Insides Spilling Out
Driven to the margin of error
Driven to the edge of control
Driven to the margin of terror
Driven to the edge of a deep, dark hole
It’s my turn to drive
But it’s my turn to drive
– “Driven” by Rush
The doctors in a mental institution were thinking of releasing a certain schizophrenic patient. They decided to give him a test under a lie detector. One of the questions they asked him was, ‘Are you Napoleon?’ He replied, ‘No.’ The machine showed that he was lying!
According to Foucault’s Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique, in the mid-seventeenth century, in the midst of the age of reason, madness began to be conceived of as unreason and the mad, previously consigned to society’s margins, were now separated from society and confined, along with prostitutes, vagrants, blasphemers, orphans and the like, in newly created institutions all over Europe.
During World War II, Jews, Gypsies, Communists and homosexuals weren’t the only groups designated for liquidation in wartime Europe. Hitler had a long list of people he considered undesirable enough to murder. In accordance with the Furher’s wishes, Nazis had also singled out Poland’s Boy Scouts as a dangerous, criminal organization whose nationalists had to be done away with.
Growing at the rate of eight inches per annum, bamboo is both elucidating and lethal weapon. I wouldn’t get close to anybody waving a six-foot stick like a madman; but that’s a personal preference. On the other hand, just touching bamboo texture is contagious: I can imagine all the faces I’d smash, avec plaisir, once getting the grip of its smooth surface.
A child born today in this world stands much greater chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to a university. This can be taken as an indication that we are driving our children mad more effectively than we are genuinely educating them. Perhaps it is our way of educating them that is driving them mad.
‘I am coming,’ he whispered, gazing at the sky. He rushed to the familiar spot near the doorstep. The flower, a dark little patch with folded petals, stood out clearly in the dewy grass. He pulled out the plant, crushed it, squashed it, and clutching it in his hand, returned to his room the way he had come.
Silambam is a bamboo-based Dravidian martial art from Tamil Nadu in south India, but also practiced by the Tamil community of Sri Lanka and Malaysia. In one-on-one combat an expert would just slide his stick to opponents wrist many times during combat. The opponent may not notice this in the heat of battle, until he feels a sudden pain in the wrist and throws the stick by reflex, without knowing what hit him.
Rounding up Scouts and shooting them in the street was common practice when the Germans occupied Poland in 1939, so then 19-year-old Piechowski decided to make a break for it and flee to France. Unfortunately, his flight didn’t last long. He was captured at the Hungarian border, and a few months later, was a prisoner at Auschwitz.
In the meantime, I was a culprit of my bamboo obsession, delusionally negating any analogy to the martial mastery of kendo. First and foremost, kendo is a safe imitation of sword fighting, thus forgetting the obvious: the very definition of art is not to save lives, it is to excel itself regardless of casualties. In a vicious bamboo fight you are more than welcome to erase your opponent’s personality, as long as you can get to it and as long as it exists – fewer fighters standing, higher the art. When Borges died in Geneva in 1986, there wasn’t a single bamboo fighter in sight.
A delusion, by the way, is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary. Unlike hallucinations, delusions are always pathological and may arise from distorted ways people have of explaining life to themselves. Folie à deux (or shared psychosis) is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. This syndrome is most commonly diagnosed when the two or more individuals live in proximity and may be socially or physically isolated or have little interaction with other people. A perfect picture of two kendo masters fighting for the pedestal of prowess under the influence of ‘Earthquake’ (or Tremblement de Terre), a Toulouse-Lautrec’s cocktail invention.
As Piechowski recalled in an interview with the Guardian last year, it was when Eugeniusz Bendera, a car mechanic from Czortków, Ukraine, approached Piechowsky with some alarming news that he, along with fellow Poles Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster and Józef Lempart, was about to be executed. Not wasting time, four men sprang into action. First, they had to get out of the camp’s high security sector, through the gate bearing the now infamous black iron-formed inscription, Arbeit Macht Frei — Work Sets You Free.
In retrospect, this might explain my perennial aversion toward work, since one of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. I’d rather take my bamboo stick and go whistling in the woods than arduously practice kendo. I’d rather arduously practice kendo than study for college credits in the environment where the professor was narcissistic and students were average handicap eyeing lucrative tenures: not willing to let it bleed in the name of Athena.
Bendera, who worked in the camp’s garage, fetched the car, Commandant Rudolf Höss’ Steyr 220. He had picked the fastest car in the camp’s fleet, a powerful Austrian machine reserved for Höss’ quick trips to Berlin, so that they could outrun potential pursuers.
A common bond among writers exists with the sympathy they express for patients in lunatic asylums, a phenomenon reflected by the conflicts between the patients and the state as well as the government and the medical profession. The patient arrives at the asylum, sleep deprived, clothes shredded, agitated, and restrained in a straitjacket. This is not his first occasion to be escorted by the guards and police to the hospital and despite his struggle, he manages to find humor in his predicament: ‘In the name of His Imperial Majesty, the Sovereign Emperor Peter the First, I herewith proclaim an inspection of this Lunatic Asylum!’
‘Wake up, you buggers!’ Piechowski screamed at the young guard in German. ‘Open up or I’ll open you up!’ Terrified, the guard scrambled to raise the barrier, allowing the powerful motor to pass through and drive away.
At the age of 33, in 1888, Garshin committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of his apartment building, and died five days later at a Red Cross hospital. The ‘Scarlet Flower’ is rightly considered to be the gem of his creation. This story about a scarlet poppy and the crazed hero who entered into single combat with all the world’s evil is told with real affection and a profound knowledge of the human heart.
It is the second part of Piechowski’s high-pitched shout that does it for me: when the intestines start spilling out in the open, then I should finally as well as graphically determine if I’ve ever had any guts in me. When I was five, then six and seven, every December my father Milan, grandfather Gligor, uncle Bernie, and Père Zeke would drag out a three-hundred-pound hog in the middle of the yard, jump on him and cut his throat; to slice his belly open an hour later, after removing skin hair with a razor and hot water. At that point I’d join and help, wolfing fresh made sausages later in the afternoon. However, it took me years to soothe the imprint of hog’s primal screech, framed by the cloudy winter morning and the cold so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered.
George Djuric is a former rally racing champion, master chess player, taxi driver, street fighter, student of anti-psychiatry and philosophy, broker with Morgan Stanley… and a writer all the way. Published a critically acclaimed collection of short stories that altered Yugoslav literary scene – ‘The Metaphysical Stories’ – was dubbed Borges of the Balkans, as well as reborn Babel. Djuric infiltrates flashes from his vivid past into fictional alchemy for the salient taste of the 21st century; ‘I’ll go to the end of the world to promote something that took forty years of brewing in the barrel with my name on it.’