With his knack for storytelling and knifelike humor, New York Press columnist Knipfel (Slackjaw, 1999) recounts the bizarre but agreeable months he spent in a locked-down psychiatric ward.
In 1987, after failing his most recent suicide attempt (by drug overdose) and spending three days in what he calls either a “psychotic break,” an extended hallucination, or hell, Knipfel awakes in an ICU hospital bed, tied down and “screaming Nietzche in rhyme.” At the time a philosophy graduate student, Knipfel half expects to “join the ranks of the visionaries who’d died in madhouses—like Artaud and the Marquis de Sade.” But he slowly regains a sense of his twisted self, descends six floors into the psychiatric ward, and then settles in, waiting to be deemed once again fit for the outside world. Soon, Knipfel gets to know his neighbors, finds that he likes “the bughouse,” and decides that sanity can be “distinctly overrated.” Constantly self-obsessed, he sees himself in many roles in the ward. He assumes the role of an anthropologist studying the “Bin” culture, considers himself a ward detective pondering questions that form a “conga-line” through his head, and tries acting as his own psychoanalyst. Reading and re-reading a single volume of Lacan (in part for lack of any other book), he concludes that he must study “Psycho Anal Lysis. The separation of the mind from the asshole.” Knipfel’s narrative is sharp and surreal, dark and melodic, and he mingles realism with vivid accounts of his three-day drug-induced episode. Throughout his account, the silence of the ward’s day room and the din of Knipfel’s fantastic imagination and disturbing memories combine in a sort of bipolar harmony.
Cynical and endearing, Knipfel takes readers on an intensely cerebral wild ride.