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THE QUANTITY THEORY OF INSANITY by Will Self

THE QUANTITY THEORY OF INSANITY

By Will Self

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87113-585-X
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

 This is Self's first book, an interconnected collection of stories published in England in 1991 but held back in the US until the moment Self attained trans-Atlantic culthood. Self (My Idea of Fun, p. 243, etc.) has previously proven his skill at phantasmagoria, but he's less impressive here. Sharply tweaking a spectrum of mental health and social work philosophies, Self is on a mission to point out that therapists who treat delusional problems are themselves the ones with the problems. In the title story, a mock academic paper, a psychology researcher explains how he came to discover the remarkably unscientific Quantity Theory--which holds that there's a fixed amount of sanity in any given society at any given time, and a small patch of insanity in one area of that society will result in a small patch of sanity elsewhere. (Eventually ``psychic field disruption,'' planned insanity to create sanity for someone else, becomes a popular self-help routine. It's just the karma theory, given a spin of European nihilism.) Self's working method for this collection becomes apparent too quickly: He hits on a kooky, half-true theory, then backs up into his parking space. But his stories are contrived in their efforts to shock us, and the ideas themselves are like outtakes from undergraduate stoner-philosopher what-if sessions. It's only when Self gets away from his adman mentality to really do some great, not readily marketable writing that we catch glimpses of his brilliance--as in ``Mono-Cellular,'' which shifts from a first-person account of experiencing life through the senses into fabulous elliptical blather, like the best of the late-period, whacked-out CÇline. Those sympathetic to Self's fantasies, which can be fun-house amusing, should read where he came from to know how much he's evolved.