Essay: The Lost Virtues of the Asylum, by Oliver Sacks

St. Lawrence State Hospital, Ogdensburg, NY. Photo by Christopher Payne

There’s a new book on PsychOdyssey’s to-read list:  Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Hospitals, by Christopher Payne, a compendium of essays and beautiful photographs of the melancholy, now abandoned structures that were once grand institutions. We look forward to reviewing it soon. For now, we want share the the book’s splendid introduction, originally a 2009 essay entitled  “The Lost Virtues of the Asylum” from the New York Review of Books by the noted neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks.

The well-penned essay reads like a short elegy.  Describing the bygone era when psychiatric hospitals were asylums in the truest sense of term, Sacks writes:

These hospitals provided control and protection for patients, both from their own (perhaps suicidal or homicidal) impulses and from the ridicule, isolation, aggression, or abuse so often visited upon them in the outside world. Asylums offered a life with its own special protections and limitations, a simplified and narrowed life perhaps, but within this protective structure, the freedom to be as mad as one liked through their psychoses and emerge from their depths as saner and stabler people.

To see the complete essay, click here.

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