The following interview originally appeared under the title “In New Fear” in Polyglot 141, who have been kind enough to allow us to republish it here in advance of the release of our 2017 chapbook Fears For The Near Future by CS Mierscheid.
It had been Polyglot 141’s intention that this interview take place via Skype earlier in the year. However, upon learning of Professor Mierscheid’s aversion to internet telephony, the meeting was delayed until a visit to her offices could be arranged. Happily, this coincided with the preparations for the publication of her current pamphlet, Fears For The Near Future. Interviewer Natalie Tate met with Mierscheid in her office at Miskatonic University, Massachusetts, where she is Professor of Modern Psychologies.
When did you first become interested in the study of fears and phobias?
Very early on. I was a nervous child and developed a number of anxieties and paranoias – only a few of which remain with me now – but I was also curious; enough to want to know why the things that frightened me did so.
What sort of anxieties?
Any number of minor – and very common – childhood fears. Parental abandonment. The dark. Clowns. Tall people. A constant terror that the world as I knew it ceased to exist when I closed my eyes. For a long time I was convinced that my brother wasn’t real; that he was a fictitious character created for the amusement of others. Most of these fears were either overcome or receded of their own accord.
Most of them?
Some remain, yes.
Would you mind if we discussed them? For the purposes of background, context. Your disinclination for this interview to take place via Skype, for example. Does such an aversion have a name? It’s not – to the best of my knowledge – covered in your forthcoming pamphlet.
If it has a name – I don’t personally give it one – then I’m not aware. But the fears, phobias, conditions discussed in my pamphlet are documented, researched, diagnosed. My aversion is not something I’ve explored fully because of the discomfort it brings me.
What are the roots of this particular aversion? Your most recent work – and that for which you’re most noted – focuses on anxieties and phobias arising from developments in emerging technologies and cultures. Is there a connection between your condition and your field?
As I’ve said, the matter hasn’t been explored fully, for the reason already given. But I suspect that the aversion itself may be connected to a longstanding dislike of having my photo taken, a characteristic I share with my brother (the German politician Jakob Maria Mierscheid – Ed.).
You say “dislike”, but I understand that it’s more than that.
Yes. As with the aversion to videophony, it’s not something that has been clinically diagnosed–
Scopophobia might the closest approach…
Perhaps, although I’d demur on the connection, personally. Scopophobia has its roots in shyness and social anxiety, whereas my aversion – and if it’s of interest, I would actually characterise it as a deep and soul-wrenching dread – is more to do with an irrational-yet-uncontrollable fear that in having my photo taken, some intangible-yet-integral part of me is removed.
Is that not a fear with its roots in technology?
Perhaps. But it’s far from an emergent one.
You’re a scientist of course, and yet appear to display no shame or embarrassment about this particular fear.
It is what it is.
But the Skype thing. It’s different from having your photo taken, yes?
The aversion has its roots in my dislike of having my photo taken, but it is distinct and separate, that’s correct. With videophony, I find the disjoint, the disconnection between conversing parties incredibly disconcerting.
I’m not quite sure that I…
So if this conversation were to be held via a medium such as Skype, for example – just the thought makes me shudder – we would be looking at each other, but not making eye contact. For us to do so, we would both have to be addressing, looking at directly, the webcam, which is mostly always positioned above the screen. Which would, of course, defeat the point of the visual element of the conversation. Instead, what tends to happen, is that the conversing parties see images of each other looking slightly below the face, never at.
And this is off-putting for you?
It’s almost as though the other party is ignoring me. Which itself is related to another personal anxiety, although not one connected to emergent technologies.
That brings us round nicely to the reason we’re here. Your new pamphlet, Fears For The Near Future: Towards A Diagnostic Manual Of The Peripheral Phobias is a primer, I suppose, on the sorts of fears and anxieties we can expect to see more of in the future.
Yes. My team and I conducted surveys and interviews and identified many repeated occurrences of previously undocumented phobic phenomena. Given the increasingly accelerating nature of culture and technology this was hardly a surprise, but it was fascinating nonetheless. The pamphlet is far from comprehensive – we are in talks to secure funding for a more thorough study – but hopefully it provides a good introduction to – and overview of – the peripheral phobias.
Being your neologism for the subject.
In order to acknowledge their previous marginalisation as phenomena worthy of study.
And the sub-heading. Towards A Diagnostic Manual…
Is my attempt to mainstream the same and also the rationale behind the more user-friendly presentation of the work. It is aimed at the general reader.
Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. The style of Fears For The Near Future is a marked departure from some of your publications. I’m thinking particularly of your previous appearances in Polyglot 141: “Analysis Of The Correlation Between Anxieties And Technophobia In The Alberton, Ohio Region” and “Anxiety Or Aversion? A Worrier’s Guide”, both of which were subject to criticisms for their, in the words of one critic, “wilfully impenetrable, almost solipsistic approach to language.”
It’s true that some of my earlier work may have conformed a little too rigidly to traditional academic styles, but I’m far from being a solipsist. Besides, the almost opposite has been said of some of my other works.
We’re talking about your collaboration with the writer JL Bogenschneider here, I think. The qualitative study Four Phobias, published in Ambit, a literary magazine. Not where we’d expect to see your work appear.
Yes. And being the reason that particular collaboration – as well as another, earlier example – went uncredited to me. Prior to publication I felt that being associated with a literary journal might damage my reputation as a serious academic. Of course, it’s no longer a secret [the tabloid Popular Psychologist published a now infamous exposé on Professor Mierscheid’s literary collaborations under the headline “Prof’s Drop To Lowbrow Rag Shock” – Ed.] but my fears – excuse the pun – appear to have been unfounded.
Your current pamphlet strikes an appropriate balance, I feel. You’re currently working on a full-length manuscript on the same subject: In New Fear.
Yes. The book is more discursive, more narrative, an approach with which I’m comfortable, now. It contains more case studies that we were able to include in Fears For The Near Future and incorporates elements of memoir, something I was loathe to do. But I understand the form is undergoing something of a resurgence and it was at the publisher’s insistence.
You don’t care for the personal touch?
As an academic, a scientist, it has never been in my interest to personalise the impersonal. However, the experience was not unenjoyable. There is something to be said for incorporating one’s life into one’s life work. Although whether or not my brother sees the value in my dissection of his pathological fear of lumberjacks is a matter for our next family reunion…
Fears For The Near Future: Towards A Diagnostic Manual Of The Peripheral Phobias by CS Mierscheid will be published by Neon Books in 2018. Natalie Tate is a regular contributor to Polyglot 141 and the author of Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Psychologies (Sokal Press, 2011).