At the moment I am reading Paul Williams’ Apple Bay; this is part of researching for the Vonnegut paper, which has become quite suddenly more focussed now that I’ve split open my free-associative dreamscape of a utopian cocoon and reemerged into the sometimes bleary light of structured academic behaviour, started a new semester, and found a supervisor. This is the last leg, babies.
To put it bluntly: I’m reading with the idea of mental illness as a metaphor for the dystopian canker in the utopian rose.
(Funny how the body responds to the mind: the above sentence went fingers–screen–eyes–spine, and the body SAT UP with a tiny rush of adrenaline. O HAI! Something about that feels right, and I mean feels right without any mental process: it’s the inmost response to the hail of what ideologies shape me to believe this is right, and to believe it so deeply that it can’t be put into words, because it can’t be entirely seen, it’s the dark heart at the core. So, if I stay on the path–with luck, not too drunk, fit to keep on, with the right faith, persevere; if by chance it’s my fate, or karma, or will, or random gone-with-the-flow-down-the-river-surrender–then I believe it’s a calling: and that is a hailing.)
oh the fleeting pleasure and nasty pink shame of ego stroking mental masturbation
Back to the point:
The idea of Vonnegut’s illness as a dystopic canker first came up for me about a year ago when I heard his interview on CBC about his new book (his second and only other book), which is also a memoir, which is also heavily governed by the topic of his schizophrenia, or mental illness. For the better part of this year I’ve only marginally entertained discussing that idea, but now it is in the forefront of my research. Frankly, it’s really cool to come full circle back to that, but this time around to have all the explorations on utopia in my mind to house the notion and give it context.
Aw, I just had this image of the utopia stuff as this wide circle of tall people gently swaying and looking with loving and benevolent expressions into the center of the circle at the little mental illness child capering there. And now I’m having a memory of a vicious dog fight from when I was a tiny child and those people rushing to fill buckets of water to throw on the dogs. Terrifying.
Apple Bay is interesting and useful in ways that are missing in The Eden Express, in terms of describing the attempts to go back to the land and live communally. But more importantly, Apple Bay documents the personal encounter with the dark side and even craziness in some ways similarly to The Eden Express, which helps me to reflect on mental illness as one of the dominant deconstructing–if not destructive–forces that overwhelm the idyllic experiment of utopia. The common issues that challenge communal experiments are sex, love, work, comfort, and money–not necessarily in that order, but possibly more often than not. Among these issues, and I wonder if this could turn out to be intrinsic to each, is the problem of going crazy.
Furthermore, I wonder about the relationship between living in an alternative (and for now let us at least loosely uphold the designation of “alternative” as utopian) society and going crazy in general–not just as something that happens sometimes to some people, but as a latent energy that manifests either voluntarily or through coercion (think encounter group therapies, for example). Remove structural boundaries and introduce experimentations with expressions of freedom–free love, free sex, free work, free comfort, free money . . . and see where that goes.
I must note too that I am considering this relationship–craziness and utopia–in terms of normative perceptions of those who drop out of society, or actively oppose it. They’re crazy!, of course. And to the eyes and hearts and souls of those who go counterculture, normal society is crazy!, of course.
Indeed, THIS is arguably the main canker: we just can’t get along very well, can we?
(Ah the future looks brighter when one imagines living in that utopia all by oneself, with a beautiful huge garden and a shitload of ammunition.)
This started today with the wish to put here a selection from the book that got my attention, so here it is.
I guess it’s not over. “It’s never really the end.” What can I give you that will give you pleasure? What can I give you that will give you me?
I used to live at Apple Bay.
I’m confused about what was once so clear: Who are the good guys? What’s worth fighting for?
Which side am I on?
I discovered I’m not so great as I thought I was. I guess that’s not so unusual a discovery. I realize this book started out in paradise, and now it’s at the bottom of the soul’s dark night, only not so dark now, starting the ascent again, by God the deepest valleys are summits to me now, and the path goes on from here!
I used to think of Apple Bay, before I even got there, as the place where I would make my stand. In Mendocino I got religion, the redwoods gave me the word, the hole that was left in me after reading Dune was filled with Purpose; I would save the fucking planet, I would fight the lumber company, the land developer, the highway, the chainsaw. But the odds were too great in Mendocino, I was too weak (and my friends too uncertain) and the powers-that-be (Boise-Cascade, Georgia Pacific, and the Highway Patrol) too strong, I had to go somewhere where the land would make demands on me, where the supermarket would be unreachable, where Our Side–the Land–would stand a chance in a fair fight, where the tables could be turned, where my back would be against the wall and there would be nowhere left to flee to and I would have to turn and face the Pursuer.
I went north, I fled, I moved to Apple Bay.
And I learned to live without money, sort of, I learned to grow food and walk and swim and row and fish and how to sharpen a crosscut saw and prune an apple tree and eat a rutabaga. I learned to cook and work and eat and sleep and be satisfied and I learned to hate and learned to fail and learned to be unsatisfied and uncertain and undone.
And I faced the Pursuer . . . or did I? Oh, I remember: I’m beginning to face the Pursuer, beginning to turn and fight and go on with it, that’s what I’m doing now, look at the hero, folks.
I am the enemy, I am the traitor, I have sworn allegiance to the pen and the tree, I am the force that cuts and the force that plants, I am the barefoot boy on the forest floor, sitting in socks in a Vancouver hotel, sneering in the mirror.
I guess it’s not over.
Williams, Paul. Apple Bay. Encinitis: Entwhistle, 1976. Print. 91-92.
In the vernacular of the day: Crazy, man.