Read Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic by Barbara O'Brien Online

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Psychedelic memoir of the healing power of schizophrenic hallucinations in the 1950s...

Title : Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic
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ISBN : 9780498016646
Format Type : Unknown Binding
Number of Pages : 166 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic Reviews

  • Petra X
    2019-01-23 21:46

    Earlier this week I was reading about the cannibal murderer from a couple of years ago. The inquest was in the news. It was a terrible crime that happened near my home village in Wales. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who had been medicated in prison for a year and a half. He'd come out without any medication or support and told his mother he was hearing voices. No one did anything. He stabbed this poor girl and gnawed on her face. Before reading this book I would have thought that it was just an excuse. If he could function day to day in prison with his schizophrenia he must have known what was going on, even if he gave into impulses, when he killed the poor girl. I don't look at it that way any longer.The author had a whole world constructed of invisible to everyone else (possible) humans who were Operators and in charge of other humans who were just called Things. She gave up her high-level job and for six months traversed the country on buses and planes. She lived being controlled by, running from, enjoying being with (all of the many Operators had different personalities) being bought and sold by and played with in a game. Once in a while the Operator left in charge of her would give her the night off and she'd go and see a movie and more peaceful without so many voices running her life.The first third of the book is about office politics. Those who operate by gossip and manipulation, in her madness they are the precusors to the vastly more physical Hook Operators, and perhaps those who scalloped out the lattices of her brain, her confidence in herself. The main part of the story is her deeply-involved in the world of Operators and Things, deep in her madness. And the last part is when an Operator rescues her and she is no longer mad (she writes) and begins to get help from therapists. At this stage she discovers she has a Something that has kept her safe through her madness, a part of her mind that often works in subconscious ways. It has enabled her to live in the world, to rent apartments, travel, buy food and pay bills. But not work. She isn't in this world enough for that. When she discovers this she realises she is well enough to work and gets a job. To the reader, she really is still in the grip of another reality, even though it is almost a thin, gauzy curtain draped over the real world. By the end, writing this book, having analysed herself, she is more normal and we begin to understand something so far beyond normality (the frame of reference almost all of us agree on). So it seems to me the cannibal is truly not responsible for his actions because his Operators directed him in his madness even unto murder, but whilst in prison either medication or his Something gave him enough semblance of normality. And when he came out he had neither and he killed and ate the face of the poor victim because he had no choice but to do as he was told. I've never understood what it is like to suffer from schizophrenia. I have to amend that, I've never understood what it is to be a schizophrenic. It really is a split. It's as if the world has cleaved into two. One is the outer life, ours, and the other theirs, just as complex and real but beyond imagining. It's far more than hallucinatory disordered-thinking. The book reads like science fiction except for one big difference, although there are plenty of characters, there is no plot. It's not dry, it's full of emotion. Anyone in the grip of schizophrenia truly cannot be responsible for their actions because the 'normal' they are not in charge of what they do. Ten stars because it changed my way of thinking.

  • Richard
    2019-02-07 21:07

    The most baffling thing about this book is that it isn't more widely known than it is. I've no real idea why - perhaps because it was written and published in the '50s, rather than the more receptive '60s? Or, more likely, because of its subject, madness? Or that a lot of readers just aren't sure how to take it: as fiction or as fact? If it's fiction, then I guess you could very loosely class it as science fiction, although I've read a lot of that and I don't know of anything else quite like this, not even from Philip K Dick say - or Franz Kafka for that matter. But if it's fact, on the other hand,if all this really did happen as described, then it gives us an unusually clear view below the waterline of the mind, deep into what lies beneath everyday consciousness.Operators and Things is a first-person account of a six-month period of schizophrenia; rarely, some people do re-emerge from this condition spontaneously and without outside help, and here we not only have an account of this from the inside, but a rational one, told with absolute clarity by someone who not only recovered and understood precisely what had been happening to her, but is a superb author as well (the content is so unusual, it's easy to overlook just how brilliant the writing itself is). It begins like this: waking one morning, O'Brien finds three figures standing at the foot of her bed - the first wave of 'Operators' who will control her life (as a 'Thing') for the next six months. Only she can see them; they are friendly, expert, almost business-like, and tell her that her life is in great danger; a few days later she calls in sick at work, destroys all her ID and boards a Greyhound bus to a random destination. This is how she then spends much of those next six months, criss-crossing the USA and Canada, immersed in the world of Operators and Things. Then, just as abruptly, this phase ends - and what follows during the next three months is, if anything, even stranger as her mind, one unhurried step at a time, heals itself.The book is in four parts, the first three a description of the above, the fourth a thorough analysis and what's striking about all of it is how rational it is; there's nothing mad about O'Brien's 'insanity', in retrospect it makes perfect sense and backs up what a lot of people have long claimed: that schizophrenia isn't the problem, schizophrenia is a mind attempting to deal with the problem. More, 'the unconscious' itself has typically been seen as the mind's villain or as its garbage dump; O'Brien by contrast, through her own experiences, develops an increasingly healthy respect for this multi-talented, imaginative, shrewd and, yes, logical entity which she describes as 'an awesome instrument.' The unconscious mind as the unsung hero of human history, that's what O'Brien is giving us:"Things can think only to a very limited degree.""How limited?""I'll tell you," Rink said with finality. "If it weren't for Operators, Things would still be wandering in and out of caves."What Operators and Things reminds me of in a superficial way is Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception - first the description of an eye-opening (and mind-opening) experience, then an acute examination of it - but O and T goes much deeper. In fact, in every respect this is, simply, one of the best books of any kind I've ever read.

  • Derek Davis
    2019-02-14 19:44

    I picked up a paperback 40 years ago that has sat on my mind like a restless beast. It's had an effect on me like nothing else I've read, nothing I've since experienced.How did I come on Operators and Things, and why could I not relate it to anything else in the world? My hazy answer (not recollection) is that I must have picked it up because of the bizarre title and opened it at random. I had no idea what I was reading. I just knew that it scared the living shit out of me.Over time, I've read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and several similar tales of mental illness. Let's just say there is nothing else remotely like Operators and Things. You aren't reading about a schizophrenic, you're inside her mind as surely as a in-dwelling homunculus. On top of (or under) that claustrophobic crush is the feeling that you've intruded, that you can't escape, but that if you stay the Operators will find you.Barbara O'Brien wakes one morning to be confronted by three figures who tell her they are Operators—an order of human being which, through a specific construction of the brain, can control the rest of humanity, the Things who have no such ability. All Things are directed by Operators or would not be able to function. She has been chosen for a unique experiment in which she, a Thing, can see and talk with the otherwise-hidden Operators so they can judge her responses.From that point, she escapes on a six-month trip, mostly by Greyhound bus, in part attempting to evade the Operators, in greater part to avoid betraying her exceptional condition to anyone she knows. Along the way she encounters a stunning variety of other Operators who use her as a pawn in their Game, which involves scoring points in a competition to force a Thing's course of action. They toss out often contradictory suggestions and comments that make no collective sense, and yet... the form of their lack of sense somehow makes perfect sense. Through it all, Barbara feels little direct fear, following directions, chatting almost amiably with her controllers.At the end of her trip, in California, her personal Operator, Hinton, directs her to a psychoanalyst who accepts her statement that she will be cured in two weeks. Days later, the Operators leave. Drained of will, emotion and direction, she is soothed by the internal "dry beach" where nothing happens until "waves" arrive to suggest actions. Then Something takes over, filling her with hunches that invariably pan out. One morning she awakes essentially whole again, one of the few to recover spontaneously from schizophrenia. In Part Four, O'Brien analyzes her experience and its meaning.The writing is as clear as the view from a mountaintop, as immediate as an alarm clock, as balanced as a chemist's scale. The book has no waste, no fanciness, no added ego, only a wealth of personality so vital that you want to embrace this woman's magnificent mind. Though she discusses the state of psychology of the '50s, her insight is decades ahead of the era's pinched outlook on mental illness. O'Brien is timeless, one of those rare authors whose insights will ring true in a hundred years. With the exception of Einstein, she's the most intelligent, incisive person I've ever read.O'Brien views the Operators as her unconscious crafting a cure for her mental split, for her "insanity." I'd go a bit further and say that she was never insane, that her unconscious's reaction to the peculiar stress from her work and community was eminently sane, that it discovered her one possible escape route. I'd recommend this book without hesitation to anyone, anywhere. And I'd suggest going straight to Part One, skipping all the introductions, including the author's, which basically paraphrases Part Four. As for the two scholarly intros: I still haven't read them. I don't what to hear their academic interpretations, and I apologize for my own reflections on a work that should be read, unsullied.If a grand fire were to threaten the last library in the world and I could save only, say, a half dozen volumes, this would be one.

  • Bri Fidelity
    2019-01-24 20:08

    I've never actually seen or owned a copy of this book - when last I checked, it was £30 for a battered paperback copy on Amazon, and I'm neither that rich or that reckless - but there's at least one PDF copy floating around the Internet that I recommend wholeheartedly. (A reprint, passing publisher-types, would be nice.)[ETA: Passing publisher-types, thank you very much.]

  • Geoff Sebesta
    2019-02-10 19:54

    Possibly the best book I've ever read about schizophrenia, and I've read a few. It even has a plausible-sounding explanation for why schizophrenia strikes, and those are rare.I'm so glad this woman had this experience and so glad she survived and so glad she wrote this. I wish I could find out what happened to her for the rest of her life. She had a rare mind.

  • Melita Mihaljevic
    2019-02-02 21:03

    True story of a woman's descent into schizophrenia and her journey back to sanity. Great book about the beauty and the weirdness of mind (both conscious and unconscious).

  • Jonathan Norton
    2019-02-07 19:57

    In the 1950s an office-worker in a medium-sized business in America was observing the manipulations and deceptions performed by the cold-eyed careerists in her immediate environment. Then one day she woke up under the dominating psychic influence of various "Operators" who were going to take her in hand and reveal the true metaphysics behind social appearances: deadheaded ordinary folks are "Things" available for control by the competing gangs of overlords who have their own laws and ethics. They send her on an odyssey around the country, encountering psychiatrists and analysts and body-doctors at different times, but never getting permanently institutionalised.This book was quite a phenomenon in its day and has had several revivals of interest. It influenced R.D.Laing apparently, and comparisons have been drawn with Philip K.Dick's contemporaneous early fiction (Burroughs would be another obvious comparison point). The theorising about a hormonal basis for schizophrenia was also mentioned at the start of Aldous Huxley's "Doors Of Perception" (1955), so this was very of-the-moment; the source text for the "Philadelphia Experiment" mythology was also in this zone. Setting aside some of the dated theorising that the author recycled, this is still a fascinating image of a semi-paranoid society, on the edge about the threat of annihilation both by the Bomb and by cultural upheaval. There is a passing reference to "the White race", which will have a different resonance to us later readers; the narrator's anxieties are not all ours. So there is another example of someone looking in to her mind and seeing it differently to her awareness. I have the latest reprint edition, and I notice that it must have been digitally scanned and thus there are a few obvious slips and textual errors.

  • Octoff Malheiro
    2019-01-23 22:52

    Schizophrenia is attosecond communication..Normal or average Human beings are not set up for this quality of comm.1 in 17,000 have enhanced minds..1 in a billion complete two way flow of information.1 incarnate being has total access/7^72^999 applicationsper attosecond..The one incarnate being would naturally be considereda SCHIZOPHRENIC!The aboriginal 1st people knew that the 'crazies'were children close to the Great Spirit..The Great Spirit is altogether different from the godsof the world religions..

  • Seonaid
    2019-02-12 21:44

    Written in 1958, this is a bit of a lost classic, dealing with the author's 6 month period of schizophrenia, and her subsequent recuperation. The book is divided into 2 parts, O'Brien's memory of her schizophrenia, and an analysis of the condition.It's a tough read in many ways, both emotionally and structurally. The narrative often feels disjointed, and at times seems to progress at great speed, a reflection of the mental state she is attempting to describe. Voices come and go, and what is remarkable is how often they try to move her in the direction of getting help. There is a surprising amount of humour in the book, and a terrifyingly contemporary sounding description of workplace politics, making it clear what O'Brien's trigger into a mental breakdown was.Recommended reading.

  • Will
    2019-02-09 21:49

    "Burt explained. I could see why he had been chosen spokesman. What he had to say, he said clearly and in a few words. I had been selected for participation in an experiment. He hoped I would be cooperative; lack of cooperation on my part would make matters difficult for them and for myself. They were Operators, the three of them. There were Operators everywhere in the world although they rarely were seen or heard. My seeing and hearing them was, unfortunately, a necessary part of the experiment. I thought: I have come upon knowledge which other people do not have and the knowledge is obviously dangerous to have; others would be in equal danger if I revealed it to them. 'Yes,' said Burt, and he looked pleased. But I hadn't spoken. I considered this for a moment. First things first. 'What is the nature of this experiment?' Hinton smiled wryly. 'Didn't I tell you,' he said to Burt, 'that it would say that first?' It?"

  • Heidi
    2019-01-23 21:12

    I first read this book when I was about 12 years old. If my mother had known I was reading this book, she might not have allowed it.Some people have questioned the authenticity of this book . I am absolutely convinced that it is legitimate.An incredibly interesting book. I am absolutely amazed that more people are not aware of this book. It is also interesting that this book is much less well known than the somewhat similar book I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.If you are interested in the account of someone who had schizophrenia and recovered, this is definitely the book for you.

  • Sylvia Snowe
    2019-02-05 01:58

    In 2015, we know by now that the writer was not truly schizophrenic, as these patients never completely recover as Ms. O'Brien did. However, her experience is a startling example of just how deeply an individual can descend into a world of hallucinations. Today, we understand better how extreme stress and depression can induce paranoia and delusions. This book remains a great document of how mental illness can strike anyone, how unimaginably "crazy" we can become.

  • Jackie
    2019-01-22 21:05

    This is adventure - the writer is tipped into it against her (conscious) will. Her courage and humour are evident. It is about alientation in modern society, healing, integration and mental health. I would love to know what happened to her next...I read this book in 1977 and loaned it out, never to have it returned. Got it again on Amazon and it is just as interesting second time around 30 years later. I noticed different things this time though.

  • Daria
    2019-01-21 21:02

    И снова книга из Книжного Клуба. За нее я не голосовала и вряд ли когда-либо села бы за прочтение, если бы не обязанность и моральный долг . Конечно, тема привлекательная, интересная, в ней можно вдоволь покопаться в свое удовольствие, если есть личный интерес и большое желание, но как-то не лежит у меня душа к такого рода произведениям. К "такому роду" эту книгу я отнесла исключительно из аннотации, после прочтения сделав вывод довольно печальный : даже на аннотации нельзя полагаться. Впечатление может сложиться не лучшее и до стОящей вещи так никогда руки и не дойдут. Посему я искренне рада, что книга оказалась сильнее, чем ее описание. Книга, книга...Что за книга? Речь идет о произведении, которые бы я назвала "вырезкой из автобиографии". Итак, Барбара О'Брайен и ее "Необыкновенное путешествие в безумие и обратно". Признаюсь честно: до прочтения к людям с психическими проблемами я относилась не очень положительно. Не то чтобы я сталкиваюсь с ними каждый день и вынуждена проводить с ними долгие часы, но просто бессознательно у всех, мне кажется, возникает неприятное ощущение сначала страха, а потом даже отвращения, когда на улице сталкиваешься с человеком с каким-то заболеванием психического рода. Сразу думаешь: фрик, ненормальный, другой, чужой, заразный и категорически опасный. В каких-то случаях это так. И тогда специалисты узкой направленности стараются помочь таким людям. Однако их помощь ограничивается помещением в соответствующие учреждения. И всё. На человеке (согласитесь ведь, это все еще Человек) ставят крест, ему не дают второго шанса и, чтобы у общественности не возникло ненужных вопросов, создают таким людям имидж "врага народа". (Может быть, так оно на самом деле не бывает, но у меня как у обычного гражданина сложилось такое вот обычное мнение и восприятие) Однако что мы знаем о болезнях психики, в частности о шизофрении, о которой идет речь в "Необыкновенном путешествии"? Я, например, не знала ничего. И, если честно, даже представить не могла, что творится в головах у людей во время заболевания и насколько всё происходящее там внутри неординарно и интересно. Рассказать обществу о шизофрении, ее причинах и тяготах болезни - вот что нужно делать. Именно эти госпожа Барбара и занялась. История очень интересная по многим аспектам. Начать хотя бы с того, что всё описанное на самом деле происходило с автором. Повествование смахивает на некую выдумку, а концовка вообще объясняется только вмешательством черной магии и колдовства (наверное), но не надо забывать, что вы читаете книгу о той области, о которой вам до сегодняшнего дня практически ничего не было известно. Читателю открываются двери в удивительный мир, которого он, к счастью для многих, никогда не узнает. Он оказывается в эпицентре того сумасшествия, которое происходит в мозгу у шизофреника. Как уже говорилось выше, это безумно интересно, особенно если учесть то, что каждый шизофреник безумен по-своему и каждый создает собственную Вселенную, населенную, может быть, еще более странными созданиями. Факт того, что все люди такие разные, очевиден, но он никак не уложится в моей голове. Очень хочется выделить интересное наблюдение,сделанное автором и любезно преподнесенное нам для ознакомления и принятия к сведению( и, может быть, использованию в собственных целях). Барбара разделила людей на лошадей и мустангов (подробнее и с теми, и с другими ознакомитесь в книге). Прочитала я это разделение и поняла, что на самом деле так и есть! И это очень удивительно. Сложнее всего было понять, к какому из "кланов" отнести себя. Здесь нужно проявить максимум трезвости мышления и адекватности самооценки, иначе интроспекция будет провалена. Результат может опечалить, может порадовать, но главное - не обмануть себя, а, узнав страшную правду о себе, понять, как можно этим воспользоваться. Ну и самая интересная часть (опять-таки, только личное мнение) - это крючколовство. О существовании сего явления знают все, ибо его мы наблюдаем ежедневно в любом месте, где бы ни находились. Просто мы не оперируем понятиями,которые ввела О'Брайен. Ну да, ну прочитал я про это крючколовство, ну что такого в нем, так люди живут везде и подобные действия уже не грех, а форма жизнедеятельности, можете сказать вы. Я так тоже сперва сказала. Но перечитав эту часть, я ужаснулась осознанному. Сколько людей страдает от такой негласной системы. Кто-то отделывается простым недовольством или личной неприязнью, но ведь люди портят собственное здоровье! Некоторые работяги жизнь готовы отдать за свою работу, а когда в их дело еще и крючколовы вступают, бедолагам просто не выжить. Конечно, каждый действует в своих интересах. Хочешь жить - умей вертеться, каждому нужно семью кормить и всё такое. Но это же ТАК ЖЕСТОКО, так несправедливо. Человек отличается от остальных живых существ на Земле не только наличием sapiensa после homo, но и человечностью, пониманием, сочувствием. А мы, вместо того чтобы помогать ближнему своему, превращаем их в шизофреников. Именно в этом и состоит часть идеи книги, вот он, антропологический кризис - шизофреники не рождаются такими, они не сами себя доводят. Такими их делает общество. И нам пора задуматься о том, как остановить этот процесс, пока наша планета не сошла с ума окончательно и бесповоротно. Поэтому читайте, задумывайтесь и меняйте(сь).

  • Miki Habryn
    2019-02-07 17:49

    Despite what you might have heard, not all that gripping as spec-fic. With sufficient suspension of disbelief to accept it as an internal narrative of schizophrenia, however, it's entirely fascinating. The somewhat dated closing commentary is interesting in its own way, though it drags by comparison.

  • A.
    2019-01-29 20:45

    Terrifying little memoir of a woman failing to do it for herself, because of the misogyny of the early 1950s and her misunderstood, stigmatized mind and how the two things coalesced and bred a horrible little life for her.

  • Joel
    2019-02-14 01:52

    Fascinating....a true account of schizophrenia from a personal perspective, written in the fifties by a woman who apparently succumbed to the disease, describes her experience, and apparently became free from it on her own.

  • Alana
    2019-02-17 20:52

    Really interesting book about one persons experience with schizophrenia!

  • Lana
    2019-02-04 20:43

    A lightly written story of a grave illness. A bit unbelievable, a bit shallow, yet quite gripping and surprising.

  • Nancy
    2019-01-25 01:48

    A clear and compelling description of mental illness. It helps those of us not so challenged really understand what it is like for the one struggling with schizophrenia.

  • Michael
    2019-02-05 17:50

    Ostensibly the memoir of a recovered schizophrenic. Unlike any other (auto)-biography I've ever read.

  • stephanie
    2019-02-15 19:05

    accidentally read at work in PDF form; thanks, metafilter!

  • Lysergius
    2019-02-03 01:09

    Most compelling...

  • Kuxenjatko
    2019-02-17 22:47

    Absolute must-read. Wise, optimistic, illuminative and most enjoyable.

  • Jennifer Wingard
    2019-01-27 17:56

    Definitely an interesting read... especially the section on office politics and "Hook Operators".

  • Ellen Speyer
    2019-02-01 17:51

    This is the book to read if you like to look at the sanity that is behind all insanity.

  • Mikhail
    2019-02-13 22:07

    Невероятная история про то, как автор заболела шизофренией и вылечилась. Очень детально описано то, как видит мир шизофреник, и что при этом происходит на самом деле. Страшная болезнь!