In Bed with Frida

Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist and communist, may be one of the originally documented sick women working from her bed. Below is a gallery of her bed works, and below are photographs of her in her real-life, photographed sick-bed works.

Blackfishing the IUD

I’ve just finished Caren Beilin’s intricate, captivating and complex look at how the copper IUD caused the onset of her rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In the short (therefore for me, easily digestuble) book from Wolfman Books, Beilin takes us through the fever dream of the years since her RA was triggered by the IUD. She weaves through literary criticism, scientific criticism, community activism and memoir. Her attachment to the 60’s writer J. A. Baker and his book the Peregrine is most striking for me, her devotion to him as another writer with RA.

Fence/Books on Twitter: "Read an excerpt from Caren Beilin's ...

Beilin created a podcast to go along with the book, also from Wolfman Books, where she interviews and chats with other people who’ve had their illnesses triggered by the IUD, and with women who are generally calling bullshit on gendered medical gaslighting and patriarchy.

Listen here:

Museum of the Mind, Bethlem Hospital

On the 11th March 2020, just prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK and the ensuing lockdown of most public spaces, I visited the Museum of the Mind at Bethlem Hospital and visited the archives.

This post features some of my records from the MoM that day.

Anna Kavan

Anna Kavan (her adopted name from a novel she wrote named Let Me Alone) was a writer and artist based in England, active from the 1930’s to her death in 1968.

Kavan wrote many books and her lucid, haunting prose was became a cult hit posthumously. She lived with multiple mental illnesses and a serious heroin addiction, both of which she was institutionalised for on various occassions.

Kavan promoted a radical politics of madness, portraying and prioritising the experience of the disenfranchised of the mid-20th century asylum patients. Her writings in Asylum Piece vividly depict the experiences of madness, paranoia and ugliness in the world of illness and carceral psychotherapy.

Asylum Piece, her first book as Anna Kavan, was published by Jonathan Cape in 1940. In these brief, lucid, thematically linked stories of madness, Kavan’s nightmare logic reigns. Systems of administration, impersonal and opaque, withhold help from desperate supplicants. Invisible but all-powerful enemies plot inevitable retribution. Blame, humiliation, and punishment are dispensed for unknown charges. And justice is impossible:

Emma Garman, “Feminize Your Canon: Anna Kavan”, The Paris Review, 2018 –

to whom can one appeal when one does not even know where to find the judge? How can one ever hope to prove one’s innocence when there is no means of knowing of what one has been accused? No, there’s no justice for people like us in the world: all that we can do is suffer as bravely as possible and put our oppressors to shame.” “

Anna Kavan, Asylum Piece (1940)

‘Anna Kavan’s life was another metaphysical adventure, often of a dangerous kind. The sliding panels of her fiction had their counterparts in her life. She was more than one personality and the shift from one aspect to another can only have been accomplished at real cost. Like her unnamed heroines, she was little girl, witch, and victim all at once.’ –

Brian Aldiss