How to Break Writers

How to Break Writers

Feinberg: I believe it would simplify the problem to state that the KGB orders experts to designate such and such a political prisoner a mental case.

Nadjarov: Of course. Besides, it is better not to touch on politics. Each of us has his own opinions in that area.

Feinberg: Let’s begin with the question of expert opinion. It’s common knowledge that in psychiatry diagnostic criteria are vague and diffuse. That’s how it happens that a doctor who is guided by the recognized principle of “doubt in favor of the patient” often certifies a man as sick who is in perfect mental health. The man is then forced to submit to treatment. The result of all this is that a man who has committed the same acts for which his comrades are sent to concentration camps for a longer or shorter period of time—a man who has committed the same acts for the same motives—is judged mentally ill and is sent to a special hospital to undergo rigorous treatment. But whereas the term of imprisonment for the former is fixed once and for all by the courts, the “sick” man remains confined for as long as he has not recanted his opinions. The doctors don’t mince words: “Your freedom depends on your good behavior. By good behavior we mean your political opinions. In other areas, you are perfectly healthy. Your sickness is that you think differently from the way one must think. As soon as you have renounced your opinions, you will be on the right road again and we will set you free.”

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels