Author Topic: Madness Theory  (Read 8346 times)

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Gorticide :: Admin Elder Warrior

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Re: Madness Theory
« on: November 03, 2014, 01:19:14 pm »
Insanity As Redemption may very well be the most relevant text I've encountered since Felman's Writing & Madness – relevant to Madness Theory, that is.  Both texts are written by women.  Not surprisingly, most of my literary influences have been male.  Is it significant that both these intellectuals are female?  I'm not sure, but I know I will try to remain open to such voices from now on.  Both text are Literary Theory or Critical Theory.  While, when I had the opportunity to attend university, I was focused on Mathematics and Computer Science, I was thoroughly stimulated by electives in Literary Theory and Sociology, as well as Anthropology.  In fact, I found the professors in these fields to have far more of what I would call “personality” than the professors of more technical subjects, although the Multivariable Calculus professor at Rutgers called these other subjects “touchy-feely”.   I will take the opportunity here to state that I took Calculus III as an “elective” and wrecked the curve.   In my first semester there, most of the courses I needed for a Computer Science major were full, and I was amped for mathematics, so I took a chance with three rough math courses.  I held my own.

I only mention this as evidence of my peculiarity.  I wonder if anyone else in Rutgers' history has taken Multivariable Calculus as an elective and received a 4.0 (A) in it.  I was a maintenance worker in a park, and Matt Damon is a vast conspiracy!

Back to the subject.  In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, McMurphy's “revolution” starts the moment he appears on the ward.

Quote from: Lupack
His rebellion demonstrates to the inmates that anti-Order is [true] sanity, that true madness is not their alleged irrationality but the deadly order, system, and rationality of the institution.  When the rationality is perverted, as on [nurse] Ratched's ward, reason becomes madness, and the only solution lies in the disease.  The society that tries to cure its misfits by standardizing and straightjacketing them only causes the disease it quarentines.

… A vagrant and a self-styled psychopath, McMurphy is not above feigning insanity to avoid hard labor, though he later learns from the symbolic lifeguard at the hospital that his commitment can far exceed the remaining months of his sentence. 

… [McMurphy] drives himself to existential heroism in the face of absurdity.  His genuine compassion for the residents grows until it becomes his sole purpose for being.

… When Big Nurse reads McMurphy's record (including his arrest for having relations with a fifteen year old girl) on the day he is admitted, she subconsciously skips a section that McMurphy immediately calls to the staff's attention: “The nurse left this part out while she was summarizing my record.  Where it says, 'McMurphy has evidenced repeated' – I just want to make sure I'm understood completely, Doc – 'repeated outbursts of passion ...'”

Such passion is exactly what Ratched has eliminated from her life and her ward, and its reemergence in the figure of her new admission is highly threatening.

Markedly unfeminine, she looks and moves like a robot …

Her only recourse is to have McMurphy lobotomized, a last attempt at castration … Yet her victory is Pyrric: McMurphy has already passed his strength and manhood on to the other inmates so that not one phoenix but several rise out of the wasteland's ashes in his stead.  As the inmates begin to check themselves out or request transfers to other wards, she is voiceless – and powerless – to prevent them.  The silenced Madame Sosostris cannot rule the wasteland any longer.  Her icy facade melted by the heat of McMurphy's passionate defiance, Big Mom is no more.

I appreciate that this examination of Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is written by a woman, because, if it had been written by a man, it might be more harshly criticized.  The novel's central theme is the restoration of the inmates' individual and collective potency, and yet, the novel has been criticized  as laboring under a most reactionary myth involving the mystique of male sexuality.

Quote from: Lupack
While it is true that Big Nurse is a towering machine who dwarfs the men and erodes their confidence, her threat lies not in her sex but in her consuming quest for power, which connects her to the all-powerful Combine.  The fact that she resorts to traditionally unfeminine ways to increase her authority suggests, that women's – and men's – roles in the novel are anything but stereotypic and that the deliberate reversal is part of a larger comic pattern. 

… And just as the traditional female and male roles are reversed, so are the traditional black-white roles.  [Even McMurphy and Chief's relationship] is no Lone Ranger-Tonto affair:  It is McMurphy, after all, who has to introduce Bromden to the wonders of the natural world and who lays down his life for his friend, not the more stereotypic reverse. 

Taken together, all these comic role reversals emphasize the underlying principle of ironic contrast and the reason for the novel's universal appeal: that in the contemporary world, madness is sanity and sanity is madness.  It is the inmates who are sane …


Quote from: Lupack
Big Nurse is not a repugnant person because she is a woman; rather, she is a repugnant person because she denies her femininity and her very humanity for the sake of a smoothly running routine.  The Japanese nurse – another woman – is, on the other hand, among the most likeable characters in the book because she does not subscribe to the system's wholly mindless regimentation. 

… Even the argument of latent racism that several critics have raised has a strong counterargument. 

Juxtaposed to the three malicious authority-worshiping orderlies, Mr. Turkle, the Black night orderly, is (like the Japanese nurse) among the most sympathetic characters in the book.  He is kind to the Chief.  He also helps smuggle the whores and the liquor onto the ward and even offers McMurphy the key to escape in the morning. 

Quote from: Lupack
Turkle's humanity balances the other aides' inhumanity and demonstrates that the behavior of Ratched's threesome, who rely on violence and perversion to maintain control, is unusual indeed.  Therefore, to fault Kesey for his treatment of women and Blacks is, as Ronald Wallace correctly concludes, “to miss the comedy of a device that has informed comic art from Aristophenes to Erica Jong.

As symbols of resistance to a repressive system, the mad heroes McMurphy and Bromden show that “it is through their almost divine madness that the real insanity of the asylum – and of contemporary society – is exposed.

Kesey, like Vonnegut, is implementing the principle of ironic contrast.  Fellow American soldier, Roland Weary beats Billy Pilgrim severely.  Billy is, ironically, saved by his German captors, rescuing him from his compatriot's violence.  Even taken as a prisoner of war, an act which places him in the underground barracks, ends up saving him once again when Dresden is firebombed by the goddamned Allied Forces, the British and American Forces.  I know the truth isn't America's cup of tea, and, as per usual, they will most likely shoot the messenger. 

Quote from: Lupack
… Billy is no simple schizophrenic or delusional individual, though intermittingly institutionalized, he is, like McMurphy and Yossarian before him, quite possibly the sanest man around.  His sanity is evidenced, among other things, by his sheer endurance.

So the weak may in fact be strong, the insane may posses the greatest insight, and those bound for the slaughterhouse may be the only ones to survive.

When I got to the chapter on Kosinski's Being There in Insanity As Redemption, since I had never even heard of the book and the library happened to have a readable copy, I decided to first read the novel itself.  I found it a little confusing, but Barbara Tepa Lupack's examination shed some light on it for me. 

Quote from: lupack
Kosinski wrote of, “the inability to escape from others who [attempt] to prove and prove again to you that you are as they see you.”  Contemporary Americans were, for him, the best example of such lack of selfhood.  Possessed by little self-knowledge or self-worth, they readily adopt the view of the world that the fairy-tale magic of television creates for them.  Raised “to the ultimate power of electronic derangement,” says John Aldridge, they perceive life wholly in terms of television situations and “create the personages they see on the screen in the image of their hopes for themselves, their wishful projections of transcendent glamor, wisdom and financial success.   

As a result, they are vulnerable to seduction by whatever powers happen at any moment to be in control of mass media.  Their experience of a public figure is shaped by the manner in which that person is video packaged, and they accept the image as a reliable index of his true identity.

Mr Murdoch

Kosinski's novel, Being There, is a sharp and growing portrait of a growing constituency, the new generation of watchers and followers who suffer a Big Brother dependency on television and whose minds are picture pasteboards – video without audio, all reception, no perception. 

At the Rand estate, his new home, Ben cautions him just before the president arrives to hide his mind because the president's security officers often confiscate “sharp objects.”  Contemporary society's newest god is TV, whose filmic images are modern miracles revered by those who worship celebrity.


Things They Will Never Tell YouArthur Schopenhauer has been the most radical and defiant of all troublemakers.

Gorticide @ Nothing that is so, is so DOT edu

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