The show that is presently on at NAC is quite disconcerting. It consists of a number of illustrations taken from a short, unpublished book which purports to be in progress. The book is lying around for our perusal and was originally presented to the Queen, one of whose ladies-in-waiting politely declined it on her behalf.
Steve Remus felt I needed some help in writing a blog about this, so he told me that, in spite of the title, the book is a sendup of The War of 1812 and the author, who is using pseudonyms, is schizophrenic. He invited me to ask the author questions about anything I hadn’t understood. The chief question I asked him is whether he feels skeptical and sarcastic about the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I do have the impression from reading his book the author is skeptical and sarcastic about the reality around him or what modern Canadians take to be that reality. I once asked a psychologist to define schizophrenia for me, since it obviously does not consist, as so many people suppose, of having dual personalities, and he said that the split involved was a split from reality. I told a close friend that, sand he said “Whose reality? What reality?” which is quite a question.
I think that we can take it that the mentally ill patient is told that his view of reality is basically mistaken and should be corrected. Since all we have to go by in discerning reality is our own perceptions, this news is not welcome. Some mental patients have what is commonly called “insight,” that is, they agree that their perceptions are mistaken and try to go along with having them corrected. But since they are human beings and have egos and rely, as almost all human beings do, on telling themselves stories about themselves, even they put up a certain amount of resistance. I have personal experience of this myself, so I know what I am talking about.
An extreme example of this resistance can be found in the satirical novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey. I had not read it myself until I saw that the author of the work I am reviewing mentioned it, but it is so well known, if only from the movie based on it, that I hardly have to describe it.
Being cuckoo is such a common and derisive term for being crazy that the author I am reviewing has filled his story with cuckoo clocks that are crafted locally and have roused the inhabitants of New Amsterdam (New York) to such a pitch of fury by their total unreliability that they are descending in a body on Shipman’s Corner (St. Catharines) to destroy all the cuckoo clocks. This I take to be the chief allusion to The War of 1812, particularly as a young lady called Laura goes trekking off to get soothing help from what perhaps should have been the British Invasion, but is actually a musical group sponsored by the American Ambassador.
Absolutely no one on either side is taken seriously by the author. Laura Secord isn’t, Harriet Tubman isn’t, the “Injuns” who helped the Empire Loyalists aren’t, the Americans, who include Twain and Obama, aren’t. The author is just having a good laugh all round as what we consider the reality of politics and history. At the same time he refuses to take even the work in which he is doing this seriously. It is certainly far less serious and convincing than “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Where the illustrations are concerned, I asked the author, who is also the illustrator, if he had made a special effort to keep the illustrations simple and childlike. I think he did, to get a deadpan effect, but he hadn’t told me so.
I think that we can suppose that he is on the road to recovery because he is in control of the products of his imagination and reaching out to share them with other people instead of being controlled by them. But perhaps he still has a way to go before reaching out in a way that is totally convincing.