering for a song, so we know that he used more than ten fingers to play his instrument.

He was a good looking man; he carried no shadow, and his shallow eyes were like two trampled puddles. Although he declined to make public his opinions about death, he conveyed them indirectly through his tales, advising people to read dreams or to gain knowledge about death from the dream hunters. Two proverbs are ascribed to him: (1) “Death is the surname of sleep, but that surname is unknown to us”; (2) “Sleep is the daily end of life, a small exercise in death, which is its sister, but not every brother and sister are equally close.”

He once wanted once wanted to show people just how death operated, and he did so by using a Christian military commander whose name has been preserved: he was called Avram Brankovich, and he fought in Walachia, where, Satan claimed, every man is born a poet, lives like a thief, and dies a vampire.

The Americanization of Mental Illness

Posted a few days ago in the New York Times. This article points to the social construction of mental disease diagnostics, and how American psychiatry is creating new norms about human consciousness on a global level.

“Swimming against the biomedical currents of the time, they have argued that mental illnesses are not discrete entities like the polio virus with their own natural histories. These researchers have amassed an impressive body of evidence suggesting that mental illnesses have never been the same the world over (either in prevalence or in form) but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places …

In any given era, those who minister to the mentally ill — doctors or shamans or priests — inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate. Because the troubled mind has been influenced by healers of diverse religious and scientific persuasions, the forms of madness from one place and time often look remarkably different from the forms of madness in another.

That is until recently.

For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. … There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well … we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases. These symptom clusters are becoming the lingua franca of human suffering, replacing indigenous forms of mental illness.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/magazine/10psyche-t.html?em