One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
1 journaler for this copy...
It is a brilliant little novel, direct and surgical in its use of prose, imagery, and symbolism, and deserves much of the praise that it has received since its publication in 1962. I just read this for the first time, and unfortunately I was somewhat affected by the variety of opinions I have read about the book (through colleagues, the media, popular culture, and other unavoidable outlets being an American that consumes media since it was written) as well as the film and stage versions, both of which I have seen prior to reading the book. in short, as someone who is well-read, I almost felt like the diction, prose, and approach to be a bit pedestrian, and the symbolism throughout the book was a bit heavy-handed, hitting me over the head too many times to justify it being subtle in any way.
But here is the thing - Kesey was the first person to do this, and he did it in an engaging and brutal way. In reminding myself of this major fact and that the media and opinions everyone has shared with me come from decades of interpretation and enjoyment of the book that first began this adventure in manufactured insanity, I have to say that I did really enjoy the piece, even though I had to remind myself that it was the first time something like this had been done - that the work in this book was genuine, visionary, and electric.
The copy that I have, a Viking Critical Edition, also contained a collection of essays and ephemera that constituted almost more real estate in the volume as Kesey’s novel did. The first thing that I noticed was how blatantly amazing an author Kesey is OUTSIDE the realm of the novel, and the work and interviews that are included are incredible and make me almost immediately regretful that the book was not completed in the fashion of his normal way of writing and talking. It opens with Tom Wolfe’s “What do you think of my Buddha?” and moves on to some incredible pieces by Kesey, including an early draft of the opening scene, two incredible and revealing letters to Ken Babbs: “Peyote and Point of View” and “People on the Ward,” and some illustrations of the characters from the ward. We are then presented with a draft page with holograph revisions - which I found fascinating because with all of my complaints about the final draft, his self editing was wholly meticulous and incredible. It almost made me feel as though he went from his brilliant voice to a much more pedestrian way of writing, and it turns out that these choices were entirely deliberate and focused and led to what we have today. His excerpt from the interview “An Impolite Interview with Ken Kesey,” was surprisingly still relevant and shockingly on point all these years later, and the brilliant excerpts from “Ken Kesey Was a Successful Dope Fiend” and “Who Flew Over What” were also brilliant.
The next selections were from the critics, covering everything in the scope of new criticism. It showcases Feminist, Deconstruction, Gender Studies, Psychoanalytic, New Historicist, Postcolonialist, and many other viewpoints that are all well researched and applied to the work - and I found it fascinating that as I was reading them that the scholars did an incredible job teasing out some of the more fundamental aspects of the text in such short essays - some of which were only five hundred words or so. What I found most fascinating was the postcolonial and gender essays, expounding on the work as representative of the US Government’s treatment and destruction of the Native Americans as being only thinly veiled in the piece, or the sexual repression that meanders through the novel. I was somewhat happy that the essays did not entirely tackle the imagery and metaphors of the fog and psychosis of our narrator as that was one aspect of the novel I felt was heavy-handed and was just begging for a discussion of what the author employed in the obvious rather than the subtle.
Finally, and perhaps my favorite part of the ephemera was the analogies and perspectives. Of course, I have already read Invisible Man, All The King’s Men, and On The Road, but the mirrored description of Neal Cassady written by Kesey and appearing simultaneously in On The Road was fun to read. I found the most enjoyment in the two psycho-medical papers on Lobotomy and ElectroShock Therapy included. Perhaps my favorite was the line in the Lobotomy paper that I will paraphrase here that went along the lines of, “prior to the operation, our patient was a successful engineer, but post-op found no enjoyment or even basic desire to continue his previous career. We eventually found success, however, finding him a stable desk job working for the US Government.” That’s right, the lobotomized did a fantastic job and found enjoyment working for the government. Furthermore, I felt throughout the series of texts, the one constant is that a married man in his mid-thirties is the prime candidate for major psycho-medical treatments of the most brutal and catastrophic methods.
That said, I look forward to saying goodbye to anxiety, and hello lobotomy!
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