By Frederick Busch, Harmony Books, New York, 1997.
by Kate Humphreys '90
Upstate New York. Poor in spots. Beautiful to many who live there. Isolated and rural to some who are passing through. And cold in winter. Frederick Busch's latest novel, Girls, takes place there. In the winter, too.
There is no good time of year to search for a missing child, to stop someone from taking her life, to stop abusers from abusing, to long for your own dead infant, and to fall out of love. But it is in the darkness of winter that the protagonist, Jack, has to face these realities. Jack is too solid to be spread thin, so instead life just chips away at him. He would like stories to have happy endings and for people to be content in the way that his dog is content, but he has seen too much, been hurt too much and hurt others too much, so he knows how life is. He tries to do the right thing, to reach out, to be fair. Other times he kicks in faces and cheats and lies while all the time wondering if what is right is actually right. He doesn't know his own depth or intelligence.
After reading Girls by Frederick Busch you will never forget the face on the missing child poster; you might even remember her name, weight and height. The novel's setting, a frozen central New York winter, further exacerbates the hopelessness Jack feels about life. The novel's depiction of the winter's cold and snow made this reader think about the things we sometimes have buried deep inside us, demons and old wounds, and how difficult it is to get at them, let alone do something about them.
Some girls are fragile in bone structure and sharp of tongue, some girls look solid on the outside but are crumbling within. Though the story captures girls and women and boys and men it is titled Girls for a reason. In 280 pages, Busch chronicles girls who disappear, are raped, are slapped and pronged, are 14 and dressed in black lace and in the arms of a graying Neanderthal with a vocabulary that sounds like a foreign language. Why is it this way? Though Jack will tell you he can't explain, just follow him for a day, up a hill, through a first-year dorm, across a parking lot at night and down an icy country road to find out how girls become statistics. If you follow Jack, you'll see how a snowy day in upstate New York can be turned upside down.
Girls will not leave you; nor should it.
Kate Humphreys '90, a writer, studied with Fred Busch and has worked in publishing and public relations.
Divorce Mediation: A Practice in Search of a Theory
By Lenard Marlow '54, Harlan Press, Garden City, N.Y., 1997. 277 pp.
Lenard Marlow, author of The Myth of Lawyers and co-author of The Handbook of Divorce Lawyers, is the founder and director of legal services of Divorce Mediation Professionals, one of the oldest divorce mediation facilities in the nation. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and past President of the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation.
To this impressive list of accomplishments, Marlow adds Divorce Mediation. Writes Marlow: "On the face of it, this book provides a comprehensive theory to support the practice of divorce mediation. Having done that, it then calls for a new vision of the law in keeping with that practice. That new vision calls for a renewed recognition of the fact that a lawyer is also a counselor-at-law as well as an attorney. It then argues, first, that the present shape and content of the law is better suited to enable a lawyer, as an attorney, to make a case for a client than it is as a counselor-at-law, to solve a problem that two people have and, second, that if that new vision is to be realized, the court and the legislature will have to be far more sensitive than they have been to date as to how the shape and the content of the law promotes one or the other of those ends."
Marlow is working on another book, titled The Second Divorce Resolution: The New Road to Reform, which uses family law as an example and will "indicate the shape and the content that the law would have to have in order to fulfill this new vision."
Wild Beasts and Idle Humours
By Daniel N. Robinson '58, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1996.
by Anne Fontana '79
On February 5, 1997, multimillionaire John E. du Pont was found guilty of third-degree murder (murder without premeditation) in the Jan. 26, 1996 shooting of Olympic wrestler David Schultz. He was also found to be mentally ill. Therefore, du Pont will be sent to a mental hospital, where he will be treated for his paranoid schizophrenia until mental health professionals decide that he is cured. Then, in all probability, he will be sent to a prison where he will serve the remainder of his sentence.
In du Pont's case, jurors were given the choice of acquitting him by reason of insanity, finding him guilty but mentally ill, or finding him guilty of first-degree murder, third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. To many lay people and mental health professionals, du Pont is viewed as a pitiful character who will finally get the psychological treatment that he needs within the safe confines of a mental hospital. Indeed, who can argue that anyone who believes at times that he is the Dalai Lama and the Christ child belongs anywhere else but in a mental hospital. To others, however, du Pont's "delusions" are believed to be fabricated and merely an attempt to minimize time in prison, a place, which by all accounts, does not offer the same creature comforts as a mental hospital. Questions about how the jury arrived at the conclusion that du Pont was mentally ill, and an understanding of what legal precedents served as their guide in making this decision, are relevant issues for the scholarly as well as for those who are not fortunate enough to enjoy the privilege of dwelling within ivory towers.
In his book Wild Beasts and Idle Humours: The Insanity Defense from Antiquity to the Present Daniel N. Robinson '58, a distinguished historian of psychology, takes the reader on a fascinating journey as he traces the evolution of the insanity defense beginning with its conceptualization by the ancient Greeks and ending with modern day usage and interpretations. Robinson's book is truly unique because it synthesizes historical material from religion, literature, medicine and the law to convince the reader that a legal understanding of how mental incompetence is determined must draw on all of these sources.
Robinson's descriptions of landmark cases that were instrumental in defining the legalistic foundations of the insanity plea are, in my opinion, this book's greatest strength. His use of original quotes from some of the major players involved (i.e., defense lawyers, judges) will certainly perk the interest of readers. In addition to elucidating how the precedents set in one case built on or at times contradicted the decisions of previous cases, Robinson discusses social and legal ramifications of the legal decisions that were made, including personal reactions of some important figures of the time. His description of three famous cases in particular, those of McNaughtan, Durham and Brawner, leave the reader with a better appreciation of modern conceptions of the insanity plea.
The first landmark case involved Daniel McNaughtan, who murdered Edward Drummond, the secretary to Sir Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister, in 1843.
McNaughtan's intended victim was Peel but unfortunately for Drummond, McNaughtan mistook him for Peel. McNaughtan told the English judges that he had been instructed to kill Peel by the "voice of God." As Robinson suggests, McNaughtan's defense was remarkable for its time because it relied heavily on psychiatric testimony by Dr. Issac Ray, who had recently published Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity.
From this case, came the famous McNaughtan rule (right-wrong test), which stated that to establish a defense of insanity it must be clearly proved that at the time of committing the act the person accused was "labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong." In addition to presenting the legalistic details of the case, Robinson describes the negative reactions of the people of England to the verdict and those of the young Queen Victoria, who was particularly dismayed by the Court's decision to find McNaugh-tan not guilty on the ground of insanity.
After the McNaughtan case, Robinson takes the reader to the equally famous 1954 Durham case. Monte Durham received a medical discharge from the Navy in 1945 for psychiatric reasons. After his discharge, he had been in and out of prisons and mental hospitals for engaging in fraud, robbery and other criminal offenses. Durham, by current psychiatric diagnostic criteria, was probably experiencing Antisocial Personality Disorder (i.e., psychopath).
In this case, Judge Daniel Brazelton broadened the definition of the insanity defense from the simplistic concept of being able to recognize right from wrong (ala McNaughtan) to state that "an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect." With this decision, Brazelton accorded the psychiatric community greater power in determining the outcomes of insanity cases because of the reliance on expert psychiatric testimony that soon ensued.
In the 1972 American Law Institute (ALI) rule, as modified
in the famous Brawner case, the courts tried to more precisely define what is meant by the term "mental disease." The original ALI rule was more specific than the Durham rule but not as narrow as the McNaughtan rule. Specifically, the ALI rule states that a "person is not responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of such conduct, as a result of mental disease or defect, he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law." Also, implied is the idea that individuals are not considered to be mentally ill just because they are repeatedly in trouble with the law.
In narrowing the definition of "mental disease," the Court examined the case of Archie Brawner, who, after drinking heavily with a relative one afternoon, went to a party, got in some fights, left the party, only to return to kill one
of the partygoers. In the Brawner case, the Court narrowed the definition of "mental disease" by stating that a "mental disease or defect includes any abnormal con-dition of the mind which substantially impairs behavior controls."
Largely in response to the public's anger in the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict in the highly publicized trial of John Hinckley for the assassination attempt against President Reagan, Congress enacted the Insanity Defense Reform Act in 1984. One of the chief provisions of the law was to shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense in cases where the defendant was pleading insanity. That is, the defense must now prove that the person was insane (by using "clear and convincing evidence") at the time of the crime, rather than requiring the prosecution to prove that the person was sane. Furthermore, the 1984 act stipulated that the mental disease under question be "severe," which would eliminate the use of the insanity defense when nonpsychotic disorders were present (i.e., Antisocial Personality Disorder).
Presently, in several states, a defendant can plead guilty but mentally ill (i.e, John du Pont), which results in commitment to a mental institution rather than to a prison. To this reader, this verdict is perplexing because in order to be guilty one must have a coherent intent to harm (mens rea, a guilty mind) but mentally ill people are often unable to form such an intent. Therefore, how can one be simultaneously guilty and mentally ill? Robinson too is acutely aware of such apparent contradictions in the legal system and his critique of such decisions and their ramifications is quite interesting.
Those readers who have an interest in the history of mental health reform in this country and in Europe will be particularly pleased by Robinson's discussion of the works of Philippe Pinel, Dorthea Dix and Benjamin Rush. As Robinson points out, the rise of asylums signified the recognition of the need for institutions where the insane could be cared for and where innocent citizens could be protected from individuals who were clearly deranged. With the rise of asylums, varying explanations of how people developed mental illness were rampant. For example, the progressive reformer Dorthea Dix concluded that the decline in mental health was the direct result of the "habits, customs, the temptations of civilized life and society." Currently, a biopsychosocial model of mental illness is accepted by the majority of mental health professionals. That is, there is an assumption that mental illness is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors.
In addition to the mental health reform giants, Robinson discusses the contributions of such figures as Franz Gall, the founder of phrenology who was also "one of the premier neuroanatomists of his age." According to Robinson, Gall's examination of the brains of deceased geniuses, insane persons, criminals and the mentally deficient led to the conclusion that the mental and moral faculties are innate and controlled by centers of the brain. Gall's work, and that of Spurzheim as well as the writings of such prominent figures as William Battie (A Treatise of Madness, 1758), the overseerer of Bethlehem Hospital, a hospital devoted to the confinement of the mentally ill, help lay the foundation for the acceptance of the idea that brain pathology was a cause of insanity. The current success of "hard science" diagnostic tools such as Computerized Tomography (CAT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) in diagnosing medical illnesses suggests that similar tests may one day be useful in diagnosing insanity. Robinson, though, remains skeptical that the public and by proxy, the legal system, is ready to embrace such scientific progress when identifying causes of insanity.
I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter entitled "Possession & Witchcraft," where Robinson describes how beliefs in occult powers, demons and witches affected the evolution of legal concepts of insanity. Robinson catches the reader's interest immediately by presenting a brief case history of a woman named Barbara Rufin who, in 1611, was arraigned at the age of 70 on the charge of witchcraft. He states, quoting from H.C. Midelfort (Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany 1562-1684), that: "after five days in custody she was accused of using salves to kill cattle and poisons to murder her own son. The testimony of neighbors came down against her, her own husband even admitted that over the years and when angry he would call her a witch. About a week later, her denials disregarded, she was stretched on the rack twice in one day. Still denying her guilt, she was tortured again two days later, whereupon she finally admitted not only to desecration of the host but to sexual intercourse with the devil, with whom she had entered a pact. Her spiraling mental anguish and confusion only encouraged her tormenters to continue their questioning. The nightmare ended five weeks after her arrest when she was executed by sword."
Citizens who were the most vulnerable, especially older women, as the above example illustrates, were most likely to be accused of witchcraft. In his discussion of the "witch panics" that occurred in Europe between 1400 and 1700, Robinson devotes considerable space to a description of the Malleus maleficarum ("the witches' hammer"). This comprehensive and explicit manual used to identify witches was developed by two Dominican monks, Kramer and Sprenger, at the urging of Pope Innocent VIII. In addition to describing specific signs by which witches could be detected, such as red spots or areas of insensitivity on the skin, the Malleus malefi-carum was also a legal document that provided guidelines about suitable punishments for offenders and other matters of law, and this is clearly where Robinson's interest in the document lies.
In the final chapter of his book, titled "Jural Science and Social Science," Robinson urges the reader to consider the argument that legal criteria of insanity should be established independent of expert input provided by psychiatrists in the majority of court cases, instead relying on the judgement of the jurists. In all fairness to Robinson, though, he does cite some cases where the opinions of expert psychiatric witnesses may be warranted, although these situations are presented as the exception. Indeed, after reading this book some readers may come to the conclusion that Robinson has become disillusioned with the psychiatric community in general, as is evident in the following:
To describe an offense as being the "result of" some condition is, after all, to say that it was caused by it. Modern psychology and psychiatry, still unable to forge the durable causal links that would render such understandings juridically satisfying, can only present the courts with dubious generalizations based on "clinical experience," which in some unspecified and unspecifiable way supports the opinion that a defendant's actions either were or were not "the result of" a mental illness. But the experience taken to be relevant in such cases is itself bound up with the very subjectivity, cultural biases, theory-laden perceptions, and prevailing professional and social norms so evident in actual trial records. It is far from clear that prolonged engagements of this sort actually enhance the "expertise" of those identified as experts at trial.
Robinson continues his questioning of the reliability of expert testimony as he discusses problems associated with civil commitments that can occur when a person is deemed to be not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity and is confined to a psychiatric facility until they are considered to be no longer dangerous to themselves and others. As Robinson notes, the results of several studies suggest that mental health professionals have consistently failed to predict dangerousness, an indisputable fact that leaves this reader (and writer), who occasionally must attempt to predict the likelihood of dangerousness (i.e, assess suicidal and homicidal potential) in people seeking psychological services, with cause for concern.
In summary, Wild Beasts is essential reading for anyone who has an interest in a detailed historical account of legal insanity. At times, I felt that a background in the law would have helped me better appreciate the material in this book but I don't believe that having such a background is a necessary prerequisite for enjoying it. As Robinson states in the Introduction to Wild Beasts, his general aim was to address the relationship between the culture of law and the wider culture, and he has been very successful in achieving this goal. His previous major work, An Intellectual History of Psychology, now in its second edition, established his reputation as an esteemed scholar in the history of psychology and Wild Beasts, I believe, by providing a detailed historical anthropology of legal insanity, will broaden the spectrum of his academic accomplishments.Anne Fontana is assistant professor of psychology.