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Submitted Literature

Paranoid Lost

By Greg Bauder

Review

 

When I first offered to review this book, I was attracted by its title. My first ithought was that it would take Milton’s poem as a jumping of place to discuss power; knowledge; ambition. And that these would be linked in some way to the psychiatric system. And to Bauder’s own experience. (He had schizophrenia for some twenty years, according to his web page.) Then I wondered if it was going to be a piece of work a la Philip K.Dick-either pre or post psychotic breakdown. The title seemed resonant of a Dick story. As I began to read Bauder’s work I found myself thinking more of  Roger Zelazny and  Alfred Bester-particulalry Bester’s novel “Tiger,Tiger”[i] with the central character of Gully who leaps manically from place to place and time to time. And whose story is told in odd and fractured language. And in some parts, Bauder’s poems do reflect Bester’s novel. It certainly jumps about the place and uses some fractured, abbreviated language. So, in “The Dream house” Bauder describes a psychiatric boarding home.

“It was something like Saturday morning in the Psychiatric boarding home as your

room’s buzzer rang.

Rise fog drift hall Dammit there’s a lineup! You’re warm in your housecoat.

Sun golds through window

You get in line; tell the nurse you feel okay. It’s late Septemeber.

Potential burning stomach ache…”

The image of sun golding through the window is delightful. And contrasts with the idea of fog drifting down the hall. Maybe Bauder is trying to contrast the outside world with the world of a psychiatric boarding house and his own, inner world. Both of which seem foggy and unclear. (This section reminded  me vividly of the boarding house shown in Cronenberg’s 2002 film “Spider”.) But this is to work quite hard at finding a meaning in this piece. There are other phrases that convey a real sense of feeling and atmosphere. Thus in talking about a nurse he describes her as having a “Mellow radio mouth tone”. (Having been a nurse for a long number of years, I can hear the tone of voice he describes.And have probably used it myself!) Or talking about a misunderstanding between himself and another patient who comes to apologise he says “Rage unboils simmers”. There are numerous phrases like these which show Bauder’s ability to create a mood with minimal words. His Creative writing course has clearly paid off and helped him to develop his talent.

 

But… this section alone goes on for 19 pages of A.4 paper. (I was sent “Paranoid Lost” as a PDF document.)And, for me, is the most coherent part of the whole work. He does capture the mood of a psychotic; the uncertainty; the mood changes; the paranoid anxieties and the pleasures and losses of friendship. But, I’m working quite hard to make this sense out of Bauder’s writing. I’m filling in his gaps with my own understanding of what I think he is saying-based on my own long clinical work as a psychiatric nurse. And as a psychodynamic counsellor who is used to making interpretations about unconscious processes as revealed in conversations with my patients.When Milton gives Satan the line “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven “[ii] I can understand the words and images evoked by the poem. (I might have a whole host of associations to this image, but the words themselves are clear.) Bauder’s words are more opaque. One of Bauder’s chapters is called “An Archbishop at a Popular Restaurant”. As in “Dream house” there are some quite clever word plays here

“He says Captain Ahab was an Arab

He says Martin Luther was no King

He says Christ was a Marked man”

The phrases roll around in one’s mouth in a very pleasing way-as sounds. But, what do the images add to the people described? So, Ahab rhymes nicely with Arab. And what comes next? What does the image of an Arab add to Ahab; the whale or Ahab’s obsessions? The same complaint can be made about almost all the pieces here. There are a number of clever puns and word plays but they seem to have no context.Nor do they seem to add anything to the work in which they are set.So, again in a piece called “Flight” Bauder describes being in a classroom, aged fifteen.

“My mind drifted with the thoughts of birds through the

droning teacher’s window, the one that showed the October

sky as grey as gulls. The teacher is grey, too, I thought to

myself, about fifty or so. And gullible I punned to myself,

like me….”

 

This is clever word play but I’m not sure what it tells me about either Bauder or the teacher.And this is my problem with “Paranoid Lost”. As a piece of literature, it isn’t particulalry good. If one of my university students had presented it to me it would have earned a low mark along with comments about being “Overly decriptive” and “Contains too much irrelevant material”. (It reminds me of the poems I used to write around my own early to mid teens. Useful as a way of expressing my thoughts but dreadful as poetry per se.)

Bauder describes his writing thus

 “Most of my writings deal with schizophrenia and I have a very direct style although some of my metaphors are mystical. I write about spirituality and try to understand where mysticism and schizophrenia meet.

My audience is anyone interested in learning that schizophrenic people are not a threat but people longing for love, hope, and acceptance”.
[iii]

This decription raises a set of difficult issues for this reviewer, at least. How does one judge confessional writng? What standards do I use to evaluate “Paranoid Lost”? As a University lecturer, I have a set of marking guidelines which set out the university’s’s expectations of what kind of work should gain a given mark.If I read a poem by Eliot or Yeats or Byron, I have a sense of where these writers fit into a literay canon. Or to take another category, that of “mad” writing“books like “I Never Promised you a Rose Garden”[iv] or Mary Barnes’ book “Two Accounts of a journey through Madness”[v] are both well written and offer me insights into a mad world. Or to take much earlier examples of the genre of confessional writing, both Robert Burtons’ “Anatomy of Melancholy” and “The Dark Night of the Soul” by the 16th Century mystic, St.John of the Cross, stand as literary classics as much as they do as spiritual literature. The difficulty I have with Bauder’s work is that it fails on both levels. It does not seem to me to be good literature; nor does it seem to be good reflective writing.His style is very hard to define. It is not stream of consciousness, nor is it free asociation. It is nearer to the notion of word salads or clang associations allegedly seen in psychotic patients. But (yet another one!) Bauder is not presenting his work as examples of these phenomena. We are, I think, supposed to read them “straight”

And this is the wider problem this work has raised for me. “Paranoid Lost” reads like the creative writing that might be produced in an O.T. session in a psychiatric ward.Interesting and illuminating in its context and offering the patient a chance to play with the material. One would not comment on the literary merits-or otherwise- of this kind of writing. But Bauder has chosen to publish his work and to put it in the public domain.Thus it comes under critical scrutiny.And much as I would prefer to eulogise about “Paranoid Lost”, I can’t. And won’t. Sorry Greg!

 

 

 

 



[i] Bester,A.,1974 Tiger,Tiger Penguin

[ii] Milton,J.,2005 Paradise Lost OUP

[iii] Bauder,G.,(online) URL:http://Conversations with writers.blogspot.com

[iv] Greenberg,J., 1984 I Never Promised You a Rose Garden Penguin

[v] Barnes,M., and Berke,J., 1973 Two Accounts of a Journey through Madness Pelican

Key Themes:

  • Psychosis

Reference: Greg, Bauder. 2008. Paranoid Lost. Chipamunk, 2008

Reviewer

Mrs Terry Burridge
Date Review Submitted: Friday 24th June 2011