All the best books are about madness

Everything is representation.  By which I mean: all that is going on inside my skull is some sort of representation.  There is no actual "keyboard" in my head, just some sort of representation of "keyboard".

If all is representation, then everything is symbol.  By which I mean: somehow, a cluster of synapses, or a web of relations, or some emergent property thereof, constitutes a symbolic representation of "keyboard" inside my head.  There is a symbol in my head.  It symbolises "keyboard".

(It may not be singular.  In fact it probably isn't.  Meaning is 'thick'.  The symbol for "keyboard" represents "item arranged in a certain way connected to a computer", and "variegated surface on a laptop"and "thing with QWERTY" on it, and "thing that behaves in a particular way in response to my fingers" and so on.  There is some set of symbols that collectively comprise "keyboard" and my apprehension of that set of symbols is what "keyboard" means.)

All thought is symbolic.  It must be.  That's all there is to work with.

(All thought is metaphor.) (Shew me, said Wittgenstein.)

All meaning is thought.  Without thought, there is no meaning.

(All syllogism is symbolic.) (Ho ho.)

Adam Phillips suggests that literature and psychoanalysis are interchangeable.  Which is to say: they are both 'talking cures'.  Both introduce new thoughts, new symbols, which have the potential to cast new light on existing thoughts/symbols.  Clusters or arrangements of symbols, which comprise meaning, can be re-aligned.  A talking cure - the introduction of new symbols - creates new meanings.

We are meaning-seeking animals.  Our meanings cluster, inter-lock.  We seek patterns.  (Sometimes we call them 'narratives'.)  Our patterns codify, and rigidify.  To shake large rigid symbol structures - to learn, to grow - we need large interventions.  Great literature - large, powerful symbol systems - is psycho-active.  Great literature is mind work.  Great literature cannot be 'sane', for this would be to remain within the established symbol system.

Great literature must be mad.  Great literature is about madness.  Great literature must always be about madness.  In no particular order, here is a provisional list of fifty to get us going:

Alice in Wonderland
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Catch 22
Moby Dick
The Man without Qualities
The Spire
Everything by J G Ballard
Crime & Punishment
Everything by Kafka
Everything by William Burroughs
The Third Policeman
Everything by Spike Milligan
Everything by Anne Enright
Everything by Samuel Beckett
Jane Eyre
The Bell Jar
Everything by Henry Miller
Oranges are not the Only Fruit
Everything (no exceptions) by Philip K Dick
The Wide Sargasso Sea
She Came to Stay
Don Quixote
Tristram Shandy
The Handmaid's Tale
Brave New World
Most things by Ursula K le Guin
Dining on Stones
Auto da Fe
Almost everything by Italo Calvino
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Great Gatsby
Fight Club
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Dr Moreau
Heart of Darkness
Slaughterhouse 5
Everything by Kertesz
Life: A User's Manual
More or less everything by Borges

Ceaselessly going mad is how we stay sane.  Literature plunges disruptive symbol systems into our meagre realm.  The literature of madness is our bulwark against despair. All we have is symbols: we must let them clash.


Popular Posts