Monday, 6 August 2012

Agnes’ Jacket by Gail Hornstein

It took a long while to read this book – each morning this August (I was ‘between jobs’!) if it was sunny I would take my breakfast into the garden and savour a few pages of Agnes’Jacket. I found it a truly compelling , as well as harrowing, read. The essence of this book is the overwhelming importance of telling one’s story and that story being heard. Agnes Richter’s jacket was sewn in the late 19th century while she was in an asylum – all over it is text in Deutsche Schrift – a script almost unintelligible to anyone, even experts. 

‘What if Agnes’ Richters jacket and other madness narratives are like this? Her embroidered garment and the diaries and memoirs of other patients aren’t actually so different; ’text’and ‘textile’ do come from the same root. These texts have all been woven into patterns we can’t make sense of on our own. But what if we had someone fluent in the language of madness to translate what seems beyond understanding to the rest of us?’

So she sets out – through the US and Europe – to survivor’s groups, Hearing Voices gurus and group members, to the basements of academic libraries, psychiatric day centres (the Clarendon!), to displaced individuals, police advisors and Wiltshire aristocrats . She patiently listens to archival testimonies in the British library sound archive and scales fall from her ears. She is discovering meaning in psychosis, heard voices, mutism and all forms of distress that too many professionals write off as gibberish.
Polly Mortimer

No comments:

Post a Comment