RARA-AVIS: Crazy About the Bird

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 25 May 2008

Dr. King wrote:

> Well, I've given you my definition of psychotic fairly
> extensively and these folks fit the shoe. What's your
> definition of psychotic? How crazy do people have to
> be in your book? These people are about as delusional
> as people can be without blabbering. One can argue
> that much of Guttman's condescending diatribe is
> blabbering. How do you think his "history of the
> Falcon" played during his trial? Ted Bundy is saner
> than any of these Falcon hunters!

Ted Bundy? Gosh.

Another classic misreading of a classic text, and another shallow blast of meaningless hyperbole. There is nothing in Hammett's text to support any of this.

> I define a psychotic as a person whose reality has
> little in common with the reality of the people they
> live around. Psychosis is a very interesting and hard
> to detect mental disorder. One of the first signs is
> irrational lying. If a person lies for no logical
> reason, (a logical reason for lying is to hide
> embarrassment) they are quite possibly psychotic.

Irrational lying? Brigid spills out plenty of lies, but they're far from irrational -- if so, they'd be obvious to both readers and Spade from the start. Instead, her statements are only revealed as lies as more facts become known. Which means they were plausible on the surface; not irrational.

A stubborn insistence, where one actually believes their own lies might be another matter, but there's no indication Brigid believes her own crap. Lies for her -- as for most of the characters in the book, including Spade -- are simply a convenient tool to get what they want; not an alternate reality.

Were Brigid really the crazy person you claim she is she'd stubbornly, defiantly stick to one story. But it's obvious to anyone who's read the book that she's more than a one-lie gal. You don't buy her story? Wait a moment -- she'll give you another one, or tweak the old one to fit the new circumstances.

> People who believe they are on the trail of a
> priceless heirloom which is more important to them
> than human life are, by definition, psychotic.

Not just greedy? Not just obsessed, but actually psychotic? Wow.

Obsession and delusion are not the same thing, and there is no evidence that any of the characters in THE MALTESE FALCON (as written by Dashiell Hammett) are delusional. Misled, eccentric, murderous, manipulative, perfidious-- yes. Maybe even paranoid; worried someone else will nab the Black Bird first. But not truly disassociated from reality. The closest to being delusional any of the characters get is Mrs. Archer, who thinks Sam, that "stalwart" son of a bitch, actually loves her.

Your "definition" of psychosis is shaky at best, bearing no relationship to any recognized meaning of the word: clinical, scientific or even in the generally accepted usage of the world.

But by your definition, almost anyone who lies to get what they want or stubbornly insists that something is not what it obviously is
(like, oh, claiming that the first edition of I, THE JURY, despite irrefutable proof, was a paperback) might be considered psychotic. At least by your definition.

But I'd just peg them as a liar or even just wrong.

And if they persisted in representing an untruth as a fact, irrationally refuting or ignoring all evidence to the contrary long past its expiry date, well, I might consider them pigheaded. Or a pompous blowhard. But still not psychotic.

More Ted Baxter than Ted Bundy, in fact.

But that's not Brigid. She lies to get what she wants. And will kill or seduce a man, if he gets in the way of her goal. She doesn't lie or kill (or presumably have sex) for fun, or because a neighbour's dog told her. Which makes her dangerous, and a villain. and crazy about the bird. But still not psychotic.

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site 10 Years of P.I. Thrills

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