Hannibabble

Okay, just finished Hannibal Season One.

My name is Jeremy, these are my Hannibal credentials: I read Red Dragon and Silence before the movie was made. I read Hannibal and Hannibal Rising in hardcover (!), and liked them both for what they were–love story and backstory. I even mostly enjoyed those films.

So last week, when an insect bite laid me out for the week, I queued up Neflix with a Hannibal marathon.

There is some great stuff. It’s beautifully shot–the cooking especially. I like Mads, but Hugh Dancy was really the star of the show–just a believably understated performance in what could have become campy. The arc of the season is nicely plotted, the murderer-of-the-week is moderately interesting.

BUT (and yes, capital but, here) could they not have hired a psychiatric consultant? The show was written as if we should be drinking every time the word psychopath is spoken. The endless prattling on in psychobabble is so tedious and banal, I had to grit my teeth every time Gillian Anderson or poor Caroline Dhavernas were onscreen.

“I haven’t practiced medicine in years,” said the PSYCHIATRIST!
“Dementia is a symptom. What is the disease?!” Huh?
“She’s killing people because she thinks she’s dead.” Wait, what now?

Delirium versus dementia. Sociopath versus psychopath. Cotard’s Syndrome. Anti-NMDA Receptor encephalitis. This is a show that thrives on the intricacies of mental phenomena and yet the ability to make these abstract ideas interesting and nuanced (and worthy of armchair diagnostic fetishism with which they are endowed) is next to nil.

What the Starling-Lecter dialog succeed at was the absence of jargon. Conversation as metaphor as window into psychology. This season went the other direction–metaphor as jargon as power as jargon as plot.

Still, a show like Hannibal gets me jazzed up. It encourages me to find some way to get the real intricacies and challenges of psychiatry onscreen. When psychiatrists get together we don’t talk jargon. We talk stories, the surprises, the predictable surprises, the Gordian knots of helping someone. The dance, the breakthrough, the failure, the risk.

Okay, back to work.

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Mystery Writers

When I was a tween I found Stephen King. Over the next years I read everything he’d written (including Danse Macabre which, let’s face it, why did I read Danse Macabre?). This morning I was reading one of the myriad articles slamming GRRM for his private/rude/secretive relationship with his readers, and reflected on what a different relationship I had with authors 25+ years ago.

I distinctly remember going to the local library and pulling out a thick tome called Who’s Who. I looked up Stephen King. It mentioned some of his popular works, then listed some works-in-progress. I still remember how excited I was to get a glimpse into a writer’s future. I knew something that few others did–Stephen King was working on a book called The Plant. Now, as far as I can tell, The Plant never came out (or its title was changed, or it was a short story/novella and not a full novel) but I’m still connected to the excitement of that discovery. All I had were the lists of “Other Works” at the front of the paperback, and the dutiful checking of store shelves for one I’d missed.

So, back to Danse Macabre. Why did I read Danse Macabre at 12? Because the only way to connect with a beloved writer was by reading his published work, even if it was nonfiction. The writer was a person who could only be connected to by reading, like a long-distance relationship with bursts of intimacy punctuating a state of yearning, hope, and anticipation.

It’s a different world now. I read dozens of tweets a day by writers. I know their works in progress in real time. I read interviews, and op-eds, and blog posts. I know when they’re having a bad day, I know their kids’ names, I know their tastes in whiskey. Shamefully, I connect with writers without ever reading their fiction. I have also stopped reading writers’ fiction I liked because I didn’t like their politics or what I gleaned of their personalities.

This isn’t a nostalgic screed against social media culture, but it is a lament for the lost experience of surprise and discovery and covert book knowledge. A eulogy for the discovery of a unexpected book in an unexpected place at an unexpected time. I miss the hunt and the reward that followed.

So GRRM, I hope that you are planning the biggest retro-surprise in history. I hope that you drop the rest of the Ice and Fire series unnanounced. I hope I walk into a bookstore and simply find it on the shelf, sitting there without fanfare, without media storm, without the clerk even realizing what they’ve got.

And if you do that, I promise I won’t tell anyone.