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I AM WRITING IN REF-
erence to Judith Larsen’s feature article, “Lost and Found” (12/1), which, with all due respect to Larsen, was lacking in its analysis of the experiential phenomena necessarily intertwined with issues of identity and social interaction. Although Larsen provided several excellent examples of the daily tragedies which saturate the District of Columbia, she never more than skimmed the surface of the core issues: namely, the impact of the social environment on the self/identity and the struggle to define and experience one’s self/identity in a psychologically healthy fashion.
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Case in point, in discussing the woman referred to as “Buta,” the issue of a personal language as a defense mechanism arises, but is never adequately dealt with. Larsen merely qualifies Buta’s unique mode of discourse as a “barrier against the ‘helpers,’ whom [Buta] perceived as hostile powers intent on controlling her world,” and ends her analysis there. Granted, Washington City Paper is not a professional journal and need not alienate its readers with dense articles composed of academic jargon, but the fact of the matter is that there is a sizable quantity of information on such phenomena which is fairly digestible by the lay researcher.
I am by no means contending that Larsen should have attempted to present a comprehensive review of the literature on welfare policies, mental illness among the disenfranchised, the social psychology of inequitable social interaction, etc. I am, however, arguing that it would certainly have been feasible for Larsen to penetrate the surface of this literature and, more importantly, to at least address some of the existential questions raised by her research. Although Sartre’s philosophical opus Being and Nothingness is undoubtedly one of the most unreadable texts ever written, there is some very intelligible literature available.
For instance, R.D. Laing’s first two books, The Divided Self and Self and Others, and his pop-culture classics, The Politics of Experience and Knots, are almost entirely free of psychiatric jargon and, as evidenced by their international popularity, accessible to the mainstream reader. In terms of the application of such thought, Laing’s work on “ontological insecurity” could have shed some much-needed light on Buta and her experience of the streets and social workers.
In essence, my primary criticism of Larsen’s article is not her method of data collection, but the lack of theory presented. One cannot help but admire the fact that a District lawyer would devote such time, energy, and concern to human beings who are curtly ignored by the majority of the population. However, facts without explanations do little to enlighten interested readers such as myself.