Sunday, August 15, 2010

Riddled Book Club

This post is all about the 1915-1926 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica and its aftermath of post-encephalitic Parkinsonism. THERE WILL BE JOKES. We note in passing that Gaiman's scholarly explanation for the epidemic -- widely known as the "Anthropomorphic-personification-of-Dream-held-captive-within-magic-circle" theory -- is no longer rated by specialists.
The Pickaweedia list of literary references to encephalitis does not mention Mervyn Peake or his novel Mr Pye. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.

Mr Pye could easily be an episode from Awakenings, which (as any fule kno) describes the experiences of patients with Parkinsonism as they react to drug treatment. The titular character struggles to titrate his dosage of 'goodness', having discovered that too much makes him grow wings, while too little and he sprouts horns; the middle ground between these two pathological stages grows smaller with each alternating adjustment of the dose.* The climax of the book describes Pye's flight across La Coupée, where
the land narrowed: how Big Sark dwindled to the perilous isthmus [...] like that moment called life that links the dark domains of the womb and of the tomb [...] the wasp-like waist of the island he had come to save from itself.
EXACTLY THE SAME SENSE of dwindling options appears again and again in Awakenings:
Almost all of my patients who found themselves in such situations use the image of a tightrope to express how they felt; and this, indeed, is almost literally true, for they have become ontological funambulists above a pit of disease.
[...]
There was only, one felt, the merest line of 'health' (or 'potential normality') left, the finest, most precarious tightrope, with great abysses of pathology to either side, the abysses of stupor and frenzy. I had this feeling with almost all of our patients who had, after a good auspicious response, lost most of the 'middle ground', the potential for normality, and found themselves thrown from one pole of being (or unbeing) to another. [...] This narrow band became narrower and narrower until it almost disappeared.
Open Awakenings at any random page and you are likely to find a similar passage, unless the book falls open to a description of casual violence and perverse sexuality NO WAIT WRONG BOOK.
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You said there were going to be jokes.
I'm about to write a lengthy digression about the conventions of South-East Asian horror movies.
Meaning?
We're working up to a joke about "Thai trope walkers".
That's all right, don't go to any trouble.

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But Mr Pye was written two decades earlier -- also years before Peake developed the long-delayed sequelae of encephalitis lethargica. Who's been fooling around with the time machine?

Just saying, a video mash-up combining Awakenings with the Channel 4 adaption of Mr Pye -- if and when they get around to releasing the latter on DVD -- would be a fine and beautiful thing.

* "Something he had done, Mr Pye had no idea quite what -- had sent his horns back like the heads of tortoises into their shells. But before he know that they were gone the itching at his shoulder-blades had started again and he was forced to do some mean little act to keep them at bay. But as it was quite impossible to measure sin as though it were a liquid in a measure-glass -- there was always either not enough of it or too much."

6 comments:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

One of my aunts rode a funny ambulance...
~

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

WAIT. WHO GAVE BOOKS TO THE AUSTRALIANS?

Wv: ulaterip. You certainly did.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

they have become ontological funambulists above a pit of disease.

As opposed to funambulous evangels above an earth covered in lich-dust.

A Pit of Disease said...

God DAMN, what the hell IS that up there?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Smut Clyde on his day off, I am told.

Another Kiwi said...

When I joined the "Riddled" Book Club it was under the impression that the books would be delivered in brown paper envelopes and there would be no talking about them other than the odd insiders joke "Oh Ho not like Gertrude of Gisborne, eh" etc.
Look at this literary criticism and such. It is the end of Gentlemen's Books is what it is!