Madness Is a Strategy


From Jody Chan/Midnight Sun: “before madness meant rage, it meant insanity. before that, a Latin verb: to change, to go, to move.

anger comes from old English, meaning grief, sorrow, distress, affliction. before it was a word, anger bloomed around the rooms within us that needed protection. someone powerful became afraid of anger, and then it was given the same name as disease.

madness is in my body. anger’s bubbling, burning, blossoming. it lives in each of us. a red lake. I tend to boil over. my heartbeat is a language of verbs, a late-summer reservoir of water. it threatens heat . . .

the symptoms we pathologize as madness are so often strategies for survival, learned by our bodies, our ancestors’ bodies, over lifetimes of individual and collective trauma.

my instinct is always to nod, to make small, to hold the breath, to scream on the inside only, to wield a smile, to optimize others’ happiness, to leave the frame.

if feeling can’t get you what you need, why feel at all? . . .

in madness, I am more porous – no boundaries of time or space between my different hearts, between my body and the world. in madness, I have learned to be with pain, both my own and others’. I have ruptured from respectability.

losing my name, losing the season, licking the telephone pole, entering myself with glass, sharp edges, a staple, shaking on a bench outside the fire station. we are not supposed to need like this.

madness can be a structure of possibility; it can force us to build bonds that outlast periods of crisis, political projects, the constrictions of capitalism.

I don’t mean this as a metaphor. I trust the people I’ve crumbled with. every day, I’ve handed them my life.

what it takes to stop paying rent. to refuse to go to work. what it takes to process conflict with tenderness. to learn in public. to daydream of your friends like you do your lovers. to commit to each other’s care, outside the grip of any institution. I am interested in the overlap between all of these practices. the trust they demand. the world they could lead us to.

certain modes of relating can crack us open, write Clémence x Clémentine. we are learning how to unleash our desires to the point that they rupture with capital.

it is not a moral duty to be happy. the bosses, the politicians, the landlords fear our collective unhappiness because it challenges the conditions that maintain their power. in that case, I would rather demand the abolition of violent institutions than be happy. I would rather be terrifying.

our protests, our organizations, our movements die when we disavow anger and grief as a source of their aliveness. what if we take madness as our centre?”

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  1. This is beautiful. and powerful. and frightening. even terrifying – the thought of staying there, the possibility of staying there for too long, making madness yr home out of some ideological naivety that imagines your self-sacrifice will be honoured and will bring about change. collectively and over time, yes, and if you take the word, ‘mad’ and go back to its original meaning [as you tell me] of being to change, to go, to move, then best perhaps to go in and out and draw breath and breathe and rest, lest madness become that place of romantics and idealists who think they can return, who play with fire, who dive into the vortex, descend to the abyss, believing they won’t drown, that they can breath under water. but who can’t return, who get burned, burn-out, and drown, and never re-surface.

    and no, that doesn’t mean becoming helpless and hopeless and powerless and disempowered or even un-angry, it just means – as one wise counsellor told me many moons ago – to rest and let others take the lead and go to the back of the pack, to slipstream each other, as a flock of geese do. stay well, jody chan.

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