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February 05 , 2008

Symptoms of the Lunatic


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Symptoms of the Lunatic is a novel written about a lunatic in the manner of a lunatic. Readers possessed of a sane mind may find that the writing of a lunatic contains what appears to them to be circuitous arguments of questionable logic that seek to justify both ends of any debate, incredibly detailed examinations of trivial minutiae in which no one can be expected to have any sustained interest, arbitrary diatribes against random facets of the physical world, innumerable pointless detours and digressions of unconscionable length. That the writing of a lunatic should challenge the attention of even the most patient reader should not be surprising. Disclaimers aside, herein lies the testament of a lunatic who lost sight of what it means to be part of the human community and who struggled with the internal machinations he developed to occupy himself in its absence.

In Symptoms of the Lunatic, the artifice of a DEA stake-out is employed to examine the psychological state of the lunatic, who has through a combination of history and genetics come to a point where he has isolated himself from virtually all contact with society, despite living within the metropolitan area of Washington, DC. Rejecting the external world, the lunatic turns his focus inward and is lost inside himself. That his ruminations refuse to follow conventional paths is to be expected. That his thoughts meander at a glacial pace, which lie beyond any reasonable expectation of tolerance, is simply a reflection of his isolation and his acceptance that there was no audience for these internal reflections. When the lunatic is extricated from his cocoon by circumstances beyond his control he interacts poorly with those with whom he comes in contact, which again would be surprising only if it were any other way.

Nevertheless, this book was written and there is no other quite like it. At times, one hears the obsessive compulsion for detail reminiscent of Kobo Abé in, for example, The Face of Another. At other times, one is reminded of the solitary protagonist in Thomas Bernhard’s Concrete. Still, this lunatic displays his own unique brand of lunacy, highlighted by his haunting by the ghost of Lee Dong Il, the lost child whom his younger brother was prior to being adopted and brought into the lunatic’s family under a different name thirty years earlier.

One understands from this novel that uncertainty permeates the universe. There are a wide variety of responses that human beings adopt in response to this uncertainty. The particular response adopted by the lunatic in this novel is one in which there is limited utility and redemption.

Symptoms of the Lunatic was written from February to July of 1997, when the author was working as a post-doctoral fellow in the Theoretical Chemistry Group at the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Southeast Washington, DC.

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