30 Day Book Challenge: Day Twelve

Book that is most like your life: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

I know – bear with me.

First off, I’d like to apologize to all my faithful readers for the lull in productivity; the past week and a half I’ve been busy finalizing a rough draft of my thesis’ first chapter to submit to my supervisor. During which I had a bit of a breakthrough and used the momentum to also get a sizable chunk of my second chapter done as well. So all’s well in the world of academia – that is until my supervisor inevitably tears my draft to shreds and I slink back to my hobbithole to start anew. Such is the life of a grad student.

Nevertheless, without further adieu we find ourselves back to the task at hand.

I must confess, I’ve been dragging my feet a little with this one. I’m not sure how I feel about trying to quantify a book according to the degree by which it resembles my life. Frankly, any great work despite its setting, subject matter, etc. expresses the human condition in such a way that it can speak to anyone. So, I really don’t know how to answer the question, but I’ll give it a shot.

Now, I must first insist that I have never spent time in any sort of mental institution, as shocking as that may sound to many. Yet, I identify deeply with this novel. How? Well, I think Cuckoo’s Nest is not so much about asylums as it is about institutions, authority, and the distribution, and maintenance, of power; and anyone living in society (which, according to Aristotle, means everyone except Gods and beasts) can sympathize with that.

Moreover, Kesey couches it in a band of gelded manchildren flocking to their uberlibidinal leader, Randle McMurphy, to try and get them out from underneath the matriarchal gaze of Nurse Ratched. I think this book is an obvious predecessor to Fight Club in its exploration of disenfranchised and emasculated masculinity in contemporary society.

An initial reading of Cuckoo’s Nest suggests a direct link between Nurse Ratched, the matriarchal symbol, and the regimes of control, or The Combine as Chief Bromden calls it. Nasty women are castrating us poor men so we need to rise up, grab our phalluses, and overthrow them. amirite, fellas?! BOOYEAH!!!

Not so fast.

I feel one of the important details the movie leaves out is that Nurse Ratched is equally as desexualized as her patients. She is eventually “liberated” by McMurphy and ultimately has a change of heart in her treatment of the patients. Obviously, this is a problematic reading of the book, as anyone who has read it can clearly see. I’m not trying to apologize on Kesey’s behalf or rationalize away some the book’s blantant mysoginism; I’m merely suggesting an alternate interpretation that gets us away from the woman-bad/men-good binary to which is one is tempted to reduce the book.

I think the real villains of the story are the psychiatrists that are running the hospital, which if memory serves me right are all dudes. Yeah that’s right, doctors, I’m calling you out. They’re in charge of maintaining the atrocities that go in the asylum, including lobotomizing “difficult” patients. Ugh, I won’t get into my anti-psychiatry rant here, but I will call your attention to this delightful tale of a group of Harvard psychiatrists who have lead the way in increasing the prescriptions of anti-psychotic meds to children, but failed to divulge their considerable funding from Big Pharma.

In a word, the regimes of power cannot be reduced to gender, sex profession, or any other predicate for that matter; The Combine is multifarious because it is ALL OF US. Not only are we victimized by The Combine, we perpetuate it. We perpetuate it whenever we repress our libidinal drives and especially so when we attempt to do so to others whenever we perceive someone as “abnormal.”

I identify with Cuckoo’s Nest because Kesey is able to articulate the hydra that is The Combine. And, more importantly, he shows us the way out: It is through the power of the individual. There is no group therapy or band of brothers that will grant you authenticity; only the “I” has the power to do that.

“But I tried, god damnit. At least I did that.” (sorry for the ridiculous censorship.)

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on July 7, 2011.

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