On Madness (oh, ya, and a book review)

Have you ever been around a madman? It is unpleasant, disturbing, frustrating and in the end wholly futile. I much prefer a congress with the zoo animals or my neighbor’s dogs at the dog park than to seek any meaningful interaction with the insane. Yet this is what the world wishes for us these days – the glorification of the random, the meaningless. The out of place. A toilet bowl nailed to a two-by-four, this is what post-modernism has given us in the name of art and beauty. In its efforts to destroy our creator who made all things in His image and under His perfect order we have been given instead Dionysus, Nietzsche’s God of drunkenness and ritualized insanity.

So why – why does our post-modern world revel in, glory in the insane? Why do we choose the path of Friedrich Nietzsche instead of G.K. Chesterton? Why do we give effort of inquiry to the baffling works of Piet Mondrian while eschewing Ivan Shishkin as ‘passé’ – the tired trivialities of a bygone era. “A beautiful painting? What fun is there in that?”

I recently finished “One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand” by Luigi Pirandello. To be fair, I have not read anything else by this Nobel-prize winning playwright and novelist. So perhaps I should not have started with “One, No One” (I certainly will endeavor to pick up one of his plays soonest, there might be something there). However, “One, No One” was gibberish. Oh, I have gone to Goodreads and the literary critics to attempt to ascertain what others see in this – one of those books which would never have been published had the author not previously been made famous by other works. And I have found many erudite reviews and analyses attempting to sound cultured and advanced, muddying the waters of their shallow minds in the desperate attempt to appear deep, profound; post-modern all in our sad world where beauty and lyricism and the evocations of greatness can no longer find a place. The fact is, this novel is non-sense. The plot, simple and un-compelling, begins when the protagonist’s (Vitangelo Moscarda) wife tells him his nose is slightly crooked, listing to the right. This discharges in the unstable mind of Moscarda a series of breakdowns as he challenges his own reality and wonders who he is and who others are and how we can really know, leading him to mistakes and evils and onward to his eventual insanity and his wife’s trial (and acquittal, due, in Moscarda’s own words, to his own insanity). The reviewers seem to think there is something meaningful in a short story about the descent into delirium. But the ‘theater of the absurd’ taken to this degree only causes befuddlement – like Albert Camus’ joyful existentialism fells the trees in order to pave the way for Nietzsche’s despotic nihilism.

But back to my question: why? Why would humanity do this to itself? Is there not enough of a mess in human life, that we would spend our time and our money seeking out more of it? Why would we go to the unschooled ignoramus under the tree to seek out common ‘wisdom’ which comes from the unstudied; or traverse the distance to the madhouse where the inmates are doing ‘art therapy’ to obtain (for a fee) the works of their troubled minds? It could be said (though I’m sure many will fight me on this) that the point of modernity was the search for unity and coherence of beauty (in a world emerging from a millennium of sadness and darkness and violence) – a sense of comfort in its wholeness and universality; while post-modernism seeks only a racket, the chaos and mayhem into which everybody fits, a table around which all can find a place even if they have no right to be there. There is a scene in Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead” in which she describes an artist guild founded by the main antagonist Ellsworth Toohey. The purpose of the guild is to “muddy the waters” to present ugliness as beauty, dissonance as lyricism, evil as morality, and eventually insanity as clarity. Toohey’s own weakness and sense of inadequacy cause him to demean the lines of beauty in order that through the fuzzy thinking everybody – even the talentless – might be called great. That was his final revenge on the world. I think Toohey would laugh at “One, No One”. But it is not funny; for if he wins, then how will we ever strive for perfection in perfect creation again…? – if it is imperfection we seek, we certainly shall find it, for it is everywhere!! If the commonplace is what we glorify, who then will choose the harder path of beauty and forms? And if we lose our ability and our right to seek cohesion in the extraordinary, then the weak who want to prey on our minds in order to lay low our buildings and destroy our laws will find it easy to enslave our wives and put our children to work for their pleasure. How do I know this? I see it every day in the world around me.

G.K Chesterton’s dying words are made all the more prescient today: “The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.” What side do you choose?

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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