Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon Writ Large(r)--Part 1

Last night I was having a discussion about, of all things, the history of mining in Nova Scotia with two friends, @heritagemuse and @maineroots (aka Ryan and Rob). Never mind why we were discussing that particular topic on a Friday night, suffices to say it has everything to do with my silly fantasy of running away to Sable Island and living amongst the wild ponies on the beach.

Are you thoroughly lost yet? Baader-Meinhof, Sable Island, mining in Nova Scotia? Right, well, as the evening wound down the talk turned to the elegant moments of synchronicity or fortuosity that we all experience from time to time when a place, theme, or symbol seem to randomly appear in our daily lives. The romantic in me likes to think of them as little nudges from the universe or instances of the fingerpost (with all due respect to Iain Pears) that point us in the direction of some subtle clues or hints. Perhaps an idea or bit of information that deserves more consideration, even.

I can hear you querying, “whatever is she on about?” So say you’re having lunch with your friends and after a couple of drinks (hey, this is MY example…no judging) someone at the table begins to talk about the Baader-Meinhof gang. You’ve never heard of them, but there it is now, part of your consciousness. Then, a few days later, you notice a small newspaper article on the Baader-Meinhofs and think to yourself, hmmmm, I just heard about that at lunch the other day. Not too long after that you’ll overhear a conversation about terrorism and they’ll reference the Baader-Meinhof gang. And the synchronicities and coincidences can start to snowball from there.

Here’s a full write-up on what is generally meant by the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (and why it is so named) that for me started with the often ridiculously funny Bulletin Board column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

So what about these Baader-Meinhof moments? Most of them don't lead us to great discoveries or breakthroughs, but sometimes they do. Occasionally they are pivot points or connectors that point to more information or even, for other writerly types out there, a research breakthrough. If you’re researching a topic or even say, a family tree, if you start to notice a theme, a place, or name popping up, your gut instincts/intuition probably urge you to investigate further in that direction, right?

I’ve had this experience with a few projects lately and I’m consistently surprised where even seemingly incongruous threads can lead. A few days ago I wrote a post about a Dr. Who episode where The Doctor and Amy visited with Vincent van Gogh in Auvers, France. While it is always the art that really impacts me with van Gogh, what I found most touching in this episode was the artist’s well-known and well-documented fragile mental state. And truthfully, the whole issue of van Gogh’s tortured psyche was at the forefront of my mind as a result of two recent outings.

Not long ago I stumbled upon a couple of architectural shells—the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital (Pauling, NY) and the Fairfield State Hospital (Newtown, CT) while I was out traipsing around. Here were these large campuses that had been left, as it appeared to me, just as they were the day they closed. (And not surprisingly, both sites exude a very sad and rather haunting vibe.) I became more than a little interested not only in what happened to the patients once these institutions closed down in the 80s and 90s, but I wanted to know more about the history of treatment for mental illness. So many questions began to nag at me.
(Fairfield Hills State Hospital)
What began as two utterly undirected country drives grew into curiosity about both campuses—they are each architecturally very interesting—and then into an interest in the people who lived and worked there. Seeing van Gogh’s pain so poignantly expressed just added fuel to the fire for me to learn more about this topic that now seemed to present itself to me with a certain frequency. My curiosity was practically begging me to investigate further. 

So, reader, investigate I did. Over the next few weeks I’ll post a couple of follow-ups to this post with some background on both hospitals, etc. I think it is curious how we become interested (or obsessed) with certain ideas or questions and how we are compelled to learn more about a subject from the smallest nugget of information. Inspiration is to be found if we but look for it, even in the unlikeliest of places.

I do hope you’ll stay tuned!


sid fernando said...

i will; i suppose, occasionally, fragments of my own angst or slight derangements :) show through in my tweets, so the topic here,in its various offshoots, from the decay of the buildings to the types of people they once housed, holds interest.

The Paper Tyger said...

If you're not the sanest person I know, Sid, then we're all in trouble. Thanks as always for stopping by :)