Insane

Rainald Goetz

Translated by Adrian Nathan West

Published 18 October 2017, French paperback with flaps, 352 pages

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I recognized nothing.
     Let loose from the madhouse, each day in the evening, I would walk to the tunnels of the U-bahn, not bothering to look around. Had I even caught the scent of spring? Still rattled from the journey, I made my way to my room, and nothing was as it had been before. I stepped oblivious among the beer cans, bottles, newspa¬pers and bits of clothing on the floor, questing aimlessly. The giant white sheets on the walls, behind the sheets the shelves, on the shelves the books, concealed. Had I even read? Had I actually opened a book and heard something other than this pounding, this unbearable pounding in the ears, louder and louder with every phrase? Next to the bed lay the food scraps from the night before. I ate what I could, and fell into a dreamless sleep. I woke, it was already dark, and when I did, the unease was there. Get out of here now, go to the bars, go outside. At night when I came back, stumbling and groping, I saw everything sharp and clear. The way the trainer I kicked off had fallen, landing half on the bread plate. How odd, I thought, and all of a sudden, I came back to myself.
    But the next morning there was nothing save that pain in my head and a quiver in my hands, and everything around me was blank, bereft of answers. So I set off on my way, back to the madhouse, far again from everything I’d known, into a constantly proliferating confusion.

After the usual wandering through the streets, back and forth on the pavement, pressed against the building walls, shop fronts, glass mirrors, aghast at the herds of people packed together in front of, behind, and around him, the ambush of the gazes, but at the same time ordered to be there among the people, in the midst of this back-and-forth, the 39-year-old programmer Sebastian Köhler abruptly crossed the broad stretch at one end of the pavement with free and easy steps, skipped forward under the linden trees of the opposing street to building 17, oh trusty façade, and with a bellowed HERE I AM set foot into the imposing edifice of the university psy-chiatric clinic, ready to hand himself over once more.

Peter Sposta, 22, has cocked back his fist, face contorted with rage. His hand pounds the glass of the pinball machine. Sposta downs his beer and walks to the bar: another beer, Harry. He returns to the machine. The ball’s working fine for the others. That lasts till he returns. He glances at the clock, it’s still 12.30. The foam in the glass has settled, Sposta drinks a long swig. The lemon wheel snags on his upper lip. He pulls it off the glass, throws it out among the dancers and jostlers, says: Shit. Time check, glance at the clock, 12.30. Hey, U.K. Subs. Sposta walks towards the speakers: Run, run, this is confrontation street, run, run, there ain’t nothing here but heat. The others shout. Sposta doesn’t react. Tear gas, tear gas, tear gas bomb. Someone comes over: You’re up. Sposta sets his beer on the pinball machine, puffs his cigarette, takes it out of his mouth, lays it on the glass. He shoots the ball and turns to the others: third game’s free, of course.

Walk, stand, walk, all together, keep it moving. If I was lying down, I couldn’t walk. I must walk, therefore I don’t lie down. As I am not lying down, I am walking. I say: My father was born under the sign of the fire stallion. For the son, that means Hell or salvation. Prone in the prison of this question, Hell or salvation, fired incessantly from the neuronal network in the pallium cowering in the base of the skull, lying motionless or walking out of the question. Days laid out, rolled up hidden soundless, days of walking. Better to walk than to lie, to walk and talk. So break out of the fetters of the mind, I told myself several days ago now, go out to the square, measure the borders, step by step as always, and thereby establish the necessary order among the people, walking and talking, standing still when exhausted, then walking on without lingering. Those who come up to me with burning eyes are dear to me all the same. I, the appointed one, scorn them not.

So it goes at every meeting, always the same story: Bögl talked, the others listened. About what he, as an inter¬nist, finds interesting about psychiatry. He was a little drunk just now and talks, as she knows, a good deal more than usual in that state. But he doesn’t bother the rest of his colleagues with the potassium levels of his newest patient in intensive care. He talks and talks, old Bögl, it’s called logorrhoea, pathological logorrhoea, he too has long been a head case, a psychiatric case, has Bögl. Incidentally nearly all psychiatrists, strictly speaking, are psychiatric cases themselves. How do they account for that? Even the psychiatrists themselves say it, and always have a diagnosis ready to hand, they don’t just say so-and-so is a psychiatric case, but actually specify the type, as though a diagnosis had been made, like with Bögl yesterday, he had wanted to tell her yesterday that Bögl had spoken like a logorhhoeic, and even Bögl had said yesterday, concerning his own senior physician, that he was utterly paranoid, and that deep down, the director was a grave cyclothymic, and so she could imagine how chaotic things were when the senior physician and the director did their rounds, one time it was this way, one time another, if you catch the drift.

From the lofty darkness of the entrance hall I saw the gleaming white spear tips rain down on me, and conscious of my mission, I tore off my shirt and felt the burning rays pierce my breast and penetrate my body, I the fire stallion, son of the father, unredeemed. The searing stares of your guilt, the guilt of the clueless I take upon me, I quench it inside me, to redeem thee. So I stood in the midst of the hall, an open wound, inviolate I stood and patiently, with millions of years before and behind me, I saw the ballet of the white lab coats gradually take on the form I dictated, while I, unmoving and aware, stood in the middle of the hall, watched the clueless ones arrive in an order never before seen. And the music broke off as their hands stretched out to me, longing, feeling hands, and I heard, distinctly above me, the long-absent voice: Go and show them the way. I walked, as commanded, with measured, joyous steps, led them up the spiralling staircase, through the closed doors, ever higher.

I repeat: the truth of madness, banal as it is contested by all sides, may be reduced to the principle of the cumulative capacities of the abstract free will. Anyone who has discovered anything different about madness is cordially invited to come to the microphone and give us their account of it, and we will be glad to discuss it together. To give the lie to a widespread slander, the results divulged just now are not a dogma in the least, but instead the corollary of a way of thinking directed towards an awareness of the world, and even this is already a scandal in the university, where the distinguished professors have comfortably attained the most splendid stupidity with their philosophical jokes about the unknowability of the world. As we have arrived at our results not through free association or spiritistic séances, but instead through constant hewing to reality, and have made progress, today, for example, in relation to madness, we have no need of a plurality of opinion or that tolerance with which bourgeois society decks out its intellectual sloth and its errors. We are moving past these formalities, these security measures that serve as cover for every intellectual defect, which is then accorded the same right to exist as rationally grounded knowledge; we are moving past this banter to the results of our thinking and making these results public in numerous ways, and naturally this leads to the idiotic reproach of dogmatism, whose ideological character I want to point out briefly, in order perhaps to encourage those who are reluctant to enter the conversation. So where are all the psychologists, psychiatrists, antipsychiatrists, sociologists, and depth analysts? Come to the microphone and acquaint us with your arguments. And let me say once more, pointedly and slowly, so you may write it down while you gather your courage: In the exercise (established through false consciousness) of his thoroughly free will, the madman has chosen delusion, he opts for insanity, in order to reckon with the demands of capital and state, dispensing with the criteria the bourgeois world imposes to determine its members’ validity.

(...)

The translation of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut which is funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Translated for the first time into English, cult German author Rainald Goetz’s debut novel Insane draws upon his clinical psychiatric experience to paint a portrait of the asylum as a total institution. We follow a young psychiatrist, Dr Raspe, who enters the profession dreaming of revolutionising its methods. Confronted by day-to-day practices and the reality of life in the psychiatric hospital, Raspe begins to fray at the edges. The very concept of madness is called into question in a brutal portrayal of patients and psychiatrists and the various treatments administered, from psychotherapy to electroshock therapy. What is madness? And who is truly mad? Diving headlong into a terrifying and oppressive world, Insane is a veritable journey into the madhouse by one of Germany’s most prominent and contentious authors. 

‘Rainald Goetz is the most important trendsetter in German literature.’
— Süddeutsche Zeitung

‘This book is a hammer.’
— Die Zeit

‘In many passages, Goetz achieves the same intensity and concentration of experience as in the disturbing early novels of Thomas Bernhard.’
— Süddeutsche Zeitung

‘Behind his nervous, tense willingness to experience, there is a broad education and a sensitive historical consciousness that endow his language with a balance of passionate expressiveness, observational coolness and satirical clarity.’
— The German Academy of Language and Literature, on the occasion of the awarding of the 2015 Georg Büchner Prize

‘Many of his texts should come with an epilepsy warning.’
— Die Zeit

‘As a hyper-nervous virtuoso of attentiveness, Rainald Goetz works in the field between authenticity and fiction.’
— Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

‘He was a doctor, he knew what he was doing.’
— Marcel Reich-Ranicki, commenting on Goetz slicing open his forehead at the 1983 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize

‘Praise is bad.’
— Rainald Goetz

Rainald Goetz, born in 1954 in Munich, studied History and Medicine in Munich and obtained a doctoral degree in both subjects. He briefly worked as a doctor, but quit this profession for the sake of literature in his early thirties. His first novel, Insane, was published in 1983. In 1998, Goetz wrote the internet diary ‘Rubbish for Everyone’, probably the first literary blog in Germany, with entries on the world of media and consumerism. It was published in book form in 1999 and together with Rave, Jeff Koons, Celebration and Deconspiration belongs to This Morning, his great history of the present. Goetz has been awarded numerous prizes, most notably the Georg Büchner Prize in 2015. He lives in Berlin.

Adrian Nathan West is the author of The Aesthetics of Degradation and translator of such authors as Pere Gimferrer, Juan Benet, Marianne Fritz, and Josef Winkler. His writings appear regularly in the Times Literary Supplement, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Literary Review. He lives in Spain and the United States with the cinema critic Beatriz Leal Riesco.