By Kirby Farrell
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Extra resources for Berserk Style in American Culture
29 In berserk hands guns similarly compress unruly meanings into an instinct. The deep problem is that the self, too, is a story, and the failure of a story can mean a breakdown of self and human connectedness. When the Vietnam War lost its conviction, desperate soldiers not only ran amok against enemies and civilians, but sometimes against their own leaders. The public has never been made fully aware that in the final years of the Vietnam War soldiers assassinated their officers on a scale that helped bring about Washington’s decision to withdraw.
Recounting a therapist’s treatment of mania, Greenberg observes that she speaks as if it were a lion or another being inside the patient. “Mania is a glutton for attention. It craves thrills, action, it wants to keep thriving, it will do anything to live on” (60). This sounds like the berserk state in its “beastlike” wrath (the lion), rage for risktaking, alienation, and tyrannical sway over the personality. Most significantly, the therapist’s “lion” illustrates Becker’s recognition of survival appetite as a primary creaturely motive: in mania, unstoppable (godlike, beastlike) emergency survival greed.
What is striking is Davis’s inability to find a story that could give his life coherence: not just in jail but long before, in the Vietnam War, during his treatment (or lack of treatment) for schizophrenia, and finally on the job. Whatever its cause, mental illness challenges the integrity of the self. Indiscriminate aggression against others can be an effort to fight off or to master threats to the self: threats that reflect the internal symptoms of illness, whether recognized as such or not. Before his rampage in Tucson, Jared Loughner fixated on ideas about the disintegrating ground of reality.