GIRL, INTERRUPTED

 

The novel is by Susanna Kaysen and is her autobiographical statement of her time spent in a mental hospital.  Kaysen was born November 11, 1948 and the book was published in 1993.  She was admitted into the hospital in 1967 at the age of 18 and spent almost two years there.  (The story was made into the movie by the same name starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.)

 

The review of the book by the St. Louis Post Dispatch said: "Using herself as a troubled---and troubling---example, Kaysen demonstrates with excoriating humor the severe problems with diagnosis, the phenomenon of psychiatric hospitalization and the callousness of even the most sophisticated of families and hospitals.  'Girl, Interrupted' is more than a '60s period piece.  It is a cautionary tale for our time, for any era struggling to balance on the razor's edge between sanity and insanity."

 

She starts the novel out with a copy of her hospital folder and the opening paragraph of the novel is: "People ask, How did you get in there?  What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well.  I can't answer the real question.  All I can tell them is, It's easy" (p. 5)

 

"And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe.  There are so many of them: worlds of the insane, the criminal, the crippled, the dying, perhaps of the dead as well.   These worlds exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it…most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists.  And who can resist an opening?"

 

"In the parallel universe the laws of physics are suspended.  What goes up does not necessarily come down, a body at rest does not tend to stay at rest, and not every action can be counted on to provoke an equal and opposite reaction.  Time, too, is different.  It may run in circles, flow backward, skip about from now to then.  The very arrangement of molecules is fluid.  Tables can be clocks; faces, flowers. 

 

"These are facts you find out later, though. 

 

"Another odd feature of the parallel universe is that although it is invisible from this side, once you are in it you can easily see the world you came from.  Sometimes the world you came from looks huge and menacing, quivering like a vast pile of jelly; at other times it is miniaturized and alluring, a-spin and shining in its orbit.  Either way, it can't be discounted. 

 

"Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco" (pp. 5-6).

 

ALL BEHAVIOR IS MEANINGFUL

 

"I knew I wasn't mad.  It was a different precondition that tipped the balance: the state of contrariety.  My ambition was to negate….When I was supposed to speak, I was silent; when a pleasure offered itself to me, I avoided it.  My hunger, my thirst, my loneliness and boredom and fear were all weapons aimed at my enemy, the world….I got a gruesome satisfaction from my sufferings.  They proved my existence.  All my integrity seemed to lie in saying No.  So the opportunity to be incarcerated was just too good to resist.  It was a very big No---the biggest No this side of suicide" (p. 42).

 

WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE CRAZY

 

"Insanity comes in two basic varieties: slow and fast.

 

"I'm not talking about onset or duration.  I mean the quality of the insanity, the day-to-day business of being nuts.

 

"There are a lot of names: depression, catatonia, mania, anxiety, agitation.  They don't tell you much.

 

"The predominant quality of the slow form is viscosity.  Experience is thick.  Perceptions are thickened and dulled.  Time is slow, dripping slowly through the clogged filter of thickened perception.  The body temperature is low.  The pulse is sluggish.  The immune system is half-asleep.   The organism is torpid and brackish.  Even the reflexes are diminished, as if the lower leg couldn't be bothered to jerk itself out of its stupor when the knee is tapped.

 

"Viscosity occurs on a cellular level.  And so does velocity.

 

"In contrast to viscosity's cellular coma, velocity endows every platelet and muscle fiber with a mind of its own, a means of knowing and commenting on its own behavior.  There is too much perception, and beyond the plethora of perceptions, a plethora of thoughts about the perceptions and about the fact of having perceptions.  Digestion could kill you!  What I mean is the unceasing awareness of the processes of digestion could exhaust you to death.  And digestion is just an involuntary sideline to thinking, which is where the real trouble begins" (pp. 75-6).

 

"Viscosity and velocity are opposites, yet they can look the same.  Viscosity causes the stillness of disinclination, velocity causes the stillness of fascination.  An observer can't tell if a person is silent and still because inner life has stalled or because inner life is transfixingly busy" (p. 77).

 

The novel is not only a look inside the mental hospital and those who exist there, it is also a plea for acceptance.  She is asking for us to accept people as they ARE, not as we would like them to be.