Literary works, prepatory journals and related manuscripts:
But even within that paradigm, the editors give themselves a lot of wiggle room. She had the double strike against her of being a woman and an eccentric during a period when society was particularly unforgiving.
No common theme to the book should readily emerge. This approach is problematic. Writings of genuinely insane people are chaotic at best.
In the Realms of the Unreal, edited by John G. H. Oakes – Odd Things Considered
Without a common theme or at least an attempt to classify these writings, the reader is confronted with a wall of illness-influenced words that become amorphous and meaningless without context. The only divisions in the book are institutional and chronological, which is sort of helpful because one can almost see how anti-psychotic medications changed how mentally ill people interacted with their disease, but even that is not enough to give this work the sort of focus that prevents these works from becoming an assault on even readers who seek out this sort of literature.
Much of the work in this book is not good, and failure to link the work to the illness that may have fueled its creation, in my opinion, strips the works of their worth. To say that all of these pieces from the insane have intrinsic worth just because they were written by insane people is akin to saying that all diary entries from teenagers have intrinsic worth because they are from teenagers, or that all poems written by people in wheelchairs have intrinsic value because they were written by people in wheelchairs. What other framework can the reader use to determine value?
Most of this book is not genius borne from madness. With the exception of a handful of writers, including Darger and Mary MacLane, these are not the works of natural writers. These are the works of people with a specific story to tell — the story of being mentally ill. There is no way to evaluate these writings without discussing the illness and experience of illness that inspired the writing in the first place. One was not supposed to see color, race, religion, disability or illness.
Please be aware that many of these works contain grammatical errors and unique spelling that I plan to reproduce without comment. I am hamstrung a bit because I am not a person who can critique poetry as well as I can prose. But even taking that into account, there is some poetry here that has a deep emotional punch. Then you will be asked to let the deer in the city and they will walk on your cement and broken glass, and their gentle child-like feet will bleed.
The poem is a bit on the nose in other places but in utter violation of the mission statement of this book, it is hard not to see the child-like state of people in the throes of medication, subdued and yet still facing danger. I suspect the first night in an asylum would be like a deer walking along broken glass. We were in the restaurant The waiter hung around our table Like a damp rag. You were cloud-like. The moment was lost In a swirl of plates Landing on our table. Chicken salad. Some of the essays are extremely interesting.
Love, whose biography indicates that he had been receiving psychiatric care from a young age, though the nature of that care is not explained:. A lot of people who are in the hospital as staff say that anger is to be talked out calmly, coolly and in normal tones at all times. As an example, when I was growing up, people liked to be mean to me, including my own brother, to make me mad so that they had a reason to beat me up. Sometimes you have to yell, scream, punch someone, even fist fight to get the point across. When I was in the worst part of my depression, I really got tired of the condescending attitudes that anger is toxic and that anger is bad and must be conquered.
Posthumous fame grows for artist Henry Darger
It was advice given to meek and baffled people whose anger was often justified. It seemed like everytime I went into the bathroom there was a lethal mess. Sticking toilet paper, clothes and state dresses in the commodes. Some would drag around coffee and spill coffee grinds all over the basins. Cups with coffee in them sat on the basins in spite of the fact, the cleaning women came in everyday to clean.
The women still messed up everything, dropping Cigarette Butts on the floor and in cups. It was one big stinking mess all the time. All they would say was, are you taking your medicine. Everyone needs help now and then. They did not help us and we spent most of the day doing nothing.
My roommate was in bad shape and seldom cleaned herself. She hoarded food as well, and because I did not want to get her into trouble, I said nothing. I just dealt with the funk in our room and brushed the ants away. She had no one to visit her and was broke. I left her all my change when I left because she hoarded food because her meds made her ravenous if you have ever been on an atypical antipsychotic, you will know what I mean. But even in my private, slightly upscale hospital, it was grubby, we could have no fresh air and there was a constant stink and funk that made me, a neat freak, very nervous.
It reads very much like Karoselle and I were cut from similar cloth where our inability to block out foulness is concerned. And just to clarify, my time in a psych ward was brief. I was misdiagnosed with bi-polar and a bad psychiatrist yanked me off medications and put me on new meds that made me go psychotic.
Lately I have been feeling like the worst part of a bad novel, and they put the wires to my head every week now. But God cannot commit suicide: he is eternal by definition, poor trapped bastard. Time got left somewhere in the sky many years ago leaving everyone on the brink of violence while I am on the brink of emptiness, as one outside might say to another.
People are beginning to crush me like I want to crush them. I lost contact with my mind months ago, so I need to come home and put myself back on the road to goodness and God, and all the luscious white storks. Then there are the essays from the seriously mentally ill who were seeking help long before there were adequate drugs to treat such illnesses.
Take this passage from a man named Karl A. Oh dear lord. This one was a huge smack in the brain. It forces into the mind all the psycho-sexual implications of snakes and eggs and juices. I know just enough about schizophrenia to know I know too little to discuss it, but had I been a Jungian and had access to this man after reading this little essay, it would have been tantalizing to question him deeply, to see how much of this was the disease and how much of it was the subconscious.
I reproduce this passage mainly because it actually reminds me of some of the writings I associate with brilliant, modern writers. When Kathy Acker got on a roll, her writing had a similar flavor, a stream-of-consciousness of complexity and borderline filth.
All of this is vastly interesting, and there is so much more that I could not even hope to discuss, but as fascinating as some of this writing is, I think the two writers featured in this book that are worth the most discussion are Henry Darger and Mary MacLane. Arguably, neither writer should have been included in this volume at all because neither ever received any sort of official diagnosis as far as I can tell — perhaps they did and I have not come across this information yet.
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But not insane. But they were included and since they were, I am discussing them. And in my usual manner of bitching endlessly, I need to mention that including Darger in any sort of compilation and not including his drawings is bizarre. But alas, there are no illustrations in this book.
Just a clump of his prose with zero context. Darger was a man whose childhood was a misery. Born in , he was just four-years-old when his mother died soon after giving birth to his sister and the little girl was given up for adoption.