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A Prolegomena to Madness

I doubt sometimes whether a quiet and unagitated life
would have suited me--yet I sometimes long for it.


Madness need not come in the form we usually imagine it to be. One does not have to speak incoherently, dress inappropriately, think absurdly or scare the wits out of you to be considered mad. Madness starts and may continue to remain at a level which would appear normal to any other person. True, one may act weird or differently from the way he or she would usually act, but since initially no one knows that he or she may slowly be getting mad, this usually would pass off as just being too happy or sad. The difficulty is the way madness hides itself in various forms, especially in different moods. One may be showing extreme creativity and can work so hard that he is able to do the work of ten men or one may seem like he is merely staring into the walls looking like he is just thinking too much. And unlike depression which acts likes an invisible mirror as it stares back at the face of the person in order to show only himself, madness is the invisible glass that magnifies and colors the world to a sparkling and brilliant showing that entices one to go leave himself. And being beside himself, this silent departure of the self and all its rationality and defenses is the beginning of the high road to madness.

The supreme difficulty is not being able to know that one has taken that first irrevocable step. Enticed by the sudden luminosity of the things, the mind throws itself to anything that attracts it. Everything suddenly acquires the status of a sign. The darkening of the skies suddenly means something. The writing on the walls begin to speak. Numbers hide behind them codes to be deciphered like the mathematician in A Beautiful Mind who looked for military codes in newspapers and magazines. Nature and its arrangements also say something like St. Ignatius weeping at the sight of three stones which for him symbolized the Trinity. Even the limping cat on the road or the snail working its way up a large stone seem to symbolize something. The principle Nothing is without reason begins to carry weight for the mad as everything indeed points to a hidden meaning which beckons the mad to find out.

It is not true that the mad are not rational. It is the other way around. The problem is they are too rational in that the mind becomes too lucid. And this lucidity is intoxicating. Whereas the "normal" would be able to discern which thing acquires meaning or which thing is meaningless so as to not even notice or think about it, the "abnormal" see that nothing should be left unthought or considered for everything has a meaning. But since everything has meaning, everything as a whole should also have meaning. This then becomes the ambition and the final goal: the meaning of the world. The world as a whole becomes a riddle to be solved. "What world is this?" they ask. And they chip away at this riddle as if everything depended on it. But it is the sheer size and complexity of the object for thought that overwhelms the rationality of mind. Yet he still tries for he sees this as the opening to understand the world, an opportunity that he may not get ever again.

But when the world reveals its true face to the mind which seeks clarity and reason, the absurdity of the world betrays the mind which seeks to understand it. As Camus says in The Myth of Sisyphus:

I said that the world is absurd, but I was too hasty. This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world.
Invited to step out of itself and its comforts, the mind which wishes to see meaning in everything is exposed to a world that refuses to give any. And this silence of the world is what tips the mind over. He cannot handle it. How could he? He is no match for this absurd world. What would be trivial or unseen for the rest becomes his passion and sole riddle. Left alone to fend for itself in an absurd world, the mind, too, slowly becomes absurd. And perhaps this is what people would call the beginnings of madness.


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