Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Inferno" by August Strindberg

Where the quotes from Strindberg and Helium come from. I've just finished it, having gotten it print on demand through a local bookstore with an experimental POD machine in it. What the book is is a chronicle of the author's mental breakdown and then recovery, well almost. The thing is that the first part of his degeneration takes place in another book called "The Cloister", which I was lucky enough to find in the Seattle Public Library. After breaking up with his wife and leaving his new born child in that book he comes to Paris where he starts on alchemical experiments. Soon, though, alchemy and transmutation give way to more and more interference by what he calls the "powers", a shadowy category that stands for both people inspired by unseen forces to conspire against him and those unseen forces themselves directly interfering with his life. He hallucinates that people around him in the rooming houses that he's living in are plotting to interfere with his sleep, are watching him, are talking about him, that his from Przybyszewski (Poppofsky in this book) is conspiring to kill him. Signs and portents are everywhere, indicating the state of the universe in relation to his life. Nothing is chance.

All of this intensifies until he's brought out of it through being called back to his wife's parents' home in Austria to be with his wife and daughter. The wife doesn't show up but the daughter becomes his beacon taking him out of the darkness.
However, the most stunning part of the book, the part that ties it all together, is the spiritual insight that comes at the end and that brings him the rest of the way out.

The spiritual insight comes from Swedenborg. All of what he's been experiencing has been a living version of Hell where his torments have been real enough but have been inflicted on him not by some sort of conspiracy but by the spiritual universe itself in revenge for sins committed before his birth. It's understood both as a test and as a kind of meaningful hallucination, something superimposed over the world that gives it all a significance that's uniquely his own. The solution isn't to either believe or disbelieve in but to work with the spiritual experience in order to get from the negative pole to a positive one. Unfortunately this means repentance for supposed sins that he committed earlier in his career, with the saving grace that he obviously isn't throwing everything overboard if he believes in unconventional spirituality.

A nice read.

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