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High life

Emotionally charged

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

3 May 2003

12:00 AM

3 May 2003

12:00 AM

New York

My doctor tells me that the reason I grew a tumour in my head was because of my obsession with Ashley Judd. For any of you living in outer space, Ashley is an actress whom I’ve never met but have rather ambitious plans for if I ever do. Needless to say, it was love at first sight. Then came the obsession, followed by the tumour. Don’t laugh. My doctor is convinced of the cause, and, if Spinoza were around, he would agree. Mind you, Descartes would not. Let me explain. As all of you know, Descartes theorised that human beings were composed of physical bodies and immaterial minds. Not so, said the great Spinoza. In his Ethics, the Dutchman argued that the body and mind are one continuous substance. In other words, the mind exists for the body’s sake and ensures its survival.

So far so good. Descartes, however, won the day. His rationalist doctrine shaped modern philosophy, and poor Spinoza was sent packing. Four hundred years later, Dr Antonio Damasio, the head of neurology at the University of Iowa, has published a book which proves Spinoza had it right all along. ‘Feeling is not the enemy of reason, but, as Spinoza saw it, an indispensable accomplice.’ Well, I don’t know how long it took the good doctor to discover this, but I could have told him so straight off the bat. Other academics are following Damasio’s lead, dismissing the division between reason and passion, and, while they’re at it, my old buddy Aristotle is also taking a drubbing. (Cognition and emotion.) Not to mention that old fraud Freud. The Viennese jerk believed that mental pathology was based on unsuccessful emotional repression, something I could have disproved in a jiffy long ago. But back to Ashley Judd.


When Dr Damasio wrote Descartes’ Error it was greeted as a breakthrough. ‘For the first time, his lab really showed that you can’t shut off all the emotions from rational decision making.’ In other words, emotions are central to cognition – and thus survival. When I first laid eyes on Ashley, my body state responded to an external stimulus. It was not the other way round. My feelings for her – a slight erection, as I was watching television at the time – triggered a change in my brain. Feelings do not cause bodily symptoms, but are caused by them. The erection was the cause of my passion for her. It is really quite simple, and young men understand this very well. While discussing this with my own doctor, he wondered why it had taken as long as it did for me to grow a tumour. Because the causes had started long ago. In 1945, to be exact. It was in an outdoor theatre in Kifissia, and I had just seen Betty Grable dancing on the screen in a brief costume. Although innocent of the facts of life, an erection inhibited me from going for ice-cream at the break. My German nanny thought I was ill. Which I was, but not in the way she had it figured. For the next five years Betty’s half-naked image gnawed away at my poor brain, probably causing frontal-lobe damage. Then I saw Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa and I began to have social behaviour problems because of her. (When I finally met her while playing Davis Cup in Spain, I was such a wreck, she thought I was brain damaged.)

Frontal-lobe damage is caused by a person’s inability to feel, someone without emotion. In my case, I felt so strongly about Betty and Ava that damage was caused because of too much emotion. Ergo, my tumour was benign.

As the years passed, Betty and Ava were replaced by Juliette Binoche, Helen Hunt, Renée Zellweger, and now Ashley Judd. By focusing on the nature of body representations of the brain, Dr Damasio and others have finally reunited mind and body. In the past, human beings were understood purely by observing what they did. Internal mental states were seen as irrelevant. Feelings were considered too subjective. But feelings is what it’s all about. My feelings for Ashley Judd were dismissed both by the mother of my children and my daughter as the silly crush of an old man, and look at the result. A tumour half the size of a ping-pong ball was caused by that particular obsession. Mind you, Betty, Ava, Juliette, Helen and Renée did not help.

Now that I’m cured I plan to do something about it. I have already told my daughter who is living in Los Angeles to be on the look-out. The mother of my children, while visiting Lolly, ran into that wonderful actor Michael York – he’s been a loyal Speccie reader for a very long time – and perhaps he could help. My doctor tells me that if I continue to be obsessed with Ashley, I’m a dead man. If anyone out there knows Ashley and can be of help, please contact me through The Spectator. Time is of the essence.


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