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Conclusion: Another World Is Possible Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be. —Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote de la Mancha Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. —Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others One of my favorite “stories” by the Argentine fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges is “Pierre Menard: Author of the Quixote.” In this very short piece, Borges writes a literary critique of a French author—Pierre Menard—and his version of Don Quixote is word for word, line for line, identical to the original Cervantes story. But Borges says the story is not just a crude copy. It is actually infinitely richer than the original version because it has all the advantages of three hundred years of allusion to be read into it: “To compose the Quixote at the beginning of the seventeenth century was a reasonable undertaking , necessary and perhaps even unavoidable; at the beginning of the twentieth, it is almost impossible. It is not in vain that the three hundred years have gone by, filled with exceedingly complex events. Among them, to mention only one, is the Quixote itself.”1 I thought about this piece differently when I was in Argentina in 2003 on a human rights delegation for the group that is now called Disability Rights International (DRI). As is widely known, Argentina went through an economic crisis at the end of 2001 and the economy completely toppled in 2002. The currency collapsed; Argentina defaulted on its foreign debt as it did again in 2014; a run on the banks resulted in the government imposing restrictions 230 Conclusion on how much money people could take out of their accounts and converting dollar holdings into peso holdings in the famous “pesificación.”2 Pensioners’ savings were wiped out; there was massive unemployment; and more than half of the Argentine population was thrust into poverty.3 But what is less well known is that people were often medically treated in response to the massive psychosocial distress, and those without adequate social support networks were even sometimes placed in psychiatric hospitals, particularly in urban centers. With the DRI delegation, I was in Argentina in 2003 to examine conditions in psychiatric hospitals, including the Hospital Tobar García, which is a psychiatric institution for children in Buenos Aires. We had almost finished the tour of the facility and were on the top floor in a locked ward for adolescent boys. Just the day before, a melee had erupted and the boys had accused the orderlies of using excessive force in restraining them. While my colleagues were sorting out what happened, my eye was drawn to a boy who looked much younger than the others. He was probably fourteen or fifteen, but he looked to be no more than about eleven years old. I went over and introduced myself , and I asked if I could see his room. In his room, Daniel took out a book and asked if I had read it. Much to my surprise, it was Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. I replied that I had, and after a moment of caressing the cover, Daniel asked me earnestly, “How is it possible that an English man writing hundreds of years ago could so perfectly imagine and describe what goes on in Buenos Aires today?” It turned out that Daniel’s life in many ways resembled the life of young Oliver Twist, who in the story was born into a workhouse in London and had various misadventures on the streets of London with gangs. Daniel had lived with his mother and his younger sister. He didn’t know who his father was. His mother had been left unemployed in the economic crisis and as a result they had lost their apartment. They had been living with a series of men who were reportedly abusive or alcoholic or both. Daniel had dropped out of school and was selling chewing gum and little things on the street, or just begging. He was clearly a sensitive boy and had become overwhelmed— developing anxiety and depression, in clinical terms. And, because his mother couldn’t take care of him, she had decided to put him in this psychiatric hospital. Daniel assured me, “She is going to come and get me as soon as she can, to take me home. She collects the bus money. Whenever she...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812292190
Related ISBN
9780812247749
MARC Record
OCLC
932320523
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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