‘I haven’t been nearly mad enough’ and the ‘production boundary’ – or why I won’t be blogging again until April

It’s been a long time between blogs – and it will continue that way until I’m out of the labyrinth of my new book. Which means that my post on Heart of Darkness promised on 9 January will be some time in the making.

In the meantime, I’ve been stumbling across some new books which seem utterly unrelated but are bleeding into each other in the most confounding ways. I haven’t quite got my head around their connections yet, but I suspect they also relate in various ways to my theme of the year: the relationship between people and the land. Two books in particular have seized my attention:

1. Well, more a review than a book, but a review brilliant in itself and one that makes me want to read the book: Jenny Diski’s ‘I haven’t been nearly mad enough’ in this week’s London Review of Books. It’s a review of The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times by Barbara Taylor. Diski begins:

9780241145098‘”Madness is a childish thing,” Barbara Taylor writes in The Last Asylum, a memoir of her two decades as a mental patient. The book records her breakdown, her 21-year-long analysis, her periods as an inmate at Friern Mental Hospital in North London, and in addition provides a condensed history of the treatment of mental illness and the institutions associated with it. Taylor was in the bin during the final days of the old Victorian asylums, before they were shut down in the 1990s, and their patients scattered to the cold liberty of the underfunded, overlooked region of rented accommodation or life on the street known as “community care”.’

I especially loved its concluding thoughts on asylums (and their abolition under Thatcherite liberalism) and on the idea of asylum in general, in all its guises, and our loss of it.

2. From the seas of madness to the rocks of hard numbers, aka Brett Christophers’ newish book Banking Across Boundaries: Placing Finance in Capitalism. Or not, as it turns out. I mean, the numbers are not so hard, they’re not such rocks after all. However we might like to think and behave as if they were. In terms of the numbers Christophers deals with – those of national accounts – they are arbitrary at best. Christophers is particularly fascinating on the ‘production boundary‘, ‘one of the most fundamental theoretical concepts in the national accounting canon’, an equally arbitrary boundary between ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’ labour which frames our postwar national accounts, deeming, for example, the work of bankers and financiers to be productive and the unpaid labours of housewives and househusbands unproductive.

And that’s where I’ll be until April, plumbing the numbers. See you on the flip side. In the autumn.

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