Man in loft

(Bach, Emerson, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer, Mirabeau, Foucault)

“I have been taught to identify the mad, and to say ‘This person is mad and should be avoided,’  or ‘That person is not like us.  He must be mad’; though the lesson I have learned, in fact, is that people we wish to avoid are, consequently, mad, or that people who do not choose to be, or cannot be, like us, are mad.”  “You have to be schizophrenic to understand what it is like”, he says.  “If I were to describe what goes on in my head you’d think it was crazy.  When I am thinking it, it is very real.”  In our first conversation he tells me “I love music.  Classical Music.  And pornography.  That’s all.  Just classical music and pornography.”  Inside his flat there are clothes on the floor, along with a lot of dirt.  It is not possible to wash yourself clean in the bathroom, though the bath itself is clean.  “I clean the bath.  The bath is clean,” he says.  He plays the guitar, and then the mandolin, and then the banjo, and I notice there is a violin in a case on the floor of the living room.  —But he does not get to the violin: suddenly there is no more music and it is time for pornography.  “You’ll like this”, he says, as if by affirmation it would be true.  A woman whose breasts are clearly too large for her costume gazes through a window.  He goes to the record collection and asks, “What would you prefer—Shakespeare or, I know, yes, this will be great, Emerson.”  He shakes with excitement.  He takes out the spoken word recording of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poems.  The woman who was gazing through the window is lying on a sofa, masturbating.  “Thy trivial harp will never please Or fill my craving ear; Its chords should ring as blows the breeze.”  Yes, Ralph—of course.  There is an invisible world.  He introduces me to a friend, also schizophrenic, but one who, unlike him, refuses to take his medication.  John was a mathematician, and is still brilliant.  Now he is Jesus.  We sit in a café with Jesus, and I ask “What makes God laugh?”—immediately having to mask my wonder at hearing a precise and reasonable answer.  There is a more perfect world than the one in which we live.  Inevitably, he will refer the woman he wants to love, by way of introduction to the disciplined and misogynist world of Arthur Schopenhauer, to a bifurcation of that world into the mundane and the transcendent.  In the commonplace part he is only one of many.  By a choice which appears to be not entirely conscious he keeps the windows of his flat covered day and night, day after day, and always.  Lonely, only early in the afternoons, when he is tired of practising a difficult piece by Bach, he says to himself, “Now, what shall I do with my penis?” and, in the absence of the woman whom he loves, it is time for pornography.  The exceptional part meets the ordinary and, here, anything is possible.  He takes the opportunity to improve Shakespeare.  Once, in the asylum, he had read that “Such civil war is in my love and hate That I an accessary needs must be To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.”  Years later, in the afternoon, in a nausea induced by less than two milligrams of Cogentine, he remembers “As a necessity my needs must be To that sweet thief which hourly robs me.”  Which is taking what from whom?  Desire steals a part of everyone.  There are moments I feel he is about to say, “The world is my idea”,  and he would, as he did the moment the windows were closed and covered, look up at the sky, thinking to fly there, panic, look around him for something to hold on to; or he will, looking down at his feet, believe the world to be just a ball which will stop turning if he stops walking.  “You should read Jean Paul’s Selina to see how a mind of the first order tries to deal with what he comes to think nonsensical in a false concept which he does not want to relinquish because he has set his heart upon it, although he is continually troubled by absurdities he cannot stomach.”  He decides “I cannot love anyone” but has set his heart upon it.  One woman tells him, “You sound like a text book.  You think too much.”  These words come out of the mouths of people who love their own oppression, who have become insensible after having administered to their bodies a sufficient amount of pleasure (tennis once a week, nightly television, cheap but effective wine, a modicum of Faith).  You cannot utter such words to a man who has lived in another world, where infamous excesses are committed upon the very person of the prisoner; … vices which the propriety of modern times does not permit us to name.  In a word, you cannot say something so stupid to a man who has been mad with Desire.  The next time his psychiatrist asks “How are you feeling today?” he gives my reply: “I shall instruct my madness to be proud, For psychiatrists are proud and make their clients stoop.”  A small, typed sign is stuck to the door of his flat; it says, “Psychoanalysis: device allowing pigeon to enter but not leave loft.”


Originally published in Overland, no. 120, 1990.
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