Re: RARA-AVIS: Crazy about the bird

From: Patrick King (
Date: 02 Jun 2008

--- Jack Bludis <> wrote:

> Patrick King, whose opinions I respect but often
> disagree with said:
> >>People who kill each other over buried treasure
> are
> not well, just like gamblers who murder each other.
> It
> doesn't really matter if a jewel encrusted statuette
> lies hidden in some Greek grotto. This is a work of
> fiction that explores a certain type of mental
> illness.<<
> I disagree that it is a mental illness, more of a
> maladjustment based on the obsession to get rich
> quick.
> Gutman and pals, are seriously maladjusted. Mentally
> ill? To the extent that all of us have obsessions,
> quirks, beliefs, and drives that are, whether we
> admit it or not, neuroses when not psychoses. I
> think most crime fiction explores "certain kind of
> human beings." Some explores insanity, but not THE
> MALTESE FALCON. It explores human beings with flaws.
> To compare Gutman and his crowd, or even Bridget, to
> Charles Manson is a stretch.

Okay, Jack, which obsession are you willing to kill people for? The environment? Global warming? Abortion rights? Rights of the "unborn"? A Dennis Wheatley first edition?

Certainly people have killed for neurotic reasons. But when an idea has gone so far that murder seems like a logical solution, a clinical element of insanity has been reached. This may not be "legal" insanity, but it is medical insanity.

Neurosis it an inappropriate reaction to events in life. Psychosis is an incorrect interpretation of those events.

Brigid thought that possession of the black bird was worth the price of murdering at least Myles Archer, perhaps several other people. Charles Manson, if you accept the LA DA's theory, believed that inciting a race war by murdering people he didn't know would rejuvenate the planet, and he was instructed to do this through lyrics in a Beatles' song. Both of these are completely incorrect interpretations of reality.

I can't see the Falcon as a "get rich quick" scheme, however. The money angle was offered only by Gutman to Spade. Who was going to pay Gutman or any of these people a million dollars for the bird? These people wanted the Falcon for personal, perhaps metaphysical purposes. The only way to make money with that stollen statue is to melt it down for the gold and jewels and sell it to a fence. None of them intend to do that.

Still, I'd go so far as to say the belief in "get rich quick" schemes is a type of mental illness. Admittedly it afflicts a very large number of people in civilized societies. Most people do not murder others over their gambling obsessions. Internet scammers, mail fraud, credit card and identity theft; these people all have mental problems that should have been addressed when they were first displayed in childhood. Criminals of this sort seldom surprise the people who know them.

I would say that organized criminals are mentally ill. They create alternate societies that work on a different set of principles than those of the mainstream. The fact that they sometimes become wealthy and powerful does not detract from the fact that they're living in an illusion that most often leads to prison or untimely death.

The unwillingness of society at large to recognize that criminal activity is a mental illness is at the forefront of its proliferation. If we refuse to accept a problem as existing, if we think this behavior is
"normal" on a basic level, we can excuse our own culpability when presented with an illegal opportunity. And we punish instead of treating so the problem is never corrected.

I think these ideas are cleverly and subtly explored in THE MALTESE FALCON and perhaps even more so in THE THIN MAN a novel ostensibly about various type of mental illness.

Patrick King


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