Alex is a writer whose mind see-saws through multiple levels of reality. When we first meet him, he is a grungy postal worker living in a ratty apartment and sending his literary characters out into an unforgiving world.
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Romantic Motives explores a topic that has been underemphasized in the historiography of anthropology. Tracking the Romantic strains in the the writings of Rousseau, Herder, Cushing, Sapir, Benedict, Redfield, Mead, LÃ©vi-Strauss, and others, these essays show Romanticism as a permanent and recurrent tendency within the anthropological tradition.
Alex loves his characters, but unfortunately, power corrupts, and Alex’s power over his creations corrupts absolutely. He forces them into clichés no self-respecting imaginary character would tolerate. But when they argue with him, they quickly find themselves choking on a chicken bone or the wrong end of his literary forty-five.
Alex has a sweet, tolerant girlfriend Sally who works with him at the post office and wants him to move in. But a Marlene Dietrich look-alike upsets everything by hiring him to find her husband’s murderer. Dietrich’s true goal is to seduce Alex. When he rebuffs her, she frames him for another murder and talks the police into shooting him full of holes.
Except that the next morning, Alex wakes up in a lunatic asylum.
Dietrich, as it happens, is Alex’s electroshock-happy psychiatrist. Her mission in life is to shock all this writer nonsense (and all of his characters) out of his head. Alex’s characters are mirrors of his fellow patients (read victims) in Dietrich’s hospital. Sally is the head nurse and yes, she has a thing for Alex, although he might have embellished it a bit.
As Dietrich shocks Alex’s characters one by one into oblivion, Alex begins to fight back. He realizes that his failure as an artist is responsible for his incarceration. That failure can only be redeemed by writing real people instead of the clichés of his past. But no sooner does Alex free his characters, than they start to behave unpredictably, negotiating their roles and bombarding him with unwelcome opinions.
Alex desperately needs their help, but has no idea how to soften his control-freak instincts with the insanity of real people. He flees to the only place where controlled insanity is a way of life, Hollywood. There, the Great Sayonara inspires him to once and for all let his characters go.
But Alex wakes up the next morning back in his cell, of course. And Dietrich, sensing that his creations are about to blossom, ups the ante to a full frontal lobotomy. Can Alex and his characters put together the perfect literary moment before Dietrich finishes sharpening her knife?