OSCAR: An Inquiry into the Nature of Sanity by Peter J. Wilson

OSCAR: An Inquiry into the Nature of Sanity

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Oscar Bryan Newball is a resident of Providencia, an English-speaking island in the Southwest Caribbean administered by Colombia. Regarded as mad by the other villagers -- as he probably would be by most American or European psychotherapists -- Oscar is the object of their laughter, their fear, their affection, and their awe. He insists that he is unusually intelligent -- ""ascending in the intellectual higher than Newton"" -- and his diction suggests that, unlike the others, he is educated, although his meaning always seems to be peculiarly elusive. He engages in bizarre behavior such as wandering, stealing petty Rems, ""sanitating"" yards, and eavesdropping in order to feed his frequent public declamations on the misdeeds of other villagers. What, asks Wilson, is the nature of the relationship between them and a madman that permits him to be affectionately tolerated, rather than locked up for treatment? Oscar's circumlocutions are viewed by the locals as an embodiment of the overbearing, semi-comprehensible forces of imposed civilization; his spying and gossip manipulates the enclosed culture's ambivalence toward privacy. What the villagers call his madness is actually a despotic power he possesses over their needs. He exemplifies culture's schizoid values of ""respectability"" and ""reputation."" Madness is tyranny. Wilson provocatively suggests that schizophrenics in our culture might likewise reflect our values and that a more creative relationship with them might benefit us all.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1974
Publisher: Random House