Madness Theory Revisited

I enjoy browsing the shelves of the library after dark. It is open late three nights per week, and I have found that this is when I allow myself to search for a text written by an author that is actually in my orbit. I found a book that looks promising by Barbara Tepa Lupack. Insanity As Redemption in Contemporary American Fiction: Inmates Running the Asylum, circa 1995. The text looks as if it hasn’t been read. There are so many older books there that are tempting to borrow, dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but their pages are brittle and/or loose, and I am concerned that, were I to be reading outdoors near the ocean or leaning against a tree, the wind would destroy them. Hence, I usually limit myself to the sturdier texts.

I tried to strike up a conversation about this book with one of the attractive librarians, but she shied away, not understanding anything I said. It may be a combination of language barriers as well as a total lack of interest in subversive literature on her part. As Schopenhauer said, not every Hansel finds his Gretel. I told her that the book looks promising as it insinuates that those who do not “fit into our society” glued together by illusions and hallucinations may be the most authentic. She simply told me that she does not understand as she backed away … Schopenhauer also said that a married philosopher belongs in comedy. I might add to this proposition that a flirting philosopher is rather comical as well.

What initially attracted to me to this text is that the author examines five major works, three of which have left deep impressions on me, namely Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Ken Kessey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five – the latter two I were actually required reading in the private high school I attended in my youth. The head of the English department was evidently trying to tell us something. When I would try to discuss these and other works, like Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day or John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, with fellow adolescents back in my hometown, they informed me that these were not in their curriculum. They would insist that “that school is messing up your head.”

My track coach sat me down one day and accused the head of the English department of being a subversive Communist … a rather novelesque adolescence, no? Dead Poets’ Society? Myths, Dreams, and Cultures: The Real Man’s Club.

In the fiction Barbara Tepa Lupack examines, each protagonist is mad or is considered to be mad – but who reveals a special insight into the dangers of social, political, and cultural conformity. All seek conformation of their authenticity, and all offer social and ethical remedies that challenge bureaucratic institutions – solutions that amount to inmates running the asylum. This is what “Holden” and I are attempting to do with a humble little old-fashioned anti-Facebook message board launched in 2014: seeking confirmation of our authenticity. This is, in fact and in deed, what the Gort Busters website was doing, what the Why Work website was offering. Is it not rather eerie that these projects were either aborted, died from lack of participation, or were destroyed by some kind of Operation Cyberstorm? And yet, as with Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, dialogue only requires a truthful mind. Only the truthful can even see the truth (see poem, Hyperborean Winter).

I may be taking extensive notes from this text as it is related to one of my favorite books of Critical Theory, Shoshana Felman’s Writing & Madness, the book which inspired the poem/principle, Madness Theory. Which most definitely resonates with The Inversion Principle I had been exposed to in “The Real Man’s Club” in the mid-1980’s. Here I sit, thirty years later, a full-fledged Steppenwolf typing away in his domicile at 3AM in the morning.

Much like my nephew in the gortbusting years and “Nat” in the whywork years, I have to credit “Holden” for personally motivating and inspiring me to continue to document my scholarly activities in such an anti-intellectual environment as we live in this twenty-first century Bizarroland culture called the Space Age or the Machine Age – mass industrial consumerist culture, which is a spiritually bankrupt perfumed corpse. Now I will continue to develop Madness Theory, a spiritual/intellectual descendant of The Inversion Principle. It is all interconnected.

I want to implement Madness Theory by commenting on the hypocrisy the status quo, thereby challenging the social order. This is my living protest and actual historical rebellion against oppressive social institutions (religion, government, big business, the military), i.e., what John Trudell refers to as “the corporate state” – the Enemy. Know your enemy.

Early in the text (Insanity As Redemption) I come across a reference to R.D. Laing, and I am instantly validated as anti-Freudian.

 Noted British anti-Freudian psychoanalyst R.D. Laing offered an even more radical view of social repression and societal transformation, one that was especially appealing to writers and social thinkers of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Influential in shaping the deep current of dissatisfaction with external authority, his works proposed that the distinction between conformity and nonconformity, sanity and insanity, was not always very clear. Laing conceived of madness as a struggle for liberation from false attitudes and values, an encounter with primary feelings and impulses that constitutes the possibility of the emergence of the “true self” hidden from the false outer being, whose chief function is adjustment to the demands of the society and the family (as its offshoot).

“True sanity,” he wrote in The Politics of Experience, “entails in one way or another the dissolution of … that false self completely adjusted to our alienated social reality.” Insanity, Laing concluded, might very well be a state of health in a mad world.

Laing’s ideas found their parallels in many novels. Even the notion that society itself resembles a madhouse has had a durable career in modern fiction.

I call it, besides Science Fiction Bizarroland and The Perfumed Corpse, The Funny Farm Plantation.  Barbara Tepa Lupack continues:

J.D. Salinger’s rebel-hero Holden Caulfield’s quest in The Catcher in the Rye ended in an insane asylum and “signaled the end of American quests for the pure Utopia.”

She even mentions John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, offering insight into the absurdity of Ignatius Reilly’s predicament:

And the journey – a retreat from his mother’s lunacy – that Ignatius J. Reilly takes in A Confederacy of Dunces propels him into the arms of the equally loony girlfriend he had earlier tried to avoid. He merely trades one brand of absurdity for another.

[…] in a world as devoid of meaning […] madness is both a legitimate response and an effective challenge to the superficial sanity of the social order and historical process. Only a person out of step with society has an appropriate vantage point from which to view its failings; only a person who fails to obey the institutions that mandate certain behaviors can appreciate their rigitity and the consequences of nonconformity.

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