Books: The Ganser Syndrome

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

Dean Moriarty. a real gone kid in whom Sal sees traces of a "W. C. Fields saintliness," is the only authentic proletarian in a basically timorous band of bourgeois rebels. Dean steals cars where the others are scarcely capable of filching a loaf of bread from an untended grocery. He takes women and abandons them, wrecks Cadillacs for the hell of it. deserts his friends. He talks a blue streak in a syntax-free jumble of metaphysics, hipster jargon, quotations from comic strips and animal gruntings. Describing the skills of a hot saxophonist. Dean cries: "Here's a guy and everybody's there, right? Up to him to put down what's on everybody's mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it. and then he rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden, somewhere in the middle of the chorus he gets it . . . Time stops. He's filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his belly bottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing."

Fevered Roman Candles Novelist Kerouac writes somewhat better than his hero speaks. Currently a member of the

San Francisco poets' group (whose disciples do not necessarily stay put in San Francisco), Kerouac has a Wolfelike love of the U.S. and a Whitmanesque weakness for cataloguing nearly every experience. His novel is partly an ingenuous travel book, partly a collection of journalistic jottings about adventures that are known to everyone who has ever hitchhiked more than a hundred miles in the U.S. The book's importance lies in Author Kerouac's attempt to create a rationale for the fevered young who twitch around the nation's jukeboxes and brawl pointlessly in the midnight streets. He sees his characters as "the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles." They are hedonists of the kind whose highest goal is "a fast car, a coast to reach, and a woman at the end of the road."

In literature, swaggering Dean Moriarty is perhaps closest in his amorality to a character created by Petronius Arbiter in the ist century A.D.—the rascally Encolpius, who lived by his wits in Nero's fat and frightened time. In contemporary terms, Moriarty seems even closer to a prison psychosis that is a variety of the Ganser Syndrome.* Its symptoms, as described by one psychiatrist, sound like a playback from Kerouac's novel: "The patient exaggerates his mood and his feelings: he 'lets himself go' and gets himself into a highly emotional state. He is uncooperative, refuses to answer questions or obey orders . . . At other times he will thrash about wildly. His talk may be disjointed and difficult to follow.''

The significant thing about sufferers from the Ganser Syndrome is that they are not really mad—they only seem to be.

* For Sigbert Joseph Maria Ganser, a Dresden psychiatrist (1853-1931).

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page