Thursday, September 25, 2014

Call Me Whatever You Wish, But Please Don't Call Me Normal

Your favorite stories are those in which otherwise likable individuals are pushed beyond their likability, where egos declare blood feuds upon their alter egos, where sanity and lack of reason trade places, where logicians and philosophers, in the midst of arguing whether the glass is half empty or half full begin throwing glasses at one another.

When the moment arrives, often close to the beginning of the story, when the rules of narrative convention, are called into acrimonious dispute, you feel your pulse engage and take sides with the participants.

A patient in an examination room nods at relief when the doctor enters.  "Doctor,"  the patient says, "I'm so glad to see you.  I have these difficulties."

The expectation is  for the doctor to offer a heart-warming response.  Instead, the doctor says, "Wait.  You think you have difficulties.  Let me tell you, you don't know from difficulties."

Alright, this is your fanciful version of your favorite reasons for the beginning moments of story, but if you look closely, you will see how you stand in relationship to one of your own more conventional assumptions.

You favor one story in which an embittered man becomes an even greater monster than the monster he yearns to take down.  This is, of course, Captain Ahab.

In another story, a young man, because of a few acts of kindness to a wretched convict, is offered a chance at a life of opportunity and growth, only to have it undercut by a manipulative old crone.  This is the story of Pip, in Great Expectations.

What about this one, in which a young man, attempting to revenge himself on a father he feels is abusive, takes the extreme step of turning into a beetle.  Franz Kafka, the author, fascinates you because of a simple discovery you made reading about him, his resolute fondness for the Yiddish theater.  You find it difficult now to read any Kafka without suspecting his overriding intent to be satire.

Michael Chabon seems to work this transformative mischief on every outing, but you became convinced when you read The Yiddish Policeman's Union, a murder mystery of consequence set against the background of the failure of the state of Israel, its subsequent move to Alaska and, as the novel begins, our discovery that Israel has failed there as well.

When you begin to look at the patterns of forceful, abrupt change within certain types of story, you experience epiphany.  Such remarkable and stunning reversals as, to name only a few more, Karen Russell's Swamplandia, and Richard Ford's Canada use comparisons between extremes to complete the equation in which the insane appears quite sane, the sane emerges as daft beyond recognition.

You've only begun compiling the list in recent years, but the fact is, it was in place long before your appearance and will extend well beyond your times, all because of the combative and conflicting natures of sanity and its opposite number within our own sense of sanity and its opposite number.

Wiser individuals than you have observed occasions wherein the inmates had dominion over the asylum, but you harbor the belief there is some particular genome wishing to tie the tin cans of inevitability and balance to the genetic material.  There are individuals who become so fearful of evolving intelligence that they become attracted to those extreme ruling politicians who advocate a step backward on the evolutionary escalator.

Whatever this says about you, mad individuals in the literal sense as well as in the fictional have long attracted you. At this stage, you cannot be sure of your own evolutionary trend.  If you awaken some morning after a night of uneasy dreams to discover you'd turned quite normal, you are earnest in your hope you'll have the good graces to feel disappointment.  Think of all the things your could do with madness.

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